Tag Archives: writing

“The Beef of the Three Sausages” – a new original story by 11-year-old Lily

Back in December 2020, there was a review posted in this blog of a new movie based on the traditional pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk. It was written by Lily, the then 9-year-old daughter of writer-performer hyphenate Ariane Sherine.

The multi-talented Lily, now 11-years-old, has been writing fiction since then and this is her latest piece:

THE BEEF OF THE THREE SAUSAGES

Once upon a time, there were three sausages: the planet-loving vegan, the intelligent pork, and the beef, who would rave about the strength of cows but was not too strong himself – especially emotionally. 

Every day, the plant-based sausage would brag, “We are simply SO good for the climate! If the whole human population ate only us then the world would never need to fear for the well-being of our planet!” 

And the pork sausage, pig-like as ever, would boast, “Us pigs and boars are the brainiest of the lot – and I’m not telling a porky!” And then laugh at his own ever-so-smart witticism.

As much as the beef sausage attempted to prove that he, and indeed all cows, was equally as remarkable as the other two, all he could manage was a feeble, “We are very strong!” This only earned him guffaws and taunting, and him being a gentle soul, it was simply too much for him to cope with. 

Too much for him to cope with in many senses – for the other two bangers went so much further than calling him a cow. They would hit him with sharp utensils, typically a fork, but one day, it was a knife that hit his flesh. 

It was plunged in by the vegan, who felt no guilt about this whatsoever – despite how strongly he felt about the fossil fuels entering the atmosphere, the beef sausage’s soul leaving the planet did not weigh him down at all. 

A week passed, and suddenly he found that he would start to absent-mindedly pluck the leaves from hedges he walked by, and was even about to order a taxi without specifically asking  for an electric one! But of course, he paid little notice to this – simply intrusive thoughts. 

Perhaps, though, a little more peculiar, was that the pork sausage would continuously somehow get the simplest of equations drastically wrong! When he would ask to be ‘tested’ on his maths (which was only a request for compliments in truth) the vegan sausage would roll his eyes and  say drolly, “55 x 4.” And the pork would reply, “215!” 

Additionally, he began to question famous theories, like finding fault in one of the numbers in the Fibonacci Sequence. Of course, he paid little notice to this – for the sharpest minds would often have intrusive thoughts, and it was simply a sign of creativity, surely. 

But a month later, the vegan would pull up plants, do crazy protests that climate change was a pack of lies, think thoughts that they should buy a diesel car. The most peculiar thing was that he had the strongest feeling that these thoughts were not truly his, as if he was a puppet with dictated beliefs. 

Similarly, the pig would forget his times tables, put down its own species and almost WORSHIP cows, as much as the vegan would lead protests about the ‘dangerous fantasies’ scientists were enforcing into people’s minds. Both felt like they were somehow being controlled. 

It was only when the trees became beef sausages and the pigs suddenly died that they realised they were being haunted by the cow they’d killed. 

And such mental anguish was felt by the vegan sausage, who had committed the crime, that they burnt away the world they had tried so hard to save just 6 weeks ago.

THE END

Leave a comment

Filed under Creativity, Writing

Dan Harary (Part 2): Seinfeld, sex and party night at the Playboy Mansion…

In yesterday’s blog, I chatted to US publicity guru Dan Harary, who is publishing four books between now and next Spring.

Last month saw the publication of Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters

…Dan with Steven Spielberg, Amber Smith, Ann-Margret, Dr Ruth and Jack Black…

The chat continues here…


“I was 24, no car, no money, no proper job, no connections…”

JOHN: You were allegedly Jerry Seinfeld’s ‘very first fan’ in 1981…

DAN: That is absolutely true. In 1981, I had been in LA for about six months. I was 24, no car, no money, no proper job, no connections. I was a gofer for a video company, which meant I had to run for sandwiches and coffee, clean people’s offices and my biggest job was to get my bosses’ cars washed: Jaguars, Mercedes, BMWs… They were all millionaires; I was penniless.

One day I went to the car wash. There were only two people there: me and Jerry Seinfeld. I had seen him the year before, in 1980, in Manhattan and he had been so remarkably funny. 

So, at the car wash, I turn and say: “Jerry Seinfeld?”

“Yeah?”

“My name is Dan. I’m your biggest fan.”

He goes: “Gee. I didn’t know I had any fans.”

We shook hands and I said: “I saw you in New York last year. What are you doing now?”

“Well, tonight I am gonna make my debut on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

And that night…

JOHN: …he became a star.

DAN: …he became a star. Yeah. But the funny part of that story, really, is the second half… 

I said: “You and I are about the same age; we both came here from the East Coast; but I don’t have any friends here. Could you and I be friends?”

And he looked at me like this… (ODDLY)… and he says: “Weeell, I don’t give out my phone number, but here’s my business manager’s card”… He gave me the card. Nothing happened…

So, cut to 12 years later… 1993.

Jerry Seinfeld and Dan Harary in 1993…

I’m at a TV Convention in San Francisco. Seinfeld, the TV show, was now very, very popular. Sony Pictures were selling Seinfeld into syndication. 

I’m walking through this TV Convention. Jerry’s there. 

I went up to him and said: “Jerry…”

“Yes?”

“My name is Dan.”

We shook hands again.

I said: “I met you in 1981 at the Sunset Car Wash. It was the day you made your debut on The Tonight Show.

He looked at me and said: “I remember you. You wanted to be my friend.”

He pulls his hand out from my hand. He turns and he walks away.

As we’d first met in West Hollywood, he probably thought I was gay. Who knows.

“…women I’ve loved, lost or chased…”

JOHN: But you’re not gay. Your second book Carrots: A Sex Odyssey is coming out this September and it is…

DAN: …the history of women I’ve loved, lost or chased or never had the courage to love at all and there’s quite a few of them.

JOHN: In the blurb, it mentions you had a 20-year long sex addiction “later in life”. What took you so long?

DAN: I was very shy when I was young, even though I had the long hair and I played the drums and I worked with Bruce Springsteen and KISS and Fleetwood Mac – I did lighting and stage work at The Sunshine Inn. I was a straight-A student in school but, with women, with girls, I was very very shy. 

I was with my wife from the age of 25 to 36. We had two kids. When I got divorced at 36…  I was no longer shy…

From 36 to 56 I became a sex addict. I went wild for quite a while but now I’m glad that period of my life is behind me. 

JOHN: You worked at the Playboy Channel for three years and Playboy Channel events were held in Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Mansion West.

Hugh Hefner and Dan Harary at the Playboy Mansion in 1984

DAN: Most of the times I was there was for events during the day. I think I met Hefner three times; he was very nice. I did go to a few parties there at night. I wasn’t there when people were making love in the pool. I didn’t see naked people, but I saw some interesting things at night. 

The Halloween parties that he had! Celebrities were there and gorgeous 18/19 year-old girls with almost no clothes on. At one of those parties, I had my drink and I’m like the grandfather next to these young girls. They’re like my daughter’s age. 

I’m looking around thinking: For a straight man, this is heaven! There’s a table of shrimp and lobster and steak. And on other table is free alcohol: every possible drink. Garry Shandling and Matt Dillon are there I remember… James Caan. And then the girls! Every girl was drop-dead gorgeous and some were there with their mothers! 

I met this one girl of 19 and her mom was like 40 and they were both equally beautiful.

Dan and Playboy Playmate Kym Malin, 1985

I was single at that time but I was so overwhelmed that, after two hours, I actually said to myself: I have to leave! 

It was too much.

It was just too much.

JOHN: Surely you owed it to yourself to stay?

DAN: I couldn’t. I couldn’t do it. First of all, these girls wanted millionaire, movie star boyfriends. I’m not a millionaire and I’m not a movie star.

A lot of women I’ve met in my life want to use me, OK. Can you help me do my PR? I’ve had actress women, models use me. I like pretty girls and they like to torture me! But that one night at the Halloween party I actually had to leave. It was like being a kid in a candy store but you have diabetes.

