Category Archives: Comedy

Troll Time Travel (October 04)

Though music is a personal strong point Blowback played to many passions. The following was an interview with the comedian Bill Bailey. Most of all I am pleased with the way we chose the location to suit Bailey’s character. A very Blowback trait. 

I get to the travel tavern a bit late, it’s four in the afternoon. Bailey is already sitting in the canteen area with a pot of tea and a selection of individually wrapped bourbons in front of him. I sit down, he’s got me a cup and I pour one out. Earl Grey, excellent facilities.

There’s no-one else about, it’s self service (naturally) and all the other guests are out of the hotel getting on with their lives. We are in limbo – neither arriving nor departing and the furnishings reflect this. White crockery, cream table cloth and hideously garish floor.

It’s like you’re taking time off from your life, it takes a back seat while the tour happens. It’s such an unnatural state, you’re out of sync with the natural world. Time is different, you eat, drink, sleep, work’ he becomes quite animated ‘all at different times. It becomes a daily struggle/battle/challenge to get all the things done that you have to get done. All the stuff that you can normally do in office hours, you can’t do. You’re doing other things, you’re sleeping or traveling or trying to get decent grub. It’s impossible, it becomes a holy grail to get a decent meal!’

Bill’s tour manager pokes his head round the door to make sure I found him alright. I make some lame joke about looking everywhere in this room and something like his beard blending in with the paisley floor… the TM leaves.

‘You need someone who’s a bit on the case…Yeah you get to a point on the tour when you want as little hassle as possible. You turn up at a hotel, they give you an envelope with a key on it, you don’t even have to sign anything or answer any thing like’ [Bailey adopts petulant child’s voice and does the universal face pull for Spacca] ‘”Do you want this?” or “do you like this?” You literally just want to walk in, they hold up the envelope, you snatch it from their hands and you walk straight to your room – without a word…’

We start chatting about his fans, people with no agenda coming up to him and talking to him. He says he always makes an effort, it must be difficult to do though when you’re in mid tour daze: A wizard in a trance.

Well the only time you’re sort of out and about is at service stations! Because you’re in the car to the gig, at the gig or going back to the hotel. Also it’s quite a weird situation, it’s three in the morning. There’s this ghostly pallor to everyone, they see me and they go “Is that…erm” and they figure it’s a hallucination. They go “I’m sure I saw Bill Bailey buying a…panini!.. at four am… or maybe I dreamt it.”’

Off stage Bill may come across as part zombie but on stage he is part troll. A modern one man band playing a multitude of instruments.

There’s kind of a balancing act, because it’s just me on stage there’s only so much I can physically play. I was looking at the video, at one point there’s a keyboard, a drum machine, synthesizer, a sampler, a theramin and a bazuki being used by me at the same time. Maybe I should get a band or maybe just chill out a bit, just…” [Bailey becomes psycho-American] ‘“let it go Bill” There comes a point when the technology becomes a hindrance, I always wanted the technology to serve the comedy and hopefully that’s what it achieves.’

A moment when this happens, perfectly on the DVD – Part Troll is his performance of Portishead doing the alternative English anthem: Ziper Dee Do Dah. It’s worryingly convincing.

There’s a few things about that, firstly every tribute I do is always an affectionate tribute and the other is that their style is so distinctive, that people will recognize the sound. So we’re acknowledging that the band has a very original and unique sound, merely mentioning the band conjures up a sound. And in order for the gag to work, well the music has to be absolutely bang on, it has to be right, so I make that a feature. It’s an aim of mine with every tribute I do, to make it sound exactly like it might sound if they were to do it. It’s like a painting, you have to keep stepping back until you get it absolutely right.’

Where as audiences seem to get instantly bored when they hear the same material again, this is not as true with music. I wonder whether Bill has any plans to tour just the music with a band.

I had a plan to do it this year but I couldn’t fit it in with the tour. It’s something I really want to do, because there’s quite a lot of it now built up over the years. I’ve just written another one now, so it seems to be a particularly creative patch.’

A crumpled traveling salesman ambles into our eating area, nods a brief acknowledgement and turns on the TV hanging from the bracket in the corner. He sits watching BBC News  24 whilst Bush’s electioneering rhetoric blarts out. There’s an anti-Bush song in the new material and jokes about the Axis of Evil

I ask him if he is becoming more political.

‘Well it is inevitable, it’s such an all consuming thing and it just creeps into your comedy. I used to do it when I was in a double act and we always used to do songs that were topical in some way. When I started doing my own standup, I decided to explore more the musical side, stories and surreal comedy. Now I’m going back to it, I’m revisiting the side of what I used to do. If there’s rich pickings there, then it’s valid source material. You have to move on, you have to challenge yourself, find the thing that you find hardest to do and then do that.’

