(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)
Cunning stunts seem to have escalated at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.
Yesterday was to see the announcement of the shortlist for the Perrier Awards, now re-named the Fosters Awards, presumably because their parentage has been very variable.
Shortly before the announcement Barry Ferns, already nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award, distributed a second edition of his fake Broadway Baby review sheet – this one headlined FOSTERS AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED.
After an apparently self-publicising puff for Broadway Baby, the Fosters five Best Newcomer nominations included Barry Ferns and the six Main Prize nominees also included Barry Ferns.
At the Pleasance Dome, I watched as people picked up sheets of the fake edition to study what they thought were the real nominees.
Meanwhile, an Edinburgh Comedy Awards website appeared online at the address www.edinburghcomedyaward.com in the same colours as the Fosters Awards and with a logo sporting an E instead of an F. I think the Edinburgh Comedy Awards was a previous name for the Perrier/Fosters Awards, but there have been so many it is difficult to remember.
The nominees for this years Edinburgh Comedy Awards included Nathan Cassidy (a Malcolm Hardee Award nominee last year) and it was said: “The Winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award 2013 will be announced at 7pm on Thursday 22nd August at Finnegan’s Wake on the stage at the end of Nathan Cassidy’s show (starting at 6.15). This in no way reflects a bias towards Nathan.”
The site includes a clip of “the ‘great’ comedian (Broadway Baby) Nathan Cassidy in action.”
In a further confusing twist, explicably, it also turns out that the web address www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk takes you to the Malcolm Hardee Awards page.
To confuse matters even more, esteemed New York based comedian Andrew J Lederer sent me an e-mail saying: “I think I should have been nominated for the Cunning Stunt Award by figuring out the cheapest, laziest way to do Edinburgh yet devised – by simply not going.”
Instead of coming to perform at the Fringe this year, he has been posting a daily Fringe blog that makes no mention of the fact that he is not actually in Edinburgh.
“More people read the posts every day than typically came to see my Edinburgh shows,” he tells me. “And I have been receiving e-mails from people who think I am in Edinburgh saying Where are you? and We can’t find you listed.”
Where all this leads next year, I barely dare to think. Life is anarchic enough at the Fringe.
For example, the final two days of my Fringe chat shows had their line-up thrown into turmoil yesterday.
Today’s show was to have featured Perrier/Fosters boss Nica Burns with iconic 80-year-old American performer Lynn Ruth Miller. Nica will no longer be appearing and has been replaced by flame-haired young comedy temptress Laura Levites. So we will be having two feisty American Jewish female comics from different generations.
And tomorrow (Friday) – adding to the anarchy – Martin Soan of the Greatest Show On Legs will no longer be coming up to Edinburgh from London after being kidnapped by a group of Bosnian gangsters when he was walking along a street in Peckham and held for a ransom which his wife Vivienne is unable or unwilling to pay.
At least, that is what I am going to tell people.
Anyway, he is not coming up.
So the billed Friday afternoon chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and Martin Soan will now instead be a chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and ultimate Scots comic Janey Godley, author of the bestselling and excellently-edited autobiography Handstands in the Dark, still in print after eight years. (I allegedly edited it.)
Martin Soan’s enforced non-appearance on Friday also has an interesting knock-on effect in that he was due to perform with the Greatest Show On Legs in the Naked Balloon Dance as the climax to tomorrow night’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.
No… At the moment, I have no idea what will happen either. But at least I have some money in my pocket.
Which brings us back to young flame-haired American comedian Laure Levites.
She crowd-funded her utterly brilliant current Edinburgh Fringe show Self Helpless through what seemed to be a trustworthy online site Indiegogo.com
Indiegogo may or may not actually be a competent crowd-funding site in the same way that Saddam Hussein was a humanitarian.
“I didn’t have the money,” Laura told me yesterday, “so I thought What a great way to fund my Fringe show. I wanted to raise $7,500 and the fundraising finished on July 15th. I was supposed to get the money I raised 7-15 days afterwards – the end of July – just before the Edinburgh Fringe started.”
“And has the money appeared?” I asked.
“As of today – 21st August – no,” Laura told me yesterday. “On July 22nd, I received an e-mail saying that Indiegogo didn’t have my bank account information which I’d previously set up.
“So I went in and put in my bank’s routing number. I put it in three times and their system declined it. So I got in touch with my bank and they gave me a different number. I put in that number and Indiegogo accepted it. By now I was in the UK.
“Did you have anything dodgy in your appeal?” I asked.
“No,” Laura told me. “I was very careful not to curse or anything. The next day, I got another message: Congratulations on raising funds. Today, on August 1st, we triggered a disbursement to your Bank. They said it would be in my account by August 8th.
