Category Archives: Culture

450. Comments & Questions

In this episode I’m going to go through some questions from the comment section and give a bit of news. There will be some grammar, some vocab, some reactions to recent episodes and some bits relating to how you can continue to push your English with this podcast.

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Episode notes

The comment section is buzzing with chat. Photos are being shared of people’s running routes and shots of gorgeous spring flowers and blossoms in full bloom. A listener called Sylvia is doing an illustration for every single episode and posting it in the comment section. Regular commenters are having some long and funny conversations – they’re very friendly and like a laugh so get stuck into the comment section and see what all the fuss is about.

The usual commenters are: Cat, Nick, Jack, Agnes, Marta, Antonio, Eri, Hiro, Euoamo, Sylvia, Jilmani, Mayumi, Ethan, Syntropy and more people I have probably forgotten about!

Cat is the top commenter with a total of 2795 COMMENTS
Nick is in 2nd place with 1851 COMMENTS
Jack is in 3rd place with 963 COMMENTS

David Crystal

Bit of news: I’ll be interviewing Prof. David Crystal on the podcast soon.

David Crystal is the foremost writer and lecturer on the English language, with a worldwide reputation and over 100 books to his name. He is honorary professor of linguistics at the University of Wales, Bangor, and in 1995 was awarded the OBE for services to the English language.

I met him in 2012 when he gave me an award (with Andy Johnson). He’s really nice and I’ve always wanted to have him on the podcast.

And I am interviewing him soon, which is a serious treat.

This is the guy who knows everything there is to know about language and I’m going to interview him.

Honestly, I have millions of questions I could ask him, and I could easily fill up several episodes with him just asking all the questions in my head.

But I’d also like to give you a chance to ask a few questions. So leave your questions for David Crystal in the comment section. I can’t guarantee I’ll ask him all of them, but if there are some particularly good ones I’ll ask them.

Otherwise, I might be able to answer some of the questions myself.

Recent Comments on the Website

Here are some comments which arrived recently.

Cat – in reply to the British Humour episode
Hi Luke and Amber, thanks for your lovely chat! It was a most enjoyable and also educational episode.
I’ve got two questions:
1. You mentioned “NHS” (?) as something that each Brit is proud of. What is it exactly?
2. During the dissection of the Hugh Grant’s quote you said that he was “public school”. What does it mean?
Thanks for explanations!

IMG_4148Oil painting by Sasha Sokolova

Thanks for the oil painting!www.sashasokolova.com

 

JAPANESE LEPSTER GIFT VIDEO ~ I need to do this!

Paul
Congratulations, teacher Luke, for the podium! Great job and another great podcast, thanks!
“It’s time for me to leave Audioboom.com” = LUKEXIT!!!!!

Amber’s podcast – Paname – it’s not available yet, but soon!

Orion Transcription Team

Just a reminder about the Orion transcription team – they continue to produce transcripts, mainly under the management of Antonio from Spain, and they are always on the lookout for new recruits. Antonio regularly posts messages in the comment section saying “Episode blah blah is now available for transcription” and with a google link. E.g. the latest one is episode 444. The Rick Thompson Report.

Remember, it can be really good for your English so check it out! Transcribe just 3 or 5 minutes. It doesn’t have to be a massive commitment. If you do it regularly you’ll see that it allows you to focus your attention on what you’re hearing and you’ll be surprised at how much that focus allows you to examine the language up close. You could also try repeating out loud some of the things you’re hearing as you transcribe, that could be a good way to convert the process into a speaking exercise.

Turning Input into Intake

Here’s some vaguely academic stuff about Turning input into intake to increase your language acquisition. There’s language input, and there’s language acquisition. Between those two things, there’s intake. Intake is the stuff we really learn from.

This from the University of Austin Texas
The term “input” referred to all the exposure to a foreign language that is around us. However, as years went on, researchers realized that input was not enough. If the learners were not noticing or concentrating on the incoming flow of language, comprehension would be limited. So today, researchers in second language acquisition commonly make a distinction between input and intake. Simply put, input is all the written and spoken target language that a learner encounters, whether it is fully comprehended or not. Intake is limited to the comprehended input that impacts the learner’s developing linguistic system. For our purposes, we suggest that technology provides ways to increase the foreign language input that learners are exposed to and enhances the process of how input is converted into intake.

Without getting too fancy, let’s say that to really learn from the things you hear you need to convert what you’re hearing from input into intake.

This means listening to content which is comprehensible – i.e. basically understandable even though there may be some things you don’t get. A mix of things you already know (this is your foundation that allows you to work out the bits you don’t know) and some things you don’t know or don’t understand.

It also means sometimes really focusing and giving all your attention to certain bits of what you’re hearing. Some things might kind of pass you by a bit, but it’s important while you listen to be sort of emotionally involved in it and to interact with it while listening – to really think and feel in response to what you’re hearing. Apparently this helps turn input into intake.

Transcribing pushes this to the max. It forces you to turn everything from mere input into intake – which is the good stuff. I think it’s backed up by not just academic research but by the experiences of transcribers. It helps push your English, and remember you can just do a short chunk, you don’t have to do a whole episode, that’s crazy!

In summary – focusing all your attention on 3-5 minutes of an episode can really help turn input into intake and can maximise your learning potential with this podcast, or any audio resource.

Yuko – language question “shall”
Dear Luke, my name is Yuko. I have been a ninja listener of your pod cast for a long time, and I am originally from Japan, which makes my ninja status more authentic, doesn’t it? I am living in New York, but really fond of British English.
I have a question. When it comes to the usage of ‘shall’, it is rarely used here except for those two occasions: to suggest something, for example, “shall I do this for you?”, and to use following “Let’s”‘ for example, “let’s go, shall we”. Back in Japan, I learned that shall is also used interchangeably with will for describing the things or action in the future, but, here, all American friends said that shall is never used in daily life except for the examples above, and that if I used shall instead will, it would sound quite archaic.
However, I have a sense that sometimes I catch “shall” as description of future in bbc or British dramas even in modern setting. Would you mind telling the use of “shall” in today’s British English? Thank you very much. I always enjoy and admire your witty, and sophisticated subjects, not to mention it was quite honoring that you chose my country as the destination of your latest trip. I hope all is well and both of you and your wife have enjoyed it.

Yuko, all the right info is in your question.
You’re just not sure about it and you need confirmation.
OK then!
Shall – for suggestions (shall I? Shall we?) – after Let’s…
Shall for future (like ‘will’ – yes, old-fashioned and a bit posh, but some people still do it, like my Mum “I shan’t be coming to the cinema.” or “I expect I shall be exhausted by the end of the day!”
Also in contracts for obligations
That’s it!

Agnes – Sport
I’m just curious whether Luke is taking some exercise or not, he looks sporty and I suppose that he does some sport activities:-)) I usually jog before going work, early morning – the best time for burning calories.

Anna Mrozek
I had an English class today and my classmate asked me “how the hell do you know all these words?!”, so…
Thank you Luke, because you deserve the credit for that. :)

Leonid
Hi there everyone! Does someone know the accurate meaning of the phrase “to be on E”? Thanks in advance!

Great comment from Cat
Just keep listening to Luke’s English Podcast. And try to listen to episodes more than once. It is on the second listen that we start to notice the language consciously and start learning. After some time, you can listen to the episode for the third time. And there you will see how much you have learned in the meanwhile. Do it with your favourite episodes. And try to listen to OPPs as well. And use the same technique. It’s very effective. Also listening during a physical exercise speeds up the learning process. Because your brain is working at 5x of it’s performance capability. So use such shortcuts, especially if you are a bit lazy like I am! ;))

I would add that you can also do some transcribing, or check out previously written transcriptions – either the unproofread ones in google docs, or episodes with published scripts. That can help you notice language too.

Film Club: Touching the Void

Hope you enjoyed the “Touching the Void” episodes. I have had a few comments indicating that it moved a few people. but my stats show the episode hasn’t been listened to as much as normal episodes.

I often worry about uploading too much, but there’s always someone who says “we want more!”
I recorded an episode about Alien Covenant the other day. It’s about an hour of rambling about the Alien franchise. I’m a bit wary of uploading it straight away because it would be 3 film club episodes in a row and this isn’t strictly a film podcast. I probably shouldn’t think about it all that much.

But I’ve been quite productive lately and I have some episodes in the pipeline – Alien, 2 Amber & Paul episodes, one about music and culture with James.

Anyway, going back to Touching the Void, I’m glad to see those of you who have listened to it seemed to enjoy it.

Agnes
Have been listening to this story based on facts for the second time today I felt an incredible chill down my back and my hair stood up on both of my hands.
Luke, telling us this story, you made me be there, with them, I saw this horribly broken leg, I saw as Joe dropped down, I saw everything, even though I haven’t watched the documentary yet.
just thank you

Ethanwlee
One step at a time – this is my biggest takeaway from this episode. At the end of the day, that’s the mantra that keeps us going, staying focused. This story leaves me lots of food for thought. Thanks Luke!

