In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned a comedian who, for two consecutive days, had not noticed the line between admirable persistence and pointless harassment to plug his Edinburgh Fringe show. Yesterday, I had yet another text and another phone call from him. Thankfully, my iPhone makes it easy to block numbers, which I have now done.
Over-promotion without originality is counter-promotion.
My yesterday – in brief – was seeing in their shows:
– Weirdo Ali Brice directed by Weirdo Adam Larter in Eric Meat Wants To Go Shopping. It is rare to see a director with a propellor on his head.
– Beloved, if unnecessarily hirsute, Alexander Bennett putting a black sack over the head of a member of the media in Follow Me. Brave or foolhardy?
– Carter and Ollerton doing the best pigeon impressions in their Won’t Go Quietly show since Phil ‘Pigeon Man’ Zimmerman.
– Daphna Baram in AKA Miss D talking about the current Gaza Strip violence, during which I heard a punter behind me genuinely confuse ‘Hamas’ with ‘hummus’.
Three of the shows above were at the Freestival’s new (and not yet completed) Cowgatehead venue.
Years ago, my chum Janey Godley performed at the new (and not yet completed) Green Room Venue. She complained that the signage outside the venue was virtually non-existent. Someone involved suggested that the venue could be “a little secret that punters will slowly discover and treasure”. This is not something to say to Janey about a Fringe venue at which she is performing and the guy was lucky not to be found attached to a bag of cement underwater in Leith.
But I think Cowgatehead may have out-done The Green Room in the invisibility stakes.
Not only is the interior signage to the (I think six) performance spaces either non-existent or brilliantly hidden (worse than C Venues, which is traditionally a triumph of confusion) but there is no signage at all outside which hints that this might be the Cowgatehead venue; it is just a narrow doorway with no sign.
Note that, above, I was criticising the new Freestival, a breakaway from the original PBH Free Fringe. PBH is Peter Buckley-Hill.
Yesterday, at the first of my daily Grouchy Club shows with Kate Copstick, she told the audience:
“I met Peter Buckley-Hill in the Cowgate last night. He was the man who started all the free shows (at the Fringe) as a real mission from his heart and soul. He thought people ought not to be getting ripped-off: performers, punters, whoever. He started with one show – Peter Buckley-Hill & Some Comedians and, on the shoulders of that, stands every single performer in any free show on this Fringe.
“He grew the Free Fringe and then this lot, Laughing Horse, got invoked (we were in The Counting House, a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue) but only because it looked like there was a bit of a thing already going. I don’t believe they would have started it on their own. There was a bit of a hoo-hah and they ended up with quite a few of Peter’s venues.
“After that, there was a £5 Fringe and then an Oh, We’re Free Too Fringe and then, this year, some misguided, egotistical, selfish little shits decided that Peter wasn’t running his Free Fringe well enough. Good grief! they said. These incredible artists are being expected to play rooms where there is sound-spill from the next venue!
“These boys decided they could do it better than Peter. But they wanted to do it better with quite a lot of his shows and some of his venues. So they have now started the Freestival. They stabbed him in the back and hurt him – though he wouldn’t admit that – hurt him considerably. As far as I’m concerned, anyone who hurts Peter Buckley-Hill is beyond the pale.
“He can be ‘challenging’ to work with but I really believe, in an increasingly industrialised comedy environment, passion is something to be treasured beyond everything and Peter does what he does from passion. You should try to see Peter Buckley Hill & Some Comedians. It’s very late.”
“Is he on this year?” I asked. “I thought he wasn’t coming up to Edinburgh.”
“Well,” said Copstick, “I met him in the Cowgate last night and he said to me: I understand you’re doing a show with the opposition… And you’re doing a show with the odious John Fleming… I am such a clype. That’s a Scottish word that means tell-tale. I said I don’t think John’s odious… Peter said: Oh! He’s odious! You’re with the Freestival.
