Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Dook Box and his Bandit

Here is Dook Box and his Bandit. Actually, his name is Phil and he is from Bristol. He busks in Bath and Oxford. I saw him in Bath not far from the Abbey. The incredible guitar playing machine is a work of genius. Apparently, he had trouble with the reliability of guitar players in the past and so he made the machine. Here is a second photograph giving a closer look.

His right foot operates a pedal which causes the guitar to be strummed; the left foot operates a pedal which selects which chord is to be played. The music he plays is sort of old time American fiddle music; it is very catchy and you find yourself tapping your foot in time with the tunes. He is extremely good and worth seeing. He sells a DVD of him performing various tunes. You can buy a copy directly from him or by mail order. For mail order go to his MySpace page for details

If you cannot get to Bath or Oxford to hear him play then here is a link to a video on Youtube uploaded by a Youtuber user called Baronbl0d.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Stewart Lee and Jerry Sadowitz

The series Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, BB2 on Mondays, came to an end this week. I have enjoyed the series and hope that there will be another in the future. Lee’s style is one which deserves admiration. He discusses a subject in a nonchalant way, seemingly following a ‘stream of consciousness’ process and yet making use of well thought out repetitions of phrases and concepts. He comments on the absurdities of life and occasionally also on the situation of being a stand up comedian performing to a live audience. The latter goes so far as to him admitting that a particular tale he is telling, of something that happened to him the week before, is a fiction; even so, he keeps telling the tale whilst explaining which parts are not true and the fictional characters in the tale begin to ask him what does he think he is he doing. It is comedy which could be theatre of the absurd at its most accessible. After watching this series, I regard Stewart Lee as being the Samuel Beckett of stand up comedy.

An extra treat in the last episode was Jerry Sadowitz imitating Jimmy Savile in a sketch. A unique comedian, and a unique magician, Sadowitz has been missing from our television screens for far too long and I hope that he will appear on television more in the near future. A misunderstood performer, sometimes deliberately misunderstood by some, it may be the case that television producers cannot see beyond Sadowitz’s stage persona to the experienced professional behind it, cannot tell fact from fiction in the fuss about the image that accompanies his comedy persona. During his live shows he presents the audience with a persona of an aggressive, loud, opinionated, foul mouthed Glaswegian who airs shocking points of view that can invoke an occasional negative response from a few audience members; Sadowitz then gets called racist, sexist, etc., despite the fact that those people bought a ticket to the show in order to laugh at a racial stereotype: an aggressive, loud, opinionated, foul mouthed Glaswegian who airs shocking points of view.

An audience watching comedian Omid Djalili (whose brilliant new series began this week on BBC1) when he imitates a Middle Eastern accent and declares “and that is why the West must be destroyed” tend to laugh because they are laughing at a racial stereotype. They do not believe that Djalili is a Middle Eastern terrorist or that he means what he is saying; they know it is only a comedy act. It is different with Sadowitz, an audience seems to believe that the comedy character they are being presented with is genuinely who Sadowitz is as a person and that the things said really are his own sincerely held views. It is a bit like believing that Omid Djalili really is a Middle Eastern terrorist or believing that Warren Mitchell really is Alf Garnet. At one of Sadowitz’s shows which I watched, at least three times during the show he had to point out to a small number of audience members that it was a comedy act and that he did not really mean what he was saying, that he is a comedian and it is just an act. The crux of the matter can be highlighted by a further comparison with Djalili. When Djalili has finished using his Middle Eastern persona he can revert back to using his own voice, which has an English accent. When Sadowitz has finished using his ‘extreme’ Glaswegian persona, he still has a Glaswegian accent. It is much easier for people to differentiate between Djalili and his Middle Eastern persona than it is for them to do the same with the real Glaswegian Jerry Sadowitz and his fictional foul mouthed Glaswegian used as a comedy persona. (Before anyone points it out, yes, I know that Sadowitz was born in America but he was raised in Glasgow and has a Glasgow accent.)

I sometimes wonder if there is a touch of racism against the Scottish and Glaswegians in the people who refuse to accept that Sadowitz is not the obviously exaggerated Glaswegian stereotype he uses as a stage persona. From the descriptions given by people who know Sadowitz personally and even from some journalists who have bothered to take the time to look behind the stage persona instead of exploiting it, it is to be found that Sadowitz is a quiet person who is teetotal and shares little in common with the character he presents on stage.

A tiny, tiny glimpse of the real Jerry Sadowitz is given in the book This Virtual Life: Escapism and Simulation in Our Media World by Andrew Evans and it is given by Sadowitz himself. Not only did he contribute to a modest part of Evans’ research for the section of the book which deals with the media, trickery, magic and audience reactions thereon, Sadowitz also wrote the foreword to the book. Not even the slightest hint of his stage persona is to be found in there and we meet someone else entirely.

The real Jerry Sadowitz is, perhaps, none of our business. He is entitled to his privacy and as a performer, the product 'Jerry Sadowitz, Comedian and Magician' is probably all we will be allowed to know. However, I sometimes wonder if Sadowitz wishes that people, including television producers, would realise and remember that there is a real Jerry Sadowitz that is different from the comedy persona. Something that Spike Milligan once said in a television interview, for me, highlights why people are so ready and willing to believe the outrageous about Sadowitz (or others) without looking deeper. Milligan was telling a hilariously ludicrous story that was supposed to be a true event and another guest on the show recognised the story; he stated he knew the people involved and it did not happen the way Milligan was telling it. Milligan gestured towards the audience and asked "What do you think these people want to hear? A boring truth or an interesting lie?"

