Edinburgh Fringe becomes laughing stock as comedians & critics turn on it

To be seen on posters all over Edinburgh in August – but not in the Fringe Programme.

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Last week, I wrote a blog about this year’s extraordinarily heavy-handed and draconian censoring of the £400 Edinburgh Fringe Programme entries. (Performers pay almost £400 to get a meagre 40 word listing in the Fringe Programme).

You might have thought, at £10 per word, you could print what you want within the law, especially at a cutting-edge, pushing-the-barriers event like the Edinburgh Fringe but, this year, the newly-idiotic Fringe Office appears to have taken leave of its senses.

In 2009, I staged a show titled Aaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s Bollock Relief! – The Malcolm Hardee Award Show. I did wonder if there might be any objection to the testicular word but, no, there was no problem at all listing it in the Fringe Programme. The Fringe, after all, is an easy-going, laissez-faire, open-to-all beast; it is not run by Scotland’s Wee Free Kirk.

Or is it?

Yesterday, the Chortle comedy website ran an article by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and highly-respected journalist Jay Richardson. It reported that the Fringe had refused to allow comedian and ITV1 Show Me The Funny contestant Stuart Goldsmith to list his new show as Stuart Goldsmith – Prick in the Programme. They insisted that he had to change the word Prick to Pr!ck.

Jay Richardson also reported that comedian Richard Herring’s show Talking Cock (whose title was printed in full in the 2002 Fringe Programme) is being reprised this year but the title has been modified by the Fringe to Talking C*ck: The Second Coming.

When I read this, I asked Richard Herring what he thought about it. His reaction was a little surprising:

“Actually,” he told me, “this is the first I’ve heard about the title being censored.”

Just to recap here… Richard told me this yesterday – 8th May. The final Fringe deadline was 11th April after which no changes could be made. The Fringe Programme is published on 31st May. The Fringe Office had never even told Richard they had changed the 40-word listing for which they charge performers £400…!

I thought I had better check if the Fringe really had changed the word “cock” to “c*ck”, so I contacted Martin Chester, Publications Manager at the Fringe. In a rather terse reply, he e-mailed:

“I can confirm that Cock will appear as C*ck in the 2012 Fringe Programme.”

Richard Herring explained to me yesterday: “I was told I couldn’t use the words ‘dick’ and ‘fuckinghamshire’ in the 40 words. I wasn’t too surprised about the ‘fuckinghamshire’ (honourable member for fuckinghamshire was the line) even though that isn’t a swear word and presumably means you have to censor ‘Scunthorpe’ too.

“But I thought ‘dick’ was a bit of an over reaction. Not only is it a very minor rude word, it’s also a name.” In fact, of course, it is Richard’s own name. “Hopefully,” Richard told me, “Dick Van Dyke won’t come to the Fringe – they’ll have to call him D*ck Van D*ke.

“I am annoyed to find out that the title has also been censored,” Richard continued. “‘Cock’ itself is not a rude word and is used everyday in many non-offensive ways by farmers and their cocks (who only say cock-a-doodle-do) and cockneys (sorry c*ckneys) say Hello cock. For them to decide that the title of my show is not allowed to be printed in their programme is quite insulting in itself and not something that an Arts Festival should be condoning. Frankly I think they’re being stupid c*nts.”

Personally, I think it is more idiotic than that.

The word ‘cock’ in the phrase ‘talking cock’ is actually a shortened version of ‘cock and bull’, the dictionary definition of which is “to talk nonsense or engage in idle banter”. That commonly-used English phrase comes from the name of two public houses in Stony Stratford – the Cock and the Bull.

The fact that the Fringe Office sees fit to censor this commonly-used phrase as supposedly offensive (without even telling the man who paid them almost £400 to have his listing printed) betrays a level of illiteracy (and financial dodginess) at the Fringe Office which is rather worrying at what is allegedly the biggest Arts festival in the world.

It also means that performers in future should beware of making any reference to any other pubs in their show titles. If the Fringe insists that a reference to the Cock inn has to be censored, who knows what they would do with a far-worse reference to any King’s Head or Prince Albert pub.

I asked Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers and also a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and Show Me The Funny judge, what she thought.

“I am lucky enough to remember the glory days of the Fringe,” she told me yesterday, “when I was peripherally involved in a show called Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick? Sadly, this year, whoever is ‘gate-keeping’ the Fringe programme has completely lost their sense of … well, simply their sense. Not only has the irreproachable Stu Goldsmith been censored, but a regular and highly thought-of event entitled ArtWank (on the PBH Free Fringe) has felt the heavy hand of the Idiot In Charge. They are now ArtW*nk. And even they are not alone. If the Fringe Society REALLY want to control that which is offensive in the Fringe Brochure – what about ticket prices ? Pricks and wankers, the lot of ‘em.”

Comedian Sameena Zehra told me: “This is ridiculous. how pathetically coy can you be? ‘Pr!ck’? Could it be that the Fringe is now becoming about money and advertising, instead of pushing the boundaries of performance and art? If the Fringe wants to be part of the establishment, it should join the official Festival and we should create an alternative Fringe that does what it says on the tin.”

Mervyn Stutter has been presenting shows at the Fringe for 26 years, notably his annual Pick of The Fringe show (which presumably narrowly avoided the Fringe Office censors by one letter).

His e-mailed reaction to me yesterday was: 

F**k me! (note my clever use of Fringe approved self censoring there) This is tragic.”

I asked him if he remembered any favourite show titles printed in the Fringe Programme in the last 26 years. Like Kate Copstick, he, too, fondly remembers Whoops Vicar is That Your Dick?