We have a break and crack open the Bourbons. Bill has had the last few months off, uncharacteristically he hasn’t used that time to travel, but in a way he has. He’s had a son which he named after a Star Trek Simbiont character, Dax. I wonder if having his son has affected his attitude to the big wide world.

Not at the moment, I don’ think so, not consciously’ [Bailey adds mysteriously] ‘I think that hasn’t changed. What has changed is the personal development within yourself. You speak as a parent, suddenly you’re responsible and grown up – you have dependents. I think that maybe introduces a subtle change because you start to examine yourself and look back at this wreckless, aimless, bumbling life you’ve led up to now.‘

On his website, Bill’s most recent entry into his Blog is apologising for his absence. He said that he suddenly realises ‘hours have flown by and you’ve been grinning inanely.’ I ask him how it’s changed him and when something so wonderful happens he may lose his inspiration in the banal.

I think you have to be clearer about the other parts of your life then, you have to organise yourself a bit more and focus in on professional life and a private life. Professionally it gives you more focus because – yes it’s fantastic! I think really things don’t bother you that much any more but perversely other things do, you become more irritable and less tolerant. And more prone to go off on a rant about something. For example, I’m trying to get him out of the car and someone honks a horn, previously I would have ignored them, but now I just go mental! Bag of shopping, you know, small child, honnnnkk…I’ve nearly got into a few fights over it…So I suppose I’ve become less tolerant of errr intolerance.’

His eyes flick up to the side with his trademark bewildered look then he smiles. We crack open the bourbons and finish our tea. Time to move on.


Koh Poo Poo (May 04)

We never wanted Blowback to just be about interviewing the latest band or fad. It was about experience. The travel section was introduced to encourage people to tell a good story. There were some truly excellent contributions by Ian Nightingale and Andrew Newsham. This, for quite a while was my most gross out party anecdote. The published article included some typical holiday snaps. And a stunt arse.

 

For me the message behind Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach ™ and subsequent film is clear. If you find utopia, you still have to deal with the human aspect within the society which you form. Most importantly you need to consider the effects your indulgence affects outside forces: local customs and the damage you inevitably you do to the environment. Basically, put a load of westerners in a tropical paradise and selfishness will turn it into a toilet.

 

Koh Phi-Phi (pronounced ‘Pee Pee’) home of The Beach™ is the epitome. Consisting of two islands, smack bang in the centre of the ‘national reserve’ there’s certainly no place which is ‘reserved’. The smaller island, Lai (pronounced ‘lay’) is swarming with Longtail boats which do over-regular reef-destroying visits. This is so tourists can snorkel round the bay, gaping at suffocating, desperate fish whilst avoiding the propellers of other Longtails. When you’ve gawped, you can wash up on the same pure shores that Leo and co went doolally on. You can even walk round and see the stumps of palm trees which had to be cut down to fit in the catering wagon and superstar trailers.

 

Don is Phi-Phi Lai’s bigger brother. This is the place where everyone goes ‘really wild’ at night – it’s Magaluv with considerably less lavs. Though strictly speaking still national reserve, due to the film star attraction of its sibling, it’s been knocked up quickly and, inevitably shoddily. The smell of open sewers and rotting fish is not uncommon.

 

Me, my girlfriend and two good friends (Becca and Ollie) arrived there. It was the first island off the mainland in Thailand and… okay, yes we all wanted to see The Beach™. We hadn’t actually realised that The Beach™ wasn’t past a load of Viet Kong ganja guards and over a waterfall but actually on another island. So we booked a boat tour (with snorkelling chucked in) and went to explore Don for the night. After a couple of jars and an amusing Thai ‘lady boy’ Jagger tribute act at the Rolling Stoned bar, we were ready for food.

 

Before too long we’d been drawn into a restaurant, enticed by today’s catch. My girlfriend and Becca had very sensibly gone through the whole trip as vegetarians, mostly they ordered Pineapple Rice which consisted of a hollowed out pineapple – with rice in. Ollie and I had been bolstered by watching a Swede eat a fried cockroach in Bangkok and I’d become quite partial to squid on a stick. That night I had a flash fried prawn in chilli oil.

 

At 4am my stomach started churning. At 6am my arse exploded. I was pretty much on the toilet, straining, until 8am. After a terse conversation with my girlfriend, we decided that I should take some Imodium and not cancel the boat tour.

 

We walked down to the harbour. As soon as I got there I had to peg it to a bar toilet (well bar hole in the ground) which required shorts pulled out at full elasticated stretch and a fair amount of slop. I emerged to my now, sympathetic girlfriend saying she’d bought me something to eat on the boat, if I felt up for it.

 

Soon enough it was time to board the boat and set off. The sun was shining, the waters were calm but this was soon upstaged by a storm in my stomach. The engine and the sun shining through the windows below deck further increased the temperature but it was nothing compared to the adjacent sweltering cupboard in which I found the toilet. Though I did breath a sigh of relief when I spotted it was a sit down seat.

