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Comedy duo Ellis & Rose: beefing-up Jimmy Savile, looking for other work

Worth a punt?  Saturday’s Big Comedy Conference in London

Worth a punt? Saturday’s Big Comedy Conference in London

On Saturday, I am on one of the panels at the Big Comedy Conference in London.

Yesterday night, I got a message from a starting-out stand-up comedian based outside South East England:

Hi john,

Do you think I would benefit from the Comedy Conference?

My answer was:

No idea. It’s a bit pricey – £149 – but good value for money. It runs 09.00am to 11.00pm and there are over 40 top names giving advice, from Big Name comedians to BBC bosses, writers, agents and the whole gamut down to the likes of me.

But, if you have free accommodation in London, I say go for it. The only way to get on in anything is to be in the right place at the right time. There is no way of knowing where or when that is, so you just have to put yourself about a bit as much as possible. If you don’t go, you can be 100% certain nothing will come of it. If you do go, there is at least a chance something might.

I think you should go not expecting to LEARN anything specific as such, but it would give you a wider, non-local, professional view of the business and I suspect you can schmooze well (something I’m shit at).

It is a financial decision really. If you can afford to go, look on it as a weekend holiday with potential benefits; expect nothing; hope for the best. It is a bit like the Edinburgh Fringe. Toss money away and pray.

I think the comedy-going public assume when they see a comedian on stage that he/she is a full-time comedian. The truth, of course, is that for maybe the first five or six or more years of their professional lives, comedians tend to have ‘day jobs’ because they cannot survive financially on their comedy work.

Coincidentally, I had a chat on Friday with award-winning comedians Ellis & Rose – Gareth Ellis and Richard ‘Rich’ Rose.

I say “award-winning” because they won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, when Rich repeatedly punched Gareth in the face so they could – as a publicity stunt – claim he had been beaten up in the street by an irate punter who was offended by their show Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

That is REAL dedication to your art. They videoed the punching and it is on YouTube.

I met them on Friday in a pub in London’s Soho.

I paid for the single round of drinks. After all, let us not go mad on spending money. I am a Scot brought up among Jews.

“So,” I said, “you performed Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show in Norwich, while I was safely out of the country in Nuremberg. How did it go?”

“It was the first time we’ve done the beefed-up Jimmy Savile show,” replied Gareth Ellis.

The Norwich poster

Ellis & Rose – beefed-up show in Norwich

“Beefed-up?” I asked.

“Now with real puppets,” explained Rich Rose.

“Glove puppets or string puppets?” I asked.

“Muppet-sized puppets,” said Gareth.

“Foam and felt,” said Rich.

“With people in them?” I asked.

“Well, me,” said Rich.

“The audience in Norwich really liked it,” said Gareth. “I think because we’ve added more stuff. It’s become something.”

“What have you added?” I asked. “A plot?”

“Not necessarily a plot,” admitted Rich.

“It started off as nothing in Edinburgh,” said Gareth, “but, by the end of the Fringe, it was consistently hitting… erm… the hour mark. So we’ve added in extra nonsense like Rolf Harris.”

“That was what it was lacking,” said Rich.

“They all really enjoyed it in Norwich,” said Gareth. “Not one of them really hated it,” he added with a hint of surprise in his voice.

“I think you should tour old people’s homes,” I suggested. “You need to find people who will be really offended.”

“You didn’t help us,” said Rich, “with your Raoul Moat headline (Jimmy Savile comedy duo banned from Norwich pub. Now they plan a musical based on a murder maniac rampage). I’m never gonna get a job now.”

“Excuse me,” I said, “am I the person who beat up his comedy partner in Edinburgh just to get a couple of lines of publicity in The Scotsman newspaper?”

“One line,” said Rich.

“Anyway,” I added, “What did I say about Raoul Moat, the infamous murderer?”

Police photo of Raoul Moat

Police photo Raoul Moat

“You said it was a musical,” Gareth told me, “but it’s an opera.”

“And I’m not involved in it,” added Rich warily.

“You made it seem like a frivolous entertainment,” complained Gareth. “It’s going to be a real work of art. It’s going to be a departure from what we normally do.”

“I didn’t think you actually intended to do an opera,” I explained. “I assumed it was a cheap publicity stunt.”

“I’m meeting up with Jorik Mol,” said Gareth, “and we’re going to write material for it… It’s going to be a genuine opera. It’s going to be a serious tragedy.”

“I believe that,” I said. “I have seen your previous work.”

“John Kearns has agreed to play a sniper lens,” said Rich.

“Karl Schultz has agreed to be a fishing rod,” said Gareth, “and Adam Larter is going to play a startled deer.”

“So when is this seriously tragic opera going to be staged?” I asked.

“2016,” said Gareth. “It’s only an idea so far.”

“What gave you the idea?” I asked.

“The story,” explained Gareth, “is just incredible… unprecedented in terms of the media interaction: the week-long narrative that developed around it.”

“The problem now,” said Rich, “is that partly due to you, John, if you type my name into Google followed by the words Raoul Moat or Jimmy Savile… well there goes any chance I have of getting a job.”

Seeking any employment: Gareth Ellis (left) and Richard Rose

Seeking any employment: Gareth Ellis (left) and Richard Rose

“That’s why we’re unemployed,” said Gareth.

