(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)
I always say people should not tell me in advance about their stunt because, if the judges do not become aware of it in the natural course of things… well, the stunt has clearly failed.
The award exists because of the late Malcolm Hardee’s love of pranks at the Fringe. His two most famous ones were riding a tractor (naked, obviously) through the middle of a show by another performer who had annoyed him… And writing a review of his own show and getting The Scotsman to print it because they thought it was written by one of their own comedy critics.
Another legendary stuntmeister was/is PR man Mark Borkowski who managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage in Edinburgh because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they had never juggled chainsaws and didn’t intend to. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Perception is everything.
When Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005, Mark Borkowski wrote:
“I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s. He had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt.”
One of Malcolm’s ideas in 2003, was to get some publicity of his own out of David Blaine’s then stunt of sitting in a glass box, doing nothing, suspended from a crane for days on end by the River Thames in London.
Malcolm thought, quite rightly, that this was excessively dull.
The book of short stories by comedians which Malcolm and I edited – Sit-Down Comedy (still available from Amazon and from Apple iBooks) – had recently been published.
Malcolm decided he wanted to dangle from a floating crane in the River Thames near David Blaine. But he wanted to dangle for only 24 hours in his taxi (Malcolm owned a second hand London taxi at the time). The taxi would be covered in cling-film and, inside, he would be visibly reading Sit-Down Comedy – and having beer and sandwiches. Malcolm said he wanted to wave occasionally from his clingfilm-covered taxi to David Blaine in his glass box to show him what we Brits thought of him and his dull American stunts.
When Malcolm’s publishers Ebury Press tragically turned down the modest £2,000 cost of this (floating cranes cost money), I approached Mark Borkowski, who tried to get his client McCain to fork out £2,000 to have Malcolm sitting on a giant pile of McCain chips (on land) eating a McCain pizza and reading the book.
McCain said No and Malcolm, anyway, reckoned it was only funny if he was dangling Blaine-like in mid-air in his taxi.
There was then a chance Borkowski might get sponsorship from a soft drinks company and all Malcolm had to do was to be seen to drink the client’s product. However, the Port of London Authority, ever safety-conscious and never known for its sense of humour, was a tad difficult about this, as it involved using a floating crane on the Thames. Malcolm (a man with many contacts) then reckoned he could get a crane in a marina near Tower Bridge, diagonally across the river from Blaine.
There was then a complication that an intrepid British magician whom Malcolm knew (not Jerry Sadowitz) phoned him up wanting to borrow Malcolm’s boat because he wanted to kidnap Blaine (financed by a national paper) on 28th September 2003. This looked likely to happen.
Sadly, it never did happen, David Blaine kept sitting in his box doing nothing and, simply because everything took so long, Malcolm’s enthusiasm waned.
I once suggested to Malcolm that he should fake his own drowning in North Berwick during the Edinburgh Fringe and reappear for his own funeral.
Sadly, he did this drowning schtick in London in 2005 but without fakery and without reappearing.
So it goes.