You don’t have to be mad to tell jokes here, but we have no idea if it helps.

I am working on a radio documentary about comedians and happiness. The image of the comedian drawing guffaws from a multitude, then weeping, drunk and alone, is a potent image. The suicide of Robin Williams has brought it to the fore again.

The interviews so far, with comedy historians, mental health workers, psychotherapists, authors and comedians have been enlightening and contradictory. When dealing with human behaviour, it is unlikely we’ll find a definitive answer, where would the fun and misery be in that? Les Dawson has cropped up twice as the non-melancholy clown, a gregarious entertainer on and offstage.

One of Kenneth Williams’s friends revealed that his cooker was never covered in cling film when has around his flat, and that he even used Kenneth’s loo, despite oft relayed stories that this was strictly forbidden. If he was in a bad mood, he’d make you go and use his mother’s lavatory next door.

Darryl Cunningham, a former mental health worker and creator of Psychiatric Tales, believes that the likes of Spike Milligan manage to create despite the black dog that hang heavy over them, not because. Graeme Garden found out that comedians do seem to have a higher than average suicide rate, though not as high as dancers or dentist. My dentist is also a comedian and he also moves well, so I better have an eye on a few other dentists just in case.

Jo Brand, who spent ten years as a psychiatric nurse, said, “in a simplistic way, comedians are not all sad people, but I think they are all quite emotionally disturbed”. There was consideration that the number of comedians who were adopted or had lost a parent was also above the statistical norm. This doesn’t mean that the adopted and bereaved all secretly, or openly, wish to seek the approbation of strangers in boozy environments, or that an audience perpetually resembles a surrogate mother or father. Your laughter is not a teat. (oh no, I shouldn’t have typed that, now when I am performing tonight I will be dogged by Freudian imagery).

During some of the interviews, we toyed with the idea that stand up can lead to a sort of self-inflicted bi-polar. (I am using the term lightly, and don’t wish to demean those who really suffer. This is the danger of doing any documentary about mental health, i realise that terms being bandied about may be seen as flippancy. I will wait to see the audience log of complaints to find out where I went wrong this time). The idea of a self-inflicted bipolar situation refers to the sharp change from being alone, possibly all day, to standing in front of an audience and showing off intensely, allowing your mind to go off on as many flights of fancy as possible and having maximum engagement with your imagination (sometimes with a seeming multitude of inner monologues mixed up with what comes out of your mouth), before returning to solitude and sleeplessness, analysing the creature that was so exuberant and vivacious in white box hotel room.

One thing stressed by health professionals is that what we have become is energetically sculpted by our childhood experience, whether a comedian or lab technician or a nurse. Is there one event that, if removed from our childhood experience, would change much of what we are? If I hadn’t been in that car accident when I was three, would I have been less publicly needy when spotlit? Does it matter? Has it happened and we might as well just get on with it without looking back. Talking to Barry Cryer (he would like to stress this was not in the pub. We were in the pub.) he brought up the death of his father when he was five. I mentioned Jo’s comment on the loss of a parent at an early age, and Barry looked surprised, “have I been doing all this because of that?”

Is it dangerous to link melancholy or madness to creativity? Is stand up therapy for the act and the audience?

Has the psychological make up of the stand up changed now that a performance is not just a comedic mask, but can also be autobiographical. While Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd had to keep their sexuality under wraps, now that part of their life can be expressed and even win awards rather than cautions. How would this have changed their work? I wrote a while back about comedy being the disease AND the cure.

I wrote a while back about comedy being the disease AND the cure.Here is a clip of Robin Williams.

Do some audiences like the vision of the tragic comedian? Is there a superior or snide contentment in thinking, “you know that person that made everyone around us laugh and brought us so much happiness, don’t worry, in real life, they were miserable and loveless”? I am not sure how many answers we’ll find, or indeed what use they’ll be. “I wanted my daughter to be a stand up comedian, so I bought her a joke book and murdered her mother as I hoped that would create the environment that leads to BAFTAs and tears”. But I am finding the investigation fascinating. I don’t know why I am what I am, but I am, so I better get used to it.

