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Comedy notoriety: good or bad?… or “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it…”

Being nominated for this year’s main Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality AND winning the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe would be good for your career you might think.

Well, you might think that…

Except Bob Slayer won both those prestigious comedy industry accolades two weeks ago and yesterday he told me:

“Ever since I was nominated as the OTT comedian, no club seems to want to book me…

“To be fair, I have a full-on Edinburgh hang-over and I haven’t spoken to that many – but it would be nice if they would speak to me! They should know that I would not get my knob out in polite company… I did not get it out at any children’s gigs and I would not in a golf club, for example!”

It is not all gloom and doom in Bob’s award-winning household, though:

“There are some nice things lining up,” he tells me. “Like touring my show in the UK and Ireland and supporting other tours. So there are some folks more than happy to embrace the mayhem… Maybe it will all be OK?”

Let’s hope so.

When Malcolm Hardee managed a young Jerry Sadowitz in the 1980s, he succeeded in getting him noticed by playing up (with good reason) the outrageousness of the act and that Jerry was so OTT he was untransmittable on TV. The result, both Malcolm and Jerry came to realise in retrospect, was that TV producers never even considered Jerry for TV because they ‘knew’ he would be untransmittable. This was perhaps not helped by the Gobshite audio album which was withdrawn over fears it might be libellous to Jimmy Saville.

I produced a one-hour TV show for BSB in 1990 titled The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz in which Jerry performed live to an audience at the Astoria Theatre in London. From memory (which might be faulty) I think I told him he could  have a handul of “fuck”s and to try to keep the “cunt”s to maybe two at most.

BSB’s guidelines to comedy producers at that time were that you could not have casual ‘conversational’ fucks or cunts in a sentence – you could not, for example, include “I was walking along the fucking road” – but the words were allowed if they were an integral part of the joke and if removing them would weaken the routine. I told Jerry something like: “Try not to say “fuck” or “cunt” at all and, that way, a few will inevitably come out but it will be OK over the course of an hour.”

He did the entire hour-long show with neither a “fuck” nor a “cunt”. Not a single one. I was amazed. I had thought the swearing was so much a part of the rhythm of his sentences – delivered at breakneck speed – that he would not be able to avoid using the words without screwing up his flow.

A couple of years later, he quite rightly got a late-night BBC TV comedy series The Pall Bearer’s Revue.

With Bob Slayer, far less controversial than Jerry, the problem is not so much swearing as ad-libbed physical anarchy – having people throw (real, genuine) darts at him or suddenly decide to have five people hit him on his back and on his head with folded-up metal audience seating - but he can tone that down appropriate to the situation and is amazingly good with audience members.

Oddly, I think he is, in television terms, a gameshow host. Kept under control, he is Michael Barrymore without the swimming pool. Barrymore was genuinely good with real people and equally at his best going off-script – provided he had a producer with the self-confidence to let him improvise within certain format and time restrictions.

Bob Slayer fronting a personality-led real-people game show would breathe novelty, energy and fresh air into a tired TV format. And, after all, as well as winning the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award, Bob was also nominated, for the second consecutive year, for the main Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality.

One to watch.

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