Jilmani
Thank you so much Luke! It’s an amazing episode I can’t express how amazing it is. I want to tell you my personal story about climbing. My parents are both climbers and they had a club for climbers. They worked there a lot to train and coach also they took a lot of people in trips for camping. And I always went with them when I was a child. I liked climbing and adventurous trips more than anything else. I had always climbed and camped before I had an accident in 2014 in Lebanon. I was terribly injured and they expected that I’d die. Luckily I managed to survive. I needed a lot of eye surgeries because my cornea was damaged. Now I can’t climb at all not because I’m afraid of it, but my doctor prevented me. I got rid of all my pictures and anything that might remind me of climbing or my adventures. I haven’t climbed since that day, but I skydived a lot. Climbing always helped me to relax and forget about the troubles that we have in the Middle East. Also I’m a religious person it always made me feel happy and close to God. My doctor told me that I will be able to climb again when he removes the stitches. Thanks again Luke. I’ll watch the episode tonight luckily I have a Netflix subscription and I love documentaries a lot. Waiting for the next episode!

Luke: Be careful if you climb again! Be like me, just stay at home and watch other people do it on YouTube, it’s safer (except maybe I should do more exercise)

daav
Wow! Thank you, Luke! I really appreciate the topic you’ve chosen for a new episode. The film is pretty good and the book as well. I’ve got one in my bookcase. I have just little experience with high mountains because after my wedding I decided to bury my climbing gear to the very bottom of my wardrobe and since that day I’ve been “only” a hiker. But anyone, who has ever spent some time in the mountains without any support, just with a climbing mate on the other end of the rope, an ice axe in hands and a pair of crampons knows, that the fact Joe Simpson survived the Siula Grande ordeal is a …. real miracle, nothing else than a real miracle…
If someone wants to buy a book I recommend Bookdepository instead of Amazon. They offer free worldwide delivery which is a real bargain in my opinion. I buy books from them regularly (from The Czech Rep.) and it works well.

Cat
Daav, but why did you put away your climbing gear?! It’s like giving up on a part of your true self. Can you be happy with that for long?

daav
Hi Cat. At first I must admit I was never a climbing machine. I used to climb few times a year. Let’s say just few weekends and one or two trips to the Tatra Mountains or to the Alps. So it wasn’t so difficult to give up. In the Czech Rep. climbing is very popular and there are many people who spend every possible moment climbing a piece of rock in their surrounding area. So I can’t say I was a climber. I usually say that I have done some climbing :c) One day I considered that my wife meant a lot more to me than climbing. She had never asked me to stop climbing. She had even climbed with me once. But any time I had packed my climbing gear I had seen the same wish in her eyes – please, stay alive. During my last climbing trip I had a minor accident I have never told my wife about. Fortunately nothing comparable to Joe and Simon :c) But I realized that I was being very selfish. I enjoyed it, I liked it, but my parents and other people who truly love me were frightened to death every time I left them with a rope in my bag. Now I know that it wasn’t the climbing that I liked. It was mainly a peaceful and calm space around me. It was the fact I can leave all my daily routine behind me. Now i know it’s not adrenalin that I need. It’s just some kind of feeling I am alone, just on my own in some remote area. So today, long distance hiking is an activity that gives me everything I need. I just pack my rucksack, a tent, a fuel stove, some food, maps and a compass and I just walk. It’s different to climbing. It’s definitely not so dangerous. However it provides me the same pleasure. Unfortunately the Alps are full of people and there are so many huts. But some parts of the Pyrenees are amazing, the western part of Ukraine as well and the Andes are a dream for any hiker. I have many dreams, CDT in USA is one of them as well as many others around the world. The only disadvantage of long distance walking is that it’s very time-consuming compared to climbing. Are you a climber Cat?

Cat
Daav, if I were Luke, I would read your comment out in the next episode. It is deeply felt and full of love. :)

daav
Thank you Cat. But I’ve noticed that some people don’t like long episodes. And my comment is so long that Luke would have to record an extra episode just to read it out :c)

Success story from Erick in Brazil
Hello Luke,
This is Erick from Brazil.
Today when I was listening to your #429 podcast while running, I felt encouraged to share my listening experience with you.
I have been listening to you for about 1,5 years usually when I go running, so you have been my partner twice or three times a week. Strange, but I feel as if I have known you for a long time…
I actually think your podcast is more than just a teaching one, but it is more like a variety show with news, entertainment, fun stuff, etc. I really enjoy your ‘long talks’ which can be just some information, funny talk or more deep issues which are very good for getting immersed into the English language.
It is gratifying to hear other points of view of the various subjects on the media agenda especially when you bring guests to your show, like your Father, Amber and Paul, etc.
Sometimes it can be very hard for me to understand, but I took your advice, I keep going, listening to some episodes more than once, trying to get as much as I can.
Now I can say that I broke through the language barrier and I can really understand and talk in English because of you! So, I just have to thank you for all the material that you provide for free and especially for your success in making your podcast so popular and genuine!
Cheers from Brazil,
Erick Takada

I didn’t share that just to remind you of how wonderful I am, but also to just remind you that if you find it difficult to follow everything you hear on this podcast that you should keep going and battle through the moments of difficulty and you’ll find that bit by bit you build your understanding.
I can’t understand how anyone could expect to learn English properly without listening to a lot of it. I think it’s vital.

Do me a favour!

If you know someone who might like this podcast, share it with them! Recommend it to that person. It’s a good way to spread the word.

Another thing you could do is to write a nice review on iTunes – that’s really good for the podcast because it helps things like algorithms and getting my podcast featured in the ‘recommended’ section on iTunes. Also it looks good when new people check it on iTunes, and it would just make me feel good and put a smile on my face, which ultimately will feed back into the podcast.

Subscribe to the mailing list.

Watch this space for news of a potential LEP app for your phone or tablet which could include some bonus app-only content!

447. What is this, British Humour? (with Amber Minogue)

What is British Humour? Is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style and culture? In this episode I go through the main points of my British Council Teacher Talk about British Humour. Amber and I discuss the definition of British humour, the way it works, how it’s different or similar to other humour in other places, and some examples of typical humour in the UK.

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Introduction

Last week I did a Teacher Talk at the British Council in Paris. Teacher Talks are when the BC invites guests to an event involving a talk on a specific topic and then drinks afterwards. All teachers are invited to talk at these events and this time I thought I’d have a go. The topic was completely up to me, so I chose to talk about British humour because it’s always something I’m thinking about and I thought it might also be a way to promote English language comedy in Paris.

The talk was sold out and went well. I was hoping to upload the recording of the talk here but it’s not good enough. It just sounds very echoey and muffled. Next time I will mic myself up properly. So I’m not going to play the recording, which is a big pity because there were some moments of interaction with the audience and some funny things. But it’s just not clear enough on the recording so I’m not publishing it. The room at the BC where we do these talks is a big high ceiling place with mirrors on the back wall and high windows and walls so the sound bounces around a lot.

Anyway, I’ve still got all the ideas in my head so I’m going to put them into this episode, recorded in the normal way. So, I went to Amber’s place and decided I’d discuss all the points in my talk with her, since I think she’s probably got some interesting things to say on the subject. We both have experiences of living in other countries and we both do stand up so we think about humour quite a lot.

So you’re going to hear us attempting to answer questions like: what is British humour, what’s it like?, is it funny? Does it even exist? How does it relate to our communication style? What does it say about us as a culture?

The main aim is just to describe and demystify humour in Britain. You’ll see that I don’t subscribe to the idea that British humour is somehow better than other forms of humour. In fact, in many ways it is very similar to humour in plenty of other places.

But as I describe it here, just think about whether this kind of behaviour is likely to be found in the culture or cultures that you know, and consider the role that humour plays in people’s daily lives where you are from. You might notice differences or similarities.

Let’s now go to Amber’s place and get to the bottom of this.


Main points covered:

British Humour doesn’t exist

OK, it does exist, but we don’t really use any different types of humour than anyone else. We don’t have a monopoly on humour or anything, but we do value it highly.

British Humour isn’t funny

It’s not always designed to make everyone laugh. Instead, humour is used in our interactions to avoid being too serious, keep things light and make you seem like a normal person.

Self-deprecation

This means making fun of yourself. It’s a bit of a crime to take yourself too seriously in the UK, so people make fun of themselves to show that they’re not above everyone else.

Understatement

This is where you make a strong statement sound less strong. E.g. “It’s raining outside is it?” “Yeah, just a bit”

Deadpan delivery

This is where humourous statements are delivered with a straight face, making it hard for some people to notice that a joke has happened.

Sarcasm/Irony

This is where you say one thing but you mean the opposite. It’s used for insults, for disappointments or to make fun of everything in general.

Innuendo

This is when one innocent statement can also mean something quite rude. Innuendo often happens by accident and other people say something to reveal the dirty second meaning.

E.g. “I like the taste of a cox” (apple)   … “I bet you do!”


Other things I didn’t cover

Puns

These are just word jokes. They work when one word means two things at the same time, connecting two previously unrelated ideas together in one statement. The brain explodes because one thing means two things at the same time.

They’re best when they are instant responses to something, rather than pre-planned jokes.

Here are some examples of pre-planned ones

How does Bob Marley like his donuts?
Wi’ jam in.

For more, check out my episodes about telling jokes in English.

Vocabulary
We have a wide variety of synonyms, homonyms which make it easy to say one thing that sounds like another, creating endless opportunities for word jokes (puns) and euphemisms.

Pisstaking
This means making fun of each other. We do this all the time.
Perhaps it’s because we’re incapable of expressing genuine emotions and we tend to avoid sincerity because it makes us feel uncomfortable, so we interact with our loved ones by teasing them, poking fun at them, mocking them and so on.

