Sunday, September 25, 2016

Freedom: The Reason to See Little Joe (With A Postscript on the Defining the Norm Awards)

A few years ago, following a performance in Edinburgh, someone said of my shows that they were about freedom. Only on rare occasions throughout my nearly twenty-year career (if you can call it that) did I ever flirt with the possibility that any of my shows had a theme. During one run in San Francisco, I told the press that my intent with that particular piece (2007’s Grandpa, It’s Not Fitting) was to systematically slaughter every politically-correct sacred cow, in increasing order of social relevance, from the shallowness of Hollywood to the repression of the Koran in little over an hour. Usually, though, when queried about a theme by an interviewer or a prospective punter, I opt for the convenient catch-all terms of “dreamlike” or “nightmare-esque” or even “LSD trip”.

All monikers which could be applied to my latest opus: Little Joe. (playing 30 September and 1-2 October at the Museum of Comedy in Holborn)

But yet, when this woman revealed to me her analysis of my work, I instantaneously and appreciatively agreed with her. Freedom is exactly what my shows are about. Freedom from political correctness, freedom from industry approval. Freedom to say what I want, think what I want, and be what I want. Freedom to embrace and expose the subconscious in all its truthful beauty and not-so-beautiful truth. And perhaps I have likewise been hoping, all these years, to impart that liberating freedom to others who may suffer from groupthink, peer pressure, political correctness, and fear of cultural stigmatisation and social banishment. To simultaneously reap the rewards and suffer the blows that are part and parcel of steadfastly remaining an individual in the midst of an ever-expanding and increasingly authoritarian larger community. To live the life authentic. Yes, indeed -- my shows, my work, my life, are all precisely about freedom.

And Little Joe may be the freest show I’ve ever written. (playing 30 September and 1-2 October at the Museum of Comedy in Holborn) 


Many theories were circulating on social media and throughout Fringe pop-up bars in the wake of my publication of the nominees for the Defining the Norm Awards. Chief among them, undoubtedly, was that I had conceived of the awards as a way to get attention. This theory is promptly debunked if one takes into account two very obvious factors: 1) The nominees were published, in synch with the Awards, at the end of the festival -- a time precluding any effective public relations coup. But more importantly, 2) Everything about the Fringe is an attempt to get attention. Hypocrisy? Yes, it just follows me around like a lost puppy dog.

Another theory was sugar-coated in the sort of faux compassion that is the hallmark of today’s aesthetic wasteland. There was concern expressed over my mental well-being and even armchair diagnoses that perhaps I was having a bi-polar breakdown of some sort, the awards being a manifestation of psychological illness. The implication here is that the glut of mundane, boring, predictable, overly safe, non-challenging, political-correct comedy must be an hallucination. If we don’t talk it about, it must not exist, right? See no evil, hear no evil, and – most definitely – speak no evil. And besides, with all the sycophantic fawning this year about shows dealing “bravely” with mental health issues, how come I didn’t receive more applause and acclaim for what some were characterising as an act of sheer madness? Or, more to the point, as Craig Campbell graciously reminded me backstage one night at The Stand, artists are supposed to be insane. Yes, indeed, Craig, once upon a time before business sense prevailed over artistic inspiration. Good dog, Hypocrisy, have another bone.

Within a mere ten minutes of the nominees being published, the issue of me being Sarah last year was raised, with a few outraged comedians desperately asserting – despite never having been to one of my shows – that my 2015 performance would itself have been a nominee for various Defining the Norm categories. But it’s near impossible for regular practitioners of hypocrisy to accuse another of the same, for they were, unsurprisingly, wrong – as is anyone who assumes that a comedian wearing a dress will spend an hour talking about wearing a dress, or a black comedian will spend an hour talking about being black, or a female comedian will spend an hour talking about being female. And to think that once, way back in the day, surprise was considered the most important element to comedy writing. Unquestionably, these are the very bigots the real anti-bigots need to confront. They’ve got all their boxes ready and waiting, so either hop inside of your own volition or feel their communal wrath.

