Category Archives: general

Actors Headshots and “squinching”

These pics were taken by John Godwin of London Headshots in 2013 and he must be a genius.  I paid £150, which is a great price, for a full usage license and I put them here because 1. It’s a good place to save them (saves on cloud space, given I am paying for this blog anyway!) 2. he asked me to “squinch”, which is where you close your eyes, but without squinting.  ie raise the bottom eyelid, to make you look more appealing and interesting.  The trick is to eliminate any white eyeball under the iris.  It’s hard, but it does work!  Google Brad Pitt and you will see him doing this all the time. 3. I want one of these pictures to appear on my Wikipedia entry, which is being created!

   

 

 

 

These images are under a license that allows free re-use for any purpose. A Creative Commons Attribution license.

Mayweather Vs McGregor. Smart Betting

I just wanted to post this before the fight actually happens, which is in about 20 hours time.

I have been watching the UFC since it was on Bravo around the year 2000.  I tape all the fight nights and have been to UFC London when it was at O2, forking out over £150 for a seat that was not even ringside.  I am still however uncertain whether I will even pay the £20 to watch this on PPV.  Reasons for that reluctance are exactly the reasons I tip the unusual but smart bet, below.

I know that Mayweather is the pound for pound best fighter of his generation with a 49-0 record.  I know he is coming out of retirement for this fight.  I know that McGregor has taken over from Rousey as the UFC’s biggest star.  This post is about betting and being smart.

I won good money on Rousey losing – not because it was likely, but because the odds were so ridiculous at 10-1.  I wanted to post my bet slip, to prove this, but I just discovered that Bet365 don’t keep your betting history over a year old.  Betting smart in the UFC is not about what is likely to happen but what a good bet is.  I also won money betting against Conor vs Nick Diaz.   Anything can happen in MMA and any bookie giving odds over 5-1 in a good match up has overpriced it.

In this sporting spectacle, Mayweather Vs McGregor, fought under boxing’s code, there is nothing at stake, except for each man’s pride.  No world championship, no belt.   Great athletes yes, undoubtedly.  But if either were to lose, is it a big deal to either of them, really?  The only argument I can see is perhaps for Mayweather, his record of 49-0 being tarnished by becoming 49-1 may be hard to bear; but given he was in retirement and this is a freak fight and his guaranteed purse is so large, what price the zero?  $100+million? priceless?

The idea that the two pugilists are actually laughing it up big style at the way they are pulling off the biggest con of the millennium to an unsuspecting public seems to be not unlikely.

This isn’t a new conspiracy theory: Rory McIlroy has recently said so much, to be fair to him and there are others equally cynical, I am sure.

If there were a big scandal, which demanded an even bigger rematch, that would not surprise anyone, would it?!  It is after all the purse which is the biggest thing and the main if not only thing in this fight.  These two don’t even have a history of animosity – it has all only come out in the hype for eth fight.  It’s fake! I am pretty sure the rematch will be on whatever the result.   But to get to the point of this post, I have identified the best bet to have on this “fight”.

The draw at 50-1 is a great bet.  It is still unlikely, but I believe the real odds of this happening is about 4-1 or 5-1.  I placed this bet a few weeks ago, way before McIlroy made his pronouncement.

The main reason to back a draw at these odds:

  1. Would you be surprised if it were a draw?  I would not!  Rory would not!  How gullible  are you?
  2. What are they actually fighting for?  Money! The best way to make most money (for bookies) is the draw.
  3. Has the sport of boxing never had a fix?  Why is it so trustworthy all of a sudden, especially given there is nothing at stake (except pride, yes I know).
  4. The sport of boxing is already losing its dignity by sanctioning this fight (according to some)
  5. Pride has a price:  especially if there is nothing really at stake. Ving Rhames’ Marcellus Wallace’s pep talk to Bruce Willis’ Butch in Pulp Fiction:  “I think you’re gonna find yourself when all this shit is over one smiling mother-fucker. …
    This dude might just get medieval on yo ass
    Marcellus Wallace chatting with Butch

    This business is filled to the brim with unrealistic mother-fuckers. … Night of the fight you might feel a slight sting.  That’s pride fucking with you.  Fuck Pride!  Pride only hurts it never helps!  Cos a year from now when you kicking in in the Caribbean, you gonna say to yourself, ‘Marcellus Wallace was right’.

