British Bill of Rights

Finally it seems, David Cameron has seen sense and promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights. Brilliant. We are not human after all. We are better than that. We are British. It is a golden opportunity to enshrine new modern laws into our constitution. I can’t see much if chance that the Tories will listen to my ideas – we have about as much in common as Dapper Laughs and Stella Creasy MP – but here are my ideas.

1. You only have the right to call yourself “the silent majority” if you have any statistical analysis to back it up.

2. You have to prove that you have known someone for at least three years before you are allowed to describe your conversation with them as “banter”

3. You have the right to believe and state out loud that you could do a better job than the experienced professional currently managing your football club. You are wrong. But you have the right.

4.  You have the right to vote on X Factor. You have the right to vote in a general election. But not both. You make your choice.

5. In your lifetime, there is a limit of three on the number of things you can blame on the PC brigade. Use your choices wisely.

6. Chosen by a panel of experts,  200 classic songs are to be ringfenced for which it is illegal to hire a whiny singer with an acoustic guitar to do a piss poor cover version for an even worse TV advert. I’ll start the ball rolling.  1. Life On Mars 2. Oliver’s Army

7.  The selection of topics on Mock the Week is to be created in a completely random fashion.

8.   You have the right to decline the Ice Bucket Challenge and not be ridiculed.

9.    The responsibility for rehabilitating Paul Gascoigne will fall to the family of the very next person who tweets a Gazza/fishing rod joke.

10.    Every time anyone retweets praise, £50 will be transferred from their bank account to  a charity. You have the right to choose that charity before you retweet.

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Do I like Icke ?

I have a long documented dysfunctional relationship with the concept of celebrity, my ability to get utterly star struck often leaving me awkward and tongue tied. But the relationship has definitely improved, and there have been recordings of Celebrity Chase recently that have been an absolute joy. Nonetheless, when I first realised that I had been booked for a gig with David Icke, I felt mildly ill with excitement. David Icke ?

I had my theories on the man. To some people he is insane.To others he is a bona fide visionary.  I felt that he had perhaps seen a gap in the market and carefully constructed a persona which would enable him to have a lucrative and influential career. There is one problem with my theory – the many years when Icke and his family were a national laughing stock, including the infamous Wogan interview means he really would have had to have been playing a very difficult long game. What I do know is that when I turned up to the Establishment Club gig yesterday in an upmarket oyster bar in Piccadilly, I was ushered to a dining room where the other acts were, and I sat down at a dining table next to the man himself. Because the start of the gig was running late, it meant we chatted for nearly an hour.

What struck me was how ordinary he was. In many ways he seemed like just another overweight , scruffily dressed man wondering why the gig he was booked for was running so late, and hoping that the gig went ok. The comedians at the table, Lewis Schaffer, Arnold Brown Hattie Hayridge and myself were all in agreement that our desperate need for an audience to like us can get very wearying. Icke took a different view, saying that he doesn’t care whether people enjoy his gig, he just cares about imparting facts to people. I wanted to query his definition of a fact, but kept my thoughts to myself. Not least when it emerged that Icke was a fan of The Chase, and indeed of Bradley Walsh. I had this image in my head of him hearing a question like “Who won his first US presidential election in 2008 ?” and answering “That reptilian shapeshifter”.

He just seemed so normal. Not least when he brought the topic of conversation round to snooker. “Does anyone remember a guy called Bill Werbeniuk ?”    At this point my heart missed a beat. 80’s sporting nostalgia. My pet topic.

“Werbeniuk ? Yep. Big cuddly Canadian snooker player. His 142 was a Crucible record until Doug Mountjoy scored 145 in 1981. He is remembered for his 2nd round match against David Taylor in 1983 which was interrupted by Cliff Thorburns 147 break on the next table. Reached the quarter finals that year, which sadly was the best he achieved, but will always be remembered for being part of the great Canadian triumvirate with Thorburn and Kirk Stevens. Is that the Bill Werbeniuk that you meant ?”

I wish I’d said that now. Instead I went with “Yeah”. And then Icke held court reminiscing about his spell presenting Pot Black, and the glory years of snooker, with me filling in the facts every time he struggled to remember anything. There were no conspiracy theories, no wild accusations. Just fondly held memories, and a sense of sadness over the untimely death of Big Bill. It was odd, to see this mundane version of one of society’s most infamous oddballs.  Then it was time to go down to the gig.

