Endings.

I’m writing a new show that will be biographical and feature tales about mental health. Last time I felt the black dog tugging on his leash was after the death of my dad. In truth though that wasn’t depression it was me grieving, which is perfectly natural. I feel it’s important we recognise that and don’t define ourselves via a condition…some of these jokes are in bad taste…good.  

I hold everything the NHS does in the highest regard. Being Scottish I’m quite reliant on them. I hate these twits that say, “Ah but you can’t expect free care forever.” It’s not free. We pay for it. And being an ex smoker of 20 years, with the amount of tax I’ve paid, when my time is up I want a gold plated bed and disgraced Tories washing my feet while I whack their arses with a rolled up copy of the Morning Star.

I’m not claiming NHS care is perfect. I used to have an uncle who had an NHS pacemaker and every time he farted the garage door would open.

My dad went out in an NHS bed. Not so much to do with a Scots lifestyle and more to do with he was chock a full of white asbestos from his job. The funeral was lovely and very well attended but his cremation went on forever.

That was the last time I felt depressed. But the point is it wasn’t depression I was just grieving. We should recognise that, I feel it’s very important we don’t define ourselves via conditions. Being sad is sometimes the right way to be. I really don’t like how we romanticise bad mental health. Poor old Van Gough get’s that, “Ah well, the reason he was so great was because he was so tortured.”
Bullshit. They claim his last words were  “la tristesse durera” meaning  “The pain is eternal” Well that was conveniently poetic of him wasn’t it?…and just not true. You know what my dads last words were? “You maybe better get a doctor. I think there’s something really wrong with me.” Which makes perfect sense. He wasn’t rattling out little bon mots on the nature of being. “Ah the universe is a hurricane and we are nought but farts.” What? What’s he saying? I’m not sure, something about farting like a hurricane. Ah…it’s probably the mixture of hospital cabbage and morphine.

I reckon Van Gough’s last words probably were more along the lines of, “Speak up you fool, I’m missing a lug. What? No I don’t feel like getting it down in a painting! I’m really fucking depressed! Send out for some prostitutes and Absinth, that tends to work”

And if those really were his last words then he was wrong. Pain isn’t eternal…Well unless you’re watching Scotland in a world cup qualifier. In which case it can feel like it. The point is you get better. Of course I can still feel a swelling of emotion when I think of my dad, but it’s a nice feeling. I was just thinking today how he could be full of constant surprises. I remember watching indie band The Smiths on telly one day and he looked up from his paper and said, “What a lovely singer that man is. Perfect diction, you can make out every word.” I was stunned. As far as music went he wasn’t into anything post Sinatra. Now he’s gone from Sinatra to The Smiths and cut out pretty much everything in between. That’s some gap. Or maybe he just liked the idea of “hanging DJs” Then there was the time gay icon Boy George first appeared on Top of the Pops. Again he looks up from his paper, “What’s that.” He enquired? Not who, what. I said, “It’s Boy George. He’s gay.” To which he replied, “Well if gay means happy then that man’s ecstatic.” A joke I feel good enough to go in this show.

Although the death of my dad from cancer was anything but pleasant I didn’t find it horrific either. Life kind of prepares you for such stuff. And even in among all the pain nice things would happen. The day before he went he decided to rally round and find the strength to watch Scotland play England at Rugby. We hadn’t defeated England in an age…that day we won. Nice one God. I always reckoned if he did exist he’s probably Scottish and invented England to punish us for our sins.

Even on the day of his passing quirky stuff was happening. My family is like The Broons. There’s as many of us as them and like The Broons if one heads out to solve a problem then another nine follow behind them. On the day my dad was at the end he had been put into twilight to ease his pain. It was decided a word with the nurse was required and in typical Broons/Scott family tradition nine of them set off down the corridor and I was charged with watching my dad as I had a “nursing background”. I’d worked for nine months in a psychiatric hospital about ten years prior. They hadn’t been out the room more than two minutes and my dad decided, from whatever level of consciousness he was on, It seems to have gone a bit quite I’ll just sneak away now. And he stopped breathing. I got a fright. I then said, “Shit dad they’re all out the room. Could you please just hang on.” And he promptly started breathing again.

So then I lean out his room and call on the family. As I was doing this I did the most ridiculous thing of keeping one hand on his bed, like you do with a shopping trolley in the supermarket…in case someone is looking for exactly the same groceries as you and makes off with your stuff. I’ve no idea where I thought he might be going. I think the chances of him leaping up and announcing there’s maybe some time left for a final bet at the bookies were slim.

PS My dad’s the one on the left in this photo.

 

 

 

We understand why you’re feeling down.

Christmas is nearly upon us, and all the good things that brings will be enjoyed by many over the next few days. But it goes without having to be said this is also a very difficult time for people who are suffering a multitude of problems. The first thing you should realise, if you’re one of those people, is there is nothing wrong with feeling the way you do. So don’t add that to what, I’m sure for some, seems like an endless list. The people around you understand why you feel like this. The number one reason for that is at some point they’ve been in the same place as you.

I remember one Christmas Eve sitting alone at night in my parents living room and just breaking down, thinking my life had reached such a point of desperation that it would never right itself again. That I would never feel like the person I used to be again. That was years ago. Today I’m as happy as one can be. Yes still got problems, still got worries, can still crash on the odd day and start building my own endless list. Thankfully it only happens on rare occasions.

