Accidental meetings and a comedy revelation at the Edinburgh Fringe

I pretty much started the Malcolm Hardee Awards as an ongoing annual event in 2007, saying they would run until 2017, on the basis that I would then be able to get free tickets to all comedy shows on the Edinburgh Fringe for ten years.

Tragically, until this year, I have been involved in other shows and been unable to make full use of this fine scam – mostly just seeing shows recommended by other judges. But this year, with the five Malcolm Hardee shows happening only in the final week, eureka! –

Yesterday at the Fringe, I saw seven shows.

My day started with the always excellent Steve Day‘s definitely at least 4-star show Run, deaf boy, Run about how he took part in the London Marathon this year. There is an interesting reason – explained in the show – why ‘deaf boy’ in the title does not have capital letters. Afterwards, Steve told me one story not included in the show.

He was given his first comedy bookings by Malcolm Hardee at his Up The Creek club in Greenwich, which is on the London Marathon route. As Steve was running past Up The Creek this year, he tried to Tweet the fact on his phone but failed because of the large amounts of Vaseline transferring from his fingers onto the phone.

Alright, alright. You have to see his show to understand that but – hey! – you should see his show. And yes, he had been pretty much doing what you might think he had been doing with the Vaseline.

I was sitting in the Pleasance Dome thinking how funny this story was – though admittedly only if you’ve seen Steve’s wonderful show – when American comic Lewis Schaffer sat down at my table; it was akin to an Assyrian descending like a wolf on the fold – though admittedly only if you ignore his Jewishness, which is difficult.

He told me:

“I have new shoes. They are so tight, John. They hurt my feet and make me feel like a girl…”

I looked at him.

“My act has changed,” he said. “I have gone full-on flexible.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“You know what it means,” he replied. “Full-on is a British phrase.”

“No it isn’t,” I said, “it’s an American phrase and even if it were British English, I have gone full-on flexible still doesn’t mean anything.”

“Well,” he said, “I don’t know what it means either. Kate Copstick is coming to review my show tonight for the Scotsman. I’m not ready.”

“It’ll be OK.” I said, trying to be reassuring. “She likes you.”

“Well, I find that irritating,” Lewis said.

“What?”

“That she likes me. Does she really like me? I find it irritating when people like me. My girlfriend likes me. I find that very irritating.”

It is sometimes very difficult to talk reasonably to Lewis Schaffer.

We walked off together to the Counting House venue and passed comedian Diane Spencer, flyering for her show All-Pervading Madness.

“Are you coming to see it?” she asked me. “I know you saw it in London, but it has changed so much – out of all recognition.”

“I did think about it,” I said, “but I don’t need to see you because I know how good you are.”

She thought I was bullshitting.

I was not.

She IS that good.

I keep thinking I should suck-up to Diane Spencer so that when, inevitably, she is highly successful she may one day buy a Big Issue from me when she comes out of some future BAFTA Awards ceremony. Forward planning is important, but young women tend not to take it very well when a man of my age tries to suck-up to them. The police are a constant sword of Damocles.

At the Counting House, I saw Ivor Dembina‘s show which he calls Ivor’s Other Show because he… has another show at the Fringe. His other show Free Jewish Comedy is his stand-up comedy show; the clue is in the title. Ivor’s Other Show is a sit-down chat show in which he and two different comics each day talk about jokes and comedy with the audience joining in – it’s Ivor’s own format idea called Desert Island Jokes.

It was certainly interesting to see Ivor’s Other Show, because I will be chairing two panel shows about comedy as part of Malcolm Hardee Week – the final week of the Fringe.

Ivor is a surprisingly good chat show host. Most comedians are too self-obsessed and keen to make an impact to be a good, moderately self-effacing host, but I guess Ivor’s many years compering at his Hampstead Comedy Club have given him the vital necessary experience.

Yesterday’s show was also interesting because, in my own mind, it clarified why you can listen to a Beatles’ song 25 times and enjoy it equally each time… and listen to a comic story 25 times, enjoying the experience and the ‘journey’ equally each time, but you cannot hear a joke 25 times with equal pleasure: you are unlikely to ever repeat the scale of the large belly-laugh at the punchline to an equal extent on subsequent hearings because the element of surprise at the punchline is missing on repeated tellings.

The exception might be Tommy Cooper gags where, although they may be straight punch-line-based gags, it is the style of the telling of the joke at which you are really laughing.

But what do I know?

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