On the evening of Thursday May 30th, an experienced consultant neurologist calmly informed me that I had Parkinson’s disease. It was a devastating denouement to a medical odyssey that began in September 2017 with a sudden-onset, frozen right shoulder, and took in an unexpected diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle transformation that enabled me to lose two stone, and a shoulder operation in January this year.
There are three days to go. It has been an unusual month, and having come up with an autobiographical show about the onset of declining health, and middle age, I am feeling middle aged but still bearing up well.
I never wanted to start with a spat, but being misrepresented in the press, due to an arch egotist’s desperation to meet a deadline, needed answering. While much of the industry is too cowered to openly speak out, I have of course had many people voicing their approval in private. Not much use to me, but Copstick’s good natured reviewing this month has been nice to see. Nonetheless I am far too emotionally fragile for the whole thing not to have dented me. On the plus side, the whole thing gave me a new joke.
I had my bloody wallet stolen earlyish in the Fringe. 200 quid lost, and all my cards, not one of which has yet been replaced by my normally good bank. In addition, a worsening frozen right shoulder hasn’t helped.
I have not seen as many shows as last year, mainly due to an inceasing intolerance of some disgracefully overheated rooms. A lot of very good comedians have been ill served by their venues. I have seen some great shows, my favourite of which was Terry Alderton. Not only is his show inspirationally good, it is living proof that is possible to be hugely experienced and over the age of forty and still be artistically noteworthy.
It seems an eternity ago that I first bemoaned the NewTownphobia of mainstream comedy journalists, and if anything it has got worse. Despite housing Kitson, Dylan Moran, Mark Watson, Limmy etc, it seems increasingly odds against for venues on the “wong side of town” to be treated with industry courtesy. No worries, I am certainly going nowhere. The Stand venues continue to offer loyal support, ethical finances, and a roster of blazing creativity. Anyone who can’t be arsed to cross that bridge- it is very much your loss.
I will be back in 2019. It gets harder with every passing year, and my list of reviews this year includes some “outliers”.
But most importantly audiences have been great and I am damned proud of the show. Even if the press largely ignores comedians aged over 40, on at the New Town, and without PR, audiences do not.
I have two shows this Sunday.
So it starts tomorrow, preview tickets are a fiver. I am not doing 6th or 7th, I am doing the 13th and an extra show on 26th. All details here.
So to recommendations.
They’ve put bloody great hours in, over the years and deserve some love.
I saw them last year.
I missed them last year
I’ve seen their hours this year
Their non Edinburgh stuff is great
Ola the Comedian
Take a chance
I have always been cheerfully aware that overall, I have had the luck of the draw with Edinburgh reviewers. The flipside is being constantly aware that the luck will run out, but I didn’t foresee just how spitefully this would happen.
On July 18th, Kate Copstick the celebrated/loathed, famous/notorious, Grand Dame/Bete Noire of the Scotsman’s comedy reviewing team, contacted my venue, the Stand, asking for a free ticket to review my new show on Wednesday August 1st. The decision was mine. The decision was a polite no thanks. The first show is a “preview” show, before my Fringe begins officially on Friday. This is my ninth full length show, and I have never had reviewers on the first day. Kate’s response to this was to throw a tantrum, and mutter darkly that I would not be reviewed by the Scotsman this year.
Fine, I thought. If Kate wants to use threats to try and get her way, let her blow steam. I will not back down to a bully, and I will go without a Scotsman review this year. Rather that than reward her inelegant posturing.
I thought nothing more of it until this appeared in yesterday’s Scotsman on Sunday.
“The egos have landed. Friendly advice for those paying to see Them Off The Telly in their first couple of shows. Reg Hunter, Paul Sinha (picture right) and Andrew Maxwell, among others, are likely to be a bit meh, at least according to their managements. Quite unready for any scrutiny till the end of the week. According to management. These are, let’s face it, just highly paid blokes, standing at a microphone, saying stuff. Stuff they have been standing and saying at microphones for months of previews. And at their scheduled technical rehearsal in the venue. So if they are not ready to be reviewed when the first paying bum hits a seat, er, why not? To be fair, Reg offers his insufficiently-wrought-yet show at the EICC for a mere £9, but you’ll only get a quid knocked off the price of an allegedly below-par hour with Paul Sinha and a £4 reduction for Maxwell, which might buy you a pint to get you over the disappointment of the apparently not-quite-there-yet show. Someone needs to have a word with their management, boys.”
