At Edinburgh Fringe, naked Bob Slayer almost chokes to death on a balloon

The inevitable happened at the ever more complicated Edinburgh Fringe yesterday.

I was invited to an event and turned up on time at the Spiegeltent outside the Assembly Rooms in George Street in the new town… only to realise that the event was actually in the Spiegeltent at the rival Assembly venue in George Square in the old town.

I texted my Scots comic/playwright chum Janey Godley for some sympathy.

“You’re a cock,” came back the immediate reply.

True, but I blame the venues for fighting between themselves.

Owen O’Neill flyering charismatically in Edinburgh yesterday

Minutes later, I bumped into Irish comic/playwright Owen O’Neill flyering in George Street for his Struck By Lightning show at the Assembly Rooms. He had employed two flyerers until last week, when he decided they were a waste of money and flyered for himself.

“I quadrupled my audience,” he told me.

“You quadrupled it?” I asked, knowing he is a wonderful communicator but, even so…

“Well, it might have had something to do with this,” he said turning the flyer over and, a master at marketing, pointed to the stapled 4-star review from the Scotsman calling him the supreme master of the one-man show, storyteller extraordinaire and ex-lunatic (judging by his tales)… If you have seen one of O’Neil’s wonderful hours, you won’t need me to tell you to go sample his spellbinding narrative. If not, then, whether for the comedy, the beauty of the writing or the perfection of the performance, you really should go along.

“… or it might have been because it was a weekend,” Owen added.

“Or it could be your charisma in the street,” I suggested.

“I’d like to think so,” he said.

Meanwhile, with the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show set for tomorrow night, I’ve just lost my techie (who does the sound and lights) and will have to find another. And Pete Cunningham who appeared on last year’s show as Frank Sanazi (the singing Hitler) and who was going to perform this year as Tom Mones (the singer from the Welsh valleys) has lost his voice in London. He partly blames Sue Perkins of the BBC Culture Show:

Frank Sanazi was never going to appear on the show

“It vos ze Hitleresque ranting zat vos mein ‘Downfall’ (excuse the pun) and ze screaming at Sue Perkins up ze steps (Edinburgh’s Goose Steps) on ze BBC’s Culture Show last week zat has caused zis problem !!!!” he e-mailed me.

He added:

“Mein throat is, as they say in the business, ‘Well & truly f***ed’ (the Fringe made me delete the middle of this). It was swollen when I left Edinburgh on 14th August but another five gigs in London have left me in a sorry state. The doctor has told me to shut up (not for the first time). I was sorely tempted to email you, John, stating that I’d had a massive heart attack, but I’ve noticed this year that stunts like this don’t even get a nomination for the ‘Cunning Stunt Award’ ! Even faking my own death would probably not even register at the Awards, such is the stiff (excuse the pun) competition.”

Martin Soan chats to Arthur Smith last night

I saw three acts still definite for the show last night at The Hive venue when the Greatest Show On Legs performed their first show at the Edinburgh Fringe for thirty years (with Bob Slayer replacing the dead Malcolm Hardee). They’re having special guests from their past join them each night and, last night, it was Arthur Smith.

Afterwards, I asked lead leg Martin Soan the incisive question:

“How has it changed – performing the show again in Edinburgh after all these years?”

“It’s exactly the same, John,” he told me. “Mostly sweaty.”

Fellow original leg Martin Clarke told me after the show:

“That was the first night of real laughter I’ve heard since I did the show with Malcolm thirty years ago. I saw people crying with laughter and, when I went behind the stage to change, I could hear some people in the bar still shrieking with laughter at the memory ten minutes after the show had finished and I thought That’s just how it used to be!

The Greatest Show on Legs on stage in Edinburgh last night

“I was never sure we could do it again without Malcolm but maybe he was with us, because we’ve been nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“No you haven’t,” I said.

“Yes we have,” said Bob Slayer. “For comic originality.”

“Is that what it is?” asked Martin Clarke.

“Nobody else is recreating entire music hall traditions,” said Bob. “Tony Law didn’t. Nor did Dr Brown. And they got nominated for that ‘other’ award. They’re going for something new and easy. We’re recreating originality. There are other has-beens, but they’re successful. We’re different.”

“Our selling point is being unsuccessful has-beens,” agreed Martin Clarke.

“And I’m a never-been,” said Bob. “That is the twist.”

“That’s what is so incredible about tonight.” said Martin Clarke.

“And that is comic originality,” said Bob Slayer. “We thought we would only start performing our shows after you had made the nominations and then make you re-assess your nominations and realise you are wrong. It’s comic originality. I nearly died tonight by almost swallowing a balloon during the Naked Balloon Dance.

“The other two think the funny way to do the Balloon Dance is to blow the balloons up and then put the other ones inside your cheeks. I thought No, I’ll put the balloons in my cheeks first and then blow the balloons up. So what I did was a deep breath and the heart-shaped one went down my throat.”

“Testicle-shaped,” corrected Martin Clarke.

“It was down my trachea,” continued Bob, “and I was pulling it out and puking balloons out backstage. That’s why I was late.”

“That’s original,” said Martin Clarke.

“Never happened before,” said Bob. “Comic originality and death. I think that’s the way to do it and that’s how I’m going to do it every night.”

“And to be perfectly honest,” said Martin Clarke, we’ve never used balloons shaped like testicles before.”

Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?

“I think you’ve blown it,” I told Bob. “The idea of a posthumous Award was the way to go, but you’ve blown it by not dying.”

“But many people have been given posthumous Awards before,” said Bob, “and I’m not going down that tired old road. Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Graham Chapman…”

“Graham Chapman?” I asked.

“He got the award for being the most dead Monty Python,” said Bob. “Stick that in your blog.”

“Righto,” I said.

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