Factually Inaccurate #4: Elizabeth Smyth, Richard Vranch, Eleanor Morton and Joz Norris

Gorgeous fanzines.

We did it! We came back for another show!

With your MC and host struggling a bit with his brain and on only 3 hours’ sleep, and the co-producer battling a migraine, this could have been a comedy disaster.

Instead it was our best show yet, thanks to brilliant guests with typically fun and varied interpretations of our remit, and a warm and welcoming audience who absolutely understood what we were trying to do – possibly better than we did – and were invested from the start.

How lovely!

After an intro involving Chubby Checker and the news Factually Inaccurate had been outsourced and that we must all – if able – stand for the G4S corporate anthem, we launched straight into our first act, Elizabeth Smyth, with the vague aspiration of finishing the entire show by 9:30 (this didn’t quite happen).

Elizabeth is very charming. She decided to do a lecture on SOME RANDOM GUY (her friend from university), with lots of lovely slides of youth, jokes, and a very natural stage presence.

Next up was Tim Burgers-Lee,Wimpy Restaurants’ long-standing and long-suffering marketing manager. “That’s the MC!”, shouted one audience member as I came on stage, indicating that just putting on a shirt and tie and affecting a northern accent does not yet make me a master of disguise.

Tim Burgers-Lee

But I enjoyed my partially improvised, doomed tale of a man trapped in the wrong job and the wrong era, and I think there’s more I can do with him.

Next up was Richard Vranch – yes, that Richard Vranch. He gave a fascinatingly detailed and extremely stupid lecture, with huge numbers of slides, absolutely none of which were real.

There are too many favourite bits, but my favourite favourite bit involved HG Wells, gold voyager records, and the issues with voting for reality tv shows when you live in a faraway solar system.

Richard Vranch

Then there was an interval. Intervals are very important, you can go for a wee and everything.

Our second half was kicked off by the excellent Eleanor Morton, who we interview in issue #3 of the fanzine[ [1]. She did a very enjoyable bit on the history of women’s pockets, and the punchline was SEXISM.

She also did a rap about the Crimea War.

Our lights were too bright.

We then had Maddi Sainsbury, with a collection of stylophones and souls. I definitely learned something about the appendix; although whether what I learned is true or not remains to be seen. Such is the beauty of our remit!

Soul not pictured.

I missed the very start of Joz Norris’ opening set due to a wee and beer break. When I came back, he looked like this:

Norris, who also gave a really thoughtful interview for the fanzine, was extremely silly and also rather profound – profoundly silly? And probably got the biggest laughs of the night with his readings from a book of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

And all of a sudden, fifteen minutes later than planned, it was over, and we all shuffled away from the immediate vicinity of the stage to chat and plot. It was lovely to have a proper chinwag with Richard Vranch in particular, who came to join us in the downstairs bar and charm us with his ludicrous stories and fuzzy, Impro logic.

Big thanks to Jamie for tech, Maddi for co-production, and all our acts and audience members for being awesome.

Our next show is Monday 13th October. Hopefully see some of you then!

[1] issue three, released to coincide with the fourth live show. It all makes sense! If you want one, get in touch x

Foolishness, ferrets and failure: An interview with Joz Norris

Photo: @JozNorris

Ahead of his performance at our show this coming Monday, Joz Norris very kindly wrote lots of interesting things for us in an interview. It’ll appear in issue #3 of our fanzine, but in the interests of curtain-raising, here it is in full “online”. Why not print it out and carry it around with you?

Hello! How poorly have we explained the remit of our own night to you? 

I think it’s good when acts just get to figure out the remit of the night themselves. Make it a test of their intuition. I’ve been studying the marketing materials, and I think I get it. There’s an owl saying a pineapple is an alien, he’s got a mortarboard on, it’s all there if you look for it. I’ve got to say stuff is other stuff, and then graduate, right? Think I’ve got this in the bag.

In the unlikely event our readers haven’t heard of you, how would you describe yourself to a 47 year old marketing executive from Dunstable?

Depends on the context. Is this at a party? I get quite shy at parties. I usually hide in the corner with the people I already know, and if I end up talking to a stranger I’d just mumble something like “I do comedy stuff” then move the conversation on.

But I guess if it was more of a work meeting, like maybe this marketing executive is someone I need to impress so they can do the marketing for my new show, I’d say something about how I try to avoid labels like “comedian” or “writer” or “artist” but that I try to make stuff – films, live shows, radio programmes – that explore the spaces in-between comedy and something more unusual and conceptual, and that use absurdism as a way of looking at what it means to be human. You can’t talk like that at parties, though, you’d be rightly shunned.

