Wednesday 26 November 2014

Cosmic Trigger – first incomplete thoughts

Cosmic Trigger is a play about ideas, by which I mean that it makes ideas sensational. It would be easy to create an adaptation of Robert Anton Wilson's book consisting of nothing but a succession of wordy philosophical and speculative conversations, punctuated by "events". What Daisy Eris Campbell's play compellingly demonstrates – through its synchronistic structure, by its enthusiastic individual performances and in the sheer pottiness of the project as a whole – is that the ideas we entertain are indistinguishable from the physical world that our brains create. Events and ideas are one and the same. 

In other words, to live in the most liberated way possible, we are obliged to suppose everything. This involves embracing contradictory realities simultaneously, while becoming a prisoner of none. The three principal characters – Robert Anton Wilson, Kerry Thornton and Timothy Leary – each attempt to live in this idealistic Discordian paradise, but with varying degrees of success. Oliver Senton (with whom Kate Alderton should be mentioned in the same breath), Lee Ravitz and Andrew MacBean provide a human scale to these larger-than-life characters engaged on this journey. 

To reflect the multiplicity of realities colliding with each other on and off stage, Cosmic Trigger employs a very broad range of theatrical moods. There is pantomime, cabaret and caper. There is a cheesy musical number (a explanation of the eight-circuit model of consciousness). There is both camp farce and good sex. There are spectacular costumes, sets and set pieces. There is also tragedy, expressed minimally through unadorned monologue in a single spotlight. Many of the most memorable moments come when the mood changes abruptly, such as Josh Darcy's explosive entrance as Ken Campbell, or the poignant scene in which Bob and Arlen's daft party is suddenly interrupted by horrifying news. The finale of the four-hour show is joyful, yet without being tritely upbeat. 

Throughout the play, the audience is treated to the joy of multiple worlds whooshing into existence. The happy energy of Wilson and Thornley, as they plan out Operation Mindfuck in Act One, infects the whole experience of watching it. We discover that the whole show (on and off stage) is a joke, a deep joke that we can choose to struggle with or go along with. Although the clever fourth-wall stuff offers regular reminders that reality is on the rocks, it is Eris, in the end, who completely capsizes the production. Whenever Claudia Boulton materialises, there is the genuine thrill of danger that only accompanies the best improvised mayhem. 

Dave, who couldn't be there, texted me afterwards, asking me to sum up the experience in a sound. The only thing I could think to reply was: "Zeus's orgasm". I wonder if Eris will forgive me, for using her [supposed] father's ejaculation as the ultimate metaphor for something as vast, ridiculous and fertile as Cosmic Trigger.

Friday 31 October 2014

Can Comedy be Taught?

"Comedy cannot be taught; you're either funny or you're not."

I read that sentence the other day for the umpteenth time. Whenever I read this sentence, I sigh, frown, scratch he back of my neck and move on.

I used to agree with that statement more than I do now. I used to think that some actors and funny people were simply gifted, because it was impossible to identify what it was that made them special. Today this nebulous star quality is sometimes referred to as the 'X-Factor'. And if the skills required to amaze and to amuse cannot be identified or named, let alone transmitted from one person to another, then it seems to imply that those skills are innate.

But that's a completely monstrous inference, because it implies that plenty of us, by a genetic predisposition entirely outside of our volition, are not funny and never will be. Worse still, it's safe to say that many of us never-to-be-funny people are condemned to go through life with a burning desire to make people laugh – out of either a selfless need to spread joy or a personal desire to gain approval – but they never will.

I suppose that many comedians will at some point in their careers go through a phase of imagining that they are one of these tortured souls, whose curse is to wish desperately to be funny, while lacking sufficient God-given funniness. They will rage like Salieri in Amadeus, pointing an accusatory finger up at Heaven for having ordained such an unjust state of affairs.

It seems to me that we are all not only funny, but hilariously funny, because we all participate in the deep, universal irony of life, matter and things. According to my best attempt at a personal cosmology, Jokes are (along with Music, Stories and Games) the fundamental constituents of the universe. For some, being funny will come naturally, but everyone's comedy is unique and special, and it can't be expressed by trying to amuse other people. Rather than access the funny in ourselves, we often strive to imagine what other people might find funny, and attempt to replicate that. To be oneself is ridiculous, which is why the best comedians seem as though they were born funny: they are themselves. Is it possible to learn to be yourself? I suppose so.

