Category Archives: Legal system

UK comedy performer Matt Roper aka ‘Wilfredo’ in criminal court in New York

Matt Roper with his Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Matt Roper with his Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Yesterday, Malcolm Hardee Award winning performer Matt Roper (aka character act Wilfredo) was in court in New York City.

“Run me through how it happened,” I told him today. “It started about a month ago, didn’t it?”

“I was performing at The Slipper Room,” he said.

“You have a regular slot there?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he told me. “A couple of times a week; I host on a weekend. It’s a variety theatre – a burlesque joint as well. Often I don’t get offstage until 2.00am and then, to get up to 137th Street in Harlem where I’m living, it’s bit of a schlep at night: I have to catch two subway trains.

“I had been up since 7.00am the previous day and it was now 3.30am. I knew my train terminated at 96th Street and the carriage was more-or-less empty, so I thought I would just swing my legs across the seats, put my head against the window and get a little bit of shut-eye. so that’s what I did. When I woke up, two police officers were looking over me, saying: Get off the train please, sir!

“So I got off the train onto the platform. ID, they said. So I gave them my passport. Do you know it’s a crime what you’re doing? It’s outstretching. It’s a crime.

“I said: I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.

Matt did not know it was a crime

Matt did not know it was a crime amid the pools of whatever

“That was the annoying thing: I didn’t know. There are no signs saying it’s a crime. Feet on the seats we know is not cool, but these were just plastic seats, the carriage was empty and it was filthy because it was 3.30am in the morning – There were beer cans and pools of whatever. What was it Kenneth Williams said? I’m sick and tired of offending everybody. My crimes are nothing compared to Mussolini.

“I would have thought,” I said, “you would get off for being a foreigner and, by definition, ignorant.”

“They either wanted to make a bit of an example of me,” said Matt, “or there was some sort of incentive: I really don’t know. But they said: You’re going to have to come back to the station with us while we take your details and, as they said it, one of the officers was putting my hands behind my back and putting handcuffs on me. I just couldn’t believe it. I asked: Are you serious? – I was told: Yes, sir. They were quite sweet; they were charming. They took me back to the police station. I was fingerprinted and they photographed me, then put me in a cell for three or four hours. They locked me up and then released me. It was an interesting experience because I had never been arrested before – I’ve been all the way around the world without being arrested – so part of me was quite enjoying the experience but then, after the first hour passes and you’re still in a cell, locked up, the novelty wears off.”

“And, unusually,” I said, “you were not in a cell with prostitutes and gangsters?”

“No. which says a lot about Harlem these days. It was an empty cell and, if my crime was as bad as it gets at 4.00am in West Harlem, then I think its reputation is a little unjust.”

“Why,” I asked, “did they lock you up for three or four hours? What were they waiting for?”

Matt Roper last week, as Wilfredo (Photograph by Garry Platt)

Wilfredo did not know outstretching was illegal (Photograph by Garry Platt)

“I really don’t know,” said Matt. “When I researched it later that day… I spoke to you that day, I came back, had a sleep and then got up and Googled this ‘outstretching’ charge and it seems some people are just given a fine; one African guy was deported.”

“He was?” I asked. “Just for putting his feet on the seats in the subway?”

“I don’t know if he was an illegal or not,” said Matt.

“So,” I said, “there are police photos of you?”

“Well,” said Matt. “I wanted to get a copy of my photograph. They say it doesn’t exist, but I saw the form with my photograph on it. I said to them: Can I get a copy of this? Because I’d quite like it framed, really. They said: You can get it when you go to court.

“But, when I got to court, they said: No, no, we don’t have copies of that; you have to go up to the sixth floor. So I went up to the sixth floor and they said: No, no. Because we decided not to prosecute you, it doesn’t exist. But I don’t quite believe that.”

“Why did they say they were not going to prosecute you?” I asked.

“I think because they were having a busy day.”

“What was the court like?”

The doors of New York Criminal Court

“I was one of the few white people in there.”

“It was a proper high court. You go in through these huge doors and there’s the flag, there’s the eagle, there’s In God We Trust. all sorts of people making notes beside the judge. All these people on pews and all of them were on desk appearance tickets like me. They’d been speeding or busted with marijuana. They were mainly kids – mainly Latin-Americans and African-Americans. I was one of the few white people in there. I guess it shows the police go for a certain type of person.”

I said to Matt: “You playing comedy in a burlesque club is a bit like… Well, I think your father (comedian George Roper) was too young to do it, but like British comedians playing at The Windmill in London.”

“I think it’s exactly like that,” said Matt. “You know my dad was up in court with six striptease performers… You blogged about it…”

“Did I?” I asked.

“My dad was tried for obscenity in the 1960s…”

“Did I actually blog about this?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“I really must read my own blogs,” I said.

“It would have been in December 2012,” said Matt. “In the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s, women were allowed to be nude on stage in England but, if they moved, it was considered obscene.”

“Were the girls dressed and your father was naked?”

“No.”

Wilfredo handed out roses to his last fans last night

Wilfredo in his now stolen costume

“Anyway,” I said, trying to change the subject away from this blog I had forgotten. “Your act got stolen in New York.”

“Yes, about three weeks after the arrest,” said Matt, “I was in a bar having a wonderful time, I put my bag down by my feet and it got stolen. I’m rather amused by the thought of whoever took it – hoping for a laptop or an iPhone – unzipping it and finding Wilfredo’s costume inside… The trousers were just… and the wig and the teeth and the shoes. They must be the most disappointed thieves. Though it was a pain in the arse because I had a gig a couple of nights later and Wilfredo is quite difficult to replace.”

“But you had a spare set of teeth?” I asked.

“Yeah. He’s all back to normal, though the hair is a little bit longer.”

“Did you go to a wig shop in New York?”