There’s no magic wand we can wave to make these things better overnight, but I do stress here…Things will get better. I’m no councillor. I don’t know therapy but I’ll share here some things that are cost free that have worked for me.

  1. If there’s someone who’s hurt you in your life, who you no longer want to influence your thoughts…write a letter to them. It’s not to be sent to them. Just write a giant FUCK YOU! to that person and to why you’re done with whatever happened and how in the future they ARE NOT going to influence how you approach your own life.
  2. Treat yourself. I know this is not so easy to do when money is an issue, or is the issue that’s causing the stress. You don’t always need money to do this. There will be a multitude of free activities on in the nearest town. Look them up. Go participate in one. Do it for you. If you do have some spare cash buy yourself something frivolous and unnecessary. You’ve earned it.
  3. Make a list of all the good things you’ve done in recent times. You’ll be surprised once you add them up.
  4. Get some air. Try to get to some open country. The space is good. If you’re alone enjoy the solitude. Enjoy not having to have this time committed to anything but you.
  5. And as I say at the start, accept something is wrong but don’t let that define you. Your unwell. There are many effective treatments to address this. Remember you’re not the only one being reflective right now. Someone somewhere is probably being reflective about you.

An Imagined Syrian Refugee.

For a writing exercise we were to create a background for a central character. I imagined a Syrian refugee. All of this background is fiction but comes from research I did on the situation…

 

CHRISTIAN SHAMMAS (A Syrian refugee)

Christian Shammas is a 22 year old Syrian refugee. His mother Camila Abdel-Massih (surname means servant of Christ in the Arabic world) was a Palestinian Christian who fled to Syria as a child with her wealthy parentsduring the 1967 war. His father Tabarank Shammas is an Syrian Arab and Sunni Muslim. His father is from poorer farming heritage.
Although interdenominational marriages are not unheard of in Syria they are not common. His mixed faith upbringing led to bullying as a child.
Christians first name in the Arabic tradition means love and his surname means friendship. He likes to introduce himself by pointing this out.
Before having to flee his hometown of Damascus in 2015 he was studying dentistry.  He is fluent in English and French. (Both popular second languages in Syria although English is preferred.)
Despite being very well educated Christian is profoundly dyslexic which leads to huge problems for him when he has to flee the country.
During the Arab spring of 2013 he was arrested by Bashar al-Assad security forces with 13’000 other online activists and severely tortured leading to him walking with a severe limp.
He has a seven year old sister Mary Shammas who is entirely uneducated in any formal way.
During some carpet bombing Christian and his sister were separated from his parents. He doesn’t know if they are alive or dead. He has no idea which side was behind the bombing but is determined to find out.
As a refugee in Syria he is recognised by two of Assad’s secret police who threaten to rape his sister. He kills them both with a pistol he found in some ruins.
This forces him to flee the country with his sister with money he has stashed. He makes it to “The Jungle” refugee camp in France which is where we find him.
The only physical possessions he has apart from the clothes on his back is an I-pod and charger. The I-pod is filled with the poems of Syrian poet and Nobel Prize nominee Adunis.
He quotes this poetry often to his sister when she is distressed. The I-Pod is also filled with songs by Elvis. Listening to Elvis also helps calm his sister.
Whilst at the camp his young sister is being targeted by human traffickers.
The camp is now to be demolished and to protect his sister Christian agrees to have her moved to the UK. He has no idea how to contact her once this happens. Christian is to remain stranded in France. Whilst at the camp he befriends a Syrian man named Sayid Burhan who helps him with daily life. For the journey to the UK he entrusts his sister to Sayid.   Unbeknownst to Christian he is the leader of a child trafficking group. Christian finds out the truth a day after he last sees his sister.
Some Quotes.
 “To the country dug into our lives like a grave, to the country etherized, and killed, a sun rises from our paralyzed history into our millennial sleep” ― Ali Ahmad Said Asbar Adunis
“What did we lose, what was lost in us? To whom do these distances belong that separated us and that now bind us? Are we still one or have we both broken into pieces? How gentle this dust is- Its body now, and mine, at this very minute are one and the same” ― Adonis, If Only the Sea Could Sleep
 “If only we were not that seedling of Creation, Of Earth and its generations, If only we had remained simple Clay or Ember, Or something in between, Then we would not have to see This World, its Lord, and its Hell, twice over.” ― Adonis

John Gets Mad. Bi-Polar tales 1. (Don’t be a pain in the arse.)

I’m soon going to do a new show based around experiences of mental illness called John Scott Gets Mad. The things I post here are first ideas of what will be in it.

There’s a fair bit of hippy dippy thinking out there that goes along the lines of, “oh but if you take a medication for your mental health problem you’re not addressing the problem you’re just masking it.”

Look the condition I have is genetic. It requires treatment but is also very treatable. If it rains you put on a coat. It’s the Same idea when taking a treatment. Of course you get whack jobs like Scientologist Tom Cruise who claims all mental health treatments are the work of the Devil. Perhaps Tom if you took a pill you might have a moment of reflection on your double divorces and come to terms with the fact that your gay.

Saying that, having a mental health disability isn’t an excuse for being a pain in the arse. Or so my wife keeps telling me.

I once went on a tour to raise awareness on suicide in the highlands of Scotland. It’s really proportionally high up there. Lots of alcohol and access to shotguns.