In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to determine what flummoxed the comedy community more – this year’s awards or last year’s decision to live as Sarah and then become Will again. To this day, I see and hear comics I’ve never met speak authoritatively about both topics after first cautiously prefacing their diatribes with wishy-washy wording like My suspicion is. . .or I’ve not met the man, but my feeling is. . . “Feeling”, of course, being the vital linchpin term that can transform novice into expert, for anyone may speak in terms of feelings when so few converse in facts. How symptomatic of our diseased culture that people barely clever enough to be comedians deign to fashion themselves psychologists as well. Attaboy, Hypocrisy, come here and let me scratch yer head!

Other knee-jerk assessments of the DTN Awards were a bit more naked with their vitriol. Who is this foreigner to come here and tell us how to do comedy? screamed a self-righteous few. Well, allow me to introduce myself. This foreigner grew up worshipping – and was consequently heavily-influenced by -- what the best of British comedy once offered: Surrealism, absurdism, and satire. Little did I realise those art forms would be shoved aside to accommodate the now-prevalent pattern of comics sucking up to obtuse club owners and media fixtures, month after month, until that one magical time of the year when they’re allowed to go north of the border for three weeks and play at being Oprah Winfrey. We had confessional performances in the States as well and I didn’t like them out there either. Which is, of course, why I moved to Great Britain, my historical comedic home, birthplace of satire and the Sex Pistols.

Right on cue, there were also the inevitable lamentations that I was “punching down”. To this I say, has not our relativistic culture shown us that there are no longer such things as “up” or “down”? That anybody who wants to do comedy should be encouraged to do so? For we are all one happy comedy community and if we absolutely must complain about other comedians, we should either do it late night in a car, with one to three others, returning from a gig, or united as a massive front against a single individual – such as myself – who dares transgress the unwritten law that the illusion of the “happy comedy community” – for an illusion it truly is – must always prevail against the persistent tug of empirical reality. Oh, Hypocrisy, man’s best friend you are.

And besides, these awards were nothing if not egalitarian. I’d be hard-pressed to think of many other show business nomination lists that would unite eager young open-mikers with established mainstream television stars the way the DTN Awards did. Everybody and everything about the Fringe was covered honestly and fairly in one broad, all-encompassing sweep. Not to mention, any accusations of punching down are, by necessity, entirely contingent upon where I happen to be placed within the comedy hierarchy at any given moment. I know all too well how malleable a performer’s position can be when it comes to serving another’s argument. Last year, when I made the statement to The List that I thought Jon Stewart was “one of the least funny people on the planet”, the cries from the comedy community rose up as one: Who is this nobody going after an established guy like Jon Stewart? One year later, and the cry has suddenly transformed into: Who is this established guy going after these nobodies?

I have to admit here relishing at times the sweet irony that the highest levels of hatred for the Defining the Norm Awards emanated from bookers who never dared to put me one of their shows because -- dig this -- I’m not normal enough.  

So standing apart from, or, dare I say, above it all, one thing remains crystal clear. The reason for the proliferation of the disparate and incorrect theories about why I went through with the DTN Awards is because, to the average contemporary comedian whose limited outlook can only think in terms of careerist advantage or disadvantage, the actual explanation, simple though it may be, is one that such business-minded sorts would never (and could never) consider: I did it because I wanted to do it.

Now, that being said, there did appear one accusation that was quite tellingly accurate. Somebody had written in the first few hours following the nominee announcements: Will Franken seems to have a pretty high opinion of himself.

Why yes, I do. And I likewise have pretty high opinions of – in no particular order – The Beatles, Beethoven, James Joyce, Jonathan Swift, Lenny Bruce, William Blake, Peter Cook, and so many more.

Like all of the above, I am a free individual, slave to no community. I use intellect where stupidity is presumed, I use originality where formulaic is expected, I use merit where quotas are dangled, and I use rebellion where correctness is demanded. And it was a busy August indeed for this rebel. With the awards, I said “fuck you” to the comedic status quo. With my show, I said “fuck you” to the nature of reality itself. And I’m doing the latter again for three nights, right here in London town.

