Tag Archives: award

‘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.”

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Surreal

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…

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Filthy rock group tales of the comedian who took a cheese grater to his face

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott had a multi-award-winning show

Comedian Bob Slayer had a good time at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

He ran his Bob’s Bookshop venue for the first time and Adrienne Truscott’s show there won both the main Malcolm Hardee Award and what I think we have to call the Perrier/Edinburgh/IF/Fosters Comedy Panel Award in the smallest venue ever to win that award.

This year, there was no Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award, because we did not think anyone was suitable. Instead, we called the pre-made trophy the ‘Pound of Flesh’ Award.

Yesterday, on what turned into a 9-hour drive down from Edinburgh to London, comedian Bob Slayer told me: “I’ve never seen the point of you giving that Million Quid Award anyway. It’s basically the same as the Fosters Comedy Award. So you’re just trying to cover the mainstream and I don’t think that’s what your awards are about.”

I agreed.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

“So what sort of award could we have instead of the Million Quid Award?” I asked,

“Just something more interesting,” Bob suggested. “Everyone knows who’s going to make a million quid. That prick Xxxxxx Yyyyyy probably already has.”

“Perhaps the Bob Slayer Award for best impression of Bob Slayer?” I suggested.

“Maybe you should have The Increasingly Prestigious Award,” Bob suggested.

“Don’t forget,” I said, “that the Million Quid awards have been pre-made until 2017 with a giant pound sign on them. That’s why we called it the Pound Of Flesh Award this year.”

Bob, surprisingly, thought that this year’s winners of the Malcolm Hardee Pound Of Flesh Award did not do anything particularly exceptional. Comedy performer Gareth Ellis got repeatedly punched in the face by his comedy partner Richard Rose and they then pretended Gareth has been attacked in the street just on the off-chance they could get a few lines of publicity for their show.

“That’s commendably excessive,” I suggested to Bob.

Gareth Ellis (left) & Richard Rose accept the Pound of Flesh Award

Gareth Ellis (left) & Richard Rose accept the Pound of Flesh (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

“Punching yourself in the face,” said Bob, “is just a very obvious idea. We’ve all done that. Once I was late for work and was facing the sack when I was 21 and working at Racal Mobical. I was putting electrical component parts into bags. I was late for work, so I took a cheese-grater to my face because I’d run out of all the normal excuses that my grandmother had died – you can only do that three or four times before they start getting suspicious. So I took a cheese-grater to my face and said I’d been run over by a…”

“Giant mouse?” I suggested.

“A truck,” said Bob.

“How long did your face take to mend from the cheese-grater?” I asked.

Just The Greatest sponsors

The perfect way to scrape the flesh off your late face

“The normal time after you cheese-grate your face,” said Bob. “I did my cheeks, nose, forehead and then I thought I must do my arms and hands, because I remembered when I was a kid I fell off my bike and I’d damaged the back of my hands, so I knew that was realistic. I told them I had been run over by a truck, but they asked me Was this a brewery delivery lorry? Because you stink of booze. And I got fired anyway.

“Then, a few days later, I got thrown out of the flat I was living in, because I hadn’t told anybody that I’d used the cheese-grater and, when they found out, they decided that was the last straw. They found blood on the cheese-grater whilst grating cheese and the vegetarian girl got annoyed and I got ejected.”

“You should use that in a show sometime,” I suggested. “The stories in your Edinburgh Fringe show this year seemed to have more structure.”

“Last year,” Bob told me, “I was so busy running the Hive venue that I struggled with my own show. Well, I thought that was the reason, but I think I was just going through a pupation and my inability to turn into a storytelling comedian. But, this year, it accidentally became a real show on Day Three.”

“Why do you want to be a storytelling comedian?” I asked.

“Because I’ve got lots of stories,” replied Bob, not unreasonably.

“Your image so far has maybe been you behaving OTT,” I said.

“One day,” said Bob, “I will have an audience cheer and be happy that I’ve done a turd on stage. But I can also spin the audience into beautiful stories in all sorts of directions. I think I’ve developed a range of skills and sensitivity this year.”

“Beautiful stories,” I mused, “like the Bloodhound Gang one.”

The Bloodhound Gang - a group of beautiful people

The Bloodhound Gang – inciters of urine/beer plastic glasses

“It is a beautiful story,” insisted Bob. “OK, it ends up with shit and puke and piss everywhere, but it is a beautiful story about friendship and freedom and life and vitality and happiness and a bunch of idiots.”

“How long have you been doing comedy now?” I asked.

“Well,” said Bob, “I first did it on stage with the Bloodhound Gang whenever the public smoking ban came in (2007). They went for a cigarette halfway through the gig and pushed me on stage, saying Our tour manager will entertain you, after blaming me for the fact that nobody could leave the venue to have a cigarette – there were no pass outs.

“They built up this hatred towards me, then they went for a cigarette and the whole room hated me for 8 or 10 minutes and showed their hate by throwing pints of beer at me.”

“Pint glasses?” I asked.

“Plastics,” replied Bob. “The Bloodhound Gang did it again the next night and I tried to speak to the audience and tried to make them laugh and, if anything, it made it worse and they hated me more by throwing pints in glasses but, this time, the rain was salty because they were pissing in them.

“Then on Day Three I hid, because I didn’t want to be pushed out on stage, but the band found me and gaffer-taped me to a chair and put me on stage and said: Our tour manager will entertain you. 

“They had been getting the audience to hate me, but the sight of a man gaffer-taped to a chair, weeping gently and muttering I hate the Bloodhound Gang… Well, the sympathy was, all-of-a-sudden with me and they laughed and I just said: Do you want to hear what wankers the Bloodhound Gand are?

“So, while the Bloodhound Gang was having a cigarette, I was telling the audience stories of what they’d got up to and there was laughter and it was fun and the band came back and we all sang a chorus of The Bloodhound Gang Are Wankers.

“Though, in fact, they’re not wankers. They’re beautiful people. We carried on the tour and we carried on doing that every night. Other bands might have thought Oh, he’s upstaged us or He’s slagged us off. But not them. I really learned a lot from them. They were beautiful clowns, for all their nonsense.

“I did tell a story in my show this year of them shitting and puking and pissing on each other on stage – that’s just where they took it. But they could have taken it anywhere, because they had a real clown sensibility. They were great performers.”

