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Malcolm Hardee Awards designer confesses 1980s transvestite activities

While in the introverted Edinburgh Fringe bubble, I missed last week’s BBC News report that Ludlow Hospital had “turned down a £2,500 donation from a group of men dressed up as nurses after bosses said the outfits were demeaning”.

The BBC report explained:


BBC News report

The group, which was supporting Ludlow Hospital in Shropshire, raised the money by pushing a bed around the town.

Jan Ditheridge, chief executive of Shropshire Community Health NHS Trust, said the behaviour was “insulting”.

A letter to Peter Corfield, chair of Ludlow Hospital League of Friends, from Ms Ditheridge and chair of the trust Mike Ridley, said: “The presentation of men dressed as female nurses in a highly-sexualised and demeaning way is wrong, very outdated and insulting to the profession”.

Mr Corfield said the bed-push fundraiser had taken place every summer for decades involving men from the local community and was “light-hearted”.

He said proceeds from this year’s event had been earmarked to provide ECG machines for the outpatients and minor injuries departments at Ludlow.

“We have therefore now had to withdraw the funding for those items,” he added.

Alison Hiles, whose husband took part in the event, said: “Nobody’s complained, everybody seems to enter into the spirit of it, locals know that it’s going on, those that aren’t local really enjoy the event and always have a chat with the lads and willingly give money, nobody forces them. I really don’t know why all of a sudden that it’s a problem.”


In a new, shocking twist to this story today, Malcolm Hardee Awards designer John Ward confessed in a personal e-mail to me:


Revealed: Ward’s shocking 1980s activities

In the mid 1980s myself and a group of like minded friends covered the best part, if not all, of Northamptonshire’s town carnivals plus St Ives and Newport Pagnell dressed as nurses and we too gathered a lot of money in each town that went to the respective carnival funds.

Nobody ever complained, quite the reverse as we were invited to other events along the way.

Here is a photo from the jolly ole snap-shot album of me in my regalia – I had borrowed the outfit from a nurse friend of ours who worked at Kettering General Hospital – on a dinky bike I made from scrap that folded up into a ‘medical bag’ I carried along the assorted parade routes that was pulled out and rode after ‘pursued patients’.


John Ward with some of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which he designed and made

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 17, Part 2: Star reviews subverted and Didgeridoogate

Mark Dean Quinn with a pile of stolen stars

Every year, as the Fringe starts, I fear there will be no stunt worthy of a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. But, every year, they come rolling in.

This morning, I bumped into Mark Dean Quinn at Fringe Central where he had noticed a box where people disposed of un-needed sheets of paper on which were printed review quotes and star ratings for their shows.

“I have just decided,” he told me, holding a pile of discarded photocopies, “that, if people are going to throw away their stars and quotes, I am going to staple them to my own flyers.”

“Isn’t that dishonest?” I asked.

Narin Oz wantonly flaunts her cunning stunt.

“No,” he told me. “These ARE real reviews of real shows, though admittedly not of my show. And these are clearly not real flyers.”

“Says who?” I asked. “They say Mark Dean Quinn on them.”

“In my opinion,” insisted Mark, “If it is under 90 GSM, it is not a flyer.”

“What is GSM?” I asked.

“Grams per square metre,” he replied.

When I left Fringe Central, he had ensnared fellow performer Narin Oz into his dastardly plan.


Later, I received an email from performer Martha McBrier, allegedly explaining what has not yet been generally called Didgeridoogate.

She plays the didgeridoo in her Edinburgh Fringe show.

I read her email, then went and had a long, relaxing lie-down.

This is her email in its entirety:


Martha McBrier – not blowing her own trumpet.

I am writing with a view to nomination for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. I would like to nominate the following quartet of mischief; Martha McBrier, Matt Price, Bruce Dessau and Martin Walker.

The timeline to this stunt is as follows:

FRIDAY 4th August

Martha McBrier messages John Fleming, seemingly, awful, awful upset, telling him that she has received an unpleasant message telling her that playing the didgeridoo and even being photographed with same, is tantamount to hugely insulting the culture of First Nation Australians.

Fleming believed this to be an ‘exclusive’, but McBrier had cunningly messaged Bruce Dessau (of Beyond The Joke & a Malcolm Hardee Award judge), Kate Copstick (of The Scotsman newspaper & a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) and Steve Bennett (of Chortle).

Fleming mentions to Matt Price (my partner and loveable giant, Cornish comedian) that he suspects this may be a cunning stunt.

SATURDAY 5th August

Although he usually writes about much younger women, Fleming writes a blog, with the ‘Carry on Indigenous Australia’-style title Female Comic Accused of Blowing a Male Instrument.

