Edinburgh Fringe, Day 19: How to perform comedy to a tough audience

Yesterday’s blog ended (because of the interruption of midnight) just before Arthur Smith’s annual alternative tour of the Royal Mile started (at 2.00am).

Telephone box claiming on the Royal Mile

This tour used to be a near Bacchanalian trip with occasional appearances by the boys in blue (usually the police; seldom the Smurfs).

Now it is a comparatively more civilised trip down the cobbles from the Castle to St Giles Cathedral – if you can call it ‘civilised’ with 60 people following Arthur down the street as he declaims poetry, misrepresents statues, accosts passers-by, encourages people to perform cartwheels, climb atop telephone kiosks and get into holes in the road, become living statues in the night-time street, and introduces a man loudly singing Frank Sinatra songs from a second-storey window at the top of his voice at around 02.30 in the morning.

Arthur approached one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges (not me) this afternoon to run naked down the Royal Mile but, alas, they felt the possibility of arrest and getting a criminal record was even riskier to their future reputation and job prospects than being an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge.

By the time Arthur had finished his shenanigans and I got home to my flat and into bed, it was around 04.00am. Which is fairly average for Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Later in the day, I bumped into former sailor Eric, who tried to persuade me again that he should get a Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality because he has now been performing the same show – Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn – at the Fringe for 10 years. He was eating a chip.

Could be good. Could be shit. Don’t matter.

The former squatters on the late Malcolm Hardee’s boat, the Wibbley Wobbley, are staging a one-off comedy play about him – Malcolm Hardee: Back From the Drink, on Wednesday at The Hive, not to be confused with my own Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday at the Counting House.

Their comic play should be interesting, as they never met him. And though I say it is a one-off. In fact, they tested it out on Friday in London… They are performing it this Wednesday in Edinburgh… And are hoping more London performances may happen.

They – five of them – came to the Grouchy Club this afternoon to discuss the show but I am told I have to keep schtum about it to avoid plot spoilers.

Who knows if it will be an audience-pleaser? I have not yet seen it. “Could be good. Could be shit,” as Malcolm used to say when introducing as-yet unseen acts.

To be really honest, it is not the shows I enjoy most about the Edinburgh Fringe, it is the city and the people. The shows come third.

The aforementioned Grouchy Club is open daily, totally free to all at the Counting House 1415-1515. If you got it, flaunt it.

The manager of the Counting House and the adjoining Pear Tree is Brian.

During the Fringe, all day long, weather allowing, he sits at a barrel on the pavement outside the Counting House, helping and supervising and helping and advising.

Brian is a big man. I did not realise how big he actually until today. He is normally seated at his barrel.

One of his lovely Counting House assistants told me Brian was officially the tallest teenager in Scotland in 1985.

Big Brian by his barrel with one of his lovely assistants on a surprisingly sunny day outside the lovely Counting House

“I was 6 feet 5 inches tall as a teenager,” he confirmed to me outside, sitting by his barrel. “I’m 6 feet 11¾ now – a quarter of an inch shorter than a giant. Imagine that. If I had just spent a little bit more time growing, I could have made it to giant status. I could have had it on my passport and my CVs. Occupation: Giant. There is a Tall Person’s Club, but I’ve never joined. It’s supposed to get you good flights with extra legroom and stuff.”

“Do you,” I asked, “get charged extra for having a sideways…”

“For having long legs?” Brian asked. “Yes. That or the drinks trolley goes over your feet. You are crucified either way.”

People. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about people.

I got an inevitable text message and two pictures from Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (left) with what he calls ‘candies’ and Eric

“Eric the Submariner,” it said, “has been going around town today handing out candies to brighten performers’ moods on what he calls ‘Shit Sunday’ – the third Sunday of the festival. He has picked the right person. I’m a mess.”

Eric the submariner used to be a regular in the audience at Malcolm’s Up The Creek Club and it was Malcolm who encouraged Eric to perform. His Tales of The Sea is a real audience-pleaser of a show with Eric in total control of the audience. Well, he should be, after ten years!

President Obonjo harangues his full audience of 350

The same could be said of President Obonjo – Benjamin Bello – whose African dictator character dominates any room – which is more difficult than he makes it seem because it could be fraught with all sorts of racial stereotype problems. The fact it sails smoothly through and he had his audience of 350 (he insists all his audiences anywhere at any time are and forever will be 350 but, in fact, today he did have a full-to-the-brim audience) eating out of his comedic hand is a tribute to his skill.

Matt Price was in charge of the Royal Marines

A talent that Matt Price (partner of cunning stunt vixen Martha McBrier) had to have in spades tonight.

His show The Weed Fairy is about his father – so-called because of his dad’s predilection for growing marijuana plants at the family home in Cornwall and consequent visits from those boys in blue again.

But that was not why Matt needed all his audience-controlling cleverness and amiability tonight.

Matt and men from 42 Commando, K Company, including Corpsey in the striped shirt, second from the right

He had eight Royal Marine Commandos in the audience, one of whom – Corpsey – was almost paralytically drunk. Matt managed to be relentlessly insulting to Corpsey (which is what his Marine mates wanted) without in any way offending either Corpsey or his mates.

It was an extraordinary feat of professionalism intermingling the scripted show, drunk-wrangling, physical improvisation, ad-libbing and street psychology.

Matt played very literally passive aggressive. He would be insulting to Corpsey and the other Marines (which they loved), then back-off into amiable self-effacement and amiability, then swing back into put-downs, then be your-best-chum, then land a slight insult, all-the-while keeping the pace of the narrative of his story on-course and on-pace.

Brilliant.

Plus there was film of him, as a slim teenager, skateboarding… and an online instruction video about didgeridoo-playing from a man claiming to run ‘The Didge Project’.

It might have been a Cunning Stunt.

Anything could be.

Fantasy and reality are beginning to merge in my mind. That is not uncommon at the Fringe, which may be the best thing since slice bread.

Meanwhile, the world outside the Edinburgh bubble still turns.

In non-Fringe-related news, my eternally un-named friend points out to me that entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who died three days ago, and Jerry Lewis, who died today, were older than sliced bread.

Sliced bread was born on 7th July 1928.

Bruce Forsyth was born on 22nd February 1928.

Jerry Lewis was born on 16th March 1926.

There are sequences from Jerry Lewis’ unseen movie The Day The Clown Cried in a documentary extract on YouTube. It has a commentary in Flemish…

Welcome to my reality.

 

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