Tag Archives: video

The magical near-arsonist behind the Cowgatehead and Fringe cover parodies

Stu Turner with the fake Fringe cover

Stu Turner with fake Fringe cover yesterday

Two of the few joys in the ongoing Cowgatehead saga in Edinburgh have been videos put online by Stu Turner.

Who he?

I talked to him yesterday at Soho Theatre in London.

His first video was a new parody of the Hitler-in-the-bunker scene from the movie Downfall. It appeared online the day after the Cowgatehead shenanigans blew up.

The second video – a parody of the front cover of the new Edinburgh Fringe Programme – appeared only about half a day after my copy appeared in the post direct from the Fringe Office. That is an impressively-quick turnaround.

The real cover of the Fringe Programme 2015

The real cover of the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe Programme

“It’s such a shame I’ve got sod all to promote off the back of these videos,” Stu told me yesterday. “I have no show at the Fringe. I’m just going to be up there for a week doing open spots.”

“So why do the videos?” I asked.

“Just for fun,” he told me. “I just fancied doing the videos for a laugh. I had the Hitler video at home, just sitting waiting for something suitable and, when Cowgatehead kicked off, I thought: Perfect!

“You are only doing open spots in Edinburgh?” I asked. “Why? Remind me who you’ve worked with.”

“In a former life,” said Stu, “I was part of a double act called Magic Incorporated and I’ve worked with Bob Monkhouse at the Lakeside club in Frimley Green and appeared on TV with Des O’Connor many moons ago on his awful talent show Pots of Gold on primetime ITV.

“The acts all got 30 seconds. For weeks and weeks, we rehearsed one of our big illusions, which normally took several minutes, down to 30 seconds and then we were told we couldn’t do it: Oh no: you’ve got to walk up and do a quick visual gag. You can’t do an illusion. We were a magic act! So we did a quick visual gag and the person who won played the piano. We were quite cross. We were not allowed to do an illusion because it had to be a visual gag, but this person could play the piano! We weren’t happy.”

“Was the magic act you and a lovely assistant?” I asked.

“We were a male double act. We did mainly comedy.”

“So why are you doing open spots in Edinburgh?” I asked.

Stu Turner

Stu Turner: back in not quite the old routine

“I’m sort-of starting again. The double act was quite a while ago – some years ago. We almost went full-time pro. We did a bit of TV. We did shows round the country and it got quite big. We had girls – dancers, assistants – on bigger shows. We did illusions, magic, juggling unicycling, fire-eating, all sorts of stuff. We did it for a few years and it just kind of petered-out after a while. Stopped it. I got a day job.

“So I had a few years’ break, but I missed performing, got back into it three or four years ago and have sort of got back into it as a solo stand-up act and it’s very different. Rather than touring with illusions and big stuff, it’s now just me and a bag of props. Back then we were doing cabaret and theatre and big stuff; now it’s all comedy clubs. Very different to back then.

“You have to start again. You can’t go round saying: I worked with Bob Monkhouse. At the moment, I’m doing open spots on pro nights, headlining smaller nights – doing half hour closing spots on some of the smaller out-of-town clubs. There’s no rush. I’m enjoying it. Doing it for fun and working towards an hour-long show at some point. Because of the magic background, instead of just comedy clubs, I can do cabaret, theatre, burlesque, the whole range of…”

“Burlesque shows?” I asked.

“Yes. They have a variety of acts.”

“Being a magician is almost a vocation,” I said.

“It was never serious,” said Stu. “I always did it with a comedy angle. I never did the cards and the doves and the rabbits. We once almost set fire to the studio on Bob Says Opportunity Knocks.”

“This is what the public wants,” I said.

“We had,” explained Stu, “a trick which involved a box which ‘accidentally’ caught fire. We would put the fire out and produce whatever out of the box. But, for Bob Monkhouse, we thought: Let’s make this a big one… So on went the lighter fluid, a bit more, a bit more, bit more. The box catches fire. We try to put it out and the lighter fluid goes everywhere.

Stu Turner has put magic behind him now

Jester Stu has put magic behind him

“They had just put down an expensive new studio floor and the burning lighter fluid went all round the studio floor. Luckily, they thought it was part of the act. Everyone laughed. Almost a nasty disaster. We didn’t get through.”

“What is next on the video front?” I asked. “You have done two. Rule of Three. You have to do another one.”

“I think I need to do a video after the Fringe,” said Stu. “I’m going up the middle week. I need to see how it pans out.”

The Downfall Cowgatehead parody which Stu made is on YouTube.

This week’s Edinburgh Fringe cover parody is also on YouTube.

