Sandra Smith on Graham Norton’s red chair + Joan Rivers on a US paedophile

Sandra Smith - fan of the bizarre

Sandra Smith – quiet, polite and gentle, though not her stories

This month, I have mentioned this blog’s quiet, polite and gentle South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith a couple of times – once about how she got turned on to comedy by comic Pat Monahan. And once her memory of a man trying to remove his rival’s testicles with a bottle opener.

In the Pat Monahan blog, there was a single sentence, easily missed: “Then I watched a Graham Norton Show being recorded.”

That is not the full story.

In fact, Sandra appeared on The Graham Norton Show twice.

“My friend had applied for tickets and she got some too and she got a phone call asking: Have you got any stories for the red chair? She said: No, but I know someone who has.

For blog-readers abroad… The Graham Norton Show is always filled with A-list guests – like Tom Cruise, Robert De Niro and Robert Downey Jr – but it has a section where members of the audience sit in a red chair, tell a story and, if Graham Norton gets bored, they are tilted backwards out of the chair.

The result of Sandra’s story – on a 2009 show with Jimmy Carr, Catherine Tate and 50 Cent – is on YouTube. She tells her story 2mins 15secs into the clip.

“So,” I said, “you told of your encounter deep in the Yew Forest with the man in a kilt…”

“And very soon afterwards,” said Sandra, “I got a message to ring the show and they said: Can you do another little thing for us?

“What,” I asked, “did they say they wanted?”

“They changed their minds lots of times. First of all they said: We want you to tell the story again then go round onto the stage with Graham and you’ll see something. There was something about Scotsmen in kilts.”

The clip is on YouTube:

“A lot of people,” Sandra told me, “got a lot of pleasure out of it. The maintenance man put it on a loop at work and someone I know saw it in Australia. She was surprised.”

“Who else was on that second show?” I asked.

“Well,” Sandra told me, “Sarah Jessica Parker was on it as a guest but had to leave before the end and Joan Rivers then said: Are the cameras off?

“Graham said: Yes.

I want you Brits to know, Joan Rivers said, that Michael Jackson is a fucking paedophile. You might not have got the whole story. And she went on a complete rant about how much he had paid off people. So that was an unexpected extra.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, paedophiles, Television

Comic Philip Simon notices a Jewish change in the UK and fears for his knees

David Mitchell - not Philip Simon

David Mitchell, 2009 – not Philip Simon, 2015

A few weeks ago, I was a judge on the Last Minute Comedy Comedian of the Year awards.

The winner was Philip Simon.

“You mentioned in your act at the Awards,” I told him in Borehamwood this week, “that you look a bit like David Mitchell.”

“I don’t get mistaken for him in the street but, when I say it in gigs, there’s enough people who go: Ah! That’s what it is!

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

Not Philip Simon eating bacon sandwich

“The day after the General Election a few weeks ago, I did an Ed Miliband lookalike job where I had to eat a bacon sandwich. I was brought in late to replace a previous lookalike because they had decided the previous guy looked too Asian to be Ed Miliband.”

“You ate a bacon sandwich?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“You’re Jewish?”

“Yes. I don’t consider myself a ‘Jewish’ comic, but I like that there is that niche I can fit into”

“And you were telling me,” I said, “that there’s been some anti-Semitism creeping into UK audiences.”

“I’m not saying it’s anti-Semitism,” Philip corrected me. “But it used to be I might mention in my set that I am Jewish and, depending where I was in the country, most people would probably think: Oh, that’s interesting. I don’t know much about Jews. Tell me more.

“Now there’s a real sense of – intake of breath – What’s he gonna say? As if, by mentioning you’re Jewish, it means it has to be political. There is now a noticeable atmosphere that is created in rooms round the country that I don’t think was there a year ago.

“I have personal beliefs about the situation – I’ve got family in Israel; we’ve gone to Israel for holidays most of our lives; I believe in a self-governing two-state solution – but I don’t write jokes about it. I don’t want to talk about it on stage because there’s no comedy in it for me.

“Another Jewish comedian I know says he has also noticed a decline in the acceptance of Jewish comedians. And he’s not particularly in-yer-face Jewish or political. I don’t think it has stopped me getting any bookings, but it’s certainly an interesting new dynamic.”

“Well,” I said. “Now you’re an award-winning comedian…”

“Apparently so.”

“So offers have been flooding in?”

“E-mails have been filtering in. Someone did try and introduce me the other night as lastminute.com’s comedian of the year instead of Last Minute Comedy’s.”

“You’re doing your own show at the Edinburgh Fringe but not until next year?”

Philip Simon in Borehamwood

The real Philip Simon in Borehamwood has dating show plans

“Yes. It’s in its very early stages. It will be a show about Jewish dating and Jewish parenthood.”

“Is Jewish dating different from any other dating?”

“Oh yes. Laced with guilt. The premise I have is that we all know each other, so it becomes very complicated. You could never have a dark side to your life, because everyone knows everyone.”

“Surely,” I asked, “South London and North London must be separate?”

“Not now,” said Philip. “With Facebook, mutual friends pop up all over the place. If you go on a blind date and want to find out about the person, you just go onto Facebook and find three or four mutual friends – which could end up good or bad.

“The premise of my show is…Young Jewish boy, out on the dating world, meets someone, they get pregnant … All anecdotal…”

“And autobiographical?” I asked.

“Yeah. We have a baby. But things are going very very well. I mean, it’s not an EastEnders/Jeremy Kyle situation.”

“Is she a full-time mum?”

“She’s a clinical psychologist.”

“And you’re a comedian.”

“Yes. She is actually really good to take to a comedy gig, because she won’t necessarily watch me. She will watch the audience and can tell me at what point they stopped laughing or laughed more and she can read an audience far better than I can.”

“You used to be an actor,” I said, “but now – apart from occasional Ed Milibands – you’re mostly a comic.”

“Yes. I used to do a few TV bits, a couple of bits in sitcoms. I had three lines in My Family.”

“Not a series much admired by comedians,” I said.

“Well,” said Philip, “it was an American writer who came over here and said: This is the format they do in America, so let’s do our show like that.

“What would happen would be they would have a really good original script. Then everyone got their little paws on it – I want that joke – Let’s change that joke – and, by the time, it goes to air, it’s been edited to a different thing. When we did the read-through round the table, it was hilarious. Really strong comedy. But, by the time it was whittled down to the half hour that went out…”

“A bit bland?” I suggested.

“Yeah. But it was a good fun job to do.”

And you were in Peppa Pig on stage,” I prompted.

Not Peppa Pig but Philip Simon again

Not Peppa Pig’s daddy but Philip Simon in Borehamwood

“Yes, that was an amazing job – a year and a half of touring the UK, doing the West End. It was like Avenue Q where the actors were on stage holding the puppets and you could see both. We were onstage talking, singing, acting, dancing with the puppets. I was Daddy Pig, which was the biggest and I’m not officially allowed to say it destroyed my back, but it destroyed my back. I was attached to him with a kind of harness. It was just such a ridiculously heavy puppet. But there was an article in the Jewish Chronicle saying: Philip Simon Brings Home The Bacon.”

