Heading to the top

Well, I am still in Australia and today I am leaving the Queen Mary 2 in Yorkeys Knob which is a port of call near Cairns. The other night on stage as soon as I mentioned that last week I was ‘with The Queen Elizabeth near Yorkeys Knob’, there was lots of laughter from the British guests in the audience which made it even funnier as there wasn’t that many British guests on the ship. An American couple sat in the front looked bemused and asked me ‘ Why are they laughing?’ I said ‘I am a comedian’ she said ‘ I know but what’s funny about a knob and your Queen ?’ They laughed even more…..I said ‘ I cant go there.’ She said ‘But we are going there on this trip’ I said ‘ I know, two Queens heading to Yorkeys Knob in one week, what are the chances?…..’ Now the Brits were on the floor so I said ‘lets leave Yorkeys knob alone and move on.’
Some times as a comic you don’t have to write or tell jokes, just commenting on what’s happening and every day life gets laughs. That’s how Jerry Seinfeld and our own Michael McIntyre have become so successful. Some of my fellow comics have been a little disrespectful when it comes to McIntyre who has to be our most popular current comedian, certainly as far as the British public are concerned. Any comic who can fill massive arena’s like the 02 for weeks on end must be doing something right. Personally I can only admire what Michael does on stage and I really enjoy watching him work. I’m sure I am not alone in saying that the only thing that peeves me is when I sit there watching him get big big laughs and I am thinking ‘why didn’t I write a routine about that?’ I also think he has been one of a few comics that has paved the way for other comics to become popular enough to fill arena’s. It amazes me that certain comic’s take to social media to slag McIntyre off just because he’s not writing material that they think is funny, completely ignoring the numbers of punters that come through the door. Also what he has done is prove that comics can be a success by appealing to all members of the family from teenagers up to the grand parents without being racist, sexist or doing old jokes. Also he has proved you can perform without swearing as I and most comics on the cruise ships have. I know that he employs a writer who is also a great comedian in his own right and still works, I don’t see anything wrong with this but oh no, the purists who stand alone in a room above a pub talking to students fired up on pot noodles harp on that this is ‘old school’.
When I started out it was extremely rare to see a comic who performed his own material or employed a writer. Comedians were mostly working class and played working mens clubs, they were joke tellers. They worked like second hand car dealers, they would take delivery of a joke clean it up and in to the act to would go. Comics who I thought were very original with routines that I thought they had written, years later I would find out that they were from American comedians back on the vaudeville circuit. Milton Berle used to be known as the thief of bad gags, Alan King a comedian I admired for many years and still do was accused of stealing material from a well known comic. In this country lots of big name comedians have been accused of stealing material, I’m no saint ( I’m also not a big name) I was guilty of doing this in my early days. When I was a teenager, I worked for a few years honing my craft on the London stag show circuit. It was a great training ground and there would be a compere, two comics and three strippers on the bill. The first comic on would probably be doubling up ( two gigs in different venues) and by the time the second comic got to the venue he would have to rely on the compere to let him know what gags had been done. There was a code of conduct where if you knew so and so was coming later you didn’t do any gags that he did in his act, if you did then it would cause problems. I was once told by a great old comic who I used to drive around to gigs on my nights off ‘ If you nick a gag remember who you nicked it off and don’t do it if he’s on the same bill.’ Fortunately it was a habit I got out of as soon as I could and I have always tried to write most of my own material or when I was doing lots of television work I employed writers who have become life time friends. Of course I still have a few old jokes in my act but they are pub jokes, they have been around and they are associated with no one comic in particular. In one of my shows on the ships I have a whole selection of these jokes, and I tell the audience these are the jokes us comics no longer tell and guess what? They get big laughs….Today the problem of joke stealing is still going on. Keith Chegwin who I went to the same school as has started up an app on twitter with his favourite jokes. All the jokes are not pub jokes but jokes taken from some of my fellow comedian’s acts. The sad thing is it’s made me realise that none of my material is as funny as I think it is as Keith is yet to use any of it on his app. I totally understand where the angry comics are coming from as I know how hard it is to come up with new material and if it’s being wasted on an app from a second party then it’s totally out of order.

