Tag Archives: vaudeville

“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.

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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…”

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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.

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Comedian Roy Hudd and John Major on music halls and a dead magician

John Major’s fond memories of his father

Last night I dreamt that I got on a train in Manchester and over-shot the station I intended to get off at. The train went on to Blackpool and then to southern Ireland. I had trouble getting on a train back to Manchester.

I also dreamt that comedian Roy Hudd interviewed former Prime Minister John Major about the history of British music halls in a crowded London basement room and we all laughed a lot and ended up singing I’m Henerey the Eighth I Am and If You Were The Only Girl in the World.

Except that last bit was not a dream. It happened for real. John Major really was chatting to Roy Hudd at Soho Theatre, to plug My Old Man his book about his father. Older readers will remember that John Major’s father ended up selling gnomes in South London.

You could not dream it up. Prime Minister John Major’s father Tom Major was a Music Hall performer.

British Music Halls started as singing rooms at the back of pubs, which developed in London into saloon theatres in the pleasure gardens and then into ‘song and supper clubs’ including The Cyder Cellar, The Coal Hole and Evans’ Late Joys. Then Charles Morton opened the Canterbury theatre on Lambeth Marshes as a venue dedicated to music hall and this began to attract a female audience which no-one had done before. And that was when Music Hall really started to grow and grow.

“Usually,” said Roy Hudd last night, “the guy who owned the pub was the chairman, to keep an eye on all the drinks. And people always imagine that, when the chairman banged his gavel and shouted out Order! Order! he was doing the same job as the Speaker in the House of Commons – trying to control a drunken mob. But the original shout-out of Order! Order! was an instruction to the audience to order another round of drinks.”

“Yes and, in the very early days,” John Major explained, “the artists actually got paid dependant on how much alcohol was ordered while they were performing. If you drove them to drink, you became rich.”

Tom Major, his father, was a middle-of-the-bill performer. He never became a star.

“It was his life,” John Major explained last night. “and, when he was dying, lots of people came to see him who had worked with him fifty or sixty years before. None of them had been hugely successful. People say politics is a tough profession, I think showbusiness is tougher and lots of these people, even in their elderly, ailing condition, their minds went back to moments when they were on the stage and those were the highlights of their lives.

“They were pretty shabbily dressed – prosperity, if it had ever known them, had passed on pretty quickly. I remember sitting by the bed one afternoon when they argued who had the best chorus songs – Florrie Forde or Harry Champion. A draw was declared when the whisky ran out.

“There was very little money in it for most people. Certainly not before 1907 when the Variety Artistes’ Federation was formed. My father was actually one of the founder members. There was a great meeting and my dad and (his wife) Kitty were numbers 97 and 98 who signed up on the first evening.”

Roy Hudd interrupted: “I was involved with the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund at one time and Brinsworth House, a residential home for the old pros.”

“My half brother died in Brinsworth House,” said John Major.

“People used to come to us,” said Roy Hudd, “who needed help and people on the committee would say What does she need help for? She never stopped working. 52 weeks a year and she never stopped working! But we had one or two very old producers on the committee who would say: She never stopped working, but she never earned more than £2 a week! There was no pension scheme or anything like that back then. They worked hard, but they never got a lot of reward for it.”

“You didn’t, unless you were at the top,” agreed John Major.

“The great George Leybourne,” said Roy Hudd, “the man who sang Champagne Charlie, in the 1860s, was earning £160 a week. What would that be worth today? You could buy a house then for £15.”

“And,” added John Major, “not only was he paid £160 a week, but he was given free champagne all the time because he was advertising it – Moët & Chandon – and he died penniless at 41. He had lots of ‘friends’ and, as the money began to disappear, the friends disappeared and, bitter and disillusioned, he died at 41 absolutely penniless. The money just ran through his hands. He would have made a very good Chancellor in a recent government.

“Most of the acts,” he continued, “would appear at three, four, five, sometimes six theatres a night. They’d be on the stage in a warm theatre, then go out into the cold air, get into another warm theatre and repeat that several times per night. So they were open to all sorts of colds, coughs, diseases and problems. Some of them lived to an old age. But it was a minority.”

“Well,” said Roy Hudd, “Charles Coborn, whose big hit was Two Lovely Black Eyes, lived to over 90 and, late in life, he was at the funeral of one of his mates and Tommy Trinder was there. Tommy asked him How old are you now then, Charlie? He said I’m 88. And Tommy said Blimey, it’s hardly worth you going home!