“Yeah. One of the burlesque dancers said she would cut the wig for me. And now he has been cast in a feature film which we’ll be shooting this winter.”

“Made by?” I asked.

Movies beckon for Matt Roper

Movies beckon for Matt Roper and Wilfredo

James Habacker, who runs The Slipper Room, is now making films. He’s just made his first film called The Cruel Case of The Medicine Man, which won Best Feature at the Coney Island Film Festival.

“But his second film is an out-and-out comedy: The Mel and Fanny Movie – James and his wife are Mel and Fanny Frye – he plays this character from the Borscht Belt. Wilfredo has been cast as Mel and Fanny’s personal chauffeur.”

“That’s something to look forward to,” I said. “Wilfredo’s teeth in the movies.”

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Doubt cast on the legality of PBH Free Fringe contracts at Edinburgh Fringe

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh Fringe street scene: this could be a comedian…

Yesterday’s blog about the unnecessary chaos surrounding PBH Free Fringe and Freestival shows at the Edinburgh Fringe estimated the financial damage to around 150-170 acts at around £77,000 in total.

As I wrote yesterday: It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

As an example of the effect of the intransigence on one individual act, 2015 UK Pun champion Leo Kearse has told me this:


Short answer – I’m currently down about £1,200

I had two shows booked in to Cowgatehead and St John’s – Pun Man’s Pun Party and Hate ‘n’ Live (a show where comedians improvise rants about audience topics pulled out of a bucket).

They are both great shows. They will be replaced by some shit from the PBH z-list. I shudder to think how shit that’ll be.

I have paid Freestival fees, Fringe registration, train tickets, accommodation deposit.

I’m baffled as to how the current situation is beneficial to the venue owners, the Fringe Society, the audiences, or the acts.

I think PBH and his evil cohorts have behaved despicably to cause maximum disruption to the acts.

I doubt I’ll do the Edinburgh Fringe again. Other festivals offer better gigs and better exposure.

There is a clip on YouTube of Leo performing:


Promoter Bob Slayer has also issued a press release about surrealist act Michael Brunström:


MICHAEL BRUNSTRÖM: THE GOLDEN AGE OF STEAM

Michael Brunström, nominated last year for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality, has moved his Edinburgh Fringe 2015 show to Heroes @ The Hive, following the dispute between PBH Free Fringe and Freestival over programming rights to the Cowgatehead venue.

More money wasted: the poster Michael Brumstrom had designed for his Freestival show

More money wasted: the poster Michael had designed for his once-a-Freestival-show

Heroes promoter Bob Slayer offered Brunström a slot at the Big Cave in The Hive in exchange for a large (400g) bar of Toblerone. This agreement was made orally.

“Both PBH Free Fringe and Freestival could learn a thing or two from Bob Slayer about professionalism, efficiency and mature behaviour,” said Brunström.

Heroes will also be hosting Phil Kay and Russell Hicks – whose show Psychedelicious had also been scheduled at Cowgatehead – in Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

In 2014 Michael Brunström was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for his show The Human Loire, in which he impersonated the longest river in France, nailed grapes to Ted Cruz’s face and chewed the legs off a heron. Brunström’s 2015 show, The Golden Age of Steam, includes further surreal stunts involving his body, voice, legs, some ping-pong balls and a tiny fern.


Interestingly, Pear Shaped Comedy’s Anthony Miller had this comment to make on my blog of yesterday, in which I mentioned the PBH Free Fringe’s contract which (uniquely among Fringe operators) bans acts appearing or wanting to appear at a PBH Free Fringe venue from appearing or negotiating to appear at any other free venue. I called this a restriction of trade. Anthony Miller wrote:


Anthony Miller

Anthony Miller asks Why? Why? Why?

I still maintain that by applying exclusivity terms to people over who else they can work for BEFORE employing people (and he is an employer even if he pays people by venue barter) he is attempting to run a de facto pre-entry closed shop system. This is illegal.

Someone said it doesn’t matter if it’s illegal or not just that it’s stupid, but the law – when it works – exists to protect us from destructive patterns and practices in society.

So why is it illegal? Why is it more than just an old man with eccentric rules on which of his competitors his acts and people who want to gig for him can also gig for?

It is illegal because the effective purpose of all pre-entry closed shop systems is effective control over entry into the labour market by one body with the effective result of decreasing the overall number of people in the labour market. And that is exactly what is happening here.

It is not an accident that a load of people are now going to the Fringe NOT to work. It is by design.

PBH wants to be a monopoly controller.

Why?

He wants to control the number of people entering the labour market.

Why?

Then he can decrease competition.

Why?

He has become a victim of his own success…. Monopoly of £0 entry gigs gives him control of who does and doesn’t enter the labour market. And that is what he wants.

This situation is not an accident. It is the inevitable long term consequence of any closed shop system. A system which always puts one-person coterie in charge of who can work and who can enter the workforce.

I am sure PBH has an incredibly long waiting list… but would it be so long if people who were not on it did not fear blacklisting?


Robin Ince (Photo: Vera de Kok)

Robin Ince (Photo by Vera de Kok)

I also this morning received some reaction from Robin Ince to a reference in yesterday’s blog to an upcoming benefit gig for the Free Fringe which includes performers Stewart Lee, Nick Helm and Robin Ince. Robin writes:


Stewart. Nick and I agreed to do benefit to support acts doing Free Fringe; we have no gain from it. Maybe it is time we stopped doing benefits and let the lazy comedy fucks who can’t be bothered to do any to start doing ten minutes here and there.

Do I support the acts who have been fucked over. Yes. Would I do a benefit for them? Yes.

Do I think Freestival are innocent victims and PBH is the big villain?  No.


Meanwhile, the saga continues.

A general perception I think (including by me) was that the fact there were three members of the same family – all called Kenny Waugh – somehow involved in the saga meant there was chaos between Kennies. In fact, I understand, there was only the one Kenny – the middle one – involved in talking to both the PBH Free Fringe and to the Freestival.

