All of a sudden everyone wants to get their kit off. Now, why is it that?


All week people have been coming up to me and congratulating me on my column last Saturday, saying how good it was, how packed it was with ideas.

All week people have been coming up to me and congratulating me on my column last Saturday, saying how good it was, how packed it was with ideas.

What a disaster! I've obviously made a terrible mistake!

The aim of a columnist is to take a single idea and stretch it like a piece of clingfilm till it covers their allotted space in the newspaper with an airless vacuum. I now realise I was ridiculously profligate on the previous Saturday. I put this down to me being out of practice: as I mentioned last week, I have not had a column for some time.

For example, I could have got a lot more mileage out of the Blair as a drug dealer thing and I positively threw away the "what does Britain manufacture these days?" thing, and I could have spread the Government's brainless backing of animal experimentation bit out like a thin-crust pizza.

Well, no more Mister Profligate Guy: you might as well turn to the rest of the review section now, for all the fun you're going to get out of me this week!

What I thought I'd do is just tell you what I'm up to over the next few months. The big thing I'm doing is that towards the end of February I am embarking on a mini-tour of small arts centres and little theatres, in small towns, giving readings from my short stories and then answering brief questions from the tiny audiences. It should be a very enjoyable experience for me, being like stand-up comedy but without the nerves or the aggression.

When I go to these small towns, one of the questions I am most often asked, apart from "Oi, you! What are you doing in my garden at this time of night, with that chicken?" is "Alexei, what current British comedy is there on TV that you like?". To which I usually reply, "none". The reason for this is that I am generally still too jealous of other writers and comedians to watch any domestic output, since I see them all as competition.

For example, I've only just been able to watch the first series of Monty Python's Flying Circus from 1969, and I have to say that I think it's quite good really, isn't it? Though I do reckon that they've pinched quite a few of my gags.

However, recently I have been feeling that it is time to release myself from this comedic purdah, since I now consider myself no longer one of the great comedians of the world, but instead one of the great short story writers of the world, which means I'm only in competition with a load of dead Russian guys.

So I've been forcing myself to watch some British TV comedy, especially sketch shows. I like Smack the Pony, and that League of Gentlemen isn't bad. Also, there's a reasonably competent, quite old-fashioned sketch show that's on Channel 4 at the moment called the Armstrong and Miller Show, which I also enjoy.

The thing I've noticed most about this show, apart from the fact that the two men are both engaging performers, is that Ben and Xander, as I believe we call them in showbiz circles, really, really, really like taking their clothes off on camera.

There is a running sketch every week about naked vets called "Nude Practice". The video bumper into the advertising break features the two men naked, apart from some paint, and they also take every other opportunity to get their kit off. I don't know why they do this. Either it gives them a kick or they feel nudity is a taboo which, when broken, still gives a cheap frisson of danger and nihilism.

Certainly it seems to me that male nudity has often been used in the recent past to try to lift a dull theatre play. In the last few years it has been almost impossible to go to the theatre without seeing some poor actor's shrivelled member, and often a visit to the theatre seems like a trip to a gay porn club (I'd imagine - obviously if I had more knowledge of this, I'd get a whole column out of it).

There are, of course, also actresses who seem to be keen to take their clothes off. I remember there was a single play on BBC2 starring Amanda Donohoe, in the early Nineties I think it was, whose subject matter was something like Wittgenstein's early thoughts on socks or double entry book-keeping procedures at the World Bank.

When I took a look at the viewing figures, I saw that this play achieved something like a record six million viewers (most of them male, I would think), because everybody knew that Amanda would get her shirt off in it - which, of course, she duly did.

I don't know whether people who like taking their clothes off in front of other people are drawn to acting, since this is a trade that obviously allows them to indulge their inclination, or whether there are those who are stuck in other professions who have this inclination, but are less able to express it.

At the European Council of Ministers, is there always one politician who says, "Hey, just for a laugh, why don't we have this meeting naked"? And are there Premier League footballers who get to the ground early to hide their team's strip and then say, "Well, it looks like we'll just have to play this Worthington Cup tie in the buff, I'm afraid"?

There, that's a nice column all about one thing. You can go to IKEA now with a quiet mind.

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