SUNDAY 6th August

Bruce Dessau writes about the incident in Beyond the Joke.

Mr Dessau asks me for an update. I tell him that Mr Fleming believes it to be a Cunning Stunt.

MONDAY 7th August

Steve Bennett writes on Chortle about the incident, tragically stealing Dessau’s ‘Didgeri-don’t’ headline.

TUESDAY 8th August

McBrier records Martin Walker’s On The Mic podcast. Talk turns to ‘Didgeridoo-gate’.

Mr Walker, his eyes all twinkly, says: “Wouldn’t it be dead funny for us to cunning stunt Fleming, stating it’s a cunning stunt when it really isn’t? This would be totally different from other stunts as it’s a true thing, kidding-on it’s a false thing. We let Fleming think it’s a cunning stunt and, like a right wally, he blogs that it is. Then we will announce that it’s true and not a stunt. It is double dunt cunning stunt. I will also get my pal Dessau in on it.”

We all laughed.

But Martin was true to his word and Fleming was fished right in.

Matt Price was the liaison between Dessau and Walker and they plotted and giggled like schoolgirls.

Walker played Fleming, ensuring his eyes were twinkle-free, so as not to arouse suspicion.

WEDNESDAY 9th August

Fleming, like a right daftie, blogs that ‘Didgeridoo-gate’ is a cunning stunt.

You must surely see the opportunistic brilliance of this double-dunt stunt. Especially considering that McBrier and Price have no PR and have not, hitherto, been on the radar of Bruce Dessau. He pure knows them now.

How fitting it would be that a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge (Fleming) has been stunted by a group which includes a fellow judge (Dessau).

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Comic Frank Carson was never himself

Frank Carson in Granada’s top-rating series The Comedians

At this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, comic Mike McCabe is performing a show about old school comedy legend Frank Carson. They were both regulars on Granada TV’s series The Comedians, though at different times.

“Is this your first Edinburgh Fringe show?” I asked Mike.

“I’ve done some before with my son Milo McCabe. One show he based on all the old acts I worked with. It was called This Is Your Life and it was set in a home with them trying to jog my memory and get me (the character) out of the Alzheimer’s. They were going through all the acts I had worked with to get my memory back.”

“So you were acting?” I asked.

“Don’t look so surprised, John.”

“Why write and perform a show about Frank Carson?” I asked

Mike worked with Frank “and always admired him”

“Because I worked with him and always admired him. He had his place among the Bob Monkhouses and Charles Hawtreys.”

“I can see the headline now,” I said. “Frank Carson – The Charles Hawtrey of Comedy. You didn’t meet him on The Comedians?”

“No. Sky Star Search together.”

“Frank Carson was from Belfast and you are from…?”

“Monahan, which is about an hour away from Belfast.”

“And all the jokes in the Fringe show are his?”

“No. Some are his. Some are mine.”

“So did you desperately want to specifically do a show about Frank Carson or did you just want to do a show and then looked round for a subject?”

Mike McCabe as himself in London this month

“To be truthful,” Mike told me, “I use it as a vehicle for meself – a bit of Frank, a bit of The Comedians – but also to tell the story because he had a fantastic life – meeting the Pope, getting shot, losing his brother and little sister, being on the Royal Variety Show. He was a helluva man.”

“And you are the best person to do this show because…?”

“I did an impression of him to him and he thought it was fantastic. He allowed me to use his glasses and now I wish I’d kept them.”

“Did you ever get through to the real person?” I asked. “I think I met him and had chats with him three times at Granada and at ATV/Central TV and all I got was the Frank Carson character. I never got through to the real person.”

Mike around the time he was working on TV with Frank Carson

“Well,” said Mike, “when somebody left him and you asked Frank Do you know anything about that man? he’d say No

“Do you know his surname? – No.

“What else? Nothing.

“That was Frank’s life. He never bothered finding out about other people. It’s just one of those things. He fascinated me. His life fascinated me. For someone to go on and on and on like that, there had to be some problem deep down.

“I saw him on a TV programme once. He was in a car and he said: I remember I had a sister and she died… I don’t know if she was older or younger than me at the time… And I thought this was quite extraordinary. If I had had a little brother or sister who had died, I would know. I think maybe he was hiding stuff.”

“He shot someone when he was in the army?” I asked.

During a break in a Tiswas show, 1981: Frank Carson (centre) with Den Hegarty (left) and associate producer David McKellar

“Yes. It’s in the show.”

“And he was shot himself?”

