As the Jerry Sadowitz row at the Edinburgh Fringe is still rumbling on (see my previous three blogs), below is an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.
Note: This book was published in 1996 and, despite several heads-ups and complaints over the years, amazon.co.uk still has the book listed with a totally irrelevant description from someone else’s academic book page.
I imagine Malcolm would have approved.
Note also that, at the time the book was written, Jerry had a tendency to randomly bill his name as both Jerry Sadowitz and Gerry Sadowitz.
You can’t keep a good anarchic comedian down.
So, what Malcolm said in his 1996 autobiography…
The most talented performer who never made it is probably Gerry Sadowitz, because he is a genuinely gifted magician-comedian. I recently read Alexei Sayle quoted as saying he thought Gerry was the only current comic genius.
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The first time I delved into management was with Gerry Sadowitz and, like most managers, I was also his agent, although he did get some bookings from other agents.
I first saw him when he came down to The Tunnel Palladium. His act was brilliant. A breath of fresh air. He just launched into a tirade of abuse.
This was at a time when, to be considered funny, all an alternative comedian had to do was to say that Mrs Thatcher was horrible and Barry Manilow had a big nose – which is itself a Gerry Sadowitz line.
Gerry came on stage at the Albany Empire in Deptford, which had an extremely ‘politically correct’ Arts Centre audience. And he started his act with:
“Nelson Mandela. What a cunt!”
But you had to realise he was deliberately doing it to upset that particular type of audience. And they WERE upset. He was on for two nights and, on the second night, they picketed the place. It was all water off a duck’s back to Gerry. I never knew if he really meant half of it or not. He is a very complex character, to say the least.
When he’s good he’s very, very good, but he gets black moods. A year ago, I saw him for the first time in ages in a curry house in the East End, which I’d introduced him to years ago. He came in with this woman and just didn’t speak. He looked at me and went:
He just grunted and sat down. Another time he might go:
“Oh! Malcolm! Hello – How are you?”
Very strange chap.
He doesn’t drink.
Sometimes, he’d do a really good show and come off stage in a really horrible black mood. Another time he’d have one of the worst reactions ever and he’d come off and be as happy as anything. I think he hated success, really. I had to almost pull him out of cars onto the stage sometimes. He refused to go on loads of times and his later agents Avalon had the same problem with him.
Once, in Edinburgh, he was asked to perform five minutes on the Pick of The Fringe programme on BBC TV Scotland. Michael Leggo was directing it. I hadn’t met him since we were childhood neighbours in Lewisham. When I turned up, Arnold Brown was remonstrating with Gerry, who was refusing to go on. We cajoled him and threatened him and, in the end, he agreed to do it only if he could do what he wanted because he was obviously going to be heavily censored. They filmed his act with the Cunts and Fucks and everything in, then edited it with beeps. The result was like watching Gerry Sadowitz but listening to jokes in Morse Code.
The first year I took Gerry up to Edinburgh, his advert in the Fringe Programme was something like:
GERRY SADOWITZ – GLASWEGIAN COMIC MAGICIAN.
A MAN WHO’S HAD HIS ACT
COMPLETELY RIPPED-OFF BY BING HITLER.
Bing Hitler was the stage name of Craig Ferguson.
Gerry had told everyone about Bing Hitler ripping-off his act and I quite sincerely believed it.
Craig Ferguson was up there in Edinburgh, being represented by Vivienne Clore, a big high-powered agent who later became my agent. Craig wanted to sue the Fringe Society and Gerry for libel, which meant I was going to be sued because it was me who’d put the advert in. As I dug deeper into it, I couldn’t find one example where Craig Ferguson had actually nicked any line.
They’d started off at around the same time at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and, at the time, Craig Ferguson was doing witty songs on the guitar. Possibly Craig was influenced by Gerry’s style and started doing things where he said: I hate this… and I hate that…. but that was as near as it got.
Craig Ferguson had a record out as Bing Hitler and there wasn’t one line of Gerry’s on it. He would have won his case but what was decided in the end was that the Fringe Society fined Gerry and he didn’t get his Fringe Club ticket money, which upset him greatly. I think it would have been about £1,500.
I arranged a meeting between the two of them at which Craig said he didn’t do it for the money and he agreed to give the money to a charity of Gerry’s choice.
I took Gerry up to the Edinburgh Fringe twice. He’s a Glaswegian, so he hates Edinburgh because of that. Or, at least, he feels and sounds Glaswegian.
He was actually born in America and has an American passport. His dad was an American who split up from Gerry’s Glaswegian mother. Gerry came over to Glasgow when he was very young and later said he had hardly any schooling because he had a serious medical condition which he insisted was coprophilia. He spent a lot of time in hospital, which is where he started to learn magic. He spends hours and hours perfecting magic tricks. He’s written books on it and writes for a monthly magic magazine about new tricks he’s invented. He’s a very clever bloke.
He was very difficult to handle but I stayed with him because he was so good and everyone wanted him. There was a point where the phone didn’t stop ringing but a lot of the time he wouldn’t do the work. One day it would be because he wasn’t offered enough money; another day he’d travel the length of the country for next-to-nothing.
It didn’t make any sense.
Once, before he’d become high-profile, I had a phone call from Sheffield University and they were offering him £300 for a show, which was good in those days. Most comics were going out for £100. He asked if it included travel or accommodation but it was an ‘all-in’ fee and he said:
“No! I’m not doing it!”
About two hours later, Sheffield Polytechnic rang up and offered him £200 plus travel and accommodation. In those days, travel and accommodation came to £40-£50. I phoned him and he said:
“I’ll do it!”
So he accepted the £240-£250 and turned down the £300.
The amount of money wasn’t the most important thing. They could have offered him £3,000, I reckon, and he’d have turned it down if it meant he had to get on that train and fork-out money for his own ticket and sort out some accommodation. He had a syndrome where small amounts of money seemed an enormous amount, but enormous amounts didn’t mean anything.
There was a point in his career where he was earning a lot. He earned £6,000 for one Avalon gig at the Clapham Grand, got paid in cash, was in the car with the bloke from Avalon, driving back and the car broke down. The bloke from Avalon asked Gerry if he’d lend him the £12 cab money to get home and Gerry wouldn’t lend it to him. He had £6,000 in his pocket that the bloke had just given him. But the £12 seemed like a lot of money to Gerry.
One of the unsettling things about him was he didn’t seem to know the difference between night and day and he’d ring me up at 4.00am to say someone had nicked one of his lines.
He was also a very male-orientated comedian with much of his material being deliberately misogynistic. He once told me he wanted to play to an audience full of men and I said he probably would do if he ended up in Nick. He wanted to fill Wembley Stadium with men. It was just one of his ideas. He also wanted to do a show where the audience didn’t pay to get in: they just all brought him presents. I thought that was quite a good idea.
He was never unbookable in live venues. There were always people willing to book him. But on TV he was said to be unbookable. Eventually, he did get his own TV series, but it didn’t work. The whole thing about Gerry was the shock and the outrage, which you can’t do on TV – not to the level he did on stage.
(…IN TOMORROW’s BLOG: What happened when I produced Jerry Sadowitz: The Last Laugh, a one-off comedy special for British TV…)