  6. This is unprecedented; so whatever the outcome sets the precedent.  Be wise before the event!

Monitoring Forms at theatres and their importance

When you are having a discussion about anything to do with equality from the point of view of a minority, you have to be aware that there will be objections from the majority.  This is simply because to the majority, when a minority attempts to level the playing field they are removing the majority’s privileged position.  There are many examples of how this works (some good some bad) and equally as many (if not more) examples of how white people object to the idea.  Google it.  Click here to see both on the same page.

The problems we in the Equity Minority Ethnic Members committee have in trying to equalise the opportunities, are mainly:

  1. The business of acting is hardly fair anyway.
  2. The business of acting is run by the majority who often cast in their own image (the unconscious bias theory) and when caught out doing this in an egregious manner cite “the best person for the role argument” and Equity is loathe is get involved in matters of artistic taste (though as argued in another post, they should not be).

Even when the whole issue is regarded as a victory for the minorities, as in the case of the Print Room, whose name has now become an industry by-word for how not to deal with racial casting issues, the other side does not need to agree.  In fact not only does the Print Room still refuse to acknowledge any wrong-doing nor come close to issuing an apology, it has in fact gone so far as to threaten legal proceedings against Equity for libel.

All of which brings me to the argument for Monitoring Forms.

They might seem like an invasion of your privacy and oftentimes the two issues are conflated on the form.   This one was collected from Yellow Earth’s recent production of Tamburlaine at the Arcola, which I watched and enjoyed on Saturday, and does not ask for your name or any identifying info, unless you opt to give your email address.

The  important reason for these forms is simple:  Without this data, it is impossible to argue any case with accurate facts.  In other words, to flip it around, it is impossible to counter-argue that, for example, the RSC did indeed employ a British East Asian Actor between 1994 and 2012.  None of us were hired!  They won’t provide the name of any unknown BEA actor they might have hired!  It is in the past now and no use raking over it – but the point is: we do not have official statistics.   They didn’t hire a BEA actor!  But they can pretend they might have!    Not having any official data weakens our case.  We need this data going forward and you are the only one who can give it!

What  Equity needs, in order to be able to argue for fairness, is facts. We need therefore to have the presence of minorities actually quantified, in both on-stage roles but also back-stage roles and, crucially, audience.  Equity is pressing for this and is running a campaign which itself runs alongside an industry wide TV/Film initiative, The Diamond Project, which seeks to do the same.  BAFTA have even announced that unless you have a diverse cast and crew, you wont win any award!

We are getting there, but it is slow going.  And the last two projects mentioned don’t measure audience, which is important if you are in receipt of public money. Theatre companies like the RSC are in receipt of this money, yet they seem not to have thought about who comprises that public, especially not thinking about British East Asians much between 1994 and 2012!  Companies receiving public money need to better reflect the public paying for it, and this includes women, muslims, disabled, LGBT and BAME people.

My advice if you are wary of writing down your address or email is to ignore all the personal information the theatre company might want to get from you and give only the diversity information, which will help this fight.

The other advice I am happy to give is that theatre companies take this more seriously themselves.  In a world where the nature of identity is being constantly challenged, the theatre producers need to prioritise gathering accurate monitoring data  and not reproduce simplistic old-fashioned options that not a single of their own cast or Artistic Director could tick satisfactorily, aside from the “other” or “multiple ethnic background” boxes.  If that is your area of expertise, please collect better and more expertly nuanced categories.

Grade: B- could do better
Not the most helpful categories, especially for a British East Asian theatre company who supposedly has a nuanced view on British East Asian identity

equality vs Equity

Which outcome is fairer?
Simplistic, perhaps, but it makes a good point

 This picture shows why I argue for positive discrimination, as a casting policy the actor’s union Equity should be supporting – to redress the balance that everyone now accepts is true and has spawned Act For Change and Lenny Henry’s recent pronouncements etc.   But even better, it shows why those who are threatened by positive discrimination, ie those who are privileged and already see over the fence (in the case of actors, those white actors with a certain agent), always argue that positive discrimination isn’t true equality and therefore illegal.  It may well be illegal, but that doesn’t mean an actors’ trade union can’t stand for it in principle, as it could have done (but didn’t) when homosexuality was illegal.

