Category Archives: Edinburgh

Comic Malcolm Hardee – the infamous tractor incident at the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee, prankster (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

With the revival of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this week, it is maybe timely to remember the late, great prankster’s infamous incident with the tractor…

Here is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake… 


We went back to Edinburgh the next year – back to The Hole in The Ground – and this time Circuit had three tents. They loved a tent. They had a big one in the middle, with a small one on one side and a medium one on the other. Like Daddy Tent, Mummy Tent and Little Baby Tent. You could pay to see one show and hear all three as the shows were running simultaneously.

We were in the Daddy Tent. Emma Thompson was in the little one with ‘The Emma Thompson Band’. And, in the medium one, was this American creature called Eric Bogosian. He later starred in Oliver Stone’s movie Talk Radio. I never got on with him. He was a prima donna. He upset everyone. He upset Emma Thompson. She was in tears and I boldly told him to leave her alone. 

All the arguments and artistic friction came about because of the clash of noise.

What we tried to arrange was to perform all our noisy bits at the same time and all our quiet bits at the same time, so the audiences wouldn’t get too distracted. But Eric was having none of it. One part of his show had Heavy Metal music – very loud – in our quiet bit. His show was called Funhouse – An Anarchistic Romp Through The American Way of Life. So, I thought, well at least he’s a bit of an anarchist. He’ll like a laugh, won’t he? 

Our show that year started with me entering on a tractor. I tried to leap over ten toy cars but, of course, the tractor went off the ramp and squashed the cars. Good opening. We had persuaded the manager of a local garden centre to lend us the tractor for free and we advertised his business. He was a typical dour Scot and was in the audience with his family the night I decided to visit Eric Bogosian.

We had had about six days of Eric’s Heavy Metal music coming through into our show, so I decided to go and see Eric in his tent. During a performance.

It came to the part of our show where Eric was making a hell of a row with his heavy metal tape. I screamed at our audience to make myself heard above the noise: 

“Look, we’ll go and see Eric. All of us. He’ll like it. He’s a bit of a laugh. He’s an anarchist.” 

I jumped on the tractor, naked. The stages were flat. So I drove out of our tent on the tractor and straight in to his tent and onto his stage. Our audience followed behind the tractor. 

“Hello, Eric!” I said.

He was swaying backwards and forwards, ‘air-guitaring’ with a broom handle in his hands and he was going “Brrrrrmmmmmm!” to this AC/DC track that was coming out of the loudspeakers. Very witty, I presume. 

When he saw me in the nude on the tractor followed by all our audience, he stopped performing and flopped in a chair that was at the back of the stage. We all filed past, then came out of his tent and back into our own and thought no more about it. 

After about two minutes, I heard the sound of a tractor being smashed up with a sledge-hammer. Then I heard, round the back, all the dressing-rooms being smashed up. Then he came running in. By this time, Martin Soan was naked and I had clothes on. Eric saw Martin and thought it was me. So he hit Martin and knocked him over and then ran out screaming. Martin got up and carried on, because we’ve had worse than that.


Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is out-of-print but still available on Amazon.co.uk, where the description of it has been wildly incorrect for several years. It currently reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.”

Despite at least three attempts to get Amazon.co.uk to correct the description, they seem to be incapable of doing so.

On the other hand, I suspect Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) would approve the surreal description with a hearty “Oy Oy! Fuck it!”

The details are listed correctly on Amazon.com.

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Edinburgh Fringe latest – BBC Studios slag-off live comedy + a secret new gig

Up at the Edinburgh Fringe, anything and everything is possible…

Michael Livesley – after and before

I am not up at the Edinburgh Fringe, but feedback is starting to trickle in.

First-timer Michael Livesley, Half The Man in a comedy show at The Free Sisters about how he lost half his body weight and much else, emailed me, saying:

“The first night went well. No idea what to expect but my hope is to emerge from the Fringe battle-hardened and ready for the next chapter next year.”

Doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick released the first of her Slaughtered podcasts at this year’s Fringe…

The original President Obonjo cast a pod

…In it, she interviewed controversial man-of-the-moment President Obonjo (Goodbye Mr President at the Voodoo Rooms) and she revealed that a BBC Studios executive – not unconnected with ripping-off President Obonjo – speaking in his official role as a BBC Studios producer – told her: “Live comedy isn’t as important as it thinks it is”.

More of this in a future blog.