JOHN: You must have unfulfilled ambitions? You were a drummer in lots of bands…

DAN: When I was a Senior in high school, a friend of mine who was friends with Bruce Springsteen told me: “Dan, Bruce is looking for a new drummer. Why don’t you consider trying out for him?”

Now I did not like his music at that time. I was into The Who, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Beatles, The Stones. 

Years later, I came to love quite a few of his songs. Independence Day is one of my favourite songs. But, at the time, he wasn’t famous and I had no connection with his music. So I told my friend: “It’s not for me.”

Had I auditioned, you never know… I had a beautiful drum set, I was a very good drummer, I had met Bruce the year before. He would have known who I was. But, you know, I didn’t even drive? I was 16. Bruce was seven years older than me. If we had gone to a bar, I wouldn’t have been able to play. I was 16. Under-age.

That’s the closest I ever got to becoming a famous drummer.

New York’s Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca…

JOHN: Your third book is Inside The Cutting Room: A Backstage Look at New York’s Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Mecca. It’s published in Spring next year and it’s about the music business…

DAN: The backstory is my best friend from childhood – Steve Walter.  We met in 1968. He and I grew up together. We were in bands together. We worked at The Sunshine Inn together. When I was 24, I went to LA; he went to Manhattan.

He owns The Cutting Room club. My lifelong best friend.

He opened The Cutting Room 25 years ago. A lot of very very famous musicians, rock bands have played there over the years.

JOHN: Lady Gaga was discovered there?

DAN: Absolutely correct. March 2006.

In March 2006, there was The Songwriters of New York Talent Showcase and 19-year old Stefani Germanotta played on my friend’s stage along with about a dozen other young performers.

There was a woman in the audience named Wendy Starland who, when she saw Stefani perform, called a record producer friend and said: “I just discovered the next Big Thing.”

Wendy took Stefani to meet this guy who heard her stuff, said, “You’re the new John Lennon. You’re a good songwriter,” signed her up and, the next time she played The Cutting Room that Fall, they introduced her as Lady Gaga.

JOHN: On your personal website, you describe yourself as “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. The domain name is danhararyauthor.com – danhararyAUTHOR not danhararyPR or just danharary… I know you have your business site www.asburypr.com but danhararyAUTHOR.com implies that writing is personally more important than other things?

“…the new Woody Allen. I was gonna write sitcoms…”

DAN: In Eighth Grade, I was writing short stories and my English teacher loved them; she told me I was a talented writer. I came to LA to be a comedy writer for television. I wanted to be the new Woody Allen. I was gonna write sitcoms. I came close with Seinfeld in 1992. I came close but didn’t sell my script. I came close three times; it didn’t happen. Along the way, I fell in love, got married, had kids. 

I’m a good writer. A lot of publicity, as you know, is writing. So my sitcom comedy writing ambitions veered off to PR. And that’s how I made a living for 40 years. It’s just how it happened. I told my mother: “At the age of 66, I’ve now finally fulfilled my dream of being an author.”

JOHN: So now we get to your fourth book… the one about the UFOs…

DAN: Yes…

(… CONTINUED HERE …)

1 Comment

Filed under Books, PR, Sex, Writing

Dan Harary (Part 1): Flirting with Fame; insulting Schwarzenegger and Streep…

Dan Harary talked to me from Los Angeles at the weekend…

Dan Harary calls himself “an author, entertainment industry publicist, drummer and former stand-up comic”. He started his own company Asbury PR of Beverly Hills in 1996. Now, 26 years successful years later, he is suddenly publishing four – yes four – books. The first was published last month: Flirting With Fame: : A Hollywood Publicist Recalls 50 Years of Celebrity Close Encounters.

Part of the PR pitch for it is:

“Dan quite often found himself in rather bizarre circumstances while interacting with famous people – like having a staring contest with Barbra Streisand, twice; or smoking a joint in silence with Jill Clayburgh in Central Park; or talking with Billy Crystal about Chinese food at Sid Caesar’s funeral; or introducing his mother to Mel Brooks and finding out they both went to the same high school. Dan’s countless ‘close encounters of the celebrity kind’ are sometimes funny, sometimes touching, and quite often cringe-inducing.”

We chatted at the weekend…


Flirting and skirting but never hurting…

JOHN: FOUR books being published between now and next Spring? Why now?

DAN: Flirting With Fame was from Covid. Last Spring, 2021, I looked at the calendar and I was going to turn 65 and realised the very first celebrity I ever met was when I was 15 years old – Richie Havens, who was a famous singer from Woodstock.

During Covid, I was bored and had nothing to do. Wow! It’s been 50 years since I’ve been meeting and working with celebrities! So I took a piece of paper and just wrote down all the hundreds of celebrities I’ve met or worked with and there were so many of them that I thought: I should just write a book.

When I was in high school, I had really long hair, I played the drums and ran lights and stage crew for a little concert hall in Asbury Park – The Sunshine Inn.

Bruce Springsteen played there quite often; he was considered like the house band. Before it was called the E Street Band, he had a band called Steel Mill, one called Doctor Zoom and The Sonic Boom and then he had the Bruce Springsteen Band.

JOHN: You’ve known everybody.

DAN: It’s not that I know them, John. It’s like in the title of my book – Flirting – It’s like I skimmed with hundreds of very very very famous people. Most of my clients are behind-the-scenes people in the entertainment world. I’m FLIRTING with fame. I’m not famous. Only a few of my clients – like Jay Leno – were famous. But, over the course of time, I’ve been in situations surrounded by a lot of famous people.

JOHN: According to your own publicity for the book, you pissed-off some…

DAN: Arnold Schwarzenegger, sure. I was at an event in Beverly Hills in 1996. He wasn’t the Governor of California yet, but he was a big star. The event was for Milton Berle. You remember Milton Berle?

JOHN: Of course. A comedy legend.

Dan with Sid Caesar – semi-retired but still active in 1987…

DAN: I worked with Milton a few times. I represented Sid Caesar for a couple of years.

Anyway, I was at an event in Beverly Hills for Milton Berle. I knew Arnold Schwarzenegger would be there and my 8-year-old son was a huge fan of The Terminator movies. So I took a photo of Arnold as The Terminator and a white marking pen.

During a break in the festivities, Arnold is at a table with two giant bodyguards and I just tapped him on the shoulder: “Hello. My name is Dan. My son is 8 years old. He loves The Terminator. Would you be kind enough to give a quick autograph?” I have the photo and the pen in my hand.

He looks at me and he goes (CONTORTS FACE) “GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I say: “Arnold, please. He’s 8 years old.”

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

I swear to God. Steam virtually shooting out of his bright red… like he wanted me to burn in a fire…

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Arnold Schwarzenegger: GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!

He never said a word to me. 

So now I’m like shaking, right?

His bodyguards are looking at me.

I’m like: Come on, Arnold, you can do it! 

It’ll take five seconds.

Come on, man. Please! Please do it!

“GHHHRRRRRRR!!!!!”

Really, it was a stand-off. And, eventually, he realised I was not going to leave without it… So, after quite a while, he finally grabbed the pen and did it and wrote: TO JORDAN – BEST WISHES.

My son is 34 years old now and he has it framed on his wall in his house in Alaska.

JOHN: The thing that most shocks me is that Arnold Schwarzenegger needed two bodyguards.

DAN: They had little earpieces with little curly wire that came out.

JOHN: Meeting ‘stars’ can be strange…

DAN: I was at a photo shoot with Kevin Costner in 1990… Kevin wasn’t a huge, huge star then, so he was very approachable. He couldn’t have been nicer. This was to promote an Earth Day TV special on ABC. 

A lot of executives from Warner Bros and ABC were there and everyone was saying: “She’s coming! She’s coming!’

I didn’t know who. They didn’t tell me.

“It’s ten minutes till she’ll be here… She’s coming!… Ten minutes!… Five minutes!”

“Who’s coming?” I asked.

They said: “Meryl Streep!”

“Meryl Streep?” I said. “Meryl Streep is coming?”