“So you told stories about them this year because…” I said.

Bob Slayer holds his hand, if not his head, high

Bob Slayer – creator of OTT stories and urban legends

“It just happened,” replied Bob. “Obviously, they got into trouble recently after wiping their bum on a Russian flag in Ukraine.

“My show had been going to be about all sorts of bands I toured with – Snoop Dogg, Iggy Pop – but the Bloodhound Gang were the most topical because they were arrested in Russia.

“On Day Three of my show, there was a Russian girl in the audience and I was trying to persuade her that they weren’t political activists; they were just idiots. So I told lots of stories to demonstrate they were idiots, culminating in the aforementioned shit and piss and puke story. And I stumbled on that as being my show.”

“So next year,” I asked, “you will have to be even more…”

“I’m thinking,” said Bob, “that next year I will be a musical act. I did whatever it was I did before… And I’ve bullied a Welshman on stage… I’ve done a game show… Done storytelling… Next year I have to do a musical show, don’t I?… Then the year after I will be an escapologist.”

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Music

At the Edinburgh Fringe: reaction to the fake beating of a comedian + mad chat

Gareth Ellis suffers for his art (photo by Lewis Schaffer)

Gareth Ellis after fake Fringe street attack (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

There was some reaction to the early Malcolm Hardee ‘Pound Of Flesh’ Award yesterday.

It was awarded to Gareth Ellis (with Richard Rose) for their stunt (revealed first in my blog yesterday) in which Richard punched Gareth in the face four times so they could claim he had been attacked in the street and get some publicity for their shows Ellis & Rose: Big in Denmark and Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

In yesterday’s reactions comedian/writer/photographer Ian Fox, in particular, was mentioned.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, he really WAS attacked in the street and left with injuries which took several months to mend. I blogged about it at the time.

Ian Fox after a real Edinburgh street attack last year (photograph courtesy of Ian Fox)

Ian Fox after a real Edinburgh street attack last year (photograph courtesy of Ian Fox)

American comic Craig Shaynak @craigshaynak Tweeted: “Ian Fox should get an award for actually getting beat up! (and for being VERY funny while getting beaten)”

Comedian Janey Godley @JaneyGodley Tweeted: “Comics at Fringe who pretend to be attacked for press attention ? Who the fuck does that? Check @thejohnfleming blog”

And Mike Finlay @MikeFinlayComic mysteriously Tweeted: “A singer who I won’t name was apparently abducted and nearly killed conveniently after announcing his new band”

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show

Meanwhile, the Chortle website (whose review of Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show had been blamed for the non-existent street attack on Gareth Ellis) wrote: “Even by the standard of Edinburgh publicity stunts, it’s pretty extreme.”

Chortle’s Steve Bennett said: “I felt pretty awful when I first thought something I’d written might have ended in someone being physically attacked. No performer deserves that… But I would never have thought that they would have gone to such lengths to deliberately hurt themselves just to get into the paper. I suppose it’s apt, though, the appalling Jimmy Savile show is pretty much a self-inflicted wound on their own comedy career.”

When Gareth Ellis phoned me about the Chortle reaction, I told him he should use the line ELLIS & ROSE: “a self-inflicted wound on their comedy career” (Chortle) on their posters.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about cheap publicity.

Both Chortle and Scots comedy promoter Alan Anderson commented that comedian Shawn Hitchens was notable by his absence from the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt shortlist. He had organised a ‘ginger pride’ march through the streets of Edinburgh, attracting worldwide headlines from the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mirror, the Bangkok Post, Canada.com, the Daily Mail, the Irish Independent, the Times Of Malta and French outlet 7sur7 among others.

Fair enough, a stunt. But not really that cunning.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The increasingly prestigious three Malcolm Hardee Awards

The best cunning stunts play with and ideally play a confidence trick on the media or twist an idea in an original way.

We did very seriously consider nominating the fake Gareth Ellis beating as a Cunning Stunt. But – as we were not going to give an ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award this year so had a spare trophy – we decided we could, in effect, award two Cunning Stunts this year (there have been lots of good stunts around) and we would award the Ellis & Rose one – called the Pound of Flesh Award – early because we were frightened their con would be revealed by someone other than us… and because, by giving an early award, we could drum up some publicity for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show this Friday night.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about cheap publicity: something the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards have always strived to encourage, as a tribute to Malcolm’s increasingly prestigious reputation.

At my Edinburgh chat show today in Bob’s Bookshop, I have booked English eccentric adventurer Tim Fitzhigham who cannot get there for the start because he is finishing off his own show at the Pleasance Courtyard. So, before him on the bill, I have perhaps foolishly booked Geordie-Irish-Iranian comedian Patrick Monahan who perhaps has not the most consistent time-keeping record.

My co-host, Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick, has promised to pole dance to fill in any time before Patrick arrives, so I am now attempting to get hold of Patrick to ensure he is late.

The chat shows seem to be going well.

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Fat man, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday (photograph by Brian Higgins)

On Monday, Copstick was there to defend her reported criticisms of comedian Sarah Millican and, it seemed to me, merely ended up slagging-off at least three other female comedians.

Then Arthur Smith arrived, on his way to Waverley station to get a train to see his mother-in-law in Sunderland… and shared some bizarre tales.

I had intended to blog extracts from these chat shows, but the Ellis & Rose ‘fake beaten up’ story took precedence yesterday and saved me having to listen to 60 minutes of iPhone recording and much longer transcribing hell.

Juliette Burton, Jorik Mol and Laura Levites yesterday

Juliette Burton, Jorik Mol & Laura Levites chatted yesterday (photograph by Brian Higgins)

Yesterday’s chat show seemed to me to be equally fascinating with critic Kate Copstick and comedians Juliette Burton, Laura Levites and Jorik Mol sharing their thoughts on – and memories of – mental hospitals, suicide bids and drugs. Juliette Burton, whose show When I Grow Up I had just seen for the third time – it was a rock-solid 5-star show in a totally sold-out venue – seemed to have had the longest list of mental problems but was the only one not currently on medication. What one deduces from that I do not know.

With luck and more time to transcribe, extracts may appear in this blog at a later date.