The woman who organised the tour works with self harmers. She herself was a self harmer. She was also one of the rudest and more difficult of folks I’ve ever had to deal with. If she wasn’t trying to completely control everything we did she spent the rest of the time trying to convince us we were all self harmers. By the end of two weeks I was wondering why she had to self harm at all. I would have happily offered up a quick punch in the kidneys.

“Oh you bite your nails. That’s a sign of self harm. Oh you smoke. That’s self harm”…OK you got me there…”drink, that’s self harm”…Fuck you the reason I’m drinking is to get through the next week with you. The best one was, “If you were a Goth in the 80s there’s new evidence to suggest that’s self harm.” Are you kidding me? The reason I was a Goth in the 80s was because I liked to sleep with slightly over weight girls in fishnets. How can being a Goth be an illness when you’re in a band called The Cure???

But the biggest pain was the obsession she developed over the size of my luggage. Every day at regular intervals. “That case is TOO BIG. It’s too big for the Highlands. It’s TOO BIG for this tour.”

The reason my case was bigger than the other comics was they were all going home half way through. I was away for a full 12 days.

Eventually one night in a calmer moment everyone got to speaking about their families, partners and children. “Do you have any children John?” She enquired. “Yes I’ve got three.” I replied. “Oh really? That surprises me.”

“Oh..Well I should explain none of them are mine…no they’re all in that big fucking case I’m dragging around the place.”

 

A very, very short play.

I’ve been delighted to be accepted to do a script writing degree at University. As part of my application I had to write a two minute piece of script around the title “Where were you last night?” This is what I came up with.

WHERE WERE YOU LAST NIGHT?

We see an elderly woman Jean sat alone. In the background we hear the noise of a front door opening.

 

JEAN: Is that you Robert?

BRIAN. No Jean it’s me Brian.

JEAN. Brian? Should you not be at your work son?

We hear Brian talking loudly from another room.

BRIAN. Not today. Today’s the day I take you to the pensioners dance.

JEAN. You’re talking me to the dance? But you should be at your work. It’s your father’s job to take me to the dance.

BRIAN. You’ll see him at the dance. He said yesterday he’d get you there. Do you not remember?

JEAN. No son. You know I forget things. I’m just at that age. I’ve not seen your father all day. He’s probably down the bookies. He can spend hours in there deciding on a two pound flutter. I’ll give him what for when I see him at the dance.

BRIAN. I’m sure you will. Would you like a quick cuppa before we head.

JEAN. I’ll come through and make it.

BRIAN. No you sit where you are. I’ll bring it through.

JEAN. Have you seen your father today?

BRIAN Aye I’ve seen him. Just give me a minute and I’ll explain.

JEAN (To herself) Imagine leaving your son to take his mother to a pensioners dance. What an affront. I never know where that bugger is from one day to the next. Bookies and the pub, that’s all that matters to him. I’m not even sure if he came home last night. And at his age…

Brian an elderly man enters carrying a tea tray.

BRIAN. Here you are pet.

JEAN. Who are you?

BRIAN. It’s me pet, your husband Brian.

JEAN. But…but…Brain’s my son. Robert’s my husband.

BRIAN. No pet. It’s the other way around. You get that mixed a bit at the moment. Don’t worry about it; it’s just part of the condition. Things start to come back to you when you see my face. But when I leave the room…I’m sorry I should have come in right away.

JEAN. (Touching Brian’s face and looking directly into his eyes. Beginning to realise. Becoming tearful) Oh…Oh no…Oh I remember now. This is terrible. What must you think of me? What must you think when I don’t even know my own husband. What’s to become of us Brian? This is going to get worse. I’ve got early onset dementia but I’m not stupid. I know where this ends.

BRIAN (Kneeling before her) I’ll be here my love. I’ll always be right here.

JEAN. And who’s going to look after you when I no longer know who you are. This is as bad for you as anybody. How will you cope with that?

BRIAN. I’ll cope just fine pet. That’s just what life has set out for us. Even when you’re confused I’ll know that you’re there.

JEAN. I know…I know. But where were you last night?

BRIAN. I was here pet. I’m always here. Right, do you fancy getting down to the dance. Condition or not we can still cut up the floor better than the rest.

JEAN. Yes. I would enjoy that. (Laughs gently)You’re right. We’ll always be great dancers. One day I’ll be thinking I’m the belle of the ball. So many great dancers will be getting me up on the floor…but all the time it will be you.

 

 

 

 

 

David Bowie. A fan and friends remember.

Last week due to unforeseen circumstance I had to write about Bowie in ways I wasn’t expecting. Out of respect I’ve let that sit for a week…this is the blog I would have liked to initially post…

 I said to myself. A few minutes later the first tears of many that day arrived.

Around 10 minutes after hearing the news of Bowies passing I discovered an email saying I’d been accepted to university for my BA hons in Drama and Script, something I’d wanted to do since childhood (I’m 46 years old at this particular earth moment). My emotions were now properly roller coasting. My mum who’s now 81 and as decent a Christian type as you’ll meet anywhere said, “That’s David Bowie leaving the planet and passing on some of his life to you.” Yes my mum is awesome. Sometimes she IS Ziggy Stardust. Obviously such a lovely statement didn’t help stem the flow of tears on my 3 hour journey home to Newcastle.