Carla holding her Oscar for Sophie’s Choice…

She was very famous, of course, and, at the time, was just a few years out from her Sophie’s Choice Oscar. This is MERYL STREEP, you know?

So Meryl Streep’s coming! Oh my God! Oh my God!

I wasn’t a particular fan of hers. I don’t think she’s particularly… I was never a fan of hers ever, but everyone was scurrying around: “Meryl’s coming! Meryl’s coming!”

So I got caught up in it.

The doors open. It’s bright sunshine outside. She enters. She’s all in white. She’s like an angel from Heaven. It’s like Mother Mary has descended and we’re like the peasants in Guatemala or wherever. She comes in and there’s like 20 people in a line. ABC people. Warner Bros people. I’m at the very end of the line. Next to me is a friend of mine named Carla from Warner Bros.

So Meryl goes along the line like the Queen of England. 

“Miss Streep, it’s such an honour”… “Miss Streep, it’s such an honour…”

I’m caught up in it.

It’s Meryl Streep! It’s Meryl Streep!

She gets to me and I’m at the very end of this long line and, by the time she got to me,  I was so nervous I shook her hand and said: “Hello Carla, so nice to meet you…”

She looked at me like the RCA Victor dog, with her head on one side, thinking: “…What was…? Did he just…?

I didn’t really know what was happening. She walked away and then my friend Carla told me: “Dan, you just called Meryl Streep ‘Carla’” and I said “I did?? Really??”

JOHN: I’m surprised you would be overawed by a star: you did stand-up comedy.

Dan stands-up on stage at Hollywood’s Improv

DAN: I did comedy much later – here in LA – 1998-2001. I only ever made $6 from it in total. Jerry Seinfeld made $6 billion. I made $6. I have it framed. I did it because, when I was in Sixth Grade, I had a teacher who used to make students go to the front of the classroom and give an oral report. She tortured us: 

“Stand up straight!… You’re slouching!… You’re mumbling!… Speak louder!… Speak softer!… Don’t look at your nose!”… All she did was criticise. So I had a fear of public speaking from the age of 12.

And, for a publicist, it’s really not good to have a fear of public speaking.

So I took a class at the Improv in West Hollywood with one of the owners and the graduation of the class was to do 8 minutes on stage at The Improv. Next to my son being born, it was the most nervous I ever was in my life. I almost threw up before I went on stage. My mother was there; all my friends were there. 250 people. I was shaking; nervous; my heart was pounding; I was a nervous wreck. But I went out and did my thing and I survived.

I’m not a natural stage performer. I’m a drummer. I was in bands all my life. Playing in a band? That’s easy. No sweat. But to stand up on stage with a microphone and you’re saying your jokes?… It’s very, very scary.

JOHN: I suppose the drummer is at the back and not the centre of attention.

Dan not quite hiding behind his youthful hair and cymbals…

DAN: I suppose that’s right. I had really long hair and you have cymbals in front of you. When I played, my hair used to fly everywhere. My parents saw me play once and someone said to my mother: “That drummer, she’s really good for a girl…”

JOHN: But you weren’t interested in performing comedy as such? Even though you knew Sid Caesar and Milton Berle…

DAN: I represented Sid Caesar for two years, 1987-1989. He paid a monthly retainer to our PR firm to keep his name in the press. He was sort-of semi-retired but still active; he was in good health still; he did guest starring roles on TV. I got him many interviews: at the time he was re-releasing Your Show of Shows on VHS tapes for the first time.

Also he, Milton Berle and Danny Thomas did a live tour of the US in 1988 and I was the publicist – The Living Legends of Comedy Tour

JOHN: That was when you got to know Milton Berle as well?

DAN: Around the same time. I spent a day with him at a TV station in Hollywood. He had written a book called BS: I Love Youan autobiography – and he was there to promote it.

So I’m at the TV station and there’s a knock on the backstage door and this little old hunched, shaking Jewish man with a hat and a coat and a cane came in.

“Mr Berle?” I said.

“Yes.”

“My name is Dan. I’m here to help you out.”

“OK. Very good.”

I took him to his dressing room. He closes the door very quietly.

Dan with switched-on larger-than-life Milton.

I wait about 10-15 minutes and then the door bursts open. He’s standing perfectly straight. Different clothes. Big cigar… “Hi kid! Here I am! Where do you want me?”

I almost asked him: “What did ya do with Milton Berle?”

The man who went in and the man who came out of the dressing room – Two completely different men. 

JOHN: It wasn’t a joke? He had just suddenly ‘switched-on’ Milton Berle?

DAN: Yeah. He BECAME Milton Berle in that 10-15 minutes in the dressing room.

I led him out onto the stage and everyone was so excited. 

But instead of shaking people’s hands and saying “Hello, how are you?” he goes: “Aaah… I don’t like that camera over there! These lights: these can be moved! I don’t like this set! That chair has to be over here! This spotlight has to be…”… and for the next 45 minutes all he did was re-arrange this entire studio that had been created just for him. Everyone was like: What is he doing? But it’s MILTON BERLE: What can you do? All you can do is obey his commands!

JOHN: What happened at the end when he left the set? Did he return to being the old man?

DAN: He did the interview. He was very funny. At the end, he shook hands and was very nice. I walked him back to his limousine and he remained in character. He has the cigar. He’s smiling. He’s not the man who walked in. Now he’s ‘Milton Berle’.

(… CONTINUED HERE… with Jerry Seinfeld, sex addiction and party night at the Playboy Mansion…)

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Humor, Humour, Music, PR

Ross Smith on his book about the reality of working in the creative industries…

Amazon.co.uk divides its books into various categories. At the weekend, I got an email from writer Ross Smith telling me that, just four days after publication, his new book See You at the Premiere: Life at the Arse End of Showbiz was in the Number 1 position in the ‘Hot New Releases’ of two of those categories – Playwriting and Screenwriting. It is now on sale on every Amazon site in 190 countries worldwide. I obviously chatted to Ross in – not-so-obviously – St James’s Park in London. We chatted in early November. I have only just pulled my finger out. Look, I’ve had plumbing problems…


“The first interview I’ve done in 25 years”

ROSS: This is the first interview I’ve done in 25 years. The last one was with Time Out. I used to write a BBC Radio 2 show called Steve Wright at the Movies. My producer Barry Littlechild was very forceful; you didn’t argue with Barry and he forced me into doing that interview.

JOHN: Why the 25-year gap?

ROSS: I stopped doing interviews after the movie Revenge of BillyThe Kid because I had a couple of bad experiences.

JOHN: But you have interviewed people yourself.

ROSS: I did nearly 300 interviews back in the day.

JOHN: At college, I studied radio, TV, journalism and advertising. The one that was most satisfying was radio, because you have total control over the result. But I went into television  because there’s no money in radio.

ROSS: Radio is notoriously badly-paid. I used to write for Radio 4’s Week Ending; for a while as a staff writer.

JOHN: You’ve done it all.

ROSS: (LAUGHS) Everyone’s written for Week Ending. This is what the book is about. I could make myself sound like Steven Spielberg but to do that I’d have to cut out all the heartache and all the projects that didn’t happen and all the debt I got into. All the awful experiences I had just to get to the next one.

There were gazillions of things that didn’t happen and I had to pay my bills at the end of the month. A couple of times I failed and I had to get kicked out of my home.

An exposé of life in the Arts end of showbiz

JOHN: The book originally had a different sub-title.

ROSS: Yes. The original sub-title was Memoirs From the Fag End of Showbiz…

We know what ‘Fag End’ means in Britain, but our American friends have got a different meaning. So I thought: OK, how about Life at the Arse End of Showbiz? And now I prefer Life at the Arse End of Showbiz. It sounds more funny, more resigned, whereas Memoirs From the Fag End sounds more like I’m really bitter, which I’m not.

I didn’t want to write a book about me per se, because I’m a nobody, although I’ve got a few credits. 

JOHN: More than a few!

ROSS: Yeah, but I’ve never been able to monetise my career… Indeed, that’s one of the key things about the book. I am in the area where 95-99% freelance creative people are.