The Waugh family – one or more of them – rent the Cowgatehead building from the Crolla family. 

A Crolla family is involved in ownership of the La Favorita pizza company which sponsors the Freestival. But, as I understand it, they are different Crolla families.

Elio Crolla, who was involved in the Cowgatehead building last year, died on 26th January this year, which will not have helped the tangled web of ownership, rentals and rights within the building.

I think my head may soon explode.

 

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Legal system

Venue chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe (yet again). What have they said so far?

The Cowgate acts programmed by Freestival and potentially by the chaos

Acts programmed by Freestival and potentially affected by the chaos.

There has been a bit of chaos in the last few days about who has the right to programme shows at a couple of venues at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. As there has been so much verbiage flying around, it may be worth just putting the key parts together.

Just for the record – and because it will remain interesting to read in the future, looking back – below are the main to-and-froings so far.

The background to this is that Peter Buckley Hill (known as PBH) started Free Fringe shows in which performers pay nothing to hire their venues and audiences pay no entry fee. Instead, on a voluntary basis, members of the audience can donate money on the way out, having seen the show. In effect, it is the long-established system of street busking moved indoors.

PBH’s Free Fringe then combined with Alex Petty’s Laughing Horse outfit to run the Free Fringe. But that soon fell apart due to ‘creative differences’.

Alex Petty then formed the Free Festival as a rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or as a complement to it (Alex’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Free Festival then became, in PBH’s eyes, The Great Satan (my phrase).

This (in my view) one-sided feud went on until last year, when a group of Free Fringe organisers also broke away from PBH over ‘creative differences’ to form The Freestival which was another rival to the Free Fringe (the view of PBH) or a complement to it (Alex Petty and the new Freestival people’s view). The same format of ‘indoor busking’ with no entry fee applied.

The Freestival then became, in PBH’s eyes The Great Satan (my phrase).

The final deadline for shows to be included in this year’s official Fringe Programme was 8th April. the Programme itself is published on 4th June (next week).

Now read on…

On Thursday last week, Peter Buckley Hill posted this on the Chortle comedy industry website’s Fringe Forum:


COWGATEHEAD 2015.
READ THIS IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A SHOW

This post is addressed to all shows who believe they have a Fringe slot in Cowgatehead organised by Freestival.

I regret to have to tell you that Freestival never had permission in 2015 to book shows into Cowgatehead. The slot you think you have is not real.

We have a confirmation from both the owner and the licensee of Cowgatehead. Freestival’s bookings never had their approval, and these bookings are null and void.

I appreciate this will come as a shock to many of you. You will have proceeded on the basis that you had a confirmed performance slot. But you do not.

Even if you have paid Freestival, even if you have paid to be in the Fringe Programme, you do not have a slot.

Your first reaction will be not to believe this message. But it is true.

The licensee has recently approached us, the Free Fringe, to book this space, and has explicitly stated that Freestival has no right to make such bookings. We, The Free Fringe, are now authorised to book all performance spaces at Cowgatehead. No bookings other than those made by us are valid, and none will be honoured, whatever the circumstances.

I appreciate that many of you will be taken aback by this, and most of you will have acted in good faith in applying to Freestival. You are not to be blamed. Freestival, however, is to be blamed for taking bookings into a space which they were not entitled to book.

You could, of course, pretend this is not happening and turn up in August expecting to do a show. But you will not be able to.

The Free Fringe will entertain applications from you. You will have to accept the Free Fringe Ethos and Conditions.

These conditions stipulate that you should not be an applicant to any other provider of free-admission shows. This means that you should dissociate from Freestival forthwith.

By applying to the Free Fringe, there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you. It depends on your application itself and the speed with which you make it.

We will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can. You will need to mention the slot you thought you had and the length of the run you thought you had.

I have no doubt that Freestival, having been caught doing something they should never have done, will attempt to spin the situation in any way they think might exonerate them. But at the end of the day, they cannot deliver the slot they have promised you, and they have never been able to deliver that slot.

We are also informed that bookings at St John’s are equally invalid, but in that case we have no power to rectify this. Such shows are also welcome to apply to the Free Fringe, but we cannot give you space at St John’s. That is all the information we have about St John’s.

We deplore the actions of Freestival. To run free shows, thus emancipating performers at a Fringe in which many organisations seek to exploit performers, one must be honest. It is difficult enough even if one is fully honest. But to promise you something that they cannot deliver, and to charge you for it, is in our eyes deplorable.

We do not know who you are. But we do know that (according to Freestival’s web site) 171 shows have been promised space by them. The overwhelming majority of these applications are invalid. We urge you to spread this post so that all such shows can be reached.

No doubt they will call this venue poaching on our part. It is not. They never had the venue for 2015. Nothing has been poached. We, the Free Fringe, were contacted by the licensee and asked to programme Cowgatehead for 2015, as the sole programmers. If you thought otherwise, you have been deceived. We will help to the extent we can, giving weight also to our own unallocated applicants.

Free shows need to be honest. Even so, mistakes happen and are difficult enough. I regret that some of you have been the victims of what appears to be dishonesty on the part of Freestival.


That same day, Chortle ran a news item.
I have edited the below to remove repetition:


CHAOS AT THE FRINGE

It’s fast becoming a Fringe tradition – and today the annual row between rival free Edinburgh show promoters flared up in earnest.

The dispute centres on the Cowgatehead performance spaces, which newcomers Freestival operated last year. They have again been programming the space for 2015, with many comedy shows now locked into the official programme.

However Free Fringe founder Peter Buckley Hill has today claimed Freestival had no permission to book shows into the venues, saying that his organisation has the deal to programme the space.