This subject has also been covered by my good friend Andre Vincent’s blog and I now realise that I could be accused of nicking the idea, trust me I didn’t it was only when I got to this point that I remembered his blog. Its well worth a read at http://www.mislaidcomedyheroes.com/#!blank/cg05.

I’m in Darwin now in the tropical north of Australia, tomorrow I join Queen Victoria and head north to Bali and then I get off in Brunei. Have a great week.

I love my job down under

24th February
On the last day of my short three day gig on Ventura. It’s been one of those cruises that’s gone far too quickly as I was surrounded by really great people. My old mate Paul Emmanuelle, ship mates who I have sailed with before Clem Curtis and Rob Lewis both great fun and a new friend , a comic from Northern Ireland William Caulfield who is a gentleman and great company. After a lunch in my favourite Lisbon eatery Bom Jardin I embark on a long journey from Lisbon to Cairns. I am leaving Lisbon early evening on Wednesday I am due to get to Cairns just after breakfast on Friday. My fellow turns William and Paul are mercifully digging me telling me how they would be in such a bad mood if they were about to start such a long journey but I tell them I am focusing on what’s at the end of the flight. In reality as a guest entertainer, we know what’s going to be there at the endow the flight and it wont be the driver or the port agent. This is a regular occurrence and really is no big deal, it’s also not surprising as lots of messages get lost in translation. When you have been travelling around the globe for as long as I have it can always be dealt with. However, it must be a little scary for a new act, especially a female in a strange country having to contact the port agent especially if it’s late at night. I always make sure that I email the agent and booker to get information on which hotel I am staying in. I then contact the hotel to make sure that there will be a room available when I arrive. I also ask how much I should be paying to a local taxi should I take a cab from the airport. This has saved me a small fortune over the years and if a taxi driver try to rip me off, a quick nod in the direction of the doorman at the hotel usually resolves the situation.

The flights for the long journey were nowhere near as uncomfortable as I expected. I’ve never been a big fan of Air France but I have to admit that the flight from Paris to Shanghai has to be one of the most enjoyable flights I have ever travelled on especially as it was still in economy. I managed to secure an upgrade to the upper deck for a small charge. It was well worth it as the deck was almost totally empty apart from the odd business man who had decided to pay that little bit extra for a bit of space and comfort. It was just like being in business class and I would recommend it any time on a long haul flight. However when I got to Shanghai airport I was brought down to earth in more ways than one. Why when we are in transit and not even visiting the country we have to go through all the rigmarole of getting a temporary visa I really don’t know. I had three hours to kill and made my way to the lounge that thankfully accepted the Priority Pass card. The food in the lounge tasted like food in the worse Chinese restaurant you’ve ever been to late at night in a town you don’t really want to be in. I love Chinese food but apart from too rare visits to Hong Kong, I’ve never had Chinese food that has tasted anywhere near as good as it does in the UK or the USA. I remember the first time I visited Shanghai and I was so looking forward to a proper Chinese meal in a local restaurant and I was so disappointed. Then when I left a tip the owner of the restaurant chased me down the street to give it back to me. I didn’t know that in local non touristy restaurants tips are not encouraged. Now, I always check on my Blackberry what’s the tipping etiquette in these country’s, its saved me few quid the last few years.
My second flight was on China Eastern Airlines from Shanghai to Cairns. The only good thing I can really say about this flight was that it was empty. I now know why, the excuse for what was meant to be dinner was served up by the smartest dressed most miserable crew I have ever seen on a flight. Twice I got told that I must put my mobile phone away, when I told the 17 year old future traffic warden that it was an iPod he just shrugged his shoulders and walked away like I’d just told him off. The only good thing about the flight was that I had four seats to lay down on and have a nights sleep.