You can be creative and go work for the BBC and have a job for life, going from project to project. But 95-99% of us are in this area where we’re not necessarily hugely successful and earning loads of money but we’re not complete arseholes. We’re stuck in the middle and that voice never gets heard. 

The only people who get interviewed by the broadsheets and the Graham Nortons of this world are people who are ‘successful’. And that gives a one-dimensional view of the Arts – acting, writing, whatever. As a result, the punters – the public – think Oh! Everyone in showbiz is earning a fortune! And it’s just not true.

My book is about the sort of guy who plays the waiter in one scene in a film. Looking at his career. 

That is the career, frankly, that most young creative people are going to have. They are not going to be the next Benedict Cumberbatch. They are going to be that waiter and try to make a living.

It is not a How To book per se; it’s more. It’s basically about all the shite that young people who have aspirations to be creative do not want to hear but need to hear if they want to monetise their talent and – far more important than that – maintain the monetisation of their talent.

It is all about the importance of agents, the importance of hustling, the importance of just keeping the fuck going.

This is a spade (Photograph via Pixabay)

There’s no bullshit in my book. I call a spade a spade. If you really wanna know how difficult it is – and all the pitfalls – read this book, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about how difficult it is to establish and maintain a freelance career. It goes a long way to explaining why so many freelance creative people haven’t got a pot to piss in.

JOHN: You wrote the movie Revenge of Billy The Kid under the pen name Richard Mathews. It has built a big cult following over the years.

ROSS: It’s un-fucking-blievable that film. We had never made a film before and no-one in the British film industry would give us a break and, in those days…

JOHN: When?

ROSS: 1988. It’s all in the book. The only wannabe movies that got made then would be like Privileged which was produced by students, but it was executive produced by John Schlesinger – an icon of British cinema – he godfathered the project and made sure ‘the kids’ did a good job. We had nothing like that.

Director Jim Groom, his business partner Tim Tennison and I wrote four scripts together. One was turned into a movie; the rest just didn’t happen. In the book, I talk about the ones that did NOT happen as much as the one that did. The one that did was Revenge of BillyThe Kid.

“Old MacDonald had a farm… and on that farm he HAD a goat…” – Ooh, missus!

Jim had lots of experience in editing commercials and trailers. Tim had been a First Assistant Director on many films – Little Shop of Horrors, Wetherby, Dance With a Stranger. I had written comedy sketches for TV and stuff like that. But no-one would give us a break.

It was a very anarchic production every step of the way. About 20 of us worked on the film and our average age was about 24. We went away for four weeks to Wales and Cornwall to shoot.

It’s something people love or hate. If you go to IMDB and scroll down the headlines of the reviews, it will go from ‘The Greatest Film I’ve Ever Seen’ to ‘Utter Dogshit’. There is nothing in the middle. Which is what we wanted.

The News of the World gave it its first ever No Stars review.

I suppose I turned my back on the film industry in the mid-Noughties. I gave up because of all the shit, although I had a very good production rate. I wrote 30 scripts and got 4 movies made out of it. My fourth film came out – The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby – in 2006. It took sixteen years to get made. (Ross again used the pen name Richard Mathews.)

Invasion of the Cathode Rays, in which Ross played a robot

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yes. In 1995, my friends and I took a midnight show to the Edinburgh Fringe Invasion of the Cathode Rays. It was set in the 1950s and was a parody of public health warnings, TV commercials. We were getting about 20 people a night in the audience. It was great fun, a great show, but we didn’t find our audiences. Fair enough. Classic Fringe story.

My second Fringe show – a two-person sort-of family show called One Small Step (written under the pen name David Hastings) – was the story of two people in an attic who discover all this ephemera from the 1960s and they start telling the story of the space race.

They hold a beach ball up and say: “Sputnik!” It’s that sort of play. The on-stage budget – costumes, sets, props – was £136.

One Small Step – 2 actors, 60 characters and 35,000 people.

The two actors played about 60 characters, including Laika the dog.

We were on at the Assembly Rooms at 5.00pm in the afternoon and got about 20-40 people daily for the first week. We had websites and fanzines writing wonderful things, but the mainstream press didn’t give a shit about us. Unless a show has ‘someone off the telly’, they’re not interested. That’s not a reflection on journalists; it’s a reflection on their readers.

But one day a guy called Malcolm Jack, a critic for The Scotsman, came to see it. There were 8 people in the audience that day. He wrote a 5-star review. The review was published on a Saturday morning. By 3.00pm in the afternoon, even the actors’ friends couldn’t get tickets. On the Sunday, it sold out again.

His review ended with the line: ”It’s hard to imagine a play fuelled by a more profound and spellbinding sense of sheer wonder”… Remember this is a play with two guys walking around on a stage with buckets on their head pretending they’re spacemen! It’s just two actors sitting around with junk on a stage; they play Also Spruce Zarathustra, the 2001 theme, on a stylophone!

Next thing we know…

The Sunday Times – 5-star review. 

Daily Telegraph: “One of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.”

The whole run sells out.

It gets a 10-week UK tour the next year. 

At the next year’s Fringe, the Assembly Rooms puts it in a bigger venue. The whole run sells out.

The British Council come on board: “We want to take you on a world tour starting in Sydney, Australia, for three weeks. It’ll take 11 months and end up in China.”

It was the world’s most-toured British play of 2010 – 22 countries in 11 months.

And all that started from that one review.

JOHN: Talent has to meet luck…

ROSS: Yup. It has been seen now by around 35,000 people worldwide – it toured America in 2019.

JOHN: So you made pots of money…

ROSS: Over-all, over the whole journey of all those shows over about two-and-a-half years, I only made £5,500. But the point is – as William Goldman famously wrote -“Nobody knows anything”.

Nobody KNOWS what is going to work and what isn’t.

You might think: Oh, come on, Ross! It’s been seen by 35,000 people! You’re getting your royalties and being flown all over the world!

No. This is the REAL reality. I went to see it in Washington, but I had to pay £600 for my flight and my own accommodation.

This is the world where most of us are. And that’s what this book is about. Readers who want to get into the Arts may not want to hear this, but it’s going to be the world they may (if they are lucky) enter.

They are NOT going to be the next Michael Caine. They might be the next Ross Smith. (LAUGHS) And, if so, good luck to you!

(CONTINUED HERE…)

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Fame, Movies, Talent, Writing

Njambi McGrath: “I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do…”

Njambi’s book Through The Leopard’s Gaze

JOHN: So, Njambi McGrath, you are very busy at the moment. 

NJAMBI:  Well, lockdown gave me the space to write.

Before that, I was travelling loads to do comedy gigs but all the way through lockdown I didn’t have to travel anywhere so I could literally write all day.

When my first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze was published I had done so much research I didn’t want the richness of what I discovered to be wasted.

So I decided to write my second book last year as fiction and use the research in that. 

I wrote that new book last year and I’m writing another one this year.

Both novels are set in Kenya. I wanted both of them to reflect everything.  The chaos and how people tried to make sense of life before independence and everything.

Njambi at a book signing, with many more still to come…

Last year’s novel is called The Residence of the Ministry of Works. It’s about people living in a compound in Kenya. No-one even knows how they found their way there. Is it a Ministry? No. It was something the British created and, when they left, it… it is like a slum.

When they arrived, the British found systems that were intact and it’s like Lego. If you kick it, then it goes in all directions. The British kicked the existing system and caused chaos.

JOHN: And the new book this year is…?

NJAMBI: Rinsing Mukami’s Soul – it’s more focussed. I think I’m on the final draft now. The ‘Rinsing’ is because of all the things she does and encounters; her soul needs rinsing.

JOHN: So, with the long-drawn-out lockdown, the enforced isolation and the book-writing, have you lost your urge to go on stage and do live stand-up?

NJAMBI: No. It’s like a drug. Every time I’m on stage I am: Oooh! I wanna do this again! I performed at The Comedy Store a couple of weeks ago and a couple of other venues this week. I’ve done enough gigs since lockdown finished to forget how many I’ve done.

