Here’s my moan and, believe it or not, I speak on behalf of hundreds if not thousands of others in the same situation.
I’ve been uploading stupid videos to YouTube for more than 20 years. Until now, it’s never been a problem.
I am a musical comedian … part of a musical double act on the UK comedy circuit called Brian & Krysstal. Hardly the most revolutionary act on the circuit. We sing stupid songs.
Granted this latest one is Brexit-related and happens to contain the ‘C’ word (like hundreds or thousands of other YouTube videos).
I can see this might be part of the problem… but, to be honest, I thought it might fit in quite nicely.
As a rule, our videos mean absolutely nothing to man nor beast. They are quite simply an attempt to cheer people up a bit…
I recently tried to upload our latest single… a video called Bunch of Cunts which apparently YouTube didn’t like as much as we did. I instantly received a message from YouTube saying: “Your channel is SUSPENDED!”
No warning, no explanation, nothing! I have since found out that, according to YouTube’s new regulations (February 2019) a warning would be standard.
If they had said, “We don’t like your video. You can’t upload it,” I wouldn’t have minded in the least.
But, no. all I got was: “Your channel is suspended… You can appeal if you click here.”
I was shocked, but I took their advice… I clicked ‘here’ and appealed.
After ten days, still no reply.
By now, I’m stressed. I have links to my Various ouTube videos all over the internet and, if you click on any one of them, all you get is: “This page doesn’t exist!”
Is that fair?
So I appealed again.
This time, I admit I was a bit snarky. I said: “Could somebody HUMAN and preferably with a SENSE OF HUMOUR please have a look at the video I tried to upload and please tell me what the problem is?”
Two hours later, I got a reply…
“Your account has been TERMINATED!”
After 20 years????
Am I terminated because of my video?…
Or my lack of email etiquette?
I still don’t know.
Some people make a living off of YouTube… Not me! I can’t stand ads and I wouldn’t want to inflict them on my friends or people who enjoy what I do.
I waited a couple of more weeks… until I eventually (relatively) calmed down… and I made one final attempt at getting some kind of reasonable response.
I wrote an extremely polite and calm message apologising profusely for whatever it could possibly have been that caused me to transgress YouTube’s incredibly reasonable rules and regulations.
(I almost grovelled.)
I pointed out that, in spite of all my protestations (which I was apparently not entitled to make), I still have absolutely no idea whatsoever what I am supposed to have done wrong.
It didn’t work.
I got a reply saying the termination could not or would not be reversed.
I give up!
The YouTube approach to this kind of problem seems to me to be like if you have committed a motoring offence you get an extreme penalty.
You say: “What have I done wrong?”
And they say: “Here is a book of our rules and regulations… pick a crime!”
Well if that’s their attitude… as Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ’em!”
When the US chain Borders opened up its own-branded bookshops in the UK a few years ago, I found browsing there a frustrating experience because they had no category for BIOGRAPHY (or autobiography). Someone told me this was fairly standard in the US but certainly not in the UK, which seems to have an unquenchable appetite for biographies.
In the case of Borders UK (which collapsed in 2009), they bookshelved biographies according to subject. Which meant you had to sometimes guess what they thought the subject was. How do you categorise Brian Blessed? Eccentric? Actor? Mountaineer? Does the biography of Lawrence of Arabia go under Military, Middle East or Gay?
In the case of my chum Janey Godley, her autobiography Handstands in the Dark runs the gamut from child abuse to British gangsters to Scottish social history to drug culture, psychology and more. Sometimes Borders categorised it as ‘Comedy’ because she is best known as a comedian.
This week, my chum – journalist, songwriter, comedian Ariane Sherine – she too is difficult to categorise – started a series of YouTube videos called Ariane Sherine Eats Clean and Gets Lean. It is about losing weight.
Ariane talks about her eating and other problems on YouTube
It has some chance of being successful because it is the sort of thing that might appeal to housewives in mid-America, which I understand is where the viral hits come from – as well as from spotty teenagers in the US and elsewhere, who will appreciate the underwear sequences.
The first introductory ‘episode’ was rather different to what you might expect from a series of videos about losing weight. In Ariane’s own words: “It features my #MeToo story of being sexually assaulted hundreds of times and my struggles with depression, anxiety, OCD and weight gain.”
You could also throw in jaw-droppingly honest psychological insights.
The odd thing about this introductory video to her series is the YouTube category she put it under.
She categorised it as ‘Comedy’.
You can use multiple tags on a YouTube video, but can only define it as being in one Category.
These are the possible categories:
Autos & Vehicles
Film & Animation
How to & Style
News & Politics
Nonprofits & Activism
People & Blogs
Pets & Animals
Science & Technology
Travel & Events
Which is the correct category for a dark, autobiographical, psychological piece covering sexual assault, mental problems, eating disorders and suicide?
Ariane has tagged her Introduction video in multiple ways, but she has put it under the category ‘Comedy’ because she is currently primarily known for her humorous musical numbers.
A few days ago, I posted a blog about performer Chris Dangerfield getting ‘clean’ from heroin by spending time in a Thai brothel. Our chat was shortened for length. Below is part of what I cut out. It refers to a time before he was ‘clean’.
“There is no heroin in Patong,” Chris told me.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because Thai people don’t have a lot of money and heroin is really expensive.”
“But,” I asked, “aren’t there lots of tourists in Patong?”
“Yeah, but how many tourists use heroin? They don’t say: Oh, let’s go to Patong and buy some smack. Anyway, I went up to Ko Samui a few times and was coming back through Customs with a mouthful of heroin and…”
“A mouthful?” I interrupted. “What would happen if they asked you questions?”