The news would throw dozens of shows into chaos, as it comes after the programme has gone to press. Acts lined up to appear in Cowgatehead include Adam Vincent, Birthday Girls, Christian Steel, Katia Kvinge and Alison Thea-Skot.

However Freestival say the have ‘no idea’ why Buckley Hill – universally known as PBH – had made his statement and reassured acts that their slots were secure.

Alex Petty of Laughing Horse said: ‘Hoping this is bullshit, as whatever games that are be being played here, it only affects performers who will have already paid a considerable sum to be in Edinburgh already.

’However, If any performer has lost a performance space as part of this, and they need to find somewhere, I have gained three additional spaces today, at the Jekyll & Hyde & Meadow Bar, both of which I wasn’t expecting to be running this year.’

Online, the consensus among comedians was that if the PBH Free Fringe was running Cowgatehead, they should honour all the slots offered by Freestival so as not to punish acts who had made considerable outlay to be there.

The Cowgatehead venue was at the centre of a similar row last year, when PBH again claimed that Freestival had no right to run shows there – although in the end they did.

Confusion reigns as the site is effectively controlled by three generations of the Waugh family – all called Kenny. PBH said it was Kenny II promised him the use of the space in 2014, and again this year.

Last year’s deal with PBH fell through after an email was sent from Waugh Taverns Ltd, of which Kenny I is director, which stated that the venue would be programmed by Freestival and stating: ‘Last year we worked with Mr Peter Hill, due to irreconcilable differences we regret we will not be renewing our agreement with him for this coming year.’

Chortle has not yet been able to contact Kenny II about this year’s dispute.

But until it is resolved, at least 90 shows have been thrown into limbo. Currently 67 shows are programmed into Cowgatehead and 23 into St John’s.


Yesterday, Saturday, the Freestival issued a press release:


Performers in 150 Edinburgh Fringe shows fear they have been left without venues after Peter Buckley Hill, ex Fringe Society director and principal controller of  ‘The Free Fringe Ltd’ claimed that an Edinburgh venue manager is planning to switch the management of his spaces to the Free Fringe from another Fringe promoter without warning.

The performers have already paid £360 a piece to register their shows in the Fringe Programme, have designed promotional materials and many have also booked and paid for accommodation in August.

In a statement on Facebook and other public forums, Mr Buckley Hill, announced he had, on 21st May,  signed a contract with the Licensee of Freestival’s Cowgatehead venue, which has already been fully programmed with the consent of the licensee and owner. The statement also sought to imply Freestival did not have the use of the St Johns venue. The licensee of that venue has since refuted this, stating that it remains a Freestival venue.

Freestival organisers, Jools Constant, Alex Marion and Dan Adams say:

“This has devastated people who are hoping to perform at the 2015 Fringe. We have spent the last two days dealing with distraught phone calls from people who fear their shows will not be able to go ahead.

Our greatest concern is the acts, who have put their trust in us and have already invested time, energy and money in bringing shows to the Fringe. We are appalled that their shows have been thrown into doubt by this senseless and unwarranted action. If the situation cannot be resolved and it is true that the licensee has reneged on his agreement with us, we will do our utmost to work with Peter Buckley Hill to ensure that the performers are disrupted as little as possible. We will do our best to ease their transition to PBH or another provider if they wish.

We are taking advice from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society and hope they can help us find a way to intervene and find definitive answers to a number of outstanding questions including:

How is this able to happen after acts have paid to register and advertise with the Fringe Brochure?

Why would PBH agree to sign the deal so late in the year without first speaking with us, in full knowledge of the commitments already made by ourselves and the performers?

What has prompted the licensee to switch over to PBH after Freestival has been dealing constantly with both him and the building owners regarding the venue since the end of the 2014 Fringe? This included booking performers into the venue at the request of the licensee (and of the only other party originally bidding for the venue’s lease earlier in the year), ongoing discussions about building new rooms to complement those we built in July last year and about improvements to facilities, all with no indication that any other provider was in the running.

Why, when the Licensee has a full 9 room programme in place, would he switch to PBH and a smaller offering of only 6 rooms with smaller capacity?

Why did PBH wrongly include St John’s in his statement, adding needlessly to the number of acts suffering distress?

As no confirmation of the switch has been received by us from the licensee or PBH despite our attempts to obtain clarification, we are not in a position to answer these questions or even to confirm the truth of PBH’s statement.

The welfare of our acts and their shows is our first and only priority. If an act wishes to move to The Free Fringe to keep their allocated slot at Cowgatehead, anything Freestival can do to assist the moving process will be done. As a contingency against the possible loss of the Cowgatehead venue, we are sourcing alternative premises to mitigate any damage that may be caused. We are also in discussions with other promoters to ensure alternative spaces should the news be true and PBH refuses to house affected acts, although we hope PBH will reconsider and agree to transfer the show programme in its entirety. Alex Petty of Laughing Horse has kindly reached out to us and we thank him for his proactive and constructive approach in an uncertain and difficult time. Any of the Cowgatehead performers affected by this who wish to join another organisation will receive a without prejudice Freestival subscription refund.

We firmly refute all allegations of dishonesty or misconduct contained within the PBH statement and in follow up comments from individuals and related parties.

Freestival will not engage in further discussion regarding these; a public social media court is not the correct forum for such matters, given how important it is to ensure our performers interests and commitments are safe guarded and respected. We are hugely sad – given Peter Buckley Hill’s long standing commitment to supporting fringe performers – that he should choose to cast so much doubt over our acts so publicly.

We reiterate our commitment to a fair multi promoter Fringe that works for the good of performers and audiences – those performers who know us understand this and we thank all those who have expressed public support for us in this uncertain distressing time. We will be contacting all the acts affected by this situation on email with proposed alternatives and information updates over the next 48 hours.”