Yesterday seemed to be a Juliette Burton day because, after I saw Charlie Chuck’s new show Charlie Chuck’s Grande Night Out – new tartan suit, new jokes and a rousingly-rockingly-sung See You Later Alligator – I went to see John Lloyd’s late-night BBC chat show and, blow me, Juliette was on the bill there again.

But, returning to Bob’s Bookshop – the location of my own daily chat shows – Bob Slayer issued a press release yesterday which said:

Foxy_blondes_only2

Publicity-seeking foxy blondes outside Bob’s Bookshop include Bob Slayer (left) and Adrienne Truscott (second from right)

“Being an intimate venue that has become increasingly popular we have been forced to introduce a plan to control the numbers. Starting today our door policy will be FOXY BLONDES ONLY. Non Blondes will not be allowed after 9pm.”

This seemed to be just an excuse for him to dress up in a blonde wig with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and others.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about cheap publicity, but it can only be a coincidence that Bob’s Bookshop is sponsored by the Scottish Border Brewery and one of their brews is called Foxy Blonde.

I rounded off my day yesterday by going with comic Lewis Schaffer to Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem show at the Bookshop. When we arrived, one member of the audience was asking: “Has anybody here NOT read dolphin sex books?”

This was never fully explained to my satisfaction and I left after an hour, leaving Lewis Schaffer holding the microphone and telling people he was Lewis Schaffer.

40 minutes later, I got a text from Lewis saying:

“Bob tossed a beer at me.”

It was a quiet, mostly uneventful day at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

Edinburgh Fringe act reveals he was beaten up by his partner to get publicity and wins early Malcolm Hardee Award

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

The shortlist has been announced at the Edinburgh Fringe for the increasingly prestigious annual  Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the late ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in London in 2005. As normal, there are three awards, but the third is more than a bit of a surprise.

The shortlisted nominees are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

- Red Bastard

- Ursula Burns (unbilled in the main Fringe Programme)

- Adrienne Truscott

THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

(for best publicity stunt promoting a Fringe performer or show)

- Barry Ferns – for printing 2,000 fake Broadway Baby and Three Weeks review sheets and distributing them round Edinburgh. They gave his own show a 6-star review.

- Richard Herring – for deciding that expensive Fringe posters are pointless and, instead, giving members of his current show’s audience free DVDs of his past performances.

- Lewis Schaffer – for (having heard about Richard’s stunt) also giving away allegedly free DVDs at his shows – but free Richard Herring DVDs because Richard is more famous than Lewis (and you have to donate £5 to Lewis).

- Gareth Morinan – for listing his show 11 times in the Fringe Programme because this gave him more space (and was cheaper) than buying a quarter page ad in the Programme.

THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID’ AWARD

This will not be awarded this year because, frankly, we do not think anyone is worth it.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

However, the £-sign trophy has already been made and (in the spirit of Malcolm Hardee) we are not about to waste it.

So we are awarding it as a special one-off MALCOLM HARDEE ‘POUND OF FLESH’ AWARD to Gareth Ellis of the Ellis & Rose comedy duo for “the kind of publicity money can’t buy”.

Gareth Ellis suffers for his art (photo by Lewis Schaffer)

Gareth Ellis displays his genuine black eye (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

On August 14th, Gareth was attacked in the street by an unknown, irate member of the public who was annoyed by Ellis & Rose’s appearance in Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show. Gareth received a very bad black eye. This followed a Chortle comedy website review which revealed Ellis & Rose’s names as the show’s performers – They had asked not to be named. I blogged about the incident at the time.

EXCEPT – it was revealed to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee judges late last night that the attack never happened. It was a publicity stunt.

In their Edinburgh flat, Gareth Ellis repeatedly hit himself in the face with the blunt end of a milk whisk. When this did not have the required effect, his comedy partner Richard ‘Rich’ Rose punched him four times in the face to give him a black eye.

They videoed the creation of the black eye.

The video (only now uploaded to YouTube) shows Gareth being punched in the face. If you watch it, be sure to have the sound turned up high.

Last night (from left) Mills, Ellis, Rose, Levites, Copstick

Late last night (from left) Mills, Ellis, Rose, Levites, Copstick

Gareth showed the full video to me (including the preliminary milk whisk hits) – and to fellow increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick – in the cafe of the Gilded Balloon venue late last night. Also there in the cafe were his comedy partner Richard Rose, their cohort in the stunt Paul Preston Mills and American comedian Laura Levites.

“When did you first decide to do this?” I asked Gareth.

“After Steve Bennett’s 1-star review of the Jimmy Savile show came out in Chortle,” Gareth told me. “We thought How can we turn this around?

“And did the reported attack increase the size of audiences for your Jimmy Savile and Ellis & Rose shows?” I asked.

“Probably by about 50% on average,” said Gareth. “It went up and down, but it was more consistently full. People love to see and read about people getting hurt.”

“It could,” said Kate Copstick, “become a new marketing tool for comedy shows: grievous bodily harm.”

“Why did you start out by hitting yourself in the face with a milk whisk?” I asked.

“I looked on the internet to find out how to get a black eye – how to give yourself a black eye – and it said Get yourself a blunt object like a broom handle, so you can control the amount of force yourself. We looked in the kitchen and a milk whisk was the best thing we could find. It had a blunt, plastic end.”

“But that didn’t do enough harm to your face?” I asked.

“Well, it did pretty well,” admitted Gareth.

“But you’re a perfectionist?” I asked.

“Well, Rich said That’s not enough,” explained Gareth. “ he said You’ve got to let me punch you.

Ellis (left) recovering last night from Rose’s punch

Ellis last night, his left eye recovering from Rich Rose’s punch

“How many times did he punch you in the face?”

“Four times,” replied Gareth. “He punched me twice, but we forgot to record it, because we were quite drunk – So he had to do it twice again for the video.”

“What did you have to do with all this?” I asked Paul Preston Mills.

“Well,” he said, “I arrived on the Tuesday – all this happened on the Tuesday night – and we were talking about it. But we decided they weren’t quite drunk enough before I left them and went to bed and, at that point, they were still deciding whether Richard was going to hit him or they were going to prod him in the eye with a broom handle. I thought hitting him had to be the correct thing to do.”

“Did your venue manager Bob Slayer have anything to do with the stunt?” I asked.