Meanwhile, blonde bombshell (she will hate that) and social/sexual campaigner Samantha Pressdee – according to the aforementioned Kate Copstick, “almost certainly the most uninhibitedly entertaining proponent of female empowerment you will see” contacted me to say: “The recruitment campaign for the Barmy Army has started.”

Samantha’s dossier aims “to ignite potential”

When I saw the last of the London previews for Samantha’s Fringe show Covered (directed by award-winning Phil Nichol), she gave me a ‘Dossier’ aimed to “ignite potential in the 1 in 4 people who will experience mental health issues.”

At that point, she had already signed-up comedy performers Juliette Burton, Dave Chawner, Laura Lexx, nutritionist Michelle Aucutt and life coach Andrea Bradley.

Now, at the just-started Fringe, Samantha tells me: “On my second night, I am proud to say every audience member signed up and received their copy of Uncovered: The Dossier.

Tony Slattery and Samantha Pressdee bonding in Edinburgh

“I also met my hero Tony Slattery. He is so inspiring. I told him, “I’m bipolar too,” and he replied: Nice to meet you both.

“He was even more lovely in person than he is online which is VERY lovely. He gave me loads of cuddles and his email address. I hope to get him involved in my Pulling It Together project. I am also adopting him as an uncle.”

The gaffer-taped Fringe shoes

She continued: “I brought 13 pairs of shoes to Edinburgh (none of them sensible). So it was not as big a tragedy as it might have been that I broke one shoe on arrival at my venue’s press launch (PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court).

“You cannot,” she says, “even tell that it is now secured thanks to the magic of gaffer tape.”

The preview of her show which I saw in London was preceded by a video which included – blink and you miss it – a clip of her yolk-covered appearance in the annual Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show.

Until 2017, this show took place annually around midnight on the final Friday of the Fringe in the Ballroom of The Counting House (programmed by the Laughing Horse Free Festival).

Bizarrely – and surely a coincidence, given that the Malcolm Hardee Awards ended in 2017 – I hear that there has been a sudden change of schedule at midnight on the final Friday of this year’s Fringe with an un-named potentially two-hour show being shoe-horned into the Counting House Ballroom.

The Edinburgh Fringe is always full of surprises and there are another three weeks to go…

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How to think up a title for your very first Edinburgh Fringe comedy show

First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.

In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.

ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.

By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..

For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.

He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.

In Edinburgh in August, you are not the only show in town…

Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.

Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.

Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.

Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.

No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.

Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.

Your self-explanatory title has to stand out without an image

You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.

The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.

My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.

Then figure out three words which make that obvious.

Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).

And mix your name in there somehow.

I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?

As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.

So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.

Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.

Janey Godley is unusual in that her name will bring in punters

Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.

But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.

Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.

And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…

“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.

Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?

Do not even THINK about being zany!

Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.

These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.

In my opinion.

But that don’t mean a thing.

The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.

However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.

You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.

Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.

Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.

Richard Herring had to splurge out his ‘O’

There was one inglorious year – 2012 – when a completely barking mad person was in charge of the printed Programme. I blogged about it at the time – here and here and elsewhere.

2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.

In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as  AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.

Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.

2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.

The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.

Mindless Fringe Office censored the word but not the image

To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.

The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row –  $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.

Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.

Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.

Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.

One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:

AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.

Trust me.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 3: Female comic accused of blowing a male instrument

Juliette Burton: one too many female comics?

Juliette Burton shared an interesting flyering experience with me.

“Hi there,” she said to a man in the street today, “would you like to see my show The Butterfly Effect?”

“Oh, hmm,” he replied apologetically, “the thing is I’ve already booked to see TWO female comedians.”

“So,” Juliette asked him, “you can’t see three? You know female comedians are the same as male comedians just with vaginas, right?!”

“He seemed,” Juliette told me, “to shut down when I vagina-ed him, so I walked away.”

The World’s Best MC Award posters – What is the real scam?

What I have been noticing is that there seem to be a lot of posters around town for Nathan Cassidy’s World’s Best MC Award Grand Final. This is the show where I am supposedly one of the judges.

As mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it seems to me likely to be an attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and I was convinced I will turn up to an empty room. But with all these posters, there is no way Nathan can avoid real punters turning up. So I do not know what the scam (if scam it is) can be.

The Fringe thrives on uncertainties.

The Edinburgh Students’ Union Dome at Potterrow is doomed

I was told today that the Potterrow Dome building is definitely being closed and replaced later this year. Well, presumably it might take a couple of years to rebuild, as such things tend to. It will remain a Student Union afterwards but what this means to the Pleasance Dome venue at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I know not and – hey! – I can’t be bothered to ask.