“Well they did,” said Chris. “But the mad thing is that, when you’re like that, you don’t give a fuck. I remember thinking: I could end up in a Thai prison but…”
“You were off your head?” I asked.
“Yeah. I just thought: I’ll take the distraction. There’s a real self-loathing thing about drug addiction. You’d rather end up in prison than deal with Life on Life’s terms.
“Samui Airport is kinda like Tenko. (A famous 1980s BBC TV series set in a Japanese POW camp.) It’s outdoor indoor. There are bushes. It’s not like a normal airport. You can run and you will be on the runway.
The open plan Departure Gate at Samui International Airport (Photograph by Binderdonedat)
“Anyway, I got to the bit where you put your bag in the box and the box goes through the scanner and I’m not shitting myself, but I am aware I have a quarter of an ounce of white heroin in my mouth and, if a dog turns up, I’m in a Thai prison – I’m in the monkey house that afternoon.
“So I put my hand in my pocket to check there’s nothing there before I go through the scanner and – Oh shit! – I’ve got a money bag with about ten used syringes in. My mate had won a holiday on a pack of crisps and he was in Samui, so I had been round his holiday house and I couldn’t leave all my spikes there – that would be unfair – or even in their bin. So I kept them on me and had forgotten because I was smashed out of my head. I had been injecting Xanax and heroin all morning.
“I feel the syringes in my pocket and the guards are waiting for me to go through the scanner, so I just throw them in the bushes casually, like it’s something I don’t need. Not a word is said.
“They always look in my bag when I go through cos the bag has my vape in it with loads of batteries. But they’re fine once they see what it is.
“So it’s OK and I walk off, thinking: Fuck, man, that was a bit stupid. And then she calls me – this female guard – Mistah! Mistah! And I think: Just keep walking! And then there’s another Mistake! Mistah! and then the sound of running feet and I think: This is it! You’ve taken the piss once too often. You can’t keep landing on your feet like the last 40-odd years…
“Then there’s this man’s hand on my shoulder and I turn round: Yeaeaahhh???…
“And I have the quarter ounce of heroin in my mouth.
“He marches me back up to the scanner and I’m thinking: OK. I need to think quickly. How much money have I got in the bank? How much is it going to cost me to get out of this?
“And then they tell me I had left my watch in the box… That was it… I mumble thanks: Mmmm, bmmmm, th… mmvmm… but I was shaking.”
“And now,” I asked, “since your stay in the Thai brothel, you’re clean of heroin?”
“Yeah. Two months in, I had three-and-a-half thousand subscribers. And they donate money. through Patreon. And enough of them subscribe to make it possible for me to publish my novel.”
“You’ve finished it?” I asked.
“Well, I done 110,000 words. It needs copy editing and line editing. I’d like it about 90,000.”
“What’s it about?”
“My first Thai brothel detox.”
“That’s not a novel,” I suggested. “That’s documentary.”
“But half of it is about me growing up,” said Chris.
“That’s still non-fiction,” I told him.
“It’s autobiographical,” he told me, “but it’s a fucking story, alright?”
“What’s your novel called?” I asked.
“Life By Vagina.” He laughed. “It’s a working title. It’s a re-writing of Death By Vagina by Blaise Cendrars. Have you read that?”
“No. What is the elevator pitch for Death By Vagina?”
Death By Vagina: inspiration for Chris
“A psychiatrist has a patient who is a psychopathic sexual maniac and, rather than treat him, he sets him loose on the world. My novel’s beautiful. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I’m very very proud of it.”
“Have you,” I asked, “approached a mainstream publisher with it?”
“Yeah. And I’ve had interest. But fuck them. What? For 10%?”
“7½% for a paperback,” I said.
“I’ve got three-and-a-half thousand YouTube subscribers,” said Chris. “By the time that novel comes out, I’ll have about 10,000. If half of them buy it…”
Bob Pipe in alien invasion mode at Soho Theatre yesterday
Six degrees of separation, eh?
Matt Roper, who performs as the singer Wilfredo, is living in my spare room for another couple of weeks.
I was talking to TV and video producer/director Bob Pipe at the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday and the fact that Bob recently directed the video for Wilfredo’s Christmas song (out soon) never came up because neither of us twigged that we had Matt in common.
“We’re making a 90 minute version of our web series,” he told me. “We’ve written a first draft a lot of which encompasses the sketches from the web series. James Wren (of the Hen & Chickens theatre) is co-writing and co-producing it with me. Now we’re crowdfunding to get the development money – £13,586 – so we can hire a line producer and a script editor or script doctor.”
“Is there a market for 1950s-style sci-fi?” I asked.
Indiegogo crowdfunding appeal
“I think people do want the unexpected,” said Bob. “I mean, The Artist won Oscars – that was a silent movie in black & white – and George Clooney’s Good Night, and Good Luck was successful. I think there still is a market for honing old tropes.
“The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! will have modern CGI special effects, a modern style of acting, modern editing. There won’t be wobbly sets!”
“So it’s not really a pastiche,” I said.
“No. It’s not going to be a parody or a spoof.”
“More like,” I suggested, “Star Wars, which was not a parody but an homage to 1930s sci-fi serials?”
“On a lower budget! But, yes. The web series is very much in that vein. With humour.”