1. “Them off the telly” I appear regularly on a quiz show. I have not performed comedy on the telly since 2016. I believe that my ticket sales reflect both of these facts.
2. “Their management” I have an agent. She is also my counsellor, accountant, poster placement advisor. I have no high faluting team, no PR, no massive posters. But whatever, this was my decision. Mine alone.
3. “Months of previews” I did my first preview on June 13th. I have done 16 since. As a result honing the show has been exponential in the last three weeks. Not ideal, but having performed the show to 500 people over the last two previews, I am pretty damned pleased with it.
4. My preview is £5. The price in the Fringe brochure is a mistake.
5. My 17 previews were spread across 16 wildly different locations and audiences. It is an imperfect tutorial in what to expect at Edinburgh and I am entitled to use the one show advertised as a “preview” as entirely that.
6. The “egos have landed”. I’m not the one who believes that they are absolutely entitled to a free ticket to any show on any date they like, and if they don’t get their way they will do their best impression of an ageing Veruca Salt.
I now know that one day after the polite decline, Kate posted this on Facebook.
“What the FUCK is it with comics who have been doing what they do for fucking decades, AND selling out all the big Edinburgh venues AND are heading up in August to a mainly sold out run AND not diverting discernably from being a man at a microphone saying things at people in seats and not letting anyone in to offer an opinion until days after the start of the Fringe ??????? What part of standing at a microphone saying things you have been fucking saying for months of previews already is it that you particularly need to hone ? Any tech in ANY of your big venues can pretty much handle ‘lights up, mike up, lights down, mike down’ without several days to perfect their slider twitch. I realise it is a long haul climb but your managements need to get the fuck over themselves.
Rant over. And I am well aware this is not everyone. I have a list of names. Seriously – if you are a TV name, career comic who has been doing this for fucking years, why can you not do what the other guys do and hit the fucking ground running ? Other than ego and laziness ? Am currently taking a bag of Scotsman stars, tipping them into a mortar and pestle and grinding them to dust. Sorry. NOW rant over.”
Such dignity from the Scotsman’s’ most senior reviewer of comedy, such dignity. As for the accusation of laziness, I am the one who has been driving around the country for the last seven weeks, adding jokes, morosely dropping jokes, frequently sacrificing comedic dignity to get this show right. All I asked is that for one show, on the first Wednesday, before many, many comedians have even reached Edinburgh, I get a chance to perform it without distraction. My duty to myself and the audience is far more important than Kate Copstick’s need to meet a deadline. It takes a special kind of sociopathic bully to sabotage a show, not because they know anything about it, but because they are just not used to not getting their way. I am sorry to tell you Kate, that to “hit the fucking ground running” has literally nothing to do whether you have blagged a ticket or not.
I have loved touring the show “Shout out to my Ex”. For many reasons it is the show that I am proudest of, and thus far, on the whole, the audiences have been a joy. But it is the comedian’s curse to not focus on the overall picture, but to obsessively reflect on the one person who quite clearly was in the wrong show.
I was massively looking forward to last Saturday night’s show at the Leicester Comedy Festival, not least because in 2017 I had done a rather shambolic “work in progress” show there, and this year I wanted to show off the finished product. The afternoon had been spent having a steroid injection for a frozen shoulder which has been troubling me for months. I had every reason to believe the evening would be altogether more pleasurable.
The first five minutes, the “settling in” jokes, always goes well. And it did. With one notable exception. In row 2 were what appeared to be a couple. She seemed to be trying to listen. He was talking in her face. Not loud enough for me to be able to pick up what he was saying. But loud enough that the people around him couldn’t concentrate and nor could I. I had to say something.
“You’ve been talking all through the show, is there any chance you could shut up?”
I’ll be honest, that wasn’t the answer i was expecting. I have absolutely slaved over this show and it’s a narrative which needs focus and attention from the audience, not heckling or indeed distracting private conversations. It is the first time I have been heckled on tour with anything that wasn’t superficial and lighthearted. What is more, his face was contorted with hate.
“You’re just going to have to leave right now”
At which point, crucially, the audience were entirely on my side. Thanks audience, because I don’t really know what I would have done without you.
The audience started chanting “Out out out”. And he obliged. But first he walked up to the stage and squared up to me face to face.