We’re emotionally crippled, basically.

E.g. I’ll always poke fun at my brother when I see him.
Like, oh my god what have you done to your hair?
Nice of you to have made an effort today.

Pisstaking has two functions:
To express affection
To knock someone down to size if they’re getting too big for their boots

You need to be able to take a joke in the UK. You’ve got to be able to both take a joke and dish it out when necessary.

If you can, you’re alright.

Surreal humour
Essentially surreal humour involves making fun of absolutely everything around you. It makes fun of existence itself. It means making absurd statements to highlight the absurdity in life. It’s about subverting boring reality. Maybe this is something to do with our weather (it’s dull, generally) or it’s a form of indirect anarchy or something.

Inappropriate humour
Although we use humour all the time, it’s worth noting that it can get you into trouble if you do it badly.
If you use self-deprecating humour, you have to be sure that everyone else gets it.
Be careful who/what is the target of your humour. It’s very politically incorrect to make jokes about certain groups in society – particularly groups that are lower status than you. So, these kinds of jokes are generally outlawed: ethnic jokes, sexist jokes. It’s very bad taste and old-fashioned and not cool at all.

Comedy

British comedy shows, the difference with American comedy, some recommended shows…

This is another episode for the future.

Thanks for listening to this episode. I look forward to reading your comments!

443. The Trip to Japan (Part 2)

Describing my recent trip to Japan and exploring the culture of the Land of the Rising Sun.

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*I’m just an English guy trying to understand Japanese culture. Please forgive me if I get anything wrong! :) ❤️ 🇯🇵

Food & Drink

It’s simply delicious and I don’t know why! What’s the secret, Japan? Why is your food so delicious?

Communication style & language (but I’m planning a whole other episode about English)
Location?
Saying “no”
Politeness
Constant sounds of “gozaimasu”
Heeeee, hoooooo etc
Certain words you always hear and could use: arigato gozaimasu (levels of politeness) doitashimashite, sumimasen, onegaishimasu, nama biru no futatsu onegaishimasu, kawaii, sugoi, gaijin, chotto, dekimasu, desu, desu ka, hai, so desu ka, ne, so desu ne.

Weird and scary things that people don’t often talk about
Natural disasters
North Korea
Some weird sexual stuff
No need to dwell on anything else. Every country has its dark side. I guess that it seems a bit more interesting in Japan because there’s so much emphasis on the cute, childish things. Also, because of the slightly ambiguous religion in Japan it makes you wonder where the moral lines are. A lot of that stuff seems a bit vague, probably because I come from a christian culture where morality is written down in the form of rules – very clear lines which we’re always aware of.

Godzilla
Before coming my brother was staying with me and we watched the new Godzilla film – not the Hollywood version directed by Gareth Edwards, but the recent Japanese one directed by Hideaki Anno, Shinji Higuchi.
Shin Godzilla

What does Godzilla mean? What does it tell us about Japanese culture?
He’s created by nuclear tests in the ocean. He kind of represents the consequences of nuclear testing on nature, or the destructive power of nuclear weapons in Japan, or simply the vast destructive power of nature. At one time or another Japan has been subject to massive levels of destruction from either natural disasters or nuclear weapons. The nuclear attacks are obvious of course – but there were also nuclear tests by the US army after WW2 in waters affecting Japanese fishermen etc. The metaphor of natural disasters is easy to see. The 2011 earthquake and tsunami which affected Fukushima’s nuclear power plant – lots of scenes of destruction similar to what you see in the films. Godzilla kind of represents all of that. It’s interesting that Godzilla has been accepted as a sort of mascot in Japan. They love Godzilla, and in fact he’s sort of a protector of Japan, which I see as them owning this destructive power and turning it into something positive and uniquely Japanese.

The film also portrays the government as very inefficient and unable to make decisions quickly. So many people at various levels of status – all asking for second and third opinions and approval from above before making a decision. Some say this is a comment about the way the government responded to the Fukushima situation – slow to react, a lack of transparency, an inability to make the right decision quickly enough.

Mystery
I don’t have all the answers about this place. There are a lot of mysteries. I think of all the sliding doors, the silence, the shadow, the ambiguity of the religious aspects of life, the weird things in Japanese cartoons that I just don’t understand, and simply wondering what Japanese people are really thinking behind their exterior which is hard to read, and the polite manners. Part of me believes there is just open space inside people, which is a kind of peaceful place where there’s no judgement, where there is no dogma, but there’s a kind of natural balance, like the space between rocks in a zen garden. But maybe I’m romanticising it just a little bit! I expect Japanese people are just as mysterious as the rest of us, because ultimately who does understand the secrets at the heart of the human soul?

Friendship
One thing I can say is cool – I have made friends with some Japanese people in a more sincere way than many others I have met, and I’ve had moving connections with Japanese people that I don’t tend to have with others. I don’t know why. My Japanese friend for example, he said some moving things to me on my wedding day, and on the day I left Japan that seemed to come from some deep place of ancient Japanese wisdom. Yoda stuff, basically.

What did you do?

The basics of where we went and what we did.
Met by our friend, drove to Asakusa, sushi place. Food, beer.
Kamakura – drive – Tokyo skyline etc. Back in Kamakura – “natsukashii” – ‘good old’ or ‘Wow, it feels amazing to be back!’. Cherry blossom in the hills. Time with Moto’s family. Dinner at Matchpoint.

Karaoke
What is special about Karaoke?
Perfect way to have a party. There are whole buildings devoted to it in Tokyo. There are girls in the street who are like karaoke room dealers. You speak to them, book a little room. Go to the building and usually there are loads of drunken salary men pouring out of it. You get into your room – somewhere on the 9F of a big building. They bring you beer and food, direct to the room. There’s a computer database with thousands of songs on it. They’ve got everything. Everyone becomes a performer with their favourite song. It doesn’t matter if you can’t sing, the machine helps you a bit. Some people are brilliant. Everyone comes out of themselves a bit. It’s just you and your friends. Favourite songs get everyone in the mood. Singing is amazing fun. The videos on the machine are hilarious too – totally nothing to do with the lyrics of the song. Usually it’s a couple of people on a date in a random city. Often the lyrics are completely wrong too. We sang a lot of British pop and rock. David Bowie, Oasis and Pulp. My Japanese friend dances like Jarvis Cocker and really gets into the performance. He’s a “plastic gallagher”.

A day in Kamakura – Daibutsu, Cherry blossom avenue, noodles for lunch. Hookokuji temple & bamboo forest. Car drive to Ishiiki beach in Hayama with views of Mt Fuji. Yakitori restaurant in the evening, then another dinner of Japanese barbecue after that! Taxi ride back to the guesthouse – pristine taxi, automatic door.

Travel to Kyoto on Shinkansen. Bento boxes. Arrive in Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital of Japan during many important periods and was also the base of Buddhism. Also there are plenty of Shinto temples there since it was such an important place. Impossible to see everything in just a couple of days. More yakitori that evening and a lovely stroll by the river in the dark.

Kyoto shrine day. Early start and then these temples: Ninna-ji (beautiful rock gardens and pools, plus tons of cherry blossom everywhere. Interesting buildings – It is the head temple of the Omuro School of the Shingon sect of Buddhism and was founded in 888 by the reigning emperor. Various interesting buildings including the Goten, the former residence of the head priest in the southwestern corner of the temple complex. Built in the style of an imperial palace, the graceful buildings are connected with each other by covered corridors, feature elegantly painted sliding doors (fusuma) and are surrounded by beautiful rock and pond gardens.
Then to Ryoanji Temple – with its amazing rock garden.
Then Kinkakuji – the golden temple.
Lunch at a convenience store – just rice balls!
Then across town to Ginkakuji – where there is an amazing sand garden with a kind of replica of Mt Fuji. It’s bizarre. Crowded.
Philosopher’s Walk – cherry blossom everywhere. Also crowded :(
Some shopping for Yukata – found a place selling second-hand yukata in perfect condition. One for me, one for the wife. Lovely patterns. Not too expensive. Met a friend from London, dinner. Matsusaka beef! Apparently it’s more tender because it comes from virgin cows. What, less trauma because the cow had never had sex? How does that work? I remember being distinctly more relaxed after sex (and not just immediately after) but perhaps for cows it’s more traumatic, anyway…
Hot bath at the guesthouse in the communal area. Far less “public” than my experience in Thailand.
Tiny room.

Next day – early start for Fushimi Inari Shrine, an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of red torii gates, which cover a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.

Fushimi Inari is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Foxes are thought to be Inari’s messengers, resulting in many fox statues across the shrine grounds. Fushimi Inari Shrine has ancient origins, predating the capital’s move to Kyoto in 794.

Basically there are these trails that go up to the top of a hill and most of the way is covered by these red gates. The red tori gates are common in the entrance to shrines and represent your movement from the normal world into the spirit world. They’re beautiful and this shrine with rows of thousands of red gates is stunning. The gates are donated by local businesses.

Then more walking around and some shopping for gifts and souvenirs. Shinkansen back to Shinagawa station – meet our friend again. Hotel in the Meguro area.
Gig that evening.

How was the comedy show in Tokyo?