On Friday, Chortle editor Steve Bennett penned an opinion piece:


CAN WE END THIS BRUTAL FRINGE FREE-FOR-ALL

Free shows have been THE success story of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It has transformed the festival, opening it up to more performances and audiences than ever before, built on the excellent, simple principle of no risk on either side. If as a punter you hate the show, leave having paid nothing, if you like it, you pay what it’s worth. And as a comedian, you don’t need to commit thousands for your performance space.

Yet despite the shared basic principles, the main players in the game seem riven by bitter factional in-fighting. It’s often said that in politics the left spend more time fighting themselves than fighting the right, and it’s the same here.

The latest flashpoint over the Cowgatehead venues shows how deep those divisions are. Both Peter Buckley Hill, the founder of the entire movement and still kingpin of the Free Fringe faction, and upstarts Freestival believe they have rights to programme the spaces, right in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town.

Freestival had already put together a full programme for the venue, with acts paying up to £393 to get listed in the official Fringe brochure – more if they took an advert.

Now, after that has gone to print, PBH has publicly told all the comedians who were happy in the knowledge their space had been secured that their deals are worthless, as his Free Fringe will be programming shows there. Freestival cry bullshit.

No doubt both sides sincerely believe they are right. The building is owned by three generations of the same family who don’t always seem to be on the same page, to say the least. But the way this has become a conflict – part of a wider, antagonistic land-grab for as many venues as possible – has caused huge anxiety for the nearly 70 performers already, allegedly, booked into Cowgatehead.

The movement that was supposed to let them concentrate on their show and relieve some of the stresses of Edinburgh has done the exact opposite.

There are only two possibilities here.

One, that PBH is wrong, and that Freestival have the right to the Room – in which case this is needless scaremongering, and will have done severe damage to his reputation as one of the good guys.

The second is that he is right and they don’t. In which case PBH should honour every booking that Freestival made so as not to mess up a single performer. He has said his organisation ‘will look upon such applications as sympathetically as we can’ but also, less encouragingly only that ‘there is a chance that your slot, or something close to it, may be given back to you’.

Performers who want to be part of the PBH Free Fringe have to sign up to a 3,600-word ‘conditions and ethos’ statement – a key part of which is that if you apply to the Free Fringe you cannot apply to any rival. This is the only operator – including the supposedly evil paid venues – to impose this draconian condition on applicants.

PBH stressed this clause in his Facebook post, putting comedians in an impossible situation. They cannot hedge their bets and apply to PBH in case he’s right, while keeping their Freestival slots open. He’s forcing them to quit Freestival and go with him in a situation, frankly, where no one knows for sure what’s happening.

The only thing that’s clear is that this is unclear. The two fringe organisations, and the owners of the site,  are using the divisions on either side for some power games that the performers should not be troubled by. PBH should at least allow performers to apply to both organisations and guarantee their slots should the Freestival deal be built on sand, as he believes. If he’s right, he will be their saviour and none of the comedians will trust Freestival again… he need not use the prohibitive, anti-competitive stick of the contract to win them over.

Differences between the free organisations are minor and, when it comes to the greater good, should be put aside, even – maybe especially – on such a troublesome venue to lock down.

Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly put their decades-old differences aside to publish a joint venues programme. How much more powerful would the free movement be if they could issue a similar comprehensive brochure advertising all their offerings? But until they can put their sectarian feuds to one side, it’ll never happen.


In response to that Chortle piece, the Freestival issued this:


To answer both your questions:

(1) Are you conceding that PBH will be running Cowgatehead? – we are not, for the simple reason that neither the licensee nor PBH have contacted us regarding this, or responded to our attempts to communicate with them. As things stand the only information available is PBH’s statement. We have asked him to end speculation by producing a contract. So far we have received no response. However we are putting in place contingency plans to protect our acts as best as possible, including offering to work with PBH to place our performers in the slots they have legitimately been offered and accepted. We have also acted to ensure that any acts who cannot, or do not want to, move to PBH  are taken care of, by opening discussions with Alex Petty, who has been hugely constructive in his support, and by starting to source alternative venues. Bear in mind it’s only May – last year we sourced 2 new venues with less than 48 hours to go and got audiences into them. We have no doubt we can find quality alternative venues.

(2)  Do you have any written deal with the venue? – we do not. What we do have is a good faith agreement based on the following facts:

– Acting on our behalf our sponsors secured an agreement with the building owners that we would provide entertainment in Cowgatehead, regardless of who had the license to provide bars

– there were 2 parties bidding to be licensees, including the current operator. We had verbal agreements with both parties that we would provide entertainment at Cowgatehead, and had been requested by both to provide a programme. We then entered into discussions with both, not about whether we would provide a programme, but the particulars of how a programme that had already been agreed would be provided, including disposition of stages, installation of toilets and improvements to access and signage. In other words, we had oral agreements with not just one but 4 parties (owners, sponsors and both potential licensees). It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.

– the issue of who would be the licensee was not resolved until a little over 2 weeks ago, long after the deadline for brochure entries and even longer after all parties involved had assured us we would be providing a programme of events in Cowgatehead.

– 3 days after the licensee signed a deal with the building owners we sent a draft agreement to the licensee, which we assumed would be discussed, amended and signed.

– On 21st May PBH posted his statement. Up until this point no other potential provider had ever been mentioned and PBH had programmed no acts into the venue.

– In light of all this we have no doubt that we have acted appropriately and in good faith throughout this process and were justified in doing so in legal, moral and practical terms.

Now we have a question for you:

(3) Why do you keep describing this as in fighting between us and PBH?

There is no fight. We are not, and never have, fought. What there has been, consistently, since the moment we suggested working with PBH to improve the Free Fringe, is attacks, by PBH and his team, against us. Let’s be absolutely clear, we have never openly criticised PBH or the Free Fringe, we have never engaged with the attacks against us and we have never sought hostility. In fact we have put our admiration of Peter’s pioneering work in founding the Free Fringe on record, and we have welcomed, indeed encouraged, Free Fringe acts to share Freestival stages whenever they wished (although some preferred not to appear in the publicity for fear of reprisals).