This was a pleasant medium sized arts centre in Leicester. This wasn’t the Comedy Store, there was no security to provide me with help. Quite a few things were going through my mind. Mostly “I’m about to get punched. Maybe this will help my career, Jim Jeffries style. I can’t punch back. I am a patron of a charity called Stand Against Violence. And what is more, I still have a frozen shoulder, and the steroids have not kicked in. So here goes. I would rather take a punch than show myself up in front of 250 people.”
He didn’t punch me. It was my good fortune that his right hand was occupied with the crucial job of holding his pint. He just scowled and said…
“You’re shit and you dress like a tramp”
This seemed the wrong moment to explain that I was wearing my favourite Ted Baker shirt, and it was bloody expensive. To explain that I was not the combatant in this conversation who looked like a tramp, well that would be punching down. I honestly had no idea what to say. I ended up saying…
“Tramp? It’s not me who is pissed at 9pm.” Pathetic, and I meant no offence to any of the remainder of the audience who might have been drunk.
He walked out. The audience cheered. Curiously, his wife remained. Now I have an added distraction. What on earth is her story? Part of me wanted to find out. Part of me was worried that I was sitnessing the debris of a horribly abusive relationship. What I had no sense of at all, was how to address the issue. It was taken out of my hands.
The show manager walked in, inadvertently interrupting the show and said to the lady,
“He says you have to drive him home”
And so she got up and left, to understandably bewildered laughter from the audience. I just felt awful. I felt enormous sympathy for her, who had been blameless, enormous frustration that the start of my show had been so blighted, enormous gratitude to the rest of the audience, contempt for the most hateful little shit I have encountered at a gig but most of all I wanted to know……What on earth was he doing at my gig.
The only answer I can think of is that they took a punt, he took one look at me and thought
“Oh Bollocks. It’s that c**t off the Chase.
Further dates https://www.paulsinha.com/comedy/
- Sharing his name with a more famous son, who was the lead vocalist with The Main Ingredient, who had a 1972 US Top 10 hit with “Everybody Plays the Fool”
- What connects the first Duke of Normandy with the first Queen of Carthage?
- What connects James Stewart’s female costars in It’s a Wonderful Life, and Vertigo?
- Who is the only male World Footballer of the Year to have English as a first language?
- What connects the TV shows The Chase and Lucifer?
- The 1949 film Neptune’s Daughter won an Oscar for which song, heard more frequently at this time of year?
- Which is the only country in the world to be named after as woman who definitely existed?
- The 2000 film comedy Saving Grace led to which far more famous TV spin off?
- Who is married to the lead guitarist of Reef?
- Reuben and Rose Mattus, who coincidentally both emigrated to New York on separate ships in 1921, founded which globally successful company in 1961?
Last night I sat in a pub function room with about ten other people sitting a written general knowledge quiz originating from Croatia. Last Saturday I was sat in a pub function room in Liverpool answering 150 questions as part of something called Quiz in the North. Three days previous, the boyfriend and I both made our debuts in the Merseyside Quiz League. And for quizzers, December is the off season.
Like all the Chasers I live and breathe quiz. Outside the “glamour” of the show, quizzing could not be more different, a world of early travel in freezing weather, spending the rest of the day hoping your brain will overcome sleep deprivation. And for what? Outside of telly the most reward we get is the quiet, grudging respect of our peers. And we work really hard to achieve that.
With all due respect to screeching online wall of sound that routinely emerges every time we, god forbid, take advantage of the hard work and play well, why the devil would I or the others, risk all that hard earnt respect to take part in a fix?
I was there at Jenny’s recording that was broadcast last night. When I recognsied Charlie from 15-1 and University Challenge, I knew they had to be favourites to win, but was not expecting 24. I too thought they had won. But guess what? Sometimes completely deserving teams do not win, in the same way that sometimes we play so badly that nondeserving teams do win. Just because it feels unfair does not mean it has been engineered.
Unlike most of the complainants, I have watched both chases again. They were really well matched. Both teams had a selection of really hard ones, and Charlie’s answer of “Patrick Dempsey” was the star answer. And here is the key. Both teams had a selection of easy questions. Both. Not just Jenny.
Because that is the way it has always been. That is why even average teams score more in 2 minutes than a lot of Mastermind champions score in 2 1/2 minutes. But whereas people scream when the Chaser is asked what the “T” in “T Rex” stands for, people cheer when the team get asked “How many vowels in the word vowel”.
