I presented this half-hour documentary on L’Origine du Monde for BBC Radio 4 on the 150th anniversary of Courbet’s painting — and in the wake of a big court case against Facebook in Paris about censorship. A century and a half after this work was first created, it’s still causing controversy: if you post it on your Facebook wall, your account can be suspended because it activates the pornography sensors.
Recording for this programme with producer Natalie Steed was a lot of fun. We spent two days at the Musee d’Orsay, where the painting has been exhibited since 1995, interviewing tourists and museum visitors about their reactions in front of the canvas. They were everything from excited and impressed to indifferent and blasé to passionate and, in one memorable case, “aroused”. (A very eloquent young Chinese gentleman who spoke beautiful English. I will not forget him in a hurry. I had to take a break after recording his interview because I couldn’t stop laughing. At least he was honest.)
L’Origine is just one of a series of artworks – and other images – causing problems on social media sites who struggle with the distinction between art and obscenity. I wrote about this for Sunday Times New Review. My favourite example is the lady who had the picture of her simnel cake removed from Instagram because the marzipan balls looked too much like nipples. Not quite the same as censoring great works of art, perhaps, but just as pointless.
Pic: Billie Scheepers for Sunday Times Style
A second sold-out run at the Fringe in Stand 4. Reviews:
Thanks so much to everyone who came to the show. It ended up being a lot more about Brexit than I had intended… Because I didn’t feel that you can talk about being middle class anymore without talking about the effect of the EU referendum, which has split the middle class right down the, er, middle. A lot of the show was rewritten and reworked through July. This new focus led to some “interesting reactions” (euphemism) in the room on some nights as audiences were frequently split between Remain and Leave themselves, especially amongst those who were fans of The Good Life. (Not saying that Margo and Jerry would definitely have voted Leave but…) I would never get anyone to out themselves as to how they’d voted in the room but it’s always fairly obvious who’s laughing at what. All that was fascinating and not something that will happen at any other Fringe, I imagine. So I kind of felt privileged to witness it. Although it was often also extremely odd.
On the other hand, there were always young people in who had no idea what The Good Life was (which I find wonderful — these are the people who come to a show called Be More Margo without having a clue who Margo is — I love these people). And there were always non-Brits who also had no idea about (a) The Good Life and (b) what we think of as the definition of “middle class”, Americans especially. The whole show was designed to examine how we define the middle class and took Margo as a starting point so I don’t think too many foreign types went home completely confused. Just mildly confused. Except for one Danish woman, a Professor of Economics, who admitted to being cheerfully clueless throughout but seemed to be able to enjoy life in spite (or perhaps because) of this. This must be the Danish way and a very nice way it is too.
Mark Lawson wrote about the effect of Brexit on shows here and gave Margo a mention. Meanwhile I wrote in the Sunday Times about losing weight partly because I was sick of making fat jokes about myself and in the Financial Times about whether it matters what you look like on stage (answer: yes, for good or bad — although whatever you look like you can use it to your advantage. Or I’m telling myself that as I have eaten loads of chocolate biscuits to get over Edinburgh withdrawal).
Twenty four hours to go! I arrive in Edinburgh tomorrow. On BBC Radio 2 with Fearne Cotton and Martin Kemp this weekend, I gave some tips for the Fringe based on my Edinburgh traditions: people who I make a point of going to see every year. I’ll post some more tips soon, once I’m up there. Everyone I’m linking to here I would recommend to anyone — but I particularly recommend if you’re going up to Edinburgh for the first time and/or you don’t have much time. There’s a mix of the traditional/quintessential Fringe and the new/surprising. For the full experience, you also need to throw in something you get randomly flyered for and don’t really want to go to.
Lucy Porter — Consequences — a new Edinburgh venue and a brand new show: always witty, inspiring, though-provoking and the best kind of silly.
Jo Caulfield — Pretending to Care — The first show I saw when I first came to Edinburgh as a punter in 2009 was Jo Caulfield at The Stand and I have never forgotten it. It was a work-in-progress that year and she was reading stuff she had written that day off a clipboard, the first time I had seen anyone do that — it was raw and fresh and brilliant. Always sharp and original.