“Yeah thanks, John,” said Rich.

“I’d like to say in your blog,” emphasised Gareth, “that I’m looking for a job.”

“As what?” I asked.

“Well, I’m good at organising gigs,” replied Gareth.

“That’s not a job,” said Rich.

“Surely you could earn a good living as a gigolo?” I asked.

“I’ve got a licence for bar management,” continued Gareth. “I can manage a venue.”

“There must be money in being a gigolo,” I said. “Women were throwing themselves at you in Edinburgh.”

“I want a job and a girlfriend,” insisted Gareth.

“You’re asking too much from life,” Rich told him.

“I’d just like some money,” said Gareth.

“Have you never seen The Producers?” I asked. “You just find some old women, get them to finance your shows, leech onto them and get loads of money.”

“But we’ve already produced one of the worst shows of all time,” said Rich, “and it didn’t make us loads of money.”

“Tell me about it,” I said. “I financed Killer Bitch, the movie… I think Raoul Moat: The Opera could be equal to Springtime For Hitler.

“What I like about your blogs with us,” said Rich, “is that they manage to be even less coherent than the ones with Chris Dangerfield.”

“So plug something,” I said.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Ghost of Jimmy Savile pursues comedy duo

“We’re doing our Ellis & Rose show on Tuesday and Jimmy Savile on Thursday,” said Rich.

“Is there a point to the Jimmy Savile show?” I asked.

“It wasn’t satire in Edinburgh,” said Rich, “but now it is.”

“It’s a satire on the nature of performers,” said Gareth.

“No, don’t give it away,” said Rich. “It’s not that.”

“Is it a post-modern comedy?” I asked, trying to help.

“It’s not even comedy,” said Gareth.

“It’s definitely not comedy,” agreed Rich.

“It’s genuinely a work of art,” said Gareth. “I don’t think it’s classifiable. It’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a kind of tragedy.”

“It’s poignant,” suggested Rich. “Actually, Gareth did have a kind of revelation…”

“…during the show in Norwich,” explained Gareth. “I just stopped.”

“The whole show stopped,” said Rich.

“We had this beautiful moment with the audience,” said Gareth.

“The audience stopped laughing,” said Rich.

“And we actually realised why we were all there,” said Gareth, “watching this show about Jimmy Savile.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Well,” said Rich, “we’re not going to give it away.”

“You’re going to have to come along and see it,” said Gareth.

“And we’ll cynically try to recreate that revelation,” said Rich.

Potential Edinburgh Fringe legends Ellis & Rose

Is it original art? Is it comedy? Is it a post-modern revelation?

“I was talking to someone the other week,” I said, “and he suggested we should have an annual beating-up of Gareth at the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“I’d be happy with that,” said Rich.

“It could become a Fringe tradition,” I suggested.

“I think someone every year has to get punched in the face,” agreed Gareth.

“It could make you a star,” I suggested.

A sparkle appeared in Gareth’s eyes, but I am not sure what caused it.

Maybe it was a tear.

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Jimmy Savile comedy duo banned from Norwich pub. Now they plan an opera based on a murder maniac rampage…

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into a comedy venue…

Ellis & Rose revealed as Punch andPunch puncher

Gareth Ellis (left) & Rich Rose revelling in Edinburgh

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August, comedy duo Ellis & Rose got more than a little attention by performing Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

The Chortle comedy website reviewed it with the words: “It’s an insult… It could have been a provocative show. It could have been a silly show. It could have been a satirical show. But it should surely at least have been a show.”

The other reviews were… equally interesting. The London Is Funny comedy website gave the show 1-star as “a steaming pile of horse shit”. Slightly better was The Skinny, which gave it 3-stars and said it was “good, knockabout fun done in a deliberately half-arsed way” and Outsider Comedy gave it 5-stars and said it was “a new style of comedy that is years ahead of its time”.

Admittedly, Outsider Comedy is actually just their fellow comedian Mike Belgrave, but Ellis & Rose know how to concoct good publicity from bad.

They won a highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award at the Fringe when a member of the public hit Gareth Ellis in the face in the street and gave him a massive black eye for daring to perform Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

Well, they didn’t get the Award for that.

They got it when it was revealed in this blog that, in fact, it was a publicity stunt and Rich Rose had repeatedly punched his comedy partner Gareth Ellis full-force in the face to get the required effect… all to publicise their show. They even videoed the beating and posted it on YouTube:

They know how to milk a show for publicity. So it came as no surprise to get a message from Gareth Ellis yesterday. It said:

The Norwich poster

Not normal even for Norwich – the poster

We are putting Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show on in Norwich for one night (next Monday 18th November) before we hit The Brixton Dogstar in London with it on the 28th. We had arranged a lovely Norwich venue, which was to be the Hog in Armour pub and we sent out all the listings information.

The day after that, I got a phone call from the manager telling me the pub owners had reacted badly to having a Jimmy Savile show in their venue – and could we change the title? If not, they told us, we would have to cancel.

The owners of the pub apparently also own a family holiday park and didn’t want Jimmy Savile in their pub and – of course – they wrongly thought that something called Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show is somehow going to be totally pro-Savile…

I suggested we change the title to Sir Uncle Jim’s Unwanted Spitroast, which didn’t go down well… but then it never does.