“So the film comes out of the web series of the same name…”
“Yes, we did the original web series for £16,000 for a production company called ChannelFlip – part of Shine. YouTube were funding production companies to create original content and ChannelFlip was one of 10 or 12 who were given £1 million each to create original channels. What ChannelFlip pitched was The Multiverse, with sort-of sci-fi home of geek content and I heard about this and pitched the idea to them of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and they said Oh, We want to do a 1950s sci fi alien invasion spoof! So they gave me £16,000 to make it.”
“How long did you have to make it? ” I asked.
“From commission, they gave me three weeks to supply a trailer. They wanted two trailers and then a series of ten episodes of 3-4 minutes. They wanted the trailers before the series, which was a challenge.”
“I made the first trailer. Then Warwick Davis saw it. ChannelFlip had him as an ‘ambassador’ for Multiverse to publicise their business. He loved it and asked if he could be in it, so I wrote a role specially for him. We shot all his stuff in one day up in Peterborough.”
“Showbiz is a glamorous world,” I said. “How did you start?”
“When I was in college, around 1998/1999, I did a HND in Media Production at North Oxfordshire School of Art & Design and our end-of-year project was to make short films. I made a 5 minute short version of The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! back in 1999. I didn’t have access to proper actors and I had just watched Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space and thought: I can do that!
“Then I started in TV as a runner and worked my way up to AP level – at North One and ITV. North One created the ‘list’ format.”
“Things like TV’s 100 Funniest Hats?” I asked.
“Yes. I worked on a lot of those shows. I worked for Endemol as a researcher on TV’s Naughtiest Blunders.
We thought – perhaps wrongly – it would be a good idea for Bob to pose with a milk jug to promote his science fiction film
“At Warner, in 2007, I co-set-up a comedy website called Comedy Box – record sales were going down and Warner were looking for new areas to invest in. We got John Lloyd in to be our figurehead, much like Warwick Davis was for ChannelFlip. We ran Comedy Box for a year – five sketches every week – but we couldn’t find revenue; this was only a year after YouTube had been set up.
“We were about to fold everything up and then MySpace came along – do you remember MySpace? They were setting up MySpace Comedy so they bought all our archive and we became their production company to supply original content. At that point, we went away from the John Lloyd esque sketches into more prank reality stuff. But, then, again, that part of MySpace folded in a year.
“And I’ve been freelancing ever since working on things like The Matt Lucas Awards – I did behind-the-scenes stuff for that; Dick and Dom’s Funny Business. I was a digital producer on The Voice this year – creating the content for their social media sites and producing the highlights show The Voice Louder on BBC iPlayer and YouTube.
“So why 1950s science fiction films?” I asked.
One of Bob’s 1950s movie inspirations
“I’m a big fan. Films like Earth vs The Flying Saucers, This Island Earth, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Forbidden Planet. And when I was growing up, on TV it was the era of Red Dwarf, Quantum Leap and Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“Your interest,” I asked, “was in American B films, as opposed to British ones like Hammer and the Quatermasses.”
“Well, there’s a writer called Phil Whelans who used to write on The 11 O’Clock Show and be in Bill Bailey’s band and he runs an evening called Grand Theft Impro.
“When we made the web series last year, he brought an Englishness to The Day They Came to Suck Out Our Brains! and suggested we go for a more Quatermass kind of feel. He plays a Quatermass kind of doctor character in the web series: much more stoical than American.
“The challenge is trying to make a 1950s alien invasion movie applicable to the modern market. Do you remember the The Comic Strip Presents films with loads of celebrity cameos? There will be four or five strands running through our feature film, peppered with celebrity cameos.”
“Have you got an elevator pitch for it?” I asked.
“Our tagline is ALIEN INVASIONS REALLY SUCK.”
“What cost over-all?”
“We think between £250,000 to £500,000 but, if we get in some script doctor who has worked on major films and a great line producer… At the moment, the production company is The Forgery Club which is also a comedy night we run – a sketch, character and themed night.”
Richard ate a queer foetus for Jesus at the Edinburgh Fringe
“Where did we first meet?” I asked performer Richard Coughlan. “Was it at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago?”
“You were hanging around outside The Counting House,” he replied.
I have a terrible memory.
“And I wanted to see your show but couldn’t fit it in?” I asked. “I remember I liked the title.”
“Eat a Queer Foetus For Jesus,” said Richard.
“That’s my sort of show,” I said. “Your surname is Irish.”
“That’s not my real name,” he replied. “My real name is Richard Harris but, for obvious reasons, I could not use that name to perform. The guy I got it from – Richard Coughlan – was the drummer in a prog rock band called Caravan. He ended up running a pub in Faversham in Kent, where I live, and I ended up working for him.
“Me and him just did not get on and I had started doing comedy. We had a blazing row and I thought: I’m going to take his name and try and make it more popular than he ever made it. Or more disreputable. I think I’ve done both.”
“You could,” I suggested, “have tried to be more famous and more disreputable than the other Richard Harris.”
The hook scene in A Man Called Horse
“Well,” said Richard, “I have done that famous thing he did in A Man Called Horse with the hooks. I’ve done that.”
“Whaaat??” I asked.
“I did it a couple of months ago,” he continued. “I’ve been wanting to do it for about ten years. I’ve got a lot of tattoos and I used to have lots of piercings but I’m crap with piercings: I don’t look after them well enough, so they always go manky. But I saw a guy at a convention doing this thing with the hanging on hooks and I thought: That looks bizarre and horrific – I would like to have a go at that.”
“The hooks go through the flesh of the chest, don’t they?” I asked.
“What I did,” said Richard, “was hanging on hooks through the back. You’re not allowed to do the chest thing until you’ve had a good go. I found a French guy who could do it for me and I uploaded a video of it happening onto YouTube, but it was flagged and taken down for ‘pornography and sexual content’. I have no idea why, apart from the fact I was in my underwear and was moaning a bit.”
