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.
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.
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.
This is my last programme at the Independent Bath Literature Festival (10 days, 150 events, 20,000 audience), where I’ve been Artistic Director for the past three Festivals. It’s a job I love and I couldn’t sum up this year’s programme better than blogger Claire Hayes, one of our army of 200 volunteers:
“This year marks the festival’s 21st birthday, and – just in case the impossibly hip might consider it over the hill – is defiantly themed Forever Young. And, despite appearances from luminaries like Pat Barker, Sebastian Faulks and Tracy Chevalier, this means Viv Groskop, in her final year as Artistic Director, has resisted the lure of the literary pipe and slippers in favour of a record number of emerging new writers.”
To help us celebrate our 21st we have a great cast: from Gloria Steinem (with Jenni Murray), Sebastian Faulks and Pub Landlord Al Murray in The Forum to Pat Barker, Joan Bakewell, Austentatious and The Shakespeare Gala (featuring Salon Collective and Extempore Theatre, the world’s only Elizabethan-language improvised play) in The Guildhall. Full programme (26 Feb to 6 Mar) here.
Writing this piece for the Guardian on all the things I’ve inherited from my grandparents was cathartic but also difficult. I hoped it would help me to give away (throw away?) some of their stuff. But it just made things worse: it made me want to keep it all the more…. Still waiting for the phone call from Britain’s Biggest Hoarders. Some great advice in the comments and this issue sparks an interesting divide: half of the comments say “Get rid of it all — you will feel better”, the other half say “How could you ever let this treasure go?” I’m still torn.
This was great fun to write. Highlights for me? Lionel Richie at Glastonbury (“When he was not reinventing himself as the “commodore of love” (“We [the Commodores] decided: we’re gonna make love to every girl in the world. That was our mission statement”), the 66-year-old Ritchie was celebrating selling 100m records.”), Suranne Jones in Dr Foster (“Was there anything on TV more deliciously entertaining and brilliantly captured than Jones as the GP Gemma Foster”) and Catastrophe (“Is there anything funnier than two hopeless but likeable people having a baby together? Apparently not.”).
I have only ever had weird experiences aboard the Blundabus belonging to comedy legend Bob Slayer. So I can only imagine that doing a one-hour show aboard this vehicle will be even stranger. The bus is as it sounds: it is a bus. A double decker bus. The upstairs is converted into a comedy bus with seating and a stage area. (Yes, you do have to use your imagination a bit. And I will have to stoop. For the audience it is very comfortable, I can report.)
I will be performing the last not-in-London show of 2015’s Edinburgh show Say Sorry to the Lady at the Nottingham Comedy Festival at 6pm on Saturday 14 November on the top deck of this bus. I’ve done stand-up on the bus and I’ve been a guest on Irish comedian Christian Talbot’s addictive show Cheaper than Therapy on the bus. This time I will have the bus all to myself for a whole show. Well, hopefully, not quite all to myself. Tickets here. Review of the Edinburgh show here. See you there, people of Nottingham who want to come to comedy on a bus! I have every faith this is an actual demographic.