They said the show would have to be cancelled. I said OK. But I am not one to give up in the face of adversity so, the very same day, I made a lot of phone calls and arranged a new venue – Now we are going to perform the show in a lovely place called Olives Cafe Bar, who are very supportive of us and our Jimmy.

I have no idea if any of the above is true.

It sounds likely.

But, in Edinburgh, I saw Gareth’s very painful black eye and it never entered my head that he had been beaten up by his comedy partner. They know how to drum up shock and publicity.

Now to the future…

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising?

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising: a real one?

For readers who do not live in the UK, in 2010, a man recently released from prison – Raoul Moat – shot his ex-girlfriend, her new boyfriend and a policeman using a sawn-off shotgun.

The new boyfriend was killed, the ex-girlfriend wounded and the policeman permanently blinded. Moat then went on the run for six days and, when cornered by police for six hours, eventually shot himself.

Two years later, the blinded policeman was found hanged at his home.

On Gareth Ellis’ Facebook page, there is currently a posting which says:

Turning the Raoul Moat Saga into an opera. Need a composer to do the music. Anyone?… Raoul Moat really is a great name for the tragic protagonist of an opera… Don Giovanni, Figaro, Raoul Moat…

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Untold comedy news: Malcolm Hardee links anarchic multi-national mis-prints

I know it is difficult to believe but, occasionally, interesting things happening which never quite make it into my blog.

Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom

Comic Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom deep in suburbia

After about four years of not being available on the date, I managed last night to go along briefly to one of comedian Phil Zimmerman’s legendary annual parties. It was a cross between a mini-Glastonbury Festival and visiting a post-Apocalyptic version of GCHQ or the NSA, with CCTV all over the place.

During one previous year’s event – in 2011 – an irate neighbour started shooting at participants with an air rifle from a nearby window, causing mass panic in the back garden. When the police arrived, officers apparently spent some considerable time crawling around the garden looking for evidence in the form of pellets

This year, at the door of Phil’s ordinary (sic) suburban house in Ealing, one sign said (including mis-spellings):

Phil Zimmerman’s back garden last night

Phil Zimmerman’s back garden last night had screens & music

SMILE YOUR ON TELLY!

If you can see this sign you’ve been caught on camera & broadcast live on the internet as part of the TIME ON ACID street-interaction noise performance. More info; www.timeonacid.com

A second sign said:

You are also now part of the world’s longest music video which will be entered for the Guiness book of records and Wikipedia – you too are part of history!

I first saw Phil Zimmerman perform at the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs in, I guess, the 1990s. Phil used to walk across the stage imitating the way that a pigeon walks – with that odd head-jerking movement. As far as I remember, that was pretty much his entire act. It was very enjoyable. Now he runs a monthly comedy club in Faversham and has a series of strange videos on YouTube, including this one:

I caught up with Phil’s annual party this week. but, during this last week, I have NOT shared several things with you.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me this from Vancouver:

Last night  a woman drove into four policemen who were dining at a window table at the Fatburger restaurant on Denman Street, three blocks from my apartment. I heard the commotion: sirens, traffic being redirected by plainclothes police, police supervisors speeding to the scene, ambulances driving slowly away… It was a good thing Matt Roper or Bob Slayer were not sleeping in the doorway. The police got broken bones… nobody died though.

Anna Smith at Car Crash

Anna Smith at this week’s Canadian car crash in Vancouver

Anna is currently working in a bookstore. So she added:

The CBC TV crews were there at the Fatburger restaurant this morning interviewing the locals. They asked me if I would dare to eat on Denman in the future.  I am writing this on my phone at the bookstore which is very um, no computer, no cash register… the owner told me last week LOOK I have gone high tech… I have Post It notes now !!!

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

Bob Slayer as he likes to be seen – now in Sweden

The aforementioned Bob Slayer was also sending me text messages and e-mails this week. He is performing in Sweden and it is worth remembering that he became a comedian because, he says, he read the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

Here are some of Bob’s messages to me this week (including Swedish mis-spelling):

Tonight in Linköping, I have been billed as SON OF MALCOLM HARDER, THE FAMOUS BALLOON DANCER… by a man who was once The Honey Monster. He should know better.

There is a lady here who was once X-rayed by my mum. Crikey!

Last night’s near death experience involved accidentally cycling onto a Swedish motorway on an old bone shaker of a bike with no lights. Turning back looked fraught so I hopped over the barrier and crossed some wasteland onto another road which unfortunately turned out to be a slip road for a busier bit of motorway flyover. Only one thing for it, push on!

Bob Slayer’s great chocolate find in Sweden

Bob Slayer’s great chocolate find in Sweden

I eventually escaped down an unfinished slip road by climbing down a scaffolding tower (with the bike on my back) into a bus yard. The twenty minutes cycle home became a 2 hour adventure! I’m now in Linköping waiting for more adventures to happen…

I know you like chocolate, so here is the big discovery of my cultural mission to Sweden. (See picture)

Bob Slayer is a past winner of the highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

This week I noticed a new Twitter account in the name of Oliver Moore who bills himself as:

Comedy with a smile. 5 times Malcolm Hardee Award nominee. Yet to win.

As far as I know, Oliver Moore is an entirely fictitious stand-up comedian.

