I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards – for the most cunning publicity stunt to publicise a performer or show at the annual Edinburgh Fringe.
My last blog was about cunning stunts and people being origami-like with the truth in publicity for their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. You can make up your own mind whether what follows is along the same lines or not.
When I talked to comedian Nathan Cassidy in a Haggerston cafe, he told me he had just been asked to audition for Puppetry of the Penis, the globe-trotting performance group who specialise in penile origami.
“I suppose it’s a different type of stand-up,” I mused. “Why are we meeting?”
“I want to ask you to be a judge,” Nathan told me. “The Rat Pack are producing this show in Edinburgh: The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final.”
He put a poster for it on the table. It said: Cassidy is an attractive man (Fringe Guru 2012).
“Did you make that up?” I asked.
“Of course I didn’t make it up!”
At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, Nathan was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.
“And is this bit true?” I asked. “Thousands entered. 6 MCs survived. £5,000 cash prize. Plus an amazing headline act.”
“We have scoured the world,” Nathan told me. “As all comedy competitions do. The world. The whole world.”
“Qatar?” I asked.
“Yes, the Rat Pack have been there.”
“Syria?” I asked.
“Yes, everywhere. We have a spare slot on the judging panel. Are you free? Steve Bennett of Chortle has pencilled himself in. £5,000 cash prize. Thousands of auditions and this is the Grand Final. We can’t reveal the line-up at this stage.”
“How,” I asked, “do you prove you’re a good MC in a final? Will there be a physical line-up? Will they stand there and say: And now… some fake act who isn’t there?”
“There are no fake acts,” said Nathan. “It’s just the MCs. The MCs will introduce each other. They have 5-7 minutes each. I will introduce the first MC and then they introduce each other.”
“Who,” I asked, “does the last MC introduce?”
“There is not a last MC,” explained Nathan. “Read the poster. There is an amazing headline act.”
“So you are the headline act?” I asked, sceptically.
“No, I’m the MC. And we have one gap on the judging panel on 14th August. Are you free?”
(After consulting my Fringe Diary) “I can move things around a bit and do it,” I said. “So Steve Bennett is pencilled in? I think he is having building work done on his house. Turning it into a replica of Citizen Kane’s Xanadu.”
“Where does he live?” Nathan asked.
“I’m not grassing him up,” I said.
“There is,” said Nathan, “a quote from Steve Bennett on my other show’s poster: Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena.”
He put it on the table.
I read: The entire second row is pissed… and there are only two rows (Steve Bennett, Chortle)
“What do you think of this other quote?” Nathan asked me. “Having seen Bill Hicks, I can honestly say he’s as good as him. It’s an official quote from the Buxton Fringe. ”
“Did you write it yourself?” I asked.
“No! That’s what everyone thinks. It’s buxtonfringe.org.uk – The Buxton Fringe sends out about ten reviewers to review all the shows. It’s a real quote. But I want a better quote I can use. AS GOOD AS Bill Hicks doesn’t really do it for me.”
“This poster,” I said, “says the show is sold out on 14th August, but you’re not doing it on the 14th – You’re doing the MC Awards.”
“No, it’s sold out,” said Nathan. “There are other dates still available.”
“You appear to have sold out the O2 Arena in October and November,” I observed.
“Well, I’m doing the O2 Arena on 4th November, as you know.”
“Do I? Which bit of it? The main auditorium?”
“Are you going to fill it? I got free tickets to see Rod Stewart because he couldn’t fill it. How much are you paying for it?”
“I can’t divulge that.”
“So this is another Cunning Stunt?”
“Of course not.”
At the Edinburgh Fringe in August last year, Nathan put up a poster for a fake tour – Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena – with all the dates sold out throughout October/November 2017, except for a performance at the O2 Arena on 4th November 2017.
“People thought it was a fake show,” he told me, “but it was just pre-advertising for this year’s Fringe show… Bruce Dessau (comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) covered it a couple of times but, when I asked if he wanted to come to the O2 show, he didn’t reply.”
“His loss, I’m sure,” I said. “So, basically, I am going to turn up at the Three Sisters to judge this MC Awards show and there will be an empty room as you attempt to win a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award…”
“No,” said Nathan. “It’s legitimate. The Rat Pack are spending £250 on a massive poster. We are not going to do that for nothing. It’s totally real. Genuinely, I swear on my… I swear on your life and Steve Bennett’s life that a £5,000 cash prize will be given to the winner on the day. I am totally gimmick-free this year.”
“Is there more?” I asked.
“Is that not enough for you?”
“I would prefer £250 in a brown envelope,” I said.
“I am doing a third show in Edinburgh,” said Nathan, “but it’s a theatre show.”
He put the flyer on the table. The title of the show is Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love Me. It’s Deep.
The headline pitch read: FOR THE PERFECT LOVE STORY YOU HAVE TO GO TO RIDICULOUS LENGTHS.
I turned over the flyer and read out loud:
“ONE-MAN THEATRE SHOW FROM THE WINNER OF THE SIR MICHAEL CAINE NEW WRITING AWARD.”
“Who won that?” I asked.
“Me,” said Nathan. “You are very sceptical, John. You think everything is a ruse to get you along to an empty room.”
“When did you win the Michael Caine Award?” I asked.
“About ten years ago now. I did theatre before I did stand-up. I won it for a play called A Cure For The Common Cold at the Leatherhead Theatre.”
“It says here,” I said, “that you have a distinctive stand-up style. What’s that?”
“Well,” replied Nathan, “last year Steve Bennet said: Nathan Cassidy will make you slightly happier for an hour or so… So I am ‘an attractive man’ who will ‘make you slightly happier’…”
“What’s the theatre show about?”
“Something happened in the last year which reminded me of a story that happened to me starting when I was 15 and it’s a perfect love story and it would not fit within stand-up but it would fit within theatre. People think that perfect love is impossible but I am telling you a true story from my life to show it is possible. There may be a happy or a sad ending; you will have to come to the show to see which.”
“You are very persistent,” I said.
“In 2010,” said Nathan, “when I first did the Edinburgh Fringe, I performed to two ladies and Roy Chubby Brown’s agent. She never got back to me.”
“His agent was a she?” I asked, surprised.
“Yes. I first met Chubby Brown when I was 12 years-old. For a 12-year-old kid, it was fun. Do you remember his song He’s a Cunt?”
“But those two ladies have come back every year to see me and, the last couple of years, they have even given out flyers for me.”
“Is that the smallest audience you have played to?”
“No. Once at Buxton Fringe, I performed to two people in a fridge. It had a capacity of three, so it was only two-thirds full. I was gutted I had not filled it.”
“What reaction did you get?”
“A standing ovation. They loved it. Admittedly there were no seats.”
The fridge story I believed. The Roy Chubby Brown story I believed. The Puppetry of the Penis story I believed. But I was unsure about the Michael Caine story.
I Googled it afterwards. There were pieces about it online. And a photo of a young Nathan Cassidy with Michael Caine.
Who knows what truth is at the Edinburgh Fringe or anywhere? I look forward to a tranquil night alone at the Three Sisters/Free Sisters venue at 7.45pm on 14th August.