“And it may or may not have buggered your back.”

“I now do puppet workshops,” said Philip. “Teaching teachers how to take puppets into the classroom to work with the kids.”

“So what’s next for you?” I asked.

“I’ve signed up to do a stupid bike ride this weekend – London to Amsterdam via Harwich. We finish at Anne Frank’s house and get a tour of the house. We are cycling nearly 150 miles.”

For charity?”

“Yes. The Anne Frank Trust. It should be fun, but I’m a bit worried my knees are going to give way.”

“Have you cycled 150 miles before?”

“No. I’ve done London to Brighton for charity a couple of times in the past and that’s 60 miles. On this Amsterdam ride, the first day we do 80 miles and that will probably destroy my knees. The organisers are calling the route ‘undulating’. On Saturday, I will either be in Amsterdam or in Casualty at some hospital.”

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Nathan Cassidy goes forward to the past with Back to the Future & sucked a bong

Nathan Cassidy - Back to the Future in a jacket

Nathan Cassidy – Back to Birmingham

“If you really wanted to live dangerously,” I told Malcolm Hardee Award nominated comedian Nathan Cassidy, “you should have booked your Edinburgh Fringe show into the Cowgatehead venue.”

“There’s only one thing you can’t make jokes about,” said Nathan, “and that’s Cowgatehead. Those comedians have got thousands of pounds and, in their minds, maybe their whole careers riding on it.”

As well as being a comedian, Nathan runs a company which offers tourist trips round the ‘real’ London and ‘real’ New York. But, he complains, everything  is getting too safe and gentrified in London.

“Are you a Londoner?” I asked.

“I was born in Birmingham. Even Birmingham’s nicer now. There’s no rough places  for me any more.”

“Certainly not Brownhills,” I said, attempting a North Birmingham accent.

“That,” said Nathan, “is exactly the Brummie accent I am going to use in Back To the Future III.”

Back To The Future shows I, II and III

Back To The Future stage shows I, II & III

Nathan is performing three comedy shows this year – Back to the Future I, II and III.

“I’m doing all three on the same day at the Camden Fringe and on Back to the Future Day, which is Wednesday 21st October. That’s the day in Back to the Future II – 21st October 2015 – they go forward to and that’s when you see the flying cars.”

“Why did you do the first Back to the Future?” I asked.

“I guess I’m at that part in my life where I’m looking back 30 years and looking forward 30 years. I went to see Back to the Future at Secret Cinema at Westfield in East London and that’s what triggered my thought. Secret Cinema fuses theatre and film. They had bought a great plot of land but they had to cancel the first week of shows. 3,000 people were turning up every day and they cancelled the first day only about half an hour before the start time.

“They didn’t allow you to take your mobile phones because they didn’t want the location revealed. So everyone, including me, had left their house dressed in 1950s gear – some people had travelled from the Isle of Wight – 3,000 people all getting to the door and these ten security guards having to turn everyone away and getting abuse.

Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future set at the Olympic Park (Photograph by Nathan Cassidy)

Secret Cinema’s Back To The Future set at the Olympic Park (Photograph by Nathan Cassidy)

“There was a guy dressed as Doc Brown shouting at this security guard saying that he had ruined everything and it was unforgivable. Then he turned to me and says: Do you want to come for dinner? I had no excuse not to, because he knew I was supposed to be there for the next six or seven hours and I didn’t have my phone on me. And he turns out to be the grumpiest cunt I’ve ever met and it got me thinking: I’m in the middle of my life and I’m turning into this grumpy guy. I feel my life is falling away.

“I was told by my step-dad when I was about 15: As soon as you hit 30, your life will start to accelerate. And he was absolutely right. I’ve got two kids now – 5 and 7. My 7-year-old is doing stuff I did about 30 years ago and I’m thinking about my own death in maybe 30 years time.

“So Back to the Future II is about living again. I’m not religious, but I’ve recently got into the idea of reincarnation. Maybe it’s because I’m hoping for something that may not exist.”

“And now you’re up to show three,” I said.

“Yes, Back to the Future III is about some regrets I’ve had from the past. My whole school was not very nice to this one particular person.”

“Not you?” I asked.

Nathan showed me his very real BTTF jacket

Nathan showed me his very real BTTF jacket

“No, not me. I was not a bully as such, but you’ve always got these kids at school who are bullied and your excuse to yourself is you weren’t old enough to stop it because you were 12.

“Then you think: Maybe I WAS old enough. So it’s about wanting to go back in time to stop that happening.

“I’ve written a few novels too and one of my books is about this – about bullying at school and wondering what happens to those kids you haven’t seen for 30 years.

“I think your life is pretty much set in stone in those years and there’s nothing you can do about it unless there’s massive serious intervention.”

At this point, Nathan had a coughing fit. When he recovered, he told me:

“I did this show last night with Trevor Lock and I’ve never taken drugs in my whole life and I did this bit on stage about not taking drugs and then somebody from the audience handed me something and said: It’s bong.”

“Bong?” I asked.

“Bong. I have no idea. I don’t do drugs, don’t hang around with anyone who does drugs even as a comedian. But this person handed me this thing and I took a suck and then thought: What am I doing?

“You sucked a bong?” I asked.

“It was like a fake cigarette thing and lit up at the end. It didn’t look like a cigarette: it looked like a…”

“Bong?” I suggested.

“A big bong, yes. And I’ve got this thing at the back of my throat now and I’m thinking: Why have I resisted drugs for 40 years?

“You are going to turn on to drugs?” I asked.

“If I’m going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now?"

“If I’m going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now?”

“That’s partly what Back to the Future II is about,” explained Nathan. “If I believe I am going to live again – as I do – why don’t I just get fucked-up now? Why don’t I start living like Chris Dangerfield? None of my favourite musicians or comedians have never done drugs. So, if I’m going to become who I want to be, I’ve gotta start…”

“But who do you want to be?” I asked.

“I don’t feel like I’ve truly seen the dark side of life.”

“I never took drugs,” I explained, “because I worried it might push me over an edge I thought I might be too close to already.”

“Exactly,” said Nathan. “But, if it pushes you over the edge, then you’re going to find something that… I’m not saying just drugs…”

“You must have done something in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve done loads. I’ve travelled the world – New Zealand, Australia, all across Asia, Siberia, Russia. I’ve had kids.”

“And,” I pointed out, “you’re running an international business that takes people to ‘real’ places. What on earth IS the real New York? Probably horrible.”

“That’s it,” said Nathan. “To see the dirty side of it. The guy I started the business with has been on heroin, come off heroin, is covered in tattoos, has done crime, come out of that and he ends up this beautiful man. He’s done all that and now he can talk from a perspective of having done that. I’m not advocating this bad way of living, but Back to the Future II is about What do I do in the next 20 years? Do I take things a new way in my life?”