After all, just because a quality cannot be broken down and transmitted, that doesn't mean it cannot be acquired. Comedy could be thought of as a virtue, like generosity or courage. No one would ever say: "Courage cannot be taught; you're either brave or you're not." Anyone can learn to be brave, yes, not by being taught it but by allowing themselves to become it. The same is true of comedy.

Of course, there are plenty of classes to be taken in stand-up comedy (and improv sometimes seems to consist entirely of classes). But it is worth remembering the limitations of these teaching situations. They can only teach you the paraphernalia of the craft, and nudge you into the correct state of mind for being yourself. If you treat comedy, improv or self-discovery as though they were skills that can be paid for and obtained in a classroom from a teacher, then you are shirking the responsibility you have to draw on your own resources, which are vastly more unimaginably unimaginable than you can possibly imagine.

For "Comedy cannot be taught; you're either funny or you're not," I propose the following: "I suppose that you are inherently and spectacularly funny; no one can uncork the source of your comedy but you."

Tuesday 30 September 2014

Actualism, or Why I Use Food in my Act

@Isabelle Adam
In my act, I use quite a lot of food: for example, fennel, grapes, and Rice Krispies. This is not a particularly original idea. Many alternative comics use food in their acts. All three of the performers nominated for this year's increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality use food in their acts, as do many of the shows of The Weirdos collective. Is food funny?

I have long believed that there is a list of things that can happen on stage that are more "actual"* than others. These are things that transcend the fakery and pretence that are inherent to scripted performance, striking the audience as happening inescabably in the actual present. The list is long and quite varied, but here are some examples. When a gun appears on stage, the audience seldom believe that it is an actual gun, though they will be braced for a bang. Stage knives are usually fake, but a knife quickly becomes actual when it is hurled at another performer strapped to a rotating wheel. A baby on stage is not a baby actor; it is a baby. A baby's reactions to everything that happens to them on stage are absolutely genuine; the words "believable" and "convincing" do not even apply to a baby's performance. Dogs and other animals can be trained to fake their way on stage. Bees, however, cannot. I want to see more shows that use bees.  

When two actors kiss, the act transcends any pretence. It doesn't matter if the actors are bad, or if we don't believe the emotions supposedly conveyed by the kiss: the kiss actually happens. In a rare example of theatrical synchronicity, the actors kiss at exactly the same moment that the characters do, and we witness this act live. Stage nudity is the same. When a character gets naked, the actor does too, and we see that they do. Any action that breaks the surface of the performer's skin will appear more actual to the audience, propelling them into the now. When an actor sweats, spits, pisses, shits or shoots ping pong balls out of their vagina, they are using their body in a vivid and immediate way that demands attention. 

When liquids spill and splash in a scene, they do so on the actual stage, too. The same when smoke billows from the wings. They may be special effects, but they are not artificial. It has been said that when André Antoine first staged his naturalistic productions at the Theatre Libre in Paris in the late 1880s, audiences were shocked to see actors drinking real water actually poured out of ordinary jugs. Prior to fourth-wall innovations such as Antoine's, the convention had been for props to be clearly fake, and the use of them was always mimed. 

There are many other examples of "actualism" on stage. I invite you to find more. Actualism is why I use food, eating and drinking in my act, and I suspect that is why other comics do too. Using food alerts the audience to the actual that is happening in front of them. It helps to make the performance live.

I do often feel, however, that these techniques constitute only short-cuts to creating an "actual" live performance. Smoke, water, food, kissing, nudity and bees are all gimmicks. That's not to dismiss them; for example, I intend exploring gimmicks such as smells and reflected light in future performances. But they are in themselves no substitute for the emotional connection that audiences crave. There can be no trickery involved in this, as audiences demand the authentic, the actual. After all, even the act of crying, of forcing water out of your face, can be faked.

To invite an audience to experience your authentic feelings as vividly as they can see you are actually covering your arms with jam: that, for me, is a creative goal worth pursuing. 

* I am being careful here to use neither the words "real" and "realism" (which carry the absurd implication of "truth") nor the words "natural" and "naturalism" (which relate only to one particular style of representation). 