I will write a follow up with some links to academic papers etc. The documentary will be on Radio 4 on 2nd November.

I will be seeking the approbation of strangers across the UK this year and then USA and Australia next year. Henley, Brighton, Goole, Manchester, Newcastle, Bridgwater and on and on. All dates can be found

Dead Funny, containing stories by Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Phill Jupitus and lots more, is THIS 

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Blood Sugar, Bananas and Brains

On occasion, I am asked to give advice to young comedians. I am of an age where my grey hair and stoop accidentally suggests wisdom, or creates the illusion I have survived this far in SHOWBUSINESS.

My first advice is – “Get out of it! We want another go and if you whippers and snappers do it, we decayed remnants of once fertile minds will be left in the corner, dusty and weeping”.

My second bit of advice if their hankering to be fools remains is – “always carry a spare sandwich in your duffel coat pocket (other coats are available)”. Tonight was the funeral of Your Culture is Ailing, Your Art is Dead, one of the trilogy of failed nights I started with hope in heart back in January. I had spent the afternoon being interviewed by the delightful Geoff Lloyd at Absolute Radio , the interviewing the anecdote and experience wurlitzer that is Barry Cryer, and in between, listening to Max Wall battling to make jokes about hotels work to an unimpressed 1950s audience (I am working on a radio documentary about comedians and happiness).

Once at The Old Queen’s Head, I knew my reserves of mental energy were depleted and my emotional spectrum was monochrome. The unstructured days of “doing odd stuff” means you see no reason why you should be woozy, after all, you ate a sandwich a mere 7 hours ago. So sadly, as I strode on stage and allowed my mind to make decisions on how to start the show, I watched in despair as it made the wrong decisions and I sensed a confusion in the room. Joanna Neary was brilliant as usual, and I managed to create a semblance of sanity as I interviewed Alexei Sayle on art and fury. I knew I was not as I should be, but not as mad as I could be. Like me, Sara Pascoe had doubled up an MC gig with solo slots like ones at Art is Dead. She created something masked and involving, then we both departed to are poorly thought out other gigs.

At Lolitics, I pondered on what may occur. Would I stand mute in the spotlight, weep and howl, or showoff as I was meant to. A banana was distraught and alone in the shelving area which marks out the pretense of an off stage area from the audience seats. I asked around and was informed it had, in all probability, been left stranded by a psychobilly band long departed.

I ate it.

It offered my brain enough to get my leaping and projecting.

Later, I would find out that it was actually the banana of MC and promoter Chris Coltrane. he berated me for consuming his banana. Not so socialist with his tropical fruit. I hope he doesn’t collapse on the tube home. Sitting on the train at Euston, feeling seesaw-ish and Eeyore-ish, I saw an email about this Christmas’s Hammersmith gigs. If the guest it was from confirms, we will have one of the best secret guests ever. That UnEeyeored me. So remember kids, carry a spare banana.

New Christmas show at Hammersmith with Brian Cox, me, and lots of secret guests is HERE

I am across UK with my brain and mind show – Bridgwater, Goole, Barton, Henley on Thames, Southport and plenty more HERE

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I wanted to be a vicar, but I didn’t have the matins

My mother would have liked me to be a vicar.
I have always quite liked the idea of being a vicar too. I imagine myself as something akin to Alastair Sim in Folly to be Wise and Peter Sellers in Heavens Above!
In the act of being a vicar, my world would change into something monochrome and warm, a memory of Sunday afternoon films. The reality would be different, but that is why I avoid reality so often. I place my Ealing lens on.
I remember talking to a dean who told me of the ghastly flocks of his past, the venal and the bigoted, the snobs and the surreptitiously fundamental. Maybe I could make the short jump to Unitarian minister one day. They don’t have to believe in a god, but they do need to possess empathy and a sense of altruism. At the last Unitarian service I attended, the readings included an excerpt of Dennis Potter’s final TV interview and a “hymn” about human imagination.