I only live in the Edinburgh bubble of Fringe shows which, at this early point, are having a slight problem of over-running. I was told that, earlier in the week, one of the Big Four venues had consecutive shows over-running to such an extent that they ended up an hour late and simply cancelled one performer’s entire show to catch up.

Kieron Nicholson – clever writer about dinosaur academia war

This morning, I saw Bone Wars, a cleverly-written show about dinosaur academia by Kieron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, with Michelle Wormleighton playing all the other parts, male, female and arguably other (i.e. God).

Am I the only person who never realised the logic – mentioned in Bone Wars – that, if God made Man in his own image, then God must share all Man’s many flaws?

Weird.

Which is a terrible link to the fact I had a double-dose of Weirdos at the Hive today.

Head Weirdo Adam Larter un-knowingly chose PR legend Mark Borkowski as a punter to get up onto the stage in his L’Art Nouveau show – something that could have severely damaged his future prospects if it had gone wrong. But, luckily, it may have the opposite effect.

Fellow Weirdo Ali Brice had a good audience for his Never-Ending Pencil show and was superb – pacing, audience control, improv, surrealism, serious sections, everything worked wonderfully.

Ali Brice (right) chats with Mark Dean Quinn

Ali told me before the show that, a couple of weeks ago, he had seen me in a street in Wood Green, London. But I have not been there for years; possibly not this century. A couple of hours later, Claire Smith (Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge) phoned me to say Come back and have a tea with me! as I had just walked past her in Bristo Square… Except I had been sitting in Finnegan’s Wake pub in a different part of town for the last 15 minutes or so.

So there must be someone roaming round London and Edinburgh looking like me.

He has my sympathy.

Belly Dancing in the Old Anatomy Theatre of the University of Edinburgh launched Death on The Fringe

Later I went to the launch of the annual Death on the Fringe, organised by Robert James Peacock, which showcases a range of Fringe shows to promote more open and supportive attitudes and behaviours to death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Always eclectic, it included belly-dancer Shantisha aka Miroslava Bronnikova, Scottish Comedian of the Year Rosco McClelland, chanteuse Woodstock Taylor and Pauline Goldsmith with a coffin.

Late night, I saw Andy Barr in Tropic of Admin on a desert island where the audience was involved in a place crash. I may have been hallucinating by this point.

Accusations against a woman blowing a didgeridoo

And, before that, I saw the ever-amiable and ever funny Martha McBrier’s show Balamory Doubtfire, in which the diminutive but plucky Glaswegian eventually plays a didgeridoo. Beforehand, she told me she was “a wee bit upset” because of an email she had received.

“This woman, “Martha explained, “emailed me on my website. She said I have subjugated an entire culture. She told me I am ignorant and that I should research culture and apparently women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo. It’s a men’s instrument.”

“So you are being racist AND sexist?” I asked.

“Apparently I’m being sexist and reverse racist.”

“What does ‘reverse racist’ mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But she quoted a rapper called Nas. As Nas said, she said, Respect.”

“Nas,” I admitted, “is a bit of a philosopher, isn’t he?”

“Women have been blowing on men’s objects”

“The thing is,” Martha told me, “women have been blowing on men’s objects for some time and no-one has complained before this.”

“Who is the offended woman?” I asked.

“It turns out she is a white sociology professor.”

“How,” I asked, “did you find that out? Did she tell you?”

“Well,” Martha told me, “I have people in the know and, by that, I mean people whose internet works in their flat in Edinburgh and they Googled her.”

“So she’s a highly-knowledgable professor?” I asked.

“Well,” Martha replied, “a didgeridoo is apparently called a yidaki and I’m a musician, so I’ll know that, obviously. But she spelled it wrong. She’s probably using the white reverse racist spelling. The thing is, I took up the didgeridoo on medical advice.”

“For your lungs?” I asked.

“Yes, to increase my peak flow and to reduce stress.”

“To increase your what?” I asked.

“My peak flow,” replied Martha.

“Ah,” I said.

“My flow has peaked,” Martha informed me, “but they want it even better. They told me the didgeridoo is commonly used to help sleep apnea, snoring, asthma.”

“But, if you play the didgeridoo in bed to help sleep apnea,” I suggested, “it’s not going to increase your partner’s happiness in bed.”

“Well,” said Martha, “I’ve had no complaints so far.”

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Edinburgh Fringe: Why the Counting House is now free from Ballooning fees

The Gilded Balloon’s Counting House The signposted entrance on the left on the left is not the entrance

Gilded Balloon’s Counting House last year. The prominently signposted entrance on the left is not actually the entrance!