I didn’t know what to expect.
No people, loads of people? Not sure.
Arrived, place was already totally packed. Got upstairs, room goes “huuuuuuu!” as I enter. People are going “luku? Luku? Heeeeee~!” Gasps etc.
Upstairs with other comics, introduce myself etc. We chat. People are surprised and going – can’t you stay? Let’s arrange other shows!
There’s a scene there but mostly for expats in English. This room was full of Japanese people (and a few others) and they’re all here for me!
I walk around upstairs trying to get myself ready, trying to decide what to do.
Audience is lovely, but I think they’re mainly waiting for me.
Apparently some people can’t get in the place. There are people in the stairs just listening.
I did about 45 minutes. Lovely audience of course. They’re lepsters. Interesting to see what worked and what didn’t work. The bits that didn’t work were some of the film references – e.g. Ratatouille, and surprisingly Taken
A lot of my routine is for a French audience. Taken is actually quite specific to a French crowd because the film is set in Paris.
Some bits the audience took on face value – like they took it as being true. E.g. some bits in my star wars routine about how my Dad is an evil strict overbearing tyrant like Darth Vader – not true, but just full of parallels about my life and Star Wars.
Especially the bits about Japan. I’ll play you some extracts later.
A few requests:
The jingle. The italki promo. Some impressions, Obama, Hobson’s Choice!
I wish I’d gone bye bye bye at the end!
Then after the show there was a massive queue of people who wanted to get my autograph. So bizarre.
Also, selfies, handshakes, talking to each person. Gifts.
It was actually an incredible experience meeting each person and hearing about how they listen to my podcast and how it obviously means a lot to them. I’m very glad to know that as always, because I put a lot into it myself.
It was bizarre – I was a celebrity for that evening, with people staring at me and taking my photo and stuff.

*This is where the episode ends, but feel free to read the rest of my notes which I didn’t read out*

Rest of the trip – in Tokyo. Hanging out in Meguro avenue, Daikanyama, Shibuya, Shinjuku. Shopping, sightseeing, eating tasty food. Taking photos. Just enjoying the sunshine.
Dinner at The New York Grill – where Lost In Translation was filmed.
Another day in the Ginza area – shopping for some more gifts like tableware and stuff from Muji which is my wife’s favourite shop. Driving around the imperial palace. Views of Tokyo tower – like The Eiffel Tower but sort of misshapen and not quite as beautiful but iconic in its own way. Went up the World Trade Centre for amazing views of the sunset. Everyone on a date.
Visited a couple of friends – including one at a super cool photography studio that allows you to take 3D photos.
Shabu shabu dinner in Shinjuku with Peter who I used to live with. He was featured in this episode actually (below)

203. The Flatmate from Japan

Visited Asakusa temple – one of the biggest in the Tokyo area and very crowded.
Airport and home! So quick!

Song

You Are Here by John Lennon
www.bananachords.co.za/john-lennon-chords-you-are-here

Photos & Video

Gets!

 

442. The Trip to Japan (Part 1)

Describing some thoughts about Japan after my recent visit. Exploring the culture and lifestyle in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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As you know I just came back from a little holiday in Japan that I had with my wife last week. We spent about 8 days there in total and I’m going to talk about it here because I thought you might like to know about the trip. You know, sometimes I do these episodes about travelling experiences that I’ve had and they seem to be quite popular. For example, I’ve done ones about going to India, Vietnam, Indonesia, New York, different parts of France, California and Thailand. In this episode (or these episodes) I’m going to do another one, this time it’s all about my recent trip to Japan from last week.

So, here’s another travel episode with a few stories, some descriptions of places, culture and experiences and other general ramblings about my reflections on the time spent in the land of the rising sun.

For the dedicated language learners and orion team transcribers, a lot of what I’m saying is written in the form of notes and I’ll put these notes on the page for this episode. So, you can read them and check any new words you hear, or if you’re transcribing this you can use my notes, copy them into your google doc and then just fill in the blanks – the bits where I improvise details and speak “off script” which I will probably do as I go along.

No idea how long this is going to take, but it’ll take as long as it takes. I’ll divide it into several episodes if it gets too long.

I’ve done at least one episode all about Japan before. That’s number 118 “Sick in Japan”(Full transcript)

118. Sick in Japan

It tells the story of how I ended up sick in a hospital bed in Japan more than 15 years ago, feeling physically terrible and mentally very panicked, not knowing what was wrong with me. Do you remember? If you haven’t heard it, I recommend listening – you might enjoy it! Basically, I got very sick there and spent two weeks (even before I went to hospital) essentially lying on my bed in my apartment at home getting more and more ill, unable to eat, unable to sleep even though I was very tired, in a lot of pain from a horrible infection. Eventually I got to a doctor who agreed to treat me and after taking a blood test he informed me in slightly broken English that I had liver damage, I needed to go to hospital and I needed an operation. To be honest, his diagnosis was a bit lost in translation and it wasn’t as bad as I thought but I assumed the worst! I thought I needed a liver transplant because I had some sort of weird liver disease! I remember the first night in the hospital bed feeling like I was going to die or something, not knowing what was wrong with me, thinking that I was going to be given an operation to get a liver transplant and the worst thing was that I worrying that they would give me a Japanese liver! For some reason this scared me because I thought “Maybe it won’t work with my body and maybe I won’t be able to drink beer like I could before!” That was the worst thing – I won’t be able to drink beer! Even if I survive! Weird paranoia and fear and ridiculousness. Naturally, it turned out ok in the end, and in fact it all turned out to be part of a really great adventure. That was one experience I had during the two years I spent in Japan in 2002 and 2003. To hear the whole story listen to episode 118. It also explains a lot of the reasons I went to live in Japan in the first place and what happened to me while I was there, especially the difficulties, even though the majority of my experiences were really great.

This episode

  • Why did you go?
  • What’s it like in Japan? Let’s explore the culture, the people, the way of life and the mentality etc.
  • What did you do, where did you go and what did you see?
  • How was your gig? Tell us about the comedy show you did.

Why did you go to Japan?

You might be thinking, “Why didn’t you come to my country Luke? My country is a wonderful place with many fantastic things to offer. Come, Drink our favourite drinks, eat our national dishes, let me sing you the song of my people!” I’d love to visit everywhere all the time of course! But this time, it was Japan – a place where I used to live and which I’ve always wanted to return to, for my own personal reasons.

I have a connection to the place. 2 years of my life there. I made strong friendships and became attached to some specific places and things. It was hard to break away from it when I left years ago. It was an important period so I still have a connection with Japan. When I originally left Japan I thought I would never go back. I remember looking around at the places I used to go and I’d think – I may never come here ever again. That’s a strange feeling actually. When I first went to Japan I was a bit depressed and lost to be honest. When I returned I felt much more confident and positive in many areas, including work, how to live, how to connect to people, even how to perform etc. When I arrived I was feeling that there wasn’t much I could do. Everything was negative and a bit difficult. When I left I felt like I could do whatever I wanted! The place really lifted me up. Also I learned about the kindness of people and about how to relax and look after myself in the middle of chaotic stress. It was a good time and a place where things changed for me a bit, so naturally I have a soft spot for the place.

Now it’s 15 years later and I’m married. My wife loves Japanese things, she loves travelling, and I love her so I wanted to show her this important place. That was quite important to me.
Birthday – my wife wanted us to celebrate, anniversary. It was a special occasion.

What’s it like in Japan?

In no particular order, here are some reflections on the culture, lifestyle, psychology and general feeling of life in Japan, especially Tokyo.

Crowded
About 130,000,000 people – more than double the number of people in the UK or France. Just under the number of people in Russia – but consider the relative space. Greater Tokyo has about 40,000,000 people, making it the most populated city metropolis in the world. But they make it work. Despite the large number of people, the place functions very efficiently. There’s not a lot of space but it’s amazing how interiors are designed to make the most of the space they have, and how everyone manages to keep everything peaceful and tidy.

Geography
The place is 70% mountain, so a lot of people are crammed into the city areas where it’s more practical to build. Also, the country sits on a whole series of fault lines which means there are regular earthquakes, more than a thousand in a year. Not all of them are noticeable, but many of them are. Mount Fuji is the biggest mountain in the country and it looms in the distance – sometimes visible from Tokyo, much more visible from areas in Kanagawa where you can see it from the beach or you get glimpses when travelling on the train, especially in winter when the air is clear and mountain is covered in snow. It’s a spectacular and beautiful sight – symmetrical, powerful, peaceful and majestic. It’s also an active volcano, which makes it seem a little threatening and powerful. If it erupted – it would be pretty devastating. qz.com/236129/what-would-happen-if-mount-fuji-right-next-to-tokyo-erupted-for-the-first-time-in-207-years/

I’m sure this has an effect on life there, but it’s kind of below the surface. I don’t know if Japanese people really think about it a lot, or whether it bothers them when they’re alone. I don’t really know. But there’s always this feeling of “the big one could come at any time” perhaps that contributes to the uniqueness, the energy, the weird zen-like feeling of the place.
Queueing and other forms of social order. Coming from France, where public moments of conflict are very common, Japan seems incredibly orderly considering the number of people living in quite a small space. I suppose this comes from necessity – that people need to be able to get along in order for the whole system to work. Generally, people respect each other’s personal space, there’s a lot of effort made to maintain the common good. It’s almost a subconscious duty to make sure you do your bit – don’t drop litter, don’t make loud noise, don’t take up too much space, be respectful to those around you. There’s a real sense of collective consciousness in Japan. In the UK, I remember coming back from Japan feeling that everyone seemed so individualistic and ego-centric. Also I was surprised by the way some of my friends behaved in an anti-social way – speaking loudly in public places, dropping cigarette buts outside doorways and so on. People also seemed to do a lot of talking about themselves. In Japan that seems to happen less, and it’s distasteful to talk about yourself too much. These are just observations I’ve had – I might be wrong about it all, and please correct me if I am, but I feel like Japan has more of a sense of collective consciousness, and collective duty and less individualism – that’s not to say people aren’t individuals, of course they are, but people seem to just pay more attention to things that will be for the good of everyone, and as a result the place is efficient, clean, tidy and peaceful.

