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An Edinburgh Fringe rant, Paul Merton, Dirty Girls, fart fetishers & Comic Relief

The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps could let people take better shows to Edinburgh

One thing that increasingly gets up my nose at the Edinburgh Fringe is comedians who do not do stage shows.

They want to get picked up by radio or TV producers, so they bung in long pre-taped video sketches or pre-recorded sound recordings. All this makes me think:

  1. they don’t give a shit about the audience and
  2. they are incapable of doing a live performance

If you are doing a live show, then do a live show, do not make the audience sit and watch you do nothing while a pre-recorded piece of irrelevance plays.

There are exceptions to this, of course – notably the wonderful Juliette Burton (an ex-BBC person) who integrates extremely well-researched and shot videos into her shows and then interacts with them.

I tend not to review shows in this blog – it is mostly a blog of previews and interviews. But I am a Scot brought up among Jews so, if there are two free tickets going, I will always turn up.

The 39 Steps - Paul Merton

Paul Merton took The 39 Steps yesterday

This is a prelude to the fact that, last night, the show I was invited to see was The 39 Steps at London’s Criterion Theatre – obviously, a (comic) stage version of the feature film. And, ironically, it was a brilliant and flawless stage production which could only exist as a live stage show.

Anyone intending to perform a stage show based on material from a different medium – well, any narrative comedy show – should see how The 39 Steps had been crafted. The amount of tiny bits of visual stage ‘business’ is staggering. No wonder it won The Olivier Award for Best Comedy in 2007 and two Tony Awards in the US in 2008. It is a masterclass in writing and directing a live stage comedy.

The reason I was invited to last night’s performance was that it included a cameo by Paul Merton in aid of tonight’s Comic Relief.

And that ‘charity event’ label is enough of a tenuous link for me to mention that, also yesterday, I Skyped Amber Willat, one of The Dirty Girls, in Los Angeles. (The other Dirty Girl is Amber’s sister Harper Willat.)

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles

Amber (right) and Harper Willat: Dirty Girls  in California

The Dirty Girls turned up in a couple of blogs last week, when they contacted my farting chum Mr Methane about possibly performing at their Funny Farty Yoga Party charity event at Venice Beach which is being held this Sunday.

The Funny Farty Yoga Party starts with a laugh therapy session and continues with a ‘guided yoga session’, a Native American flute player and much else.

“Do the good people of Venice Beach,” I asked Amber, “need persuading that yoga is a good idea?”

Ad for the Sunday event in Los Angeles

Dirty Girls’ Funny Farty Yoga Party event ad in Los Angeles

“Californians love their yoga,” said Amber. “That’s for sure. But yoga has become such a hip thing that it’s become a full-fledged, multi-billion dollar industry. So we kinda wanna demystify the whole yoga world. A lot of people, when they do it for the first time are afraid: Ooo! What if I fart? and we wanna say: No worries. People fart in yoga. That’s why we wanted a professional farter like Mr Methane. But there are none in Los Angeles. When I looked for some, I just found guys on Craigslist who are fart fetishers.”

“There are fart fetishers?” I asked.

“There are a lot of fart fetishers,” Amber told me. “I was amazed to see the array of fart fetishers.”

“How did you become The Dirty Girls?” I asked.

“When my sister and I and some of our friends were in high school – like aged 13 and 14 – we were causing a ruckus on campus. They were saying: These girls haven’t showered in the last two years; they’re disgusting. And we kept fighting back. We went: Oh? You wanna see dirty? No problem! 

“So we would literally come to school with like whipped cream in our hair and, instead of lipstick ON our lips, it would be AROUND our lips. We just wanted to completely like obliterate the status quo of feminine products and beauty and all those kinda things.

the original Dirty Girls documentary

Harper and Amber in the original Dirty Girls documentary

“That was in the 1990s, before iPhones. We were just doing it because that’s what we wanted to do. But this other student kid, Michael Lucid. captured it on camera and shelved it as a VHS tape for 17 years and then, in March 2013, he digitised it and put it on YouTube just to show someone in New York and it leaked and just blew up (in hits) in days. We were called The Dirty Girls in high school. It was an insult then, but now we’re flipping it into like an empowered state.”

“And now it’s The Dirty Girls Project,” I said.

“Yes. There was so much outrage from lots of young women and adults and teenagers reaching out saying: Oh! We wish we had more dirty girls on our campus! You guys are so inspiring! So we thought: I guess there is a real calling for more inspirational badass girls that allow you to be who you wanna be. The Dirty Girls give you permission to be weird.

“And The Dirty Girls Project is this new multi-media platform where we collaborate and find more Dirty Girls and produce original content around them – an event, a video, an art project. Badass awesome content. We launched our website in October 2014.”

“The Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday is for charity…” I said.

Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building

One of Shine On Sierra Leone’s sustainable building projects

“Yes. It’s going to various women’s groups, local groups and to Shine On Sierra Leone: they’re an amazing organisation that has very successfully empowered the women of the villages. They’ve built primary schools; they’re building an elementary school; they’ve set up a whole micro-loan system; they’re teaching women how to run their own villages. An incredible organisation. So we are working with them too.”