I believe that Equity the union, by not promoting what they would call “positive discrimination for minorities”, is not doing its job nor serving its name honorably.  I believe this happens because the union is 98% white (or whatever stupidly high number it is) and the elected Council is 100% white.  Unless BAME members are elected to the Council this argument will never be made. Even if they are, it still isn’t certain to be made.  At the moment I have made it a few times in committee meetings and it has never even been listened to at Council level.

I was incredulous to read a Diversity Objectives memo from the BBC – dated the year 2000 – at a meeting yesterday , and we all realised the situation has not changed one iota in half a generation.  In the last 16 years,  Equity has done almost nothing to drive change in this area.  I think it should take a long hard look at itself and make sure that come 2032 it can look back with pride at how it helped manage to change the landscape.  This can only happen by listening to and adopting some new ideas – then leading the way, not retroactively following the crowd.

It is like the recent Iraq bombings getting little to no coverage in the press; no-one in the key positions in journalism at the moment prioritise this story, because they have post Brexit, Chilcot Inquiry and football (and tennis!) to report on.   But no one would deny it is massive story!  In this example at least it is getting reported, thanks to having a person in a senior position like Jeremy Bowen.  Equity doesn’t have this person. Unless someone of high status whose main issue is BAME representation is there making the arguments, then no one thinks to make them.   In the same way as people forget to make arguments for disabled and LGBT and all minorities – unless a specific representative is in the room.

Equity believes it has shielded itself from criticism in this regard by having a protected seat for a BAME Councillor – but the facts speak for themselves, no such argument has ever been made, Equity’s history on acting for ethnic minorities is embarrassingly bad (the current leaflet doing the rounds listing Equity’s achievement s in this area is false – a wholly fictionalised re-writing of what stands Equity took;  for instance on the Miss Saigon episode) and the current setup is simply not good enough to redress the imbalance, which in turn means Equity is not leading the way.

Polls for the new Equity  Council elections closed  last night and results will be forthcoming soon.  I hope BAME members took my advice in the previous post and voted (in most cases for the first time ever) for BAME reps on Council. My own private interactions with actors tells me that more BAME actors than ever are leaving the union and even less are inclined to join.

If I am elected, which I doubt given my absence from the preferred “list”,  I will argue again
for positive discrimination.  Even though it may be illegal technically, I do not understand why the Union would not campaign for targets that amount to the same thing, which are not legally binding, but exactly as Sky have set themselves, for example.

Equity the union does not seem very equitable.  The new President, whoever it turns out to be, could do a lot worse than to face this issue and make Equity for the first time pro-active in this area.

ps.  a friend of mine, who brought this meme to my attention, points out that politically, people have different ideas of what is fair, and your ideas on fairness are, more or less, the determining factor in what makes you right or left wing.   Some may even point out the meme overlooks the idea that the people in question have not paid for the spectacle they are watching, which may not be ideal as a meme for actors’ politics!

UPDATE!  The results are in and it appears that me and my colleagues on the MEM committee, Daniel York and Somi de Souza did not get enough votes to get on to the general Council seats – but three other BAME actors did!  Congratulations to them!  Equity’s Council has gone from 3% BAME including the protected seat to 12%, which is far more representative – which alone was what I was campaigning for anyway!

A big thank you to the 600+ that did vote for me.

A poor turn out (as usual) from Equity’s 40,000+ members meant that the President was elected with only 2,300 votes!  That is 5.5% of the membership!  And some people have the gall to argue that the Tories do not have a democratic mandate!

Ab-Fab. Yellowface and Comedy.

I am pleased that Margaret Cho has taken the heat on this Yellowface thing with AbFab the film. I like her and she has brought the term to a wider audience in UK, who have never heard or thought of such things. Raising the idea that this kind of casting is out of order in a big publicity wave is a great warning shot across the bows for others contemplating it.

Margaret Cho
The brilliant Margaret Cho – I hired her brother Hahn in his first acting job after drama school!

I do, however, think that the role needs to be seen in context before people kick off. Jennifer Saunders (with Dawn French) has been consistently the funniest woman in Britain for 3 decades and never at the expense of minority groups. It would be incredible if she were to slip up now – especially at the expense of East Asians, the most historically under-represented ethnic minority group in Britain.