“If you were at the top,” said John Major, “you could command a very good fee but, once they’d got their one or two headliners, everybody else below was interchangeable with a dozen other people. So they could be offered very low wages and usually were and, if they didn’t take them, then they simply didn’t get employed. So they lived on the hope they were suddenly going to make it. It was a very harsh, tough business right the way through the Victorian era until the strike of 1907, when things began to get better. They were remarkable people to have lived through that and loved performing so much that they continued to do so.

“One magician, The Great Layafette, used to have a sign above his door: The more I see Man, the more I love my dog. And he was buried with his dog. He died in a fire in a theatre. They found the body and they were going to bury him when they realised it was not The Great Lafayette – it was his body double for a trick. So, in a further part of the rubble, they found his body, which they then buried with his dog in a cemetery in Edinburgh.

“There were some amazing acts – Prago the Missing Link, Felix the Talking Duck, Bessie Squelch and Her Big Brass Six. And there were some amazing magicians. There was a guy called Washington Bishop who was a fraud as an illusionist. He was always getting into trouble. He was sued at one stage and fled the country for a while because he owed £10,000 he couldn’t pay. His will specified that his body could be used for science. So, when he died, the doctors grabbed his body and it was dismantled. The next day, his mother turned up and said: But he wasn’t dead! He’s always had these fits. I think these doctors should be arrested for murder!

“The doctors were horrified. There was a great fuss and eventually they brought back the pieces – they found his brain in his chest cavity – and there was another autopsy and eventually the doctors got away with it because it turned out that the mother was as big a fruitcake as the son.”

Showbusiness does not change.

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Miss Behave plans chaos for the final week’s Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe

Miss Behave, the Mistress of Ceremonies

So I was talking to Miss Behave, who bills herself “a facilitator of people’s good times, a crowd dominatrix with a friendly twinkle and the perfect Mistress of Ceremonies,” about the acts we should book to appear in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show this August at the Edinburgh Fringe. She will be the compere.

It was the first time I had met up with Miss Behave since she came back to the UK a few weeks ago after a few months in New Zealand.

“What were you doing in New Zealand?” I asked.

“I was working in a small tent,” she said, “with the Daredevil Chicken Club, who do all manner of wrong things.”

“Such as?” I prompted.

“Well, one of the things they do,” she told me, “is banana-juggling with their mouths – very funny.”

“Oh,” I said.

“…into each other’s mouths, obviously,” she added. “Svetlana is a mail order bride for Mark. They’ve been happily together – or unhappily, depending on who you talk to, for…

“Genuinely a mail order bride?” I asked.

“Yes,” Miss Behave replied, shaking her head. “But they’ve genuinely been married for fifteen years. One of them’s from the States and one of them – obviously – is from Russia.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“They’re fucking brilliant,” Miss Behave told me. “I’m looking forward to working with them and we’re just trying to figure out how, because they’re just about to open a season in New York.

“One of the things I’ve been puzzling about is What’s the point of being authentic when the world is selling out? I don’t get it. It’s weird. One night when I was doing the Friday Night Freakshow at the Udderbelly on the South Bank, it was all getting a bit flat and so I just went Oh, fuck it! and this big-titted woman was heckling. So I went up and had a word with her.

“I asked her what her name was. She said Which name would you like? and I said Obviously, your stripper name and her reply was Not stripper, darling – Porn.

“It turned out she was Holly Halston, retired. Google her. She’s big. So I got her to do a little striptease for me and it all ended up with me sucking one of her tits.”

“In public?” I asked.

“Oh, of course, darling,” Miss Behave replied. “Oh my gosh, one doesn’t want to waste these things. It’s that sense of spontaneity that’s normally missing from shows nowadays. Everything’s terribly slick and terribly… Well, it’s like a photocopier that’s running out of ink.”

“And you hope to bring this to Edinburgh?” I asked.

“I hope to bring this sense of chaos to Edinburgh and I’m hopefully going to be compering a couple of Late ‘n’ Lives and…”

“I’ve lost track,” I said. “What else are you doing up there in August?”

“I’m doing a show called Not Another Fucking Variety Show.”

I laughed: “I bet it’s not going to be printed as that in the Fringe Programme!”

“No, in the Fringe Programme it’s billed as Not Another F*cking Variety Show. It’s Lili La Scala and The Boy With Tape On His Face doing a variety show. And I’m probably also doing compilation-type shows and I’m doing the street. I wanted to work on some new material.”