“You can’t,” I suggested. “You’ve got two small children and a wife.”

“What do you mean Can’t?” Nathan asked.

“You don’t,” I suggested, “want to support the Colombian drug cartels or the Mexican gangs. There were 43 people killed in some shoot-out in Mexico this morning. If you take heroin…”

Nathan reckons he is just too clean-living

Nathan reckons he has just been too clean-living

“I’m not going to take heroin,” Nathan interrupted. “I’m not talking about just drugs. I’m talking about the dark side of life.”

“Define the dark side of life.”

“I dunno. But I have been too clean-living.”

“What are these other things that life has to offer?” I asked.

“Everything.”

“Paedophilia?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said Nathan. “But my interesting stories are about what my kids are doing or my mum warning me of the danger of parked cars. All my comedian friends have more interesting stories.”

“Maybe your Unique Selling Proposition is that you’re Mr Clean.”

“I want to be scum.”

“You can’t wear a leather jacket and be clean,” I said.

“I’m wearing a Back to the Future jacket just for you. I’ll do anything to publicise the show.”

“I still,” I said, “want to know what all these dark things are that aren’t paedophilia or heroin.”

“Trevor Lock was telling me a story about severed heads on crosses in South America. Being alone with that and being scared. Life over-and-above the mundane. You can get a sense from older comedians that they’ve seen everything.  If you’re a 20-year-old comic, it’s all about wanking, living with your parents and thinking you might be gay.

“I was on the circuit when I was 23 or 24 and I had nothing to talk about and that’s why I gave up for nine years. I came back in about 2009.”

“If you want the ultimate dark side,” I suggested, “the ultimate thing is to go along and join ISIS.”

Nathan Cassidy: “I came back in about 2009"

Nathan Cassidy: “I came back in about 2009″

“I think that’s maybe a step too far.”

“But you keep implying there are no steps too far. You could be a thrill killer like Leopold & Loeb in America or Mary Bell in this country.”

“Maybe I won’t go that far.”

”Why?”

“My own two children, maybe.”

“Good choice,” I said.

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New Freestival & Free Fringe words – Cowgatehead Chaos Beyond Our Kens

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Cowgatehead in Edinburgh, scene of the ‘Free’ power tussle

The last couple of days, this blog has been devoted to – mesmerised by – one topic.

Welcome to Day Three.

There can only be two sensible explanations for the wild madness of the current Cowgatehead venue debacle in Edinburgh.

One is that it is an astonishingly intricate attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe.

The other is that it is all some fly-on-the-wall pilot for an upcoming TV comedy series.

Those are the only two sensible explanations but, of course, any sort of sense has long since been thrown out the window in this ongoing debacle involving an Edinburgh Fringe venue apparently owned and run by three members of the same family, all of whom are called Kenny Waugh and one of whom was the chairman of Hibernian Football Club. 

You can do your own Googling and there are more recent articles, but a piece in the Edinburgh Evening News in 2006 described one of the Kenny Waughs (the Lord only knows how you define which) thus:


The son of former Hibs chairman Kenny Waugh Jnr, 44, is now the owner of Festival Inns – the operator that owns numerous city bars and clubs including The Three Sisters, Beluga and Cargo.

Initially working part time in the pubs run by his father, the former joiner developed a feel for what was required to cut the mustard in Edinburgh’s bar scene.

He went on to form his own public house business, Thistle Inns, in 1990 with his cousin, pub operator Billy Lowe. In 1997 they sold out to brewing giant Scottish & Newcastle for £20 million. “Billy was a pub operator and it seemed an ideal partnership where I could find and build the pubs and he would run them,” Waugh has said.

He then set up Festival Inns, which now owns bars and clubs in Edinburgh, Bridge of Allan, St Andrews and Aberdeen, and has an annual turnover of £25 million.

In a recent survey from The Publican magazine, Mr Waugh was positioned 63rd in the 100 richest people involved in Britain’s licensed trade, with wealth estimated at £13.3 million.


Now back to the current Edinburgh Fringe debacle.

Yesterday afternoon, the Freestival issued a press release. It read: 


Freestival board member Jools Constant met with the licensee of Cowgatehead, Kenny Waugh, this afternoon and has hammered out a compromise agreement under which Freestival would retain the lower 3 floors which are already booked in. Under this arrangement no Freestival acts would be required to move, and all existing time slots would be honoured. PBH would take the upper floors and would have ample space for the 6 rooms he has proposed and would be able to book those as he sees fit. A meeting to discuss this is arranged for next week. Freestival and the Licensee have already confirmed attendance. All that remains is for Peter and the Free Fringe board to sit down with us and work out the details.

We have sent an e-mail to Peter requesting that he meet with us in the spirit of cooperation and in the best interests of the acts.


One might have thought this was an ideal outcome.

Both sides – the Free Fringe and the Freestival – claim to have the welfare of the performers at heart.

This proposed compromise would mean the already booked Freestival shows could go ahead as planned, as paid for and as listed in the Fringe Programme. And the Free Fringe could book in extra shows not printed in the main Fringe Programme (which comes out next week).

Then the Free Fringe posted this as a message on the closed Free Fringe Facebook page. It refers to PBHFF, which means PBH Free Fringe. PBH is Peter Buckley Hill, the man who originated and still controls the Free Fringe organisation:


Performer Doug Segal’s take on the Cowgatehead debacle

Performer Doug Segal’s take on the Cowgatehead debacle

Frank Galbraith

As most of you know since 2010 I have been assisting Peter and the PBHFF Artistic Directors with venue sourcing, negotiating, retention etc amongst other voluntary duties that we all get involved with.

Whilst, understandably, people are looking for information regarding the Venue Cowgatehead, I feel it only right that our own members be given the facts so that we can put a stop to the speculation that PBHFF are somehow to blame for Freestival’s predicament.

To alleviate any doubt, I can confirm that PBH Free Fringe have agreed terms and exchanged signed venue contractual agreements to provide performers at Cowgatehead & Cowshed during Edinburgh Fringe 2015. This information was passed to the fringe office on Thursday 21st May 2015. Copies will be sent to the relevant bodies only.

One thing that most of you weren’t aware of is there were several parties interested in leasing the Cowgatehead space this year, at least four including a bid from Freestival in conjunction with a new sponsor to operate the bars.

When I spoke with the owners during Feb/March this year I expressed our interest in using the Cowgatehead spaces during Edfringe 2015. I was informed by the owners that several bids had already been submitted to lease the entire building and that they were presently considering their options on either leasing as one unit or whether to split into two units. I was also asked if they split into two would PBHFF be interested in also using the top floor levels (George IV Bridge) again as we did in 2014, obviously I said yes and that I would discuss the terms with our license operators and get them to discuss further with the owners and their agents. During my discussions with the license operators I was informed that Freestival had also approached them with an interest in using the entire building.