Wednesday 10 September 2014

Sympathy for the Heckler

My experience performing my act at stand-up comedy nights is very limited, though on the whole I've enjoyed doing these nights more than I expected to. I've been lucky enough to only ever perform in smallish rooms, with rather polite, sober and attentive crowds. On the few occasions that people have been chatting over me, I've stopped and asked them to be quiet. And, so far, this approach has worked. But I suspect that if anyone were to heckle me aggressively, I'd flee the stage in tears and give up comedy for six months.

One aspect of stand-up comedy I've never managed to fully enjoy is the whole microphone thing. I like to think that it is a minimum requirement for me as a performer that I should be heard at the back of an ordinary sized room, and that what I'm saying should be worth listening to. My voice has never had any professional training – I've been told that I'm sometimes too quiet or too shouty – but it's definitely getting better. (As for whether my material is worth listening to, there is a limit to the extent to which I can modify it to guess an audience's tastes. On the whole, I am reliant entirely on my own enthusiasm for it.)

The microphone immediately puts a barrier up between the comic and the audience. It establishes the comic as the only legitimate voice in the room, performing the same role aurally that powerful lighting does visually, forcing the audience into silence the same way the lights plunge them into darkness. I think lights and microphone conspire to make the stage experience more artificial, more like watching a film in a cinema than a live person in a room. The audience want to see and hear me clearly, yes, but I also want to see and hear them.

Under some circumstances, I can almost sympathise with the heckler. I don't mean to imply that I have the slightest respect for anyone who maliciously interrupts a performer, and I dislike the laddish, confrontational culture that considers the swapping of insults between stage and bar to be the stock-in-trade of the stand-up's art. But if you're sat at the back in darkness, and the comic is separated off from you, bathed in light, on a platform, voice amplified, having been given a hero's welcome by the emcee, and you're drunk and you're finding it impossible to listen, but you want to be entertained, then wouldn't you naturally become frustrated at the situation?

I think audiences want to feel a connection with whoever's entertaining them. When they heckle, some of the artificial barriers are broken down. The comic has to come out from behind their microphone, shade their eyes from the glare of the lights to make contact with the audience, ditch their prepared lines and start some genuine, spontaneous interaction. It's horrible and aggressive, but it's at least something, something real, something that's actually happening.

I did a stand-up night in Edinburgh that began at 12:30 a.m. The comedians and the audience alike were generally very young and rather drunk, and the microphone was too loud – to help everyone concentrate, I suppose. One comic seemed as frustrated by the evening as the audience were. He slowly peeled off his jokes one by one, but his voice was amped up so disproportionally that, no matter how much the audience laughed, the gap after each punchline seemed silent by comparison. There were only about fifteen people in the room. Increasingly, he began to comment on the apparent indifference of the audience, then started berating the audience for their poor response, and eventually invited them to shout insults at him. A heckle is a better reaction than nothing.

When I got up to perform immediately afterwards, the first thing I did was get rid of the microphone, and ask if everyone could hear me without it. The loud cheer I got in answer to this question was one of the most positive responses I've received to anything I've ever done on stage.

Monday 8 September 2014

What I Got from the Fringe

It's not uncommon for performers at the Fringe to experience a come-down once the Festival is over. That makes sense to me. A great deal of energy goes into making an Edinburgh show. This energy consists of well-spent creative and emotional effort, as well as the physical work of dashing around the city, flyering, organising props and publicity and performing every day. It also consists of wasted energy: getting emotional about practical matters, and attempting to fix creative problems by running about.

But once the shows are finished, once all that energetic self-promotion and self-hype has died down, it can be hard not to feel slightly empty. It's in the nature of performance that the prizes are fleeting. The show ends, the audience goes home, the venue is dismantled, the flyers are thrown away. What are we left with?

No wonder that performers chase after whatever substantive rewards are available in Edinburgh. For some, this will consist of relationships with agents, promoters and other professionals likely to advance their careers and allow them to do more ambitious shows. Others seek out the stars. The star-system turns the complicated, infuriating, ambiguous language of show reviewing into pure currency, which can be weighed up, quantified and calculated.