The original, rather over-arty poem on the front of the real Edinburgh Fringe Programme reads:

This may contain material that may shock or offend,
it’s not a stunt or some attempt at a trend.
There are no rules only exceptions,
and exceptional acts challenging perceptions.
Stand-ups standing up for what they believe,
uppercuts to the upper classes, quick jabs at the masses.
Shows without boundaries or even a stage,
crossing lines, becoming headlines on the front page.
The audience can become the cast of a show,
basking unexpectedly below a spotlight’s glow.
A song may have no words or even no rhythm,
nothing is certain, nothing’s a given.
Here anything goes, anything can happen,
the greatest show on earth, entertainment heaven,
the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, defying the norm since 1947.

Stu Turner’s parody words are arguably an improvement and even more realistic:

This may contain humour that may shock or may jar,
it’s not a stunt or some attempt at PR.
There is no compromise only pure frustration,
& pissed off acts challenging no concession.
Stand-ups standing up for what they booked,
spending a fortune to attend, and now they are fooked.
Shows without venues, rooms, or even a stage,
broken promises becoming headlines, they’re all full of rage.
The audience cannot find the advertised show,
seeking unexpectedly when the venue says no.
A show may have no room nor any address,
nothing is certain, it’s all a complete mess.
Here nothing’s allowed, nothing can happen,
the greatest fool on earth, entertainment hell.
The PBH Free Fringe, being totally draconian since, well…

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Magic

The Greatest Show on Legs wearing Clockwork Orange noses for Dave Lee Travis’ Manfred Mann clown video

A couple of days ago, comedian Martin Soan was staying at my home and showed me a 1985 BBC TV clip he had found on YouTube in which DJ Dave Lee Travis introduced a BBC-specially-shot video for Manfred Mann’s 1966 song Ha Ha Said The Clown featuring The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Malcolm Hardee and (as the clown) Steve Bowditch. You can see it HERE.

Steve Bowditch told me “I remember the director saying to Malcolm We need someone to be the clown and Malcolm said Bowditch can laugh... so I laughed and he gave me the job!”

“We never met Dave Lee Travis,” Martin told me. “All three of us went up to Birmingham. It was done in-house by the BBC. They gave it to young… they weren’t producers… Maybe they were trainees. They all had to put in ideas for pop videos and then a director shot it with a crew of about 20.

“I think it took three days to shoot. After two days, they’d done with Steve and Malcolm but I had to spend another day doing stuff in toilets and things like that.

“Toilets?” I asked.

“Toilets,” repeated Martin.

Clowning around on the sofa

Clowning around on the sofa – but Martin was being polite

“Steve and I had to get on top of the girl on the sofa. I did it very politely and got it out of the way within a couple of minutes. Bowditch then had to lie on top of her dressed as the clown and he took about three hours lying on top of her for that shot.”

“I was a bit dubious about the noses,” I said. “I seem to remember the rapists in Clockwork Orange wore those sort of noses.”

“I think President Reagan originally had Clockwork Orange eyebrows as well,” said Martin. “I’m not quite sure what they were trying to say. But the bit I remember most was where Steve, the girl and Malcolm marched across the screen.

“The director said: I just want you to go One-Two… One-Two… One-Two… Turn… One-Two… One-Two… One-Two…

Malcolm Hardee was completely out of step

Malcolm Hardee completely out of step with everyone

“When they did it, Malcolm was completely out of step. In the first direction, he was kicking the girl’s heels, then they turned round and he was treading on her feet. He was unintentionally completely out of kilter with absolutely everything. I was laughing and the director was looking horrified.

“They did it and Malcolm went: Alright! Oy! Oy! In the can! One-take Hardee! Stick a cheque in the post! and walked off, leaving everyone open-mouthed it was so bad… and then they all broke out laughing.

“I don’t think they attempted to do it again because I guess they thought: No… No… We could spend too much time on this.”

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Filed under Comedy, Music, Rock music, video

Irish YouTube sensation Rubberbandits in shock BBC Jimmy Savile revelation

(This was also published by the Huffington Post and on Indian news site WSN)

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Rubberbandits bagged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

Last August, Irish musical/comedy duo Rubberbandits won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe. They are currently over in Britain performing at London’s Soho Theatre this week and next week.

I thought it would be jolly to chat to them for this blog, because I thought there might be a chance they would pay me money in a belated, after-the-event bribe to win the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. Sadly, they preferred to do the interview by e-mail. Below is the result. I am a sadder, none-the-wiser, man.

At the time of writing this blog, their YouTube video Horse Outside has had 9,991,031 views.

Why will you only do email interviews?

We never said we only do email interviews. We said we only do face-to-bag interviews by Females.

Why the name? Shouldn’t you be called The Plastic Bag Bandits?

In Ireland, people often use plastic bags as rubbers and also carry their groceries in rubbers.