At this point PBH informed the fringe office that PBHFF may be using the building this year and that no other promoters have confirmation from the owners or lessors to use CGH. PBH also advised the fringe office that they should be wary of accepting adverts from any performers until the licensees and promoters status was confirmed. I also know this information was relayed to Freestival as they had informed the fringe office that they have confirmed use of the spaces for 2015.

As you now know PBH was contacted by the newly announced lessor of the building and asked if he would promote the venue this year. When PBH informed him that we had discussed providing the entertainment with one of the other interested parties he said he already knew this. When we also told him that Freestival had already informed the fringe office that they were using the venue and that they had already booked acts, the lessor was furious and stated that he did not nor would he be giving them permission. He also stated that he couldn’t have given such permission anyway as he had not yet secured the lease himself.

As we had already received an indication from the owners that PBHFF, to at least some degree, would be operating as the venue promoters this year we put on standby several performers for the venue. However, we decided not to declare this until we had 100% confirmation and a signed contractual agreement.

Having further discussed the offer to promote the venue with our Artistic Directors we met with the lessor the following day and signed the agreement contracts.

With regards to St John’s (Bar Bados) the lessor informed us that it was decided last year that no shows would be programmed into the venue for 2015 should the venue be made available to him. The reason being sound pollution from the bar was interfering with the performances and the performers were asking that the bar area be kept quiet or not be used during all performances. As a result bar taking suffered. The lessor also confirmed that no agreement is/was in place with Freestival to use the venue this year and we also have a signed venue contractual agreements to provide suitable musical acts this year.

With regards to Tron Kirk we also have a signed venue contractual agreements to promote all acts during the fringe and our Artistic Directors for music and cabaret have been informed.

Whilst the allocations and booking of acts has absolutely nothing to do with me, I have been assured that every consideration will be given to the performers affected and that PBH and the Artistic Directors are presently working on the list.

There also seems to be some discussion about the number of available spaces/stages within CGH this year. We have discussed this with the lessor and it is totally impractical to put 9 stages in the available floors. We are presently discussing options for the best usage of possible additional space within the building and hope to announce the details in a few days.

This has been an extremely busy time for all the team at PBHFF, not withstanding looking after 40+ Venues with 60+ stages this year, whilst trying to accommodate a backlog of 100’s of performance applications over and above those that were promised slots by Freestival.

It is now disappointing to see that some people are going on the attack without first knowing the circumstances. However it is even more disappointing to read the statements made by Freestival basically accusing PBH of stealing their venue out of spite.

For the record, when I spoke to the parties that were involved in tendering for the CGH space they informed me that Freestival were never promised use of the venue. From what I now read they are saying that negotiations was with their sponsors it was their sponsor that negotiated the agreement due to their involvement with the building. That statement is inaccurate as their sponsors have no connection with CGH and are/were not in a position to give any assurances that Freestival would be the venue promoters no matter who were the licensees.

I also find it extremely disturbing that Freestival claim to have entered into discussions with two of the parties that were tendering for the site and agreed with them to provide all their entertainment, a claim that is denied by the parties, and then go directly to the property owner and submit their own bid to lease the site and run the bars along with another new sponsor they had approached.

PBHFF have now had to suffer a backlash of derogatory comments in the press and on social media about how the PBHFF team operates. Let me assure you that we are not smarting over this situation and completely sympathise with the performers that have been let down due to the mismanagement of their promoters. We have conducted ourselves in a professional and ethical manner during our negotiations with all parties involved. However, we will not accept unjustified criticism from the people that caused this situation just to try and save face.

PBHFF will continue with the same ethos to promote the true free non for profit model that was put together by most of the performers involved in these discussions. We do not accept sponsorship or grants, we work in harmony with the goodwill of our venue owners and performers to offer a totally free platform for the performers. We don’t pay for venues, we don’t charge our performers a registration fees or take advanced audience bookings to watch a free show for £5.

The PBHFF model has worked for the last 20 years and we hope for it to continue for the foreseeable future.

I trust this explains the situation thus far, well from my perspective anyway. Let’s hope that, given the opportunity, the performers issues can be resolved amicably and we all have a really good Edinburgh Fringe 2015 and beyond!

sláinte

Frank
PBHFF
Venues Coordinator

UPDATE: The PBHFF team are working extremely hard to resolve the situation for the Freestival acts. Having just now discussed the situation with the licensee, in light of recent Freestival claims, PBH will remain as venue promoter for Cowgatehead & Cowshed. A further planned meeting has been arranged for later this week and all performers will be updated.


Call me old-fashioned, but the phrase “completely sympathise with the performers” used in the above does seem tailor-made for any proposed TV sitcom based on all these shenanigans.

I am merely a bemused observer, but all this seems to me to be more about controlling a venue and not about the welfare of and financial consequences to the performers. A classic case of the road to Hell being paved with long-forgotten good intentions.

There was a sentence in there that said: “Let’s hope that, given the opportunity, the performers issues can be resolved amicably.”

It seems to me that a possible opportunity arose and was rejected.

Copstick and me, both bemused, at the Grouchy Club Podcast yesterday

Copstick and me, both bemused, at the Grouchy Club Podcast

Yesterday, between the issuing of the Freestival press release and the Free Fringe Facebook posting, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I recorded our weekly Grouchy Club Podcast.

Now overtaken by events, it may still be of interest. It discusses, among other things, the Cowgatehead chaos, Copstick’s admiration for Peter Buckley Hill and Scottish law under which (unlike English law) an oral agreement is legally binding.

The 40-minute podcast is available in audio

– on Podomatic

– on iTunes

And in vision on YouTube.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Edinburgh Fringe Cowgatehead chaos continues: Free Fringe rejections start

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Previous Free Fringe Cowgatehead venue (right) in Edinburgh

Continuing on from yesterday’s blog about the still unresolved chaos surrounding the Cowgatehead venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

First, some brief context…

Peter Buckley Hill (PBH) of the Free Fringe claims that his organisation and not the breakaway Freestival organisation has the rights to stage shows at Cowgatehead.

He told acts who had already booked with Freestival, paid the Edinburgh Fringe for a listing in the Programme (it’s out next week) and possibly paid to have flyers and posters designed:

“The Free Fringe will entertain applications from you. You will have to accept the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions. These conditions stipulate that you should not be an applicant to any other provider of free-admission shows. This means that you should dissociate from Freestival forthwith.”

In a Chortle comedy website opinion piece, editor Steve Bennett clarified the catch in this offer:

“Performers who want to be part of the PBH Free Fringe have to sign up to a 3,600-word ‘conditions and ethos’ statement – a key part of which is that if you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any rival. This is the only operator – including the supposedly evil paid venues – to impose this draconian condition on applicants.

“PBH stressed this clause in his Facebook post, putting comedians in an impossible situation. They cannot hedge their bets and apply to PBH in case he’s right, while keeping their Freestival slots open. He’s forcing them to quit Freestival and go with him in a situation, frankly, where no one knows for sure what’s happening.”

That seems – in the context of this labyrinthine mess – fairly simple.