Is this a bit more Hellraiser than Horse? YouTube thought so.
“It might be a bit too Hellraiser,” I suggested, “which was a bit sexual.”
“There was nothing sexual about it,” said Richard Harris who calls himself Richard Coughlan. “I’ve always had this thing about doing things which everyone else thinks are a bit weird.”
“You’re not really a straight stand-up comedian,” I said. “What are you?”
“I’ve been lots of things. I originally trained to be a chef. But I’ve been into stand-up comedy since I was nine and I always wanted to do it. My dad had a Billy Connolly vinyl record. To me, Billy Connolly had a funny voice, big banana boots and he swore and said the word ‘jobbie’ – and, really, that’s all you needed at the age of nine.
“All my friends were into Nirvana and grunge music and Oasis or films and I was always into comedy. I had no-one to talk to. I obsessively watched comedy. One of the first jokes I remember hearing was a Roy Chubby Brown joke – You are what you eat and I am a cunt.
Jerry Sadowitz provided the perfect night as a birthday treat
“I went to see Jerry Sadowitz with my dad for my birthday in 2003. He did 90 minutes straight; I’ve never laughed so much. I had always liked him, but it was so hard to get hold of his stuff – the only thing was that Total Abuse Show VHS which had been heavily edited. When I saw him with my dad, he opened with a joke about Stephen Lawrence. Two rows of Indian people walked out during his impression of a Pakistani shopkeeper with Tourette’s Syndrome. A woman got up and threw a pint glass at him and he just ducked and kept going.
“I also saw him in 2007 with my girlfriend. It was at the Underbelly in Edinburgh and I said: We gotta sit at the front and he immediately started abusing me and spat all over me. I thought: This is brilliant! I’ve been waiting for this for years! I’ve finally been gobbed-on by Jerry Sadowitz! He was making a rape joke about my girlfriend who was sat next to me.
Richard has now been standing up on his own for 14 years
“I started doing stand-up when I was 21. I’m 35 now. But, when I was starting out, I had the attitude a lot of people have. If you’re a musician and you see David Bowie, you think I could not do that. The only other thing I was interested in was cooking. That, combined with the fact I used to watch Chef! with Lenny Henry.
“So I trained to be a chef. But I decided to quit being a chef when I was working for a guy who literally grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, slammed me up against a wall and threatened to beat the crap out of me because I didn’t put enough salt in the peas. I decided at that moment that I was never going to care enough about someone else’s pea to be a great chef. I respected the fact you have to care that much but, to me, it’s just someone’s dinner. If it’s not perfect, they’re not going to starve to death.
“At the moment, I work about 25-30 hours as a general hand at a fine dining kitchen, but I supplement that with my online stuff.
“I’m on my fourth channel now, cos I’ve been suspended and banned. I don’t know anyone who has had more videos removed. I had one channel with 30,000 subscribers and about 10 million views and that got taken down because there were something like 50 fake copyright claims filed by someone who took a dislike to me.”
“Justified copyright claims?” I asked.
“No. Not one of them. That’s not to say most of my videos don’t contain some genuine copyright violation, but most people don’t really care. I don’t think Michael Bay is going to care if there is a one-second clip of Transformers in a video.
“I set up two other channels and they only went down about six months ago – they probably had about 5 or 6 million hits between them.
The latest Dick Dynasty YouTube channel
“My new channel, that I started about seven or eight months ago is Dick Dynasty 666. And I’m teaching myself to do animation – it is a long slog – because I came up with this idea for a funny mini-series. There was no feasible way you could make it with people and animators either need paying or, if they’re a friend of yours and prepared to do it free, they’re notoriously unreliable. It’s amazing how cheap you can get stuff. I got one animation program for £40 and another for £20.”
“Have you got an aim?” I asked. “An ambition? In general?”
“If I can just do something and I’m happy with it and it’s fun… Working in the kitchen is stressful and it’s not my ideal job, but it keeps a roof over my head and I’m a bit of a minimalist. I don’t look at what I could have. I look at the fact that, globally, I’m probably in the top 5% of people in the world. I could have been a lot worse off.
“I respect ambitious people, but I’m just not that motivated a guy. I just do things. I don’t have a plan. I figure you should just get on with life…
“I got invited to do guest lecturing at Southampton University where they do a comedy degree and, in the fourth year, they do stand-up. I told the students: The problem you will have is not doing your material on stage: it will be doing it as you. I told them: Find five minutes of your favourite stand-up and perform that material. Then perform that same routine as yourself. And then perform your own routine as yourself. That’s the hardest part for new acts. It’s not doing your jokes; it’s doing them as yourself. Like life.”
Richard’s full Eat A Queer Foetus For Jesus show, as performed at the Brighton Fringe, is on YouTube.
“The funeral of this alternative comedy legend was probably one of the gigs of the decade, but this wake in the venue he founded must run it a close second. A suitably raucous celebration rich with reminiscences, gags – and, of course full-frontal male nudity, the line-up included Arthur Smith, Jools Holland, Jimmy Carr and Chris Lynam, with his traditional firework up the backside.”
So I was little surprised when, last week, I got an email from Steve Bennett headed Elegibility For Malcolm Hardee Award, saying:
“I am doing my first solo hour as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival this year. I was just wondering about the eligibility criteria for your awards. Do I need to apply anywhere or do you just come to my show and decide from there?”
