Comedy: You come for one thing, but you stay for another. Case in point: you may remember that in January, our Simian Substitute Site was Probably Science, a scientific podcast with a healthy dose of humour attached. I was initially drawn to it by Matt Kirshen, who I remembered from his days on the London comedy circuit before he ran off to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. But after listening to a few episodes, it became apparent that his co-hosts Jesse Case and Andy Wood were equally hilarious. This made it all the more alarming when a couple of months ago, Matt and Andy recorded a special episode to announce that Jesse would have to leave the podcast for an unspecified period, as he'd just been diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Case himself reacted to this diagnosis in an extraordinary fashion: he decided that he'd start a podcast of his own about it. The idea of a podcast entitled Jesse Vs Cancer may seem a bit dodgy to you, but that's because you don't know Jesse Case, who brings the same skills to the table as he did for Probably Science. His broad interest in scientific matters - not to mention a family with a medical background - means he can talk knowledgeably about what's happening to him and the ins and outs of his treatment programme. At the same time, he's also kept his Bible-black sense of humour, frequently taking the conversation into areas where you wouldn't expect. In one glorious passage, he describes the drugs he's on, and complains that a medicine's side effects shouldn't be more common than its main effects: as he sees it, he's on a hair-destroying medication that might, as a side effect, cure cancer. It's an emotional rollercoaster of a listen - Case isn't afraid to frequently remind you that he's talking about a terminal illness - but absolutely a life-affirming one.
Music: I seem to have a system in place for these Spotify playlists now. Throughout the month, if a song comes up somewhere that takes my fancy, or just pops up in my memory again after years dormant, then I'll log into Spotify and add it to my own personal list of tracks. At the end of the month, I round it up or down to a selection of ten as appropriate, arrange it into a suitable sequence, and publish it here. So that's how this list of tunes for August came about. The first two are basically the extension of a gag I occasionally taunt The Belated Birthday Girl with, first aired in public here.
Theatre: Like I said: you come for one thing, you stay for another. An earlier example of that would have been round about 2006, when The Belated Birthday Girl was using imported DVDs as a way of keeping track of what the various cast members of Buffy The Vampire Slayer were doing following the conclusion of the show. This is why she owns a DVD of Kitchen Confidential, a short-lived sitcom based on Anthony Bourdain's tales of his early life as a chef - Nicholas 'Xander' Brendon had a secondary role in the cast. Meanwhile, it wasn't hard to notice that the leading actor effectively playing Bourdain was pretty good himself. That, I think, was the first place where we saw Bradley Cooper. Ten years and several blockbusting movies later, he's a big enough draw in his own right to sell out an entire West End run playing The Elephant Man. Most people know the story from David Lynch's 1980 film, but Bernard Pomerance's play actually pre-dates it by three years. The big draw of the theatrical version is that it doesn't rely on the make-up effects that transformed John Hurt into John Merrick - instead, in a show-stopping early scene, we see the normal-looking Cooper in his pants transforming himself, contortion by contortion, into the freak that outraged and then charmed Victorian society. It's a big ask for an actor, and Cooper proves completely up to the job. As for the play itself, it's got a lot more humour and a lot less flat-out sentimentality than the film, making it a very different experience. In a move which more London theatres could do with emulating, a batch of seats in the gallery were released just before the opening night for a mere £12, and that's how we saw it. Some of the cast lost out as a result of our distance from the stage - Alessandro Nivola's Dr. Treves, in particular, was inaudible around half of the time - but when you've paid an amount that would get you about 1/16th of a top price seat for The Book Of Mormon, you can't really argue.