Totally untrue but slightly admirable aspiring comedy bullshit

Totally untrue but slightly admirable aspiring comedy bullshit

So I can only assume this Twitter account is some early-started attempt to win next year’s highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A reminder here that (real) comedian Gill Smith inspired the Cunning Stunt Award when she e-mailed me to say the purpose of her e-mail was to nominate herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, by doing so, she could legitimately put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE because she had nominated herself. She added that she thought the late, great Malcolm would have approved.

I agreed that he would and we decided to give Gill the first Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that, if she did not give her an award, she would only give herself an award anyway but we would not get as much publicity.

Life is strange.

Which is good.

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The Santa Claus comedian, mad crowd funding and a crime wave in Greenwich

My car last night - without its numberplate

My car in Greenwich last night – without its number plate

The London Borough of Greenwich which rather grandly markets itself as Royal Greenwich has a good image… unless you live in their council flats.

The Up The Creek comedy club is less than a 30 second walk from the centre of Greenwich and less than a 30 second walk from a shambolic crime-ridden area where the ever-uncaring Council shits on tenants, ignores anti-social behaviour, where gangs have had running gun battles and where, apparently, it’s unsafe to park your car at night.

I had my car window smashed in December 2010 and blogged about it.

Nothing was stolen because of my (cheap but wonderful) Toyota’s excellent double-locking system.

The same thing happened in February 2012 further along the same street. This time, whoever did it actually climbed in through the smashed window of the double-locked door, went through the interior, lowered the back seats and got access from the inside to the boot. A SatNav was stolen from a not-immediately-obvious cavity.

After that, I never parked in that road at night and, if I had to park my car at night at all in Greenwich, I parked it a 10-minute walk away near the police station.

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner with performers Vivienne and Martin Soan at their home in Nunhead, Peckham, where they were preparing this Friday’s Pull The Other One show starring the oft-name-checked (especially by himself) Lewis Schaffer. Then I drove to Greenwich to pick up some belongings from my eternally-un-named friend’s flat. I parked in a nearby well-lit road under a lamp post at a T-junction overlooked by flats, where anyone trying to do anything to my car could be visible. When we came out, 50 minutes later, both the number plates had been stolen off my car.

Don’t talk to me about Greenwich. There is a video on YouTube of what the area was like in March 2011.

Slightly cheerier, were two reactions to my blog yesterday about crowdfunding.

Los Angeles based comedian Nikki Lynn Katt contacted me because she reckons I am a “comedy ninja”.

I have no idea what this means and sometimes I think the loss of the American Colonies was not necessarily a negative factor for our Sceptred Isle.

Still, enthusiasm – though clearly un-British – can have its plus points.

Nikki Lynn sent me a message saying: “I intend to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award from you at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. Unless, of course, you decide to fund my Edinburgh show and then it becomes a conflict of interest for me to win the award :) In the meantime, I’m wondering if you’d be interested in covering my Kickstarter campaign.”

She is raising crowdfunding to make a comedy electronic dance music EP record titled Dance Your Hate Away. One of the songs on the proposed album starts:

When I’m with you I want to die
I want to slit my wrist and I don’t know why
When I’m with you I want to bash in your head
But I don’t and then we fuck instead

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

She is also learning to burlesque dance and hardly needs my help either with that or with the fundraising.

So far she has raised 130% of the funds needed for her $5,000 EP – with $6,510 pledged and 11 days to go. Ever-enterprising and with commendable Colonial enthusiasm, she has now added to her Kickstarter page the words: “We can record 10 songs instead of 5 if we raise $10,000!”

The incentives to contribute, of course, vary.

For $1 you get a digital download, she says, of “my entire existing catalog of music! You will immediately receive everything I’ve ever professionally released!”

“For $55, she says: “I will give you a private burlesque dance performance in your living room for you and your friends (provided you live in Los Angeles). I’m going to bring a friend as well to keep it safe and, to make it super clear, you can’t touch me! I set the delivery to March of next year but this could happen sooner if you have a compelling reason, like you want me to dance at a house party you’re throwing, for example.”

For $85 you get a hand-crocheted scarf. She explains: “Sorry for the high cost, these take a long time to make!”

For $150, you get dinner with Nikki in Melbourne, Australia, between November 18 and November 20, 2013. You have to pay for the dinner.

For $200, you get a date with Nikki in Los Angeles. She says: “The differentiating factor between this reward and the Dinner With Nikki reward is that on a Date With Nikki she will actually consider you as a potential romantic prospect. She is single, after all. All genders are welcome (this is when bi-sexuality really comes in handy!) A chaperone will be provided… Nikki is a lady, no funny business on a first date!”

All this Colonial enterprise and enthusiasm is no doubt admirable, but I rather tend towards the other response I had to my blog on crowdfunding.

It came from British comedian Ray Davis. He hopes to raise £750.

Totally unexplained image on Ray Davis’ appeal page

Unexplained image on Ray’s Indiegogo page

On his page on the more dubious Indiegogo website (regular readers of this blog may remember comic Laura Levites getting financially messed-around by Indiegogo) Ray says:

“The purpose of this project is to raise funds for no real purpose – I plan to do absolutely nothing with any monies raised except perhaps waste it on frivolity.”

He adds:

“I have of course not formatted this pitch, provided a video despite advice that it increases contributions by 114%, a web site and even started sentences in lower case and with a connective – in essence I’ve done all I can to provide an empty petri dish.”