“Well,” said Gareth. “before the Fringe started, we had ideas of getting publicity and, when Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show first came out in the Programme, the media jumped on it and it was in the national press and we were going to ramp it up by saying we had death threats and performers had dropped out  and Nick Awde, who wrote the original script, had been getting death threats and things like that. So it kind of stemmed from that idea. We found that being named in the Chortle review allowed us to play off that.”

“Any other result from the stunt?” I asked.

“The black eye has made me more appealing to the opposite sex,” replied Gareth.

“Is he,” I asked Laura Levites, “more appealing with or without his black eye?”

“Oh, I like him with,” said Laura. “It means he can take a punch. You want a man who can take a punch.”

“So,” I said, “when his skin recovers and the black eye disappears, he should do it again to be more appealing to the opposite sex?”

“Oh,” said Laura, “he should do the other eye. You’ve got to let one heal and then hit the other one.”

“You were hit by Richard,” I said to Gareth, “your comedy partner. Do you think there might be a homo-erotic element in this?”

“No,” said Gareth.

“Yeah,” laughed Richard. “It’s been a long Fringe and I’ve been quite frustrated a lot of the time.”

“He’s got a girlfriend who isn’t here,” said Gareth.

“So I had to release some tension,” enthused Richard, “and Gareth’s face is small and squishy, much like a breast.”

“We thought,” Kate Copstick interrupted, “that the milk whisk was doing rather a good job of damaging Gareth’s face. Why punch him?”

“Well,” said Paul Preston Mills, “FIST or MILK FROTHER? Which would you choose if you were putting a headline out for publicity?”

“I wanted to keep my ring on my finger,” said Richard, but Gareth wouldn’t let me. I got him really, really drunk. The only reason we decided it would be him not me was because he owed me quite a lot of money.”

“Only 40 quid for groceries!” said Gareth.

“What would have happened if he’d owed £90?” I asked.

“Anal rape,” said Copstick.

“At one point,” said Richard, “I was concerned he was bleeding and I almost felt bad… My hand was sore.”

“Do you expect to get more stars for revealing all this?” I asked.

“Well, we just want more bloody reviews,” said Gareth.

“Bloody is the word,” I said.

“You could say,” suggested Gareth, “that Ellis & Rose are not into punchlines, but we will take a hit for comedy.”

“I could,” I agreed.

______________________________________________________

MHAflyerA6flyer

The increasingly prestigious show 2013

THE OTHER WINNERS OF THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARDS… 

will be announced around midnight this Friday night (23rd August), during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

For more details of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, see:

http://www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk

(and read that web address again carefully).

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

Extraordinarily original acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine The List

Red Bastard on the cover of local magazine

I saw four extraordinarily vivid acts at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday.

The first was the much-talked-about Red Bastard, who manages to combine mime and verbal attacks on his audience with bits of psychology, philosophy and the hint of a dodgy cult thrown into the mix.

Oddly for a performance artist, Red Bastard also managed to work in a big dig at the Fringe itself. The one thing that was unoriginal in his act was to say that everyone involved in shows at the Fringe – the venues, the publicists, the technical people, the management, the agents – all make money – everyone except the performers. But somehow he made even that sound unexpectedly original.

The late-night vivid act I saw was Bo Burnham.

In 2010, we gave him the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award as ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’. We were right to do that. The extraordinary thing is he manages to attract large audiences of almost rock music mentality with a comedy act of genuine originality.

The moment Doug Segal ‘sold’ his idea to Copstick

The moment Doug (right) ‘sold’ his suggestion to Copstick

Sandwiched vividly between those two acts was mind-reading Doug Segal, who abandoned the normal format of his show I Can Make You a Mentalist.

Usually, a random member of the public is chosen (sometimes by throwing bricks into the audience) to be on stage and to ‘do’ the mindreading etc.

Last night, that member of the audience was pre-chosen: Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Critic Copstick becoming a mentalist with help from Doug

Copstick becoming a mentalist with Doug yesterday

This was a lesson in how to get publicity and a near-guaranteed good review for your show. Doug collared Copstick outside Bob’s Bookshop the other night and (I did not hear the exact words but) ‘sold’ her on the concept of actually taking part in his show one day.

Yesterday, that happened and Copstick was so baffled afterwards – “I have absolutely no idea how he did any of that,” she told me when she came off stage – that I cannot believe he will not get a good review.

Of course, it only works if you have a good show to begin with.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about word-of-mouth.

Scotsman journalist Claire Smith told me she had, as she came out of a show, met the next act going into the venue. It was a “dangerous harpist” act who had never been to the Fringe before and who was unbilled in the main Fringe Programme.

Claire thought this sounded like something I might like. She told me. I went. I did.

The performer is Ursula Burns.

Ursula Burns performing at the Piano Bar in Edinburgh

Ursula Burns playing her Paraguayan harp at the Piano Bar

She was born in the Falls Road, Belfast, in 1970 – not a good time or place to be born.

“Bombs, shooting, war. Miracle that I actually survived,” she tells her audience (several of whom have never heard of the Falls Road).

“Total and utter war zone,” she tells them in her Ulster accent. Then she switches to a Spanish accent to say: “Now I will sing my song for you: Being Born.”

Her aunts play the piano and sing; her grandfather was a fiddle player from Donegal; her dad “sings funny songs in bars”; and her mum plays the harp – which is why Ursula never wanted to play the harp while she was a child.

She sings comic songs while playing a very glamorous Paraguayan harp. Her songs include I’m Your Fucking Harpist and Get Divorced and Join The Circus.

When she was 14, she actually did run away from home to join the circus – “They were dark, dark times,” she told me – and, when the Fringe ends, she is going to France with the Irish Tumble Circus.

Ursula, on stilts, plays her harp in Belfast

Ursula, circus-trained, plays her harp on stilts in Belfast

She cannot read music but she can stilt-walk and taught herself to play the harp only when she was an adult. She accidentally won an Irish music comedy award.

During her show, she says:

“People think, because I play the harp, that I’m actually cultured. They think I care about the history of the harp and how many strings it has. They think, because I play the Paraguayan harp, that I know stuff and I’m cultured. But, actually, I just do it for the money.”

Her show is called Ursula Burns: I Do It For the Money, which is true – because she has to support her 9-year-old son who is, she says, very successfully flyering for her in Edinburgh “because he is cute and everyone likes him on sight”.