The charisma man
I thought I’d talk about this now, since I’m on the subject of some differences between JPN and let’s say ‘western culture’. There’s this idea of the charisma man, which used to be a comic strip popular in the expat community. It’s quite interesting and a little bit controversial but it does tell us something about the way western people (especially men) can be treated in Japan, or at least one phenomenon which can occur (not necessarily every time with everyone). What’s a charisma man?

Wikipedia: Concept of the Charisma Man
“Charisma Man” manipulates the superhero genre to ridicule the often unjustified self–confidence of some foreign men in Japan. Although something of a loser in his home country Canada—the home of Charisma Man’s creator—when around Japanese people the central character transforms from a skinny nerd into a muscle-bound hunk, extremely attractive to women and admired by men. Like other superheroes, however, Charisma Man has one major weakness: “Western Woman”. Whenever in the presence of western females his powers disappear and he becomes an unattractive, skinny wimp once more.[2]
“Charisma Man” is thus a statement on the relationships between Japanese and non-Japanese in Japan. According to Rodney:
“The Japanese seem to see Westerners through some kind of filter. An obvious example was all the geeks I saw out there walking around with beautiful Japanese girls on their arms. These guys were probably social misfits in their home countries, but in Japan the geek factor didn’t seem to translate.
“The dichotomy between the perception of these guys in their home countries and in Japan was amazing to me. This made me think of Superman; on his home planet of Krypton, Superman was nobody special, and he certainly didn’t have superpowers. But when he arrived on earth — well, you know the rest.
“He was somebody — that was the whole premise of the first strip.”
— Larry Rodney, in a 2003 interview with the Japan Times

I still see Charisma men in Japan quite a lot. Imagine some western guy who is acting a bit arrogant and self-important when really he’s not that great. The inflated ego of a western man getting attention from Japanese women. Partly it’s a bit unfair to Japanese women, that’s what some people say. It shows two things – one being that there is a certain filter through which some Japanese people will view western men – i.e. that they see them as more impressive and charismatic than they really are (or perhaps they’re just being polite) but the other thing is the way some western guys react to the attention they get in Japan. Some blokes let it go to their heads and they end up being tiresome egomaniac would-be alpha males who let all the adulation go to their heads. This is probably why they’re not that popular in their own countries – they’re just not that nice or charming, and it becomes more obvious in Japan when you see the way these guys become smug, arrogant self-important guys with an inflated sense of ego.
It’s just interesting to note the way in which people’s perceptions of themselves and each other can change depending on the cultural context. On one hand this is kind of a bad thing, but on the other hand it’s what makes Japan so special – people do treat you well, it’s really nice to have people show interest in you and to be genuinely impressed by where you come from and to be impressed by the differences. E.g. when we told people we were from Paris and London – this seemed to be impressive information. It’s nice! I’d rather have that than be met with indifference. Even if it’s even a little bit fake (which I’m not sure it is actually – I think people are genuinely curious) even if it’s slightly fake, it’s better than genuine rudeness. So it’s a double-edged sword – it’s lovely to be considered as slightly special because you’re different, but that can go to some people’s heads and make them act a bit arrogant, it can also get a little tiring after a while when you just want to be considered as a normal person like everyone else. I remember that I used to get a little fed up with people immediately being impressed by me when they first met me. Like, “where are you from?” “I’m from London” “Oh you are so cool guy! You are a gentleman!” and I thought “Well, I’m not really. I’m just a bloke – not all that cool really, just normal, and not that much of a gentleman really.” In the UK we tend to be a little bit wary of those big compliments and in fact when you really get to know someone you tend to just take the piss out of them, even when you don’t know them and first meet them, you might take the piss quite a lot – it’s a form of bonding and friendship building.

Quietness & “zen” feeling
Japan is officially a peaceful country.
But it’s more than that. The place can be incredibly peaceful. I’m not sure where this comes from to be honest!

Service
Excellent – the customer is god. Polite in the extreme. Attentive. Generally everything is of high quality and you’re looked after well. Can be a bit robotic though, and I find that there’s a certain kind of high-pitched woman’s voice that you hear everywhere, from machines and announcements. Also there was an actual robot at the airport.

Cleanliness
You could eat your dinner off the floor. The metro is shiny and reflective. Many indoor places ask you to remove your shoes and this is an excellent idea.
There are no bins anywhere! But also no litter on the streets. Very few cigarette butts. They all go in little cigarette butt bins, or people put them in their own little portable ashtrays.

Aesthetics
A lot of natural forms. Not as robotic and futuristic as you might expect. There’s a lot of wood, lots of stone. Natural forms – imperfect shapes combined with symmetrical lines. Patterns, textures and surfaces which are imperfect. E.g. the texture of stone, or wood, or rough surfaces with random patterns and textures. The same kinds you find in nature, often combined – stone, wood, moss, water. Different textures next to each other, with natural lines, shapes very neatly presented. It’s extremely satisfying and peaceful, relaxing – Zen.

Cherry Blossom
This is one of Japan’s big moments in the year. There are cherry trees everywhere, especially in certain spots and when the blossom comes out in early April it’s a beautiful sight to see. It’s a delicate pink colour and it looks like snow all over the branches. It contrasts beautifully with the blue sky and when the wind blows the blossom falls from trees again like snow. It lands on the ground carpeting it and also on rivers. It’s fleeting, transient beauty of the highest order. Japanese people celebrate it by having little picnics and parties in the park in cherry blossom areas. Lovely.

Cuteness – “Fluffy bunny land”
Cuteness rules – “kawaii”
Examples: Everything has a cute logo, everything is anthropomorphised with a cute little face – bread, chicken shops, cash machines, safety rules. Everything has a cute melody – constant little melodies like the music that plays when the green pedestrian light shines, bus doors, bus stops, cash machines, some streets just play music from the lamp posts. It’s like Super Mario Land, it really is.

Everyone has cute bags, badges, pencil cases. Even the people are adorably cute. They’re quite small, sweet, laugh and giggle easily, are self-contained (neat and tidy) quite easily scared (I mean, a bit socially awkward and shy) often have quite big fluffy hair, round faces. Extremely cute and adorable, especially the kids. Basically, Japanese people – you’re like cartoon characters to me, or ewoks or teddy bears.

Is that fair? I don’t know. I don’t mean to sound patronising, but Japanese people can come across as cute in those ways. But are Japanese people like Ewoks? Maybe. I’m sure Japanese people are perfectly capable of being mean, nasty, cruel, selfish and everything like that – I’m sure I’m just applying a filter to them just like they might apply a filter to me. Who knows… But I quite like the Ewok metaphor. Ewoks are cute and loyal, but they can also be deadly can’t they! When you think about it – the ewoks are perhaps the most dangerous creatures in the Star Wars universe. They basically stopped the Galactic Empire and helped the rebels destroy the second death star. You wouldn’t want to have to fight against them would you, even if they do look like cute little fluffy bears. Also, if you remember, in Return of the Jedi the ewoks were originally planning to eat Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Han Solo and Chewbacca, until C-3P0 stopped them. They were going to eat Luke Han and Leia. They’re vicious carnivores! Don’t underestimate them. Anyway, what I originally planned to say was simply that Japanese people seem very cute to me and cuteness or (kawaii seems to have an important role in Japanese life).

Why is everything so damn cute??? Why is cuteness so important in the culture?
Paul Ratner from BigThink.com
While you may dismiss cuteness as a regional peculiarity, there is science to back up the unexpected usefulness of kawaii in life. A study by researchers from the University of Hiroshima did several experiments on students and found that their performance on a variety of tasks like fine motor dexterity and non-visual searches improved after viewing cute images of puppies and kittens. The scientists concluded that this is due to the increase in narrowing attentional focus that resulted from viewing the cute images. They advocated the use of cute images and objects in work spaces to improve productivity.

I often wonder how Japan manages to be so efficient, and I’ve always thought that there was just something in the air here which means that people find the most convenient stress free ways of getting on with things. Partly that atmosphere is created by just focusing on certain pleasing things and trying to stay calm at all times. I guess it’s similar to the way the Brits just keep calm and carry on and try not to let emotions stop you from just getting things done. In Japan they seem to emphasise the cuteness just because it makes you feel good, makes you feel protected, reduces stress and allows you to be more productive. Perhaps that’s because Japan is quite a stressful place when you think about it – the potential for natural disaster is quite high. If you think about it too much you could freak out a bit – tsunami, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons, Godzilla – they could all wipe everything out! Cute stuff helps you deal with that. Perhaps also the Japanese worship nature, like animals and so on – Shintoism believes in the gods of every creature or object, and you feel this level of respect in everyday life, kind of. It’s as if everything has it’s own Pokemon character which is both cute and potentially powerful and the Japanese are just in tune with all of that.