The first message I got was from an old school friend Yanthe. She texted direct to say she was “Blubbing like a bairn.” Next a lot of old friends started to message on Facebook, many remarking on how on hearing the news they immediately thought of me. It was nice to have my life long devotion to him recognised. You should understand that by the time I was 13 my bedroom was like a shrine to him with little wallpaper showing due to images and cuttings and posters and lyric sheets of Mr David Bowie. I once read years ago that the only fans more devoted are Elvis fans. I think we may have way outdone them by now. One message from my friend Andrew reminded me of the night I had him laughing uproariously by playing the Laughing Gnome single at the wrong speed of 33 and a third and then how I’d I’m scared him shitless by playing the start to the Diamond Dogs LP in pitch darkness. Happy memories. Young teenage carefree mucking about memories.

Why Bowie? I dunno. You could ask the millions of other devoted fans and I’m sure there will be many stories of him making us feel accepted as outsiders. I think there’s more to it than that. I think beside all the man from outer space perception there was a feeling of him being one of us that stretched way beyond isolated teenage angst. He was anti establishment/ established ideas of what you can and cannot do. Aren’t we all a bit like that?

I’m not saying this for effect but my earliest memory is of Bowie and the Spiders doing the Jean Genie on Top of the Pops. I was 3 years old.  I remember my mum and dad remarking about “the state of him” I remember my older brothers and sisters saying they liked him. My next encounter with him was when I was 5 and Space Oddity was at number 1. He’s got two different eyes. That really stuck in my head. Next up Ashes to Ashes is at number 1. I was 10 and found the video for the song mesmerizing. He’s dressed as a clown, while being chased by a bulldozer and his nan seems to pop up at the end. What a curious man. Ironically the moment I was confirmed as a lifelong fan was exactly the same moment a generation before me had fallen for him. May 1983 was the 1000th edition of Top Of The Pops, by now I was already taking an interest but when I saw that clip of him and the Spiders doing Starman…well that was pretty much it. There cannot possibly be a better song or cooler man in existence.

My favourite memory is less a memory and more a confirmation of higher forces than me pointing out that we are all supposed to be a fan at some point or another. My favourite book on Bowie is Ziggyology by Simon Goddard. The book begins with a quote by Arthur C Clarke and goes on to examine many aspects of history from cosmology to Pythagoras to Gustav Holts The Planets (used as walk on music by The Spiders) and the crossing of artistic, historical and scientific lay lines that all lead to the creation of Ziggy Stardust. In some ways the book is as much about synchronicity as it is about that period in Bowies life. The dictionary definition of synchronicity is… “the simultaneous occurrence of events which appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.”

First let me explain my own personal connection to the books author. Prior to publishing Ziggyology Simon wrote the book Mozipedia. a thorough documentation of all things Morrissey and Smiths related. Upon opening Mozipedia  you’ll find on the fist page a preface dedication, “For misery guts of Bonnyrigg.” Where’s Bonnyrigg and who’s Misery guts? Well Bonnyrigg is a small town in the Lothians of Scotland where I grew up and Misery guts is a certain Paul Johnson a school friend of mine who lived just around the corner from me. He and the author have been long time pen pals. He’s as much of an authority on Moz as I am on Dave. We used to listen to both in each others bedrooms. Look at that a book written for each of us…even though Simon doesn’t know me from Adam. But that’s not the great cosmic coincidence. No I have a BETTER one than even that.

I was at Heathrow airport train terminus London, sat on a platform reading Ziggyology. I’d just got to a part describing how Rick Wakeman came to put together the beautiful piano work on Hunk Dory.  I glanced up and there on the platform opposite was Rick Wakeman. Now, knowing the nature of this book I thought no way, you’re willing that to be him stood about 20 feet away.  So with minutes to go before my train arrived I ran across the platforms walkway and up to him. “Excuse me sorry to bother, but you are Rick Wakeman aren’t you?” “Yes.” “Ha! Unbelievable I’m just reading about the wonderful work you did on Hunky Dory.” “Thanks.” “Sorry got to run again my trains coming.”

And that as they say was that. You can make up your own minds from there. The book does finish on a sentiment that I loved upon first reading. After the author makes all his connections and lays out all his evidence he concludes…WE ARE ALL ZIGGY STARDUST.

Couldn’t agree more.  Bye, bye…we love you.

A Christmas story….Sanity Clause

A wee thing I wrote for a charity book of Christmas related stories by comedians…

 

“Sanity clause? Sanity clause? There ain’t no sanity clause.” So goes the Joke between Chico and Groucho from the Marx brother’s movie A night At The Opera.

It had been ringing in his head for months now. It was an acute reminder of people’s lack of belief. A belief that people are told they should grow out of. Silly people.

But it was that very lack of belief that had put him where he was.

Cornhill psychiatric hospital wasn’t the worst place to spend an entire year. The food wasn’t bad and he’d made good friends with many of his fellow patients. Some of them were quite happy to accept he was the real Santa Clause. But now he was full of an almost electric excitement. He was thrilled with the knowledge that 10 minutes from now the magic would kick back in and his powers would come back.

 

Most people think that Santa is magical all year round, but that’s not how it works. The magic window lasts four hours between midnight and 4 a.m. on Christmas day. That’s when he can be everywhere, with every present, for every person, assisted by his loyal reindeer.

 

Ah yes the loyal reindeer. It was those very guys that had helped put him in this situation. But even after a year in a psychiatric hospital he didn’t really blame them for staging a walkout on Christmas day. Santa knew who the real villains were. You see, what people don’t understand is that Santa and his reindeer are essentially a voluntary organization. They don’t get paid for the work they do. They rely on donations from the public. Perhaps I should add…the public that believe.