“Yes. And it’s in the show.”

“Your Gilded Balloon show,” I said, “is titled Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry… Because…?”

“One time,” Mike said, “he was having a late-night drink with a singer called Rose-Marie – She told me about it. Frank didn’t stop. She said: Stop, stop, Frank. Why do you never stop? Please, stop. I would like to talk to you. Why do you never stop? And he said to her: Rose, if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry.

“And did he expand on that?” I asked.

Mike: Now that is a really hard question”

“Oh God no. That was quite a lot for a feller like Frank, who never divulged anything. He was always busy telling gags and never leaving any silences.”

“Did you like him?” I asked.

“Now… that…” said Mike, “is a really hard question.”

“Because?”

“Because he never talked to me or anybody else. He promised me a lot. There was nothing he wasn’t going to do for me and that’s what happened. He did nothing.

“It’s very difficult to like or dislike someone if you don’t get through to them.”

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Arthur Smith: the singing comedian is obsessed with an amateur boxer-poet

Arthur Smith is singing as the dead Leonard Cohen – again

Comic Arthur Smith, an Edinburgh Fringe regular spanning two centuries, is only going up for three days this year, to perform his legendary Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen show – re-titled Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen – The Final Tribute.

“Why did you originally decide to sing Leonard Cohen anyway?” I asked him.

“Because,” he explained, “my play An Evening With Gary Lineker was running in the West End so it didn’t really matter what the fuck I did. So I did a show called Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams. You know what it’s like. You have to pick a title in March for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. I had no intention of singing Andy Williams songs. It was a title I picked because it just seemed stupid.

“I am old school, I don’t actually write my shows until… Well, it got to about a month before Edinburgh and I thought: What the fuck am I actually going to do in this show?… Well, I’ve got Tony Hawks on the piano, so I might as well actually try to do a couple of Andy Williams songs. But then I got very interested in this bloke… I think of him as a bit like Malcolm Hardee in a way. He was a footnote in history. A character called Arthur Cravan. He was the nephew of Oscar Wilde, though he never met him.”

Arthur Cravan. “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about… not being talked about,” said his uncle.

“Was he Irish?” I asked.

“It’s hard to tell,” Arthur shrugged. “He was brought up in Switzerland. Then he lived in Berlin, then he moved to Paris, where he started selling his art magazine Maintenant! and became notorious for slagging everyone off. Then he was a boxer and won the French Amateur Boxing Championship and used to parade around the ring – long before Muhammed Ali – saying: This guy’s a wanker!

“He was also a thief. There were so many stories about him. Then the First World War started and he fled to America. He met Trotsky on the boat over to America. Once over there, he was invited to give a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art or somewhere about this new weird thing Dadaism. But he came on and he was drunk and he took his trousers down and had a piss on the table and got arrested. This was deemed by the Dadaists to have been a great success. He really was like an early Malcolm Hardee. He then supposedly went hitch-hiking round Canada dressed as a woman.”

“I presume,” I said, “he did this for no reason at all?”

“Never stood a fucking chance”

“Well, I think he was escaping. He was usually escaping from something. He then married a woman, a poet called Mina Loy and went to Mexico. Mina Loy, who was pregnant by then, was going to join him, but then he disappeared. It was thought that he got on a boat and it sank, but it was never really known – which, of course, is a great way to go – people not really knowing if you have gone. He was spotted here-and-there ever after. Oh! – And in 1916 in Barcelona he fought the then just finished World Heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson, the first black champion who had been pretty-much exiled from America for going out with white women. There’s little bit of film of him boxing on the internet.”

“How did he fare?” I asked.

“He never stood a fucking chance against Jack Johnson. But they were both just trying to make some money. He famously had huge bollocks.”

“Like Malcolm,” I said.

“There were just loads of stories about him,” Arthur continued. “Like Malcolm. He really is this sort of mythical footnote in history.”

“And they both died by drowning,” I said.

“Yeah. Possibly. He was only in his 30s when he died. If he died. He was a ludicrous figure. I did a thing about him on BBC Radio 3 a while back.”

“What has this to do with Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams?” I asked.

“Ludicrous… We only charged something like 20p to get in”

“Ah yes!” laughed Arthur. “I got obsessed with Arthur Cravan and I went to an exhibition about him in Paris, at which point I decided to make the Arthur Smith Sings Andy Williams show about Arthur Cravan, punctuated by Andy Williams songs. I had this whole thing about Was Andy Williams really Arthur Cravan? It was the most ludicrous show. We only charged something like 20p to get in. You were offered your money back on the way out. We had a gala performance that cost something like £50 – for TV executives on expenses. I started the show talking about Arthur Cravan. People wondered what was going on. Then I suddenly started singing Moon River. I had Andy Smart as a plant in the audience and we had a fight during the show.”