So, objects, animals and so on are given this cute personality just because this is the level of kind of respect that Japanese people attribute to things that in our culture would be basically meaningless. Maybe I’m wrong about that, if so – let me know what you think. Why are the Japanese preoccupied by cuteness? Are they the only ones?

Yumi Nakata from GaijinPot.com – 3 reasons

Reason 1: Kawaii usually refers to small children, babies and small animals. They are helpless and need to be cared for. In a culture that values youth, both men and woman are attracted to anything youthful. Women want to appear youthful and Japanese men are attracted to young girls, just look at the popularity of bands like AKB48.

Reason 2: Japanese people work very long hours and they are under enormous social pressure. Cuteness is the total opposite of Japan’s harsh reality. My sister who works in IT says she enjoys going to stores full of cute products especially after working long overtime hours. Cuteness is cool and soothing for Japanese people and allows them an escape from the realities of their life.

Reason 3: Japan is collectively a society with a 12 year old’s mentality and for many there is a strong resistance to grow out of this prepubescent stage. As adults Japanese people are expected to conform to strict social norms and expectations. However as I mentioned above, children are always taken care of in Japanese society. Therefore to cope with the harsh realities of adulthood, many Japanese people seek the comfort of cuteness.

End of part 1 – Part 2 coming soon.

The Robot in the Airport

Photos coming in part 2…

440. This Pile of Books on my Desk

In this episode I just want to talk to you about this pile of 16 books I have on my desk. These are (mostly) books I haven’t read yet but which I picked up recently. I have lots of piles of books like this lying around and I must read them all but I can’t find the time! Anyway, I think they’re really interesting. I either received them as presents, was recommended them by friends and family or I bought them for myself when visiting book shops over the last year or two. I love books, and browsing bookshops is one of my favourite things. If only I was a faster reader!

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Part of the reason I’m doing this is because I just want to encourage you to read more and I would like to arouse your interest in books. Perhaps I can give you some encouragement to read a copy of one of these books, or perhaps this will encourage you to pick up a book (in English) from the pile of books that you probably have in your home too, and start reading it.

In any case, I hope you join me on this little exploration through this pile of books I have on my desk.

Here’s the list of books I talk about in this episode (also in the picture)

The Xenephobe’s Guide to The English, The French, The Japanese
The British Empire: A Very Short Introduction by Ashley Jackson
:59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman
William Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction by Stanley Wells
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Mo Meta Blues by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
The Call of the Cthulu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Sartori in Paris by Jack Kerouac
David Bowie: The Last Interview Various journalists and publications
The Ultimate Star Wars and Philosophy: You Must Unleard What You Have Learned
Terminator and Philosophy: I’ll Be Back Therefore I Am
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Valley of Fear (Sherlock Holmes graphic novel)

books

435. Catching Up With Amber & Paul #5 [Video]

Amber & Paul are back on the podcast in this episode as we respond to some questions and comments from the website and social media. Video available. Some swearing and rude language.

Audio


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Video

Amber Minogue

  • Amber is from London in England, but she’s been living in France for ages and she speaks fluent French.
  • She has the loveliest voice in the known universe, causing hundreds of thousands of listeners from around the world to melt as soon as she begins talking.
  • She has a son called Hugo who makes dinosaur noises and poos under tables (well, once).
  • She sometimes has nightmares about fish.
  • She loves listening to audiobooks and BBC Radio 4.
  • She sometimes works as a teacher with kids, but also has a background in theatre. In fact she studied mime for 2 years (actually it’s “physical theatre”)
  • She is a tour guide in Paris sometimes. In fact she is very well read and knows a lot about the history of this great city.
  • One of these days she’s going to produce her own podcast about the history of Paris and everyone is waiting for it expectantly. No pressure.
  • She recently learned the words burlap, gaslighting and Hobson’s choice. Listen to episode 431 for more details.
  • She’s probably more intelligent than either of us.

Paul Taylor

  • Paul is from Canterbury in England, which is in Britain, which is in the UK, which is in Europe (sort of).
  • He’s from England but also spent some time growing up in France where, as a child, he once nearly burned down his house and stabbed himself in the face with a kitchen knife while pretending to be one of the teenage ninja turtles.
  • He has a funny, infectious laugh which causes my listeners to make fools of themselves on public transport when they can’t help laughing too (which is one of the aims of this podcast)
  • He has naive eyes (a reference to a comment by a listener called Olga a couple of years ago.
  • He doesn’t know any words. (kidding of course)
  • He speaks French with “no accent”.
  • He also speaks Spanish, and has a bit of a talent for doing accents in English.
  • He used to work for Apple but quit his job to do comedy. It’s going pretty well.
  • He does his one man stand up show #Franglais twice a week to sold out audiences and his TV show “WTF France?” is a hit on YouTube and Canal+
  • He used to do a podcast called “Becoming a Comedian” which was all about the challenges of becoming a comedian, but now he’s become a comedian so the “Becoming a Comedian Podcast” is now redundant!

Comments & Questions from Listeners

Nick (on our recent ‘restaurants’ episode)
I was missing Paul’s laugh while listening to this…

Anonymous (on an episode from few months ago)
Amber’s voice seduced me

Eri
No!!!!!
I just found this comment now…
Oh, dear… [thinking it’s too late]
If I could add some message for both Amber and Paul…
☆To Amber
I am looking forward to listening to your podcast with the most lovely voice in the world!!!
☆To Paul
I have been checking all video of “What The Fuck France” and can not wait next episodes and other videos on YouTube!!!
And please join in LEP sometime when you have time…

Alexandr Shnaider
Hi, Luke. I wonder when we should expect the release of Amber’s podcast and how we can find it.

Sylvia
I am looking forward to Amber’s podcast. I love her.

Naomi
Hello,Luke,Amber and Paul! How are you doing?
My questions are
1.You are very funny. Did you use to make jokes in the classroom when you were students?
2. If you could have a special power, what would it be?
3. What food would you bring to a desert island?
Sorry for my silly questions.
Have a nice recording. I’m looking forward to listening to the Pod Pals!
And I can’t wait for Amber’s podcast!

Pavel Rybalko
Do you guys have favorite YouTubers?

Paul: JaackMaate (angry rants by a British guy in a shed)

Amber: Diane Love (not really a YouTuber but she does have some lovely hula-hooping videos)

Luke: Nerdwriter1 (Brainy video essays)

Jairo Trujillo García
Good luck for the show tonight!!! 👍
Question : What do you admire the most about the people you are sitting with right now ?
and why ?

oksipuskya (Comment on the TripAdvisor episode – episode 431)
One day about 10 years ago I’d a supper with my future husband and his father in a roadside cafe on the way home. The waiter brought my meal and we three noticed a small insect lying on the plate. In spite of this I ate all the supper. Then my husband’s father said that his son had to marry me. If I hadn’t been frightened to eat it I wouldn’t be struck by family routine. (?)

This image from Chris Benitez for fans of the Russian Joke (don’t know where it was originally posted)

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 15.10.20
Boy Trent (On YouTube)
Are you the same luke english who bid on a PS4 PRO system on ebay at the last minute? Then. Didn’t pay or leave me with any information as to what was going on? Ebay are now going to issue you with a non payment mark on the 19th March. 2017.
I should state that many honest people were bidding on this item and strangely – you appeared out of nowhere at the very last minute. After I had blocked bids from the usual eastern european fraudsters et al.
I am a person of integrity and honesty and am really sick and tired of people making false bids on items. Destroying the core purpose of ebay and leaving me with an unsold item and without £300 from the honest bidder you dishonestly won over.
Yes. I am angry. etcetc…

Sorry mate – you got the wrong guy! I’m not Luke English, my name’s Luke Thompson!

Wesley
Hello Luke, Amber, and Paul,
Are you doing all right? As the French presidential election is drawing nearer, I was wondering what the three of you think about the candidates. After Brexit and the Italian constitutional referendum result, Marine Le Pen being the next French President could be the final blow for the European Union. In your opinion, does she stand a good chance to win the election? In this so-called ‘post-truth era’, do you consider opinion polls to be reliable enough?
All the best,
Wesley

434. Interview with Paul Taylor – “WTF France?” [Video]

Interviewing Paul Taylor about his comedy projects, including “What the F*ck France” on Canal+ / Youtube and his stand-up shows #Franglais and The Paul Taylor Comedy Night. Video available.

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Hello! Welcome to another episode of the podcast!

There’s a video for this one – you can see it on the website or on YouTube.

In this one you are going to listen to a conversation with my friend Paul Taylor.

Before that I would like to make an announcement. I’ve got some good news and also I need your help with something!

Please vote for LEP in The British Podcast Awards!
www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote

LEP has been nominated in the British Podcast Awards for the “Listeners Choice Award”.

If I’m going to stand a chance of winning I need every single one of you out there to vote!

How to vote

  • Go to www.britishpodcastawards.com/vote
  • Search for Luke’s English Podcast and click on it.
  • Vote using your email address – they won’t send you spam, they’re just trying to stop multiple votes by the same person.
  • You will be added to a free prize draw as well – you could win tickets to the award ceremony.
  • The comp closes at 23:59 on the 14th April 2017.