Feb 26th
It’s always a great relief to wake up and smell breakfast being heated up as we get nearer the end of the flight. Landing in Australia or New Zealand is always a pleasure as the customs and immigration officers are the most welcoming in the world. I do a routine about this, I am not going to give it away on here, if you want to hear it book a cruise that I’m appearing on!!
Once through customs and immigration and reunited with my luggage which is always a relief, I make my way in to the terminal. We usually have a driver sent by the port agent to transfer us to our hotel or to the ship. In certain parts of the world it’s almost expected that the driver will not be there and then we have to call the local agent and they talk to you in world wide mini cab language ‘the driver is just a few minutes away’……..in Australia it’s very rare that there is no driver and so I was surprised to see this was the case. It turned out that my change of flight news had not reached this part of the world and a driver had been waiting for me for an hour and had decided I was a no show. All sorted, the agent turned up, a nice guy called Mark. He transferred me to the Mantra Trilogy Hotel on the Esplanade in Cairns. As hotels go it’s more like two towers of apartments rather than a hotel but it was clean and modern and did the job. As usual when I land after a long flight I wasted two hours online sorting out emails that were so unimportant and checked up on Facebook and Twitter just to see who had died, who was ill and who’s birthday it was. This is all I seem to do at the moment, there’s never been so many funerals I can’t get to come up in such a short time. I suppose it’s all to do with our age but I’d just like a few months to go by without having to write ‘ he or she was such a nice person and will be sadly missed’. It must be a record, this year already I have heard that nine friends or colleagues have gone to that cruise ship in the sky!! Just hope the cabins are nice.

I spent the day walking round in the 30 degrees heat, Cairns is a nice town but there really is not a lot to it. It’s full of souvenir shops, back packers tour agents and Asian Restaurants. There’s a really nice Esplanade and a lagoon for swimming in as the sea is dangerous tis time of the year due to the ‘ stingers’ and even the odd crocodile……seriously. For lunch I had a bowl of Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, I love this type of food and it’s cheap. In the evening, I walked around the night market contemplating on whether I should have a massage to deal with my jet lagged tension but decide against it and go for a Thai dinner. It was OK and thats the best I can say, Ive had a better Tom Yum soup and I certainly have had a better Thai Green Chicken Curry. I should have gone for a local seafood meal and will know better for next time. Having walked round feeling a little sorry for my self thinking how far I was away from family and friends I see a familiar face sitting in a restaurant. It’s Eve Sherratt , a lovey lady singer who I have not worked with for a few years. The last time I worked with Eve, she was my Florence Nightingale as I had a sudden kidney stone attack and had to get home. She got me to the airport and this was my chance to thank her. It turned out we were getting on the same ship and so we had a coffee and a chat and made arrangements to meet up in the morning.

Feb 27th
Up just after sunrise and out walking along the front, not a cloud in the sky and so many are out doing the same thing. There really is no better feeling than walking first thing building up a sweat and an appetite for breakfast.
Met up with Eve and another fellow artist Will Martin the singer from New Zealand. I haven’t seen Will for a few years so once again, nice to catch up. We boarded the ship in the comically named port Yorkeys Knob, I realise it’s only Brits who will laugh at this name but the thought of Queen Elizabeth calling in to see Yorkeys Knob makes me laugh……maybe it’s just me!! The ship was at anchor about a mile and a half out so I decided that I was going to stay on the ship for the day, walking round Cairnes in the heat of the day did not appeal to me.
A nice day on the ship, half an hour sun bathing ( it was all I could take ) a couple of hours sleep to deal with jet lag and some writing and the day was gone. I went to the theatre to watch Will Martin who stood the mainly Aussie audience up. He’s a great act and know’s how to work an audience. An early night was in order, it’s weird going to sleep down here with Jeff Stelling and the lads on Sky Sports Soccer Saturday on the TV. I fell asleep with the football on and woke up a few hours later and it’s still on. I did however wake up to some news that came as a shock. QPR had won 2-0 against Birmingham and the report was that they had played well and deserved to win. I was so pleased as I knew Harvey and Jane had been at the game and there’s nothing worse than a bore draw or another defeat. Maybe we are on the right road again, two draws and a win…