Can you think of something particularly factually inaccurate that you believed for a long time? For example I was today years old when I learned going swimming with a cold sore won’t cause a herpes epidemic.

Thought ferrets were essentially manticores until I was 8. My brother gave everyone in our family animal-themed spy code names and mine was “Ferret” and I’d never heard of one so he told me it had the body of a lion, the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion.

I believed that for about four years then went to a village fete with my dad and saw a sign for ferret racing and lost my mind, and insisted we go and watch it, and was utterly heartbroken to see the little pipes the ferrets were going to run through. Felt the ground give out from beneath my feet.

Picture the scene. It’s midnight, you’re very tired, and you’re told you have to write a 1980s style choose your own adventure book lest be imprisoned forever. What would yours be about?

I like the idea of a choose-your-own-adventure book where you, the reader, are put in the position of a Rumpelstiltskin-esque character. You have to travel across the kingdom finding people to trick, and if the kingdom at large learns your name you lose.

So you’d have some sort of Notoriety score, where the more outlandish deeds you do, the closer you come to having your name discovered, so you’ve got to tread the line between doing enough pranks and japes to make your fortune, but while keeping to the shadows so people don’t find out who you are. Like a Splinter Cell video game, but you’re Rumpelstilstkin.

You wrote in an interview somewhere that being funny in front of other people is a “doomed enterprise” and this made me cry a bit. Could you expand on this a little, as I think I know what you mean but I suspect I am not as comfortable with the beauty of failure as you are.

Did I??? What a weird thing to say [1]. It sounds like the sort of radical opinion you pretend to have when you haven’t quite figured out your personality yet, and I think a lot of my attitudes to art and comedy and making stuff have shifted a lot in the years since I said that.

I think basically, yes, my understanding of comedy is that it’s got a lot to do with failure, with getting stuff wrong, with messing up, with falling down, trying again, continuing to believe in yourself even when everything you do ends in disaster (though comedy shouldn’t glorify shitty behaviour – I’m talking about glorifying disaster the way the Muppets do, not the way some narcissistic stand-ups try to use comedy as a way of avoiding taking responsibility for their own bad behaviour).

It’s a celebration of the fact that being human is to mess up, to be an idiot, to contradict yourself, to embarrass yourself, that if we can embrace those parts of ourselves and be as proud of them as we are of our achievements and our strengths, then we can finally be a whole, complete, real person.

Writing off the idea of comedy as a “doomed enterprise” sounds like it was an overly posturing attempt to try and make that point, but ultimately, I think the best comedy is the stuff where you find yourself watching some utter fool taking real delight in their foolishness, because it makes you as an audience member feel heard and understood and think “Maybe it’s ok that I’m foolish too.”

I’m a latecomer to performing comedy, doing it for the first time at 39 and realising very quickly that I’m much happier and less nervous on stage than off it. As someone who’s always wanted to do this, can you empathise? 

Absolutely yes. I wouldn’t say that I’m happier onstage – it’s sort of a different kind of happiness, where I can take pleasure in being ridiculous and big and over-the-top, whereas offstage most of my pleasure actually comes from quite small stuff, like walks and music and jigsaw puzzles.

But nervousness, yes, definitely. I often meet people who know me initially through my stuff onstage and I think it always takes them a while to recalibrate to my offstage personality, which is quite nervous and thoughtful and quiet. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not, maybe I should get better at moving the two sides of myself so they’re closer together, but personally I quite like having a place where I can go and let go of nervousness and just enjoy exploring those other bits of myself for a while.

You’re working on a new sitcom for Radio 4 called Dream Factory. Could you tell us a bit about that?

I’d love to! I won’t spill too many beans, because at some point we’ll probably try to do more of a press-y announcement about it, once we’ve got the cast pinned down and all that kind of thing, so I’ll only spill a couple of beans for now if that’s ok. But essentially, it comes off the back of a comedy special I made for Radio 4 earlier this year that was set inside my own head, where various weird sketches and characters popped up representing my inner monologue.

Steve Doherty, my wonderful radio producer, and I, came up with a story idea that would enable us to do a similar thing while telling a fun, original story, so it’s about a Dream Delivery Boy working for the Dream Factory, where all the dreams come from. It’ll be out next summer, I think, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it.

For some reason I’ve just remembered Adrian Mole’s mum saying “There’s only one thing worse than hearing about people’s dreams, and that’s hearing about other people’s problems”. This isn’t true, is it?