Paul Taylor on the Podcast

A few days ago Paul came over and we sat on the terrace to do a podcast. I thought I would interview him all about his TV show and find out how it’s all going.

We talked about his writing process for the show “What the F*ck France?”, about how the success of the show has changed his life in some ways, about the reactions he gets from people he meets these days – including people who recognise him in the street or on public transport, about the differences between performing on video and performing in front of a live audience on stage and about his plans for other projects in the future.

I also asked him a few questions sent in by listeners on the website.


Questions for Paul

Do you remember a couple of years ago, you’d come back from the fringe, and we talked about some dodgy reviews?
Now you’re successful with the TV show and the web series.
Has it changed your life?
Do you get noticed?
Do you prefer doing the videos or the stand up?
What’s your favourite episode?
What are the topics you’ve covered?

Website comments

Chris Benitez
What are you doing next, and are you going to do WTF for other countries?

Laura Fisher
Paul speaks fluent french, ask him to pronounce this tongue twister : ” Un chasseur sachant chasser sans son chien est un bon chasseur ” Amber could try this too. 

Cristina Ricciardo
I’d like they to tell about their very first performance. Good luck to you all!

Jack
Hello Paul hello Amber, how art you guys
My question is when and where did you first meet King ?
King please film this episode if possible, fanks.

What the F*ck France – Videos

433. British TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Part 2) [Video]

Learn more authentic English directly from the mouths of these native speakers in an episode of the popular British TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” with famous chef Gordon Ramsay. Videos and vocabulary lists available below. 

**This episode includes swearing and some rude content** 

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Video

Video clips and vocabulary lists

Video 2 – The orange sauce looks like “sci-fi sperm”

Vocabulary

Let’s watch the family in action
Is there any chance you could talk to her
If you open up and ask…
You don’t remember after 5 minutes
Like fuck do I!
You try to make me look small
It’s like a one man band in there
It’s totally upside down
A backlog of orders
Mick starts to crumble
I don’t want no (*any) more food sent down
He can’t handle it
I’ll get my head bitten off / to bite someone’s head off
I’d rather you didn’t take it out on me

Video 3 – The family at war

Vocabulary

Michelle’s impressive
She’s left to face the fallout of Mick’s incompetence
The meals are now being sent back
He can’t handle it / can’t cope / can’t take it / can’t deal with it
I’ll go and sort it out
My husband’s big fucking dream is a complete farce
I’m not having a heart attack over this
My heart’s booming
He speaks to me like shit
I try and take all the knocks
Even I have a breaking point

Video 4 – Catching up with the Martin family at the end

The entire episode (with Korean subtitles)

432. British TV: Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares (Part 1) [Video]

Talking about restaurant culture in the UK, an introduction to one of the UK’s most famous chefs and a chance to learn some authentic English from a popular British TV show featuring Gordon Ramsay. Video available. Includes swearing.

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Introduction Transcript

Hello, and welcome back to this podcast for learners of English. Here is a new episode for you to listen to and indeed watch, because I’m videoing this one. You’ll be able to find the video on the page for this episode on my website, or by visiting the YouTube channel for Luke’s English Podcast.

A lot of what I am saying here – particularly in this introduction is written on the page for this episode. So you can read it with me, or check it for certain words you hear me using. The best way to get access to these pages is to subscribe to the mailing list.

In the last episode of this podcast you heard me talking to Amber about restaurants and hotels and some crazy TripAdvisor reviews.

At one point in the episode we talked briefly about Gordon Ramsay – one of the UK’s most famous chefs, and his TV show “Kitchen Nightmares” which was a really popular show in the UK a few years ago, and I thought it could be interesting to do a whole episode about that.

So in this one I’m going to talk a little bit about Gordon Ramsay and then we’re going to listen to some YouTube clips from one of his TV shows and I will help you understand all the language that you’ll hear. No doubt there will be some new vocabulary in the process – probably on the subject of food, cooking, restaurants and kitchens but lots of other natural language that just comes up, including plenty of swearing, because Gordon Ramsay is known for his frequent use of swear words.

Yes, there will be quite a lot of swearing in this episode, and you know my position on this. I’m choosing to show you the language as it is really used and that includes the rude words, but don’t be tempted to start throwing swear words into your everyday English. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that swear words are a short cut to sounding exactly like a native speaker. Often it just gives people a bad impression of you. We’ll go into it more later, because there are quite a lot of unwritten social rules around swearing that you need to be aware of – the main one being, that with swearing it is much much easier to sound rude and inappropriate than it is to sound cool. Think of swearing as a motorbike – you might think it’s cool but unless you really know what you’re doing you’re likely to seriously injure yourself. Similarly, swearing can be cool when it’s done in movies or even by someone like Gordon Ramsay, but if you try and do it in your normal life there’s a good chance you’ll just offend people.

So anyway, we’ll listen to some of the English in these YouTube clips and analyse the things they’re saying so that in the end you can understand it all just like I do, which should help you learn some real English in the process. You’ll also learn a thing or two about restaurant culture in the UK and about Gordon Ramsay who is one of the most well-known people in Britain.

Who is Gordon Ramsay and what’s the TV show?

Gordon James Ramsay, is a British celebrity chef, restaurateur, and television personality.

*Difference between a chef and a cook? Basically, a chef is someone who’s had professional training – at least a culinary degree, but a cook is just someone who cooks food. Both might work in a kitchen, but mainly being a chef is about having the status of culinary qualifications and experience.

Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the UK and probably in the world too. He has a reputation for being an excellent restaurateur and chef, and also for his extremely strict and direct style. He’s often very rude, saying exactly what he thinks about the people he’s working with in the strongest most colourful language. Imagine an army captain shouting at a platoon of soldiers during military training, but with really good food.

Ramsay was born in Scotland, but he grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon, which is in fact not far from where I grew up in England). So, he is Scottish but doesn’t speak with a Scottish accent.
Ramsay now has restaurants all over the place – in London, in Paris and in New York. During his career he has trained at the highest level with French chefs in the UK and in Paris. He specialises in Italian, French and British recipes, and his cooking is known for being simple, unpretentious, high quality and delicious.

His restaurants have been awarded 16 Michelin stars in total. The term “Michelin Star” is a hallmark of fine dining quality. Michelin stars are very difficult to win and restaurants around the world proudly promote their Michelin Star status if they have one. His signature restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London, has held 3 Michelin stars since 2001, which is a mark of extremely high quality in restaurant dining.

As well as being a top chef, Ramsay is also a TV presenter. He first appeared on TV in the UK in the late 1990s, and by 2004 Ramsay had become one of the best known celebrity chefs in British popular culture, and, along with other chefs like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Delia Smith, he has influenced viewers to become more culinarily adventurous.

As a reality TV personality, Ramsay is known for his fiery temper, strict demeanour, and use of expletives. He often makes blunt and controversial comments, including insults and wisecracks about contestants and their cooking abilities.

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on British TV a few years ago – probably around 10-15 years ago now. These days you can find most of the episodes on YouTube.

Local restaurants vs manufacturing companies and processed food

Ramsay is actually very passionate about local restaurants in the UK.

In the UK our eating out culture is vibrant and successful but it is being undermined by a number of factors. One is the industrialisation of food culture. THis means that big businesses are involved in preparing food at an industrial level and then selling it to restaurants as part of a large corporate chain.

These chains might be restaurants which are all owned by one company, or food manufacturers who dominate the wholesale market, driving down their prices and pushing out competition such as local producers who sell fresh products.

In these industrial food manufacturing companies, the food is prepared in high quantities and then sold off to other companies and restaurants as part of a corporate supply chain for food.

There’s a big infrastructure for food purchasing in the UK which is dominated by these big food manufacturers. As a result, many smaller restaurants are forced to buy industrialised and mass-produced food because it is cheaper and more convenient than fresh food which you can buy direct from farms or markets.

If you were a struggling restaurant owner in a town in the UK, what would you do? Buy your food fresh from a local producer and then make sure you sell it in a short-term period, or buy similar products from a mass producer but at a lower price, and it’s food which you can store for longer because it has been processed to stay fresh.

In the end, people choose to eat at home, especially during an economic crisis.

So, economic factors are having a negative effect on the restaurant culture in the UK to an extent. Family owned restaurants should be where you get proper traditional and delicious local food, but these restaurants are being squeezed economically and forced to go along with the industrialised food manufacturing process.

Also, there are many chain restaurants which you find on high streets in the UK. These are not locally run, but are owned by big companies who have a single business model which they apply to all their restaurants. The fact that these places are part of a big corporate chain means that they can drive down their prices, making it very hard for local restaurants to be competitive. As a result, these smaller places suffer, struggle and often close down.

Gordon Ramsay believes that these local restaurants are the backbone of our restaurant culture in the UK, and he strongly believes that they need to be supported so they can compete with the corporate chains, and given training so they can serve the best food possible. Essentially that’s the concept behind Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but also it’s just entertaining watching him shouting at incompetent chefs. You sort of let him get away with the way he bullies people because you believe that really he’s just trying to help them to learn the discipline you need to run a really good restaurant.

But he does seem really passionate about proper restaurant culture in the UK and I like that about him. Even though he’s making this reality show and he’s making money from doing it, I think he really does care about improving restaurant culture in the UK.