If you contribute to Ray’s appeal, some of the temptations on offer are…

If you donate £1, you get  “An Original Thought” – If you have a Twitter account, Ray will “tweet you an original thought (no guarantee it’ll be witty or inspiring though). Estimated delivery: December 2013.”

For £25, you get “My Tweeted autograph – possibly worthless…but you never know, one day, eh?”

And – the biggie – If you donate £100 or more, you get Broken Christmas Tree Decorations (delivery date in January 2014)”

Ray explains (without resorting to capital letters):

“you know what it’s like – you always lose some tree dangler over the festive period (and we have a cat so odds are high) – any damaged or broken will be boxed and shipped at my expense – plus a genuine on paper autograph.”

So far, Ray has raised zero of his hoped-for £750 funding with 56 days left.

But he makes me feel proud to be British and I wish him well.

Bob Slayer AKA unexplained Rachel

Is this the face of Santa for 2013?

In late news… This morning, I received an e-mail from comedian and indefatigable self-publicist Bob Slayer. It reads:

“I have just been asked to be a Christmas Santa at a shopping centre – and I think I am going to take it. I have offered to dye my beard white which I think might be the clincher… Santas seem to get quite well paid.”

Reading this, I realised that I myself have Santa potential. If I re-grew my beard, it would by now be white and I already have a Santa stomach already in place.

Alas, I think I may be missing the required Ho-Ho-Ho factor… Bloody Greenwich!

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‘American’ comedian Lewis Schaffer revealed to be English character actor Brian Simpson

Mark Watson - Englishman with fake Welsh accent

Welsh comedian Mark Watson was not all he seemed

One night a few years ago, I went with comedy character act Charlie Chuck to The Cockpit Theatre in London. Also on the bill was comedian Mark Watson who had successfully performed for several years using a Welsh accent, despite the fact he came from Bristol and had an English accent. The problem Mark had, he told me, was how could he now drop the Welsh accent he had originally adopted to differentiate him from other comedians playing the circuit?

That night, about 28 minutes into his 30 minute set, he said in his Welsh accent (I paraphrase):

“…but, in fact, I don’t speak like this at all (then switching to his real English voice) I actually speak like this…”

There was (this is true) an audible gasp from the audience. It was an extraordinary coup de théâtre.

And Mark got away with it.

Similarly, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, a well-known English comedian performed as a fake Canadian comedian, disguising his face with a clever mask. Most critics never mentioned his real name though their reviews had knowing ‘winks’ for those in-the-know. He would have been nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award except that it was widely known by the media who he was (at least one publication named him) and, in fact, he admitted it in an interview.

To my mind, though, the best ‘fake’ comedian – revealed here for the first time – is ‘American’ comedian Lewis Schaffer, who has kept up the pretence for nigh on ten years without anyone realising.

‘Lewis Schaffer’ is actually English character actor Brian Simpson who hails from Brownhills in the West Midlands.

The real face of ‘Lewis Schaffer'

Real face of talented English actor Brian Simpson

“Frankly, it’s relief to admit it,” Simpson told me last night over a very English meal of seared fillet of sea bream with Devon crab and crushed new potatoes at Langan’s restaurant in London’s Mayfair.

“I thought I had gone as far as I could with the Lewis Schaffer character and it was beginning to become a parody of itself.”

“Why did you start it?” I asked.

“I was an actor in my mid-forties, struggling like most,” Simpson told me in his own soft English voice which has a slight twang of a Birmingham accent. “The comedy club circuit was still at its height and I thought I’d try that, but I needed a USP – a Unique Selling Proposition. So I thought of this character.

“The Lewis Schaffer character was a New York Jew set adrift in an alien environment – England – on which he could give insights as a supposed outsider. I remember as a kid watching the BBC TV series Adam Adamant Lives! which was about a Victorian James Bond type character frozen in ice who is revived in Swinging Sixties London. So he looked OK – his Victorian cape did not look out of place in the King’s Road – but ‘normal’ things like light bulbs, cars and TV were all new to him.

Crocodile Dundee inspired Lewis Schaffer

Inspirational Crocodile Dundee movie

“They used the same idea in the original Crocodile Dundee film – a figure set down in an alien environment. So, to be honest, I nicked that idea and I gave him a back story – He had married a British woman whom he calls English, but actually she’s Scottish because, as an American, he doesn’t know the difference. And I gave him two children because that widened the terms of reference for his stories. So he’s a divorced, neurotic Jewish New Yorker trapped in the UK by love of his children. In fact, I’m gay and have a partner who is not in showbusiness, which I think is what keeps me sane.”

“So why,” I asked, “have you decided to ‘come out’ now as Brian Simpson?”

“I guess,” said Simpson, “I was getting tired of the ‘Lewis Schaffer’ character. I’ve played him for over ten years now and, for an actor, that’s… well, it’s not what I want. It’s like performing in The Mousetrap every night. Not that The Mousetrap is not a very fine play. It is. But only playing Lewis Schaffer is very limiting for an actor. It’s not what I came into the business to do.

Comedy hero Andy Kaufman

American comedy hero Andy Kaufman

“Also meeting the American comedian Laura Levites at the Edinburgh Fringe last year had a big effect on me. I had always claimed that Lewis Schaffer was brought up in Great Neck, New York because that was where one of my great comedy heroes – Andy Kaufman – was born. But, by coincidence, Laura was from Great Neck too.

