So I had a blog chat with poet/comedian/writer John Dowie.
I was going to the dentist. We arranged to meet when I was finished.
“You might as well come to the dentist in case he’s over-running,” I suggested.
“Charming as your dentist’s waiting room undoubtedly is,” John Dowie replied, “I will be in this pub down the road.”
And he was.
He drank sparkling water. He wore a hat,
This is part of our chat.
JOHN FLEMING: Are you going to see Avengers: Endgame, the latest Marvel movie?
JOHN DOWIE: No, because I won’t go to a cinema. People talk, use their phones and eat popcorn. I can’t believe they sell popcorn in cinemas: the noisiest and smelliest food known to mankind. I resent the attitude of the people who own the cinemas: they shouldn’t sell popcorn. I mean, people are bringing in hamburgers and chips now.
FLEMING: Are they? Where?
DOWIE: I dunno. But they are.
FLEMING: You’re getting to be a grumpy old man.
Consistently grumpy young John Dowie – a living legend
DOWIE: Getting? I was always a grumpy man. Age doesn’t come into it.
I can’t function unless I’m in complete privacy, in an enclosed space with no distractions.
FLEMING: You must have had to in your erstwhile youth.
DOWIE: I had a bedsit and wrote in that. Or I’d sit in my bedroom in my mother’s house and write there.
I am now thinking of trying to rent an office.
FLEMING: It is difficult to write at home.
DOWIE: Yes. If you have a partner of any kind, just as you reach the moment where you think: Yes! YES! there will be a knocking on the door – “Would you like a cuppa tea?” – and it’s all gone.
I had a friend, Gary, who was a painting artist and he said it was always happening with his missus.
FLEMING: The painter’s wife from Porlock.
DOWIE: …or the unwitting girlfriend from Porlock.
DOWIE: To think it’s alright to knock on the writer’s door and ask if you want a cup of tea.
FLEMING: You should be publishing more. Your story in the excellently-edited Sit-Down Comedy anthology was wonderful.
DOWIE: Well, I’ve got an idea for another book. But it’s under wraps. It’s bad luck to talk about it before you’ve done it.
DOWIE: No, no. I can’t be fucked with fiction… But I did have an idea for a story… It’s about this woman dentist who has a new patient and he walks into the room with the most perfect teeth. She falls madly in love with this guy, but how does she keep on seeing him? There’s only one way: tell him his teeth are shit. So, over the course of a year or so, she gets him back for more appointments, taking out his teeth one-at-a-time until he has no teeth left… and then she goes off him.
FLEMING: You should call it Take Me Out.
DOWIE: …or Pulling.
FLEMING: Can I quote that idea?
DOWIE: Yes. I won’t use it. But I do have an idea for a new book – though I can’t write it until I’ve found somewhere to live. At the moment, I’m staying with my two sons and their mother. One of my sons is doing a show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Comedy/magic and conspiracy theories
DOWIE: Oddly Alike. My son is Harry Scott Moncrieff and it’s a two-hander with his mate Robbie Fox. Harry does comedy/magic wrapped around conspiracy theories. If he does it really well, they will kill him.
FLEMING: Or so he thinks… Why is he Scott Moncrieff?
DOWIE: He took his mother’s name which has turned out quite well, because he’s not cursed by association with my name as being drunk and abusive.
FLEMING: But Dowie is a famous name.
DOWIE: In Scotland it is… Dowie’s Tavern in Edinburgh…
FLEMING: I’ve never heard of it. But Dowie is a creative name. There’s you. Your sister Claire Dowie. And Helga Dowie whom I worked with at ATV, who’s a producer now. Your son should have kept the Dowie name. Three prestigious Dowies. How many Scott Moncrieffs are there?
DOWIE: Hundreds, including the man who translated Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu.
FLEMING: Really? Was your ex-girlfriend related to the Proust Scott Moncrieff?
DOWIE: Yeah. And she can actually claim lineage from Henry VIII. All I can claim is a couple of ex-cons from Australia.
DOWIE: Nah! Dunno. Irish. My dad’s Irish, so… Well, there’s a famous John Dowie in Australia who’s a sculptor.
FLEMING: Oh! Is he related to you?
