Mr Flibble Talks To... I Toast Therefore I Am
John Lenahan put in two appearances during Red Dwarf's first season. But don't worry if you don't recognise him - he was the voice of original, and most musical, talking toaster. Mr Flibble talks to the magician who also heats bread...
5 January, 2001
John Lenahan
Mr Flibble's right hand provided by
Andrew Ellard

Mr Flibble was very wary of the long box John placed him in, but whispered his question to Andrew regardless: Do you like the big Copperfield tricks, or the smaller close-up magic?

I like the IN-BETWEEN STUFF. The new name for it is club magic or platform magic, in the old days it was called parlour magic. It's that half-way point, and it's what I do and what I like. It's what's in my club. My favourite magicians are Penn and Teller. Teller's the reason why I do magic. I saw Teller on the street years ago, he used to be part of a group called The Asparagus Valley Cultural Society.

I'm a stand-up comedian that does stuff. I'm just a stand-up comedian that doesn't moan about life, that's all. There's nothing worse than seeing a 22 year old stand-up comedian talking about how awful his life is - for Christ's sake, you're 22!

Doing his best to ignore the background noise of an approaching chainsaw, Mr Flibble then asked if John spent more time coming up with tricks or jokes...

I don't spend any time at all, I just make it up as it goes along! I run a comedy and magic club in Highgate called Monday Night Magic, and the reason I do it is because that's my workshop. I don't do the clubs much any more, so I do 15 minutes of new material every week, [as] the compare.

There's many a week where, on a Monday afternoon, I'm searching through old magic books, desperately trying to find something I can do that night. You work on the tricks more, and you work towards one really good gag. If that dies, you're in trouble.

Recently I did a version of the cups-and-balls trick, and I had no idea what I was going to do because I had worked on the finger-work so much. So I just got on stage and I just did a whole patter about how all other magicians do this, and I [don't]. I pretty much did what the other magicians did, I just lied to them!

At this point, Andrew claimed he could no longer hear his penguin chum over the noise of the saw, so he asked about the trouble John had with THE MAGIC CIRCLE...

I was expelled from The Magic Circle! They threw me out because I knew too much! I found out that they had Walt Disney and John F. Kennedy frozen in a back room. A big conspiracy, a big cover-up. The Roswell alien's back there, too.

Seriously, I went on a show called How Do They Do That? and gave away an old confidence trick called Three Card Monty, or Follow The Lady, which started its life as a scam and continues to this day as a scam. Just because some magicians do it as a trick it doesn't make it a magic trick. And when I gave it away, The Magic Circle disagreed and they tossed me out. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Got spectacular amounts of publicity!

The magic circle meets on Monday nights, so I run my club on Monday nights. It costs twice as much for Magic Circle members to get into my club!

Andrew asked if he could hold the saw, just to test the weight. Mr Flibble began to perspire. Andrew asked if the electrician's strike got in the way of John's work on RED DWARF?

I did the warm-ups for Jonathan Ross' first series, then I got hired to do the warm-up for Red Dwarf. And right before we went into filming, the strike came, and so I got paid - which was great! I signed the contract and it was cancelled the next day or something.

When it finally came back on, I'd made a decision not to do warm-ups any more, because it's kind of a dead-end job, you don't want to get stuck in it. And so Rob and Doug and Paul Jackson called me and had me read for the Toaster. I had a great audition and I cracked everybody up. I'm not a great actor, but I can do one really droll character.

But when we actually got into production, people were having a problem telling the difference between me and the computer, Norman [Lovett]. So that's why I got whisked through a voice-processor. It was good fun. It was me and Tony Hawks, I was the toaster and Tony Hawks was the drinks dispenser.

There were rumours around that the Toaster was going to become a more important part, it was going to take over the ship. But I had a really weird agent at the time, who annoyed the production staff. I don't have that agent anymore!

Were you script-in-hand?

No! That was the annoying thing - everybody else does it script-in-hand, but they told me I had to memorise it! Standing right behind the set with all the wood and paper and cloth and the little lighting diodes, with a little microphone in my hand.

I remember being in the bar afterwards. Norman - Norman's a funny guy, he's one of the funniest guys I know. His humour works by focusing on little things. It's a very crooked, Zen-like, look at the world. You know Japanese Mix, the nibbles?

Mr Flibble wiped his forehead and said his preference remained with halibut...

It was the first time he'd experienced Japanese Mix, and that's all he talked about all night long, he was really excited about that.

Ed Bye and Ruby Wax entered - and Ruby did her mind-reading party-piece. I was quite impressed, I still don't know how she did it. She gives something to somebody in the room and then we hide it among ourselves, and she finds out who has it. I suspect she has an accomplice, but I don't really know.

Andrew loomed over Mr Flibble with the saw and asked about John about his HOAXBUSTERS pilot for ITV...

You see, I learned about magic as an adult, so it's not too bad. But the reason magicians are strange people is because, as young children, they learned to do magic and they actually got rewarded and praised by parents for lying. And so magicians grow up to be horrible and strange people. There isn't that much difference between being a magician and being a thief, really.

I became interested in [hoaxes] because there was a great magician about 100 years ago, called The Great Alexander, who used to go around America. He had an advance man who would go to the library and read all the newspapers, all the obituaries, and then he'd go to towns that were so small, odds were that 20% of the [population] was there. 'Does someone here have a relative named Denise who died recently?' And people were amazed!

They'd do private readings for the wealthiest people in town, and he'd tell them they'd come into a business opportunity out of the blue that would be very successful. And then he had another guy coming around selling shares in a goldmine that he owned that was defunct.

The lovely irony of the whole story is that the goldmine struck - and Alexander didn't own it! So he had people trying to buy back all the shares, but nobody would let go of them because The Great Alexander had said it would be worth something someday!

That's a lovely story, I've always liked that. And I found 500 shares of an Arizona goldmine at my grandfather's, that he bought in 1906. So I started getting interested in gold and gold scams. And then Anglia television got in touch with me and said they had a scam idea, so we all kind of came together. And it's me just going around the world, perpetrating scams.

Andrew sliced Mr Flibble in two at this point, leaving John to describe what he did for the show to a terrified penguin...

We took out a stall in the Lincoln exhibition in Dallas and we sold holidays in Buckingham Palace. We sold people parts in Hollywood movies. And then in Britain I'd go around with this toy dog, this beat up thing I bought for a fiver in a junk shop, and walk into a bar and leave it behind. And my producer would walk into the bar and say, 'My God that dog is worth a thousand pounds.' Then I'd go back in and sell it for 100 quid. It was amazing.

I also did the John Lenahan Guide to Drinking For Free, taught people how to scam drinks off people in bars. And there's plenty more where that came from!

Mr Flibble is going to need stitches. Andrew cleaned off the saw and thanked John for his time...

You don't want my famous quote?

Oh, go on then - give us your famous quote.

"I toast therefore I am." That's my claim to fame. Screw that Shakespeare guy. (Laughs)

Mr Flibble enjoyed talking to John Lenahan, and now that it's over... Mr Flibble is very cross.