But in recent years those donations had dried up. They were disappearing because of all the bankers, corrupt politicians, non-tax paying corporations and an elite group of people that wanted to keep all the planet’s resources and money for themselves.

And so Santa hadn’t been able for the third year in a row to give the reindeer their bonus. It was because of this that Rudolf, Dasher and Blitzen had staged a walkout. But this didn’t make Santa angry. Now that he knew the reindeer would be back to get him in 7 minutes time it actually made him smile. Good old socialist Rudolf. People always misunderstand why his nose is red.

 

So with minutes to go and the magic set to kick back in Santa made a mental note. He made a note that all the bankers, the politicians and general greedy bastards of the world were to be put on the naughty list. No more presents for them. People also misunderstand why Santa’s outfit is red. Silly people. What other type of person but a socialist would spend all year working as a volunteer, to bring happiness to all the children of the world for the rest of eternity. And despite three of his fastest reindeer staging a walkout, he would press ahead anyway and make his absolute best effort to make Christmas happen.

 

But it was because of all that good will that he’d ended up here. You see with three of his fastest reindeer out on strike, the magic sleigh was running at twenty per-cent less than normal speed. That is why he never made it back to Greenland in time. The magic wore off at 4 a.m. And when the magic wears off the presents disappear, the sleigh disappears; the costume disappears and most importantly of all the reindeer disappear. And so at 4.01 a.m. on Christmas day he found himself stuck. Magicless, in Aberdeen.

 

It put a wry smile on his face now that he’d been so naive. He’d spent so much of his time away from people during his working year that he’d forgotten people had stopped believing. That’s what happens when the world treats them unfairly and makes them sad.

So when he approached a police man early on Christmas morning asking for directions to Greenland…Well, you can fill in the rest of that story for yourselves.

 

But all that was in the past now… Counting down… 5 seconds to Christmas day…5, 4, 3, 2, 1. WHOOSH!

That was the noise the magic made when it kicked back in. WHOOSH! And his costume reappeared upon him. People who saw him that night swore he actually sparkled. WHOOSH! And the sack was on his back. WHOOSH! And his boots and belt fastened upon him. WHOOSH! And in the distance you could hear the sound of sleigh bells. Sleigh bells being drawn by magic reindeer. Fast magic reindeer.

And with all that Santa began to laugh. A laugh filled with the purest of joy. ”Ho, ho, ho!”

But before Santa made his way magically around the world he wanted to do something he’d never done before on Christmas day. He wanted some people to see him.

He made his way out of his own room and headed for the depressed people’s ward. All the doors were obviously locked in the hospital, but that can’t stop Santa. As all the believers know very well that he has a magic key. (The one that he uses for houses that don’t have chimneys)

When he arrived at the depressed people’s ward he took a deep breath…and then threw the doors open. “Ho,ho,ho! And a merry Christmas to one and all.”

And JUST LIKE THAT! Twenty depressed people were cured of their malady. Because now they had something to believe! Santa had reminded them there is always love in the world.

Then he headed up to the deluded peoples ward. Another deep breath, “Ho, ho,ho! And a merry Christmas to one and all. And JUST LIKE THAT thirty deluded people felt better about the world. Because now they knew that some of their strange ideas are obviously correct!

Finally on that magic night Santa made his way to the staff room. He wanted to thank them for all the hard work they do throughout the year. A final deep breath. “Ho,ho,ho. And a merry Christmas to one and all.”

Some of the staff nearly shat themselves. And with all blessings to all the good people of Cornhill Psychiatric hospital done, Santa climbed out the window and onto his sleigh. All the striking reindeer were delighted to see him again. WHOOSH! And he was gone.

Back in the staff room the chief psychiatrist turned to a doctor and said, “Well what would you call that?”

The doctor replied, “That my good friend, I would call a misdiagnosis.”

 

THE END.

Comedy Outlaws no. 6. Bill Hicks.

“Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration—that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.” BILL HICKS

I hope by now anyone reading these short biographies of my favourite comedians will now realise the numbers are not in order of merit. If they were the William Melvin “Bill” Hicks would obviously be number one…by quite a jump. By happy accident I’ve assigned him the Devils number. He’d probably appreciate that. Hell, he actually started out his career as a teenage stand up being part of a troupe of American comedians known as the Texas Outlaw Comics at The Comedy Workshop in Houston. About 95% of us that are Bill Hicks fans sadly became aware of him after his death of pancreatic cancer in 1994 at the tragically young age of 32. Had he lived modern stand-up comedy may have ended up vastly different to the toothless and anodyne fare the corporate shills spoon feed us now. However if he didn’t get cancer I’m sure the powers that be would have to have found some other way to silence him…Am I implying he was killed by his own government? Well if I am it’s purely in the spirit and memory of him.

“Isn’t humanity neat?’ bullshit. We’re a virus with shoes, okay? That’s all we are.” BILL HICKS.

If you’re not familiar with his work, and many people aren’t now would be a good time to become familiar. The subject matters of he tackled covered a wide range of social issues including religion, politics, and philosophy all daubed with a jet black comedy style and voice.

He criticized consumerism, superficiality, mediocrity, and banality within the media and popular culture, which he characterized as oppressive tools of the ruling class that keep people “stupid and apathetic.”