After the show – in Fingers Piano Bar at 3.10pm daily (except Mondays) until 24th August – she told me:

“I had always written funny songs and I’ve always composed music, but I never associated what I was doing with ‘Comedy’. Then I accidentally won the Irish Music Comedy Awards last year.”

“Accidentally?” I asked.

Ursula wins award (photo courtesy of thecomedyscoop.com)

Ursula accidentally wins award (photo – thecomedyscoop.com)

“I uploaded a couple of videos to YouTube,” Ursula explained. “The Hospital Song  and It Does Not Rock (aka I’m Your Fucking Harpist)

“People shared them round and a comedian in Belfast – Stephen Mullan – used it in his comedy night and he said You should forward your video to the IMCA Awards, which I’d never heard of.

“I tried, but the deadline was the next day – in March last year – and I couldn’t do it. But another guy had forwarded my details and just got in before the deadline.

“The IMCA people got in touch with me and asked me to come down to Dublin and play in the finals… and I won. I only had two funny songs at that point but, in the next month, I wrote the hour-long show.

“I had accidentally got on the comedy circuit and I found that really difficult, because I was getting up there with a harp, sandwiched on the bill between two stand-up comics. I found the comedy world quite rough; I didn’t understand it; I was a fish out of water. They were all men and I’d turn up in a ball gown with a harp. I’d won this award and people were looking at me: Go on! Prove yourself! I need good sound and some of these gigs wouldn’t even have proper sound set-ups.

“The comedy scene doesn’t pay very well. I live off gigs; I live from gig to gig. There’s months where there’s nothing coming in and my life is expensive – I have a 9 year-old son. That’s why I wrote the song I Do It For The Money. I’ve been performing all my life. I’ve paid my dues. Everyone who was on the scene when I was learning my craft has either got famous or given up, but I’ve hung in there.

UrsulaBurns_van

Ursula packs her gear into her van after the Piano Bar gig

“People said You’d go down well at the Edinburgh Fringe but, at a basic, bottom reality, I couldn’t afford to come here. So I applied to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for a grant and I only found out I was getting it at the very end of June (too late to be in the Fringe Programme) and I only got the money the week before I arrived. I couldn’t have come here without their help. Sustaining yourself as an artist with a child is hard and ends do not always meet.

“When I first started,” said Ursula, “I would write really violent lyrics and put them with beautiful melodies and I would be travelling round with bands in vans. I’ve played everywhere from the Albert Hall to tube stations.

“The thing for me about the harp is breaking down the boundaries and comedy is just another aspect where I can do that. I don’t imagine that I will stay in comedy. I need to explore all things in all directions.”

She is a stilt-walking harpist who won an Irish comedy award by accident…

Only in Edinburgh during the Fringe…

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night - Don’t ask

Midnight Mayhew in Edinburgh last night – Just don’t ask

Perhaps the oddest thing I saw yesterday, though, was in the early hours of this morning at Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem show (though even he admits it is not a ‘show’) when surrealist Doctor Brown met flatulist Mr Methane. Neither had heard of the other.

The initial conversation went along the lines of:

Mr Methane: You won the Perrier Comedy Award last year without saying anything?

Doctor Brown: You fart?

Eventually, a bemused understanding was reached.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Ireland, Music

Chasing pussy at Edinburgh Fringe + Lewis Schaffer develops terminal cancer

Lewis Schaffer (left) , Lach and Phil Kay last night

Lewis Schaffer (left in white), Lach and Phil Kay last night

It was 01.40am this morning, when I left Bob Slayer’s first Midnight Mayhem show which has no structure and simply has performers and members of the (if they want to) paying public doing pretty much whatever comes into Bob Slayer’s head – a risky concept at the end of the day, given Bob’s proclivity for drink.

Frank Sanazi croons “It’s Auschwitz" last night

Frank Sanazi crooned about Auschwitz craft

The show was still going strong with Phil Kay just about to start his second musical set.

Earlier, Frank Sanazi had performed one song to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s Witchcraft which he told us he now no longer sings in public (because of too many complaints) – Auschwitzcraft. And Lewis Schaffer had refused to perform his legendary three-part Holocaust joke.

A punter called Sally said it was her third visit to the Fringe over the years and she and her man had seen three shows at the major venues over the course of the day, two of which she said were “shit”. She asked what were the requirements for performing on the Fringe.

Kate Copstick, there to review Midnight Mayhem for the Scotsman newspaper, told Sally that it was a free-access festival and if you paid (one particular major venue) £5,000 up-front, then that was your qualification for performing.

Midnight Mayhem was happening in Bob’s Bookshop which, as a Pay What You Want show within the Free Festival within the overall Edinburgh Fringe, is in a rather different league but it was one which Sally seemed to say was what she had thought she was going to experience when she came to the Fringe for the first time. The earlier shows had not been this anarchic.

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp – the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

My day had started oddly, having breakfast with Lewis Schaffer at midday. Also at the meal – well it was a snack, really – were Ivor Dembina and the man currently sleeping in my bed, Andy Zapp. (I should point out I am sleeping in the living room next door.)

“What’s your best advice to young new comedians?” Ivor Dembina asked Andy.

“It’s good to make money while you’re still shit,” replied Andy.

Lewis Schaffer told us that his Fringe show next year would be called Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer and would contain details of his battle with a life-threatening form of cancer.

“What sort of cancer?” I asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied. All Lewis Schaffer knows so far is that his show will have to be life-affirming and he says he feels he has to establish the title Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer early, in case someone else uses it.

In a press release later in the day, he wrote:

I have never had cancer, nor do I have cancer, but I hope someday to have cancer. Cancer worked for comic greats Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks and Tig Notaro – why shouldn’t it work for me? My apologies to everyone who has cancer and everyone who hasn’t had cancer.

Has anyone seen Kitler? Lost in Edinburgh.

Anyone seen Kitler? Allegedly lost by F.Sanazi

At around the same time I received this press release, Frank Sanazi phoned me up with news that he was sticking up posters all over Edinburgh about the tragic loss of his pet cat Kitler. The feline was not, as far as he knew, dead but (he claimed) had gone missing in action on Thursday.

He told me he would give me more information if I came to see his show Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II (which I had already arranged to do.)