It was recently announced that The Counting House venue is reverting to the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, after it was last year poached by pay venue The Gilded Balloon.

I blogged about this in February last year under the title Gilded Balloon venue’s deal excretes on the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe and, in August, under the title The Edinburgh Fringe venue that doesn’t know where its own entrance is.

The successful poaching expedition by the Gilded Balloon last year ousted the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show and the Grouchy Club comedy industry chat shows from their traditional venue of many years.

I thought I would ask Laughing Horse Free Festival boss Alex Petty about it and tracked him down in Thailand, on his way to Australia for the comedy festivals out there.

Well, “tracked him down” is a slight exaggeration. I FaceTimed him in his hotel in Thailand.

“Which festivals are you going off to?” I asked.

A selfie by Alex Petty in Thailand

A selfie taken by Alex Petty in Thailand

“Perth Fringe World, then the Adelaide Fringe and the Melbourne Comedy Festival,” he told me. “The Australian festivals are basically like a three-month long Edinburgh. I get back to the UK at the end of April or beginning of May, then it’s straight down to the Brighton Fringe. It’s non-stop on Fringes and Festivals these days.”

“Are you looking at any other ones?” I asked.

“We have an eye on doing maybe either New Zealand or Sydney… and we are looking at Glasgow and Leicester in the UK.”

After these polite starters, I asked about The Counting House.

The Gilded Balloon (where acts pay to perform and audiences pay to watch) had billed their newly-acquired Counting House venue as Pay-What-You-Want – free for audiences to enter and they can (if they like) pay at the end plus they can guarantee themselves a seat by buying a ticket in advance. But, whereas under the Free Festival, performers did not pay to hire the venue, the Gilded Balloon charged performers a hire fee and various other fees which meant the venue was free for audiences but relatively expensive for performers.

This cynical dog’s dinner got – it seems to me – the reception it deserved.

“My understanding,” I said to Alex Petty, “is that the bar did not take as much money under the Gilded Balloon at last year’s Fringe as it had at previous Fringes under the Free Festival. And the Gilded Balloon did not take as much money from the shows as they expected.”

“I don’t know the numbers,” replied Alex, “but I think it was pretty obvious to anyone going there that the venue was a lot quieter than expected. And a lot of the performers were saying that. The Counting House very kindly said they would like us to go back and offered it to us for this year.

“I think,” he continued, “that the Gilded Balloon, with the whole Pay-What-You-Want thing, tried to ride on the coat-tails of Bob Slayer (who created the concept), but it wasn’t really Pay-What-You-Want. People who went in told me that audiences were turning up expecting shows to be free and the Gilded Balloon staff were trying to get people to buy tickets in advance. In the end, the Gilded was trying to sell tickets up-front and there were not the same numbers of people hanging around that there had been in previous years.”

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet in Edinburgh

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet

The Counting House is part of a triple venue – three pubs next to each other all with the same owners – The Blind Poet downstairs, The Counting House upstairs and The Peartree downstairs with a courtyard.

“The venue is being renovated, isn’t it?” I asked.

“They’ve just started now,” Alex explained. “It sounds like what was The Blind Poet is going to become the back end of the Peartree bar and become a performance space like it was before but letting you walk through into the Peartree courtyard. That will also give people access up the inside stairs into the Counting House as well.  So, in the Counting House, there will be the Lounge and the Ballroom and, upstairs from them, the Attic and the Loft.”

I asked: “Is Brian going to be back sitting outside on a stool by a barrel?”

The pub’s manager Brian had tended to sit on the pavement outside the entrance, giving information to audiences and interested passers-by. This was missing last year with a swarm of (in my view) officious and often ill-informed people in Gilded Balloon tee-shirts. On one occasion, the Gilded Balloon ‘helper’ on the pavement thought the entrance to The Blind Poet was actually the (entirely separate) entrance to the Counting House.

“Brian was very keen to have us back,” said Alex. “He had put so much work into things the year before (2015) and it really pushed the venue on and we had had so many plans for last year (2016) which did not happen when the Gilded Balloon took it over.

“We are going to try to sort out a slightly better place for him to sit in the Edinburgh ‘summer’ weather. I think, for a lot of people, Brian and his barrel were two of the mainstays of the Fringe a couple of years ago.

“It was such a shame to lose it but I completely understand what the owners did. It was a business decision.”

“I’m glad it’s back,” I said.