“It’s not a big place and she almost caught me out on details a couple of times, though I was able to bullshit my way through chatting with her. But it kind of made me feel like the fraud I was. It took the edge off the ‘game’ of playing Lewis Schaffer. I thought I have been doing this for ten years and still don’t have a TV series or vast amounts of money flowing in from the character, so why keep up the pretence?

“I do OK. I have always said Lewis Schaffer lives in Nunhead, Peckham, but actually my partner and I live in West Hampstead and we’ve got a couple of properties we rent out in Swiss Cottage. So we get by.

“But something happened to me this year; I don’t know what it was. I let my hair go grey and I got a bit tired of being Lewis Schaffer not Brian Simpson and I started feeling broody or something. I might move back to the West Midlands, to Brownhills.”

“So where do you go now professionally?” I asked.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Simpson had grown tired of keeping the Lewis Schaffer secret

“Well,” said Simpson, “I’ll keep doing the Lewis Schaffer character in my current shows in London – Free Until Famous is every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Source Below in Soho and American in London is at the Leicester Square Theatre every Sunday. I might even do another mini-tour of arts centres with Lewis Schaffer. I tried that out earlier this year and it went OK.

“Next year, I’m thinking of staging an Edinburgh Fringe show called Lewis Schaffer Is Not Feeling Himself or possibly Lewis Schaffer Is Not Lewis Schaffer. And I have a new character I’m working on. She’s a schoolteacher character from Ulster and she was once a…”

“She?” I asked.

“Yes,” explained Brian Simpson. “I need a complete break from Lewis Schaffer.”

“Are you actually Jewish?” I asked.

“No,” Simpson laughed. “Catholic… non-practising but, once a Catholic, always a Catholic…”

“Did you think of killing off the Lewis Schaffer character?” I asked. “Giving him a Reichenbach Falls ending?”

“You mean like Malcolm Hardee?” Simpson asked me.

“Well, it worked for him,” I said. “Derek has put the Malcolm Hardee years behind him and has carved out quite a good career for himself in South Africa.”

“I prefer to leave it open-ended,” replied Simpson. “I can keep the Lewis Schaffer schtick going for a few more years yet. It’s like plate-spinning. You have to keep everything up in the air.”

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Adam Taffler on mute speed dating, feeling goats & a nomadic naked sauna

Adam juggling spaghetti  in Edinburgh in 2011

Adam juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh, 2011

I first met Adam Taffler aka Adam Oliver at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago when I was organising – if that’s the word – spaghetti-juggling in the Grassmarket.

He was promoting his own show, but joined in. This impressed me.

The next time I encountered him was at the Fringe this year, when I saw him as half of Almond Roca: The Lost Cabaret with Nelly Scott aka Zuma Puma.

But he is not only a performer. He is also a promoter. This weekend, he is staging a show and workshops by American act Red Bastard, who got a lot of attention and an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Then, on 20th October, Adam’s Adamotions company – slogan: Cultivating Hilarity & Humanity – gets together with comedian Bob Slayer’s Heroes company – slogan: Let’s have another drink! – to stage a performance of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott’s Fringe show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Last night, though, Adam enticed me along to see one of his Shhh Dating events – which are basically speed dating but you are not allowed to talk. Last night it was for 35-45 year olds. I was way out of my age range.

“You’re putting on Red Bastard this Friday,” I said to Adam afterwards. “So you’re not just a performer. You’re an entrepreneur.”

“Well, if I really like an act,” he said, “then I want other people to see it. Originally, we were going to do one workshop and one show with Red Bastard, but the bookings went so well we’re doing two shows and three workshops now.

“It’s happened on the back of what I do with Phil Burgers – Dr Brown – I run these retreats with Phil – Clowning In Nature – one-week immersive events. The idea is it’s beyond a workshop. Instead of just going for one day and going home, you’re all there together, living in the same place for a week and Phil takes people out into the nature. It’s not all just in the classroom. It’s blindfolded running down the hill and feeling goats and…”

“Hold on,” I said. “Feeling goats?”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “At the last one, we did this blindfolded walk and I took the lovely Leanne Davis into this pen of goats and she was touching them but was so scared. Afterwards, she told me she’d had a phobia about goats since she was a kid (his words) but she got over it through doing that.

“After I’d done that with Phil, I wanted to do some work with Eric (Red Bastard) because I loved his act in Edinburgh.”

“He and Adrienne Truscott were the most talked-about people this year,” I said.

“And now I’m working with both of them!” said Adam.

“Do you come from a showbiz background?” I asked.

“My maternal grandfather Leo Indra was a lady lifter.”

“A lady lifter?” I asked.

Adam, last night, lifting two ladies

Adam in London, last night, picking up ladies

“He travelled round Europe in the 1950s with water revues, painted in gold, lifting up women with gold loin cloths. This was quite risqué at the time.”

“Sounds fairly risqué any time,” I said. “And on your father’s side?”

“My father’s father was a real businessman. He was the 12th of 12 children and came from a family which was so poor that, if you looked away at dinner, someone would steal your food… My mum is the matriarch of a community called Spirit Horse, which she set up.”

“A hippie thing?” I asked.