The main hindrance to my vicar hopes is my lack of religious faith. So I have had to swap the possible pulpit for proselytizing in art centres. Some of the art centres are deconsecrated churches, so I can still find myself raising my fists under low lit stained glass while talking of Darwin or intrusive thoughts.

Richard Coles is a vicar I enjoy talking to, though when he gets on to the sensation of the holy spirit, I find myself trying to change the subject. I can nod and understand the allure of mysticism to a point, but then my mind goes, “hang on, this sounds too barmy for my ears”.
This is the wall I cannot break through.
A sensation beyond my recall or imagination, an irretrievable idea.
My point of squish-faced “I don’t get it”.
In his interview with this week’s Big Issue, Coles tells his faith wanting interviewr that faith is there, “if you really want it”, but I don’t think it is. Just as atheists may not always have the empathy to at least comprehend the faithful, the faithless mindset is beyond some in and around the pews.

I see no reason why anyone wouldn’t want to earnestly believe that there is something that has put this universe together, that gives it a meaning and a destination and the possibility that our conscious existence is not finite.
That we may see our ancestors and our offspring again, and possibly for eternity.
But unfortunately, the sort of minds that make fire, farmland and physics experiments have an uphill struggle to place a mystic being, beyond all the laws of all else we see in our universe, to make this deity idea seem tangible.

I try to imagine what might make me “a believer”, what tragedy or pain, but it seems like such a vast cauldron of cognitive dissonance that my nature/nurtured sceptical mind would keep peeping out and saying, “you know you’re kidding yourself”.

Would I like to exist forever and never lose those I love?
Sounds a grand idea.
Do I believe I can make that leap?
So, instead I must make the very best of what I have here, savour my existence, however ridiculous, while I have it. Woody Allen was right, that it is the dying, not the being dead, that is worrisome.

Tim Minchin is given the Big Issue pages after Reverend Richard, and reminds us,
“All comedians are nerds getting up on stage saying things they wish they’d had the balls and fleet-footedness to say in the moment”.

And if it turns out there is a God and when I get to the after death queueing system and it says, “you didn’t believe in me and instead just tried to make the most of your life, and attempted to be altruistic and empathetic and love those around you as much as you could, so to the furnace for you”
I will say, “fuck you, Yahweh”.
And it’ll say, “right, I am extending your eternity in fiery agony”
“what do you mean extend the eternity?”
And he’ll say, “have you never heard of Hilbert’s hotel. There are different types of eternity”.
And eventually, after I’ve dragged out the eternal argument for as long as I can, I’ll start smelling my skin crackle.

on tour forever with my show about brains, minds and Peter Higgs – southport, henley, bridgwater, hove, manchester, london and on (also US and Australia dates will be up soon, in fact I think the US ones are already, with Prof Cox)

and here is new Vitriola podcast

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Did the beloved entertainer lose his licence ?

“I’ve paid my admission to the Tate Britain, and you have the gall to tell me I can’t draw moustaches and cocks all over the Degas?”

Michael Mcintryre walked off stage early at his Darlington warm up gig, does that mean he must have his “beloved entertainer” licence revoked?

(before I continue, this has been written in a hurry on steps, version two up later. Just using this as a valve)