No time to rejoice, however, as the stomach cramps twinged once more. The relief came seconds later as I emptied my bowels into the bowl. Just as I’d finished we went over a wave.

In one bump, the water had been sucked back and blown back out, right up my arse.

I had to wipe my entire arse area! It was like the toilet bowl had stencilled me with shit. No sooner had I finished, when I had to jump back onto the toilet… then jump off again when I felt a wave. This process was repeated about ten times, all the time sweating profusely from the ridiculous heat and stressful situation.

I emerged from the cubby hole traumatised by the events, only to discover the reason why the blowback was so dramatic. The sea had changed. I staggered up the steps and stumbled into my seat.

My concerned girlfriend gave me some more pills, some water and then offered me my breakfast.

It was Pain Au Chocolate.

I took one look at breakfast and chucked up over the side.

Far too fucking soon it was time to crawl back to the toilet below. The exact same thing (with puking thrown in for variety) happened twice more before we pulled into calmer waters, a cove off Phi Phi Lai. I decided to snorkel, not because I really felt up for it but because I thought I might be able to get clean.

I entered the water and swam away from the group. It was here that I discovered that it’s physiologically impossible to shit and swim.

I then tried to swim back to the rest of the group but I’d swum too far out and couldn’t fight the current. I nearly drowned swimming back, which at least gave me something to chuck up when the boat started moving again.

Much to the relief of the rest of the boat, a lunchtime longtail was able to give me and my girlfriend a lift back to Don. After a day of sleep, we left Phi-Phi for Koh Lanta. The previous day’s storm had deterred most wanting to leave. This meant that we were the only guests on our beach. A resort that had huts which seemed to have a post-colonial air and a hotel proprietor who got us what we wanted, in moderation. We could live out our idyllic dream. No more competition, no excess, no stress.


This Is The News! (October 01)

This was my first ‘headline story’ for whatsonuk back in 2001 when Chris Morris was in danger of unravelling the ‘very’ fabric of society (‘like a kitten with catnip injected into its eyes’ as Morris would – probably – say.) I must point out there was a bit of a culture for plagirism at whatsonuk – it was a student magazine and many of my source material did get mashed in with original copy. From memory this article has debts to articles published in The Guardian, NME, the web and even the Daily Mail.

Chris Morris is possibly my biggest influence and re-typing it now it’s quite suprising how very relevant it is still and how much fun I had Blowin’ back the style.  

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When story breaks like twigs neck snap. And though your head be full of fuddyduddyness. Bring on race riot smash mash. The welcome. Aaaaah hmmm whompaf Welcome… Chris Morris.

When Channel 4 finally broadcast the Brass Eye Special last month, the UK tabloid community let out a small git of panic. Newsnight discussed it, MP’s and pressure groups condemned it (but didn’t watch it) and even my mum asked me if I’d ever heard of this Morris fellow. Complaints reached fever pitch and the press estimated about 2000 phone calls to the ITC and Channel 4. Chris Morris himself was no-where to be found for comment. Brass Eye’s main aims were easily his best statement. The guff had been dropped, time to clear the area. 

This is not the first time that Morris has courted controversy by a long stretch. In the past, he has been given almost near mythical sackings. As with all things Morrisian, all stories are grossly inaccurate and if you believe all you read then you’re a bigger fool than the fawning celebs that will read anything from a cue card.

Morris started his career at Bristol radio, working in the news team. The story goes that he began subverting from the inside. In one news broadcast he reputedly filled the studio with helium. Morris also had time to perfect his skills and on another occasion he re-edited the Queens Christmas Speech so she announced ‘It was in this room that my father would service men.’ ‘Contract terminated’

Next, GLR offered him a morning programme. Complaints began when Morris ran two phone-ins for the under tens. The first involved ‘The Sweet Game’ where a child would stuff their face then pronounce a sentence which in a kids sweet stuffed mouths would come out as swear words. Another was called ‘Kiddies Outing’ where children were encouraged to name and shame celebrities as homosexuals. ‘Released from duties’

Armando Iannucci heard him and asked him to anchor a mock-up news show On The Hour for Radio 4. Other noticeables in the team included Stuart Lee and Richard Herring, Peter Baynham, David Quantick, Rebecca Front and with the vocal talents of Steve Coogan, Alan Partridge was born. One stunt involved tricking The Sun into giving them £1500, after Coogan did an impression of Neil Kinnock acting drunk in a Holiday Inn (‘Forget Paddy Pantsdown, I’m Neil Bigcock.’) ‘Let go’