“On August 9th, they said that the bank information I had put in on July 22nd and which their computers had accepted was incomplete or inaccurate, so they couldn’t disperse my funds.”
“I was in the UK by now so, on the 9th, my brother in the US sent a message to Indiegogo and, on the 10th, I sent them a message. My brother tried to get a phone number, but they don’t have a phone number. By the 12th, they hadn’t replied.”
Indiegogo, by this point had stopped claiming Laura’s appeal had been obscene and had started claiming her bank routing number (which their computer had accepted) was incorrect. It was the same bank routing number she used and uses on her PayPal account and it worked and works perfectly OK with PayPal.
She, nonetheless, got another routing number from her bank and gave it to Indiegogo on August 13th, adding: “I have already started my project and I don’t have money to eat.”
She then got an e-mail from a Brittany of Indiegogo: “Hi Laura, I spoke to your brother a couple of times today and we have done everything we can to get you your funds as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the routing number provided was incorrect, so I did a little research and had your brother update it with the correct number. You should be good to go. We expedited the process as much as we could so you will see your funds next week.”
Laura wrote back pointing out it was the third time she had updated her number.
Brittany replied: “The routing number you provided was in fact not correct. You provided a ‘Wire Transfer’ routing number as opposed to an ‘ACH/Direct Deposit’ routing number… I understand how this information may be misleading, so I would be happy to bring this up to our product team for further review… I spoke to your brother and we were able to input the correct routing number and we expedited your disbursement to occur next week.”
Laura wrote back: “I’m not happy with this as the routing number I originally provided for you was correct and you told me it wasn’t. I can’t get my money next week, I have no money to eat. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I HAVE NO MONEY TO EAT. YOU GUYS HAVE SCREWED THIS UP NOT ME. I NEED MONEY TO EAT, IT CAN’T WAIT TILL NEXT WEEK.”
Yesterday, Laura told me: “Their customer help team is called the Customer Happiness Team so, at the end of every fucking message you get from them, it says Cheers, Brittany, Customer Happiness. Are they fucking kidding me?”
“What happened next?” I asked.
“On the 14th August,” Laura told me, “I get a message from Pam of Customer Happiness. It said: Please update your bank account information.
“So I write back to Pam and tell her the whole story again, because no-one at Indiegogo reads their e-mails. I said: I’m very upset with Indiegogo. You have put me in a horrible position. I have used this platform because I needed help. Now I’m in the UK with no money to eat, in debt, and the people that have donated to me are furious. They want to cancel their donations and just give me or wire me money. Everybody has emailed me saying they want to do this. So I urge you, to please get my funds released to me.
“What happens? I get a message from Brittany: My apologies that you’re unhappy with the current situation… We do not currently have a banking information verification for our system.
“They don’t have a verification system for checking anything?? We’re talking about money here! Money! No bank verification system? PayPal has bank verification. How are Indiegogo taking money from banks and credit cards without a bank verification system? They have a bank verification system for the money coming in but they don’t have a bank verification system for the money going out?
“Then I get a message from Jordan of the Customer Happiness Team. It says: I help manage disbursements here at Indiegogo and Brittany shared your note with me. I’m happy to help clarify the status of your current disbursement… Unfortunately, Indiegogo does not currently have the ability to verify bank account routing numbers. Our system can recognize when a routing number is the correct format, but our system cannot recognize when a routing number is correct… I completely understand your frustration thus far, and I do agree that it would be extremely helpful to have built in verification systems on Indiegogo… I’m reaching out to our payments team to see if there is anything we can do to help you receive your funds.”
“Then, on August 15th, I get an e-mail from Sandy. It says: We have expedited your disbursement to be included in the current cycle and you should expect to see your funds in the next 3-5 business days. I got this on the 15th. It is now the 21st!”
Laura wrote back to Sandy on the 16th: “I find this totally unacceptable. You haven’t kept up your end of the deal. My campaign finished on the 15th of July it’s now the 16th of August. This is a breach of your contract. I’ve had to borrow money… My show is suffering as I don’t have the funds needed for essential promotional activity. Now, I’m going to lose money as a result.”
Laura then got a message: “Today, August 15, we triggered a disbursement to your bank account… We estimate that you will receive your new disbursement by Thursday August 22.”
Today is Thursday August 22nd. No money has arrived. Laura’s fundraising finished on July 15th. Her money was due 7-15 days afterwards, at the start of August, to fund her Fringe show.
“People have asked how crowd funding has worked for me,” Laura told me today, “and the truth is it hasn’t worked for me at all. Extreme unhappiness doesn’t even begin to cut it. I don’t have my money.”