Little Joe. (playing 30 September and 1-2 October at the Museum of Comedy in Holborn) 

Sunday, July 24, 2016



 Discovering Comedy Normality. 

Here you will find important information about the Defining the Norm Awards being presented at this year's Fringe Festival for the very first time by ordinary, non-challening, industry-friendly comedian Will Franken ( NEWS AND UPDATES UNDERNEATH THE "WHO WE ARE" SECTION BELOW




Will Franken ("Mock The Week", "Have I Got News For You") is pleased to announce this year he will officially present, along with special guests, the inaugural Defining The Norm Awards at this year's Fringe Festival. Shows will be judged on conformity to industry standards, marketable status, adherence to shared political opinion, and audience pandering. Special categories for shows consisting of safe targets, stifled free speech, and lack of original or perceptive messages will also be recognised, in addition to most marketably correct and expensive flyer and poster combination. If you feel you have a show that is uniform, systematic, and average, you could be a winner.






c) 2016 DTN AWARDS

Wednesday, July 06, 2016


By Wm. Franken

I say the following as an expatriate Yank who has a deep love for both his native homeland and his adopted one of Great Britain: there is great reason to foresee positive consequences for American and British relations as a result of the Brexit referendum. I say this based upon the principles of choice and merit that are the philosophical underpinnings of a shared history and culture. 

I did not move to Great Britain because I have a burning passion for globalist super-states led by a centralised group of unelected officials. I did not move to Great Britain because I believe all cultures are equal and the flight out here was simply shorter and cheaper than the one to Turkey. I did not move to Great Britain to whinge about the perceived evils of the St. George’s Cross, the Union Jack, or the concept of nationalism more generally. 

I moved here because, ever since the age of fourteen, after seeing my first episode of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” on our local PBS affiliate in Missouri, a lifelong fascination for British culture was set in motion –  for its history, music, literature, and most especially, its comedy. 

There are times I recall an interview John Lennon gave to Tom Snyder during Lennon’s final years in New York. At one point, Snyder asks Lennon why he wants to remain in the US. To which Lennon answers, “Because this is where the music came from. This is what influenced my whole life and got me where I am today.” Well, that’s what I feel about Britain. It’s where the comedy came from. (Not to mention The Beatles) It’s where so many things came from that influenced my life and made me the person I am today. Britain is not just another place for me to live and work. It is the realisation of a childhood dream. And I thank my stars every day that dream has come true.

In my earliest months out here, I would often respond to strangers who inquired about my desire to relocate, that my love for British culture is akin to my love for women. There’s a beautiful congruence at something being very similar to me in many ways, yet still possessing a delightful plethora of intriguing differences to maintain my fancy. 

To be sure, not all of those differences are necessarily attractive. During one of the referendum debates, I voiced to a friend my persistent surprise at how nakedly some pundits express their contempt of the working classes and proceeded to compare this with how everyone in America at least pretend they come from humble beginnings. Which is why Hillary Clinton will always inject a bit more down-home soul in her speeches when she’s lobbying for votes in poorer communities.  And which is why, having been born and raised in a small Midwestern town, I have such identification and affinity for those regions that voted to leave the EU, such as rural Yorkshire and the Welsh Valleys. 

The United Kingdom I fell in love with at such a young age, the United Kingdom from which I learned irreverence, surrealism, and satire, the United Kingdom of the Magna Carta, John Locke, and Winston Churchill, the United Kingdom that was ever in my thoughts as I pursued a master’s degree in Restoration and 18th Century British Literature – whilst others in my graduate class were beginning to murmur about “white privilege”, “Western bias”, and other academic forerunners to the modern university “safe spaces” – that United Kingdom awoke with a mighty lion’s roar on Thursday, 23rd June, 2016 following what seemed an irreversible sheep-like trudge into globalist rule. In the waning hours of that night and well into the following morning, I, along with many others the world over, witnessed something unfold and claim its rightful place in history; something I had previously thought could only exist within the dusky confines of Biblical lore: 

David had beaten Goliath. 