Its TV incarnation (without Lee and Herring) The Day Today, developed the Christopher Morris vs Jeremy Paxman persona further. With greater exposure more people where beginning to adopt the mangled soundbites that mimicked tabloid headlines ‘Russia Elects Cobweb’ ‘Headmaster Suspended For Using Big Faced Child As Satellite Dish’ being a few favourites. ‘Not invited back’

Back at Radio 1, he headed his own show where he started to interview celebs. 2Unlimited were early victims (‘Are there really No Limits’) and several people were asked to comment about the death of Michael Heseltine. The final insult was when he blasphemed profusely in an interview with Cliff Richard. ‘Resting’

Morris began work on Brass Eye in 1996 but the programme was shelved until early 1997, due to rumours surrounding the show. The first episode featured ‘a made up drug’ called Cake. Noel Edmonds and various MPs were seriously miffed at being duped. Back then Chris Morris had the energy to respond with

“People have been mocked out of their constituency who want to be informed as well as entertained… the whole of the media is a deception cloaked in coded statements – a pay rise, a sacking, whatever. I can’t stand that high handed attitude, that there’s a proper way to behave. Everyone is fucking about. You’re just displaying it. You can dupe people until the cows come home as far as I’m concerned.”

The final episode was gaulessly cut to shreds at the last moment following a media uproar concerning a sketch called ‘Sutcliffe The Musical.’ Morris justified pushing the satire further than the rest,“Brass Eye should put an end to the recent spate faux pas prankster drivel… it won’t of course. It will spawn another host of second rate imitators. So top this you quisling fucks.”

Rumours abounded that when the 11 ‘o’ Clock Show was commissioned it was because Channel 4 didn’t have the guts to re-employ Morris. Daisy Donovan and Iain Lee split Morrisisms between them and as expected, didn’t match par. Richard Herring christened the programme ‘Brass Eye lite’ and after Ali G left only the occasional 3 minutes with Ricky Gervais stopped the audience from dying a smothering boredom.  

Meanwhile, Morris had gone back to Radio One with more ideas. Blue Jam lasted for three series and was broadcast on the station’s appropriately named ‘graveyard shift.’ Morris spliced sketches into leftfield Electronica and smart pop songs. According to Morris it “was about the way your mind works at night.” Listening to the show tapped into the subconscious, the songs offering cosy solitude to be banged abruptly by the sketches and often inducing nightmares in the semi-conscious. As much as a twisted humour and highlighting middle class hypocrisy the sketches played on fears and pushed new ground and broke taboos. Your sense of humour was always questioned, “If you make a joke in an area which is for some reason, normally randomly – out of bounds – then you might find something out, you might put your finger on something. But it’s a matter of finding yourself in that area rather than setting out to look for trouble.”

Aside from a few sketches involving the re-editing of the Archbishop of Cantebury’s speech on the death of Princess Diana, the show was left alone and went out surprisingly, un-cut. “[With Brass Eye] Most complaints were sort of ‘Can you imagine how I felt sitting through this with my daughter’ and that’s not going to happen in the middle of the night [with Blue Jam] unless you’re helping your daughter through her first steps through drugs.”

Jam the TV version on Channel 4 last year grabbed more attention due to its 9.30 slot. Morris achieved his subconscious infiltration this time by using a who’ll digital film arsenal. Such tricks as slowing down the film, chopping up and changing the shots, adding tracing filters and muffling the sound all added to the ambience. And giving the show a soundtrack was again aped on such mainstream copyists such as Trigger Happy and Double Take. “It’s designed to be hypnotic so that it weaves itself in and compelling, so you stay with it,” said Morris “And quite often jokes are going off underground – normally you’re given a cue to laugh at things, and here there aren’t many cues.”

There would be a case for saying that the shows ambience contributed to it going beneath the tabloid critics radar. Despite his constant sackings, a sign of how much respect he was given by the media cognoscenti is that he was able to get the show run without the traditional commercial break. This meant that there was no stoppage time or ‘reality’ check.When the first series of Brass Eye was finally aired, Morris commented “Watch this programme now, because it will never be allowed a repeat, British law prohibits a video release and I’m too puked to consider a second series.” 

Michael Grade (despite being called a cunt for one fiftieth of a second at the end of the first BE series) did repeat it, and this time put it out un-cut. To finish the series he also commissioned a one-off special.  Before the show went out rumours flew around the Internet as to what the special (ambiguously titled Trombone) might be about, Morris apparently even set up a bogus website to promote different stories. A tighter grip was kept on the actual content than before. However, it was postponed, due to the disappearance of two school girls. Then a few weeks later following firm pressure from web sites, the decision was made to air it.

Contrary to tabloid reports, the show did not glorify paedophilia. Its primary target was the very same hysterical media that reacted so hysterically! The response to the show blatantly exposed the tabloids for the frauds and hoaxers that they are. They perpetuated a panic fuelled media and stirred up the same irrational feelings. Perhaps anyone who actually saw the show should think twice before believing the hype.