“I wouldn’t say ‘hippie’ – I’d say they were really intelligent people who are trying to re-invent culture. And my dad is a hardcore academic: he doesn’t get me at all.”

“An academic of what?” I asked.

“Financial accounting. He’s a socialist academic who travels round the world giving papers about stuff. A lovely guy.”

“You started performing at hippie festivals,” I said.

“Well, I studied Media Studies and French at the University of East Anglia,” said Adam, “but, mostly, I was promoting events and did the radio station. Before I left UEA, I asked people what they were doing – Oh, I’m applying to be a manager at Boots The Chemist – Oh, I’m joining the Civil Service - and it made me cry and shrivel up.

“When I left university, with three of my best friends, I set up a nomadic naked sauna at festivals and we toured that for five years and it was one of the best times of my life. We had these beautiful hippie audiences who would do whatever we said and every single show I did at a festival ended at about one in the morning with everyone stripping naked and painting their nipples gold and running through the fields.”

“You can’t get a better job than that,” I said.

“It really turned me on,” said Adam. “That level of permission and permissiveness and freedom. But how do you give that level of permission to a mainstream audience? I think you have to re-train the audience. That’s why I’m experimenting with all these different formats.”

“Including this dating thing?” I asked. “How did it start?”

“I had a job looking after ‘blank canvas’ spaces in central London,” explained Adam. “We had things like Gucci comedy fashion shows and…”

“What are blank canvas spaces?” I asked.

Adam (right) with Zuma Puma at Edinburgh this year

Adam (right) and Zuma Puma at Edinburgh Fringe

“You hire a space,” explained Adam, “but all you have is electricity and maybe some house lights, so you have to bring everything in for yourself. You have to decorate it and… it was mostly for fashion events and a bit of film, which was more interesting for me. So I would sell Sony a £50,000 space for a month to have an electronics trade show and… Well, it wasn’t that exciting… The stuff I loved doing was… I was looking after The Sorting Office in Holborn and we had You Me Bum Bum Train and I managed to get them an extra month of shows because I was so into them. I loved that bit. But I left my job. I thought I can’t pretend any more. I can’t pretend to be a normal fucking person. I’ve got to be myself.”

“Which is?”

“I like people coming together and experiencing each other. I like people being ‘real’ together.”

“That sounds a bit Californian,” I suggested.

“Well,” replied Adam, “this dating thing is my first attempt at doing it in a way that mainstream people can understand. When you take away words, you get to see people as they really are. That’s interesting. We’re all so protective. Which is OK. It’s OK. But I think, in these hippie festivals where I started painting everyone’s nipples gold and naked crowdsurfing and…”

I interrupted: “There seems to be a motif running through all this of nakedness.”

“It’s a metaphor,” said Adam.

“It’s a metaphor for psychological nakedness?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s the same thing; it’s like stripping away the stuff. If you can get an audience to act something out, then they become it. Audiences – at these hippie festivals especially – are all waiting to have permission to do the shit they want to do. In the festivals, I used to be able to give them that permission, to speak their exact language and it was incredible. Such fun.

“I’ve not yet found out how to do that with a really cynical, mainstream, alcoholic comedy audience, so I’ve decided to create my own audience now – and that’s what I’m doing with all these events.”

“How did you get the people who came to this silent speed dating thing tonight?”

“We’ve been in Time Out a couple of times, we’ve been in the Sun, we’ve been in the Daily Mail. Actually, the Daily Mail journalist really got this more than anyone else. We’ve been in the mainstream press and people from around the world have been contacting us wanting to set these things up.”

“So,” I asked, “the Shhh Dating is not just going to be in London? You’re going to expand into other places?”

“We’ve got people actively working on Brighton and Bristol. We’re going to do Cardiff; there’s someone in Berlin.”

Red Bastard is in London this week

Red Bastard on stage in London this week promoted by Adam

“And,” I prompted, “as well as Red Bastard this week, you’re co-promoting Adrienne Truscott’s show in a few weeks with Bob Slayer. Will you do other things with him?”

“We might do,” said Adam, “What I like about Bob is he’s creating this stage where any art can happen. He’s opening it up for true art and creativity to come true and that’s what really excites me. I love the renegade nature of it.”

“So what are you?” I asked. “A performer? A promoter? An entrepreneur?”

“I feel I’m a showman. I like performing shows, I like putting on shows. I was at my happiest travelling round from place to place with that nomadic naked sauna.”

“Other people you want to work with?” I asked.

“There’s a friend of mine – Joanne Tremarco – we trained together with Jonathan Kaye at the Nomadic Academy For Fools and she did a show called Women Who Wank. You might have heard about her, because she was dressed up as a vagina and there was a guy dressed up as a penis at Glastonbury and someone ripped his hat off and punched him. It went round the world – Man Dressed As Penis Gets Attacked.”

“The penis head had a hat?” I asked.

“Yes, he had a proper bell end bit,” said Adam.

“I think attention to detail is important,” I said.

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Edinburgh Fringe financing – was yesterday the tip of a deeper iceberg?

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

Bob Slayer scarred & maligned by yesterday’s caption

My blog yesterday was about a Facebook spat between comedy people Harry Deansway and Bob Slayer on the subject of free and pay-in-advance shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I captioned a photo of Bob Slayer with the words: Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway, triggering this comment from Bob himself:

I have issues with this line “Comic Bob Slayer has some issues with Harry Deansway”. I don’t have any real issues with Harry.

