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Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Hell of a week

Bloody hell.

Ok, so my week started on Saturday night,when I was lucky enough to be driven in a big van by three girls (two magicians in front and a zig zag one in the back) to Norwich where I was to do a gig at the fabulous BoNanaFana Social Club with legendary ska band The Selecter. I was sceptical about my chances of success on this one, thinking perhaps that the kind of audience who had dressed up special to come out and see a ska god might not be so welcoming to a smart-mouthed variety monkey. My suspicions were not helped by the news that I would be on stage right after them. That's clearly the wrong way around. I was starting to indulge worry.

Once I saw the audience though, I felt fine. They were lovely. All dressed up, good natured and out for a good time. They got one. I watched The Selecter from the wings and they were wonderful. I did ok too.

I had a couple of meetings on Monday, plus I had to start practising the new trick that I had promised to learn in time for next months Mat Ricardo's London Varieties. The more I practised it, the more I realised that this was perhaps a naive and foolhardy guarantee. Halfway through the day, however, I received a phone call from the Jonathan Ross Show asking if I'd like to be a guest in a fun little segment that would be recorded that Wednesday. After a little to-ing and fro-ing about the nature of what I'd do (I wanted to be able to talk, and not to just be hands doing a trick), we agreed and I put the phone down and giggled like a schoolgirl.

Apparently, from what a couple of show staffers told me, Jonathan had seen my advert, and then spent ages watching all my stuff on YouTube before telling everyone that they had to have me for the show. The taping day was long, as these things tend to be, but fun. Jonathan was friendly and charming, and brilliant with his studio audience. My little part in the show was on right after Keith Lemon and co - who, if I'm being honest, are not my thing. Much of Keiths material strikes me as misogynistic and unpleasant, and although it's obviously a character - unlike, for example, Al Murray, there seems to be no self-undermining. No letting the audience know that yes, I'm an awful douchebag. They seem to be laughing along with him, rather than at his oafishness. Maybe it's just not aimed at me. That's allowed too. Anyway, annoyingly, when it came to my bit with Keith, Holly and Fern, they were all a complete delight both on screen and off, so perhaps I shouldn't be rude about them. Sorry.

Rolled out of bed on Thursday, ran some errands, and then got myself all dolled up for the London Cabaret Awards. It's the first time they've ever done this, and I was nominated for best speciality act. It was a lovely night. If you know me at all, then you'll know that I relish the excuse to put on a tuxedo, and the chance to spend a fun, slightly raucous night with all of my friends from the cabaret scene, not to mention my wife, was a fine reason to wear one. I know it sounds like the biggest cliché, but it genuinely was an honour to be nominated - I love this circuit, and to be recognised as a cog in this machine was wonderful. You can imagine my shock, then, when I won. Totally and completely flattered and humbled that a bloke who talks too much and throws things around could be valued by my peers like that. Wow.

And then it was back to work. Back to throwing my hat and cane around on a stage with a too-low ceiling. Back to watching Banbury Cross drink from her Christmas Cracker hip flask between sets (see photographic evidence below). Back to dragging suitcases full of stupid props around London in the perennial journey between dark rooms full of people up for a laugh. And of course I wouldn't have it any other way.

 Dont forget...

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Mat Ricardo's London Varieties March 8th!

Thanks to everyone who came to the launch night of Mat Ricardo's London Varieties - I had a ball, and I hope you did too - you were lovely!

Don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes aso that when the episode goes online (within the enxt week) you'll get it. Also - it really helps the iTunes rankings if you subscribe rather than just download it, and if you leave a review or give it a star rating, it's also a big help.

 Next months show is on Thursday the 8th of March, and boy howdy do we have a kickass line-up for you...


The UK's big breakout crossover genre-smashing musical cabaret double act will invade the Varieties and bring with them their brand of popmusicy-seriocomic-mashparodic-stereophonic-LOUD-vaudevillian-sketchcabaret-throwbackcurrent-oldfangled-newfashioned-bapsbotty-infotainment.

It's going to be special.


However cool you think you are, you're wrong.
Bow down and prepare to fall in love with The Twilight Players.

In their own words:
The Explosive power of The Nicholas Brothers and the hi-di ho’s of Cab Calloway in ‘Stormy Weather', the grace and style of Gene Kelly in ’Singing In The Rain’, the razzmatazz of Sammy Davies Jr at ’The Sands’, the vivid Technicolor of the 1974 Bollywood classic ’Sholay’ and the Latin Rhythms of Tito Puente. The morbid screams of ‘Ghostown’ by The Specials, the relentless and self proclaimed cool of Kid Creole and the Coconuts and finally the sweet taste of Minneapolis humour with a dash of chilli source from Morris Day and The Time.