Feb 28th
My brother Tony’s birthday today, sent him a couple of messages then remembered it was still the 27th in the UK.
Got up early to walk , the sun rise was a little disappointing as covered by cloud but the sky cleared and not a cloud for the rest of the day. Great walk, healthy breakfast and I am out laying in the morning sun at 9.am for a couple of hours then it got far too hot. I decide that I am going to catch up on admin work and a little writing. I love being down here this time of the year but I am already missing home, I mustn’t dwell on this as I have another month to go. It’s so weird when I look at the watch and know that the UK is asleep and it’s the middle of the night. I don’t switch my phone on till late afternoon when I know my wife and son are getting up.
In the afternoon I go to the cinema to watch the new Bond movie, Spectre. I enjoyed it, love the stunts and the new characters. I’ve never really been a bog 007 fan but I enjoy watching the movie if on a plane or on a ship.
In the evening I went to watch Eve Sherratt’s show, she has a great voice and I always enjoy watching her show.
Early night, I am still suffering from jet lag. I can guarantee I will wake up early, probably around 3.30 am…why is that?

Feb 29th
I was right, 3.30 am I was wide awake. I am starting to think the only way to deal with jet lag into stay up late and drink a bucket load of wine. I’ve never had a sleepless night with a few vino’s inside me.
Another nice day at sea, we passed a few islands and the sky was clear and blue. We passed one island and it’s famous for once being the home of a Scottish naval captain who had eighty five wives. I wonder if any day was a good day and they were all in a good mood?
This afternoon Will Martin performed a matinee show to an absolutely packed out theatre. I’ve seen a lot of acts storm audiences on these ships but today’s show has to be right up there at the top the list. Well done Will if you get to read this.
John Nations the juggler did the evening show, another great show, these guests are certainly getting a lot of entertainment. Tomorrow night me and I hope to keep the ball in the air or the plates spinning or what ever saying it is that I am trying to think of.

March 1st
Woke up early, out walking the deck just after sunrise as we come in to Rabaul, Papa New Guinea. The township looks pretty run down and understandably so as the original city got completely destroyed in 1994 as a result of a devastating volcanic eruption from MT Tavurvur. During the eruption ash was sent thousands of meters in to the air and the subsequent rain of ash caused 80% of the buildings to collapse. I walked off the ship in to the town with Eve my fellow act. We could not get over how friendly the people were and they seemed genuinely pleased to see us. We had a walk round the market where they were mainly selling fruit and vegetables which was a bit sad as we are not allowed to take any fruit or veg back to the ship. It was an interesting place to walk round but if I am honest I was pleased to get back to the ship if just for some air conditioned comfort away from the mid day heat.
Tonight I performed to a packed theatre and the Aussies as ever were a delight to play to. Big laughs, lots of friendly banter and even an American couple defending Donald Trump after I made a joke about ‘ If Trump takes over the world, Im moving here ( Rabaul) ‘ All good fun, after the shows I went out for a few drinks with Eve and some of the entertainment officers on the ship. We all ended up out on deck star gazing as the night sky down here is spectacular. I’m not in the the stars and all that stuff but even I was amazed at how clear it all was. Still couldn’t tell you which one was Pluto, Saturn or Uranus!!! ( insert joke here…………………………………………………………………..)

March 2nd
First of four days at sea as we head north to The Philippines and our next port of call Puerto Princesa. Today at lunch time the Captain announced that King Neptune had boarded the ship and there was going to be a crossing the line ceremony as we were about to cross the Equator. He also mentioned that we were in The Doldrums , the area down here in Equatorial waters where there’s a lot of cloud, depression and frequent showers. Hence the expression ‘Down in the doldrums’ ….there you go, every days a school day!!
Watched Russell Harrison perform tonight to another packed out theatre. These audiences are the best I’ve known on a ship for a long time. Russell put on a great show despite having no luggage and having to try to get stage clothes which must have been difficult what with having size 13 feet.