If an act believes the Free Fringe may have rights to the Cowgatehead venue and the Freestival may not, then that act can unlink itself from the Freestival. But the Free Fringe insists it is an either/or situation.

Of course, inevitably, it is more complicated than that.

Yesterday promoter Bob Slayer, who runs the Heroes organisation, pointed out to me something which he says has been overlooked.

“The main dilemma,” he told me, “is not about acts denouncing Freestival – who won’t take that personally.

“There are acts that are involved in a second show with one of the other free promoters or us that cannot transfer their Cowgatehead show to PBH unless they cancel their other show.”

So, for example, an act may have had one free show booked into Cowgatehead with Freestival AND a separate free show booked in at a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue or at one of Bob’s Heroes venues.

In those circumstances, the act could not simply cancel their Cowgatehead booking with Freestival and transfer to a Cowgatehead booking via the Free Fringe. They would also have to cancel their entirely separate show with the other promoter.

Bob tells me: “I am not sure how many this acts this effects but I know for sure Phil Kay is one act that PBH has rejected transferring because of this! Crazy!”

I have to agree with him and to lament that PBH – a man with originally good intentions – has paved the road leading to this Hellish situation. If you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any other venue operator whom PBH perceives as a rival. Like Chortle, I am aware of no other venue operator at the Edinburgh Fringe who imposes this draconian condition on applicants.

This blatant restriction of trade and limitation on acts’ freedom to perform has always been more than a little surprising coming from an organisation originally set up with the genuine intention of helping acts: an intention now apparently superseded by personal vendettas in which acts’ welfare is of secondary or no consideration.

At the end of yesterday’s blog, I drew attention to the fact that, under Scottish Law, an oral agreement constitutes a legally-binding contract and that, if the Cowgatehead people made any oral agreement with the Freestival, it would invalidate any subsequent agreement with PBH.

In a comment on my Facebook page yesterday, comedy critic Kate Copstick (who trained as a Scottish lawyer) added: “And it would seem that, legally speaking, the intervening actions and bookings etc will constitiute a homologation of the Freestival contract”

For those of us who did not train in Scottish Law, the Collins English Dictionary currently defines ‘homologate’ as:

  1. (mainly Scots law) to approve or ratify (a deed or contract)
  2. (law) to confirm (a proceeding, etc)

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Filed under Comedy

Venue chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe (yet again). What have they said so far?

The Cowgate acts programmed by Freestival and potentially by the chaos

Acts programmed by Freestival and potentially affected by the chaos.

There has been a bit of chaos in the last few days about who has the right to programme shows at a couple of venues at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. As there has been so much verbiage flying around, it may be worth just putting the key parts together.

Just for the record – and because it will remain interesting to read in the future, looking back – below are the main to-and-froings so far.

The background to this is that Peter Buckley Hill (known as PBH) started Free Fringe shows in which performers pay nothing to hire their venues and audiences pay no entry fee. Instead, on a voluntary basis, members of the audience can donate money on the way out, having seen the show. In effect, it is the long-established system of street busking moved indoors.

PBH’s Free Fringe then combined with Alex Petty’s Laughing Horse outfit to run the Free Fringe. But that soon fell apart due to ‘creative differences’.

Alex Petty then formed the Free Festival as a rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or as a complement to it (Alex’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Free Festival then became, in PBH’s eyes, The Great Satan (my phrase).

This (in my view) one-sided feud went on until last year, when a group of Free Fringe organisers also broke away from PBH over ‘creative differences’ to form The Freestival which was another rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or a complement to it (Alex Petty and the new Freestival people’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Freestival then became, in PBH’s eyes The Great Satan (my phrase).

The final deadline for shows to be included in this year’s official Fringe Programme was 8th April. the Programme itself is published on 4th June (next week).

Now read on…

On Thursday last week, Peter Buckley Hill posted this on the Chortle comedy industry website’s Fringe Forum:


COWGATEHEAD 2015.
READ THIS IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A SHOW

This post is addressed to all shows who believe they have a Fringe slot in Cowgatehead organised by Freestival.

I regret to have to tell you that Freestival never had permission in 2015 to book shows into Cowgatehead. The slot you think you have is not real.

We have a confirmation from both the owner and the licensee of Cowgatehead. Freestival’s bookings never had their approval, and these bookings are null and void.

I appreciate this will come as a shock to many of you. You will have proceeded on the basis that you had a confirmed performance slot. But you do not.

Even if you have paid Freestival, even if you have paid to be in the Fringe Programme, you do not have a slot.

Your first reaction will be not to believe this message. But it is true.

The licensee has recently approached us, the Free Fringe, to book this space, and has explicitly stated that Freestival has no right to make such bookings. We, The Free Fringe, are now authorised to book all performance spaces at Cowgatehead. No bookings other than those made by us are valid, and none will be honoured, whatever the circumstances.

I appreciate that many of you will be taken aback by this, and most of you will have acted in good faith in applying to Freestival. You are not to be blamed. Freestival, however, is to be blamed for taking bookings into a space which they were not entitled to book.

You could, of course, pretend this is not happening and turn up in August expecting to do a show. But you will not be able to.

The Free Fringe will entertain applications from you. You will have to accept the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions.

These conditions stipulate that you should not be an applicant to any other provider of free-admission shows. This means that you should dissociate from Freestival forthwith.

By applying to the Free Fringe, there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you. It depends on your application itself and the speed with which you make it.

We will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can. You will need to mention the slot you thought you had and the length of the run you thought you had.

I have no doubt that Freestival, having been caught doing something they should never have done, will attempt to spin the situation in any way they think might exonerate them. But at the end of the day, they cannot deliver the slot they have promised you, and they have never been able to deliver that slot.

We are also informed that bookings at St John’s are equally invalid, but in that case we have no power to rectify this. Such shows are also welcome to apply to the Free Fringe, but we cannot give you space at St John’s. That is all the information we have about St John’s.

We deplore the actions of Freestival. To run free shows, thus emancipating performers at a Fringe in which many organisations seek to exploit performers, one must be honest. It is difficult enough even if one is fully honest. But to promise you something that they cannot deliver, and to charge you for it, is in our eyes deplorable.

We do not know who you are. But we do know that (according to Freestival’s web site) 171 shows have been promised space by them. The overwhelming majority of these applications are invalid. We urge you to spread this post so that all such shows can be reached.

No doubt they will call this venue poaching on our part. It is not. They never had the venue for 2015. Nothing has been poached. We, the Free Fringe, were contacted by the licensee and asked to programme Cowgatehead for 2015, as the sole programmers. If you thought otherwise, you have been deceived. We will help to the extent we can, giving weight also to our own unallocated applicants.

Free shows need to be honest. Even so, mistakes happen and are difficult enough. I regret that some of you have been the victims of what appears to be dishonesty on the part of Freestival.


That same day, Chortle ran a news item.
I have edited the below to remove repetition:


CHAOS AT THE FRINGE

It’s fast becoming a Fringe tradition – and today the annual row between rival free Edinburgh show promoters flared up in earnest.