“I said: I’m not with the Freestival. I know it’s bad enough we’re at The Counting House, but that’s because that’s where the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show goes on. A brilliant show. And it’s so big it needs a venue like The Ballroom at The Counting House.”
“He said: I thought you were with the Freestival… No, no, no, we’re not, I said. And then I got a text from him this morning to say – far be it from me to be partisan – that the Cowgatehead is not quite ready for the Freestival acts.”
“I want to know why I was odious,” I said. “I don’t mind. I think being called odious is good. It’s better than being ignored.”
“I don’t think you’re odious at all,” said Copstick. “Have you written something nasty about Peter in your blog?”
“No,” I said, “I always try to be very even-handed about Peter.”
“Ah, but you’ve been writing stuff about the Freestival,” suggested Copstick.
“Well, I went to the Freestival launch,” I admitted, “a couple of days ago and said they had very good fairy cakes.”
“He who is not my friend is my enemy,” said Copstick.
“Haven’t you got a little bit in the Freestival Programme?” a voice from the audience asked.
“Oh yes, so I have!” I said. “Ah!”
“Oh John!” said Copstick. “That’s odious!”
“They asked me to write a little bit for their brochure,” I said. “I’ll write anything for anyone.”
“Actually,” said Copstick. “It’s quite cool to be odious.”
“It’s good PR for me,” I said.
“Indeed,” said Copstick. “Indeed.”
Below is the piece I wrote for the Freestival Programme. They headlined it:
A Few Words From (The Increasingly Prestigious) John Fleming
I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in 2007 (or 2005 – it depends how you look at it).
I started them partly in memory of Malcolm Hardee – the increasingly prestigious (since his death) ’godfather’ of British Alternative Comedy – and partly because I thought the Fringe awards scene had got a bit stale and established and the whole thing needed a bit of chaotic amateurism re-inserted to re-invigorate it. I think I do that rather well.
There is a lot to be said for chaotic amateurism and, just to prove my point, there are now four lots of people organising ‘free’ shows at the Fringe – the original PBH Free Fringe, the breakaway Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s complementary Pay What You Want @Heroes shows and now, this year, the Freestival (another breakaway from the original PBH Free Fringe).
(That last sentence was edited in the printed Freestival Programme to “and now, this year, La Favorita Freestival”)
While the Freestival people seem to be commendably efficient at getting sponsorship backing, I still retain high hopes that there can be an element of chaotic amateurism in there.
The Fringe without chaos would be like the Glastonbury Festival without mud. You would feel less soiled but be less satisfied.
The spirit of the Fringe is much talked about but difficult to define. I think it is chaotic amateurism stopping only a tiny bit short of utter anarchy.
That starts from the basic fact that no-one organises the Fringe.
The Festival Fringe Office co-ordinates and helps performers and punters, but anyone can take part and do anything anywhere within the laws of libel and short of actually murdering or mutilating members of the audience. (Although I would pay to see that show.)
If Fred Bloggs wants to come to Edinburgh in August and perform Hamlet in Swedish every hour for 28 consecutive days in a butcher’s shop in Leith while dressed as a penguin, then he just has to arrange the venue himself, pay the Fringe Office to list it in the Fringe Programme and he is performing on the Fringe… and he would stand a good chance of getting an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award.
In fact, he does not even need to be in the Fringe Programme. If he merely SAYS he will and DOES perform, then he is part of the Fringe.
I have always thought the Chinese curse – May you live in interesting times – was a rather attractive option. Which is why I enjoy the Fringe.
The only Fringe rule is constant, blatant self-publicity.
I write an increasingly prestigious daily blog at http://blog.thejohnfleming.com
If you REALLY want to know what is happening behind-the-scenes at the Fringe, you should read my daily blog or go hear the gossip at the daily Grouchy Club.
When I was asked to write this piece, I asked: “Does it not matter that both my shows are at the Free Festival, not the Freestival?”
“No,” I was told. “We’re all free. We’re all in it together.”
That is the sort of anarchy I like.