DOWIE: No… There’s another John Dowie who plays football. He is related.
Maybe dour, mean-spirited but never ever dull
FLEMING: Does ‘Dowie’ mean anything?
DOWIE: It means dull, dour and mean-spirited. There’s The Dowie Dens o’ Yarrow, a famous folk song.
FLEMING: So your father was Irish with a Scots name…
DOWIE: Yes. My mother was very scathing about the Irish.
FLEMING: She was Scottish?
DOWIE: No. From Stoke-on-Trent but she married my dad, who was from Belfast and she was always scathing about how terribly not-bright the Irish were. I once did a genealogy thing on her maiden name. It turned out she was from Ireland… I think I may get an Irish passport if Brexit happens.
FLEMING: A comedian has just been elected President of Ukraine. (Volodymyr Zelenskiy)
DOWIE: Yes. Swivel on THAT Mark Thomas! Never mind your NHS show. Look what a real politician comedian’s getting up to!
FLEMING: Can I quote that?
DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Yeah! Jeremy Hardy must be spinning in his grave. That could’ve been me up there on that podium! I’m going to the Jeremy Hardy memorial in May. He was very good, very precise and his death deserved all the press coverage it got.
“Now, when comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries…” (Photograph by Steve Ullathorne)
It used to be that comedians were only jealous of other comedians succeeding. But then you write a book and you’re jealous that other comedians’ books are doing better than yours. Now, when other comedians start dying, you become jealous of their obituaries. Ian Cognito’s obituaries this month! I would kill for that amount of space!
FLEMING: I know. He was getting in mainstream papers…
DOWIE: … in the Guardian AND in The Times! I expected the Guardian to do one, but not The Times.
FLEMING: Malcolm Hardee got very extensive obituaries in the quality newspapers because people in the media knew who he was, even if the public didn’t. But Ian Cognito! – I don’t think people outside the comedy industry itself were really aware of him. He did prove, though, that the best way to die is on-stage like Tommy Cooper – and/or live your life so OTT that there are lots of outrageous anecdotes to quote. Fame may die but anecdotes live forever.
DOWIE: That Hollywood Reporter article you posted on Facebook about John Belushi’s death was quite horrific. No respect. There’s a corpse being wheeled out on a trolly – Oh! I’ll take a photograph of that, then! – No. mate, don’t – And Lenny Bruce, of course. He died on a toilet trying to inject himself. He was lying naked on the bathroom floor with a syringe still in his arm and they were leaping up the stairs two-at-a-time to take photographs of him.
FLEMING: Apparently dying on the toilet is quite a common thing. Doing Number Twos puts a big strain on the heart.
DOWIE: I have ‘died’ IN some toilets.
FLEMING: Wey-hey! You still have it!… I should have taken heroin when I was younger. Look at Keith Richards: 75 years old and a picture of good health; his main risk is falling out of trees he has climbed. Wasn’t it Keith Richards who accidentally smoked his father’s cremated ashes?
DOWIE: He said he did; then he said he didn’t.
FLEMING: Always print the legend, I say, if it’s a good story.
DOWIE: The story I like is Graham Nash. After his mother died, he discovered that she had wanted to be a singer but was saddled with having to bring up children and having to work. So he took her ashes on tour with him and, every time he did a gig, he dropped a little bit of her on the stage.
“What’s going to happen? … Are you going to rot or be burnt?”
FLEMING: What’s going to happen to you? Are you going to rot or be burnt?
DOWIE: When I buried my friend David Gordon, I found a natural death company with grounds and you can do what you like there. You can put the body in a hole in the ground or in a coffin or in a sack – You can do what the fuck you like – And then they plant a tree there. That’s what I’m going to have done – What kind of tree would it be? – I think it will have to be a weeping willow.
FLEMING: You’ll be happy to rot? You don’t want to be burnt?
DOWIE: I don’t like that bit where the doors close.
FLEMING: Like curtains closing on a stage…
DOWIE: …and no encore.
FLEMING: I think it’s more romantic to rot.
DOWIE: Also your body serves a purpose if you grow a tree out of it. Actually, I quite like the idea of a Viking funeral with the boat and the flames. But I try not to ponder on my own death too much, John. It’s just tempting Fate.