Are you THE Rubberbandits or THE Rubber Bandits or just Rubberbandits or Rubber Bandits? Why?

Rubberbandits, We don’t know why. But we know we were influenced by The Prodigy becoming Prodigy in 1995.

What’s with the bloody plastic bags on your heads anyway?

It started off as a way of frightening rats out of a house and then we kind of left them on permanently.

Has the YouTube tsunami of views on your video stuff had any good effect?

Yes, the opposite effect of a tsunami ironically.

Has the Japanese tsunami had any good effect?

Yes, actually. A lot of independent music CD warehouses were destroyed and it reduced competition in the Irish music market for a month or two. Our CDs were intact.

Has your increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award had any good effect?

Very good for our fans’ arguments in pubs back home when we get compared to Jedward.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back to you next week.

Yes, but only in cold war Russian money.

Why do you (and other people) think you’re funny?

We’re not funny. We’re hardcore gangsta rappers. We have no idea why people laugh at us.

What type of comedy do you do? Is it like Miranda?

It has been described as battered comedy. Like normal comedy but if it was battered and deep-fried. Miranda would get a ride.

Are you rich?

Not yet filthy, just small but grubby.

Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week. Honest.

We can give you 50 now and we’ll give you the rest four months ago. However there’s interest at 100% so technically you should owe us 200 quid by now.

Will you ever be rich? Would becoming ‘very rich’ mean you’re very good performers. If not, why not?

We will be rich. Not from performing, though. From our lucrative hot air balloon business where we encourage Americans to spit on roundabouts from 1,000 feet and take bets.

Would doing a big TV series or a movie be ‘selling out’?

Yes it would, so we’d counteract it by peppering the TV series or movie with gay sex scenes to regain some integrity and edge. Like Danny Dyer did in Borstal Boy.

Would you have been as happy just being successful in Ireland, land of your fathers?

Our fathers are from Malta. We are using Britain as a gateway to the Maltese comedy scene.

Are you playing the Edinburgh Fringe again this year?

A bit too early to say. We were told to stay away from Scotland after we fellated a tern in Orkney.

Are you performing for six-to-eight minutes on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year? If not, why not.

See tern fellation above.

Can you lend me £100? I really will give it back to you next week.

When you give us back our £200 that you owe us from four months ago, we can talk.

What’s next? How can you keep your act fresh?

We just throw the bags into a washing machine and Hey Presto!

Have you any good Jimmy Savile stories to increase the hits on my blog?

He had a spy camera on the end of his cigar. He used it to secretly film the camera man while he was on Top of the Pops. There’s a rule in the BBC that if you are filming while being filmed then you are entitled to tell the Board of Directors a big secret and, if they ever utter it, they grow a set of donkeys’ ears.

Explain the Irish ‘Troubles’ in two short sentences.

This piece of bread is just normal bread but this other piece of bread is haunted by the ghost of a bearded man from the Iron Age. Let’s fight about it.

How would you describe the people who watch you on YouTube and come to see your shows? Are they different types?

In Ireland, they are young drunk people who don’t know how to be quiet when we talk. In England, they are older beard-rubbing people who treat us like a monkey in the zoo that can talk.

Do people in the high-rise flats in North Dublin estates really take their horses up in the lifts?

Horses have an intrinsic fear of lifts, however they are quite adept at climbing stairs.

Why are the Irish funny?

Because we take the English language,  pull its pants around its ankles and ask it to walk sideways like a Saxon crab.

Can you juggle spaghetti? Would you like to try on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year?

Spaghetti juggling is racist to Italians. It would be like Morris dancing and not taking a fancy to your cousin after a bottle of elderflower wine. Or caber tossing in an Erasure T-shirt.

Seriously. Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week.

OK, here you go. But we’ve drawn missing teeth on the Queen’s grin.

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, Music

A chat about a Christmas video turns to talk of comedians in court in the 1960s

Matt Roper - Christmas in Soho

Matt Roper spends a Happy Goddam Christmas in Soho

Comedian Matt Roper is flying to India on New Year’s Eve for two months. At least, that was what he intended to do.

“I think my new principle should be Don’t book flights when you’ve had two bottles of wine and a load of Guinness and a few tequilas,” he told me over pizza in London’s Soho.

“I’d had a heavy night out and woke up in the morning. My life most mornings, if I’m being honest is… Well, if you’ve ever seen a window with condensation on it and it slowly clears away… That’s my brain in the morning… I remembered doing something about a flight, so I went and checked my emails and the Confirmation was there… Flying out on 31st December, which is perfect for me because I don’t like New Year… and coming back on June 3rd…. What?… June 3rd?!!… but the most surprising thing was I’d managed to choose my seat and decide what sort of meal I was having.