A few comedians I spoke to said that the reason why they wanted to do the full month of the Fringe was simply in order to prove to themselves that they could. This "because it's there" reasoning appeals to me. Performing at the Fringe is akin to running a marathon. There is something fundamentally ludicrous about the challenge. I decided to do only ten shows, because I thought this would be my emotional and physical limit. In order to run a marathon, one must first be able to run 10,000 metres. If I do the Fringe again, I will do a bit more.

It's certainly the case that shows that are performed more than twenty times undergo a much more vigorous testing than those that are just done ten times. They are forged into much stronger shows through their repetition. On the down side, the work is intense, and at times becomes a feat of purely physical stamina rather than of creative honing. It is almost inevitable that a few of the performances will be sub-par.

One of the clearest advantages to doing a shorter Fringe was that I barely underwent any of the crashing lows that are typical of the full-run performer's experience. The shows were all enjoyable to do, and they all went more-or-less "well", despite a few obvious glitches, lapses in memory and concentration and poor choices. If I had done more performances, I would have made more mistakes and done a few more shoddy shows, but I would have made more discoveries along the way.

The most significant discovery that I made was that the almost structureless succession of "acts" that made up the backbone of my scripted show became almost subordinate to the banter with the audience. I increasingly enjoyed drawing the room together, pooling ideas from the crowd, responding to both their laughter and their confused silences. This meant that a show that originally had clocked in at a little over 50 minutes started to overrun quite considerably. Even after I had cut a lot of additional material I had originally thought I would need, I regularly made myself a nuisance to the group whose show was on in the same space immediately after mine.

But I find it hard to regret much about an experience that was so overwhelmingly positive. By dwelling on the lessons to be learned, however, I can escape the melancholy that might follow a straightforwardly "successful" Fringe. I have chosen to step away from improv for the foreseeable future, and devote myself to solo scripted performance, even if that means that at first I spend less time on stage. Starting at a lower level in the vast and diverse comedy arena is more exciting to me now than continuing to do shows of increasingly consistent quality, in an increasingly familiar setting.

I have also bought myself the official Edinburgh Festival Fringe t-shirt.

Thursday 24 July 2014

The Seven Laughs

"Comedy" is no more a genre of performance than "music" is. Its forms are so heterogeneous that the only thing uniting them would appear to be laughter. But laughter itself is bewilderingly diverse. We laugh "with" and "at". We laugh out of embarrassment, joy, spite or anger. We laugh at dumb things and at clever things. We laugh when someone walks into a lamppost; we laugh when they narrowly miss doing so. We laugh when our preconceptions are confounded, but also when they are confirmed. We laugh when powerful men are brought low by an ironic twist of fate; we laugh at a dog wearing a bra.

My supposition is that laughter isn't one thing, but at least seven different things, which are entirely distinct from each other. Some comedians work to elicit a particular kind of laugh, and if they receive the kind of laughter they are aiming for, then the performance feels not just successful, but authentic as well. Other comedians either don't know or don't care what noise the audience is making, so long as they are laughing. Their performances can feel somehow forced and unnatural.

How many different laughs are there? There are innumerable words in the English language. For the purposes of this taxonomy, however, I have omitted such laughs as the Holler, the Howl, the Bellow and the Hiss, as these words are also used for non-laugh or semi-laugh noises. My list is restricted to seven primary laughs. The order in which they are described corresponds to their principal vowel sound, their placement in the vocal cavity, and their putative source in the body, like the seven chakras of Hindu traditions. These are:
  1. The Titter 
  2. The Giggle
  3. The Snigger
  4. The Cackle
  5. The Chuckle
  6. The Chortle
  7. The Guffaw
The Titter is the lightest permissible laugh, often suppressed, often barely audible. It is kept in check by societal conventions and the strictures of propriety contained in the Biblical commandment: "Titter ye not". The Titter is a female laugh, and its forbidden status reflects a historic patriarchal stifling of the female voice in general, and the female laugh in particular (see The Cackle).

The Giggle is the laugh of children, originating before language, and along with crying is the earliest form of self-expression. Like crying, giggling needs no object other than itself; just as one can cry simply because you are tearful, so you can "get the giggles", laughing at laughter itself. Some children are instructed not to giggle; is being told not to cry any different?