Not only that, in January we were offered 2 PBH venues, Whistlebinkies and the Globe, but we turned them down because we believe in a healthy free sector and we don’t want to damage Peter’s offering. Beyond that we have done all this because frankly we are not interested in somebody else’s vendetta. We are only interested in providing the best experience possible for our acts and audiences and for that reason, because now he has caused unforgivable anxiety and distress for the acts we have worked so closely with for months, just for today, we are going to break that rule.

Peter’s behaviour in this matter has been reprehensible. He cannot pretend that he did not know his actions would lead to at best deep distress and at worst the destruction of dreams for dozens of performers, exactly the people who he has always claimed to champion. He cannot claim that his actions have been in anyone’s best interests – he has acted purely in pursuance of an imagined feud with us, people who have never set out to do anything to him. He must know that he doesn’t have enough acts to fill even the down sized 6 room venue he is planning, and that he is in danger of throwing acts onto the street so that his spite, selfishness and thoughtless cruelty can play itself out in empty rooms.

The truth is, as anyone but his most ardent supporters (who by the way have verged on the libellous in their social media comments – we are considering taking legal advice) must realise, that Peter should have said no. He should have said, in the interests of the acts, “I won’t do this – look me up next year”. But he didn’t because he could not resist the opportunity to attack us, and he didn’t care about the collateral damage. After all, they’re just people, with dreams and as the Free Fringe ethos states: “Abandon your dreams. It’s not going to happen.”

Of course, the same ethos says repeatedly: “Don’t be a dick”. Clearly a case of do as I say, not as I do.

That’s it. We will return now to what we have always done – looking after our acts.


In my view, the key sentence in that last statement is:

“It’s worth pointing out that under Scottish Law an oral agreement constitutes a contract.”

If the Cowgatehead people made any verbal agreement with the Freestival, it would invalidate any subsequent agreement with PBH. 

As far as I am aware, the Free Fringe has, as yet, programmed no shows into the Cowgatehead venue.

The magician Stu Turner has made a parody video which is not irrelevant to all this the chaos. It is on YouTube.

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Janey Godley on awards, a rat and c**ts

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

My Scots comedy chum Janey Godley is down in London this week, from Glasgow.

I met up with her this evening for a chat.

“I’ll give ye a blog,” she told me. “What do you want me tae talk aboot?”

And, before I could reply, she started:

“I’ve stopped smoking for a month now,” she said, “and I’m on a diet, so my whole family have been put into the witness protection programme while that happens. And, if you talk to me about it, I’ll stab ye.”

“Well,” I said, “No change there, then.”

‘It’s hard to stop smoking,” she continued, “but to stop smoking AND go on a diet isn’t really that much harder cos you’re using the same willpower for both.”

“I would have thought,” I said, “that it must make you twice as angry as normal – but maybe that’s not possible with you.”

“That,’ said Janey, “is what (Janey’s nameless husband) says: How can we tell the difference?”

Janey looked over her shoulder.

“There’s really loud people behind me,” she said, “who deserve to be stabbed. But I’m really excited cos I’m up for four Scottish Comedy Awards on 27th April. have you voted for me yet?”

“Yes,” I said quickly.

“I won the Podcast one last year,” she told me. “This year, I’m up for Best Headliner, Best Compere, Best Podcast again and Best Festival/Tour Show.”

‘Tell me why are you in London in some way that’s repeatable?” I asked.

“I’m in London this week,” she explained, “cos I had a couple of meetings with the BBC about future projects and I’m doing a couple of gigs – Banana Cabaret in Balham and Soho Comedy.”

“Is that the one in the gay street?” I asked. (It is not.)

“A gay street in Soho?” laughed Janey. “That must be a fucking hard task to find, eh?”

Admiral Duncan pub  in Soho (Photo by Ewan Munro)

The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho (Photograph by Ewan Munro)

“Old Compton Street,” I said, “I didn’t know the street was supposed to be gay until the Admiral Duncan blew up when the nail bomb went off.”

“You didn’t know it was gay,” said Janey, “because not one gay man has ever approached you in your entire life. They’ve all went: No, you’re on yer own, John.

“Not even women,” I said. “I once had a pigeon approach me at Oxford Circus.”

“I bet,” said Janey that even it bolted when it saw you.”

“No,” I said. “You know the barriers at the kerb to stop you walking across the street? I was outside one of those, walking on the narrow bit of the kerb, and this pigeon was strutting towards me and I thought it would give way to me, but it didn’t. I had to step into the road so it could walk along past me on the kerb.”

“That happened to me,” said Janey, “in Earls Court with a rat. You remember that hotel I lived in in Earls Court? There was a rat in the middle of the pavement and I thought: Well, clearly, if I bang ma feet, it’ll bolt. No. It stayed. I had to go into the road and I almost got hit by a car cos I was walking round a rat. And, see, when I went to the other side of the street, it turned its head to look at me and never moved. I am thinking like: Ya fuckin’ bastard! It was the size of a small poodle. I was frightened.”

“It was a very self-confident pigeon,” I said. “Its shoulders were going like it was an Essex Boy.”

“It’s the only bird that would come near you,” said Janey.

“Any other jollities for the blog?” I asked.

“I’m still,” said Janey, “having a fight with people on Twitter over the word cunt. They still can’t believe you can say that word. The other day, Ricky Gervais put up a post with the word cunt in it. That’s OK cos he’s rich and middle class. But, if I say it…”

“But you won’t,” I asked, “have had any Scottish people objecting?”

“A lot of people,” said Janey.