The smallish room was packed, as one might expect with Icke billed. His bit took the form of a 30 minute interview with an investigative journalist called Brian Basham, who was broadly sympathetic to him. From the very beginning, this was an incredibly different David Icke.  Overstretching from the very start, he pointed out that many of history’s most feted thinkers were considered madmen at the time. True, but I don’t think comparing himself to Galileo did him any favours. Passionate, well rehearsed, and eloquent throughout, the majority of the interview concerned the scale of institutionalized paedophilia.

Now for me this is a very interesting topic. For a long time now there has been a stench of cover up in the air, a feeling that what a great investigative journalist might uncover may be truly horrifying. However calling Ted Heath a “paedophile, child murderer and satanist” is simply not helpful. For clarification he was asked to repeat what he had said, and he did. It was the wildest of many wild accusations which punctuated his half hour chat and lead to a steady decrease in credibility. It was frustrating, because there is an enormous sense that what we know about the issues is not nearly enough. But equally, one felt yesterday that David Icke was probably not the man for the job. I wanted to ask “Wasnt Ray Reardon great ?” to lighten the atmosphere but sensibly chose not to.

David Icke showed me a copy of one his books before his gig and it was massive. He explained that the detailed research that went into his theories could not be adequately explained in a 30 minute chat. He was right. Without the time to explain why he had come to certain conclusions, he came across as a man making dreadful allegations about Jimmy Saville, Leon Brittan and the death of Princess Diana based on little more than his word and high ranking hearsay. It is also clear that the fact that the Saville allegations may well be true has put a spring in the step of conspiracy theorists.

David Icke left the stage to applause. It was more muted applause than if he hadnt overstretched himself, but it was definitely applause. I am no clearer as to what I think of him except to say that my original theory of him being a fake feels wrong. David Icke comes across as a man who passionately believes every word he says. There was no talk yesterday of bizarre alien races and shapeshifting lizards. Just a man who believes that the “establishment” is far more sinister and powerful than we currently understand. I ended up thinking that

1. We have two things in common. We both love snooker , and we have both played to silence at Nottingham Trent University

2. David Icke is not Galileo.

3. The investigation into possible establishment cover up of paedophilia is one that is absolutely vital to get right.

4.  David Icke is an extremely odd man, most of whose theories seem laughably daft. Nonetheless the world is a more interesting place with his hard work in it.

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Help for Heroes

I certainly have no shortage of support for uber charity Help for Heroes. I think it a terrible shame that such a charity needs to exist, and perhaps more politicians eagerly embracing the charity should take the time to ponder whether policies which they have voted for have accelerated the need for the charity. But the fact is that it does need to exist.

I declare a personal interest here in that my brother-in-law is an Army major who has twice been sent out to Afghanistan. These were undoubtedly anxious, trying times, and although politically my brother-in-law and I could not be any more different, this has not tempered my admiration for his courage.

I do feel uncomfortable with an imposed hierarchy of charity, whereby to not show open support for some is to be guilty of some hideous calumny. People should be free to be as public or as private in their support or lack of support as they like. As patron of Stand Against Violence (http://www.standagainstviolence.co.uk/), part of my role is to publicise the charity. But my support for other charities is done largely privately.I have my own reasons for picking or not picking charities and they are between me and myself. I would hate to be in the position Ed Miliband found himself in this week , of being confronted by the Sun and told “pose for a photo or else”

For a start, the Sun simply doesn’t have the right to pose as moral arbiters. Their track record in journalism is one of deceit, aggression and lawbreaking. They are a large part of the reason why public respect for journalism is as low as it is. Even in today’s desperate attempt to occupy the moral high ground, they have rather diluted their message by devoting far more front page space to Jason Orange’s artistic dilemmas.

Secondly, we should be free to make whatever decisions regarding our support for any charity that we like.

Thirdly, Help for Heroes did something lovely and brave last year. They refused donations from the English Defence League claiming that HfH were a charity, that they were not a political organisation. Well they are now. By allying itself with a corrupt newspaper who are using the charity to  try and make cheap party political points , they automatically become a political tool. I hope they realise the dangers of stepping onto this slippery slope, take a step back and give the Sun an ultimatum regarding using their name to play anti Miliband games.

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Motor neurone disease.

 In Britain we call it motor neurone disease, and umbrella term that describes a number of neurodegenerative disorders. For those with long memories it was the condition that saw off one of Britain’s most beloved screen stars David Niven. In the USA, the most commonly used term is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), though it is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the former New York Yankee whose career and then life was cut short by the disease.