I was in Nashville, Tennessee last year. After the show I went to a Waffle House. I’m not proud of it, I was hungry. And I’m alone, I’m eating and I’m reading a book, right? Waitress walks over to me: ‘Hey, whatcha readin’ for?’ Isn’t that the weirdest fuckin’ question you’ve ever heard? Not what am I reading, but what am I reading FOR? Well, goddamnit, ya stumped me! Why do I read? Well . . . hmmm…I dunno…I guess I read for a lot of reasons and the main one is so I don’t end up being a fuckin’ waffle waitress.” BILL HICKS.

I remember exactly where I was the first time I saw him. It was 1994 and late at night. Channel 4 were doing a retrospective special on him a short documentary featuring friends and other comics was shown and then they showed the concert film Revelations which was filmed here in the UK. Prior to viewing I had no idea who he was or that stand up could tackle the world in quite the unique (at the time) way that he did. I remember by the end feeling shocked, at times my sensibilities were offended but with an overall feeling of exhilaration. Plus the downer of a realisation, “Fuck…this guy is dead?”

“Watching television is like taking black spray paint to your third eye.” BILL HICKS

Bill began his comedy career young. As a teenager he would sneak out of his home at night with his friend Dwight Slade and travel to a nearby comedy club to try routines. Immediately the older comics were impressed by his ability. I’ve seen footage of him performing aged 17 it professionally annoying how good he is. Much of his early material would mock his Southern Baptist religious beliefs. “We were Yuppie Baptists,” he joked to the Houston Post in 1987. “We worried about things like, ‘If you scratch your neighbour’s Subaru, should you leave a note?’ “

A typical argument with his father has been documented as going along these lines…

The elder Hicks would say, “I believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.” And Bill would counter, “No it’s not, Dad.” “Well, I believe that it is.” “Well,” Bill replied, “you know, some people believe that they’re Napoleon. That’s fine. Beliefs are neat. Cherish them, but don’t share them like they’re the truth.”

There’s a bit of a lazy myth I used to hear when I first started going around the British stand up circuit that he was never a success in America and only found fame here in the UK. Well, he had his own HBO special in 1990, had a very successful and televised run at Montreal’s Just for Laughs and appeared 12 times on David Letterman’s chat show. sadly the last appearance he made was dropped from the broadcast.

Hicks said, because Letterman’s producers believed the material, which included jokes involving religion and the anti-abortion movement, was unsuitable for broadcast. Producer Robert Morton initially blamed CBS, which denied responsibility; Morton later conceded it was his decision. Although Letterman later expressed regret at the way Hicks had been handled, Hicks did not appear on the show again.

Letterman finally aired the censored routine in its entirety on January 30, 2009. Hicks’s mother, Mary, was present in the studio and appeared on-camera as a guest. Letterman took responsibility for the original decision to remove Hicks’s set from the 1993 show. “It says more about me as a guy than it says about Bill,” he said, after the set aired, “because there was absolutely nothing wrong with that.” Amen to that.

“The worst kind of non-smokers are the ones that come up to you and cough. That’s pretty fucking cruel isn’t it? Do you go up to cripples and dance too?” BILL HICKS.

I work in the comedy industry full time as a comic. When I started in 1999 and worked alongside a certain Frankie Boyle at the Stand Comedy club. A club with a reputation for promoting edgier or more alternative comedy. I remember thinking that stand up was going to all become like Bill Hicks. That his legacy would be enormous. A thousand comedic voices of righteous indignation. Now I look back and sadly realise he was an anomaly. It was a miracle any of his stuff got through at all.

I’ve immersed myself in more socio political comedy in recent years. When people ask why I say, “Nothing original. I’m just trying to be like Bill Hicks.”

I’m sure there must be some young upstart comic out there who’s brilliant and wont play their corporate game. I hope they break through. We really are well over due another anomaly. The last words here are a final short piece Bill wrote a week before he passed. His is the only biography I’ve ever read where I broke down in tears at the end. The hero dies you see… Christ I’m welling up now. Some funny guy you Mr Hicks.

“I was born William Melvin Hicks on December 16, 1961 in Valdosta, Georgia. Ugh. Melvin Hicks from Georgia. Yee Har! I already had gotten off to life on the wrong foot. I was always “awake,” I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamoring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy. A deep love of literature and books. Thank God for all the artists who’ve helped me. I’d read these words and off I went – dreaming my own imaginative dreams. Exercising them at will, eventually to form bands, comedy, more bands, movies, anything creative. This is the coin of the realm I use in my words – Vision. On June 16, 1993 I was diagnosed with having “liver cancer that had spread from the pancreas.” One of life’s weirdest and worst jokes imaginable. I’d been making such progress recently in my attitude, my career and realizing my dreams that it just stood me on my head for a while. “Why me!?” I would cry out, and “Why now!?” Well, I know now there may never be any answers to those particular questions, but maybe in telling a little about myself, we can find some other answers to other questions. That might help our way down our own particular paths, towards realizing my dream of New Hope and New Happiness. Amen. I left in love, in laughter, and in truth and wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit.”

A real ghost story?

I’ve never really held too much interest or belief in things that go bump in the night. Yes I’m a fan of horror and fantasy but that’s in the world of fiction. I don’t really go in for “based on real events” type stuff. If that’s on the promotion for a film or a book then it’s usually best avoided. But then a thing happened…

About three months ago I was alone in the house I share with my wife. She had gone to visit friends for the weekend. Good, if you’re going to have a ghostly encounter then it’s always best to be on your own. That way you can prove it to no one and the realm of the ghost remains firmly in the not yet explained bracket.