I was even more surprised when I Skyped him yesterday in Bordeaux and he told me about the night he lost his virginity.
Obviously, the Steve Bennett of whom I write is the Irish comedian who shares his name and not the esteemed Chortle website supremo.
Still, losing your virginity is always interesting.
This other Steve Bennett – the Irish one – currently teaches English to kids in a primary school in Bordeaux. He has been a comedian since 2008, but he has only “treated it seriously” since 2011, when he finished four years of studying French and Psychology at college in Galway.
This August, he will be performing his one-man show In Bits at the Finnegan’s Wake venue during the Edinburgh Fringe..
“I do a lot of musical comedy with a ukelele or a guitar,” he told me yesterday. “This year, it’s been ukelele mostly because I couldn’t bring my guitar to France, so I bought a ukelele here – it was cheaper and smaller.
Steve Bennett talks to me yesterday from Bordeaux via Skype.
“My Edinburgh show’s about the ‘breakup hangover’ – what happens post-breakup and comparing that to the drinking hangover, being Irish. One song’s about your ex finding you on Facebook all the time. The stalking thing that happens. So it’s written from her point of view – kind of crazy zany, which suits the ukelele because it kinda has a NING NING NING NING sound to it. The…”
“Erm…” I interrupted. “You said ‘the stalking thing that happens’ as if stalking is an everyday result of a relationship breaking up.”
“The stalking thing on Facebook,” explained Steve. “It’s done more by girls, I’m told, than by gentlemen. I don’t really do it too much, but it’s where you can go on Facebook when you’re Friends with your ex and take a look and see what they’re doing with their lives. That’s the thing the exes do now: they keep tabs on you.”
“You said I don’t really do it too much,” I said. “This implies that…”
“Oh, I’ve definitely taken a look see,” admitted Steve. “Who’s that guy? Is he your boyfriend?”
“Does the ex-girlfriend know you’re doing this show about the breakup of your relationship with her?”
“Yeah, she’s aware of it. She’s not aware of all the intense details and I think I’d be happier if she didn’t see it. But she told me she’d be happy with it so long as it wasn’t baring all the details of our relationship. I’m fine with that too: I don’t want to get too personal about stuff. It’s more about general things and exaggerated things. A lot of it’s true, but not all of it’s true: the same way with most comedy.”
“When did you realise there was another Steve Bennett?” I asked.
Steve Bennett performs at the Róisín Dubh club in Galway (Photograph by WonderfulLife Productions 086 668 1375)
“Quite early,” replied Steve Bennett. “I started doing the Róisín Dubh club in Galway. The guy who runs the club introduced me to another more experienced comedian who went: Oh! You’re that asshole! It turned out Steve Bennett had given him a bad review at some point.
“Chortle actually ran a short piece about me and included a very early YouTube video of some of my stuff that I’m not very happy with. It’s from a talent show back in 2009. I won that, but it’s not really indicative of my stuff these days. I do a lot more high energy comedy these days.
“Back then I was a very subdued man standing at a microphone telling jokes. Now I’m a lot more getting into the crowd, having fun and the songs are snappy and fast, some done in characters like the Facebook one written from my ex’s point of view.”
“But you seem quite sane,” I said. “Why do you want to be a comedian? All comedians are mad.”
“I don’t know,” Steve replied. “I’m probably trying to find some deep-seated emotional depression.”
“But,” I said, “You are too happy to be a comedian, surely?”
“I probably just like the attention. When I was about ten years old, a kid at school said to me You should be a comedian, because you’re funny and I just went Yeeaahhh! That only came back to me after I started doing the comedy. I only fell into it because… well, the first time I picked up a microphone at an Open Mic night was the night I lost my virginity. So that’s why I…”
“Say that again?”
“The first night I did a comedy Open Mic, I lost my virginity.”
There was a long pregnant pause.
“So that’s probably why I’m still doing it.”
“Perhaps you are hoping to lose it again,” I suggested.
“That’s maybe it,” said Steve. “I’m still trying to find what I was looking for.”
“But you’re going to be stuck in France for the foreseeable future,” I prompted.
“Oh no, I’m done here at the end of next month. So I’ll be back in Ireland from May 3rd and I’m booking comedy stuff now over the summer and then in August it’s Edinburgh.”
“And after that?”
“I don’t know. I think I’m going to pick up the odd job here and there, maybe tutoring people in French.”
“But you’d like to be a permanent, full-time millionaire comedian?”
“That would be the ultimate goal, wouldn’t it? But I’ve always liked the idea of having a day job to give me material. If I was only a comedian, I don’t know what I‘d talk about. I know there’s life and day-to-day stuff, but I’d like to have that other job I do at the same time. Which works, because there’s no money in comedy at my level.”
“At the moment, I’m running an internet thing. I campaigned on Facebook amongst my friends and fans to try and get as many words and descriptions of hangovers as possible. Sick as a parrot. Those kind of things. One of them became my show title – In Bits – and I took loads of suggestions and, when I was in Paris one weekend, I said the words to camera with loads of Parisian landmarks in the background. And now I’m trying to get people to send me videos of them saying In Bits and I was hoping to put together a promo video of loads of people saying the name of the show.”
“Do you read the Chortle website?” I asked.
“I don’t much. Not at all, no.”
“I don’t know. Is that a good place to keep up-to-date? Is that what I should be doing?”
“You should be reading my blog every day,” I told him.
After he read my blog, Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing flatulist – he’s farted around the showbiz world for years – told me this:
I think its already happening, at least in the case of acts like mine.