The Snigger (US: "Snicker") is located high up at the back of the mouth, and is impossible to accomplish without a tightening of the facial and pharyngeal muscles. As a result, it is not a relaxed laugh, but one more associated with fear or aggression, and is used more often for "laughing at" than for "laughing with". The Snigger is popularly associated with male privilege: hence "sniggering schoolboys".

The Cackle, another tension laugh, is identified almost exclusively as the laugh of witches, and could be said to be the female equivalent of the Snigger. It is, however, located further towards the back of the throat. It has historically been linked to evil intent, and is itself held to be taboo by social norms. Hence, the Cackle is a political laugh, the laugh of progressive satire.

The Chuckle, by contrast, is a relaxed laugh located largely in the larynx. It is perhaps the most private of laughs. One can chuckle to oneself or at oneself. The Chuckle is ironic: the least aggressive and the most balanced of laughs.

The Chortle belongs to the chest cavity. If the Chuckle is private, the Chortle is invariably social. The importance of the Chortle as an endorsement of the shared values and experiences of a particular group cannot be understated. It can both affirm the group's system of beliefs and isolate the outsider.

The Guffaw, in evolutionary terms, is the oldest laugh, perhaps predating mammalian life itself, as it exists principally in the digestive system and gut, almost entirely detached from rational higher brain functions, and can cause us to expel fluids from eyes, mouth and bladder. Thus this laugh transcends social conventions, connecting us on a deeper level with our bodies and with humanity as a whole.

So far as I can tell, these seven laughs are entirely distinct from one another. These notes represent only my preliminary thoughts, and I welcome any feedback on the subject of laughter. There's plenty more research to be done, enough to fill a book. Maybe one day I will write that book. 

If I ever get round to that, however, I will certainly add, by way of a further supposition, that there is an eighth laugh. This is the Silent Laugh: the laugh that originates from outside ourselves, the background laughter of the universe. Like our own heartbeat or the rumble of urban traffic, we learn to become deaf to it. The deepest ironies of the human condition are conveyed by it down the millennia. To enjoy the Silent Laugh, we must abandon ourselves to it, to become both its source and its object.

Sunday 4 May 2014

My Shelves, My Selves

On Friday night, I was interviewed by John Fleming for his blog. Among the topics we discussed was how sad it was that such a talented, eclectic and erudite man as Jeremy Beadle became so castigated as a result of Beadle's About. (Inexcusable pun: using Beadle as your go-to 'figure of hate' is a despicable shorthand.) Fleming had known Beadle personally, and mentioned the extension that he had built on to his house to contain the library he used while working as London Editor of The People's Almanac.

Yesterday, the morning after my meeting with Fleming, I was doing my own book reorganization. A large number of them had been removed from our living room while we redecorated. It was time to put them back in again.

I'm old enough now to perceive the limits of my book acquisition. I buy many fewer books now than I did in my late teens and early twenties, a time when it was impossible to order up rare books from the Internet. Many of my most precious books were excavated from damp labyrinths underneath the Charing Cross Road, which I would explore speculatively on a frequent basis. Unless I become suddenly wealthy and change my reading and living habits, I'm unlikely to need miles of additional shelf-space. It is not inconceivable that, within my lifetime, many new books – especially those of obscure subject matter – will never see ink or paper, and that most of the books in my collection will be digitized, and could be retrieved on my phone with a few taps.

The more books that are hoarded, however, the less likely it it becomes that any particular book will ever be consulted again. So they sit on the shelf and get dusty. When you move house, they get piled into heavy boxes and them emptied out again. So they've been treated like pure clutter and moved out of their previous free-standing bookshelves (low-level, easy-to-reach, taking up floor space) and archived away onto high-level purpose-built wall shelves. Why not simply get rid of them?

That would be unthinkable. They're one of the very few things that I'm proud of. Of course, I've plenty of Queneau, Perec, Cocteau, Vian, Roussel, etc.. But I also have the 32 volumes of Fantômas, plus several very rare editions of the Allain-era sequels (and the exceptional L'Encyclopedie de Fantômas, which deserves an blog entry all to itself). I've a tatty copy of Ubu Roi signed by Stanley Chapman with a gidouille sketch. I've scuffed early editions, published by Calder Boyers, of all of Ionesco's plays, and lots of René de Obaldia and Fernando Arrabal, Robert Pinget, etc. And quite a lot of Blaise Cendrars and Gustave Le Rouge, and countless tiny nrf 'Le Livre de Poche' editions of French poetry which is unlikely ever to be translated, and which I'll never get round to reading. (And naturally, I own the three volumes of The People's Almanac and related publications.)