“There was a wonderful Australian act,” he told me, “called somebody-or-other and The Travelling Wankbrains. My memory fails me, but the first name was also filth!

“The Fringe back then was free for all and you could call it how you wanted to. No corporate money or images to maintain. No Mary Whitehouse sensibilities on the Fringe – only a woman on Edinburgh Council – the legendary Moira Knox. Her public objections to ‘naughty’ shows always guaranteed big Box Office.”

Martin Soan, originator of the Greatest Show on Legs act, whose image the Fringe Office also censored this year, agreed yesterday. When I told him about the ‘prick’ hoo-hah, he responded: “Ah! Censorship… The alternative advertising!”

What gets up my own nose – because it shows a totally idiotic new mentality at the Fringe Office – is not so much any objection to supposedly ‘dodgy’ words or images, but that I was told by the Fringe Office (as mentioned in my previous blog) that Charlie Chuck’s Fringe Programme entry (which I wrote) was “required” to be re-written because it was ungrammatical.

Among other ludicrous things, I was told that the phrase “with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant” had to be changed to “with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant” (at £10 per word) to be acceptable because all entries in the Fringe Programme have to be “grammatically correct”.

Yes, you can no longer, I was told, write in headliney telegramese. Your £400 40-word entry now has to have totally grammatically-correct sentences containing subject, verb and object. That is what I was told. Subject-verb-object. And apparently, if necessary, also the definite and indefinite articles. You have to use the word ‘a’ if it is grammatically necessary – at a cost of £10 minimum.

This is madness of a gargantuan order which almost demands a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award of its own for sheer inanity.

Mervyn Stutter says: “My advice to Stuart Goldsmith is to keep going public. Make as much noise about it as possible. It’s what social networking is there for. He might also find useful the phrase Kick against the Pricks - ‘To argue and fight against people in authority’ (Cambridge Dictionary)”

It could, indeed, be a motto for dealing with the newly-narrow-minded Fringe Office people in general.

According to the Bible, Jesus said it to St Paul – “Kick against the Pricks” – It is quoted in Acts of the Apostles (9:5)

No doubt the Fringe Programme would today refuse to run the Biblical quote without replacing the i with an ! or an *

But, as the late Malcolm Hardee would have said: “Fuck ‘em.”

11 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Language

11 responses to “Edinburgh Fringe becomes laughing stock as comedians & critics turn on it

  1. Jody k

    They said i couldn’t use three dollar signs in a row ‘$$$’ in my fringe entry, as it didn’t fit their ‘house style’. :-/

  2. …. sounds like the Fringe is long overdue for being melded with the main festival, usurped by (another) real fringe.

    … only problem is finding a single space available to do any sort of show!

    • they would not allow me to have my listing for the workshops I am doing for them in lower casing lettering which is an edgeeradica style of presentation. when I asked them why they had not used the listing I sent they said that it was not compatible with their presentation. or more likely because they think they have a right to decide another companies style of presentation. no offending language of any sort. yet the leith festival, a small local festival in june printed my blurb with out question.

  3. Earlier today I was in a small village in Wales called ‘Three Cocks’. None of the road signs were censored.

    The postcode is LD3 0SG if you don’t believe it exists.

    If it’s a word that goes on road signs I don’t really see why they feel the need to censor it. It does seem like they are being a over zealous.

  4. Stuart Goldsmith a prick? He’s a lovely guy!

    And the evil, as you pointed out, is the 394£ price tag. For £100 a listing they name my show for me

  5. Fuck you Lewis :)

    I thought this was an isolated incident, but I’m genuinely disturbed by how many people have come forward and said they’ve had copy disallowed for reasons of “taste”, “decency” or “house style”.
    This was the Edinburgh Fringe we were talking about – what’s happened?!

  6. Norma Lynn Devlin

    As a non-comedian but someone who works at a venue I have to ask the more than obvious question……. Do the idiots censoring in this draconian way actually think that putting a strategically places asterix or exclamation mark actually makes any difference to what the human brain reads. Print, for example, “Pr!ck” I ( and most people) will still see PRICK ffs.

    • Is this eligible for a Spirit of the Fringe award? It’s the sort of idiocy that happens in some form or other every year and serves to unite us in our rebellious opposition while also giving excellent publicity to at least one Avalon show. I don’t remember a year when this hasn’t happened.

      PS: What’s become of Kunt & the Gang’s listing? We should be told.

      PPS: Our show’s called Boo Lingerie. Hope that’s not too risque for this modern age.

  7. Double fuck you Stuart Goldsmith. So you can’t use a few words which society says are “dirty”? Big deal but good press. The English love the dirty words.

    The big issue for me is that the Fringe charges £394 to list a show whether it’s at The Castle charging 37£ a ticket or a pay what you can/think it’s worth show, say “Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous No, YOU Shut up!” at the Hive at 4:45pm or the Free Sisters at 8:15pm.

    And even that’s not a big issue. Next year I’m not going to register my show with the Fringe and spend the money more effectively by paying the first 700 punters a pound each to come into my show. Or enroll everyone who comes to my show in a £700 lottery? Or spend £700 extra pounds buying drinks for the other acts bled dry by the Fringe Society.

    I love you Stu and it’ll be worth a tenner or more to see how you could convince anyone you’re a “Prick”. It’ll be like me calling my show “Reliable” or “Lewis Schaffer, One of The Gang”.

  8. Pingback: Seven days on stage: National Theatre of Scotland on top | Free Scotland

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