The dispute centres on the Cowgatehead performance spaces, which newcomers Freestival operated last year. They have again been programming the space for 2015, with many comedy shows now locked into the official programme.

However Free Fringe founder Peter Buckley Hill has today claimed Freestival had no permission to book shows into the venues, saying that his organisation has the deal to programme the space.

The news would throw dozens of shows into chaos, as it comes after the programme has gone to press. Acts lined up to appear in Cowgatehead include Adam Vincent, Birthday Girls, Christian Steel, Katia Kvinge and Alison Thea-Skot.

However Freestival say the have ‘no idea’ why Buckley Hill – universally known as PBH – had made his statement and reassured acts that their slots were secure.

Alex Petty of Laughing Horse said: ‘Hoping this is bullshit, as whatever games that are be being played here, it only affects performers who will have already paid a considerable sum to be in Edinburgh already.

’However, If any performer has lost a performance space as part of this, and they need to find somewhere, I have gained three additional spaces today, at the Jekyll & Hyde & Meadow Bar, both of which I wasn’t expecting to be running this year.’

Online, the consensus among comedians was that if the PBH Free Fringe was running Cowgatehead, they should honour all the slots offered by Freestival so as not to punish acts who had made considerable outlay to be there.

The Cowgatehead venue was at the centre of a similar row last year, when PBH again claimed that Freestival had no right to run shows there – although in the end they did.

Confusion reigns as the site is effectively controlled by three generations of the Waugh family – all called Kenny. PBH said it was Kenny II promised him the use of the space in 2014, and again this year.

Last year’s deal with PBH fell through after an email was sent from Waugh Taverns Ltd, of which Kenny I is director, which stated that the venue would be programmed by Freestival and stating: ‘Last year we worked with Mr Peter Hill, due to irreconcilable differences we regret we will not be renewing our agreement with him for this coming year.’

Chortle has not yet been able to contact Kenny II about this year’s dispute.

But until it is resolved, at least 90 shows have been thrown into limbo. Currently 67 shows are programmed into Cowgatehead and 23 into St John’s.


Yesterday, Saturday, the Freestival issued a press release:


Performers in 150 Edinburgh Fringe shows fear they have been left without venues after Peter Buckley Hill, ex Fringe Society director and principal controller of  ‘The Free Fringe Ltd’ claimed that an Edinburgh venue manager is planning to switch the management of his spaces to the Free Fringe from another Fringe promoter without warning.

The performers have already paid £360 a piece to register their shows in the Fringe Programme, have designed promotional materials and many have also booked and paid for accommodation in August.

In a statement on Facebook and other public forums, Mr Buckley Hill, announced he had, on 21st May,  signed a contract with the Licensee of Freestival’s Cowgatehead venue, which has already been fully programmed with the consent of the licensee and owner. The statement also sought to imply Freestival did not have the use of the St Johns venue. The licensee of that venue has since refuted this, stating that it remains a Freestival venue.

Freestival organisers, Jools Constant, Alex Marion and Dan Adams say:

“This has devastated people who are hoping to perform at the 2015 Fringe. We have spent the last two days dealing with distraught phone calls from people who fear their shows will not be able to go ahead.

Our greatest concern is the acts, who have put their trust in us and have already invested time, energy and money in bringing shows to the Fringe. We are appalled that their shows have been thrown into doubt by this senseless and unwarranted action. If the situation cannot be resolved and it is true that the licensee has reneged on his agreement with us, we will do our utmost to work with Peter Buckley Hill to ensure that the performers are disrupted as little as possible. We will do our best to ease their transition to PBH or another provider if they wish.

We are taking advice from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and hope they can help us find a way to intervene and find definitive answers to a number of outstanding questions including:

How is this able to happen after acts have paid to register and advertise with the Fringe Brochure?

Why would PBH agree to sign the deal so late in the year without first speaking with us, in full knowledge of the commitments already made by ourselves and the performers?

What has prompted the licensee to switch over to PBH after Freestival has been dealing constantly with both him and the building owners regarding the venue since the end of the 2014 Fringe? This included booking performers into the venue at the request of the licensee (and of the only other party originally bidding for the venue’s lease earlier in the year), ongoing discussions about building new rooms to complement those we built in July last year and about improvements to facilities, all with no indication that any other provider was in the running.

Why, when the Licensee has a full 9 room programme in place, would he switch to PBH and a smaller offering of only 6 rooms with smaller capacity?

Why did PBH wrongly include St John’s in his statement, adding needlessly to the number of acts suffering distress?

As no confirmation of the switch has been received by us from the licensee or PBH despite our attempts to obtain clarification, we are not in a position to answer these questions or even to confirm the truth of PBH’s statement.

The welfare of our acts and their shows is our first and only priority. If an act wishes to move to The Free Fringe to keep their allocated slot at Cowgatehead, anything Freestival can do to assist the moving process will be done. As a contingency against the possible loss of the Cowgatehead venue, we are sourcing alternative premises to mitigate any damage that may be caused. We are also in discussions with other promoters to ensure alternative spaces should the news be true and PBH refuses to house affected acts, although we hope PBH will reconsider and agree to transfer the show programme in its entirety. Alex Petty of Laughing Horse has kindly reached out to us and we thank him for his proactive and constructive approach in an uncertain and difficult time. Any of the Cowgatehead performers affected by this who wish to join another organisation will receive a without prejudice Freestival subscription refund.

We firmly refute all allegations of dishonesty or misconduct contained within the PBH statement and in follow up comments from individuals and related parties.

Freestival will not engage in further discussion regarding these; a public social media court is not the correct forum for such matters, given how important it is to ensure our performers interests and commitments are safe guarded and respected. We are hugely sad – given Peter Buckley Hill’s long standing commitment to supporting fringe performers – that he should choose to cast so much doubt over our acts so publicly.

We reiterate our commitment to a fair multi promoter Fringe that works for the good of performers and audiences – those performers who know us understand this and we thank all those who have expressed public support for us in this uncertain distressing time. We will be contacting all the acts affected by this situation on email with proposed alternatives and information updates over the next 48 hours.”


On Friday, Chortle editor Steve Bennett penned an opinion piece:


CAN WE END THIS BRUTAL FRINGE FREE-FOR-ALL

Free shows have been THE success story of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It has transformed the festival, opening it up to more performances and audiences than ever before, built on the excellent, simple principle of no risk on either side. If as a punter you hate the show, leave having paid nothing, if you like it, you pay what it’s worth. And as a comedian, you don’t need to commit thousands for your performance space.

Yet despite the shared basic principles, the main players in the game seem riven by bitter factional in-fighting. It’s often said that in politics the left spend more time fighting themselves than fighting the right, and it’s the same here.

The latest flashpoint over the Cowgatehead venues shows how deep those divisions are. Both Peter Buckley Hill, the founder of the entire movement and still kingpin of the Free Fringe faction, and upstarts Freestival believe they have rights to programme the spaces, right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Freestival had already put together a full programme for the venue, with acts paying up to £393 to get listed in the official Fringe brochure – more if they took an advert.

