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Jo Brand Comedy Benefit

Liese Spencer on events

Ever wondered what it'd be like to be a super furry animal? Well, here's your chance to become a nuclear-charged guinea pig for the evening, as the Albany Theatre is transformed into a capsule of experimental theatre and space-age music. The concept for tomorrow's event came from the original biosphere 2, a nuclear protection pod in the Arizona Desert which, following a stringent selection process, became home to seven American government guinea pigs. Sealed up for two years in this supposedly perfect world, the secret seven went slowly bonkers, contaminating their controlled environment with messy affairs and sneaking out for illicit hamburgers when the FBI wasn't looking.

Pick of the Week: Memorabilia

Rock archivists and film fetishists can inch closer to their idols today when a job lot of star junk goes under the hammer. Monroe's sunglasses, Hendrix's Afghan jacket (left) and a harmonica played by Bob Dylan are all up for grabs.

James Rampton on comedy

Mark Steel's new book of stories from the comedy circuit goes by the curious title of It's Not a Runner Bean. The author (below) explains: "It was 1987 and I was doing a dreadful corporate gig. It was a fortnight after the Tories had won the election, and everyone there was 25 years old. They were all wearing bow-ties and drunk. They were celebrating getting a contract, but I didn't know what for. Huge piles of food on tables were being tipped over and chocolate mousse was being poured down girls' bras - absolute decadence. I went on and tried to maintain my dignity, but it went dreadfully. Then one bloke came up and threw a runner bean at me. I lost it a bit and said to him, 'That's why people like you are hugely rich and nurses are paid nothing, because you enjoy throwing runner beans at people'. He replied, 'It's not a runner bean, it's a mange tout.' I later found out that they'd won a contract to design a crisp packet - you'd be hard-pushed to find anything more worthless. That was one of the things that gave me the idea for this book. I thought it was a brilliant way of seeing what state the country's in. The comedy circuit is a marvellous microscope on the way things are."

James Rampton on comedy

He may have once been touted as the spokesman for the alternative generation, the man in the vanguard of a whole "Thatch out!" comedy movement. But now Ben Elton (below) is as traditionalist as they come. He has said that his sitcom, The Thin Blue Line, currently being repeated on BBC1, is structured along the lines of Dad's Army, and you can see what he's getting at in the timeless gags shared out among the ensemble cast. Inspector Fowler (Rowan Atkinson) is the slightly laughable commander in the mould of Captain Mainwaring, PC Goody (James Dreyfus) is the incompetent youngster resembling Private Pike, and DI Grim (David Haig) is the antagonistic rival in the style of ARP Warden Hodges. You couldn't get more classic role-models for a sitcom.

David Benedict on theatre

Should you fancy writing a play and calling it The Mousetrap, Hamlet, A Streetcar Named Desire or even Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, no one, not even the literary agents who work so ceaselessly on behalf of their illustrious (dead) clients, can stop you. Why? Because there is no copyright on titles. This accounts for Pentecost which, in addition to being the feast in celebration of the visitation of the Holy Spirit among the Apostles in the upper room, was the much-praised play by David Edgar. Ah yes, but six years earlier it was also the penultimate work by the late Stewart Parker.

Iain Gale on exhibitions

In these days of prohibitive insurance costs and London blockbuster exhibitions, it is rare for a provincial art gallery to secure the loan of an important collection of paintings. The Graves Art Gallery Sheffield has managed just this, with a show of French paintings from the Le Havre Museum and Art Gallery, of the quality we would normally expect to see at the Royal Academy.

Gimme shelter

In deepest Essex woodland lies a hole in the ground. Inside are cardboard coffins and replica tins of condensed food. Anthony Clavane plays at post-holocaust tourism

Olivia Gwyn-Jones on clubs

The Back to Basics provenance is familiar to serious clubbers. Their hallmark of high-quality, hard-edged house and hedonism has made The Pleasure Rooms a descriptive title for their Leeds base.

Angela Lewis on pop

Tortoise, Chicago's much adored avant-garde, dub-jazz tunesmiths, never stand still. Persistence is their style, whether undertaking another tour of Europe or America, or releasing new remixes of tracks from their venerated album, Millions Now Living Will Never Die. They like being on the move, and constantly changing. "With a band like Tortoise, the interaction between members of the group from show to show can be completely different," enthuses one of Tortoise's many multi-instrumentalists John Herndon, talking about their current European tour. "After three months on the road, the songs can be completely different."

Film of the week: Stealing Beauty

Alarm bells were sounded at the reports of Adrian Lyne filming a new version of Lolita and Bernardo Bertolucci settling upon teenage Liv Tyler as his new muse. We can't speak for Lyne yet, but Bertolucci is on best behaviour with Stealing Beauty (right), treating Tyler with reverence and relish. There's a plot of sorts - Tyler arrives at the Tuscan home of some ex-pat friends - but the most satisfying thing about the film is its spontaneity, crisp humour, and the graceful but impetuous photography.

Ryan Gilbey on film

As if you hadn't guessed already, it's now official. Independence Day has repeated its Stateside success over here and has notched up the UK's biggest weekend opening ever. You want the facts? pounds 6,824,163, including previews, in 434 cinemas. That's 40 per cent up on Jurassic Park's record (pounds 4,875,137). And way ahead of Batman Forever (pounds 4,714,153) and Mission: Impossible (pounds 4,161,780). And there are probably a million other records just waiting to be compiled for that forthcoming gold-embossed video boxed set with matching Independence Day mouthwash and flossing set. Aren't you just thrilled to bits? Mike Archibald, the chief booker for Odeon Cinemas UK, certainly is. "The figures speak for themselves," he says in a press release, "queues all around the cinemas, this is the blockbuster of the decade." And Bill Weir, the manager of the Odeon Leicester Square is equally chuffed: "These are the longest queues I have seen in the West End, with people camping out for tickets for the opening day."

Site unseen: Carnforth Railway Station, Lancashire

True romantics should look away immediately. Do not read this piece or let your eyes wander across to the photograph. Your hearts will surely break.

Poetic licence

A Gallup survey of 16-24 year-olds' knowledge of English history elicited some suprisingly creative answers...


William Hartston seeks a single European phrasebook
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