At the daily Grouchy Club, my co-host Kate Copstick and I try to know our audience. Sometimes we already know them.
“Who is this gent in the front row?” I asked yesterday.
“This gent,” Copstick told me, “is the reason I am here. This is Robert Dawson Scott who, in 1999, was Arts Editor of The Scotsman and he gave me my job as a critic.”
Later, Copstick asked: “Has anyone been to see Jim Davidson?”
“I’m going to Jim Davidson’s Funeral on Tuesday,” I said.
“There is a double act called Ellis & Rose,” Copstick explained to the audience. “They phoned me today..”
“Oh, you too!” I said.
“They’re doing a one-off show,” Copstick continued, “called Jim Davdson’s Funeral, which one cannot help but feel is going to be a bit anti-Jim Davidson. They wanted to invite him to The Grouchy Club tomorrow and ‘have a heated debate’. But I don’t really see why Jim Davidson would want to come here considering that, whatever he is offstage, he is technically a brilliant comedian.
“It really irritates me when a lot of baby-boy comics and – even worse – baby-harridan comics get up on their hind legs to criticise him when they are doing – supposedly ironically – quite a lot of racist, sexist stuff themselves. They are just dressing it up and he doesn’t. I don’t think I’d laugh like a drain if I went and saw his show, but I really… It’s a horrible… It’s… Look, I interviewed Richard Herring and he said that the very first time he came up to the Fringe was in 1987, right at the height of the alternative comedy ‘We Hate Thatcher’ mood.
“Richard was really excited. It was his first time ever in Edinburgh and all these comics were listed as being here who were his idols and whom he loved.
“But, for the whole first week, every time they went on stage, there was a contingent of alternative comics heckling and booing them. One time, Keith Allen completely disrupted the show and ended up punching the theatre manager in the face.
“The thing is all of the boys in that Footlights show were from comprehensive schools. None of them were posh. They were just clever boys from comprehensive schools who had done really well. But the ‘alternative’ lot were so far up themselves about how marvellously ‘right on’ they were that they didn’t even stop to find out.
“I think there still is a kind of Fascism in comedy that thinks We are the right-thinking ones! You are bad!”
At this point, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Show helper Stephen O’Donnell suggested from the audience: “Some old comics get to re-invent themselves but, maybe because of what’s happened with him in the last ten years, Jim Davidson might be beyond that possible re-invention. You have to go away to come back and, because he has been newsworthy in the last five years, he is not really able to go away and come back. So he really just has to go on and show he can do what he does.”
“Also,” said Robert Dawson Scott, “he’s made it difficult for himself because, before the arrest and all that stuff, he very clearly positioned himself as ‘not alternative’. He thought they were not funny and he was rude about them. He may have some bridges to build.
“I gather,” he continued, “that most of his show is about being arrested, which is why it’s called No Further Action. Clearly it was an unpleasant experience – although possibly comedy gold.”
“And,” said Copstick, “if somebody else had been doing it, everybody would be going Yah! The police are terrible! But, because it’s Jim Davidson, they go: Oh, there’s no smoke without fire.”
Richard Gadd recognised Copstick and Steve and, in a show of bravery, sat them in the front row. I sat with them. It must have been a comic’s worst nightmare in the small venue: performing at times only about 18 inches away from the two most-read reviewers in British comedy… and a fat, bald bloke who was clearly a bit too old for a comedy show.
Towards the end, Richard Gadd started eating the heads off flowers.
After the show, Copstick said to me: “It’s a bit dangerous eating flowers. Some can be poisonous.”
“He’s probably researched it is OK to eat those particular ones,” I suggested. Then I thought about Richard Gadd’s show. “Maybe not,” I added.
I went to bed early last night – early for Edinburgh – just before 2.00am.
At 1.56am, I got a text from Heather Stevens, the primus inter pares of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s entourage. Heather is a woman who seems to know everyone and to be everywhere at this year’s Fringe. Her text said simply:
I know no more, dear reader, except that I am innocent. I have never talked at any length with Jeff Leach. I have never talked at all to Sofie Hagen. I have a notoriously bad memory but, if such an incident had happened, I feel sure even I would have remembered it.
All I know is that I feel soiled. Desperately soiled.