Now, after that has gone to print, PBH has publicly told all the comedians who were happy in the knowledge their space had been secured that their deals are worthless, as his Free Fringe will be programming shows there. Freestival cry bullshit.

No doubt both sides sincerely believe they are right. The building is owned by three generations of the same family who don’t always seem to be on the same page, to say the least. But the way this has become a conflict – part of a wider, antagonistic land-grab for as many venues as possible – has caused huge anxiety for the nearly 70 performers already, allegedly, booked into Cowgatehead.

The movement that was supposed to let them concentrate on their show and relieve some of the stresses of Edinburgh has done the exact opposite.

There are only two possibilities here.

One, that PBH is wrong, and that Freestival have the right to the Room – in which case this is needless scaremongering, and will have done severe damage to his reputation as one of the good guys.

The second is that he is right and they don’t. In which case PBH should honour every booking that Freestival made so as not to mess up a single performer. He has said his organisation ‘will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can’ but also, less encouragingly only that ‘there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you’.

Performers who want to be part of the PBH Free Fringe have to sign up to a 3,600-word ‘conditions and ethos’ statement – a key part of which is that if you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any rival. This is the only operator – including the supposedly evil paid venues – to impose this draconian condition on applicants.

PBH stressed this clause in his Facebook post, putting comedians in an impossible situation. They cannot hedge their bets and apply to PBH in case he’s right, while keeping their Freestival slots open. He’s forcing them to quit Freestival and go with him in a situation, frankly, where no one knows for sure what’s happening.

The only thing that’s clear is that this is unclear. The two fringe organisations, and the owners of the site,  are using the divisions on either side for some power games that the performers should not be troubled by. PBH should at least allow performers to apply to both organisations and guarantee their slots should the Freestival deal be built on sand, as he believes. If he’s right, he will be their saviour and none of the comedians will trust Freestival again… he need not use the prohibitive, anti-competitive stick of the contract to win them over.

Differences between the free organisations are minor and, when it comes to the greater good, should be put aside, even – maybe especially – on such a troublesome venue to lock down.

Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly put their decades-old differences aside to publish a joint venues programme. How much more powerful would the free movement be if they could issue a similar comprehensive brochure advertising all their offerings? But until they can put their sectarian feuds to one side, it’ll never happen.


In response to that Chortle piece, the Freestival issued this:


To answer both your questions:

(1) Are you conceding that PBH will be running Cowgatehead? – we are not, for the simple reason that neither the licensee nor PBH have contacted us regarding this, or responded to our attempts to communicate with them. As things stand the only information available is PBH’s statement. We have asked him to end speculation by producing a contract. So far we have received no response. However we are putting in place contingency plans to protect our acts as best as possible, including offering to work with PBH to place our performers in the slots they have legitimately been offered and accepted. We have also acted to ensure that any acts who cannot, or do not want to, move to PBH  are taken care of, by opening discussions with Alex Petty, who has been hugely constructive in his support, and by starting to source alternative venues. Bear in mind it’s only May – last year we sourced 2 new venues with less than 48 hours to go and got audiences into them. We have no doubt we can find quality alternative venues.

(2)  Do you have any written deal with the venue? – we do not. What we do have is a good faith agreement based on the following facts:

– Acting on our behalf our sponsors secured an agreement with the building owners that we would provide entertainment in Cowgatehead, regardless of who had the license to provide bars

– there were 2 parties bidding to be licensees, including the current operator. We had verbal agreements with both parties that we would provide entertainment at Cowgatehead, and had been requested by both to provide a programme. We then entered into discussions with both, not about whether we would provide a programme, but the particulars of how a programme that had already been agreed would be provided, including disposition of stages, installation of toilets and improvements to access and signage. In other words, we had oral agreements with not just one but 4 parties (owners, sponsors and both potential licensees). It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.

– the issue of who would be the licensee was not resolved until a little over 2 weeks ago, long after the deadline for brochure entries and even longer after all parties involved had assured us we would be providing a programme of events in Cowgatehead.

– 3 days after the licensee signed a deal with the building owners we sent a draft agreement to the licensee, which we assumed would be discussed, amended and signed.

– On 21st May PBH posted his statement. Up until this point no other potential provider had ever been mentioned and PBH had programmed no acts into the venue.

– In light of all this we have no doubt that we have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout this process and were justified in doing so in legal, moral and practical terms.

Now we have a question for you:

(3) Why do you keep describing this as in fighting between us and PBH?

There is no fight. We are not, and never have, fought. What there has been, consistently, since the moment we suggested working with PBH to improve the Free Fringe, is attacks, by PBH and his team, against us. Let’s be absolutely clear, we have never openly criticised PBH or the Free Fringe, we have never engaged with the attacks against us and we have never sought hostility. In fact we have put our admiration of Peter’s pioneering work in founding the Free Fringe on record, and we have welcomed, indeed encouraged, Free Fringe acts to share Freestival stages whenever they wished (although some preferred not to appear in the publicity for fear of reprisals).

Not only that, in January we were offered 2 PBH venues, Whistlebinkies and the Globe, but we turned them down because we believe in a healthy free sector and we don’t want to damage Peter’s offering. Beyond that we have done all this because frankly we are not interested in somebody else’s vendetta. We are only interested in providing the best experience possible for our acts and audiences and for that reason, because now he has caused unforgivable anxiety and distress for the acts we have worked so closely with for months, just for today, we are going to break that rule.

Peter’s behaviour in this matter has been reprehensible. He cannot pretend that he did not know his actions would lead to at best deep distress and at worst the destruction of dreams for dozens of performers, exactly the people who he has always claimed to champion. He cannot claim that his actions have been in anyone’s best interests – he has acted purely in pursuance of an imagined feud with us, people who have never set out to do anything to him. He must know that he doesn’t have enough acts to fill even the down sized 6 room venue he is planning, and that he is in danger of throwing acts onto the street so that his spite, selfishness and thoughtless cruelty can play itself out in empty rooms.

The truth is, as anyone but his most ardent supporters (who by the way have verged on the libellous in their social media comments – we are considering taking legal advice) must realise, that Peter should have said no. He should have said, in the interests of the acts, “I won’t do this – look me up next year”. But he didn’t because he could not resist the opportunity to attack us, and he didn’t care about the collateral damage. After all, they’re just people, with dreams and as the Free Fringe ethos states: “Abandon your dreams. It’s not going to happen.”

Of course, the same ethos says repeatedly: “Don’t be a dick”. Clearly a case of do as I say, not as I do.

That’s it. We will return now to what we have always done – looking after our acts.


In my view, the key sentence in that last statement is:

“It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.”

If the Cowgatehead people made any verbal agreement with the Freestival, it would invalidate any subsequent agreement with PBH. 

As far as I am aware, the Free Fringe has, as yet, programmed no shows into the Cowgatehead venue.