People no longer have to go out to see some weird stuff anymore. They get sent it over the net by their mates seven days of the week and so, when they go out, they don’t go out to see something bizarre or different. Also the smoking ban has played its part as has the price of beer compared to Bargain Booze & Aldi for example.
All in all, people who want to see bizarre stuff nowadays are used to getting it for free on YouTube and the like: they don’t want to pay for it.
This means I get more exposure than I’ve ever had in the 23 years I’ve been farting around – just one YouTube vid of me has over 28 million views – but it doesn’t translate into more paid gigs.
If anything, it is a declining scale and you have to look to other revenue streams and opportunities the net presents which, when you’re not a Freemason or related to someone high up in the BBC, requires all your ingenuity and a good dose of good luck – This you can only make by doing even more free, web-based, social media publicity.
Possibly I and others like me are in a slow downward spiral. But, all this said, now I’ve had a moan, these are potentially more exciting times – or is that just another word for changing times? Either way, what is happening is a doubled-edged sword.
With regard to the Comedy Store Raw & Uncut film… Remember what happened to the acts that were on The Comedians on ITV. Big exposure but, when they came to do their next gig at a working men’s club, the audience had already seen their act.
Making money from a comedy act was also something discussed by the panel yesterday at Dave’s Comedy Festival (Dave being the TV channel which sponsors the festival).
“I think something ghastly and toxic happened round about the early to mid 2000s,” said comedy critic Kate Copstick.
“In the 1990s, there really wasn’t very much available for comics on television. So, before they all hurtled lemming-like to the nearest 12-year-old commissioning editor with half a Media Studies degree from a jumped-up Polytechnic, they at least had a chance to develop who they were and they had something to sell.
“Then we got the industrialisation of comedy which happened in the 2000s. All of a sudden there were more TV channels and…”
“There were more opportunities,” interrupted Nica Burns, organiser of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “There were more opportunities for comedians to get on television. There were all these channels and comedy is very cheap. A half hour of stand-up comedy is much cheaper than a half hour of sitcom and a fraction of the cost of an hour of drama. And that is the critical thing because underlying all this is money. They needed to fill up their hours, comedy was a very cheap way of doing it and the comedians were desperate to get a wider audience.”
“It took a long time for that to come around,” said Kate Copstick, “and, in one way it was wonderful when it did. I produced a TV show called The Warehouse and comics were gagging then to get a chance to do stand-up. There were very few places to go on television. Tiny bits-and-bobs. And then, all-of-a-sudden, there was a rush. It think it was something to do with (agent/management companies) Avalon and Off The Kerb not only having a foothold as managers but also as producers.”
“There were a lot of things coming together,” agreed Nica Burns, “in terms of the growth of managers who had career visions for their clients.”
“And none of that,” said Kate Copstick, “was bad until it all kind of turned toxic. Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy. Comedy always had a career ladder. Now it’s got a bloody express elevator.
“Like I’m 18-year-old. I’m a student comic. I look right. I sound right. I’m fucking lucky. I’m possibly connected. Look! I’ve got five minutes. Good grief – I’ve won a student comedy competition! Crikey – now I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe! Woo – now someone’s picked me up and stuck me on a Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Great! Now I’m back with my own one-hour show with a strap on the poster that says STAR OF theStand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Now I’ve won the Best Newcomer or the Panel prize because nobody can think of anybody else to give it to. Next thing you know, I’ve done five heavily-edited minutes of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and now I’ve got my own telly series!… and I didn’t ever actually want to be a stand-up comic. I just wanted to be rich and famous and wey-hey! Thanks to luck, ego and Addison Cresswell (of Off The Kerb) and lots of stupid audiences out there, now I am!
“What then happens is that the decent stand-up comics, the ones who do want to be stand-up comics and who want to play the clubs, aren’t getting audiences, because the audiences only go – like a comedic Pavlov’s dog – where there’s a TV sticker on the poster… STAR OF MUFFIN THE COMEDY MULE – Oh wow! That must be good!
“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”
I thought it would be jolly to chat to them for this blog, because I thought there might be a chance they would pay me money in a belated, after-the-event bribe to win the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. Sadly, they preferred to do the interview by e-mail. Below is the result. I am a sadder, none-the-wiser, man.
At the time of writing this blog, their YouTube video Horse Outside has had 9,991,031 views.
Why will you only do email interviews?
We never said we only do email interviews. We said we only do face-to-bag interviews by Females.
Why the name? Shouldn’t you be called The Plastic Bag Bandits?
In Ireland, people often use plastic bags as rubbers and also carry their groceries in rubbers.
Are you THE Rubberbandits or THE Rubber Bandits or just Rubberbandits or Rubber Bandits? Why?
Rubberbandits, We don’t know why. But we know we were influenced by The Prodigy becoming Prodigy in 1995.
What’s with the bloody plastic bags on your heads anyway?
It started off as a way of frightening rats out of a house and then we kind of left them on permanently.
Has the YouTube tsunami of views on your video stuff had any good effect?
Yes, the opposite effect of a tsunami ironically.
Has the Japanese tsunami had any good effect?
Yes, actually. A lot of independent music CD warehouses were destroyed and it reduced competition in the Irish music market for a month or two. Our CDs were intact.
Has your increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award had any good effect?
Very good for our fans’ arguments in pubs back home when we get compared to Jedward.
Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back to you next week.
Yes, but only in cold war Russian money.
Why do you (and other people) think you’re funny?
We’re not funny. We’re hardcore gangsta rappers. We have no idea why people laugh at us.
What type of comedy do you do? Is it like Miranda?