“Why Sierra Leone?” I asked.

“I know it sounds far-fetched,” Amber started to say.

“We like far-fetched,” I told her.

“But,” she continued, “it’s based in Culver City, where we are and we’re very good friends with the woman who is the founder of it and we’ve directly seen the impact she has had.”

“You were born and raised in Hollywood and you live in Culver City,” I said. “When’s your feature film coming out?”

“We’ve put it on a back-burner. There could be two different approaches. One would be a documentary. Michael Lucid did the film in 1996 and then did a follow-up with us in 2000 and then he did a third one.”

“Are you looking to start a Dirty Girls chapter in London?” I asked. “You could have branches everywhere, like Starbucks.”

“We don’t go corporate,” said Amber. “No way. Evil! Evil!?”

You can see the original 1996 Dirty Girls film on YouTube.

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Edinburgh, Sex, Sierra Leone, Theatre

In L.A., The Dirty Girls plan a Funny Farty Yoga Party without Mr Methane

Mr Methane performs Frozen

Mr Methane performs Let It Go as a service to all the parents

Don’t ask.

I have had no time to write a blog today and I won’t before midnight.

Don’t ask.

So what follows is what happens when I don’t have time to write a blog before midnight.

Yesterday, I forwarded to my chum Mr Methane (the world’s only professional performing farteur) a piece which says that new research by the University of Exeter suggests smelling farts may be good for your health and may, indeed, prevent cancer. The study, published in the Medicinal Chemistry Communications journal, found that the hydrogen sulphide gas in rotten eggs and flatulence could be a key factor in treating diseases.

Dr Mark Wood was quoted as saying that, while hydrogen sulphide gas is harmful in large doses, this new study suggests that “a whiff here and there has the power to reduce risks of cancer, strokes, heart attacks, arthritis and dementia by preserving mitochondria.”

Mr Methane, a man with a high threshold of “nothing much happening here”, replied to my missive thus:

“Hope you are well. Nothing much happening here. I did a rendition of Let It Go from Frozen which has gone down really well on my Facebook page, I must have struck a chord with all the parents out there who are sick of it. It is quite an epic performance and includes some of the most powerful farts I have ever delivered.”

He then added, intriguingly: “I have had an invitation from The Dirty Girls to join them in Venice Beach, California, for some Funny Farty Yoga Party on Sunday 15th March. I think they possibly think I am another eccentric Brit living in Beverly Hills just down the road from Simon Cowell or Robbie Williams, as that is where all the eccentric showbusiness Brits live, it being the entertainment capital of the world as opposed to Macclesfield.”

The Dirty Girls’ website

The Dirty Girls in Los Angeles – reaching out to Mr Methane

The Dirty Girls’ invitation to Mr Methane read:

“We are creating a funny, laughter-filled yoga event in order to introduce yoga to skeptics and to the Los Angeles Girls’ Club. We would love to have some farts performed during the yoga session. Is there any way to partner with you for our event?”

Mr Methane’s reaction to me was: “I think the Funny Farty Yoga Party will have to blow into Venice Beach without me, which is a shame really as I imagined myself starting a new farting fitness based career like that American Leo Sayer lookalike who was always on Jay Leno doing his OTT fitness routines. I can’t remember his name but he was in a few movies as well: Beverley Hill Cop I think.”

As a result of reading this I, of course, got in touch with ‘Amber’ in Los Angeles, who is helping to organise the Funny Farty Yoga Party. She sent me a press release:

“Dirty Girls Project is a new media platform devoted to the promotion of empowered, badass women of all ages. We create original content, synergistic partnerships and produce collaborations (both digital and physical) around topics such as art, adventure, fashion, entrepreneurship – the bad, the rad and the weird.”

Brussels Sprouts High Five

Brussels Sprouts High Five live!

Of the Funny Farty Yoga Party, the press release says: “The purpose of our event is to create a really fun, approachable environment demystifying the elite reputation of the yoga world… Dirty Girls Project is teaming up with ambassador Courtney Barriger from Brussels Sprouts High Five… BSHF has worked with The Midnight Mission, St. Francis Center, YWCA, Free Arts for Abused Children and has run a shoe drive for Kochi India.”

No, I have no idea what a shoe drive is either.

Brussels Sprouts High Five have a Facebook page which explains: “We are a volunteer army in the city of Los Angeles,” and exhorts:  “Join us in the kitchens, the housing projects, and on the streets.”

The Funny Farty Yoga Party press release continues: “The event will kick off with a laugh therapy session to break the ice, then we move into a guided yoga session. The crowd will include a diverse group of people from all walks of life, to express that yoga is for everyone. We will have a Native American flute player during the yoga.”

I have sent Amber my Skype details.

I feel, as this all happens eleven days hence, there may be more news of the Funny Farty Yoga Party in this blog. And, indeed, more of Mr Methane. He tells me:

“I’m working on Boyzone – No Matter What – as my follow-up to Let It Go, It will be either a Fart Friday or Windy Wednesday upload sometime soon.”