“I’ve been many, many times to India. I love it out there, but I haven’t been for about six years. I’ll go to Goa and then hopefully write my Edinburgh Fringe show in some hill station. But my point is Never book a flight when you’re hammered.

“Maybe that should be your Fringe show title,” I suggested: “Never Book a Flight When You’re Pissed. But you shouldn’t go to India. You’re in the iTunes Comedy charts at the moment with Happy Goddam Christmas, this Christmas song of yours.”

“Well, it’s an anti-Christmas Christmassy song, really,” Matt corrected me, “like Fairytale of New York.”

“When that was released,” I said, “it was inconceivable it could become a standard festive song like White Christmas.”

“It’s a British thing,” suggested Matt. “We’re maybe not drawn to the natural sugary, positive ditties.”

“Is it the first song you’ve written?” I asked.

“No,” said Matt. “All the Wifredo stuff you hear at Edinburgh is all orginal songs, though I did one of those in collaberation with Pippa Evans.

“With Happy Goddam Christmas, I had the music for a long time – the basic structure of the song – it was about an ex I was feeling particularly, you know, bitter and jaded about. But the song isn’t iactually about me feeling bitter about an ex. I took it to Pippa Evans and she added a middle eight onto it and we worked together on the lyrics.”

Pippa Evans performs as her on-stage character Loretta Maine. Someone once described her as ‘Dolly Parton as seen through the lens of Mike Leigh’.

“Arthur Smith has a little cameo in the video,” Matt told me, “and we have Sanderson Jones and Imran Yusef – in the video, they’re in the band – Arthur’s in the toilet brandishing his Hammond organ.”

“So you wanted to make lots of money with a Christmas song?” I asked.

“Not really,” said Matt. “It was just about having a bit of fun. It’s easy to release whatever you want on iTunes. It’s quite incredible how the music industry’s changed. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Edinburgh Fringe were along similar lines? If you could cut out all the middle people.”

“Well,” I said, “the Free Fringe and the Free Festival sort-of do that. Are you thinking of doing one of the two free festivals next year?”

“Possibly. I had a lot of fun with Just The Tonic this year. I would like to see the Fringe level out into an event where your established comics and TV names are on the ticketed Fringe and the less-established acts can realistically afford to do it and make at least a little bit of money by the end of it.”

Matt’s father, George Roper, was one of The Comedians on the seminal Granada TV comedy stand-up show of the 1970s.

It was a different era.

“There was a club called The New Luxor Club in Hulme, Manchester,” Matt told me.

I raised my eyebrow at the mention of a club in Hulme. I went to Hulme a few times when I worked at Granada TV in the 1980s. If you went to the Aaben Cinema there, when you came out, you might find three youths sitting on your car bonnet saying: “So how much are you gonna pay to get your car back?”

“In the 1960s,” Matt told me, “they would have ‘gentlemen’s evenings’ at some of the Manchester social clubs, working men’s clubs, cabaret clubs. It would not be uncommon to have six stand-up comics and six female strippers/exotic dancers on one bill. At this point in the 1960s, it was legal to be naked on-stage, but it was illegal to move.

“The police decided to bust The New Luxor Club and my father was one of the six comics performing there that night. The police raided the club and charged the comedians with aiding and abetting the club owner – a guy called Vincent Chilton – for running a disorderly house.

“The six strippers and the six comics were in the dock at Manchester Crown Court and the police had to stand up in the court and tell the jokes. I swear – no word of a lie.

“I don’t know the exact date, but the police had to get up and say something like On the 28th of June 1965, George Roper stood up on stage and said the following joke: ‘A policewoman and a policeman were walking ‘ome from t’station one night. Ooh, she said, I’ve left me knickers back at t’station. Ooh, don’t worry, said t’policeman. Hitch up yer skirt, let the dog ‘ave a sniff. Half an hour later, t’dog comes back with t’sergeant’s balls in its mouth’…

“Can you imagine? In the Crown Court? The public gallery had to be cleared because everyone was laughing so much.

“There was a guy called Jackie Carlton, who was the apotheosis of Manchester club comics at the time and all the younger comics like Frank Carson and Bernard Manning looked up to him. He was very camp, very flamboyant. When it was his turn in the dock, the judge asked: Was that one of your jokes? and he said, Yes, but I tell it much better than that. He was found guilty.

“My dad was the last comic up and, when it was his turn to stand in the dock, the judge asked Is that one of your stories? and he said Oh! Not heard that one before and, for some reason, he got off with it by playing the underdog, as he always did. The other five comics got fined, but my dad got off with it.

“I asked my uncle about it not long ago and he said people were queueing round the block to buy the Manchester Evening News to read the jokes that were told in court.”