The magician Stu Turner has made a parody video which is not irrelevant to all this the chaos. It is on YouTube.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

Comedian and former plant Dec Munro says there is “Nothing Happening Here”

Dec Munro at the pleasance Dome  in Edinburgh in August 2012

Dec Munro with an odd-coloured pocket at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh in August 2012

“What’s happening?” I asked comedian Dec Munro yesterday in a meeting room at a private members club in central London.

Nothing Happening Here,” he said.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? It is the title of the definitively odd comedy evening he runs with Niall McCamley. There is no website. Just a Facebook page.

“I enjoyed the last one,” I said. “I’ll come along this Tuesday (for the next one). How often is Nothing Happening Here?”

“Whenever we decide to do it,” replied Dec. “Tuesday’s will be the third.”

“So why call it Nothing Happening Here?” I asked. “Especially when lots happens.”

“We thought it would be stupid,” explained Dec, “and fun and a way of getting people to a location they might not otherwise go to.”

Dec’s Nothing Happening show partner Niall McCamley

Dec’s Nothing Happening Here show partner Niall McCamley

“The one I went to last time,” I said, “was an art gallery in Haggerston. Where was the first one?”

“Niall’s flat.”

“And,” I asked, “you’re not going to tell me where this Tuesday’s is, because we’re going to meet at some mystery place you will tell us on the day. Can you tell me what type of location it is?”

“Odd,” replied Dec.

“Surely not?” I asked.

“Everybody is being encouraged to wear glitter,” he told me. “Although we will supply some.”

“Is it sexually dubious?” I asked, nervously.

“No. But that would be amazing: taking people to some kind of S&M torture place. Do you know one?”

Dec Munro in an interesting ex-Belgian room thinking about a torture chamber for comedy

Dec Munro in an interesting ex-Belgian room thinking about a torture chamber for comedy

Dave Courtney,” I said, “has a torture chamber in his back garden in suburban Plumstead. He rents it out to film crews and anyone interested in such things.”

“Mmmm,” mused Dec.

There was a long, thoughtful pause.

“This used to be the headquarters of the Anglo-Belgian Club,” Dec told me.

“Not the most interesting of clubs, then,” I suggested.

“That’s a bit harsh,” he said.

“The Magritte Club would be interesting,” I suggested. “An antelope coming out of the wall wearing a bowler hat.”

“Mmmm,” mused Dec, “I was in the Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show. I was the guy who runs out and does a little dance.”

“You were a plant in the audience?” I asked.

“Essentially yes,” said Dec. “I got a phone call from a friend saying: We need an idiot to get naked on stage at the Soho Theatre with Arthur Smith. Are you up for doing that? And I said: Sure, no problem at all. 

Arthur Smith sang Leonard Cohen but required some naked back-up

Arthur Smith Sang Leonard Cohen but required some nudity

“The first time I did it, I took a girl on a second date. Part way through the show, I asked her Will you excuse me for a minute? went backstage, took all my clothes off and tried to make it look more impressive.”

“Make what look more impressive?” I asked.

“My cock.”

“How?”

Dec made a vertical whirling movement with his hand.

“How do I describe that in my blog?” I asked him.

“Willy-wanging? Helicoptering?” he suggested.

“When you demonstrated that,” I said, “you used all four fingers and a thumb. For some of us, that is quite impressive to begin with.”

“The premise of the show,” explained Dec, ignoring my comment, “is that Arthur Smith is talking about Leonard Cohen; Leonard Cohen has a beef with Leonard Nimoy; and some of Leonard Nimoy’s poetry is featured.

Dec Munro attempts to mount a horse

Dec Munro attempts to mount a small horse

“So I ran out onstage completely naked except for a Leonard Nimoy face mask, did a little dance, disappointed a lot of people in the front row for a minute by dangling my cock arguably far too close to all of them, ran back offstage, put my clothes back on again and re-joined my date in the audience.

“At no point until about an hour afterwards did she know it was me. She just thought I had gone to the toilet. A friend of mine was there with her parents – I had no idea she was there. She came over and said: Dec! – Great cock tonight! Great cock! That was the point at which the girl I was on a date with figured out it was me.”

“And,” I asked, “then what did she say to you?”

“Nothing complimentary at all.”

“Was there another date?”

“Yes. I imagine it was my natural charm. You know, there is a moment of questioning your life choices when you are backstage downstairs at the Soho Theatre wearing a Spock mask looking at a mirror, whirling your cock round and trying to make it look as big as you possibly can.”

“You did this for the whole run of the show?” I asked.

“No. There was another guy who did it and he had the ability to play the accordion.”

“With his cock?”

Dec mercifully fully clothed

Dec Munro – mercifully fully clothed

“No. That would have been impressive. But I got a phone call from my friend saying: Dec, actually there’s another guy and he brings a bit more to it. He can play the accordion while naked and is happy to flash his balls. So he won out and he got to go on BBC Radio 4 and do it when they made Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen: the 30 minute version.”

“Naked on radio?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Was it an accordion or a squeezebox?” I asked.

“I think it might have been a squeezebox. What’s the difference?”

“A squeezebox,” I suggested, “sounds funnier when a cock and balls are involved.”

“Then it was definitely a squeezebox,” said Dec.

“Whole new avenues open up for your career,” I told him. “If you’re happy to go naked. Malcolm Hardee shows beckon. Have you ever jumped out of a plane?”

“Yes,” replied Dec, “I have jumped out of a plane and it went wrong, because they packed the parachute badly. They do a fixed line thing which automatically opens the parachute. It pulled and dislocated my right shoulder. I was the first person in twelve years to land outside their drop zone – somewhere just outside Lancaster. I landed in a ditch next to barbed wire and ended up on morphine that night at my friend’s birthday.

“I have to say morphine is amazing. You can get through absolutely anything on morphine. I was supposed to organise a surprise party for my friend, so I said: Please, just give me lots of morphine. I have not had it since, but I look back on it fondly.”

“Morphine was amazing in what way?” I asked.

“You just float,” explained Dec, “and, even though you know you’re in a lot of pain, you’re distracted and everything feels lovely and you’re happy. I think morphine should be obligatory.”

“Well,” I said, “I think it is in certain parts of London. Are you plugging anything else apart from Nothing Happening Here and morphine?”

The Facebook publicity photo for Nothing Happening Here

A photo promoting Nothing Happening Here displayed on the show’s Facebook page

“I’ve now got a little venue just next to the Bank of England that I’d like to put previews and stuff in so, if people would like to get in touch, that would be amazing. I’m going to try and get some well-known people and some weird, different, offbeat, Michael Brunströmy type fun people. He was the first act at the first Nothing Happening Here. He did 15 minutes as Mary Quant and nobody in the audience bar two people knew who Mary Quant was. I loved it.”

“Beyond that?” I asked.

“I want,” said Dec, “to do fun things and meet good people and do interesting things and maybe earn some money while doing it.”

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, Surreal