 Whatever you want to call it, the disease itself is a shocker. The causes are not fully understood, treatments are certainly nowhere near being curative. Average survival time is 39 months and only 4 % survive beyond 10 years. Stephen Hawking is very much an exception, not a norm. The course of the disease tends to be one of depressingly inevitable progressive disability followed by death.

   In the US, the ALS association is the largest charity focussed on research, education and support for patients with this disease. In the UK the Motor Neurone Disease association serves  the same purpose.

http://www.alsa.org/

http://www.mndassociation.org/

 If you visit their websites you will see that making a donation is surprisingly easy. In fact as more and more charities have embraced technology, making a donation to a charity for which you may feel a personal affinity has never been easier. 

  

 

 

  

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Daily Telegraph and how not to write about comedy

 It can’t be easy being Mark Monahan and Dominic Cavendish. They write about comedy for the Daily Telegraph and do so with a degree of insight and passion. At the same time their employer engages in a constant war with modern comedy paying other journalists to spew out whatever drivel they can cobble together which must have the following agenda – alternative comedy is left wing and evil. Old fashioned comedy rocks. In order to fit this agenda, their journalists will pretty much say anything no matter how utterly stupid and bereft of even the slightest notion of understanding it is.

 William Langley is a new name in this regard. He is the author of this puff piece on Tim Vine. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/comedy/11052857/Tim-Vine-the-man-behind-the-masterful-one-liner.html It would be hard to imagine a more condescending and ugly minded piece about comedy. Or at least it would be hard if I hadn’t read other Telegraph articles. It is hard to know where to start. But lets start with the headline.

   

“offers a perfect antidote to the tyranny of alternative ‘humour’ “

 Humour is in inverted commas. Do you get it ? He doesn’t think alternative comedy is funny.Never mind the millions who willingly flock to large arenas to watch it.  He thinks it is a tyranny. Because we all have friends who have been forced at gunpoint to watch Stewart Lee DVD’s. He doesn’t get that Tim Vine didn’t arrive fully formed. He plied his trade on the same circuit as all of us. I am a leftie, gay , son of immigrants, Guardian reading bedwetter. And yet I have been on the same bill as him many times. In actual clubs. Langley writes that Tim Vine ” still packs them in two decades after we were told that sophisticated modern audiences had moved on”  The odd thing is that I don’t know anyone who received that memo. Certainly the Perrier panel didn’t in 1995 when Tim Vine won the Best Newcomer Award at Edinburgh. Interestingly a year later Milton Jones won the award. Another subversive godless leftie storyteller.  

Langley continues……

“You couldn’t go to a show without being hosed down by F-words and drenched in attitude by gloopy-voiced, predominantly Northern working-class comics who thought it more important to make political points than to send the paying punters home with aching middle-sections.”

 Well if there is one thing Edinburgh is, it is a celebration of Northern working class culture. In the same way that the film Kes is mostly about rising house prices in Berkshire. This statement is so cartoonishly incorrect and dripping with class and regional hate, that frankly Langley should frankly tender his resignation from the profession with an explanatory note saying “Sorry, I appear to be a colossal bellend”    Why include the words “predominantly Northern” other than to expose the bigotry of your viewpoints ?  There is literally not an iota of this representation of comedy that any sane human would recognise.

 

“Today, the notion that comedy must have “meaning” is so entrenched in the business that anyone who plays a routine purely for laughs is considered not merely tame but suspect.”

  And so, inevitably, Langley misses badly again. We have already established that he has no understanding of the business. It is one where great joke tellers are revered, the ability to make people laugh treasured. Many of the most commercially successful comedians in the UK have got there because of their simple ability to make large numbers of people laugh. That is how it has always been. 

 

“Beaming with middle-class wholesomeness and the benefits of a stern Christian upbringing”

    The mask is slipping. The agenda of this piece is becoming more exposed…

 

“Older audiences like him because he’s a throwback to how things used to be, younger ones because they haven’t seen anything like him. Women enjoy him because he isn’t angry, and men because he doesn’t endlessly flog the dog-eared, bloke-as-perpetual-loser routines.”