I went up for Mrs Brown’s Boys-D’ Movie and it was for a Chinese role that was so racist, that I had to mention it at the audition. The dialogue was all, “me no likee” etc.  The casting director told me that it wasn’t meant to be racist, and that it must have only come across like that when reading it because Brendan the writer was dyslexic! We were talking at cross purposes, and my speaking up scuppered my chances of being seen again by this woman … but my warnings must have been heeded because they re-wrote the part to become a white guy who thought he was Chinese for some reason; a clever device, which avoided criticism of racism (and one fewer part for a Chinese actor! Doh!).  It would be incredible that Mrs Brown’s Boys would take steps to avoid being insulting to East Asians and yet Jennifer Saunders would not.

Ab Fab
Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley

I believe it is possible, given Margaret Cho and anyone else complaining has not read the script nor seen the scenes, that Ab Fab’s casting may be similar to that which Mrs Brown’s Boys eventually settled upon.   Or it may be Sacha Baron Cohen-like, which would be 1. funny and 2. not racist, but satirising racism and racism towards East-Asians itself. It could be, for example, that Krankie’s character is not Japanese at all, but that people think she is because she has a stupid fake name.  It then would be a joke on Patsy and Edina for falling for faux-orientalism from an obvious fraudster.

The point is: that casting blackface or yellowface in comedy in itself is not racist, which is what Margaret Cho assumes here.  The best recent example of where it is not is Robert Downey Jr in Tropic Thunder.   This is not racist because the joke is on Downey Jr’s character, who is so up himself that he doesn’t realise how offensive he is being by blacking up.

This is why I have advised Equity to wait before wading in, taking a stance on this film and embarrassing itself.  Equity is now waiting to hear from the film’s producers, which response will be enlightening.

If anyone has earned our comedy trust, it is Jennifer Saunders.  If she lets us down, then it is another matter and I will be at the forefront of giving it both barrels here and via Equity.  Let us wait and see and let Margaret take it in the meantime.

Chinese Elvis’ Great Wall (of shame)


“If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything”, said some idiot.

I disagree.  Especially when it comes in the context of 2015 Britain, where increasing numbers of customers and consumers are being ripped off by companies, who worry more about their public image and less on service and quality.

It makes sense, when everything else fails, to hit them where they like it least – in a public forum, and if you can do this in a mocking way it is even more satisfactory.

I learned this with the company, AA Warranties, a car warranty firm who failed to actually pay up when I made a claim.  It was only after an intervention by Paul Gosling’s newspaper column, A Question of Cash in  The Independent, that I got what was rightfully owed – my claim for repairs paid.  It took a full page headline in a national newspaper for them to call me up and honour what was already paid and agreed for.

I was happy with the outcome but I realised it had come to something when one has to rely on a consumer column, (or BBC’s Watchdog) to get what you deserve – and that many other people would be in a similar if not worse position, especially many elderly people.

It is for this reason, that I am resurrecting an item from my 2008 Chinese Elvis Edinburgh Festival show.  This item had to be abandoned without proper road testing in 2008, because my venue, Surgeon’s Hall, could not provide full internet access, despite it being on the venue spec sheet.  This item was to go hand in hand with the Chinese Elvis Great Wall of Fame, which was reserved for glorifying British Beijing Olympic heroics, and was called:

THE CHINESE ELVIS GREAT WALL OF SHAMEGreat Wall

This Wall is to be a whole page on the main website, where ChineseElvis simply openly mocks companies who have given him or his friends/ fans bad service.  It could be popular.  It may just sit there in a corner of the internet, unvisited.  But it will at least be satisfying and a blow for the little person.  Not to mention, you will be surprised how many hits my website gets.

If you have a candidate for the Great Wall of Shame, please send me details and supporting evidence.  A list will be compiled.  It will be posted on the wall.  The Wall of Shame.   Shame on those on it.

First up, is potentially going to be a boiler company, who installed a brand new boiler in my partner’s house exactly three years ago, and which has broken down 5 times already.  Not only did she pay for the installation, but she has had to pay for all the repairs in the form of a service contract, payable monthly!  Now that is the kind of thing the Great Wall of Shame is designed for.  If you have anything similar, let me know by emailing me at wallofshame@chineseelvis.com

Xmas meal and party, Central London

If you like the idea of Chinese food in a very nice Chinese restaurant, 1 minute’s walk from Baker St tube  – and to have that food served with loads of booze while being entertained by Chinese Elvis, with the options of 1. dancing and 2.singing (aka shouting) – then you are at the right place!