It has been described as battered comedy. Like normal comedy but if it was battered and deep-fried. Miranda would get a ride.
Are you rich?
Not yet filthy, just small but grubby.
Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week. Honest.
We can give you 50 now and we’ll give you the rest four months ago. However there’s interest at 100% so technically you should owe us 200 quid by now.
Will you ever be rich? Would becoming ‘very rich’ mean you’re very good performers. If not, why not?
We will be rich. Not from performing, though. From our lucrative hot air balloon business where we encourage Americans to spit on roundabouts from 1,000 feet and take bets.
Would doing a big TV series or a movie be ‘selling out’?
Yes it would, so we’d counteract it by peppering the TV series or movie with gay sex scenes to regain some integrity and edge. Like Danny Dyer did in Borstal Boy.
Would you have been as happy just being successful in Ireland, land of your fathers?
Our fathers are from Malta. We are using Britain as a gateway to the Maltese comedy scene.
Are you playing the Edinburgh Fringe again this year?
A bit too early to say. We were told to stay away from Scotland after we fellated a tern in Orkney.
Are you performing for six-to-eight minutes on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year? If not, why not.
See tern fellation above.
Can you lend me £100? I really will give it back to you next week.
When you give us back our £200 that you owe us from four months ago, we can talk.
What’s next? How can you keep your act fresh?
We just throw the bags into a washing machine and Hey Presto!
Have you any good Jimmy Savile stories to increase the hits on my blog?
He had a spy camera on the end of his cigar. He used it to secretly film the camera man while he was on Top of the Pops. There’s a rule in the BBC that if you are filming while being filmed then you are entitled to tell the Board of Directors a big secret and, if they ever utter it, they grow a set of donkeys’ ears.
Explain the Irish ‘Troubles’ in two short sentences.
This piece of bread is just normal bread but this other piece of bread is haunted by the ghost of a bearded man from the Iron Age. Let’s fight about it.
How would you describe the people who watch you on YouTube and come to see your shows? Are they different types?
In Ireland, they are young drunk people who don’t know how to be quiet when we talk. In England, they are older beard-rubbing people who treat us like a monkey in the zoo that can talk.
Do people in the high-rise flats in North Dublin estates really take their horses up in the lifts?
Horses have an intrinsic fear of lifts, however they are quite adept at climbing stairs.
Why are the Irish funny?
Because we take the English language, pull its pants around its ankles and ask it to walk sideways like a Saxon crab.
Can you juggle spaghetti? Would you like to try on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 23rd August this year?
Spaghetti juggling is racist to Italians. It would be like Morris dancing and not taking a fancy to your cousin after a bottle of elderflower wine. Or caber tossing in an Erasure T-shirt.
Seriously. Can you lend me £100? I’ll give it back next week.
OK, here you go. But we’ve drawn missing teeth on the Queen’s grin.
When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, a couple of weeks ago, I had a chat with chav character Devvo who was performing in the Comedy section of the festival.
‘Chav’ translates as ‘Ned’ in Scotland and in American, I guess, it translates as ‘trailer trash’.
I did not have time to include the chat in this blog, a sign of my very bad time-management at this year’s Fringe but, for the purposes of bullshitting, perhaps that was suitably irresponsible of me, given Devvo’s irresponsible chav image.
“You’re sometimes labelled a ‘You Tube sensation’. Why?” I asked him.
“Just for being me, really,” Devvo answered in his Yorkshire accent. “I started out – what? – eight years ago just being me. Being a young lad going around causing trouble, causing bother and then people started picking up on it. But people are filming you and saying stuff and then you suddenly think Hang on! I’ve got a voice! I could be clever! I can teach people all my knowledge and give ‘em me life tips – so now I’ve started doin’ life tips videos on YouTube. School’s crap. Who learns owt from school? Learn it from the man in the street… That’s me.
“Everyone wants to make money, John. Everyone wants to know how other people do it. Everyone’s got boring jobs haven’t they? I’ve got no job. I’m a dole queue hero, I am. I’ve got teeshirts that say I am so I must be.
“You see people dressed like me with me Burberry cap on an’ people get scared. Don’t be scared, cos some of ‘em have got knowledge. But be scared of some of ‘em, because some of ‘em have got knives.”
“And,” I said, “the people who come to see your stage shows are…”
“It’s a nice mix,” said the man with the Yorkshire accent. “Cos there’s different levels of Devvo fans. You get the real low-level idiots who are just on my wavelength. Then you get the middle group who’re a bit more intelligent, but they know about me character. And then you get the people who’ve got no idea and that’s right fun. But I did have a gig the other day with a load of Army squaddies in at the low level of intelligence and I were stood there doin’ me show thinking Why am I even bothering? I left thinking This is ‘orrible.”
“What were they doing?”
“They were just idiots. It was a nice gig but I just thought You’re all idiots. Cos I’m growing into a bit of a businessman now – sellin’ teeshirts, sellin’ DVDs, givin’ out me life tips. I’ve gone up-market. I started out as, like, a rap character, but you’ve gotta move on.”
“You used to do music gigs, but now it’s mostly comedy gigs?” I asked.
“I’m not really that arsed about doing music gigs again,” said Devvo, “because I just felt I were ripping people off. Which is alright. But it’s not that much fun when you’re just stood there for half an hour takin’ money off people for doing all of yer old songs. It’s not really as good as breaking it up and having funny bits in between.”
“How were you ripping people off?” I asked.
“Just cos you think I’ve only done half an hour an’ I’ve just played these old songs an’ I’ve done nothing new. Now it feels like I’m gettin’ back to doing it just for a laugh again.”