I had never heard of the concept of “confirmation bias” until a few years ago. Now it seems to inform everything I read about the show, egged on by the bottom feeders of a rancid online press who seem to believe that a couple of dissenting comments is a “meltdown”. People have undoubtedly made their own minds up and are too arrogant and stubborn to countenance the possibility that their world view might possible be based on nothing.
I’m tired of it all, and at the same time accept that this is the side effect of being in the limelight. But I will say this hand on heart. With the exception of Mark, none of us are geniuses. What we all are are successful, respected, hardworking trophy-winning quizzers, who, at the end of a two hour record, sit in a chair and have a barrage of questions fired at us under pressure. Sometimes we’re shit, most of the time we’re good, and occasionally we’re exceptional. Yesterday Jenny was exceptional. It is telling who agrees……….. https://twitter.com/CharlieRowland8/status/943274654969552897
Fourteen winters ago I spent three weeks in Durban doing a show curated and hosted by global comedy sensation Russell Peters called “India’s Kings of Comedy”. I was the token gay one trying to make a connection with an audience more used to alpha male posturing. It was a fascinating three weeks in that I experienced hippos and crocodiles in the wild, racially segregated nightlife, and the Richard Curtis rom com Love Actually.
I don’t usually hate a visit to the cinema, because I don’t take many chances. I hated Love Actually. Yes it was beautifully made, had a great soundtrack, and a cast to die for. The quiet underplayed majesty of Emma Thompson is still a thing of wonder. But in my opinion the overambition of Curtis, his desire to be Altman, floundered badly.
At the 2004 Edinburgh Fringe, my first solo show was devoted to explaining what I disliked about the film. Amazingly, despite an overheated room in the glamorous 2245 time slot, nobody came. The Stage called me “smug”, getting me prepared for the first six years of being a Chaser on Twitter. The Scotsman went harsher with “irritating”. One thing was for sure, I lost the battle.
Thirteen years later, it is clear that I lost the war. Love Actually has inveigled its way into the affections of mainstream Britain where it is considered “feelgood”. Certainly when Laura Linney loses her man because of the interruptions of her brother with mental health issues, I have rarely felt more full of Christmas cheer. People I know, adore and respect love this film and cannot fathom the occasional opprobrium. I will try today to explain, because I am procrastinating on Christmas shopping. I am aware that someone, somewhere has done the definitive sassy take. This is my milder version.
- For the opening monologue to invoke the memory of the victims of 9/11 was a risk. It puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the film be be a fitting tribute, rather than a film where Kris Marshall has an orgy with the first cartoonishly hot women he meets in US. It suggests an awareness of a post terrorism world that is curiously absent when Liam Neeson’s son is sprinting past those jobsworth curmudgeons, airport security. Still, he’s white so clearly he can do what he likes.
2. Post Notting Hill, Curtis finds black actors. None of their roles have any bearing on the plot whatsoever. Most damningly he casts Chiwetel Ejiofor as the husband of Keira Knightley and reduces one of the greatest actors of his generation to irrelevance.
3. The plotting falls apart. At one point porn doubles Freeman and Page kiss each other on Christmas Eve, wish each other a Merry Christmas. Then later they are sat together at the school concert on Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve when schoolkids are at home with their family. My favourite is Neeson telling a taxi driver “Heathrow Airport please, I know a short cut”. When they get to Heathrow the kid’s potential paramour is about to board the plane. Great short cut.
4. The fat jibes at the expense of beautiful, healthy Martine McCutcheon are appalling. The ones at the expense of Colin Firth’s potential Portugese sister-in-law are unforgivably crass. “Shut up miss dunkin donut 2003” Feelgood. Merry Christmas.
5. The film is meant to be a paean to love. Kriss Marshall has an orgy, Alan Rickman plans an affair with the first younger hotter colleague he meets, a kid stops mourning his Mum within weeks because he fancies a schoolmate he has never spoken to. Colin Firth’s missus cheats on him with his brother, he reacts by proposing to a woman he knows nothing about.
6. Egg/Rick Grimes. He hires a choir to interrupt his best mate’s wedding, he videos Keira Knightley obsessively. He feels the need to tell her the depth of his feelings. Somehow this behaviour is normalised.