If this ancient metaphor seems a tad hyperbolic, one simply has to consider the tidal wave of propaganda the Leave supporters had to successfully weather in order to bring the long-forgotten principle of national sovereignty to bear. Bucking not only against the raging waters of the EU transnationalists, but the overpaid and undertalented celebrity elite, the monolithic pull of the mainstream media, the clearly misguided yet unfortunately energetic youth, the ivory tower academics and their penchant for elevating fear above hope, the self-interested pleas from major corporations like Virgin and Ryanair, the meaningless mantras of uncertainty and anxiety repeatedly hammered into the public psyche by establishment figures in both the Tory and Labour parties, and even the veiled threat from the Obama administration about heading to the “back of the queue” – the Leave voters, with the quiet reserve so characteristic of this nation’s people, maintained their course with firm conviction to the result so many desired, yet dared not expect. In fact, it would not be amiss here to compare the calm steadfastness of subdued principle in the face of such rabid opposition to the exploits of this nation’s most beloved naval hero, Lord Nelson. For a battered ship had survived a tumultuous storm in the hopes of bringing to these shores once more the promised bounty of national sovereignty.  

Of course, if the Biblical and military metaphors are still a bit too grandiose, there are numerous variations one could choose from to characterise the referendum result. In my more light-hearted moments, I can also liken the success of the Leave campaign to the triumph of the Delta Fraternity over Dean Wormer in the 70s American screwball comedy National Lampoon’s Animal House; (Dean Wormer being alternately represented by Jean-Claude Juncker, Angela Merkel, Barack Obama, or George Soros.) The hardworking underdog citizenry of this nation, once esteemed for their sacrifice and selflessness, had made themselves heard, much to the chagrin of the establishment. The dispassionate globalists, the one-worlders with allegiance to neither flag nor country, bureaucrats and self-appointed experts who had for decades deviously – and to their own recent detriment – conflated nationalism with racism, could only stand by fuming, egg dripping down their disappointed faces, as history changed direction in the course of a single night. The spectacle was pure comedy at its anti-authoritarian best. 

The theme song for the referendum could very well have been David Bowie’s anthemic “Changes”, although some reworking of the lyrics would have had to have been undertaken. Given the demographic breakdown of the results, it wouldn’t have made sense to sing about “these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds” For it was not only the working classes but the older generations, those who could remember a time before the EU super-state undertook to over-regulate and gut their vital industries whilst the Labour Party simultaneously insulted their intelligence and social status – all the while incredulously and patronisingly expecting them to vote in their favour! –  that ushered in what we can only hope at this stage to be another glorious revolution. Whilst the children, the millennials too often looked at to lead the way – a continuation of the inverted hierarchy established during the 1960s of youth over experience – were stodgily resisting any change whatsoever.

With notable exceptions worthy of recognition for standing outside the pack and resisting the full thrust of political peer pressure, the younger generation, by and large, were calling for nothing more dramatic than the prolongation of a dismal and destructive status quo. And given the naked ageism and classism that has permeated both mainstream and social media in the wake of this referendum, it has become clear the “children” are now the ones doing the spitting. 

Over a week has now passed and I still occasionally see Remainers sporting their glittery “I’m In” T-shirts and find myself wondering how passionate one can truly be about an institution so patently glum, sedentary, and corrupt as the European Union. I deign to envision another corollary besides rooting for a multinational bank by which one isn’t even employed, but invariably come up short. 

 I can, however, always understand passion for one’s own nation. It’s unfortunate that a good portion of the Remain camp cannot. To a multinational, populist passion is always suspect. And to nullify any potential threat to the establishment, mistruths about motives are invariably ascribed to nationalist sentiment –  xenophobia and racism being the chief rhetorical weapons. For in the EU schemata, as in the larger globalist world view, there are no nations, there are no sides, there is no better and there is no worse. The jihadist hotbed of Belgium, the failed economy of Greece, the non-integrated asylum state of modern Germany, were all, until recently, placed on an equal footing with Great Britain at the table of collective and crippling compromise. 