Some time earlier this century, I was touring my Book Club variety gang show with a group of comics and friends. One night near Newbury, we had some spiteful elements in the audience. They were particularly snide whenever a female performer was on, uncouth with a side of misogyny. These were the early days of new millennium banter. Rather than be Charlie Chuckles with them, I went on an admonished them like a schoolmaster. I explained that this might be okay in the comedy clubs they usually went to, but it wasn’t okay here, and that they should have a bit of respect (at this point imagine me removing my glasses as if ready to become pugilistic, though this would be a disaster as I would end up punching air like a cocksure but confused Magoo).
Someone in the audience had bootlegged the show, and put it up on a website keen on forums filled with bedroom based antagonism, while chewing their blue blankets, these warriors daubed ad hominem, hate-filled attacks. This was still the first decade of universal internet, and their barbs felt all the more vicious for it. Yet again, there was some very unpleasant hatred of young women, the sort of thing that when you are starting a career, if you stumbled on this, you would resign immediately. The main focus of their hate did not, and remains a brilliant comedian.
One of the angles of the strand on this bootleg was, “you wouldn’t get Roy Chubby Brown resorting to this sort of thing, he’d smash them all and keep on going”.
But as later history showed, that wouldn’t always be true. A couple of years later, he stormed off after a few minutes and never returned. Other alpha comedians such as Jim Davidson have also walked off, or even refused to go on. So it’s not just the arthouse league who are milksops in this regard. (and we didn’t just storm off, we kept going, even if I did have to hurl chalk every now and again).

There has been debate on whether Michael Mcintyre was right to walk off. It is important to note that he came back on, and did a whole show after the issue that annoyed him, someone repeatedly fiddle-faddling with their phone, was sorted. There seems to be a view that, once the ticket has been bought, any audience member has the right to treat the fool as they wish. Well, if they want to dick about and show off in a theatre, perhaps they should become a performer themselves. Now comedy is enormous, I have noticed in big auditoriums, audience members getting up throughout shows, back and forth to the bar, concentrating like distracted telly viewers. I am fortunate, being small fry, the audience I get are generally attentive. They are small enough for me to like them and have some idea of the cut of their jib, and they have some idea of my jib cut too.

Some people have said, “why didn’t Mcintyre grab her phone, do some funny calls on it etc”, perhaps he didn’t want to. Perhaps he wanted to do the show he had intended, and maybe the rest of the audience wanted that too. I have played towns where audience members want it all to be about them, why should it be. There is no excuse for being lazy, for giving your audience all your energy and focus, but it may be about your worldview not their mate’s hair or chum’s belly. Comedy needn’t be treated with utter reverence, but that doesn’t mean there should not be respect for it. Just as actors are known to burst blood vessels over phone use in plays, and a comic can too.
This is about mutual respect, respecting your audience and attempting the best show you can, and their respect of you (and some audience members remembering to respect the rest of the audience too, who may be less interested in them than they imagined as they caterwaul or distract)

I am on tour as usual – Bristol tonight, then Bridgwater, Henley, Southport, London, Manchester and on and on for all details.

new horror anthology with stories by many comedians

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And the grand statues became readable barcodes… (when the epic became portable frippery)

Spending the afternoon trying to work out what I think about something, so here are some of the confused ideas currently moving like jumping beans inside my skull

Does culture become worthless if it is too easily accessible?
Does the immediate ability of being able to watch thousands of TV series on netflix, fill your playlist with spotify, and watch the widescreen on phone screens mulch artistic endeavor into something that is just there?
Does it turn everything that is intended for the foreground into background noise.
It is turned from experience to just a thing to occupy your time. How difficult can making a movie or song be when there are so many so immediately available?
Without the quest, is art diminished?
With so much watched individually on laptops, headphones in (not in all public transport), that the delight of shared experience is eroded to some hash-tagged tweets?
And now films and music are things of the ether, their solid cases, cartridges and discs have melted and risen into clouds.
The speed of the demise of music and film being an object has been hasty, looking in the charity shop window, the DVDs and CDs on display are achaic. The possession of shelves will soon be a sign of the Luddite.
Will we continue to discover the intriguing and surprising when our online profile will push bespoke choices on us for the personality and minds we are presumed to have?
Hopefully this is either a glitch or a delusion, but I have recently felt that something has changed with appreciation of the arts. We are drawn to our personal screen where we can experience a wide world we believe we are choosing to, which is really an increasingly myopic and prejudiced vision.
The web gives us opportunities to experience more and more, to expand our cosmopolitan desires, but it can also dress a ghetto as the whole wide world.
I liked the quest to find that Fall ep or that arthouse movie that wasn’t coming to a screen near me, so I had to wait for the holiday trip to the big city to go to that popcorn-less cinema with its trailers and adverts for the exotic and peculiar, and that record shop in Soho where people muttered the unusual. (when Soho was still strange and blush-worthy to a young teen). It was an event. If we reduce the sense of event, does it all become frippery?
Does the epic become handheld flotsam?