Funnily enough, I saw the amazing Liam Williams tweet about this the other day. He said he never understands people who say other people’s dreams are boring and that basically if you think that what you’re really saying is that you’re not very interested in other people. You get to peek into someone else’s psyche for a bit, and that’s fascinating.

Also, yeah, sometimes they’re just a bit boring, but if you talk to people enough about their dreams, a lot of them are incredibly funny. People’s subconscious-es (is that a word?) come up with some really great absurdist left-turns sometimes.

Other than the aforementioned dreams show, are there any other projects in the pipeline you can or indeed want to tell us about? It’s fine, this is a safe space; we’re a fictional owl.

I’m starting to work on a new live show called Blink with my director Alex Hardy and my creative companion/collaborator Ben Target with a little bit of help from Soho Theatre, which I hope I’ll take to the Edinburgh Fringe next year, so watch this space for more of that. My girlfriend Miranda Holms and I are also making a new Joz Norris Sexy Calendar for 2022, which you’ll be able to preorder soon.

Joz with last year’s edition. Photo: @JozNorris

She designed, photographed and edited the first one kind of as a joke project to raise some money for the amazing charity Turn2Us, and it actually sold surprisingly well and lots of people wanted another one, so we’re making another this time as a fundraiser for some of our creative projects next year. So if you like parodies of classic pin-up design, that’ll be coming out fairly soon.

That’s it! Please end this by giving us an extremely wise piece of advice that will change our lives for the better.

The two most important things you can do is to pay attention to what your curiosity moves towards, and where your enjoyment comes from. Pay attention to how your body feels after you see someone or do something, and pay attention to where your brain goes when you’re walking by yourself or listening to music or looking out of the window. Let those two things be the poles you move between.

Joz Norris performs at Factually Inaccurate Stand-Up at Hoopla at The Miller on Monday 13th September 2021, alongside Eleanor Morton and Richard Vranch. Tickets are here.

You can follow Joz on Twitter @JozNorris or go to his website to find out all the lovely stuff he’s up to.

[1] Editor’s note: I asked this question poorly. In the interview I’m referring to Joz is very thoughtful and interesting, certainly not performative or flippant – you can read his full answer here.

Factually Inaccurate #3: Thom Tuck, Jenan Younis, Sharlin Jahan, Drew Stearne, and Michael Cumes

Do not name our owl Owly McOwlface.

Another sell-out show! But you know what they say, never work with children, animals, or projectors. And our deepest apologies to Michael Cumes, who opened up for us with a wonderful set about being a creepy twin (I might be paraphrasing slightly).

Due to a miscommunication between myself and Maddi, the latter had no idea that Michael’s slides were on a separate set to my own, opening ones. And so an extremely awkward few minutes unfolded with us trying to sort it out, and Michael understandably a bit stressed out by it all. “Go on first, they said. This is my fourth show!”.

Sorry Michael. You were brilliant regardless.

Michael Cumes and some relatives who did not give permission to be in this presentation.

Next up was co-producer Maddi Sainsbury, whose set was very personal, off-the-cuff, and absolutely NOT about mandolins, rendering my introduction more BAFFLING than usual. The mandolin will make a reappearance later though, so keep your eyes open for that…

Following Maddi’s set, billionaire carpetbagger Richard Branson was welcomed to the stage with some confusion, hesitant applause, and some well-deserved boos. It’s a shame he forgot his wig, as it meant he looked remarkably similar to host James Walsh. Weird.

Branson explained that he had been struggling to decide between talking about virgins and pickles, but that he made his choice largely for tax reasons.

The British Pickle Islands have been the victim of various attempted coups.

Next up, Jenan Younis, whose own awesome Weapons of Mass Hilarity is on next Monday (go along!). She had a very winning topic: FLATULENCE.

One thing I love about our night is how each comedian interprets the extremely woolly and poorly-explained remit in their own way. I attempted to give an example in my opening, giving a very quick lecture on Busted and climate change.

Younis, using her medical training and extensive knowledge of sticking cameras up asses, decided to go for a fully FACTUAL set, which means I now know that farting is GOOD FOR YOU. Unless she was, of course, fooling us all. I suppose time will tell.

An interval! Time to go buy a drink and apologise to supersub Sharlin Jahan for getting her name wrong . Sharlin had agreed to do the show in less than 24 hours’ notice, after Charlie George sadly had to pull out. Janan’s set was fantastic, with both practiced material and stuff seemingly made up minutes before both getting great receptions by our by-now lubricated and less-confused audience.