No. Remaining in the EU was not a passionate position, but rather the manifestation of mass gullibility in blindly accepting a series of ad hoc rhetorical equations. For every conflation of nationalism with bigotry, there was a converse conflation of multinationalism with enlightenment. The EU, for example, being conveniently equated with Europe and Europe being conveniently equated with culture – wine, cheese and arts funding, if you will. Whereas a cursory glance across the political landscape of the continent, with its struggling unified currency project and the abject failures of its undemocratic centralised powers, empirically demonstrates the EU is diametrically opposed to the very European culture it purports to foster. I myself adore European culture. One could in fact say I’m passionate about it. Which is exactly why I have always decried the erosion of national identities that is part and parcel of an EU vision. Great Britain may have been the first to leave, but let us hope, for the prolongation of broader European history and culture, she will not be the last. 

But the EU is merely a symptom of the wider ideological pathology of globalism. A pathology that, like its smaller counterpart in the European Union, comes equipped with its own reductive inferences: Individual nationhood is distasteful, whereas the global community is, ipso facto, a virtuous thing. Can anyone actually mouth these sentiments with a straight face given that the global community today contains a theocratic Iran, totalitarian North Korea, and an increasingly militarising China -- all the while as the Islamic State continues to slash and burn their way across the hemisphere and beyond? 

Finding themselves flailing in the face of reasoned polemics, there were moments during the televised debates when the Remain camp desperately reached for the Nazi card, sanctimoniously emphasising that that, too, was a nationalist movement. Unsurprisingly, they had little to say for the fact that Nazism was also a socialist movement. A socialism predicated on the flawed presumption that certain successes are ill-gotten and therefore invalid – the same premise that served as lifelong justification for Hitler’s unabated hatred and genocidal practices towards the Jewish people. 

Of course, no one should argue that the European Union is the second coming of the Nazi party, just as, conversely, no one should draw similar comparisons to the nationalist policies of the Brexit campaign. What can be said with any certainty, though, is that continued adherence to the multinational socialist outlook of the EU would only lead to the further diminishment of British exceptionalism. The fact that Britain is now poised to reverse a decades-long slide into this quagmire, thanks to the outcome of a single referendum, should be encouragement to patriots across the Atlantic that the deleterious effects brought about by eight years of Barack Obama’s denigration of America’s own exceptionalism can be just as easily undone. 

It is telling that, during the final debate, self-proclaimed “citizen of the world” Barack Obama’s name was bandied about numerous times as a fait accompli case for remaining in the EU. That is, until one MP courageously pointed out that Obama, thankfully, was not going to be president forever. Why it took so long for the Leave side to respond to the invoking of the president’s name testifies both to how deeply affixed Obama’s cult of personality is on the global stage as well as to the underlying fear that going against his endorsements would lead to false accusations of xenophobia. For what differentiates a xenophobe from a nationalist is that where the former would incorrectly blame immigrants for stealing their culture, the latter would accurately blame their leaders for giving their culture away. And though, undoubtedly, the Obama administration has given much away, Brexit is now a signpost revealing how to get it back. 

Perhaps Great Britain in particular and Western Civilisation in general may be slowly awakening to the reality that there is no virtue to be had in self-flagellation. I myself wouldn’t want to live in a United Kingdom that endlessly apologises for its world status in the manipulative tones of guilt and shame. I want to live in a United Kingdom that, whilst not glossing over its historical transgressions, nonetheless endeavours to highlight and capitalise on its many successes – a Britain that loves itself as much as I love Britain. We often hear, for example, of disenfranchised minority youths in Western societies becoming radicalised. Far too many leaders have sought an answer to this problem with more apologies and more accommodations. But the question must be raised, are these youths disenfranchised because the West has not apologised enough or are they disenfranchised because the West has apologised too much?  After all, why be loyal to a nation whose rhetoric and actions are steeped in self-hatred? It’s virtually impossible to love a doormat. Moreover, if the leadership of Britain and the US were to widen their lenses and truly act upon the principle of “thinking globally”, it becomes readily apparent that many enemies see apologies as opportunities. 