Juggler, yo-yo-ist, 21st centruty showman and Guiness world record breaking entertainer, Arron is going to knock your socks so far off, you might as well resign yourself to a lifetime of flip-flops.




We are honoured to have as our special guest Graham Linehan.

Arguably the most successful, influential and just plain funniest comedy writer the UK has seen in recent memory, Graham is the comedy mind behind Father Ted, The IT Crowd, Black Books and Big Train, while contributing to most of the most important UK sketch comedy shows of the last couple of decades. His play "The Ladykillers" is currently playing to sell-out audiences in London's West End.

He will be talking to me on stage about his influences, and the stuff in light entertainment, variety and comedy that makes him laugh.


Friday, 3 February 2012

Jetlag, lovely people, and the future

So, I'm back from New Zealand, and thanks to the jetlag everything currently feels as if it is viewed and heard through a gentle fog of white noise. Urgh. I'm not complaining though - it was a hell of a trip, and I couldn't be more honoured to have been invited. As regular readers of this blog will know, I used to travel a lot more than I do these days, but one of the great things about a trip like this is that I get to hang out with some people that I haven't seen for a while. For much too long, in many cases.
It was a precious thing to be able to spend some time with people like Minnie Maniac, the DareDevil Chickens, Fraser Hooper, Sam Wills, Lili La Scala, Miss Behave, Peter Mielniczek - some of which I hadn't seen for many years. Also, of course, it's a chance to make new friends, and there was a fair share of that, too. Of all the festivals I've worked, I think this one had the best casting. There were no egos, no competitive macho awfulness - just a bunch of people who were good at what they do and happy doing it. This made for a very laid back, pleasant backstage. The problem with all this, of course, is that however lovely the couple of weeks in close proximity with these wonderful people is, at the end of the fortnight we all have to go our separate ways. It was only as I left the last night party that i realised that I'd been so happy to see some of these people after so long that I'd forgotten that I have no idea when I'll see them again. So spread around the world they are, and so unpredictable is the lifestyle of the performer, that none of us know when we'll be in the same place at the same time again. The pain that this realisation gave me I found surprisingly strong. The joy of seeing them all outweighs the slightly indulgent sadness of leaving them again, but still, it's hard.




One of my final shows was in a suburb of Christchurch called New Brighton. It was a little seaside town, and before I was driven there, I was told that it was in an area that had been hit the hardest by the earthquake, and even before that, had been one of the more financially troubled areas. It was implied that it was not a happy place to visit, and sure enough, on the drive down you could look down the streets feeding off the main road and see rows upon rows of houses trashed by the quake and abandoned. Piles of rubble still stood in garage forecourts, and children's swings sat rusting and left behind in the front yards of ruined bungalows. When we arrived at the coast, though, things were very different.

The venue for the show was an amphitheatre right by the beach, and it was full of smiling people of all types. Dozens of colourful kites filled the perfect cloudless blue sky behind them, and ice cream stalls were doing a brisk trade on the gorgeous hot day. The show went very well, and I had a great time, but I wanted to look around the town a little more, so arranged to ditch my ride home, and spend a little more time here.

I walked up the main street - a classic seaside town street - and was bowled over. The street was full of life - jam packed with people actively taking a very hands-on approach to the regeneration of their town. It was wonderful to see, and reminded me immediately of the bridge in William Gibson's Bridge Trilogy of books. In those novels, the Bay Bridge in San Francisco is also post-quake, and has been colonised by a population of small off-grid businesses - hackers, bars, street food trucks etc, and almost becomes it's own little self-created town. This felt like that. There had been an obvious effort to reclaim the street and make it into something good. Many of these people had lost a lot, if not everything, and were making the best of the situation in the most positive, life-affirming way I could imagine. Community groups sold hot ham sandwiches, local women made and sold jewellery, people sold and exchanged their old books, there were handbags on sale - handmade out of old records, an Indian family cooking their speciality on a street stall, and then the perfect example of making lemons from lemonade: In a town where dozens upon dozens of wooden bungalows had been flattened by the quake, someone was taking donated timber and making picture frames from it. I bought one.

The street was busy, people were gossiping, smiling, eating, drinking and shopping. It felt vibrant and fresh and great. It felt like what a town centre looks like when it's created by the people who live there, and not dictated by politics or corrupt little local councils mired in red tape. It felt like the best-case scenario for whatever your personal apocalypse fear fantasy is. It felt like a very nice future.

Also: This was on the window of my room in Christchurch. the balcony safe or not? Doesn't sound like it.

Don't forget!


Tickets are selling..get yours now!

starts on Feb 9th at the Bethnal Green Workingmens Club, London.