March 3rd
Happy 55th Birthday to me!!
I woke up early and I opened my birthday cards from my family. It’s been a few years since I last had a birthday at home as it always falls during the world cruise season when I tend to be in Asia or Australia ship hopping. I checked my blackberry and my Facebook page was starting to fill up with nice birthday messages from around the world. It’s nice to know that so many friends from over the years are now in touch via social media. I know it can be a pain but it certainly makes you feel you are not alone when you can talk to friends and family at any time.
Tonight I went out for dinner with Eve and Ross , one of the entertainment officers. It’s great when we are on with other acts we know socially. We had a very nice meal in The Veranda Restaurant accompanied by a bottle of my favourite wine Cloudy Bay. It was a lovely birthday but I have to admit I am missing my wife Jane and son Harvey, I think maybe next year I will try to be home.

March 4th
Another day at sea but the sun is shining and we seem to be out of The Doldrums. Today I am doing a matinee show which is a first for me on a ship. Maybe it’s not so good that we have good weather as they may not come in to see the show.
How wrong could I be? The Royal Court Theatre was absolutely packed with standing room only, believe me it’s not often I say that even for an evening show. I’m not one to go on line and say what a great show I had as thats the way it should be, thats our job and thats what we are paid to do but today was one of the most enjoyable shows I have performed in a long long time. The crowd were just totally up for it and they made a 55 year old comedian very happy and there’s a slight risk my ego has been inflated far beyond it’s usual size.

March 5th
Day at sea, I decided that today I am going to try to fast as I am trying to shift that last stone of weight that just doesn’t seem to want to go. I tried so hard to stay below 600 calories but realised I just can’t do it. By 6pm I felt like I was a celebrity in the jungle waiting for a visit by Ant and Dec. I am just going to stick to healthy eating, forget 5:2 the only time you will see those figures for me are as a defeat for my beloved hoops.
Tonight I watched Eve in the theatre, great second show. She’s been great company as always, will be sad to see her go tomorrow in Puerto Princess, funny old game we are in, new and old friends every week in and out your life.

March 6th
After four days at sea we are in The Philippines, Puerto Princess. All looks very tropical and welcoming, looking forward to going off for a look around. I went off to the Robinsons Shopping Mall , it was OK but to be honest if it was your local shopping centre you wouldn’t bother. had a look round, I went in to Jolly Bee and orders a Tuna Pie for 45 peso’s ( $1). I jumped in to a TucTuc and asked the driver to take me to a place where I could get a good ‘decent legit’ massage.. The journey took about ten minutes up the back streets and I started to think I had made a big mistake. I could not have been more wrong, for an hour I had one of the best massages I have ever had. It cost me $15 when I got back to the ship I noticed that there was a few guests walking near the ship by the water’s edge . I decided to follow them and I was so glad I did. I bumped in to a few guests from Manchester who asked me if Id like to join them for a beer. We had such a great chat and it turned in to one of those nights where you knew that you were in a part of the world that not many of us Brits have ventured to. I am so glad I got to visit this part of the Philippines. The people are very friendly, as they are when they work on the ship. We have also got a lot of families of the Filipino crew members on board. It’s so nice to see and I even got a slight lump in the throat when I saw my room steward having dinner upstairs with his wife in the buffet. I know this sounds ordinary to us but they looked like they were having such a lovely time. I appreciate what it’s like being away for long periods but at least I get home every few weeks for a few days. These people work for months on end away from their family’s…..I have total admiration for them.

March 8th Manila
I disembarked the ship today in Manila but before I did I got the chance to grab a quick lunch with my fellow turn and brother water rat Richard Gauntlet. We had a great catch up and it was nice to talk ‘comic’s language’ for an hour. When I left the ship at 3pm it was a nightmare. Taxi drivers telling us all they were there to take us to the airport when clearly they had just listened in on a conversation between myself, Julian Smith and Captain Charlie the Australian military lecturer and his wife. It was so manic it was funny. We ended up travelling 150 yards in 90 minutes. Charlie who’s like Crocodile Dundee had a moment that made me howl, he told the port agent if she didn’t get us moving he would drive!!! He meant it.
So now as I start another journey down to Sydney to join Queen Mary 2 I will end this blog. It’s been a a lovely ten days, lets see what the next leg of the tour brings. I know this blog has been a little long but I just felt it might be interesting to read an every day diary from a ship turn.