JOHN: And you went up to the whittled-down Edinburgh Fringe in August…

NJAMBI: Yes, I was invited to Edinburgh and offered a 98-seater at the Pleasance to do a 3-day run of my show Accidental Coconut, the show I did in 2019. 

JOHN: What was Edinburgh like this year?

NJAMBI: I had very good, full-house audiences. People were hungry to laugh after the lockdown.

The week before that, I had been up to Edinburgh to record my radio show over two nights. The audiences were the same then – amazing. What a way to come out of lockdown hibernation!

The Sunday Times loved Njambi’s new radio show.

JOHN: Your radio show… That’s your BBC Radio 4 series of four, which starts this week?

NJAMBI: Yes, it’s based on Accidental Coconut but it’s called Njambi McGrath: Becoming Njambi. It starts this Wednesday, the 22nd of September, for four weeks at 11.00pm on Wednesdays.

JOHN: Why is it not called Accidental Coconut?

NJAMBI: Because Radio 4 said: “If you use that term on radio, referring to yourself, other people may think it’s OK to use that derogatory term.”

JOHN: Why was it called Accidental Coconut in the first place?

NJAMBI: Because when I had been doing an Edinburgh show in a previous year – African in New York – I said that, when I got to America, I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because I was an ‘accidental coconut’ – because, obviously, we don’t learn that history in Kenya.

And then I thought: Oh my God! That’s a really great title! – It reflects exactly what we are. We are not taught about our history.

JOHN: How did black New Yorkers react when you opened your mouth and they realised you were British?

NJAMBI: The first time I was in a lecture hall, I put my hand up and spoke and everybody went: Whooaaaa! How come you’re not speaking with the black people’s accent in America?

JOHN: Did they think either (a) she’s just a foreigner or (b) she’s English so she must be posh? She must know the Queen?

NJAMBI: Well, they were even more confused because I said: “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan”.

JOHN: And their reaction was…?

NJAMBI: Well, after my university days, when Barack Obama was still President, I was in Florida and said, “I’m British and I’m also Kenyan,” and their reaction was “Where is Kenya?”

JOHN: Whaaat?

“I hadn’t been aware of the Black issues there because…”

NJAMBI: I said: “That is where your President is from. And one woman asked: “George W Bush?” 

Everyone around the world was talking about this new American President and she hadn’t even noticed they had got a new president and he was black. If she hadn’t looked so confused, I would have thought it was a joke.

JOHN: You are also performing Accidental Coconut at Soho Theatre in London next month. (4th-9th October) 

NJAMBI: Yes, it actually overlaps with the radio series.

JOHN: And what comes after your Soho Theatre run?

NJAMBI: I’ll be finishing my new book Rinsing Mukami’s Soul and I have a new stage show as well. I was working on a draft of it in early 2020 and was going to take it to Edinburgh that August, but then the pandemic happened and the Fringe didn’t. So it will now be my 2022 show.

JOHN: Titled…?

NJAMBI: Black Black.

JOHN: Why?

NJAMBI: Because, the night before I got married, my mother-in-law came to me and I thought she was going to say something like: “Welcome to my family”. But she whispered to me: “The day I found out that David was marrying a woman from Africa, I was horrified. But at least you’re not black black…”

JOHN: So books, live stage stuff, radio… and a TV series of your first book Through the Leopard’s Gaze…?

NJAMBI: Well, we are waiting on that. You know how long these things take. It was optioned during lockdown.

Njambi and I chatted at London’s Soho Theatre

I have got to a point in my life where I’ve discovered I can do things I never thought I could do.

For a long time, I didn’t think I had the skill. 

I was working in IT; I didn’t think I was good at it. I couldn’t sing. There were so many things I couldn’t do, so I thought I was useless.

Then I discovered I can make people laugh.

Then I discovered I could write.

Oh my God!

Now I’m like a ferret on a treadmill because I want to write as many shows as possible because I discovered I can actually do something when I thought I could do nothing. So I have been doing all these things as well as co-writing a TV sitcom and I’ve been writing some drama as well…

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Performance, Writing

Ariane Sherine wants to live to 100 and write 100 books, starting with this one

Ariane Sherine has had a busy week. It’s her birthday.

And she released the first episode of her weekly podcast Love Sex Intelligence.

And she has published her first novel, Shitcom, about two male TV sitcom writers.

She knows that about which she writes. She has been a writer on BBC TV’s Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and on My Family.

She claims Shitcom is her first book, although she has previously published The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas, Talk Yourself Better and How To Live To 100.


A TV sitcom, a shitstorm and a switch…

JOHN: Why’s the new book called Shitcom?

ARIANE: It’s a novel about two comedy writers on a sitcom. One’s extremely successful and an arsehole. The other one is extremely unsuccessful but very nice… And they swap bodies.

JOHN: So it’s a cosy little comic romp…

ARIANE: No. It’s got racism, misogyny, homophobia, extreme swearing, graphic descriptions of violence and a short rape scene. The villain calls his mother a jizz-lapping old whore and calls his step-father a fisting spaffmonkey. He is obsessed with his penis because it’s only 2 inches long.

JOHN: You wrote it in 2004, when you were…

ARIANE: …a sitcom writer for BBC TV.

JOHN: So it’s all semi-autobiographical?

ARIANE: It’s ‘loosely based’ on my experiences. But all the characters are fictional.

JOHN: The plot is a body/identity swap story.

ARIANE: There IS a body swap and Neil – the nice guy – inhabits Andrew’s body and is able to get his sitcom idea commissioned, but he then realises fame and success are not all they’re cracked up to be.

Andrew is trapped in Neil’s body and there’s a hilarious/outrageous and disturbing turn of events which sees him end up homeless and having to have sex with a guy for money so that he can buy a gun.

JOHN: Why are fame and success not what they’re cracked up to be?

ARIANE: Because nobody treats you normally. It’s a very hyper-real/surreal type of existence. Most of the famous people I’ve met have been very nice, professional and reliable. They treat people really well. But I would not personally want to be famous. I don’t think it makes you any happier and you never know if people like you for you or just because you’re successful.

Ariane created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign, seen here at its launch with Richard Dawkins (Photograph by Zoe Margolis)

JOHN: You famously created and ran the Atheist Bus Campaign and got shedloads of publicity.

ARIANE: I experienced the slightest distant glimmer of fame in 2009/2010 and it was quite disorientating. You don’t feel like yourself because people have this impression of you which doesn’t tally with your own impression of yourself. It’s confusing and I personally wouldn’t really want to be wildly famous.

JOHN: You wouldn’t want to be successful?

ARIANE: I think there’s a difference between having recognition for what you do and being a megastar where it’s so out-of-proportion that it’s ridiculous.

You really wouldn’t want Fred Bloggs accosting you when you’re trying to take the bins out – thrusting a camera in your face, demanding a selfie or an autograph.

JOHN: Alas poor Chris Whitty. You don’t want to be famous at all?

Ariane keeps her fingers in many pies, including podcasts

ARIANE: I wouldn’t mind a bit of recognition, but not being followed around by paparazzi wherever I go.

JOHN: Why did you not publish the novel in 2004 when you wrote it?

ARIANE: I had always wanted to write novels and I was putting the finishing touches to it in 2005 when I was violently assaulted by my then-boyfriend when I was pregnant with his baby. I had to have an abortion which I didn’t want to have. I cried every day for a year and I shelved the novel because I thought: I don’t want to focus on comedy! I’ve just been through hell! I don’t want to be focusing on jokes when my baby is dead.

JOHN: Wouldn’t focusing on comedy be cathartic in that situation?

ARIANE: I just didn’t feel I could write it successfully and, instead, I wrote a memoir of what had happened. That didn’t get published and I’m very glad it didn’t get published because it was so raw. It had a lot of scenes from my childhood and my dad was still alive and I think it would have got me into a massive mess.