I am presenting myself in 3D in Bristol, Southport, Bridgwater, Henley-on-Thames and a town near you soon for all details.

Dead Funny, with stories by Stewart Lee, Sara Pascoe, Charlie Higson and many more is here

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I may be irritating, but I’m not sure that makes me art

Unable to focus and confused, I read an interview with U2.
The Observer New Review led with a Bono quote.
“It is the job of art to be divisive”.
And presumably, it is the job of art to force a manufacturer to distribute software to aid the deletion of some art that has been thrust upon all its users.
Not that I really cared about that.
“oh boo hoo, what will my hipsters say when they see we have U2 on our itunes.”
It is the contemporary equivalent of unwanted post, the album of equivalent of the Innovations catalogue that used to drop on the doormats of the twentieth century.

I am not sure it is the job of art to be divisive. Is the artist meant to look at the canvas and ponder, “now, what can I daub on this which will create a fatal game of British Bulldog in the Tate ModernTurbine Room? Perhaps if the satanic child with the dripping face of Rose West is hatching from the duck egg full of blood in that corner of the painting, someone will pull a blade in the reading room, and Brian Sewell will cock his flintlock at Jonathan Meades, and then the Thames will flow will these corpses of feuding subjectivity who sought something certain”.

If you create some art, and you really mean it. It is an attempt to summarise something in your mind more than it is something to sell (though you hope that happens too), then some people are going to look at it and say, “I hate that. I’d like to stick those brushes up the artist’s arse”. And in the act of sticking the brushes up the artist’s arse, you accidentally get nominated for the Turner Prize.

The act of creativity, and then the gall of placing it in the public domain, will be divisive, but is it the actual job of it all, or the inevitable bi-product?

For a while, offensive comedy was very popular, a good angle in the race to get noticed. While “light entertainer” Paul O Grady was mixing vicious pops at the government and the status quo, in between acrobats and interviews, the rebel comedians were not forgetting there were a whole heap of people who were poor and ill and needy and different that hadn’t been punched enough. Once the “edgy” money of late night Channel 4 was not enough, they cooled their style for primetime ITV. It didn’t matter, all product.

Some of it was pretty funny, a lot of it I found spiteful and superior. In watching it, I think I updated my own rules of what I would allow myself to say. Some of these comedians were described as “saying the unsayable”, they played to increasingly big rooms of guffawing people, so maybe it was sayable after all. Now, it doesn’t seem much fun to just come up with a joke whose prime purpose is to divide and offend. The best of the offensive and divisive artists seem to be those who are offending and outraging because they are offended and furious. The work from their wretched mind won’t succeed if it is just a laugh or hiss, they are scratching their own scabs and other people’s as well. The divisiveness goes beyond huffily turning away from the gallery, it keeps creeping under the skin.

Maybe the job of good art is not to be divisive, it is just that somewhere in the beauty or squalor, it will divide and irritate.
But just because something is irritating, does not mean it must be art.

I also read an interview with Eric Fischl.

“The reason artists do what they do on some level is to say, ‘don’t look at me, look at this thing I made and you will know the true me’”.

Not for the comedian, “look at me, look at these things I’ve made, then you will know the me I would like to be, but may only be on stage, before walking off into the street, hood up, and don’t look at me”

I may be irritating, but I don’t think that has made me into art.