Each one carries with it a journey that I once took, hidden away between the covers. The experiences and significances inside them shine brightly with myriad iridescent refractions and personal reflections. They're not much to look at, but they are more precious to me than diamonds. Nonetheless, it is impossible not to contemplate the imperceptible, slow change in my relationship with my books. They are on display, but out of the way, like a rusting ploughshare nailed to the wall of a country pub. With every day that passes they become less like the tools I use in my life and more like an ossified memorial of it. My books give me an overwhelmingly delightful melancholy and a tragic joy.

Casual visitors to Highgate Cemetery often react with surprise when they stumble upon Jeremy Beadle's moving gravestone. (They should put a hidden camera there.)

P. S. As a result of several emotional and physical upheavals in the last few years, my books have become horrible muddled, and it is time to set about the massive task of organizing them – which will be an existential self-organization. There's plenty that has been written on this topic, in particular a great article by Perec in Species of Spaces, a book which, ironically, I'm currently unable to find.

Wednesday 12 February 2014


I have a fascination with voice actors. The other day it occurred to me that Gargamel in the original Smurfs TV series sounded a lot like Dick Dastardly. A Google search cleared this up simply. Yes, it turns out, the two characters were both voiced by Paul Winchell. On discovering Winchell's Wikipedia page, however, I was blown away.

His primary achievement was as a ventriloquist, working with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff. Here's an episode of one of his live TV shows from 1955, heavily sponsored by Tootsie Rolls.

It's worth watching the whole show. For example, at 17:13, Knucklehead Smiff sings a song explaining the workings of the human eye. By 22:40, Jerry Mahoney has apparently run away from home, and Winchell is in tears.

In addition to his ventriloquism and voice acting work (most famously as Tigger in Disney's Winnie-the-Pooh animations), Paul Winchell made studies in acupuncture, medical hypnosis and theology. He was an accomplished painter. He invented an artificial heart – which may have influenced the Jarvik-7 – and a disposable razor blade. He also worked for the Leukemia Society, and promoted a hunger relief scheme in Africa through fish farming. Yet there appears also to have been a darker side to his life, including personal battles with abuse as a child, depression and mental illness.

Paul Winchell's autobiography, Winch, was published in 2004, the year before his death, and clearly he used it to settle a few scores. Good luck finding a copy. It is not in the British Library. Indeed, there appear to be no copies in the United Kingdom. The cheapest copy available I can find on Amazon is £175. Was the book withdrawn, pulped even, following legal wranglings over its content? There exists this thread, on a magicians' forum, for people who wonder how Winch may be obtained, including contributions from individuals who claim to have read it. 

The only scrap of Winch I have so far managed to salvage is the lurid cover, including "Foreword by Dr Henry Heimlich, creator of the Heimlich Maneuver", and this press release from the book's publisher. I joyfully quote it in full. Every paragraph is jaw-dropping.