I think it’s important to explain that a couple of nights prior to this event I’d watched the horror film the Babadook. It had spooked me slightly, but in a fun way. I certainly had no problem sleeping after watching. I feel it’s worth mentioning though as maybe that did play a part on my general mood and imagination.

I live in a house built around the 1920-30s. It’s had many prior inhabitants. I know nothing of any dubious events having taken place under our roof. I’ve shared this place with my wife for around 7 years. Nothing unusual has ever happened prior to the events of a few months back.

My wife and I have separate bedrooms. Please understand this is nothing to do with a strained relationship. I’m a restless sleeper and I work late hours while she works early. We love each other very much. It’s fair to say though that my wife’s bed is much comfier than mine. So with her being away I’d decided to sleep for the night in her room. I was just settling into bed when the noise started.

As I’ve already mentioned I’ve lived in this house for a while. I know the noises it makes. I can place where they come from and what’s causing them around 99% of the time. This was a new noise but it was also I initially thought familiar and completely explainable. I live on the second floor of two flats with my neighbour below me. Her front door is right next to mine. So when I heard what I thought was the noise of somebody struggling with a key in the lock of either mine or her front door my first thought was, that’s the girl downstairs coming home. But the noise didn’t stop. My next thought was well she must be drunk, it’s Saturday night, she’s obviously put the wrong key in the lock. But the noise didn’t stop.

After maybe one or two minutes of this I then began to become concerned that someone was trying to get in my door. So up out of bed I got and went to the window. I strained at an angle to see if anyone was on the door step. I could see no one. I’m hearing things I thought. Bloody Babadook.

I climbed back into bed. Now, I’m not entirely sure of the duration of the wrong key in the lock noise I could hear but it did stop. ah well that’s that I thought and began to drift into sleep. Then it started again. By this point I was getting irritable and a little spooked. It was distinctly coming from downstairs front door area. Was I wrong? Is it the sound of a key? It had rhythm to it chk…chk…chkchkchk…chk.chk.chk over and over again.

Once again I went to the window. Still nothing. Fuck this there’s definitely something going on down there. I decided to get dressed and go down and investigate. I actually felt a bit tentative opening the front door but of course once I did there was nothing there. Back up to bed.

Over the next hour the noise seemed to intensify and it began to be joined by others. I obviously understand these new noises would most likely be attributed to my hearing now being on heightened alert. As well as intermittent and fairly lengthy periods of the key noise there were loud creaks and yes bumps that sounded like they were coming from inside the room I was in. Some of them were  loud and distinct and always in the background the now fairly constant key noise.

By now I was spooked yet in not panicked…just disconcerted. I decided the only plan of action would be to go sleep on the couch. I’d come to regret that.

Lying on the couch I could still hear the key noise but now it was more distant, as it should have been I was now further from the front door but the bumps and the creaks I could now hear were coming clearly from the room I had just vacated. I must have been exhausted (we were by now into the middle of the night around 3 a.m.) because despite all this I started to drift into sleep. That’s when the next thing happened.

The door leading into the living room where I’d decided to bed down can have a fantastically loud creak if it is allowed to close very slowly. I was now positioned with my head on the couch closest to said door. Just as I was drifting off a loud creaking almost cracking noise started. I sat bolt upright and turned to see the door to my living room opening slowly. It had been ajar by about and inch initially but now was swinging toward me and towards being open fully.

Rather than be dumbstruck I actually said aloud, “You have to be fucking joking.” Once the door was fully open it connected with the side of the couch I was on. I grabbed it and swung it shut with such force the door jammed in the frame. I was now convinced there was someone in the house with me.

I didn’t even run for a weapon which on reflection would have been the smarter move. Instead I took a breath and pulled the door back open. Nothing there. I then searched both my room and that of my wife. Nothing…but the noises had stopped.

As I pointed out I must have been exhausted because despite all this I did manage to fall asleep on my couch. I dismissed the door to the fact this is an old house. I also reminded myself that, yes that door does swing on it’s own it does it all the time.

It was while being out in town the next day that a thought about the swinging door occurred to me. I was so stuck by my realisation that I was eager to get home and test this theory that had just struck me.

I climbed up the stairs and there was the door as it usually always is, slightly ajar about an inch. I gave it a gentle push and it did what I was expecting it to do. It swung back shut on me. I was right in thinking that the door moves on its own…but it swings shut not open. No matter how many times I tried to get it to swing slowly open and stay there it always swung shut on me.

Was that the end of things? No. On arrival home I told my wife of the events she put it down too many films like the Babadook or a rat in the floorboards. I think it’s fair to say she came up with these explanations more for reassurance of herself than anything else.

The following night I was back in my own room and drifting off to sleep. That’s when the key in the door came back. Chk…chk…chkchkchk…chk.chk.chk. It wasn’t just the noise that made me immediately sit up. it was the fact the rhythm of it was identical to the night before. It was as if I was listening to some kind of recording.

I didn’t hang about and headed straight for the couch. while back in my refuge all the other noises started coming from the room my wife was now in. I could hear them actually disrupting her sleep as she was muttering and stirring in her bed. she is however a really deep sleeper and they didn’t wake her fully…but they still went on for a bit.

After that I heard the key noise only once more. A single play of it’s usual rhythm then nothing. And that’s the way it’s stayed.