The atmosphere in the room now relaxed, joyous and merry, it was time for a deep dive into the world of early-noughties sex broadcasting. Drew Stearne had pulled out all the butt plugs for this: not only were there scores of slides, he was recording the show from two different angles and possibly via overhead drone. A thoroughly enjoyable, if terrifying, window into a disappeared world – there’s definitely the material here for a full hour-long show to not bring your mother to.

Drew questioned the intention and necessity behind every single word of this note.

We were running a bit late. Nonetheless, I didn’t want Thom Tuck’s set to end. Faced with an audience broadly unfamiliar with even Warhammer or Dungeons and Dragons, he gave us a tale of collectible playing cards, ludicrously named characters, and how Bitcoin emerged from the gloriously convoluted swamp of Magic: The Gathering.

Thom is a brilliant performer, and his hyper-nerdism was a lovely way to round off our third show. He even played Maddi’s mandolin in an impromptu post-gig set, enjoyed by all who remained upstairs as the venue staff cleaned up around them. A beautiful scene.

Thom Tuck and a mandolin.

We’re back on 13th September with another exciting line-up, and, hey: Sharlin enjoyed it so much she’s coming back. Yay!

J x

[1] “I knew you’d mix up Jenan and Janan!”, said Younis. I am so predictable.

p.s. Buy our fanzine!

Factually Inaccurate #2: Yuriko Kotani, Luke Rollason, MJ Hibbett, Vix Leyton, and Kate Martin

By “more” we meant “International Rock Star MJ Hibbett”

I don’t know what the stand-up comedy equivalent of “that different second album” is, but I went through all the usual anxieties before Factually Inaccurate #2. Will anyone turn up now we’re no longer new? Is it possible to maintain the lovely warmth and inclusivity of show #1 with an entirely new audience? Should we be adding more guitars?

The July line-up.

Fortunately all these worries were for nought: we had a sold out, packed (by social distancing standards) room, wonderful, mutually supportive acts, and an audience who seemed to have a nice time.

Also: we made fanzines!

Cover illustration by the amazing Madeleine Horsley.

After the now-traditional technical problems with the projector, we opened our doors slightly late and got underway at 8:15pm, with me trying to rein in the opening ramble and dive instead straight into the comedy. Our first act was a guy called Charles Goldfinger, who chose to lecture on Modernist Archaeology 4000BC – 1974, and also to insult the audience as much as possible.

This character was, admittedly, just me in sunglasses, and I had to improv a bunch of my material because I hadn’t quite learned my bit. But people seemed to enjoy it, and I got some really encouraging feedback from Luke Rollason during the interview, who spoke under the understanding that Charles is a real person; and so, now, perhaps he is. Perhaps this is a character I can return to?

Next up was MJ Hibbett, one of my favourite ever singer-songwriters, doing no songs whatsoever. Instead we got a brilliant and comprehensive lecture on Marvel comics – with jokes! Even the bits that contained no jokes were very funny and informative, and we all learned something as a useful counter-balance to the audience entirely made-up nonsense of Mr Goldfinger.

Initially I had planned to send Maddi on next, but time was passing and we needed to get to an interval, so I sent on the aforementioned Luke, a brilliant physical comedian and master of the arts of timing, deflection and repetition. And also banana skins. Please go see him whenever you can.

Luke Rollason.

An interval! With weeing!

For the second half I unleashed Vix Leyton, who put some glasses on to look all fancy and intellectual and to give us a fascinating insight into the ancient and noble art of being really petty. If the Olympics introduced a new sporting category of needlessly trivial annoyance, I would choose Vic’s mum, as she appears in this material, as Wales’ representative.

Maddi Sainsbury chose to lecture on originality and literature, and we were treated to facts, jokes, and an interactive guide to the weird and wonderful world of internet fan fiction (full disclosure: I co-wrote a DS9 / Buck Rogers story for a fanzine in 1997, and it was MUCH more embarrassing than what Maddi chose to share).

Time was whooshing on, so I introduced Kate Martin as quickly as I could, then lay, alluringly, across the stage in order to scroll through her shit-these-are-in-PDF-format slides on lesbian tribulations. She was, is, and forever will be, fantastic.

Our final act was Yuriko Kotani, who made it across London with a golden bubble tea and a red microphone cover which she had accidentally put in the wash. Yuriko’s incredibly charming and well-paced set featured lots about the racism she has experienced in England; given the vile, PM-encouraged stuff experienced by our young black footballers the night before, this material was as timely as it was funny.