On the other hand, he is very good at TV. He knows how to make entertaining TV, and he’s got a good formula for it. Basically, this means that he takes the harsh discipline and the no-nonsense brutally honest approach that he applies to his kitchen management, and uses it when giving feedback to the restaurants which he visits.

Let’s listen to a few scenes and I’m going to make sure you understand everything that’s going on and everything that’s being said.

Let’s learn English with Gordon Ramsay

The TV Show

Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares used to be on UK TV about 10-15 years ago.
The format is this – Gordon Ramsay visits a failing restaurant somewhere in the UK. So, restaurants that are failing – e.g. losing money, getting terrible reviews etc. He goes into the restaurant and spends a week there, observing the way the owners run the kitchen, how the business works and what’s going on at all levels. Usually he starts by sitting down to eat the chef’s speciality dish, and it’s nearly always disgusting, and Ramsay comments on how it tastes, how it looks, and also the decor of the restaurant and the service from the staff.

Then Ramsay gives his feedback to the owner and the chef, and it’s always a massive reality check, and it usually involves very strong words and lots of swearing. This is what happens when a top-level chef enters the world of a crappy low-level restaurant.

Then over the course of the week, Gordon helps the managers turn the restaurant around. It’s almost always a huge challenge and often the most difficult part is dealing with the psychological aspects – the stubborn chefs, the relationship issues in the kitchen, the fact that these people have personal issues which are causing the business to go horribly wrong.

It is car-crash TV. We see arguments, meltdowns, unhappy customers and so on.
In almost every episode Gordon seems to go hopping mad as he can’t believe the incompetence or shockingly low standards of service shown by the people in the restaurant. He then tries to help them change everything and turn the business around. It all makes really great telly.

And by the end of the episode, with Gordon’s help they have usually turned the restaurant into a successful business again.

There’s a UK version and a US version.

If you search for Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube you will probably find the US version first, but I think the UK version is better!

But really, it is better because the US version is horrible. It’s full of really fast editing and there’s loads of music which is added in order to tell you how you should be feeling about what’s happening. It’s distracting and patronising.

Example of the US version (just listen to all the distracting sound effects and music)

The UK version just has some rock music in the background at the start, but then during the show it’s more simple and you can just focus on what’s happening without constant sweeping sounds and tense music.

Let’s listen to some scenes from one of the episodes.

These scenes actually come from an episode called “Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmares” which was shown on TV between series 5 and 6 of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s basically the same as any other episode of the series.

Gordon Ramsay’s Great British Nightmare – Dovecote Bistro

Summary
Gordon goes to visit a restaurant in Devon called Dovecote Bistro, which is run by a guy called Mick.
Mick is a former truck driver and burger van operator who has opened this bistro with his wife and adopted daughter, Michelle. Ramsay is firstly appalled by the psychedelic wallpaper decorating the restaurant, and then his attention turns to the food and the way it is cooked. While Ramsay is impressed with the simple menu, he is furious to find that Mick has very little cooking ability, using orange squash to make a sauce and using vacuum-sealed pre-cooked lamb shanks in a microwave bag. Not only does he show little responsibility in the kitchen, he is also secretive with his spending and is hugely in debt. Mick is adamant that the problems in the kitchen are not his fault, and his stubbornness causes a rift with his wife and daughter. Ramsay solves the crisis by taking the business matters out of Mick’s hands and kicks him out of the kitchen. His daughter, Michelle, is placed in charge of the kitchen despite having no cooking experience. She rises to the challenge, and while Mick is not convinced over replacing his microwave food, the reopening is a success.
Months later, Ramsay returns to find that the restaurant is making profit. He sent Michelle for further culinary training, and she impresses Ramsay with freshly cooked food.
The restaurant was renamed Martins’ Bistro during production.

Video 1 – Flourescent duck cooked in orange squash

Vocabulary

Let’s see what this ex-trucker can do
Lamb shanks
Fuck me! (surprise / shock)
Your blouse matches the wallpaper
I feel like I’m tripping out!
I’ve never touched the stuff but I feel like I just swallowed an E.
The hideous wallpaper
On paper it looks delicious
Orange squash
A spoonful of gravy
Fuck me do I need sunglasses!
That’s worse than fucking Benylin
They’re actually vacuum packed
They can last for about a year
They’re bought in, they’re vacuum packed
They’ve got a shelf life of about a year
Well, fuck me!
That might be the worst food I’ve ever come across
He might be beyond my help
It doesn’t need refrigerating
How in the fuck could you charge 11 pounds for that?
E numbers, like Tartrazine
Do you feel like having a shit?
Thank fuck I didn’t eat it.
I’m surprised you haven’t killed off half the population of Okehampton

End of part 1 – part 2 available very soon!

430. Discussing Language Learning & Life with Fred Eyangoh

Talking to Fred about history, geography, comedy, learning English and cutlery.

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Introduction

On the podcast today I am talking to a friend of mine called Fred Eyangoh. English is not Fred’s first language but he’s learned it to a proficient level – enough to complete a Master’s’ program in Business Management and Marketing in English and to do regular comedy shows in English too.

I’ve invited Fred onto the podcast because I want to talk to him about, how he develops and maintains his English, what life is like in the country that he originally comes from, and we do talk about those things – Fred says some interesting points about how he’s has pushed his English on his own, but also we ended up talking about lots of other things like history, geography and cutlery (that’s knives, forks and spoons).

You’ll hear that Fred speaks with an accent which is quite difficult to put your finger on – it’s hard to identify exactly where he comes from, and I’m not going to tell you right now, because I want you to guess, based on his voice. Where do you think he comes from?

You’ll see that although it’s his second language Fred’s English is precise and accurate in terms of grammar and he uses a wide range of vocabulary, and to a large extent that is down to the way he has applied himself to his acquisition of English.

We ended up talking for about an hour and fifteen minutes in this conversation, and I’ve decided to publish all of it in this one single episode, rather than dividing it into two episodes because I think it’s best enjoyed without interruption, as one continuous flowing conversation.

OK, let’s begin. The first thing you’ll hear us talking about is the First World War, because Fred has been listening to a podcast called Hardcore History, and he’s been listening to an episode of that podcast about the First World War. Click here to check out Hardcore History with Dan Carlin about World War I.

And that is the first thing that we talk about.


Recap – What Fred said about Learning English

Let’s recap some of the things Fred said about improving your English.

Now, I know some of you are thinking – but he had some English lessons when he was 4, that’s cheating! Sure, that must have helped, but I know people who had English lessons from childhood at school but they still don’t have a great level of English. It’s not just that, it’s also the other things you do in your life.

  • Immerse yourself in English content that you really like – in the case of Fred it’s comedy and films. We all know about this, but it’s worth repeating. Get some English into your everyday life and make it some content that you’re fascinated by.
  • Notice/Track vocabulary and go the extra mile. This doesn’t just mean watching films with subtitles on. That bit of advice has been said a million times, and it is true. But while you’re watching, listening or reading you should ‘track’ the language or ‘notice’ the language while you’re consuming it. Make a point of noticing specific bits of English, like vocabulary items and then research that language by investigating it online, reading around it, finding more active examples of it using google or wikipedia. As Paul Taylor has said “Just Wikipedia it!” and it’s good advice of course when you’re doing self study. Find examples of new words and expressions, not just definitions and read plenty of examples (e.g. by using the News tab in Google search results, or by exploring Wikipedia) until you’ve made plenty of connections and associations with that new word and you know it well enough to start using it.
  • Work with audio and transcripts. Listen and then check out some words that you don’t know by circling or highlighting them and then researching them as we just said. For example, most TED talks have transcripts on the TED.com website. Now, we all watch TED talks from time to time, but how often are you playing around with the interactive transcripts and really exploring the vocabulary that you can find there?
  • Broaden your range. Push yourself to use the language you’re picking up by finding new ways to say the same thing – e.g. avoid just using the simple verbs like ‘be’ or ‘have’.
  • Be creative – write down your ideas. You could write some comedy, some poetry, some stories and if you feel like it, find a place where you can share your work, like a spoken word open mic night or something like that.
  • Socialise and be outgoing. Go out and meet people who you can speak English to. Find your own peer group for socialising in English.

OK, that’s it! Go the extra mile and push your English, but do keep enjoying it – that’s one of the most important things.

Check the website for some videos of the comedians Fred mentioned.

Join the mailing list!

Speak soon, bye!

Comedians Fred Mentioned

Fred is a great fan of comedy, and I always think that stand-up must be a great source of English you can listen to, and there’s so much of it on YouTube, and if you have Netflix you can find lots of great stand up comedy shows and they all have subtitles, so switch them on and go for it!

Here are some of the comics Fred mentioned.

Maria Bamford
She’s one of the top comedians in the USA right now. She tells stories using different voices to let us understand (and laugh at) the problems she experiences in her everyday life. She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and she deals with both of those subjects in the most adorable and hilarious way, changing her voice to represent the different people in her life, cleverly revealing their attitudes and treatment of Maria. This video is a good example of the way she changes her voice to become a different person in her routines.

Chris Rock
An absolute mega-legend in comedy. Brave, sharp, honest and one of the funniest stand-up comedians ever. *Warning: rude content*

Louis CK
He’s generally considered to be one of the hottest standups in the world at the moment. Comedy is a question of taste of course (and Louis talks about some quite dark, edgy and offensive subjects) but Louis is really great. *Warning: rude content 

fred