  How to patronisise four large demographic groups in one fell swoop. I particularly enjoyed the image of women as a collective well of timidity cowering in the face of comedians with opinions and attitude. Yep that is definitely one I recognise. Instead of this fanciful nonsense, just accept that people like Tim Vine because he is hilarious. He has a finely tuned sense of the ridiculous, and watching him at his best is a joy. He is not shunned or mocked by the “alternative comedy” industry, he is loved and celebrated as a hugely successful practitioner of the art of stand up comedy.He is one of us, albeit funnier than us.  Because William Langley, this industry that you berate with such misdirected spleen is a broad church where joketelling, storytelling, sketch,improv, mime, musical comedy, absurdism and occasional politicising all happily coexist cheek to jowl. If you had done even any research you would know this. Instead you saw an opportunity to write a “How can I shoehorn my rightwing politics into a piece about comedy” and ended up with a veritable car crash of a piece. 

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Just in Edinburgh

 I’m now at the airport waiting to head back south. I’ve packed a lot in during the last few days,and my liver hurts. Today I nearly spoke to Keith Lemon. One day.

  It has been quite a while now since I last hauled my ass up there to perform a 1 hour show to disappointing numbers. Every year since (apart from Olympics year) it has taken ages to decide whether to go or not. It is a huge financial, physical and psychological undertaking and you have to the appetite for it. I think I have regained that appetite. I think.

 The main reason is this. The Edinburgh Fringe contains the most spectacularly broad festival of comedy on the planet. You could see shows every day for a month and not even skim the surface of what you really want to see. And it isn’t just well off educated young twenty somethings talking about their existential angst. There is mime as well. And clever gimmicky shows like Set List and Joke Thieves. And Daniel Kitson and his talented mates being brilliant for two hours at midnight. Women. There are women. Lots of them.And so many gays thatthe Firth of Forth may have a cataclysmic flood any time now. As well as a smattering of “multi cultural” acts including Nish Kumar and Romesh Ranganathan who are arguably the funniest heterosexual Asian comedians in the UK. There are comedians hyped beyond their ability , and geniuses criminally overlooked. Nobody said it was fair. And there is also Funz and Gamez.

    For the last few weeks my timelines have been full of people praising Funz and Gamez, a spoof children’s show at 2pm in the Mash House.They were right. I won’t say anything to spoil it other than to say that the experience is unique and pant wettingly funny. By performing this show in a low key venue at an unfashionable time and without a massive PR team, and to be one of THE hits , Phil Ellis et al have  won the Fringe.

   I wanna be part of all this next year. I hope I dont change my mind. The traffic is awful, the weather erratic. The hotel prices are a disgrace (Ibis £229). And it has never been harder for mid status acts to sell tickets as the Free Fringes go from strength to strength. But as far as comedy goes it does seem to be the greatest show on earth.

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Joke of the Fringe

  I’ve done this particular post before back in 2011. Nobody paid much attention then and I’m sure nobody will pay much attention now. It concerns the small matter of Tim Vine winning the annual Dave’s Joke of the Fringe competition. For 24 hours the media will be reporting on this contrived competition with far more depth than it deserves. I love Tim Vine and I like the winning joke. I think reducing Fringe comedy do a pointless battle of jokes stripped of performance nuance and context is a wilful act of cultural vandalism.

   I’m midway through a Fringe binge of comedy shows. The standard is remarkably high with acts showing great skill and imagination. I have listened to numerous exquisite “jokes”. None of these would pass that much muster when removed from the warmth of the show and placed naked onto print. Nor should they. That is not what they were written for. That is not what good Fringe comedy is about. There are very fine comics represented on the top 10 list. There is not a chance in hell, however, that these 10 jokes  represent the best that the Fringe has to offer. http://www.beyondthejoke.co.uk/content/1016/news-tim-vine-bags-another-dave-funniest-joke-award

    What the best reviewed comedy shows on this year’s Fringe have in common is that they are all challenging, intelligent multilayered passion pieces. What purpose does this list serve ? For some people it cements the idea that the Fringe is a bit shit. For some others it tells them “Come to the Fringe. It really is just joke,joke, joke.” Neither is remotely true, and this year in particular I have been struck by sheer depth of the talent out there, and the degree to which for the funniest jokes i have heard, you just had to be there.

      This is something that I am quite convinced the most senior critics fully understand. Which is why it is mildly depressing how many of them collaborated with this sorry exercise. The names on the panel read like a Who’s Who of British comedy reviewing. I am not sure how they justify on the one hand writing about the Fringe with intelligence and understanding, and on the other helping provide Dave’s competition with a credibility is barely merits. 

   

  

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