Most, but not all, of my dates for the rest of this year and 2015 are up here
Southport, Manchester, Henley, Bridgwater, Goole, Bristol, Nottingham, are all imminent.

and the Brighton Comedy Festival

and link to next gig in Bristol –

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In Need of a Medicalised Stand Up Patch – Cold Turkey Comedy

I gave up smoking.
Four years or so now.
The last one was with Steve Lamacq at Reading.
Now I consider the smoking me as a ridiculous figure. I never had the face for it.
I gave up drinking. I managed eleven months, rejecting fine wines offered to me by Professor Cox, cheery after show booze platters at TEDx talks, rum cheer at Glastonbury, eventually defeated by a Red Stripe in a red room filled with re-faced and dripping people.
It was Michael Legge’s fault.
“That’s it, I can’t work with you sober,” he bellowed in his best marching and throwing things voice.
He stormed off to the bar, returned and placed a can on a center stage chair.
Why did I drink it?
For the sake of showbusiness, of course. It was the most stupid thing to do in front of the audience, bananaskin melodrama, so it had to be done.
I gave up refined sugar. A mere three days. Somethings are too delicious to fast. Had Lindt chocolate bunnies existed 2000 years ago, Jesus would not have made his 40 days, Satan would have appeared in desert as a Hotel Chocolat outlet.
“I’m melting!”

What next?

I have promised in the past, but repeatedly failed.
I am going to attempt to give up stand up.
I have been planning this for a while. I continue to tour the UK until early February, then off to the US for a Monkey Cage tour in March, a solo Australian tour in April, a couple more months of UK, then, from July, the valve must be sealed.
welded shut.
For a year?

I will be interested to see if I can.

It is a benevolent addiction, and an insidious one.
Over half my life, I have been defined as a stand up. Sometimes even a comedian, though that has been up to the audience to decide.

I have been fortunate. It has worked out for me. I have been able to tour on my own, and enough people have turned up for me to make a living. Some people barely get as far as a single paid gig, but they keep going. The true tenacity, when there is no gain, when they still have their office job, and their nightmares are filled with hate and violence at those that have not found them funny enough for them to give the Johnny Cash finger to daytime work, and live off jokes and puns and observations and oddities amplified.

In some ways, it is the easiest art. You can’t put it off. the audience are there. You can attempt to procrastinate. “Hmmm, I’ll start in a minute, maybe a cup of tea and a couple of phone calls first”, but before long, the anger and confusion will build, and the screams of, “get on with it or fuck off”, will force your hand, and mouth, to start attempting some kind of entertainment.

If I give up stand up, will all that untapped and unreleased anxiety, absurdity and nonsense bubble up like ash and lava and make a novel, or a screenplay, or a clay monolith, or will it all drift away in occasional thoughts and silence?

I can’t think of many who have successfully given up stand up. Nick Revell and David Baddiel managed years (according to someone who saw him on The One Show, I was partly to blame for him coming back. Bumping into him at a west country service station, I informed him that no one is ever truly allowed to leave stand up once they have begun. “Just when I thought I was out…”). Alexei Sayle managed over a decade. Nick Hancock is the only one who hasn’t come back…yet.

With a teenagehood obsessed by comedy, and an adulthood immersed in it, am I anything else? Can I be anything else, apart from an annoyance and obstruction around the house?
I know that on nights off I am particularly annoying in the kitchen during the gigging hours.

I will start the mental sweepstake now. Will it be months, weeks, days, or merely hours, before I walk back into a comedy club.
Sweating, shivering, cold.
“Hey Jack, can I just have 5 minutes in front of them, just 5, maybe 10, I read a thing in the newspaper, and I’ve got the idea for a bit, and if it stays in me, it’ll become toxic. Just a minute in the lights, extemporising. Thanks, I won’t ask again”

Most, but not all, of my dates for the rest of this year and 2015 are up here
Southport, Manchester, Henley, Bridgwater, Goole, Bristol, Nottingham, are all imminent.

and the Brighton Comedy Festival

and here is a link for Southport

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