“You’re walking the streets again?” I asked.

“I’m walking the streets again, John.”

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Well, there’s a couple of new routines I want to work out and Edinburgh audiences are the best for the street.”

“Which streets will you be walking?”

“I will be walking the Royal Mile and The Mound… Me and The Mound get on very well.”

“And you’ll be compering the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. So tell me why you want to do the Malcolm show.”

“I want to do the Malcolm show because the stuff I like watching the most is when you get really, really funny people flying away from their material. Malcolm, of course, never had any material. But he was really, really funny and I missed seeing him because I am too young. I missed all of that time and I am very bored with ‘now’.

“It’s great that variety’s back. I’ve really enjoyed being part of that, but I want the chaos. There has to be an element of order with chaos, but it’s getting the balance right and, at the moment, it’s just order. And I am bored with it. So I am compering the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show because it’s an honour and because, hopefully, we can bring a shitload of chaos to the last weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe.”

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Shock jock Howard Stern backs farter Mr Methane for “America’s Got Talent”

Mr Methane, caped crusader of farting

If you read yesterday’s blog, you will know that British comedian Bob Slayer is apparently too outrageous for Australia. But what about the world’s only professional flatulist – British farter Mr Methane – on an American television network?

As of this week, infamous US shock jock Howard Stern is a judge on the TV show America’s Got Talent.

The producers of the show contacted my chum Mr Methane about appearing way back in 2008.

“They were very excited to get me over for the 2009 season,” says Mr M, “but unfortunately we couldn’t work the visa requirements for the show out, so it all came to nothing. I guess it’s really got to be an American show with American acts otherwise there’s no point in calling it America’s Got Talent“.

However, Mr Methane did appear on Das Supertalent – Germany’s Got Talent in 2010-2011 and got through to the semi-finals.

On Howard Stern’s Sirius radio show on Tuesday this week, Howard was asked by co-presenter Robin Quivers: “What would you do if Mr Methane showed up?”

“I’d put him through,” Howard replied. “I would. I think Mr Methane is fantastic. I think Mr Methane could be on Broadway. But they would never put him on NBC. That’s the problem. He couldn’t audition. But he’s funny. He’s got an act.”

When told Mr Methane was planning a book, Howard said: “Keep me out of that book!”

Then he mused: “I wonder if he could audition?… I guess they couldn’t show that on… Maybe network TV is… I was watching The Voice and that judge Blake said Kiss my ass! and they put that on NBC. Remember when they wouldn’t even less me even say Ass on radio?”

Told that Mr Methane auditioned on screen for Britain’s Got Talent, but did not get through, Howard said: “Oh I would let him through. In a minute, I’d let him through.”

At the 2009 auditions for Britain’s Got Talent, Simon Cowell called Mr. Methane “a disgusting creature,” but the video of the audition on YouTube has currently had over 17 million hits.

“To me,” said Howard Stern, “that guy’s a superstar. I’d make him a star on that show (America’s Got Talent). I’d put him through… I bet you he’d win. People love farting, but it’s not just farting – he’s funny. I told you, I would back that guy to go on Broadway more than those fucking Cirque du Soleil.

“Honestly… Honestly I’m saying this. I happen to think Mr Methane’s a genius. I told you I thought he’s funny and I would back him; I certainly would.

“I’m not making a joke. If we were in Vegas… I really would go over see the Mr Methane show… I’m not saying he’s everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s enough people’s that he could have a successful career there.

“I could only pray he’d be the winner of my first year on America’s Got Talent. I’d be so honoured. America’s gonna vote and I think America would vote for him. I do. I really do.”

Two clips from Howard Stern’s radio shows this Tuesday and Wednesday (total 5min 36sec) are online here

Meanwhile, back in the UK, I currently have a cold which includes a hacking cough which keeps waking me up at night. When I get woken up, I can remember my dreams, something I never normally do.

Last night, I woke up and I had been dreaming I was walking with a friend through a shopping mall in the Far East when we bumped into Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner and a friend. The four of us went and had a chat in a telephone box while other people made phone calls. I was lying on the shelf.

What does this mean?

This is the second time I have woken up from a dream about Noel Faulkner.

Perhaps it is a nightmare.

I am scared.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Dreams, Radio, Talent, Television

Steve Coogan to play porn baron Paul Raymond in new Winterbottom movie?