“So am I,” said Alex.

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be held 11.00pm-01.00am in the Ballroom of The Counting House on Friday 25th August. And The Grouchy Club will be in The Lounge live every afternoon for the second half of the Fringe.

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree on West Nicholson Street, as seen on Google StreetView

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree’s courtyard wall beyond (Google Street View)

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Reports of an attempted coup within the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

NOTE: KATE SMURTHWAITE SAYS WHAT IS QUOTED IN THIS BLOG IS TOTALLY UNTRUE..

I once had to write an encyclopaedia entry on ‘Christianity’ in, I think it was, 23 lines.

It was an utter nightmare because, almost as soon as Christianity started, it broke into schisms which then, themselves, broke into other schisms. One might almost call them catty-schisms.

Or not.

I would not like to write an entry on the Edinburgh Fringe, especially the history of its ‘free’ shows.

The Edinburgh Fringe is like the Great Barrier Reef – a vast sprawling single entity controlled by no-one, not even itself.

Who am I to query the Byzantine plotting, counter-plotting and shadow nether-world of gossip surrounding Edinburgh?

The basic back story is that Peter Buckley Hill rescued the Edinburgh Fringe from high prices and mediocrity by creating the Free Fringe. He was later helped by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse. But they split and Alex formed the Free Festival, competing with the PBH Free Fringe of Peter Buckley Hill.

These ‘free to enter’ shows were theoretically free for audiences, but there was a bucket at the end into which people could throw money. It was like indoor busking.

Promoter Bob Slayer then came along with what was possibly a more honest name instead of ‘Free’ – ‘Pay What You Want’ shows – via his Heroes venues which initially appeared in the Free Festival brochure but which then amicably became more separate.

Then there was another schism within the Free Fringe and this new breakaway group promoted themselves as the Freestival.

A couple of years ago, there were blogs aplenty about the tussle between the Free Fringe and the Freestival over the Cowgatehead venue in Edinburgh. Who knows which brother said what to whom about what or whom? Who knows if some meetings which allegedly did not take place two years ago were actually sound recorded? I merely mention it.

I just know that, if I get sent a good story, I will print it.

A couple of days ago, I got a message from someone I shall call Captain Bird’s Eye. The good Captain told me something I knew and something I did not know. He told me:

PBH was unfortunately poorly and in hospital for a short while.

I knew this.

Then he told me something I did not know:

Whilst PBH was out of action one of his leading team members Kate Smurthwaite took over the reigns immediately ousting Paul B Edwards and then appointing Chris Coltrane as comedy director. PBH is now out of hospital. This was his response:


Dear Friends (I hope) of the Free Fringe

As I wrote to you some days ago, I’m quite ill. Many of you have expressed sympathy, for which I thank you. This is not a plea for further sympathy.

My point is: I’m ill. I’m not dead.

And while I’m not dead, the Free Fringe is still my organisation, in which you of course have a stake.

While I was in hospital, the reins were taken up by some members of the team, some of which was indeed helpful. However, I did not anticipate that decisions and personnel changes would be made without consulting me and presented to me as faits accomplis.

I had, and I sent it to you, a scheme for encouraging more volunteers to come on board in a transparent fashion, so that we could transition to the next generation of management openly and co-operatively. My illness meant that I was not able to set this in motion in October as I had planned.

This does not mean that decisions others have made, no matter how helpfully, are binding on me. I’m still the dictator until a better and more harmonious scheme is put in place.

The only new Artistic Director I have appointed is Ewan Leeming, to replace myself as AD of Science and Rationalism.

Contrary to what you may have heard, I have not approved a new arrangement for Comedy. There will need to be one and I would like to hear from interested and appropriately experienced parties. This is a large portfolio and will require a team.

As of the sending of this email, Kate Smurthwaite has no managerial or organisational role within The Free Fringe. I thank her for all the things she has done in the past, both professionally and personally.

Regards

PBH


I merely pass this on, as I received it, unedited, without comment.

Except to say I feel I have come unstuck in an alternate universe in which the after-events of the Russian Revolution or the start of Christianity have somehow transposed themselves into the world of Edinburgh Fringe comedy.

What further truths, half-truths and fantastical twists lurk in the shadows I know not.

We live in interesting times.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh

Cunning Stunt obsessed comic steals all three Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Adam Taffler at the Grouchy Club

Adam Taffler – Grouchy Club last year

And so the insanity has begun.

The Edinburgh Fringe has started.

Three-and-a-half weeks when anarchy is the norm.