Yesterday was a day I had chosen to see shows by other acts I already knew. For example, I saw two shows by previous winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

Johnny Sorrow (left) in The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

Johnny Sorrow (left) – Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

The first was Johnny Sorrow, appearing as 50% of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. I laughed out loud throughout, something I rarely do. The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society Bonanza show included tap-dancing fleas and ‘the man with no act’ and – suitably for a show steeped in showbiz nostalgia and kitsch – it also included the soundtrack of an ITV trailer of the type I used to make for 20 years.

After the show, I chatted briefly with increasingly prestigious award-winning Johnny Sorrow and he told me:

“A couple of weeks ago in Stockport, Bob Blackman’s grand-daughter Abbie came to see our show. She lives in Macclesfield.”

“Poor woman,” I said. “How did she hear about you?”

“She saw us our name on the internet and thought What the hell’s this? and got in contact with us.”

Bob Blackman used to appear on TV hitting his head with a metal tray to the tune Mule Train. It was a memorable act, now sadly and unjustly forgotten by most subsequent generations of thrill-seekers.

“We found out where Bob Blackman actually started the act,” Johnny Sorrow told me yesterday. “It was at the Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs in London. At first, he used to do the act just by hitting the tray on his knees but then, one day, the Watermans Arms was so packed the tray couldn’t be seen, so he started hitting himself on the head with the metal tray and his fame just took off. His son Raymond told me that. You know you can get plaques put up on walls where cult comedians did famous things? We want a plaque up for Bob Blackman.”

The Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The rousing Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The second Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning act I saw yesterday was Ireland’s Rubberbandits, regaling a packed Gilded Balloon venue with their greatest hits including Spastic Hawk and Up The RA (including the appearance on stage of two balaklava-wearing fake IRA members).

I rather enjoyed the particularly bad taste of their Spoiling Ivan,

The Gilded Balloon seems to be on a roll this year. Earlier, I had seen two other shows by top-notch acts.

Janey Godley was untagged in Edinburgh yesterday

Janey Godley happily ungagged in Edinburgh

My chum Janey Godley has returned for two weeks only to the Edinburgh Fringe – after a break of a couple of years – with a stonkingly good show Janey Godley Is Ungagged mostly about social media.

But it also has one of the most interesting anti-police stories I have heard and Janey’s barnstorming performance occasionally teetered on the edge of successful rabble-rousing.

When she said she was thinking of standing as an MP (I think she was joking – although the late Margaret Thatcher once suggested Janey should enter politics) she was loudly cheered and, by the end, she was telling the audience to be ungagged and to realise words are just words and had them chanting along with her Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! which – as everyone knows – is a term of endearment in Glasgow.

Ashley Storrie with mother Janey at the Gilded yesterday

Ashley Storrie and mother Janey Godley at the Gilded Balloon

As always, Janey did the whole show unscripted and, for these particular Edinburgh shows, she is preceded by a 15-minute warm-up performed by her daughter Ashley Storrie.

I had never seen Ashley perform stand-up before. She got 4-star reviews at the Fringe when she performed as a 13-year-old in 1999, but lost interest in it shortly after that. A couple of years ago, she performed at the Fringe with sketch show Alchemy but, this year, she started doing pure stand-up again. I talked to her about it in January.

On-stage, she has her mother’s self-confidence and audience-controlling charm. Astonishing.

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette Burton in her first grown-up solo show

As is Juliette Burton’s show When I Grow Up, also at the Gilded Balloon.

“I was walking round today flyering people,” Juliette told me after the show, “and I remembered the first time I came up to the Fringe in 2005, just as a punter. Back then, I was really, really jealous of all the performers and now I am one.”

“Which is what your show’s about,” I said. “realising dreams. Though the one thing you do not say in your show is that, as a kid, you wanted to be a comedian when you grew up.”

Juliette Burton gets a dream Fringe pass

Juliette gets her dream performer’s pass

“Not a stand-up comedian,” replied Juliette. “And that’s not what I am now. Why does comedy have to be stand-up? Why do you have to necessarily adhere to one specific form of comedy to be considered a comic performer? If you’re billed as a comedian, everyone assumes you’re going to do stand-up.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I saw Janey Godley earlier this evening and she’s called a comedian, but she’s really not a traditional comedian – she’s a brilliant storyteller who gets laughs.”

“I don’t see,” continued Juliette, “why comedy has to be set-up/punchline/gag. Why can’t comedy take different forms? Mine is very mainstream storytelling, but it would not fit in the theatre section of the Fringe Programme: it would be too comedic. On the other hand, it’s not stand-up comedy.”

“The videos are very funny,” I said. “I normally don’t like videos plonked into live shows to attract TV producers. But your videos and recorded interviews are a seamless part of the live show.”

“I guess,” said Juliette, “that it’s poking fun at some of the social boundaries that we’ve enforced upon ourselves in ways that – I don’t want to give away what’s in the show, but I like to do things that might seem absurd and crazy and like a nutcase, but actually the real crazy thing is not to enjoy what you’re doing with your life.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that your enthusiastic presenting style says to the audience that it’s a showbiz, comedic piece, but it’s not actually..”

Juliette foregrounded by either arms or legs

Juliette (right) sings at rockfest T In the Park

“How can you define comedy?” Juliette interrupted. “I’m very honest on stage. In a way, a stand-up comedian’s routine is more dishonest than what I’m saying. Several people have told me in the last couple of days that they are tiring of stand-up because it’s so predictable. They actually want something a bit different, something to surprise them.

“Stand-up – however shocking it might be – swearing and taboo subjects – is no longer pushing any boundaries. So maybe redefining what a comedy show is might be the next boundary to push.”

“I cried at one point in your show,” I said. “Not from laughter. From sadness. Despite the fact I had seen the show before and knew what was coming. It has shades and the audience don’t see what’s coming. Sometimes comedy is best when you laugh AND cry”

Juliette’s pop promo for her song Dreamers (When I Grow Up) – recorded specially for her show – can be seen on YouTube and the song can bought online. All money made during the Fringe will be donated to Children In Need.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Music

The vicar, the talking penis and the Edinburgh venue which restricts acts

Dave Thompson (centre) the fake vicar

Dave Thompson (centre) as the fake vicar at the TV wedding

In yesterday’s blog, comedy actor Dave Thompson mentioned in passing that he had recently been “a fake vicar at a TV executive’s wedding.”