The film is meant to be a multilayered look at love, and yet is driven almost entirely by the sexual desires of white heterosexual men. It is meant to be Christmassy and yet contains the biggest Christmas lie of all.
In one fell swoop this card demolishes any idea that the film has any understanding about Christmas. At Christmas, lies are the glue to keep families together.
In the 14 years since this film, I have mellowed a little on account of the fact the film’s ambition and cast are to be applauded. My anger is not with the film but with the intelligent friends I have who can’t seem to see that the film is a cruel, superficial, misogynist mess with very little to say about love, and even less about Christmas. I cheerfully accept however, that I lost the war.
December 1st 2007. Ten years ago today.
When the esteemed comedian Simon Evans rang me up one afternoon to explain that comedy impresario Peter Grahame wanted to put a comedians team together for a series called University Challenge the Professionals, he explained that my name had come up, with the explanation “We need a scientist”.
What I didn’t say was “Don’t be silly. Family pressure saw me stumble into a medical career with no real understanding of, or enthusiasm for science”
What I didn’t say was “Oh my f**king lord. I have been obsessed with quizzing all my life, represented my school, my medical school, and have a longstanding and mostly successful addiction to pub quiz machines. This would be a dream. Do not under any circumstances take this dream away from me. I really, really need this.”
I think I said something like “Yeah I will give it a go”.
I was pretty sure that Pete, Simon, Natalie Haynes and myself had stormed the audition. I was sorry that Nick Revell and Stewart Lee couldn’t make the audition, and that Dan Antopolski had made the audition but not the final cut. Well more delighted than sorry, to be fair.
All that was left was to do our thing for the comedy community and defeat a team from the Ministry of Justice. Looking back, I don’t know why we were utterly confident that we would win. We weren’t to know that one of their players Rob Linham was one of the most significant figures in the history of academic buzzer quizzing. Or that another one of their players, Andrew Frazer was a veteran of the upper echelons of the Quiz League of London, whose knowledge of history was reputed to make Kevin Ashman look like Amir Khan.
We started well. Personal dreams seemed intact. Then slowly, and then remorselessly we got taken apart by the speed and brilliance of a remarkably knowledgable quartet, who would go on to win the series by marmalising all opposition. Watching back, the failure to identify the Graf Spee, or Kaliningrad stand out as poor misses.
It hurt like hell.
Then at the end Paxman said “Sporting enough to take part, anyway”
Which I heard as “Thank you for agreeing to be such amiable cannon fodder. Now piss off and let the civil servants do their thing.”
As usual I found solace in lager, as many of the teams convened in the hotel bar in the evening. I got chatting to the captain of The Lutenists, and the conversation moved on to our heavy defeat. I was asked the score, and replied “215-100” He looked genuinely astonished.
“100? That’s actually a good score for a team of comedians”
That is how it all started. Being patronised by a lutenist. The shame. I looked at him. Then I looked around the bar. And all I could see in my head, were white, middle aged, supremely well educated, badly dressed men.
And I made a vow that I would bloody well join their gang. That one day I would be as good as them at quizzing, and as badly dressed as them as well.
I had no idea just how accurately I would fulfil my vows. Today I’d like to thank the lutenist who, ten years ago today, utterly changed my life. I owe you a pint.
So that is Edinburgh done for 2017. I have learnt that I am old now, and that I don’t always see getting drunk as a cure for everything anymore. I learnt that thanks to the symbiotic relationship between PR and an extremely complacent and lazy press, the Fringe will never remotely approach being a true meritocrcacy, but nonetheless great comics do succeed. Congrats to all the performers.
So it is now time to take this show on the road. I’m bloody proud of it, and I am looking forward to the travel. This show was developed around the UK and that is where it shall be seen. Many more dates will be added in the new year but for this autumn here we go……..
Saturday October 7th.
WINCHESTER – Discovery Arts Centre
Friday October 13th
SOUTHPORT – Southport Comedy Festival, at the Bold Hotel
Friday October 20th
NEWCASTLE-UPON- TYNE – Stand Comedy Club
Sunday October 22nd
WETHERBY – Wetherby Festival *double bill with Mitch Benn
Thursday November 2nd
LIVERPOOL – Hot Water Comedy Club
Friday November 3rd
COLWYN BAY – Theatre Colwyn
Thursday November 23rd
CORSHAM – Pound Arts Centre
Thursday November 30th
BROMSGROVE – Artrix Arts Centre