“So you’re angling more towards comedy now,” I said. “What about Lee Nelson? He’s on TV already. He came along after you’d made a YouTube name for yourself. Some people have even said he ripped-off the Devvo character, though I couldn’t possibly comment.”
“Well,” said Devvo, “they’ve gone and said to him: Lee, here’s a cheque and can you do this for us and make it all friendly and clean and polished for BBC3? And, fair enough, if he’s happy with that, that’s up to him. If that’s where his comedy lies, you can’t begrudge him that.”
“What was he doing before he became you?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” said Devvo, “because he’s got another character which is a Spanish footballer or an English footballer or something and that’s even worse. And he’s got a similar shirt on to mine, except mine I got from a charity shop about eight years ago for £3.”
“You did some TV stuff before the Lee Nelson character appeared on TV…” I prompted.
“Yeah. When we were filming some stuff for TV, they said to me: Why don’t we find somewhere in London that looks like Yorkshire and film down there? And that’s when I started to think You’re a set of knobheads because why don’t we just film it in Yorkshire?”
“Who was this for? Not the BBC?” I asked.
“No, it were for Funny Cuts on E4 a few years ago. I did it for Monkey Kingdom and it got the most views out of everything, but they just came and they said Right, we want some scripts now and I said We don’t do scripts and they suddenly all panicked and went in a flap and said What? You don’t do scripts and it’s in Yorkshire? Aaaaahhhhh!”
“But,” I asked, “if someone like BBC3 approached you, you’d still be happy to do television?”
“I would do, but I kinda stopped doin’ all me filming stuff a while ago because I just got bored. I thought Sod you all! Originally, we started doin’ things just for fun. People were filming me just for fun and then it got to a point where all these TV people were getting involved and then I suddenly thought I should be doin’ all this TV stuff now, because I’ve been given sommat! and then I took a step back and thought What? No! We were just doing stuff for fun and then TV tried to get its fucking claws into it and ruin everything, so I walked away from it and thought I’d just live me life, get me life tips ready and now I feel I’m just doin’ it for a laugh again.
“The Monkey Kingdom stuff’s been on E4 and Channel 4 and YouTube but now, if someone came to me with some TV stuff, if it don’t work out, I’ll just carry on doin’ me life tips in Yorkshire.”
“Can you develop the character into something else?” I asked.
Mike Player confronts the horrific possibilities of viral videos
Last month, I blogged about improvisational American comedian Mike Player’s Angry Daddies show at the Outlaugh Comedy Festival on the Hollywood Fringe.
“It went great,” he told me this morning from Los Angeles. “It was like giving birth to a two hundred pound baby. Surreal experiences got so crowded I had to sit on the floor. I hate sitting on the floor.”
I have been thinking of issuing an eBook myself with a 99p price tag. But perhaps I would be over-pricing it!
Mike is a graduate of the Master Class of the UCLA Writers Program. He is also a graduate of the Warner Brothers Comedy Writers Workshop and was executive producer of MTV Logo’s 8-episode network series, Outlaugh Festival on Wisecrack. Mike is basically a Hollywood chap and he has, of course, got a good ‘elevator pitch’ for his Viral book:
Mike’s interestingly-priced cyberworld book
What if something you did got filmed and posted on the internet and you became FAMOUS and everyone hated you but you were FAMOUS and earning lots of MONEY, your life was threatened and you had to run away to protect your family?
What if you could have sex with anyone you wanted? Your phone was more powerful than the major broadcast networks and goats jumping on a trampoline got more views than the President’s State of the Union speech? What if you had to fight for your very life?
What is it like to become an overnight viral video star? Sixteen-year-olds become moguls and moguls fetch coffee… in the dark comedy suspense thriller VIRAL.
“This sounds not too far removed from a possible reality,” I suggested to Mike.
“Well, I read about Jessie Slaughter,” he told me. “It’s not her story, but she was a teen who had to go into the Witness Protection program because her internet doings got so out of control. Plus I have met a lot of crazy people working in TV and producing my own videos. I manage to get a lot of poison out of my system by writing comedy.”
“And writing the book?” I asked.
“Would you be only vaguely interested in removing a splinter from your forehead?” Mike asked.
“It seems to me an awful lot of supposed fiction is actually fact toned-down to be believable,” I said.
“A weird true thing I researched that’s actually in my book,,” Mike said, “is a kid who fell into a ditch in Colombia or somewhere and someone filmed it and posted it online. It got so popular the kid got a commercial deal out of it. And all he did was fall into a ditch.”
In the book, Iranian teenage foster girl Erika Moradi stands up for herself by swatting the milkshake out of the hand of a sexist bully in a Las Vegas high school and becomes famous in a fluke video as The Milkshake Girl.
As a result, she incites the wrath of her high school and the darker elements of online teen networks. Her home is vandalised and her life is threatened. She runs away and meets TV producer Jack Hawkins, who has lost his job on a network soap opera. He has several high concept series ideas involving some of the hottest viral stars of the moment – a trampolining goat, a gay Congressman and a Brazilian who fell into a ditch. But Erika becomes the most notorious.
“What’s a comedy person doing writing this paranoid dark stuff?” I asked.
“Well,” Mike told me, “it’s dark comedy suspense. All comedians love to go ‘dark’.”
“Is writing for print more satisfying than improvising live?” I asked Mike.
“In some ways it is,” he said, “because it lasts longer and people can’t throw things at you.”
“And what’s with the trampolining goat?” I asked.
“Every book should have a goat on a trampoline,” he replied.