Obviously, I wanted to know more.

“Well, basically,” Dave told me, “a senior person at Channel 5 (she works in digital sales and is not directly involved in production) wanted to have a ‘different’ sort of wedding.  The couple approached Geoff Whiting of Mirth Control comedy agency, who thought I was best suited to the job.  He had seen me playing an insane killer attacking and fighting Harry Hill in Harry’s recent live show Sausage Time.

“I met the couple at the wedding venue in Surrey. There was a minstrels’ gallery at the back of the room and a kitchen to the side of the ‘stage’ area, where the ceremony would take place. We decided I should pretend to be a vicar and they liked my suggestion that the caterers should make a lot of noise in the kitchen, prompting me to have an argument with them.

“The couple were married in secret the day before, so all 150 guests including the best man thought I was a real vicar, until the end of the ceremony.

“It started normal, then I quoted some extreme passages from the Old Testament about adultery and death.

“I adapted a normal wedding script, putting some of my own material in it:

Mark, you are a very handsome young man. Emily, you are an exceptionally attractive young woman. I am going to ask you both in turn to declare that you are free to marry one another. I hope that you will share a marital bed and perhaps, as dawn lights up the garden of the house you will one day be able to afford (preferably in a nice area), Emily’s slumbering leg will brush against Mark’s leg. This will lead to caresses and the flowing of conjugal juice.  Emily, may perfect milk abound from your perfect bosoms. And one day, may that milk of kindness mature into the cheese of wisdom.

Dave’s vicar garb, including axe and optional animal sacrifice

Dave’s vicar garb, including axe and optional animal sacrifice

“When I stripped off to my purple Lycra leotards and tights (custom made for my appearance in Ben Elton’s feature film Maybe Baby) and did a fertility dance down the aisle, the congregation started to wonder if, perhaps, I was not a real vicar. I danced provocatively and put my leg over the balustrade.

“I then produced an axe and sacrificed a small animal (cuddly toy) for their abundance. I qualified this by saying I’d just returned from several years serving in rural Africa, and had been influenced by their rituals.

“At the end of the performance, the bride and groom walked down the aisle and out of the wedding barn as if the ceremony had been completely normal.

“The couple paid me a very good fee and I hope to get more work like this, as it’s easier than stand-up and had a massive impact on the 150 people in the congregation – though I had to keep it fairly clean in case I offended any of the older people there.”

So there you have it: a blatant attempt by a stand-up comedian to tout for more work.

But he is not as desperate as Harry Deansway.

In other news, yesterday I got an e-mail from Harry, the publicity-hungry publisher-turned-comedian:

Harry the performer - as he wants to be seen

I ask you in all honesty Would you interview this man’s penis?

“After years on the sketch circuit,” it said, “my penis is hoping to finally get his big break in my Edinburgh show Wrong Way and is looking for press opportunities. I am e-mailing you on behalf of my penis as he is very shy, so if you would like to speak with my penis it would have to be via e-mail.”

I e-mailed back a rejection because:

“It sounds like your penis doesn’t have the balls to email me itself.”

Finally yesterday, I was told The Stand venue at the Edinburgh Fringe will not issue any tickets to any Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges this year – although it has done that without any problem for the past six years – both via the main Fringe Office and via The Stand’s own Press Office.

EdFringe2011PassA

Acceptable to the venue in years past…

EdFringe2011PassB

the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show pass

As a result, no acts appearing at The Stand will be considered or nominated for any increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award this year.

Since when has the venue not the performer decided who should be allowed to see their shows?

Since a long time ago in The Stand’s case, as it has a long and undistinguished record in restrictive practices which adversely affect acts’ careers.

To quote Malcolm Hardee, “Fuck ‘em.” He would have gone round and pissed on their stage.

But The Stand has been taking the piss for too long already.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Steve Bowditch on music, The Gits, the Greatest Show on Legs and performing comedy at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe

Steve in Rotherhithe docks, London

Steve after surviving The Gits – in Rotherhithe docks, London

This is a blog, partly, about how people’s memories fail them.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned The Gits in a blog.

I had been listening to an unreleased 9-song CD by the punk band from around 1990 which comprised English comedy performers Steve Bowditch, Stephen Frost and Canadian Alan Marriott. (These UK-based Gits are not to be confused with the Seattle band The Gits.)

One of my favourite tracks on the album is Albert Einstein. Part of the song is posted on YouTube.

I phoned up ex-Git Steve Bowditch to talk about their unreleased album.

“Could you do me a copy?” Steve asked. “I don’t have it. I used to have copies. I dunno what happened to them.”

Steve Bowditch was and is a member of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe whose claim to fame is the Naked Balloon Dance. Performer Martin Soan started the Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. Then he was joined by the late legend Malcolm Hardee. And Steve Bowditch joined later.

“How did The Gits start?” I asked Steve.

“It was Stephen Frost,” he told me. “Stephen phoned me up and said Do you want to be the bass player in this punk band? and that was it. We practised in Alan Marriott’s flat in Mitchum. Steve was a punk fan and one of our first gigs was supporting the UK Subs at the Amersham Arms.”

“I thought I saw The Gits perform at the Astoria (since demolished) in Charing Cross Road in central London,” I said, “when Malcolm and I worked for Noel Gay TV.”

“No,” Steve told me. “But I remember we did perform at the Astoria, supporting John Otway. It was great to be playing to a packed Astoria.”

“I thought,” I said, “that we must have booked you to play on Jools Holland’s The Happening for BSB.”

“No,” said Steve. “The Greatest Show On Legs performed on that, but not The Gits.”

“What was the idea?” I asked. “A semi-comic punk band that might catch on and you might become millionaires?”

“I don’t know about being millionaires,” laughed Steve. “It was just really for the punk ethics. Stephen Frost wanted to have a punk band and that was that. He quite liked the Ramones. The first few gigs, we did the Ramones’ Suzy Is A Headbanger.

“I had always written comic songs for my act, so we started writing our own songs. Stephen wanted to write something about how you never see the drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. So he wrote a song about that. I had a thing about Albert Einstein and Stephen was keen on pub quizzes. So we wrote songs about them. Alan came up with God Squad because he couldn’t stand people banging on his door on Sunday mornings selling God.