Great Britain is by no means out of the proverbial woods just yet. They have acknowledged the futility of a doomed relationship and have expressed a sincere desire to move on to other opportunities. In reaction, the EU leadership, sobbing like a jilted lover, has screamed “Fine! Pack your bags and get out!” And that is exactly what Britain needs to do, lest it backslide over the course of two years into the same political morass from which it has only recently voted to extricate itself. Yet the machinations within the Tory party following David Cameron’s resignation portend grim challenges for the future of Brexit; most particularly with the ascendency of Theresa May as the major contender for the premiership, herself a Remain candidate from the exact same government. “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” the electorate might have hummed as they heard her make the astounding assertion that “voters want more than a Brexit PM” – belying, of course, the fact that Britain needs a new prime minister precisely because of Brexit. Furthermore, the two chief architects of the referendum and the ones who made the most prodigious use on the campaign trail of Americanisms like “Independence Day” – Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson – have both exited the political stage, the latter having been betrayed by his fellow Leave-ally, the Machiavellian upstart Michael Gove. Meanwhile, north of the border, Nicola Sturgeon and her contingency are clamouring on again about independence for Scotland in order that they can continue being dependent on the European Union. As an expat watching all this infighting, backstabbing and manoeuvring unfold, I can only sit back and paraphrase Ray Liotta’s narration in Goodfellas after Joe Pesci gets whacked: “And we had to sit still and take it. It was among the British. It was real greaseball shit.”

Despite all this political negativity, however, optimism must and will prevail. For it was optimism that defeated the scaremongering of the Remain camp at the polls and it will be optimism that goes forth to guarantee the people’s wish that Britain once more claim its rightful place in the world, this time on its own terms. Brexit is about many things – sovereignty, trade, and immigration, to name but a few – and yet all these could easily be distilled into two distinct principles: Choice and Merit. 

From its very conception in the aftermath of World War Two, the European Union was based on no grander principle than geographical proximity. This is not to discount the altruistic motives certain European leaders had in reviving war-torn regions of Western Europe, but when considering American initiatives at the time geared towards the same goal of post-war revivification, most notably the Marshall Plan, the idea of proximity alone justifying a political and economic union – especially in this postmodern age of internet commerce – is utterly absurd. Imagine how disgruntled, to put it mildly, Palestine would be if it were finally granted statehood only to be told, because of proximity, it had to immediately enter into a political and economic union with its arch-nemesis, Israel. The unpleasant historical fact is, with Britain’s exit from the EU imminent, the only Allied nation has left the European picture, leaving a map composed of areas that were either neutral, occupied, or Axis powers during World War Two. Whereas in order to account for historical merit in the context of the global conflict often cited to justify the creation of the EU, one must zoom outwards to incorporate allies such as the Commonwealth nations, Russia, and, most revealingly, the United States. Nations with which a post-Brexit Britain now has the freedom to choose to foster improved relations.
How ironic it is that by abandoning globalism, the world suddenly gets much bigger.
It has been posited by some in the Eurosceptic movement that the EU is, to some extent, a protracted attempt to assuage German guilt. If that indeed be the case and Germany wishes to continue making the culturally suicidal mistake of shaming itself out of its Leibnizes, Beethovens and Einsteins, let them. But not at the expense of requiring Britain to do the same with its Shakespeares, Elgars and Darwins – or, by extension, America to do so with its Jeffersons, Gershwins and Twains.

Brexit has the clear potential to represent a victory of merit over quotas and informed choice over convenient proximity. And perhaps it will also prove the long-desired harbinger that the flat-lined pulse of Western culture will beat once more. Most importantly, however, it can be the opportunity for Britain not only to inspire other nation-states within the EU to reclaim their own national sovereignty, but to reverse and consequently invalidate Barack Obama’s meddlesome naysaying when this determined nation finds itself at the front – not the back – of the queue. 

“Let us go forward together.” – Winston Churchill.