Tom Allen — Indeed — I can’t go and see Tom Allen too much because he makes me laugh in a painful way. He has beautifully crafted material and wonderfully caustic observations but it’s his delivery that really kills me.
Austentatious: An Improvised Novel — Just the best long-form improv. Six performers in Austen period costume dramatise a novel, the title of which is suggested by the audience. I must have seen them about 10 times now and I can 100% promise that every single show is different, every moment is improvised and every performance is guaranteed excellent. This is a Fringe must, especially if you haven’t seen improv before (or if you “hate” improv — it will change your mind).
If you are chomping at the bit and want to book many things at once (yes, do this!) then on R2 I also mentioned Lauren Pattison (Katherine Ryan tour support), Laurence Owen (new Tim Minchin) and Lolly Adefope (brilliant sketch work). But I have a million more recommends (well, maybe not that many — although there are over 3,000 shows) coming soon. Or message me on Twitter @vivgroskop telling me what kind of thing you like and I will suggest stuff.
Thrilled to be on talking about Be More Margo with Alistair McGowan (one of my all-time favourites), Evelyn Glennie (the most inspirational woman imaginable), Matthew Herbert (wonderfully innovate and eccentric soundscape creator), Phil Gayle (news hero!) and Clive Anderson (presenter hero!). I just about managed to keep it together despite getting a bit weepy during the Scottish folk singing from Karine Polwart and the plinky-plonky Vietnamese music from Hanoi Masters. Listen again here.
Writing in today’s Guardian about 1976, supposedly the greatest year ever for Britain. Certainly the hottest summer ever. A great year for the country, perhaps. But not for three-year-old me… The only good thing that happened that summer was my engagement to George (pictured above). Read more here.
My 13-year-old self would have been thrilled to be sitting next to Martin Kemp OF SPANDAU BALLET FAME. My 43-year-old self was also pretty embarrassing. Fearne Cotton and Martin Kemp are sitting in for Graham Norton this summer on the Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 2. Much talk about Edinburgh, why people do stand-up comedy (a very good question), avocados, The Kids From Fame (they played High Fidelity for me!) and, less gratifying, golf. That was mostly Martin. That is what he does now. Not GOLD. But GOLF. Well, we all have to age somehow.
I think this is the favourite interview question I have ever had. Interviewer: “You are very brave bringing a show about Britishness and being middle class to Edinburgh. Because there is a lot of hatred towards the English. Are you not worried?” Me: “No. I am extremely English and therefore extremely self-loathing. We can bond in hatred. It’s the perfect match.” Bring it on!
(Pic on title page: Matt Crockett.)
What is it about Waitrose? Writing in The Pool about Waitrose and that news that proximity to the branch of the most middle class grocery store in the universe can add up to £40,00 to the value of your home. Not being in such a position (I’m not in walking distance of the hallowed portals), perhaps I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder… Margo would have been OK in Surbiton. I think maybe they have three branches.
In Wow 24/7. A crybaby Remainiac writes… This is a bit of a million dollar question. (Or in the case of Edinburgh economics, which are weighted against your average stand-up, a minus 47p question.) Can Brexit be funny? Seeing as many comics feel as if they have no choice but to talk about it (including me — I have been working on a show about Britishness and class for six months — how could I not, even if it has meant reworking the entire show?), it’s not even a question. It had better be funny. Or else.
How much can I say this: I love War and Peace. It’s compelling, exciting, beautiful and – perhaps most surprisingly of all – (intentionally) funny. So if you’re hating War and Peace in any way at all, my (somewhat gushing, I’m afraid) reviews are not the reviews for you. Most people, however, are loving this six-part drama, concluding Sunday 7 Feb. I calculate that precisely 4.9% of viewers *are* not enjoying it. These people claim that it’s just not faithful enough to the original. I also calculate that approximately 99% of these people are only pretending to have read the book. In the main the comments are positive and jubilant. It has certainly made large numbers of people want to read the original (whether again or for that first time), which for a 540,000 word book is an amazing feat in itself. And don’t get me started on Dolokhov and his amazing feats (and feets and hands and general physiognomy).