“And, years ago when you got a packet of tea, you used to get a picture card in it showing animals and butterflies. I found this card in a drawer with a warthog on it, so just decided to write a song based on the back of a teabag card.”

“And what a fine song Warthog is,” I said.”

“Hog!” sang Steve, impressively remembering the lyrics from all those years ago.

“We played Glastonbury,” remembered Steve, “and at the Hope Festival a couple of times – and St Ives. We stayed in Taunton. Stephen’s parents lived in Penzance at the time.”

Comedian Stephen Frost’s father was Sir Terence Ernest Manitou Frost – Sir Terry Frost – a very highly-regarded artist and Royal Academician.

“His brother’s a famous artist, too,” said Steve. “Anthony – He lives on the edge of a cliff.”

“Don’t we all,” I said. “You’ve always been musical. You usually have a guitar in your act.”

“Right,” said Steve. “I play the violin now.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“On stage?”

“Well, I bought the violin to do a sort of Jack Benny with it: always promising to play it but never doing it. But then I realised I quite enjoyed playing it. I practise about 2-3 hours a day now. Mainly Irish folk songs – The Irish Washerwoman, Jackie Tar, Chicken Reel, stuff like that.”

Steve at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993

Steve performs with guitar & strawberry at the Fringe – 1993

“You were always guitar-based,” I said. “Was that because you wanted to be a musician or was it just another prop?”

“Just a way of getting through the act,” said Steve. “I was never really a stand-up comedian. I’ve always mucked around with props and music. Stand-ups have a certain something.”

“Madness,” I suggested. “Your musical career’s going even further at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show,” said Steve. “The idea is to write a new ukelele song every day, using suggestions from the audience, featuring The Two Yuris.”

“Your act as two Russian generals?”

“Of course.”

“How long is your show’s run?” I asked.

“The 3rd to the 24th of August,” said Steve.

“So,” I said, “at the end, you’re going to have written 22 songs?”

“Hopefully.”

“As an album?” I asked.

“If someone can explain this iTunes malarkey to us,” said Steve. “You told me we can’t talk to Steve Jobs because he’s dead.”

“Don’t let that stop you,” I said. “After Edinburgh, are you and Dickie being a duo?”

“No,” said Steve, “we’re just going up there for the Fringe and, after Edinburgh, it’s hopefully full steam ahead with a Greatest Show On Legs tour and we’ll get work. We’re at the Spiegeltent on the South Bank in London again this coming Saturday – at Wonderground – supporting Al Murray. That’s what we want to do. The high profile things. Well, we want to do ANY shows, really.

“The Greatest Show On Legs was really just… One minute you were on stage at the Astoria or the Montreal comedy festival and it’s a big, packed theatre and the next week you were performing in the fireplace at some pub in somewhere like Ramsgate with 30 or 40 drunk people and afterwards you were at the bar and you’d made friends with everybody. It was always a big variety from top to bottom. That was what Malcolm thrived on. We all enjoyed that.”

Steve Bowditch pays homage to the late Malcolm Hardee

Steve Bowditch pays homage to the late Malcolm Hardee

“Is the story in Malcolm’s autobiography true?” I asked. “that you joined the Greatest Show On Legs in a sound recording studio.”

“That’s right,” said Steve. “I knew Jacki Cook who had a shop in Greenwich – she now has The Emporium. I had a cine camera and used to make little films and she and her friends starred in one.

“Malcolm used to pop into Jacki’s shop. You know what he was like: larger-than-life and getting to know everybody everywhere. He told her: We’re looking for someone else to join in cos I can’t do that skinhead gag any more cos I’ll have a heart attack if I do it one more time. Someone who’s young and up for it.

“She said: Oh, you gotta meet Steve. He’s up for most things. So Malcolm came round and said: Oh, Jackie sent me round. She said you might wanna be in the show. Do you wanna fag?

“I said: Alright.

“He said: Can you dance?

“I said: Erm. Yeah.

“He said: Go on, then.

“So I did two steps sideways, two steps forwards, two steps backwards.

OK, he said. Come round Saturday and meet the others.

“And that was my audition.”

This story is completely different to the one in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. In that, he wrote:

Steve Bowditch was recruited when I was walking along the road by my house and saw this bloke sitting inside a recording studio, where he was making the tea. I just liked the look of his face. I went in and said to him: 

“Do you want to be in a show?” 

“Yes,” he said.

So he came round that afternoon, rehearsed about three numbers and next day he was in Rhyl, North Wales, performing with The Greatest Show on Legs.

Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.

“So the Greatest Show on Legs now,” I said to Steve Bowditch, “is you and Dickie Richards and Martin Soan. Why aren’t you all performing as the Greatest Show on Legs during your show in Edinburgh next month?”

“Martin couldn’t do it,” explained Steve, “because he’s got his own thing happening in Peckham - The Village Hall Experience – on 17th August, right slap-bang in the middle of the Fringe dates.”

The GSOL as they are today (from left) Dickie, Steve, Martin

The GSOL today (from left) Dickie, Steve and Martin

“And then all three of you,” I said, “are performing in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe…”

“Are we?” asked Steve.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Aren’t you?”

“Is Martin coming up for that?” Steve asked.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Yes, he’s travelling up specially to do that one night performance.”

“Right,” said Steve. “We’ll be there, then.”

“Oh good,” I said. “Do you have any photos of The Gits?”

“No,” said Steve.

“Have you got any publicity photos for your Edinburgh show with Dickie?” I asked.

“No,” said Steve.

“Or a Facebook page or anything?” I asked.

“No,” said Steve.

The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show is not listed in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme, but it runs 3rd-24th August at 2.10pm daily in Ciao Roma on South Bridge.

Steve still makes short films. Look for WeShouldGetABoat on YouTube. Here is one of Steve’s films, featuring comic Harriet Bowden: Internet Stalker.

This blog is posted later than normal, because I was interrupted by The Scottish Sun wanting naked photos of The Greatest Show On Legs as they will appear in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – for the Women’s section of tomorrow’s newspaper.

It has had a terrible knock-on effect on the rest of my day but, for The Greatest Show On Legs, nude photos in the Sun is just an ordinary day for them.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Music, UK