* * *

Below, Jackie Carlton talks in the 1970s about camp comedy and obscenity…

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Filed under Christmas, Comedy, Music

Perhaps the true spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe is not dead: comedy, anarchy and loose genitalia over the weekend

The Assembly Hall on The Mound

So, on Saturday, I went to see Australian comic John Robertson’s show The Old Whore, at the Assembly Hall venue on The Mound at the Edinburgh Fringe, but I only saw half of it.

It was a hot, sweaty and humid night and the room high up in Assembly Hall was like a sweat box. So John decided halfway through to take the show and the audience outside into the cool mid-evening air.

His narrative – the show is a fascinating, full-throttle dissection of his very odd family – soon   merged into a fully-fledged outdoor event involving passing pedestrians, rickshaw drivers, people in double decker buses and, with the audience sitting on the pavement, a virtual recreation of the galley sequence from Ben-Hur. Every time a significant number of people was spotted coming up the slope, the audience were under instructions from John to mime as if they were, en masse, rowing an invisible Roman galley on the pavement.

The admirable Assembly staff did not complain; they just came out on the pavement with the audience, donning dayglo safety jackets and made sure passing pedestrians and the traffic were not obstructed. They also laughed a lot and enjoyed John’s seat-of-your-pants show.

Topless entertainment at its best at the Edinburgh Fringe

It ended, suitably, with John taking off his shirt and getting his entire audience to stand up so he could be crowd-surfed with his audience carrying him halfway down the Mound and then addressing them standing on the top of the railings.

When this sort of thing happens, it makes you think maybe the spirit of the Fringe is not dead and the pay-to-enter festival has not been taken over by bland comedy clones only intent on finding TV producers to impress. There was a smell of sought-for anarchy in the air.

I did find it a little suspicious, though, when John told me he had done this once before – on a similarly sweaty night.

Is John Robertson (left) schmoozing me?

“Yeah,” John told me, out of breath after his crowd surf. “It was the night reviewers from The Scotsman and The List were in. They ended up doing a review of the bit where we went outside instead of the show itself and this is a structurally sound narrative. It’s a really carefully-crafted monologue. So it made me a little unhappy they reviewed the going-outside bit. But, when a crowd is having a hard time because of the heat, I will take them outside and do whatever.”

Could he have reckoned there was a greater chance of me writing a blog – and a longer blog – if he went outside again. Who knows? Who cares? When in doubt, go with what makes a good story.

John Robertson in The Dark Room in Edinburgh

John is also performing a separate show, The Dark Room, as part of the Alternative Fringe/Laughing Horse Free Festival at Bob Slayer’s Hive venue. Bob is a wonderful publicist and so is John. So the two together are quite something.

The Dark Room – which I saw yesterday – is basically a video game, which John created, but performed as a live interactive show in Edinburgh. He put the original game on YouTube and, he says, “it went viral in February. Variety and Wired did feature articles on it and Kotaku covered it – they’re a big multi-platform video gaming anime thing.”

John Robertson after his Hive show yesterday

Comedian Brendon Burns has been coming daily to John’s shows at the Hive to play The Dark Room. And, John tells me, “Ron Gilbert, from LucasArts, who created the first two Monkey Island games played it. Ian Livingstone, co-creator of Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop also came to play – and lost – and that was terrific.

“Here is a man who is responsible for people like me not getting laid in high school because we were indulging in his wonderful imagination, his wonderful flights of fantasy… and he turned up to play my game and lost! And he knew exactly what he was doing; we thought in a faintly similar way, though his games were made to be fun and my game was made to be fun to watch.”

John Robertson may do very well from The Dark Room because, as I say, like Bob Slayer, he knows how to promote and knows how to insert himself into situations which may get him publicity.

Bob Slayer (left) and John Robertson talk seriously (not)

So when, in the Hive bar after yesterday’s Dark Room show, hard-drinking and frequently drunk Bob Slayer ordered only a Coca Cola and I switched my iPhone audio recorder on, John leapt in as Bob’s interrogator and interlocutor – some people will do anything to get mentioned in this blog.

There was much talk of the fact that Bob had ordered a Coca Cola from the bar, but we will join the conversation at the point at which I said: “I enjoyed the wanking Jeff Leach story.”

“I didn’t enjoy wanking off Jeff Leach,” said Bob wearily.

“Yes you did,” said John.

“Jeff Leach was on stage at Espionage,” said Bob. “It’s not for me to assess another comedian’s performance, but the audience all hated him. So he turned his back on them and decided to talk to one man in the booth, off-mike.

“After about five minutes of this, I was sent on to go and pull him off and, unfortunately, that’s exactly what I did. I misunderstood them.”

“And did the crowd go wild?” asked John.