Yesterday, it turned out that both the Grouchy Club and comedian Paul Kerenza’s show are booked into the same room at the Counting House 3.45-4.45pm on 14th August. So – as it does not affect us as much – and because we are so sweet – Kate Copstick and my Grouchy Club chat shows will now start on the 15th August not the 14th.

Performing at the Fringe is like a needle in a haystack trying to get noticed in the Amazonian Jungle. The haystack may stand out when you see it, but the Amazon is a big place. And, even after you find the haystack, you still have to find the needle.

Paul Ricketts who, in this blog two weeks ago, mentioned he was organising a comedy show in a toilet, tells me he now has several comedians interested but still has no confirmed (or maybe that should be engaged) venue:

Ceci n'est pas une affiche Édimbourg

Women wanted for stand-up urinal comedy

“There’s interest in the show,” he says, “and it’s been nominated on the Sell This Gig Out! Facebook page, even though it’s impossible to sell-out a show when no-one knows what day or in which toilet it will be held. But there is already standing room only. And I would also like to reach out to women comics to get involved and break down this last bastion of male oppression. If any ladies want you to do stand-up comedy in a Gents, they can contact me via the event page on Facebook.“

Paul helpfully sent me a link to the YouTube video of his last toilet exploits.

Twonkey this is a “haunting photo

Twonkey says this “haunting photo” is from a final rehearsal of Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop

Meanwhile the inexplicable Mr Twonkey sent me an inexplicable photo of what he claims was the final rehearsal for his show Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop.

And the unavoidable Lewis Schaffer, appearing in his first play since his schooldays, sent me a message: “I’m super busy trying to remember my lines so I don’t destroy Giant Leap the play I am in AND also I am thinking about the funny stuff I need to say at my own show Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £5.”

Lewis Schaffer is never knowingly under-sold.

Which brings us to the core of this blog.

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

As I – perhaps foolishly – decided this year to come up to Edinburgh on an overnight coach rather than by car, I – perhaps foolishly – left the three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards with performer Juliette Burton. She promised to deliver them to me later today – she is driving up from London to Edinburgh today. At least, that is what she claimed.

Juliette has always shown an obsessive, possibly unhealthy interest in the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Now, this morning, I have received an e-mail from her with photos attached and a link to an 8-second online video. The photos are of a letter she has written to me. It says:


Dear John

Ransom letter, page 1

Ransom letter, page 1

As you know you gave me your awards. Thankyou for trusting me/falling prey to my masterplan. 

I’ve wanted to get my hands on these awards FOR YEARS! Now I have them I thought about not letting them go. I thought about holding them to ransom (because, let’s face it, that’s the only way anyone performing at EdFringe will make any money, right). 

But I’m keen to challenge mental health stigma and misconceptions about people like me, a known nutcase, so I thought the image of “crazed mad person holding awards for ransom; psycho lunatic threatens Fleming” may not help that cause… 

Ransom letter, page 2

Ransom letter, page 2

So instead I thought I’d permanent-mark my name on all 3. But my own plan was foiled… I awoke today, ready to head to Edinburgh with the awards, with permanent marker in hand… only to find the attached security camera footage. And 3 empty boxes.

Your awards seem to have escaped.

If you want to see your 3 empty boxes again, please send me £1,000,000,000,000 … in Scottish notes. 

Ransom letter, page 3

Ransom letter, page 3

With that, I might break even this festival.

Yours,

Juliette.

PS No, I don’t know why I wrote this and then emailed you the picture of it rather than just type it in an email… Artistic? Old fashioned? Crazy?


This is the 8-second video she linked to.

Juliette is fast catching up with Lewis Schaffer in the self-promotion stakes.

Juliette Burton with Russian Egg Roulette medal

Juliette proudly displays 2014 Russian Egg Roulette medal

She is also appearing in the official Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championship at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 28th August. At least, she thinks she is. She will learn I am not a man to mess with.

But, even if I ban her from that, she is still up at the Fringe performing her Look At Me show (6 performances only) AND her Happy Hour show (9 performances) AND is appearing in the tenth anniversary Abnormally Funny People shows.

Look At Me - Fringe 2015

Happy Hour - Fringe 2015

Inevitably – this being the Fringe – entirely separate from Juliette, last night I was sent a link to the new Abnormally Funny People video.

And now I have very slight toothache.

Fairly regular – every third year or so – I get toothache in Edinburgh and have to get dental treatment.

Welcome to the Fringe. Share my pain.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Festivals, PR