Yesterday morning, the lovely photographer Kat Gollock took pix of me at Fringe Central for the weekly piece I will be writing for Three Weeks throughout the Edinburgh Fringe. The first issue is out on Wednesday.
Afterwards, I was sitting talking to Giacinto Palmieri about his show Pagliaccio when I was hailed by 2009 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Otto Kuhnle, whom Three Weeks (nothing to do with me) called “bloody brilliant” – and he is. He had just arrived to perform his Ich Bin Ein Berliner show (starting today) for the next 22 days. It is billed – I am sure correctly – as an hour of Teutonic mirth, music and gnome juggling.
“Ah! You are Otto Kuhnle!” said Giacinto. “I did not recognise you without your hat!”
This is Otto’s fifth time at the Fringe. Before, he has performed with fellow German Henning Wehn.
“So this is your first solo show in Edinburgh,” I said to him after Giacinto had left. “Why now?”
“I have a little son,” he said. “Two and a half years. So the last two years I have been a little busy. This year was the first time my wife allowed me to leave the house for a month. The little child now starts to eat. Father has to earn the food.”
“And your show this year is…” I prompted.
“…a little autobiographical,” he continued. “I talk a little bit about Berlin. It’s a little bit tribute to my home town. Ich Bin Ein Berliner.”
“A Berliner is a sausage, isn’t it?” I asked. “They say President Kennedy got it wrong.”
“No, no,” said Otto. “In Berlin, ‘Berliner’ does mean a citizen of Berlin… But, in south Germany, it’s a doughnut.”
“I didn’t realise your show is not going to be straight variety this year,” I said.
“It’s half-and-half,” Otto told me. It’s really like a variety show, but all the things I am doing have a certain link to my life, the fall-down of the Wall and so on. It’s in the style of a variety show, but I am doing all the acts and also being the compere.”
“And your two friends?” I asked, nodding over to two men in shorts sitting on a sofa.
“I have imported two flyerers from Austria,” he told me. “One is a promoter who owns a theatre in Vienna; the other is a comedIan and both have never been to the Fringe before. I trained them in a little mountain hut far away and in little villages in Austria. I gave them fake flyers and they flyered everywhere to convince the villagers to do this and that. This was tough training and now they are prepared for the Fringe.”
“They flyered the goats in the hills?” I asked.
“Don’t mention the goats,” said Otto.
The flyerers were very polite and showed me the flaps in front of their groins in which they hold Otto’s flyers.
“Women in the street are very keen to take a flyer,” one of them told me.
But back to my earlier conversation with Giacinto Palmieri.
I blogged back in February about Giacinto’s show Pagliaccio which, he said at the time, “is about comedians living together at the Edinburgh Fringe and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians.
“The problem with writing autobiographical comedy shows,” he told me yesterday, “is that your characters don’t stay on the stage. I have this ‘baddie’ in my story – an Italian actor. I paint quite a nasty picture of him. And now I am really worried because he wants to see the show but he does not know he is in it.”
“Will he recognise himself?” I asked. “He’s an actor. He might think This is such a horrible person it can’t be me.”
“But I even say the name of a show he was in,” Giacinto explained. “He is very, very recognisable. He wanted to come yesterday, but I made the excuse that I was too nervous because it was the first performance. I said I prefer if you come later in the run.”
“Can you remove the references to him without destroying the entire show?” I asked.
“Of course I can,” Giacinto replied. “But there are a couple of good jokes in there. It is a tough call. Would you choose avoiding a libel case or keeping a good joke?”
“A good joke,” I said immediately, “because the libel case brings more publicity. Is he Italian?”
“Yes. And he’s quite big,” said Giacinto, “which is what worries me more than a libel case.”
“Usually, people can get away with anything by saying it’s ‘comedy’,” I suggested. “You say you stretch descriptions and exaggerate reality to create a comic point of view.”
“But, from a physical point of view,” said Giacinto, “if I get a punch…?”
“If you get punched,” I said, “you have to make sure he punches you after you have alerted a photographer from The Scotsman. You have to ask him to give you some notice he is going to punch you – perhaps a couple of days.”
“Lewis Schaffer was punched last year,” said Giacinto, brightening up.
“No,” I said. “that was a couple of years ago. And he wasn’t punched. Someone smashed his iPhone and he punched the guy. He said it was very empowering. Years ago at the Fringe, comedian Ian Cognito insulted Ricky Grover’s wife and Ricky – who used to be a professional boxer – knocked him out. The next day, though, Ian Cognito did admit he had been in the wrong.”
“If he comes to my show – the Italian actor,” continued Giacinto, “maybe instead of removing references to him, I will exaggerate. I might try to make it even more sarcastic.”
“You could make him part of the show,” I said. “You could say: That’s him sitting there.”
“I’m not sure about that,” said Giacinto.
“He can’t react badly or complain,” I persisted. “It’s a comedy show and he’s an actor. He has to be seen to take it in good spirit. He’s an actor. He’ll be the centre of attention. He’ll love it!”
“That’s true,” said Giacinto gloomily, clearly unconvinced. There was a pause, then he livened up:
“Of course!” he said. “Opera! This situation reminds me of the stone guest in Don Giovanni. He comes uninvited as a ghost because he’s dead and he comes as a statue.”
“You will be dressed as Pagliacci,” I said. “No-one will actually punch anyone dressed as Pagliacci.”
“But I have more problems,” said Giacinto, reverting to gloom. “The female in the story in my show is also in Edinburgh this year. It is all a bit sticky. It is all a bit… What’s the word…?”
“Dangerous,” I suggested. “I should leave town if I were you.”