“Well,” said Bob, “I sold tickets for my show this morning on the back of wanking in a man’s wife’s face last night.”

Bob Slayer gets carried away during his storytelling spree

“In a man’s wife’s face?” I asked. “Don’t forget this is being recorded.”

“Well, she’s coming today,” Bob said with no sense of knowingness.

“Would you like to re-phrase that?” I asked.

“Today she is visiting his show,” suggested John.

“To be more precise,” said Bob. “I was wanking Jeff and Jeff was wanking me. There was a lot of coming and going. Well, there was no going. That was the whole point: he wouldn’t go so I had to make him come.”

“So you began to jerk the jerk?” John asked.

“You know how I won’t back down?” Bob asked me. “Well, we were playing that Who’s going to back down first? game and nobody was backing down.”

“Are we saying through the pants?” asked John.

“No,” said Bob.

“You put your hand in the pants?” asked John.

“No,” said Bob.

“You took him out of the pants?” asked John.

“The pants were down,” said Bob.

“The pants were down,” said John.

“Yes,” said Bob.

“The little Leach in full view?” asked John.

“The little Leach and big Bob.”

“Not too much detail,” I suggested.

“Was there engorging involved?” asked John.

“I don’t think there was any engorging going on,” said Bob. “Certainly not on my part: I’d had a bottle of Jagermeister.”

“So you were wanking this…” started John.

“Pulling a flaccid member,” corrected Bob.

“It didn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth?” I asked.

“No,” said Bob, “The man’s wife on the other hand…”

“And, faced with this chunky comedian porn, the crowd responded with…?” asked John.

“They seemed to quite like it,” said Bob. “I wouldn’t say all of them did, but the point is I sold some tickets today off the back of it, so some people liked it, therefore it’s entertainment and it should be done on a regular basis….” Bob paused and thought for a couple of seconds. “I’m never doing it again,” he added.”I’m disgusted with this hand. It’s the one I dislocated as well. We had already fallen out.”

Bob Slayer holds his hand, if not his head, high yesterday

He held his right hand up so I could photograph it. One of his fingers is missing a joint.

“You look like Dave Allen there,” I said. “Jeremy Beadle built an entire career based on this.”

“What?” asked Bob, “Pretending to be Dave Allen?”

“No,” I said, “you know he had…”

“…a shrunken hand,” said Bob. “Yes.”

James Doohan,” said John.

“Who?” I asked.

“Scotty, from Star Trek,” said John.

“Oh?” said Bob.

“Only four digits on one hand,” said John. “One of his fingers was shot off in the War…. And you know Radar from M*A*S*H?”

“Him too?” I asked, incredulous.

“He’s got a deformed left hand,” said John. “He’s always holding a clipboard.”

“Is any of this true?” I asked.

“Yes, it is,” said John.

“Mickey Mouse – three fingers,” I said.

“What you’re saying,” said Bob, holding up his hand, “is that people with deformed hands are genii.”

“Genii?” asked John.

“I think genii is the plural of genius,” said Bob.

“I don’t think Mickey Mouse is a genius,” I said. “and I am going to have to transcribe all this.”

“You may regret it,” Bob said.

“We may all regret it,” I said.

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Filed under Comedy, Computers, Gaming, Sex

The American comic with the 99 cent potential movie about online hysteria

Mike Player confronts the horrific possibilities of viral videos

Last month, I blogged about improvisational American comedian Mike Player’s Angry Daddies show at the Outlaugh Comedy Festival on the Hollywood Fringe.

“It went great,” he told me this morning from Los Angeles. “It was like giving birth to a two hundred pound baby. Surreal experiences got so crowded I had to sit on the floor. I hate sitting on the floor.”

I mentioned in my previous blog that Mike had written a book Out on the Edge: America’s Rebel Comics.

Now he has written a comedy/suspense novel Viral – The Story of the Milkshake Girl which sounds to me like it has movie potential.

What interests me is the price, though.

It is available as an eBook on Amazon.co.uk for 77p (or for 99c on Amazon.com).

This could be the future of publishing.

I have been thinking of issuing an eBook myself with a 99p price tag. But perhaps I would be over-pricing it!

Mike is a graduate of the Master Class of the UCLA Writers Program. He is also a graduate of the Warner Brothers Comedy Writers Workshop and was executive producer of MTV Logo’s 8-episode network series, Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack. Mike is basically a Hollywood chap and he has, of course, got a good ‘elevator pitch’ for his Viral book:

Mike’s interestingly-priced cyberworld book

What if something you did got filmed and posted on the internet and you became FAMOUS and everyone hated you but you were FAMOUS and earning lots of MONEY, your life was threatened and you had to run away to protect your family?