He puts across a perfectly valid opinion – the pay-to-play venues suit some acts and some shows perfectly and Harry obviously had a thoroughly lovely time at the Fringe…

I feel that in the past the large venues tried to marginalise independent venues – but we have successfully redressed the balance and now there is a place for everyone at the Fringe. I think the big venues will need to offer small productions and comedy better deals and they will increasingly move into big production and theatre where their deals have more justification. But Tom Binns, who is possibly the smartest man at the Fringe, had a show with the Pleasance (Ian D Montfort) and a show with us (Ivan Brackenbury and others) – This worked really well for both shows helping each other out. We coordinated the promotion campaigns and Tom had a wonderful Fringe with literally the best of both worlds.

As for Harry’s rudeness which some people have pointed out, well that is just an exaggerated stance as part of his Harry character act. It’s beautiful really and maybe he is the funniest thing in comedy.

Sonny Hayes

Sonny Hayes triggered an unexpected response

When performer Sonny Hayes then commented on the blog: Gotta say, Bob Slayer wins the debate hands down, Bob replied:

Thank you Sonny but I don’t really want to win this debate… See what Harry is doing for whatever reason is attempting to polarise the debate. It’s them or us. This is divisive, negative and dated.

The Independent Fringe doesn’t need defending anymore – a couple of years ago I was very frustrated that the industry, media and acts believed the line that you had to be in one of the big venues to get noticed – However this year has really proved that is not the case. OK, some people still don’t get this but that is fine.

There is a place for everyone now and we can leave discussion about bad deals and pay-to-play to go on in the board rooms of the big venues and agents who need to decide if they want to offer better deals for low production shows and comedians OR if they want to continue to move into higher production and theatre shows where their deals have more justification.

Now that we have an extremely viable independent set up it doesn’t really matter what other people are up to – we can just carry on and have fun. There are more than enough acts who want to join us in this now and we can continue to explore smart ways to make the Fringe and comedy industry work.

Meanwhile, over on Facebook, comedian Mandy Dassa commented:

Mandy Dassa

Mandy Dassa was a bit shocked by the ego one-upmanship

Aside from all the ego one-upmanship, which clouded the actual point of this debate, we need to thank Bob Slayer for creating hype for the free/pay what you want Fringe and giving it the creditability it deserves.

We do need ‘the Big 4′ with its advertising and big purple cows and the like (if anything just to decorate the city of Edinburgh in bright colours) but, let’s put this straight right now, unless you are a massive comic you are being taken for a ride financially (if not by a venue then by your promoter pushing you to spend) – It’s not fair to cash in on people’s dreams so shamelessly.

Maybe all this debate and ranting may shake the big venues to lower their prices for acts and give the Fringe a bit of unity with its ticket prices. All I heard all summer was good things about Heroes (Bob Slayer’s venues) - We should be glad someone is expanding on the already genius idea of Free Fringe. Pay what you want/cheap tickets in advance was always going to be the natural move and well done Bob for making that happen.

Harry, I love ur ass, I laughed and laughed when I saw your show, but not all of us can afford to lose thousands of pounds in the name of performing in a venue like the Pleasance and people like Bob have given us broke comics a platform to bring our goods to Edinburgh without having to sell our grandmas!

There was another comment on Facebook – from Adrienne Truscott who, at this year’s Fringe, won both the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the panel prize from what used to be the Perrier Awards for her show staged at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue. Now back in New York, she wrote:

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s multi-award winning show: Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

Thanks for keeping this most necessary conversation alive. And to Bob Slayer for trying something new that seemed to work very well. Everyone I shared our venue with seemed genuinely happy and supported not only by our venue people, Bob and Miss Behave, but also by the model, the press and one another.

It’s hard to imagine any artist being angry about new models and paradigms emerging, fiscal or otherwise, for presenting art. Of the many Fringes I’ve done with many houses (3 of the Big 4), this was by far my most successful by any stick you use to measure.

Choosing Bob’s Bookshop and this model allowed me to bring a new and rough-around-the edges show to the Fringe to work on it in terms I could live with, without pretending that I was presenting a completely finished show to a paying audience and without the stress of paying more than I can afford at the top or thinking of my audience in terms of money made back, but rather as interested parties whose presence and energy every night helped change and improve my show, which is the main reason I brought it to the Fringe.

As it became popular and hard to get in to, the Heroes model swung into full effect and worked organically the way ‘the free market’ as I understand it says it will. Also, when it became successful I did not have a vulture of a venue runner suddenly laying claim to it as it suited him, but rather a supporter and friend who continued to evolve ideas about how to do things as the season went along. I reckon entertaining new models can make you sharper about how and why you make your own art too. It may depend on what kind of show you’re doing and what kind of audience you are after and, for some, the Big 4 may be an appropriate fit.

I knew for my show I needed to be able to retain control over how it was presented, how the room felt etc. and I was allowed that freedom. It would be hard to argue that going with the costs and demands of one of the Big 4 would allow an independent artist to bring a new work to the Fringe without getting gutted financially. Also, this conversation doesn’t even dip in to the longstanding problem of some of those bigger houses failing to pay, on time or indeed at all, the artists that have filled their houses working every single night, a far dodgier conversation…

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