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk

In the city of Bath, during the day, you will see a crowd of people walking along being led by someone wearing a light purple jacket. That will be one of the tours of the city provided by the council of Bath. In the evening, at 8pm, outside the Huntsman Inn you will see a large crowd of people, from many different countries, gathering around another purple coated guide. This guided walk is different. It will be Noel Britten or J.J. and it is a comedy walk lasting about 90 minutes. Its format slightly parodies the walking tours available in most cities but that is where any resemblance ends. Probably unique in the UK, this walking comedy show has run for eighteen years or so. Every single evening, from the beginning of April to the end of October of each year, the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk has entertained people with its humour and originality. There are very few comedy shows in theatres, if any, that have run for as many years or as successfully.

J.J. welcoming people to the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk.

The creator of the Comedy Walk is Noel Britten. A successful comedian who has won awards for his comedy acts and who still finds time to perform the Bizarre Bath Comedy Walk between gigs and touring. On the evenings that Noel Britten is not available for the Walk, it is usually hosted by J.J., who has been with Bizarre Bath since its beginning.

Between them, Noel Britten and J.J. (and one or two others) have entertained who knows how many thousands of people on this unique tourist event. It is deservedly mentioned on most, if not all, the reputable travel guide web sites (for example Trip Advisor).

As to what happens on the comedy walk, well … describing that would spoil the fun of going on the walk. It is very enjoyable and more than worth the price which, by the way, is £8 for adults, £5 for students and £5 for children.

Visit the website:

Sketch of Tina Lenert

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Street Acts on The South Bank

London has always been a place for street entertainers to perform. Certain areas, such as Covent Garden or the South Bank, have earned a good reputation for street acts and I went to the South Bank last week to watch the acts (again). There is a mix of good and bad, as there is in any place that has street acts, but in this case the bad are truly abysmal.

The trend for living statues seems to be prevalent in most cities; South Bank is no different, the problem is that all but three acts were living statues. That is where the truly abysmal were to be found. Some people who, judging from the way they were behaving, were obviously not performers of any kind were simply wearing fancy dress and standing by a bowl or container waiting to be given money. The downside to people doing that is twofold. Firstly, it uses a location that should be filled by a genuine street performer. Secondly, the somewhat less than friendly and sometimes very direct demand of ‘give me money’ when there has been no talent or performance on display to reward, undermines the ‘good will’ that has to exist between street acts and the general public; without that good will, people are less inclined to stand and watch an act and less inclined to give money if they do stay and watch.

A genuine performer doing a living statue act remains immobile when approached. If money is dropped in the money tin or hat, the performer may then do some form of movement in acknowledgement.

Here is a photo of a performer who does just that.

She remained absolutely still while people queued to have their photograph taken beside her. If someone dropped money into her bowl, she performed a series of bows in a robotic fashion, as if she was some kind of Victorian mechanical automaton. If no money was given, she stayed motionless in accordance to the role she had given herself. There is no attempt to badger people to give money. (I have referred to this performer as ‘she’, but under the very good quality costume and make-up there might have been a man!)

In contrast to this, the ‘fake’ performers immediately draw attention to their money bowl when anyone goes near them or looks in their direction. They can also be awkward about letting someone take a photograph if they have not been given any money.

Another good performer was dressed as Charlie Chaplin. He drew quite a crowd and gave an entertaining, humorous show. Not far away, three men gave a slightly unstructured performance of juggling and contortionism; nevertheless, they put on a good show which attracted a large audience. A forth crowd-puller was a living statue, a wizard, who moved in response to fun music.

It is in watching the good street acts, the genuine performers who have put effort and talent into developing an act, that makes me wish that the ‘waste of space’ performers, who are merely begging in disguise and not performing, could be moved on; that would make room for more genuine performers – which might provide more variety of acts on the South Bank.

Here is a selection of some of the photographs I took when walking along the South Bank.

Here are two members of the juggling and contortionist act. The majority of the people watching them were next to me on the pavement. Bizarrely, no one chose to stand on the grass to watch them, despite people jostling each other trying to get a good view. The large metal bowl that the contortionst is being carried in, was the same bowl used after the act to collect money.

Here is another picture of the excellent street performer mentioned above. For the first photo, I had to wait ages for her to be alone so I could take the picture. Tourists were gathered in front of her, waiting to have their photograph taken with her. I held my camera in position, hoping for a moment long enough to take the photo as one person walked away and another stepped up for a photo. After that, I gave up and just took pictures with the crowd in shot.

Here is a photo of someone wearing what looks like an outfit from a fancy dress shop and hoping to be mistaken for a street performer. The body language says it all. Do you consider this a performance? Would you give money to him?

Far more effort went into this; I did not have an opportunity to see how the performer interacts with a member of the public.

The 'Rocking' wizard who danced to some very pleasantly weird upbeat music. He is situated very near to the London Eye.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Sketch of Max Maven

I used natural light when filming this and unfortunately the automatic exposure on the time lapse camera was slow to respond to moments when the sunshine increased. Therefore, the screen goes white several times during the video.