What I need to spell out here is that the £34.80 Set Menu is not compulsory.  It is a nice set menu, but as long as you spend a certain amount of money (they might tell you how much when you book) which can be on booze, then you can order from the a la carte and probably get away with the cheapskate option of prawn crackers and a chicken fried rice for two and a half bottle of Moutai!

Publicity Flyer, Dec 2015
Details of the Xmas gig at the Phoenix Palace Restaurant.

The restaurant and all its plushness can be examined at www.phoenixpalace.co.uk  Owners Raymond and Angela and the top staff, headed by Jimmy will ensure that your evening will be memorable and the food and hospitality top notch.  I will make sure you have a laugh and a good singalong.  It sounds easy – which it isn’t – but it is a simple idea and works every time!  Looking forward to seeing you there.

 

 

Best to stay quiet sometimes

As a fearless supporter of equal rights for East Asian actors and an advocate of positive representation, I was presented with a dilemma the other day:  I turned up to provide the entertainment at a 20th wedding anniversary affair for a lovely (white) couple somewhere in a rural location.

It transpired that I had been hired because the 20th anniversary is “china” – as in the material (cf: gold, silver etc..) and the hosts had decided that the theme would be China – the country – hence Chinese Elvis!  The place, a social club hired privately for this event, had been decorated with chinoiserie and guests had been encouraged to wear costumes in keeping with the theme, most of whom did so very enthusiastically.  And the topper was that the local Chinese takeaway had been given a humungous order to cater the event, which when it arrived filled two trestle tables.

The party went extremely well and the host even texted me the next day to tell me he “could not have been happier”.

I was happy to get this text and was not surprised.  I had been in quite good voice (the teenage audio technician made me sound, to my surprise, more or less OK) and the guests had all been dancing and singing along, eating and drinking happily –  and it seemed like a jolly great party.

Job done!

However, if any photos emerge of this event, they might cause some brow-furrowing.   People might ask themselves,  “Who are those white women wearing cheongsams?  Why is that guy wearing a Fu-Manchu moustache ? Why is Chinese Elvis posing with a white guy in a sumo suit?  And isn’t a samurai sword Japanese?.”

In their zeal to go to town on the theme, everyone had been to their fancy dress place and ordered a “Chinese” costume.  These included in some cases, Fu-Manchu moustaches, goatee beards, queues, robes with big sleeves, not to mention Emperor hats, long fingernails, and kamikaze headbands.  The “Chinese” costumes on show also extended to Samurai swordsmen, Sumo wrestlers and Karate outfits, as a tribute to the Chinese occupation of Manchuria, I imagine.  Though it is possible it was because the shop had run out of Chinese costumes and Japanese was close enough!

As the only one with a mic, I could have easily mocked them for this casual racism and taught them a lesson using the tools of wit and humour.   Made the whole thing awkward.  They would think twice before doing that again.  A lesson learned.  Racial & cultural ignorance lessened by a small degree.

I reasoned, though, that it would be the wrong way to go.  Crucially, perhaps, no one had worn make-up or done anything to their eyes.

It was not meant disrespectfully to Chinese people or culture.  In fact they could not have been more respectful to me personally.  They were just doing their best to have a good time.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Leeds in the early 90s returning from the bar with a round of drinks clasped in my hands.  I was gently pushing my way through to my group’s table when the guy I was pushing past, moved out of the way, saying, “Sorry mate!  I don’t want you to give me a kung-fu chop”.   My friends, sat at the table, were outraged and said they would say something to this guy on my behalf – they  kind of knew him from drinking here, as it was their local I was visiting.  I said to not worry about it, because I knew: 1. It was not meant maliciously 2. Now was not the time. 3. There was no offence taken. 4. The only possible outcome by calling them on their inadvertent racism is to make things worse with no one learning anything positive.

The same applied to this anniversary party.

Not that I advocate this in the majority of cases.  In fact, I can’t think of another case in the 25 years between these incidents, in which I have remained silent.

Sometimes it is better to pick your battles.