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

Janey’s current Twitter page

Janey’s current Twitter page has 16.5k followers

“Yup. It’s really weird that nobody will say anything to me (At the time of writing, Janey has over 16,500 Twitter followers) but, the minute I say cunt, people start to come on Twitter and moan. I always then put up this post that says: If the first time you’ve contacted me is cos you’ve saw the word cunt but, whenever I’ve asked you to donate to the Food Bank and you’ve never contacted me, then that means you’re a cunt.

“But I mean,” I said, “in Glasgow, it’s the equivalent of an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’. It’s not strong.”

“They still have an issue with it,” said Janey. “It’s unbelievable that the word cunt makes you bad.”

“When you think,” I said, “of the things they asterisked-out in Victorian novels – H*ll possibly and certainly d***ed.”

“In London in 1960,” said Janey, “they had the court case over Lady Chatterley’s Lover – about the language in that – cunt – and it was found to be not obscene. So I can say the word cunt specifically.”

“Some of us,” I said, “lost the same court case in Norwich in 1996.”

“Did you?” said Janey.

“I was,” I told her, “found guilty of Malicious Communication for calling someone a fucking cunt.”

“You called somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“A fucking cunt,” I said. “I thought it was fair comment. The judge said in his ruling that both the words fucking and cunt were ‘clearly indecent’. As far as I could see, that overturned the decision in the Lady Chatterley case under Common Law.”

“You got taken to court for calling somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re a dick,” she told me. “Who did you call a cunt? The Queen?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “You should read my blog.”

“I usually do. It’s fuckin’ brilliant. Ashley (Janey’s daughter) is obsessed with your North Korean blogs. They’ve made Ashley want to go to North Korea.’

“Everyone should go to North Korea,” I suggested.

“She’s no going to North Korea,” said Janey firmly.

“It’s safe,” I said, “provided you don’t say anything. I used to go to lots of Communist countries because they were safe.”

Jonathan Ross as I remember him

Jonathan Ross as I remember him between my holidays….

“I have to say,” said Janey, “that the best laugh I ever had on Twitter was when I contacted Jonathan Ross and asked: Do you remember John Fleming? And he Tweeted back: Is he still going to weird Communist bloc countries? And I said: Yeah. You definitely remember him.”

“That’s it finished,” I told Janey. “That’s the way to do a blog. Pretend it’s about someone else, but it’s really all about Me, Me, Me.”

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A newspaper mystery & Britain in 1950

The mysterious smudged Guardian

The mysterious smudged copy of he Guardian

I was passing through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station a couple of days ago when I saw. in the Evening Standard bins, some newspapers which were not Evening Standards.

Several were an odd, blurred-print, 40-page edition of, apparently, The Guardian. Except everything was artistically smudged and it was some edition covering the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.

Maybe it was some bit of agitprop, but there seemed to be no message.

Maybe it was some offbeat advert for some product, but there was no visible plug anywhere.

The other paper in the Evening Standard bin was a copy of the long-deceased Daily Graphic newspaper dated Friday March 24, 1950. The headline was:

STOP THE CRIME WAVE

and that story ran beside a photograph of Queen Mary doing needlework in the garden of Marlborough House. The caption inexplicably said: Picture released, yesterday, as New York hailed her million-stitch carpet.

The Crime Wave story said, in part:

The viewpoint on crime in 1950

A viewpoint on law and a crime wave in 1950

Lord Goddard, Lord Chief Justice, warned the Government in the House of Lords last night that the wave of violence must be stopped. A way of ending it had got to be found.

“If the crime wave goes on,” he said gravely, “the demand that it be stopped will be overwhelming.

“Strength must be applied. I hope to goodness it will not be applied too late.”

But Lord Goddard, who was speaking in the second day’s debate on a motion calling attention to the crime wave, made it clear that he was not asking for corporal punishment to be brought back.

“It is one thing,” he explained, “to deplore – as I do – abolition of all forms of corporal punishment, and another to demand their reimposition.

“My reluctance to do so is because I think there is nothing worse than continually altering penalties….

“It is true I suggested the abolition of the ‘cat’ and the retaining of other forms – not merely the birch, but the cane, so that boys could have been caned…

“When a prisoner comes out after having the ‘cat’,” he said, “he is treated as a martyr or hero.

“But when he gets the birch he knows he will come out the object of ridicule – and nothing kills so quickly as ridicule.”

A double-page Guardian spread

Double-page Guardian spread in a 40-page enigmatic paper

The 1950 copy of the Daily Graphic was maybe an insight into another world 65 years ago.

But why it was in a modern-day Evening Standard bin and what the purpose was/is of the multiple smudged copies of The Guardian remains an utterly unexplained mystery.

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Police corruption according to a Grouchy Club comedy critic & a blogger

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick and I expressed our views at The Grouchy Club

Yesterday’s blog was two brief extracts from the first Grouchy Club “mostly comedy” weekly podcast with Kate Copstick and me.

Before Copstick was an actress or TV personality or comedy critic or ran the Mama Biashara charity, she was a lawyer in Scotland – an Advocate. During the podcast, I asked her why she changed careers. Was it because she got fed up with trying to get guilty clients found innocent?


COPSTICK
Exactly the opposite. I stopped being a lawyer because I sat one too many times in a court where members of, for example, the Serious Crimes Squad lied in their teeth.

JOHN
This is in Glasgow?

COPSTICK
In Glasgow and Edinburgh. I realised that Law is just a big posh boys’ game where your accent will always matter and money will always matter and everything other than innocence or guilt will always matter and I was on a very fine knife-edge between thinking… well, I did… I thought: If they’re going to lie, then I’ll lie – and that is the slippery slope.

JOHN
Well, the only people who lie more than lawyers and solicitors and barristers are the p…

COPSTICK
The police, yes.

JOHN
… and, bizarrely, all the criminals I’ve met have actually been terribly honest.