So I sort-of lost interest in Shitcom. I shelved it and then a little later I started writing for the Guardian (until 2018) and I think I made some tweaks to Shitcom in 2008, but, as a Guardian columnist, I didn’t want to put out a book with an incredibly racist, sexist, homophobic male character and a ton of racial slurs in it. That felt like it might be a bit of a faux pas.

JOHN: And the Covid lockdown happened last year… That had an effect?

ARIANE: Yes. I was going to do a 100-date book tour for my last book How To Live To 100 but then the Covid lockdown came in, so the tour got shelved.

Shitcom was published after servicing Patreon subscribers

But I have a Patreon account and one of the subscriber tiers is my Writing Tier. 

Subscribers to that tier get a sample of my writing every week.

I came across Shitcom again and I thought I would send them that chapter by chapter. As I was reading it again, I realised it was hilarious and I loved it. So I thought Why don’t I just put it out rather have it languish on my hard drive?

I didn’t even try to get it traditionally published. Nobody in the publishing industry has seen it and, in this age of ‘cancellation culture’ I don’t think any publisher is going to be too keen on it.

JOHN: Have you thought about also publishing your ‘too raw’ memoir which you could now look back on objectively?

ARIANE: If I ever did write a memoir, it would probably be at the end of my career. I have so much left to do; and also my mum and brother are still alive and I wouldn’t want to hurt them with what’s in it. It might be something I do in 40 or 50 years.

I am aiming to write 100 books in my lifetime and I see Shitcom as the first book.

My next book – traditionally published by my publisher Hachette – is called Happier and will be my fourth traditionally-published book. 

Ariane also wants to write 100 books…

JOHN: You’ve said you consider Shitcom your first book but you have published three books already.

ARIANE: Well, they are all either co-writes or they contain a ton of contributions from other people. I think they are very enjoyable and I love my publishers, but I also want to put novels out – and, by self-publishing them, people can read them for just £1.99 each.

JOHN: So what’s your next solo book?

ARIANE: I’m Not In Love, another novel.

JOHN: Autobiograhical?

ARIANE: Partly. It’s about a girl who’s not in love with her boyfriend. He smells of banana. He does not eat or like bananas, but he has a strange banana smell.

JOHN: This bit is autobiographical?

ARIANE: Yes. It’s based on a boyfriend I had who is a comedian and writer and actually quite successful now. I don’t know if he still smells of banana, but I do feel sorry for his wife if he does. Also (in the book) he wears these terrible slogan T-shirts like While You Are Reading This, I Am Staring at Your Tits… And she falls in love with another man, but he’s engaged to be married and one of her unscrupulous, amoral friends says to her: Why don’t you just keep this guy that you’re engaged to around as insurance and date other guys behind his back?

So that’s what she does. But she is in her 30s and is aware that time is not on her side if she wants to have kids. So it’s a rom-com. 

It’s already written, the main character is really acerbic and funny and it will be out before the end of the year.

Shitcom is out now, though, for just £1.99. Buy it!

2 Comments

Filed under Books, Publishing, Sex, Television

Godzilla vs Kong: People are voyeurs – interested in re-action not just in action.

When I was at college, I read some research about movie violence.

By studying viewers’ eyes when watching violence on screen, they found that people do not watch the action, they watch the re-action.

So, when one man punches another in the stomach, the viewer does not look at the fist hitting the stomach, he (or she) looks at the face of the man being hit. 

When one man shoots another and a special effects blood capsule is exploded to spectacularly simulate the bullet hitting the body, they do not look at the spurting blood, they look at the face of the person being shot.

Human beings do not watch the action, they watch the re-action.

People are interested in people, not things.

This was brought to mind again when I saw the movie Godzilla vs Kong last night.

I can see why it made a fortune in China – the casting and plot are aimed to attract a Chinese audience. But… But…

Well, OK, it is a wonderful piece of film-making. The Special Effects should possibly be nominated for an Oscar and the Editing certainly should. Technically it is wonderful; but I was totally uninvolved. It was like watching a complex machine that had a lot of moving parts doing lots of complicated things. It was endless action (1 hour 53 mins) with almost no emotional involvement. It was about things happening, not about people experiencing things. It’s a nice distinction but I think it’s an important distinction. Movies at their best are about emotional voyeurism. 

Oddly, Godzilla vs Kong seemed, to me, a bit similar to another film I saw last week – Peter Rabbit 2. Which was not helped by the fact they seemed to attempt to graft a Guy Ritchie plot into a cute children’s situation.

Lots of things happening but emotionally uninvolving.

I have advised I think four people about writing their autobiographies and, each time, I have told them not to make the mistake of listing everything that has happened in their lives.

There is a limit to the amount of space they have. If they just list what happened in their lives, no matter how action-packed, it gets to be uninteresting.

People – ordinary readers/viewers – are interested in people not facts. They read autobiographies – and see movies – to get vicariously and voyeuristically involved in events which they have either experienced themselves or in events they could never themselves experience. In both cases, they want to identify with what the central character or central characters experienced.

With autobiographies, no ordinary reader is interested in ploughing through a long superficial list of brief ‘things that happened’. It is much better to find one event that epitomises what the central character was going through at a particular time… then expand on that event – make it more not less detailed; more vivid, more relatable.

With movies, 1 hour and 53 minutes of constant fast-cut action palls after a while. Godzilla vs Kong has no real central character (not even Kong). It is about things happening, not people.

And it also seems to be at least two – possibly three – different film plots sticky-taped together to appeal to too many disparate groups. The script was reportedly cobbled together by a writers’ room of at least eight people, with three credited for the story and two for the screenplay.

More is not necessarily always better.

Variety‘s review coined a good phrase for what I experienced last night – “actively bored”.

But what do I know? At the time of writing this blog, the movie has made around $436 million at the theatrical box office on a relatively low production budget of $160 million plus a low $70 million promotional budget (Forbes‘ estimates) and the YouTube trailer has gathered over 93 million hits.

Variety reported that break-even would be $330 million, so expect a sequel…

Leave a comment

Filed under Movies

Good Godley! – It’s the seemingly irresistible rise and rise of Janey Godley

The indomitable, unstoppable Janey Godley

Some people are just unstoppable.

Janey Godley’s autobiography Handstands in the Dark (a bestseller in 2005 and 2006) is published for the first time as an audio book today and she appears yet again as a panellist on BBC1’s Have I Got News For You tomorrow night.

Penguin Books recently reprinted Handstands in the Dark with a new cover and new introduction. Frank Get the Door!, a book transcribing some of her viral video voiceovers, made the Sunday Times bestseller list last year. Her first novel is coming out next year. The Last Mermaid, a 2019 short film she co-wrote and starred in, won a couple of awards at Berlin and in Scotland; and she starred in a series of lockdown monologues for the National Theatre of Scotland.

In other words, she is on a roll.

Handstands in the Dark – Janey’s bestselling autobiography – still selling well after 16 years

Her nationwide UK comedy tour, which was interrupted by the Covid pandemic last year, re-starts this autumn. Her political voice-over videos have made her a worldwide viral YouTube hit complemented by animal voice-over videos and more family-friendly videos featuring her dog Honey.

Over the last few years, she has also built-up a massive following for her weekly podcasts, online pandemic chats with her daughter Ashley Storrie, random appearances on UK radio and TV, a weekly column in The Herald newspaper (she used to have a weekly column in The Scotsman) and what seem like daily news items in Scotland’s Daily Record about her Tweets.

Ashley has appeared in various BBC TV comedy series, has her own weekly BBC Scotland radio show and today BBC iPlayer (UK only) has posted online the new BBC3 comedy drama pilot Dinosaur in which she has the lead part as an undiagnosed autistic woman. It will be screened on BBC1 on 7th June and was made by Two Brothers Pictures, producers of Fleabag.

BBC TV have also just announced a new documentary series next year: Ashley & Janey Get a Real Job following the duo round the country doing things like working on a fishing boat (!)

So, obviously, I had to have a chat with Janey.