After many years of waiting, fans of legendary ventriloquist, Paul Winchell, can now learn the real, life story of one of the more unusual television performers of our time, the amazing Paul Winchell. Far more than a ventriloquist and television performer, Paul Winchell'’s life is hard to contain even in, WINCH, his 400 page autobiography, because, unlike most people in this strange planet, Paul Winchell dared to be himself. And by daring to follow his own golden thread of truth, Paul Winchell, like the legendary Ariadne, met the Minotaur, his own monster within. This true story is a tale, which transcends even his meteoric rise to fame and fortune as one of the leading television entertainers of the 50's and the 60's and many other facets of his amazing life.
As Winchell proclaims on the dust jacket, on the back of WINCH's bright and inviting cover, with the pictures famous ventriloquist and his dummies in his television studio: "Let me warn you at the outset, this is not a typical Hollywood memoir. In a way, it is a ghost story, written by a person who lived in two completely different worlds. Publicly, I lived in a world of glitter and celebrity. Privately, I lived in a world dominated by a ghostly apparition, elevated to deific proportions. In this secret world, I made an excruciatingly difficult odyssey towards self-knowledge."
Both the glitter and the nightmare of his life are relentlessly tracked in a book, which sometimes reads like Horatio Alger and sometimes like Stephen King. In fact, most of his fans will be shocked to learn of the Paul Winchell who had a private life outside of the limelight, whose true life was so different than that of the public Paul. Winchell. Although many celebrities have written books that brush the cobwebs under the table, Paul Winchell does not. In WINCH, Paul Winchell mercilessly chronicles the private war he fought against the darkness within himself.
During the 1930's, a kid from Coney Island is struck by the art of Edgar Bergen, a ventriloquist who has soared to fame on a radio show, the Chase and Sanborn hour. Bergen, through his writings and performances becomes the mentor that launches young Winchell on his career. Eventually, Winch becomes to television what Bergen was to radio, climbing through the world of radio and Big Bands. Still, the death of his mother, Clara, who he both loved and feared, an unhappy marriage and torrid love affair ignite the latent psychological problems within. Winch, despite his great success, lives in a supernatural world, assailed by an apparition, who assumes monstrous, almost deific proportions.
Eventually, this interior world turned upside down, overtakes the real world. His fight to exorcise his demons continues, as he develops numerous prime time TV shows and children's shows, which dominate the airwaves for more than two decades. Although partially drowning in a world of unspeakable fear and supernatural horror, he studies psychology, religion, mythology and, medical hypnosis. Unwilling to be imprisoned by his second life, he continues his productive work in entertainment and even undertakes many creative enterprises, including the thrilling invention of artificial heart, courageous projects for someone consumed by a secret terrifying nightmare.
From the crude supernaturalism of his own mother, Clara Wilchin, a woman obsessed with hellfire and damnation to the friendship and suave showmanship of mentor, Edgar Bergen; from the powerful friendship of Ed Sullivan which helped him achieve national notoriety to the uncaring contempt of the wife of an early marriage, from the fierce seductiveness of his Latin mistress, Rosetta Solares to the cruel indifference of Frank Sinatra; from his friendly competitor, Ronald Reagan, who he beat in a national soap box race to the unquenchable loyalty of Major Bowes, his first sponsor and lifelong friend – WINCH is filled to the brim with unforgettable characters and alliances, some powerful friendships and some terrifying betrayals.
The book, which has also spawned a screenplay, is part of a larger plan of Paul Winchell's to not only tell the story of his life in this one book, but to develop a series of books and films that will renew, revitalize and project many of his old characters into a new twenty-first century format. "“To this end, as I have stated in my introduction, I have somewhat fictionalized my story - partly to protect certain identities. I hope that there are those who have been abused in this way that will profit from my story and perhaps there are those who will re-examine their relationships to present and future children on the basis of this narrative.
"Although this is an adult book – and, believe me, it is nothing but an adult book – it is my belief that this book will enable me to rekindle some of my old shows and reformulate my new approach to children'’s broadcasting. I am attempting to recapture some of my own fans and audience as a prelude to a massive attempt to change the nature of children's broadcasting, not by talking about it, but by doing it. At this very moment, we are beta testing PAUL WINCHELL'S KIDS'’ NETWORK, a worldwide streaming children's website, which will initially feature my vintage shows and some other very recognizable shows. Within the children's network, we are developing an animation team that will do some in-house work, but also work on a major cartoon series, featuring my old characters in a new light."”
"I cannot emphasize enough, however, that this book is a prelude to three other books and films that are a somewhat fanciful retelling of the story I have told in WINCH. Not only is WINCH currently in screenplay form, but I have already invested in a set of screenplays that will form the basis of a science fiction trilogy that I believe will rival Star Wars, Fellowship of the Rings, Back to the Future – and other highly successful franchise efforts. In my case, unlike the others I am speaking of, I have actually practiced before. I would hate to count the number of Hollywood celebrities who played with Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smiff and gave ventriloquism a whirl in their childhoods. You can read about David Copperfield'’s efforts in his introduction to the new edition of my next book, Ventriloquism for Fun and Profit. But people like Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola, Ted Knight, Johnny Carson – even Howard Stern – were all taken by ventriloquism when they were younger- and I daresay the efforts of my franchise and my merchandising made an impression."
I suddenly have only one ambition in my life: GET WINCH!