Apparently plans are “well advanced” for Steve Coogan to play British porn baron Paul Raymond in a film directed by the extraordinarily prolific Michael Winterbottom – they previously worked together on the excellent 24 Hour Party People in which Coogan impersonated Tony Wilson to a tee. I encountered Tony Wilson when I was working at Granada TV and Coogan’s voice was uncannily spot-on though I found the hair strangely unsettling. Paul Raymond had a hairstyle even more extravagant than Tony Wilson, so this could be the start of a movie hair trilogy.

The planned new movie – currently called Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica – is based on Paul Willetts’ biography Members Only: The Life and Times of Paul Raymond.

Willetts said he originally wanted to entitle his book Panties Inferno after a long-ago American burlesque revue but, mystifyingly, there were legal problems.

I heard about both the planned movie and the book title last night at a publicity event for the book on a suitably sweaty night in Soho. Other long-ago US burlesque show titles loved by Willetts because they tried to make strip shows classy were Julius Teaser and Anatomy & Cleopatra.

Those were the days.

Paul Raymond also tried to make strip shows seem classy – “nudity without crudity” was the phrase he used. And he is a perfect movie subject – larger than life and with pretensions beyond his art. The best biographies are often akin to naff 1950s travelogues:

Paul Raymond – Land of Contrasts…

When he was 13, he wanted to be a Catholic priest – so maybe his later porn career ironically turned out to be less sexually seedy than it might have done. And, in latter days, he bankrolled Mark Thatcher’s failed motor racing career. Perhaps as a thankyou, he was once invited to Downing Street by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as “an exemplary entrepreneur”.

When he got rich, he inevitably bought a boat and even tried to give that class by naming it ‘Get ‘em Off’ – but in Latin. His girlfriend Fiona Richmond’s mother was, at the time, a teacher in a convent and got the nuns to translate the words into Latin, though quite how she managed this without suspicions being aroused remains a complete mystery to me.

I only went to the Raymond Revuebar once, in the 1980s, when it was hosting alternative comedy shows. My clear memory is that regular comedy evenings were being run there by a young Eddie Izzard, though a quick Google tells me it was the Comic Strip.

Who knows?

In its early days, alternative comedy in the UK overlapped with dodgy Soho clubs.

In his early days, before the Revuebar opened, Paul Raymond had been a theatrical agent/producer with a winning formula he called ‘the comic, the conjurer and the girl with her tits out’.

In an interview in a 1969 LWT series called On The Record, Paul Raymond was interviewed by Alan Watson and rather bizarrely compared stripping to stand-up comedy. He said (I paraphrase): “Comedians tell gags to get laughs. Stripping is like comedy. If the act isn’t having the desired effect, then the stripper has to work harder.”

No wonder Margaret Thatcher thought he was an exemplary entrepreneur.

But the character Paul Willetts chatted about from the Soho ‘scene’ of that time who most interested me was not Paul Raymond but his acquaintance Paul Lincoln, an Australian who made his name in the ring as wrestler Dr Death, then started and co-owned the legendary 2i’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho – birthplace of UK Rock n Roll.

Paul Lincoln died in January this year but, back when Paul Raymond was starting his seminal Revuebar in Walker’s Court in 1958 – allegedly the first strip club in Britain – Lincoln was promoting wrestling bouts around the country as well as running the 2i’s.

The two Pauls – Raymond and Lincoln – had a falling-out over an allegedly genuine German aristocrat – a baron – who wrestled on Lincoln’s UK circuit. The baron lived in a flat above the 2i’s and had a pet cheetah which he took for walks in Hyde Park.

These were innocent days.

The Raymond Revuebar, at the time, had novelty acts performing in its entrance area and Raymond effectively nicked the baron from Lincoln and started having wrestling bouts in the Revuebar entrance. Not only that, but he got the baron to train his cheetah to join the strippers on stage and undo girls’ undergarments with its teeth.

These were, indeed, the much more innocent, golden days before Health & Safety rules kicked in.

The Raymond Revuebar also reportedly featured a horse removing girls’ underwear with its teeth – sugar lumps were attached to relevant parts of the underwear to encourage the horse.

What encouraged the cheetah or how they got the horse into the club I don’t know.

Some of life’s most intriguing questions are doomed never to be answered.

(There is a follow-up to this blog HERE; and the comedy industry website Chortle picked up on this blog as a news item HERE.)

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Filed under Comedy, Movies, Sex