What if you could have sex with anyone you wanted? Your phone was more powerful than the major broadcast networks and goats jumping on a trampoline got more views than the President’s State of the Union speech? What if you had to fight for your very life?

What is it like to become an overnight viral video star? Sixteen-year-olds become moguls and moguls fetch coffee… in the dark comedy suspense thriller VIRAL.

“This sounds not too far removed from a possible reality,” I suggested to Mike.

“Well, I read about Jessie Slaughter,” he told me. “It’s not her story, but she was a teen who had to go into the Witness Protection program because her internet doings got so out of control. Plus I have met a lot of crazy people working in TV and producing my own videos. I manage to get a lot of poison out of my system by writing comedy.”

“And writing the book?” I asked.

“Would you be only vaguely interested in removing a splinter from your forehead?” Mike asked.

“It seems to me an awful lot of supposed fiction is actually fact toned-down to be believable,” I said.

“A weird true thing I researched that’s actually in my book,,” Mike said, “is a kid who fell into a ditch in Colombia or somewhere and someone filmed it and posted it online. It got so popular the kid got a commercial deal out of it. And all he did was fall into a ditch.”

In the book, Iranian teenage foster girl Erika Moradi stands up for herself by swatting the milkshake out of the hand of a sexist bully in a Las Vegas high school and becomes famous in a fluke video as The Milkshake Girl.

As a result, she incites the wrath of her high school and the darker elements of online teen networks. Her home is vandalised and her life is threatened. She runs away and meets TV producer Jack Hawkins, who has lost his job on a network soap opera. He has several high concept series ideas involving some of the hottest viral stars of the moment – a trampolining goat, a gay Congressman and a Brazilian who fell into a ditch. But Erika becomes the most notorious.

“What’s a comedy person doing writing this paranoid dark stuff?” I asked.

“Well,” Mike told me, “it’s dark comedy suspense. All comedians love to go ‘dark’.”

“Is writing for print more satisfying than improvising live?” I asked Mike.

“In some ways it is,” he said, “because it lasts longer and people can’t throw things at you.”

“And what’s with the trampolining goat?” I asked.

“Every book should have a goat on a trampoline,” he replied.

I cannot disagree.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Internet

“Confess your crimes against the people of North Korea or you will not be allowed to leave the country tomorrow”

North Korea, land of the Kims, is truly a People’s Paradise

In North Korea, you can see new buildings being constructed as skeletons of concrete, brick and stone but rough and unsophisticated. The final surfaces, though, are very well-designed and finished. They look superficially perfect.

There is another simile for North Korea here. It looks OK from a cursory glance but, underneath…

The Chinese build better foundations.

It seems to me the Chinese have tried to change their society from the bottom upwards. The North Koreans manage any change from the top downwards. They start with the triumphant monuments to success and then (ironically in this supposed people’s paradise but – hey! – this is Communism) there is a rigid hierarchy through which change may trickle down to the bottom though it seems not to have done in the 26 years since I was last here.

One odd feature in the relentless propaganda is that, since I was last here, the Great Leader Kim Il-sung’s mother and early wife seem to have appeared as pseudo Mary Mother of Jesus figures. I do not remember them being mentioned before; now they occasionally appear in pictures. Both long dead, of course, as all the best icons are.

This is my last day in the People’s Paradise. The train out of North Korea leaves Pyongyang at 10.10am this morning. It arrives in Beijing at 8.33am tomorrow morning. No US passport holders are allowed to take the train out of North Korea; they have to fly out.

In the train, I have lunch with a British woman who lives in New York (she has a British passport). She was at the big military parade on Kim Il-sung’s birthday. The one we were not allowed to go to. She was with another foreigner who reckoned some of the giant rockets on display were not real: they were possibly made from wood. She does not know; he did not know; I do not know; this is North Korea; I only mention it as an observation from someone who was there.

She told me someone else she knows managed, accidentally, to go onto the ‘hidden’ floor in their hotel – the floor at which lifts do not stop. There was no decor. Just a bare concrete corridor and bare walls. The door to one room was slightly ajar. He looked through the crack. A man was sitting looking at a TV monitor. He left the floor quietly and returned to the ‘allowed’ parts of the hotel.

I also get talking to a man who is one of the three others I share the four-berth compartment with on this train from Pyongyang to Beijing. He was born in a Western European country (which shall remain nameless to disguise his identity). But he has lived in the US for many years. So he has both a US passport and a passport from the European country of his birth. Obviously, as he is on the train, he is using his European passport.

Last night, he was booked into the same hotel as me – the Yanggakdo in Pyongyang. He came into North Korea with a Kindle e-reader and a laptop computer which the border guards did not query because neither has GPS.