But what I was really interested in was the extraordinary range of her online commercial merchandise – everything from the normal and to-be-expected mugs and T-shirts to – extraordinarily – greetings cards, her artwork and bottles of Janey’s own Frank Get The Door! and Aw The Sandras branded gin at £32 a bottle…


JANEY: I’m sooooo fucking tired, John!

JOHN: I’m not surprised. You’ve been running round like a blue-arsed fly.

JANEY: I think it’s just… Well, I got shingles, which I’ve never had. 

JOHN: Jesus! That’s really painful.

JANEY: It really wasn’t that bad. I kept on thinking: Have I got sunburn? Then I got these sharp pains and a rash. It went away pretty fast; it wasn’t that bad. But then I got this dizzy thing.

JOHN: Vertigo?

JANEY: It was connected to the shingles and it started the morning I was filming with Joanna Lumley. I woke up, the whole world went sideways and I thought I was having a stroke. And we were filming on an old, bumpy bus.

JOHN: Your merchandise is everything from pens and mugs, T-shirts and face masks to bottles of gin. So how did that start? You were maybe a third of the way through a national UK tour, Covid hit and you had no live comedy income at all…

JANEY: And then Frank Get The Door! (the catchphrase from her viral Nicola Sturgeon voice-over videos) became really famous so we decided to make Frank Get The Door! T-shirts. My husband Sean got on LinkedIn and somebody recommended this guy lan Adie of Promotional Warehouse in Glasgow… I called him and he said: “You came to the right place at last, because I don’t need a deposit off you. We’ll make it and we’ll share it.”

The very first wave was T-shirts, clicky pens and cups. 

I told him: “It’s not going to do very much but, even if it does, I’m going to donate 100% of my profit to the STV Children’s Appeal.”

He said: “That’s weird, but OK.”

So they went on sale that first weekend, back in June/July last year… and he phoned me on the Monday and said: “Oh my God! We have sold 7,000 units!”

The first wave brought in £25,000 for the STV Children’s Appeal, which I don’t regret. I’m still happy that happened, despite HMRC (the UK government’s tax authority)… We had to pay tax on it… If you’re selling goods for a charity – not donations but selling goods for a charity – you still have to pay VAT because it’s sale through goods. Because people could say they have passed it on to charity but not done it.

JOHN: Even if you get a receipt from the charity?

JANEY: It doesn’t matter. What happens is £25,000 goes into my bank account. But I can’t just give that £25,000 to STV and say to HMRC: “Oh, I gave it all away to charity.” I have to pay VAT on the income, because they don’t see it as charity money; they see it as you making £25,000. I still have to pay VAT on it. So about £4,000 or £5,000 went to HMRC.

JOHN: And are you still donating your profit on those items to STV?

JANEY: No. The STV Children’s Appeal stopped. But now 100% of my profit on my Emotional Lifejacket merchandise goes to the Scottish Carers’ Trust. I don’t get a penny of that myself. If you buy anything from my website that’s got Emotional Lifejacket on it, 100% of my profit goes to the Carers’ Trust. We also did a 12-hour telethon for the Carers’ Trust and so far, all-in-all, we have raised about £50,000 for charity during lockdown.

JOHN: You branched into other merchandise…

JANEY: Well Ian Adie and I just clicked. He said: “We’ll do gin; we’ll do candles”… Then my daughter Ashley came up with this beautiful range – Neural Funky – because she was diagnosed with autism during lockdown… which was quite hard for her because we had always just thought that she was (LAUGHS) a bit weird… But, y’know…

JOHN: So now you have Janey Godley merchandise, Ashley Storrie merchandise and even Honey your dachshund has merchandise.

JANEY: Yes, Honey is now an earner. She cost us £8,000 when she nearly died the year before last, so…

JOHN: You’re on a roll. You survived having zero live comedy income for the last year and…

JANEY: My agent is very good. Every single day now we have to have a morning meeting where we go through the various offers that have come through. This morning (NAME BRAND) wanted me to do an advert for (A NOT INCONSIDERABLE SUM) and he said: “No, it’s not enough.”

I go back on tour in the Autumn, have one day off and then go straight into rehearsals for (A NOT-YET ANNOUNCED PROJECT).

JOHN: Penguin have just re-issued your 2005 autobiography Handstands in the Dark with a new cover, you have the new audiobook of Handstands in the Dark out now and your first novel is published by Hodder & Stoughton next year. Penguin must have suddenly realised how good you are if they’re bringing out an audio book after all this time.

The new unabridged audio version now on sale, read by Janey

JANEY: No! The audio book is published by Hodder & Stoughton. Penguin didn’t want to do the audio version, so Hodder said We want to do it! and bought the audio rights from Penguin.

JOHN: Penguin are mad. You are on a roll not just in the UK but in the US because of your Trump sign.

JANEY: And Hodder want me to write another book.

JOHN: Fiction or non-fiction?

JANEY: Fiction.

JOHN: You should do a sequel to your Handstands in the Dark autobiography. It ends on a cliffhanger. You could go from the end of the first book to some new climactic point – the Trump Is a Cunt sign maybe.

Janey’s iconic comment went viral and is now available as a greetings card from her online shop.

JANEY: I don’t think I want to, John.

ASHLEY (IN THE BACKGROUND, FROM THE KITCHEN): Mum! We keep getting people saying: When’s the next book in that series coming out!

JANEY: (BIG THEATRICAL SIGH)

ASHLEY: You have the distinct privilege that you can talk about the changing fucking dynamics of women in stand-up comedy from the 1990s to now. You have the excessive privilege that you can explain that to people who don’t understand it. You can explain what the fuck you had to go through so they can now get upset about an ‘inappropriate’ man brushing their arse!

(PAUSE)

JOHN: Anyway… The novel you’ve written which is coming out next year – Was it easy to write?

JANEY: It was so hard to write it in lockdown. For one thing I had just had shingles. Plus my confidence was shot-to-fuck and I was really, really busy doing all the other stuff. I couldn’t focus on being creative because I kept on panicking that We’re all gonna die! So I was writing bits but kept on fixing bits and kept on fixing bits and…

Then Ashley and I were stood in the kitchen one night and she said to me: “Just fucking write it! If it’s shite, just write all the shite out of your system. It’s a vomit draft. Get it all out!” So I did.

Janey Godley and Ashley Storrie – the dynamic duo of Scottish comedy (Photo: Andrew Laing)

I sent the ‘vomit draft’ off to Hodder and they got back to me after a week and said it was one of the best first drafts they’d ever had. They said it was publishable as it was, but the editing process since then has been really good.

Epilepsy Scotland gave me their offices to write it in and I got a researcher, Caitlin, who was fucking great.

Another Janey Sunday Times bestseller

JOHN: And, in the meantime, you published Frank Get The Door!

JANEY: I didn’t think it would sell but, fuck, did it sell! It was in the Sunday Times bestseller list. 

JOHN: Your videos go viral, so presumably there are sales of Frank Get The Door! worldwide because you are now known worldwide.

JANEY: And I’m about to write a Honey book – a family-friendly book.

JOHN: You will make Honey immortal.

JANEY: (LAUGHS) How are you now, John?

JOHN: Same as before.

JANEY: Can I be the headline act at your funeral when you die?

JOHN: Sure.

ASHLEY (FROM THE KITCHEN): Would you not rather have me? I’ve got TV credits. I’m just saying I’m in three upcoming television series.

JANEY: Yeah. You might be better with her headlining your funeral.

JOHN: How about you both as joint headliners?

ASHLEY: I don’t share my billing, but thankyou for the offer.

JANEY & ASHLEY: (LAUGHTER)


Janey’s main website is at http://www.janeygodley.com

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Comedy, Movies, Radio, Television

You will not be paid for what you write “of course”… a not abnormal phone call

Mad inventor and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award designer John Ward has a varied life. For the last six years, as well as all his other surreal duties, he has written a weekly Ward’s World column of around 1,200 words for the Spalding Guardian newspaper.

John Ward toiling over his weekly Ward’s World column for the Spalding Guardian…

Last week, his column was about telephone scammers.