COPSTICK
Well exactly. The most frightening people I met – ever – were members of the Serious Crimes Squad in the Glasgow police.

JOHN
Does the Serious Crime Squad still exist? – I think the London one was dismantled because it was so corrupt (in fact, it was the West Midlands Serious Crime Squad).

COPSTICK
I sincerely hope not. (It does.) There was a code – It’s ridiculous – It’s all that Oh no! We only slit the throats of the bad guys – But there always seemed to me to be a kind of a code of honour…

JOHN
Among thieves?

COPSTICK
Among thieves and murderers and armed robbers. I would have been a terrible… I’m a far too emotional and shouty and not-watching-my-mouth person to be a decent lawyer.

JOHN
I’ve always found criminals are very upset by injustice, which is bizarre.

COPSTICK
Yes. Absolutely.

JOHN
They commit crimes and, if they get caught, fair enough: that’s part of the game.

COPSTICK
Yes.

JOHN
But if a genuine injustice is done, they get terribly uppity about it…

COPSTICK
Absolutely.

JOHN
… whereas a policeman just thinks that is part of the game.

COPSTICK
Those in charge of the system are the ones in whose interest it is to keep the system corrupt.

JOHN
If proof were needed, this is an example of how this podcast might not always be comedy.

COPSTICK
Well, indeed.


The Grouchy Club’s first 43-minute weekly audio podcast is available to hear HEREwith a 10-minute video extract on YouTube. The Grouchy Club will be live at London’s Jewish Comedy Day this coming Sunday.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on Jewish prejudice and the Scots/UK legal system

A selfie of Coptick and me at The Grouchy Club

A selfie of Copstick and me at The Grouchy Club last month

At last month’s Edinburgh Fringe, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I hosted the daily Grouchy Club. It will return at next year’s Fringe and we are currently looking into running monthly Grouchy Club events in London.

In the first Edinburgh show, I asked her about herself.

“You went to Glasgow University…” I said.

“Yes.”

“And studied drinking?”

“No. That came to me naturally. There was no need to study. I wrote my final Honours paper – which was on Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law – on a breakfast of two litres of Guinness. I was pretty much incapable of leaving the house without wrapping myself around something alcoholic – I mean a drink, not a person. I farted and belched my way through the exam and got a 2:1.”

“You wanted to be a Scottish lawyer?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Copstick, “I had seen Witness For The Prosecution at a very impressionable age and had this ridiculous idea that lawyers were there to help people. I was very, very naive and obviously had not met any lawyers. I saw myself as Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird mode. And also I was an appalling smartarse at school. I was unpopular. I was short, fat and ugly. The only thing that was any good about me was that I was clever.

“What clever people went on to do was Law or Medicine and, as my Highers were English, French, German, Latin and History, I was not going to be a doctor.

“The Law degree was good fun and I got to shag a lot of Jewish boys and really upset a lot of Jewish mothers. I had a boyfriend called Michael. Well, he and I were not ‘going out’. I wasn’t into relationships. I was more into just shagging randomly and frequently. Those were the days.

“Michael’s parents were quite rich and, for his 18th birthday, they bought him a Mini-Cooper car which they then locked in the garage because he took me out in it – a shiksa had soiled the seats.

“That was the first time I really understood prejudice. One Jewish guy invited me over to dinner and his mum and dad were there and I was put at the end of the table with the crockery and the cutlery for the goyim. It was like Unclean! Unclean!

“Michael – the guy with the Mini-Cooper – got me for my 21st birthday The Code of Jewish Law.”

“What,” I asked, “IS the code of Jewish Law?”

“God loves us. God hates everyone else.”

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

The legal system… is blind to justice

“Anyway,” I said. “You decided not to become a lawyer. Why?”

“I did quite enjoy it, except I did come to realise that it is just a big posh boys’ game. It is not even so much about the boys. It’s about the posh. An ordinary person is never going to win. The police are liars and bastards. The prosecution services are liars and bastards. Your best defence is a rich dad and posh accent. If you don’t look right and don’t sound right, you’re probably guilty.

“I sat in front of juries and listened to them talking because I was an Advocate at that point. I was the instructing solicitor. I heard them say things like: Aw, see that Mr Taylor? (Bill Taylor was a Defence Lawyer) He’s got such lovely blue eyes. See when he looks at you? Ya cannae help but agree wi’ him. That is not a fucking defence! But that was the kind of reasons they had. You think: This is all just fucked!

“The scariest people I ever met were the Glasgow Serious Crime Squad. They would have ‘fitted you up’ faster than a Chinese tailor. Just unbelievable!”

“The clue’s in the name,” I suggested. “The Serious Crime Squad. They commit serious crimes.”

“That’s absolutely true,” said Copstick, “but I just thought: Fuck this for a game of soldiers.

‘Which years are these?” I asked.

“The mid-1980s.”

“How long do you train to be a lawyer/liar?” I asked.

“You do a four year degree and then you go off and become a baby apprentice and then, if you’re smart enough, you get to skip a year of apprenticing. So I got to skip a year.”

“So,” I said, “after being trained to lie for four years solid, you can only become either a lawyer or a politician, really.”

“After four years, you know nothing other than books,” said Copstick.

“So,” I said. “If you decide not to be a lawyer after four years, you’ve got no other career.”

“Well,” said Copstick, “what you do know is how to learn. It trains your brain like nothing else. It teaches you not to be frightened of words. If someone sends you a contract, read it. It’s not scary. It will basically just say the same thing over and over and over again to make you think it’s saying a lot of things. They could hide anything in there.”

“So basically,” I said, “all they teach you is how to encapsulate things quickly so you can speak about something you don’t understand and make it sound credible like a politician or a lawyer?”

“In a nutshell, John,” said Copstick. “In a nutshell.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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