Yuriko Kotani.

Thanks so much to everyone who came along, with particular thanks to our guest acts, who were funny, kind, and generous with their time.

Our next night is Monday August 9th, and tickets will be on sale shortly. Also! We still have fanzines available; if you’d like one, please get in touch and we’ll figure out how to send one to you.

J x

Postscript; MJ Hibbett wrote about the show on his own blog! Yay.

Factually Inaccurate #1: Felix Trench, Charlie Vero-Martin, and more!

That iconic poster – only ten were ever made, so sure to be very valuable one day.

I am writing this a few weeks after the event, so memory has been fogged by the passage of time and also BOOZE. Apologies for any factual inaccuracies contained herein, even though our name also acts as a general disclaimer.

The set-up

Does anyone truly know how a projector works? I have been outsourcing programming the video since my younger sister came along, and at school a stoned twentysomething would glide in with everything you need on a wheeled tray.

Thank heavens for the early arrival of Charlie Vero-Martin, who helped out, mucked in, and generally helped us not to muck up. The long and short of it being, by the time the show was due to start we were READY. Ish.

The scene greeting arriving customers. Photo: Kamal Latif.

The show

I hosted. I hadn’t entirely figured out a bit, but I had multiple bits that I could throw in where necessary; and also I had IMPROV. And also this slide to put everyone at ease:

The only – and slightly intentionally – awkward bit was that I had to introduce the first act, who was also myself, but dressed as a pirate.

“Scurvy Jim”. Photo by Drew Stearne.

An informative talk about privateers and privatisation later, I came back on stage to get people to applaud for the person who had just been on stage, who was also myself.

Richard Branson founding the East India Company.

By this point it must have seemed like the entire show was just going to be me introducing myself over and over again, and I said so. And then introduced Maddi and their important, interactive, highly factual history of Stylophones.

Maddi Sainsbury and their second best stylophone. Photo: Drew Stearne.

One conceit of the show was to ask audience members to guess how factually accurate or otherwise our comedy lectures were, with FABULOUS PRIZES available including a poster, a mug, and the complete series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on VHS.

Buffy went unclaimed, and will be again available at the next show. Bring several suitcases.

Next up was Charlie Vero-Martin, performing as her marine biologist alter-ego Professor Von Plattfuss. You see? We lure you in with the delicious maggoty promise of stand up then catch you on the hook of excellent character comedy. With slides. And fish sex.

Professor Von Plattfuss. Photo: Drew Stearne.

This talk was entitled “The Restless Sea: Rising temperatures and fish procreation”, was 40% accurate, and had an incredible bit about hermit crabs. Charlie is excellent, go see her own show at Hoopla on the 21st July.

We had reached the interval. People on stage were funny, audience members laughed, and absolutely nothing whatsoever exploded or caught fire. We hoped for more of the same after the break.

Heleana Blackwell. Photo: Drew Stearne.

There was more after the break! First, Heleana Blackwell, who did the same Level 2 comedy course with Nick Hall as me, and has been gigging FURIOUSLY ever since. She’s put together a tight, ever-evolving five minutes, and she stretched it out like a delicious pastry around her anthropologist’s investigation into lesbian relationships.

Finally, came the man who arrived nice and early, and sat at the side of the room in magnificent isolation. Lurking. Waiting.

Felix Trench was magnificent. He won the metaphysical prize of longest title of bit:

“Suggested Improvements to the International E-Road Network Defined by Resolution ECE/TRANS/SC.1/2016/3/Rev.1 of the UNECE and joint UN Declaration 1264Suggested Improvements to the International E-Road Network Defined by Resolution ECE/TRANS/SC.1/2016/3/Rev.1 of the UNECE and joint UN Declaration 1264: The Declaration of the Construction of Main Traffic Arteries (1947 amended 1975 amended 1992 amended 2001 amended 2008).”

Felix Trench on the Hoopla stage. Photo: Drew Stearne.

What followed was a tale of love, of yearning, of regret, and of extremely convoluted European Road Directives.

Delivered without a mic and with the intensity of an extremely secular preacher of postwar utopianism, Trench’s concluding lecture was delightfully odd, surreal and funny.

It was so wonderful to see how each act interpreted our (admittedly woolly) remit, and I think we managed to achieve our aim of putting on a show in London unlike any other. I look forward to seeing what happens next.

You can buy tickets to our next show here.

James Walsh

With much thanks to Jamie Clarke on tech, co-producer Maddi Sainsbury, and all our excellent performers.