The Dirty Girls’ video Jungles of Bitches is on Vimeo.

I feel I live a comparatively very humdrum life.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Uncategorized, Yoga

Why comedy club owner Vivienne Soan wants me to fake laughter & happiness

Vivienne’s ABC Laughter Club flyer

I was lured into this by masking the yogic element in  laughter

“It’s a unique concept where everybody can laugh without having to rely on humour or comedy or jokes,” Vivienne Soan told me.

“That could be very useful for some comedy acts I’ve sat through at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said.

Vivienne and her husband Martin Soan run the bizarre and always entertaining monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in South East London and in Leipzig.

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to the first of Vivienne’s laughter workshops at The Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead, South East London, the same venue as Pull The Other One. She is holding another free ABC Laughter Club tonight and on Wednesday & Thursday for the next two weeks to see if it is viable to set up a regular club.

As we got out of the car, my eternally-un-named friend said: “I don’t know if I can do yoga any more.”

“It’s not yoga,” I said. “It’s just lots of people laughing.”

“No,” she insisted. “It’s yoga. It’s called Laughter Yoga.”

“I must have missed the yoga word,” I said, “I can’t stand on my head. My stomach would stop me. I would be top heavy and fall over. I will claim I can’t do it because of my time in ’Nam.”

“That was only a holiday,” said my eternally-un-named friend.

“I still have flashbacks to Vietnam,” I said. “I may never get over it.”

“You went ten years after the War finished!”

“Post-traumatic sympathy symptoms,” I suggested. “I still wear black pyjamas.”

“What has that got to do with it?” she asked.

“You had to be there,” I said.

But she was right about the new club. Yoga was involved.

Vivienne at her Laughter Club yesterday

Vivienne (right) at Laughter Club yesterday (Photo by my eternally-un-named friend)

“Laughter Yoga is a combination of laughter as an exercise and yogic breathing,” explained Vivienne. “It oxygenates the whole body and makes you feel more healthy and energetic.

“I have a cough,” I said.

“You can breathe in and out of any orifice you are capable of using,” Vivienne told me.

“I might fart,” I said.

“We have whoopee cushions on the chairs,” said Vivienne. “You could just pretend you’re sitting down.”

“Why is it called the ABC Laughter Club?” I asked.

“Because,” said Vivienne, “ my mother died about five days after I went to my Laughter Yoga leadership course with the Laughter Yoga University and my mother was very well known for her extraordinary laughter and sneezing. So I’ve named my Laughter Club after my mother and her initials were ABC – Alison Bazille-Corbin. So it’s in recognition of her laugh and the tremendous happiness she gave to anybody she had anything to do with.”

“So how did this whole Laughter Yoga thing start?” I asked.

Some of yesterday’s group laughing horizontally

Yesterday: London people laugh horizontally (Photograph by Vivienne Soan)

“There was a Dr Madan Kataria in India,” Vivienne told me. “He started in a park in Mumbai with just five people. They began by just telling jokes to each other and laughing. Then they got bored or people started telling bad jokes.

“But they’d all felt much better after laughing, so he set up a scientific study and found laughter makes people feel, behave and act differently if they start off the day just by simulating laughter and happiness even if they don’t feel it. There’s maybe not many reasons for people to laugh in India, but there was a huge response in terms of people’s feeling of wellbeing. Their immune systems were boosted and their stress levels were lowered.”

“Do you want to talk about your own physical problems?” I asked. “Or is that too personal?”

“Well,” said Vivienne, “I have bronchiectasis in the two bottom lobes of my lungs. The right and left hand sides are actually dead. If you think of a piece of broccoli with plastic bags over the bushy broccoli heads, that’s what the bottom part of my lobes look like. They don’t function. They’re supposed to move the air and liquid around. All lungs have got some liquid in them, which is part of the lungs’ function.

“About five years ago, I was suffering from this chronic wheeze and whistle and general lung breathlessness. There was a fear it might be emphysema. Bronchiectasis is a form of emphysema, but it’s not as pervasive. As long as you don’t allow any more scar tissue to develop through infection, you’re OK.

“Every day, I have to do exercises to move the fluid up through my lungs. I used to play the saxophone a lot, which did that – and that meant the function of my lungs has kept at a very good capacity. But I’m not able to play so much any more because, if I did it a lot, every time I played a solo I would end up coughing, which doesn’t look that good on the stage.

“I don’t like much physical exertion – I don’t like running, I don’t actually like yoga or aerobic exercises. I’m a bit like you, John. I quite like sitting round eating lots of biscuits and chocolate.”

“So, instead,” I said, “you’re starting this Laughter Club.”

“Yes and I already participated in conference laughter calls. At 7 o’clock every morning, I phone a conference line of laughter. It costs £5 a month and, every morning, between 7.00am and 7.10am, everyone laughs constantly for ten minutes. It’s fabulous exercise. It clears the lungs, oxygenates the body, puts you in a good mood, sets off the seratonin and the happy hormones and keeps your husband awake. It’s a Win-Win situation for me.”

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Filed under Comedy, Health, Yoga