Just the other week I was telling my mother about this and she reminded me of the footsteps on the stairs that can be heard in the house I grew up in. this reminded me this isn’t the only spooky story I know. But I’ll tell that one another time.

I once heard a theory that perhaps the  stone and mortar and general fabric of  the buildings that surround us could perhaps record sounds or memories. Like a tape can. I’m starting to think that’s maybe not such a bad theory…and still sounds a bit more reasonable than ghosts.

Comedy Outlaws no. 5. Billy Connolly…and the Crucifixion.

As a Scots comedian of a certain age there obviously must be one influence on me that stands head and shoulders above any other. When I was a very young kid I always wanted to be a Sex Pistol. Then my brother came back from University with Billy Connelly’s first albums and I discovered there was another thing you could be that’s just as exciting.

In my journey as a comic I’ve known a couple of comics who became famous that never rated Billy. I’ll not mention names the clue’s in where I live. After that I never really rated them. I can forgive younger comics not knowing him or finding the humour a bit distant. However I really do feel if you’re a comic and you don’t have some place in your work/heart for him then you really shouldn’t be doing the job.

The routine I’d like to discuss here I hadn’t listened to in some time. I was worried it might be dated. I’ve just listened to it now and I’m over the moon with how good it is. In fact after hearing this again I’ve decided I’m going to spend the coming months collecting his work and falling in love with him all over again. The routine of the Crucifixion is now 51 years old and it’s as hilarious and vibrant and at times risky now as it was when it was being touted around halls and working men clubs in the 70s.

Recorded at a small venue, The Tudor Hotel in Airdrie, it’s from the double album (vinyl) titled Solo Concert. I would urge anyone to seek out the whole thing. Releasing a live double-album by a comedian who at the time was virtually unknown (except to a cult audience in Glasgow) was an unusual gambit by the people behind it but their faith in Connolly’s talent was duly rewarded and they successfully promoted the album to chart success on its release in 1974.

What put’s Billy among the comedy Outlaws is a thing that people often don’t credit him with. He has constantly throughout his prestigious career tackled some of the darkest or potentially most offensive of subject matters. From many meditations on religion, to disability to causing outrage with a routine on hostage Kenneth Bigley (About which he says he was quoted out of context) But through force of personality and more likeable charm than a million Macintyre’s could ever hope to muster has so far only ever managed to offend exactly the sort of person you really hoped he would. Upon his debut on the TV chat show Parkinson in 1975 he told a bawdy joke about a man who had murdered his wife and buried her bottom-up so he’d have somewhere to park his bike. His own management had begged him not to do so.  He made the right choice and ignored their advice and his bawdy humour was a sensation. Stardom came rapidly and he became good friends with Parkinson himself. He still holds the record for most appearances on the show at 15.

In saying that he offended the sort of person you hoped he would among the more famous of the morally outrraged were Pastor Jack Glass and self-anointed morality police officer in Chief Mary Whitehouse.

Jack Glass was Described by the Rev Ian Paisley as “a bit of an extremist” Jack vehemently denied being a bigot but actively attacked and campaigned against, amongst other issues, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and rights for gay people, Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, the Papal visit to Scotland, the Catholic Church, in fact, against anything or anyone who didn’t fit into his extreme Calvinist view of the world as being dominated by the Power of Darkness. And naturally, anyone who disagreed with Jack was a servant of Satan.

Perhaps it’s a bit cynical to say it but Jack was never one to pass up the opportunity for a bit of self-promotion, and one of his most notorious escapades was when he began picketing Billy Connolly’s concerts on the grounds that he regarded Connolly as a blasphemer. The cartoonist Malkie McCormick lampooned him in his weekly “Big Yin” strip in the Sunday Mail, by having a piece of graffiti on a wall saying, “Jack Glass is a wee pastor”. He died of cancer with which upon being diagnosed was quick to blame Satan for his malady. Looks like the Devil won in the end. Connolly himself credits him with being a fantastic help in selling out his early tours. Bringing him the type of publicity you just can’t buy. He dismissed the campaigns by Mary Whitehouse against him with the fantastic line, “Who wants to be told what to do by someone who’s name rhymes with toilet?”

So I’ll end this wee tribute to my hero by encouraging you to go find and listen. I’ve posted the full Crucifixion routine here plus another favourite. The former routine is just rammed with great one-liners and hilarious characterisation. “Jesus doesn’t need to come to the boozer. He can make a bucket load at home.” “I cured a deaf and dumb guy. His first words…Is it alright if I’m a protestant” “I got arrested by the Romans. I thought should be alright it’s my first offence.”

Scottish humour has always had a layer of darkness in it. That probably comes from it being a wee bit tough to live there. It exists in my humour and many of my fellow Scots comedy comrades. I’m actually proud of it. Comedy should be a rollercoaster ride. It should be exhilarating and a wee bit scary. I don’t think anybody will do it better than Billy when he’s on to a good one. He generates a thing that few comics can. Rolling laughter. Sure we can all get a big laugh or applause break but very few can induce hysteria. He has consistently throughout his life. He is the king of comedy as far as my not so humble opinion is concerned. Although I don’t think he’d appreciate being called King Billy for reasons to obvious to explain to those not from Glasgow. He still makes me fall on my side on the couch when I’m watching him and he should be credited with giving most of us a job. No Billy no modern comedy scene. It’s as simple as that. Enjoy.