Today, I got an email from John about reaction to that column:


Following on from my Ward’s World column last week about scammers ringing to tell people that their internet will be closed in 24 hours unless… blah… blah… “but give me your card details and I can sort it” tosh… I have heard of two ‘near misses’ and one who sadly fell for it – all being elderly, which comes as no surprise I suppose.

But the best reaction so far is…

My phone rings on Monday morning…

I am speaking to Andrew, who informs me he represents something called the Lincolnshire Rural Crime Prevention and Awareness Forum. He said he had read my piece online and was quite impressed with it.

He pointed out that the ‘Forum’ bit in the long convoluted title might be changed to ‘Panel’ (as in wooden maybe?) as this was to be brought up in their next meeting of minds.

However, while he thought my column was written ‘tongue in cheek’ (I begged to differ on that), he also thought it would be ideal – subject to my agreement – to reproduce in a new free quarterly county magazine that is in the throes of being put together before being sent to print.

So far so good.

However, the more we chatted, the more it seemed that he would not be ‘terribly’ happy to include the segment mentioning Argos, as this was ‘advertising’ plus, due to the length, it would have to be cut down “of course”.

I pointed out that the Spalding Guardian didn’t have any problems with printing it.

Plus, Andrew said, they could not pay me “of course” as I would be “donating it” for their use “of course”.

I asked him in return if he knew the date when slave labour was abolished or are they still pursuing this line of employment?

The term “of course” was beginning to grate a bit by now I must confess. But, if nothing else, I feel sure, if he gives up what he is doing now, a career at the BBC awaits him… based on some of the ordeals I have suffered with assorted individuals employed there over many years.

By now I was wondering if he was going to ask me for my bank card details but the next bit was quite something.

Would I object to it appearing without my name?

I responded with “Why not go the whole hog and reproduce Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens but leave out the author’s name… You would be on safe ground there as he is now dead.”

Andrew’s pause was acceptable…

… before he asked: “Who is dead?”

After another of his acceptable pauses, he said he thought I was being flippant.

John often gets unusual telephone calls…

So I pointed out that, if I read it right, he/they wanted me to ‘donate’ my writing efforts, for him or A.N.Other to edit as they saw fit, leave out assorted ‘segments’ that didn’t pass their standards plus I was not even going to get a mention, credit-wise, as the original author!

I asked him how much he would like me to donate to their cause and I bade him farewell with an old Russian sounding greeting – with the second word being “off”…

Of course.

1 Comment

Filed under Humor, Humour, Writing

Angelo Marcos on why comics are like lawyers and jokes are like whodunnits

Angelo Marcos is a stand-up comedian and actor. He has written two short story collections and two novels. His fifth book, the crime thriller Victim Mentality, is out now.


JOHN: So what’s it about?

ANGELO: Well, I’ve written other psychological thrillers and they were quite dark, so this one was meant to be a lighter book, but (LAUGHS) it didn’t turn out that way. 

JOHN: Part of it is written in the First Person and part of it in the Third Person. 

ANGELO: Yes. The First Person is from the point-of-view of a stand-up comedian. 

JOHN: Everyone says a first novel tends to be autobiographical but, with you, the fifth book is autobiographical?

ANGELO: This is the most personal book I’ve written.

JOHN: You did Law and Psychology at university.

Angelo Marcos (Photo copyright Remy Hunter)

ANGELO: Yes, I studied Law and while I did that, I was also performing stand-up and doing acting, but then I found I didn’t have any money. So then I worked a bit – various things – a bank, offices, a supermarket. I worked for a market research company which was basically just other actors, with everyone sitting around trying to do as little work as possible, waiting for their agent to phone.

Then I re-trained – basically a Post-Graduate three-year Psychology course in one-and-a-half years. And I was writing during that time as well.

JOHN: So originally you wanted to be a lawyer, which is a very level-headed thing to aspire to… but you also had this mad stand-up comedy gene?

ANGELO: I went to university because everyone was going and I thought – Well – Law – OK. But, from the beginning, I was also doing stand-up. I was at the University of London, so it was easy enough to find gigs. I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer, but it wasn’t until about halfway through the degree that thought: OK, I DEFINITELY not only do not want to be a lawyer and I don’t want to work in Law. Let’s just get famous instead!

JOHN: Why didn’t you want to be in Law?

ANGELO: I found the analytical side of it fascinating, but I liked the kind-of absurd analytical side of it. I liked the fact you could pretty-much make words mean whatever you wanted them to mean.

I love stories. In criminal law, the cases were fascinating. So I elected to do subjects like Moral Philosophy, Law & Terrorism and other things kind-of affiliated with law, but not the core subject. I dunno. I just found Law itself a bit dry. It’s a really good degree to have. It’s a really good set of skills to have. But I prefer using them in other ways.

Lawyers and comics have much in common

JOHN: Barristers and comedians have in common the fact they both stand up and tell lies to create an effect on an audience.

ANGELO: That’s very true. Although lawyers get paid more, until you get to Michael McIntyre. But there IS that element of performance. 

When you are heckled as a stand-up, there are no holds barred. You HAVE to win. And I guess it’s similar in a court situation. If you are a barrister and someone questions one of your points or if you have a witness who is particularly hostile, I imagine the switch that goes on in the brain is the same: I have to win now!… In the same way that, as a stand-up, you don’t want to lose credibility, you don’t want to ‘lose’ the audience.

JOHN: And you have to persuade the audience that your story is credible and real, even if it might be a lie.

ANGELO: That’s true. You are saying: This is a scenario you need to buy into. This is what happened that night. Whether it’s true or not is a different thing. You have to sell that to the jury or the audience… I’m not saying that all lawyers do this. I’m not saying that no lawyers are interested in truth.

JOHN: I am. They are interested in winning and getting paid though, of course, they get paid whether they win or lose.

ANGELO: What I am saying is that, in my experience, it is entirely possible to be a successful lawyer and not be interested in truth.

JOHN: Being a lawyer in court and being a stand-up comedian are both about telling a story, which is what being a writer is also about…

ANGELO: Yeah. Absolutely. I do a lot of different things – stand-up, acting, writing – and I think the link is they all involve stories.

JOHN: And an interest in structure where the story has to build up to an interesting climax…

ANGELO: I think with the build-up to the punchline of a joke… the mechanism of that is the same when you are writing the twist in a novel crime thriller or a short story. In all three, you are giving the audience or the reader only the information you want them to have. Enough to follow you, but not enough to work out what the twist or what the joke is going o be.

Whether it’s a surprise punchline or the revelation that: “It was the babysitter all along!” – it’s a similar mechanism. I loved The Usual Suspects because it’s so clever and it totally tricked me.

JOHN: Like an optical illusion.

ANGELO: When I was doing Psychology, one of the lecturers explained the mechanism behind optical illusions and he was saying no matter how much you know about how they work, as a human being, every time you look at these pictures you will see the illusion first.

That’s where I got the premise for Victim Mentality: that it doesn’t matter how much you know, we are all wired in a certain way and that makes us all victims. You can try and look at the picture and not see the illusion, but you always WILL see the illusion.

“…the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book”

I suppose a lot of the psychology of being a comedian is in the new book. That sense of going to a gig that’s just not set up for comedy. There are a lot of hostile environments that you walk into at the open mic level, which is where the comedian in my book is.

He has been doing it for a while, struggling, and he’s also trying to get into acting. At the start of the story, his agent books an interview with him and an incarcerated criminal so he can get into character for the role. When they meet, it becomes obvious there’s quite a lot of similarities between them.

The premise of the book is that we are all victims of our own minds. The guy in jail is saying: “You are looking at me as if I am some kind of special case. You are trying to understand why I would do the things I do. But, essentially, we are all wired in certain ways; we all have certain life experiences that cause us to act the way we do.”

There is tragedy in the comedian’s past and in the criminal’s past.

I don’t go so far as to question Free Will, but it’s a case of Are you doing this because you are wired to do it or because it’s fun or whatever? Are you a victim of your own brain just like everyone else?

Leave a comment

Filed under Acting, Comedy, Legal system, Psychology, Writing