Good-bad comedy and bad-bad comedy on TV and at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This was also published by Indian news site WSN)

Malcolm Hardee presents Pull The Plug!

Malcolm Hardee presents Gong Show rip-off Pull The Plug!

To rip-off American politician Donald Rumsfeld’s quote about known knowns and unknown unknowns… In comedy, there are good acts who think they are good and are good, there are bad acts who think they are good but are bad and there are bad acts who think they are bad but are good.

I am, myself, a great lover of good-bad acts and variable acts wh0 can rotate from genius to urinal on a 2p piece. In fact, you can often learn more from watching a bad-bad act than from watching a good act. Good-bad acts are to be encouraged and treasured.

When the late Malcolm Hardee and I worked at Noel Gay Television in 1990/1991, producing entertainment shows in the UK for what was then BSB, a producer called Cecil Korer came to Noel Gay suggesting a TV series called The Cockroach Show – a rip-off of infamous US TV ‘talent’ programme The Gong Show.

I loved (and love) The Gong Show which I always thought was misunderstood by people who had never seen it. People who had never seen it thought it involved bad acts. But, in fact, it involved knowingly bizarre acts: an entirely different thing. They were good-bad acts.

Unless my memory deceives me, I remember one very overweight lady on The Gong Show, dressed as Marlene Dietrich from The Blue Angel, trying and failing to get up onto a high stool while singing Falling In Love Again. It was very funny. She had great timing.

Another act involved a man (and I think also a woman) who came on and juggled a doll. Except that, after about 15 seconds, viewers (and the open-mouthed judging panel) realised it was not a doll but a real flesh-and-blood child. The act was quickly gonged off.

If only Malcolm Hardee and I could have found such an act while we were at Noel Gay…

Instead, we had Cecil Korer who, I think, had actually been responsible for Channel 4 buying and screening The Gong Show in the UK and now (1990) had this idea to rip it off as The Cockroach Show.

Cecil had a good pedigree having been, at one time, involved in BBC TV’s glorious Good Old Days music hall show. He had also commissioned entertainment shows for Channel 4, including the almost indescribable Minipops.

This mostly seemed to involve pre-pubescent little girls singing, while bumping and grinding suggestively and thrusting their hips to raunchy pop music tracks. Cecil claimed he saw it as a cute talent-type show. Many saw it as toe-curlingly and unsettlingly sexist or worse. Today, the words “Jimmy Savile show” would not be too far off the mark.

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw and Jools Holland

Pull The Plug judges Ned Sherrin, Liz Kershaw, Jools Holland

Anyway, Malcolm and I co-produced two rip-off pilots for BSB with Cecil Korer credited as producer and us as associate producers but, in fact, one show Pull The Plug! included acts chosen by him and one The Flip Show had acts chosen by Malcolm and me.

The way Malcolm tells it in his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:

I went round the country auditioning acts with this old guy Cecil Korer and some glamorous girl he was taking round. Cecil was a TV bloke of the Old School. One of his proudest claims to fame was as producer of the appalling 1980s Channel 4 series Minipops. He liked young girls, did Cecil. Some of the acts we saw were indescribably bizarre. You had to be there. One old woman sang to backing tapes and danced about in a peculiar fashion. She tried her best to look glamorous but everything was wrong: she had no co-ordination, no glamour, nothing. Somehow, it was extremely funny and she should’ve got on the show.

In the end, we selected enough acts to do two pilots: The Flip Show, which had hand-held hooters instead of a gong, and Pull The Plug! where lights were turned off progressively until the act was in total darkness and had to stop. We recorded the shows in Gillingham with Jools Holland, Cardew Robinson and Ned Sherrin on the panel. The two pilots were not going to set the world alight, but I thought they were quite good. They never got taken up by BSB, though. We were never told exactly why.

In fact, that is not true. We were told.

We had been directed by BSB to make the two pilots “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”. We mostly ignored the second suggestion but, when BSB eventually saw these pilots, they rejected them, with apologies, because they claimed they had had a “re-appraisal” of the BSB image and the two shows were “slightly tacky” and “a little cruel”.

There are some brief extracts from the shows in the Malcolm Hardee obituary video on YouTube.

One of the acts Cecil chose was, basically, a girl in her 20s dressed as a St Trinian’s schoolgirl doing quite a bit of jiggling. The acts Malcolm and I chose were more knowingly bizarre.

All this came to mind a couple of days ago, when the eternally entrepreneurial Bob Slayer sent me the pitch for his Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

I think The Hive is a justification of my theory that it usually takes three consecutive years to get anywhere at the Fringe.

The first year, people are not necessarily even aware you exist.

The second year, they are aware you exist because you were there last year.

The third year, you seem an established fixture at the eternally ephemeral Fringe and have some profile.

Bob started running The Hive venue within the Free Festival two years ago.

He had an advantage in the first year that people vaguely knew of him as a solo act, though not as a venue-runner. He was also able to attract a big Fringe act – Phil Kay – to the venue.

Last year, he was getting treated even more seriously and the venue had a real buzz about it with Phil Kay and semi-breakthrough shows like Chris Dangerfield’s Sex Tourist and John Robertson‘s The Dark Room as well as the return to the Fringe of The Greatest Show on Legs. This year, I expect even more of a buzz around The Hive, so I was interested to see, as part of Bob’s pitch to acts who might want to appear at The Hive:

Is it really terrible? I mean so shockingly bad that we want to see it every day? If so yes apply and mark your application “Even worse than Bob Slayer’s show…”

“That was an interesting paragraph,” I said to Bob.

Bob Slayer at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer in The Hive at the 2011 Fringe:. This photo can never be printed too often.

“Ah,” he replied. “We are very oversubscribed this year so I have been doing all I can to put people off. But there is always room for a real proper stinker. I realise this ‘terrible’ show slot is very important. In the past, I have mostly found these shows by accident, but you can’t rely on that.

“In the year before I took over booking at The Hive, there was a one-woman play about sexual abuse. She was on before my show and hers ended with a graphic reconstruction which she would perform to her audience of only two or three people. She was always over-running and my audience would be waiting outside… So, when she went off-stage prior to her graphic end scene, I would usher my audience into the room, telling them the intro to my show was about to start.

“Her audience would then suddenly swell and they would cheer loudly as she was entered by the devil himself. It was a beautiful piece of theatre and a perfect set-up for my show.”

Good comedy?

Bad comedy?

It can often be the same thing.

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Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

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