In my opinion, he was silly on the North Korean trip. He was not in my group, but he told me he had sat at the front of his tour bus, near the two guides, taking photographs of the North Korean countryside (which is not allowed). He had also, with a fellow group member, wandered out of their hotel one night unaccompanied. Again, this is not allowed.

Last night, there was a problem with the keys to his hotel room which escalated to the point at which he was taken off to a room in the hotel and interrogated for seven hours, from 8.00pm to 3.00am.

“Why have you been taking bad photographs to make our country look bad?” the questions started, before moving on to “Why have you been disrespectful of our guides?” and so on, round and round in circles for seven hours with five interrogators.

“You are not a real tourist,” they eventually said. “You have been taking photographs of people in the countryside and in the towns. They are all waiting downstairs to denounce you… We have talked to the other members of your group. They all say you are not a real tourist. You are a spy. We know you are here to spy on our country and take bad photographs.”

They brought in an IT expert with a laptop computer which he attached to the man’s laptop computer to search the hard disk. They then confiscated the hard disk. They then looked through all the still photographs he had taken and erased a lot. “Where have you hidden the other memory cards?” he was asked.

“I have no other memory cards,” he told them. But the questioning and re-questioning went on for seven hours.

It escalated more and more.

“You will not be allowed to leave the country,” they told him. You have committed crimes against the people of North Korea. Confess your crimes against the people of North Korea or you will not be allowed to leave the country tomorrow.”

“Oh shit,” he thought.

“You must sign a confession to your crimes,” he was told, “or you will not be allowed to leave the country. If you publish any photographs you have taken in North Korea, we will publish your confession on the internet.”

“Oh shit,” he thought.

He eventually signed the ‘confession’.

“You have committed crimes against North Korea,” he was then told. “You must compensate North Korea. Do you have $10,000?”

When he made it clear he was not carrying $10,000 on him, they feigned anger that he thought he could bribe them.

“If you publish any photographs you have taken in North Korea,” they told him, “or continue your crimes after you have left our country or tell anyone this interrogation has taken place, we will publish your confession to your crimes on the internet.”

“They were frightening but not very efficient,” he tells me. “I had a video camera in my case and they never looked. I declared it at the border on the way in, but they never knew it was there. It had much ‘worse’ images.”

After he was released at 3.00am, he went back to his room and erased all the material he had shot on his video camera. He did this under his bed covers in case – as well as having sound bugs – the hotel room had video bugs.

I wonder what will happen at the border.

This could go one of two ways for me.

I am sharing a compartment with the guy.

Either I will be given a bad time because I will get guilt by association. Or I will sail through because the border guards will focus so much on him.

At the border, the first North Korean border guard comes into our compartment and goes straight for him.

“Camera,” he says.

Three other North Korean border guards come in. I go and stand in the corridor as they interrogate the guy, go through his stills camera, picture by picture, find the video camera in his case and examine that.

“My camera – my stills camera – takes videos and I have my video camera too,” he tells them, “but I took no videos while I was in North Korea.”

I think, listening to this in the corridor, that it must sound more than a little suspicious.

“You have more memory cards,” the guards say. “Where are your other memory cards?”

“I have no other memory cards,” he tells them.

“Do you have memory cards hidden in your hair?” one of them asks him.

They interrogate him for around 35 minutes. Then they turn to me:

“Camera,” the guard barks at me.

I give him my camera. He looks at all the photographs. There are 168 on the memory card. He erases 17 of them – one of the border at Panmunjom, mostly just photos of ordinary people in the very public Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang.

There are only three sets of photos on that memory card: Panmunjom, Kim Il-sung Square and the music concert we attended in Pyongyang. I had intentionally taken the Panmunjom photos so they could, if necessary, be erased. The other 900+ photos I had taken in North Korea are on another memory card in the rolled-up sleeve of my shirt.

The guards never ask if I have a video camera. Which I do, with five one-hour tapes filled-up.

Afterwards, the European guy tells me that, halfway through his grilling by the border guards, he realised that the European passport on which he was travelling in North Korea had an out-of-date visa for China in it. His up-to-date visa for China was in the US passport in his bag, which the guards superficially searched. They did not realise he had a second, US passport (remember US citizens cannot legally leave North Korea by train) and they did not check the dates on the Chinese visa in his European passport. But, he tells me, “I was shitting myself.”

The guards were paranoid, but not very efficient. However, they may have been hungry.

In another compartment in the railway carriage, a female border guard saw a chocolate bar in the suitcase of some Swiss travellers. She looked at their passports. “Swiss?” she asked. “Yes,” they replied. She unwrapped the chocolate bar and ate it, unsmiling, in front of the two Swiss. “It is good chocolate,” she told them.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Filed under North Korea, spying