“Did you impersonate Andy Williams’ voice?” I asked.

“As far as I can,” said Arthur. “And I had a bear that came on. Do you remember Andy Williams used to have a bear come on in his TV shows?”

“It seems to have slipped my mind,” I said.

“I conceived…” said Arthur, “I was going to do three Arthur Smith Sings… shows. I picked Leonard Cohen as a follow-up to Andy Williams because it just sounded so boring: Arthur Smith Sings Leonard Cohen.

“So what has happened to the third Arthur Smith Sings… show?”

“I have a few in mind. Maybe Arthur Smith Sings The Supremes or Arthur Smith Sings Serge Gainsbourg or Arthur Smith Sings Little Mix. You pick the title for being funny before you worry about what’s in it.”

Arthur Smith Sings Harry Styles?” I suggested.

“Or Arthur Smith Sings Alan Bennett,” mused Arthur. “I dunno. I don’t thing he’s done a lot of singing.”

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Feeling slightly happier with attractive comic, actor, conman Nathan Cassidy.

Nathan Cassidy: a man hungry for publicity

I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards – for the most cunning publicity stunt to publicise a performer or show at the annual Edinburgh Fringe.

My last blog was about cunning stunts and people being origami-like with the truth in publicity for their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. You can make up your own mind whether what follows is along the same lines or not.

When I talked to comedian Nathan Cassidy in a Haggerston cafe, he told me he had just been asked to audition for Puppetry of the Penis, the globe-trotting performance group who specialise in penile origami.

“I suppose it’s a different type of stand-up,” I mused. “Why are we meeting?”

“I want to ask you to be a judge,” Nathan told me. “The Rat Pack are producing this show in Edinburgh: The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final.”

Is this just leading me towards an empty room?

He put a poster for it on the table. It said: Cassidy is an attractive man (Fringe Guru 2012).

“Did you make that up?” I asked.

“Of course I didn’t make it up!”

At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, Nathan was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

“And is this bit true?” I asked. “Thousands entered. 6 MCs survived. £5,000 cash prize. Plus an amazing headline act.

“We have scoured the world,” Nathan told me. “As all comedy competitions do. The world. The whole world.”

“Qatar?” I asked.

“Yes, the Rat Pack have been there.”

“Syria?” I asked.

“Yes, everywhere. We have a spare slot on the judging panel. Are you free? Steve Bennett of Chortle has pencilled himself in. £5,000 cash prize. Thousands of auditions and this is the Grand Final. We can’t reveal the line-up at this stage.”

“How,” I asked, “do you prove you’re a good MC in a final? Will there be a physical line-up? Will they stand there and say: And now… some fake act who isn’t there?”

Comic Jo Burke, slightly happier with Nathan Cassidy in 2015

“There are no fake acts,” said Nathan. “It’s just the MCs. The MCs will introduce each other. They have 5-7 minutes each. I will introduce the first MC and then they introduce each other.”

“Who,” I asked, “does the last MC introduce?”

“There is not a last MC,” explained Nathan. “Read the poster. There is an amazing headline act.”

“So you are the headline act?” I asked, sceptically.

“No, I’m the MC. And we have one gap on the judging panel on 14th August. Are you free?”

(After consulting my Fringe Diary) “I can move things around a bit and do it,” I said. “So Steve Bennett is pencilled in? I think he is having building work done on his house. Turning it into a replica of Citizen Kane’s Xanadu.”

“Where does he live?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not grassing him up,” I said.

“There is,” said Nathan, “a quote from Steve Bennett on my other show’s poster: Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena.

Nathan Cassidy’s sold-out O2 gigs on right

He put it on the table.

I read: The entire second row is pissed… and there are only two rows (Steve Bennett, Chortle)

“What do you think of this other quote?” Nathan asked me. “Having seen Bill Hicks, I can honestly say he’s as good as him. It’s an official quote from the Buxton Fringe.

“Did you write it yourself?” I asked.

“No! That’s what everyone thinks. It’s buxtonfringe.org.uk – The Buxton Fringe sends out about ten reviewers to review all the shows. It’s a real quote. But I want a better quote I can use. AS GOOD AS Bill Hicks doesn’t really do it for me.”

“This poster,” I said, “says the show is sold out on 14th August, but you’re not doing it on the 14th – You’re doing the MC Awards.”

“No, it’s sold out,” said Nathan. “There are other dates still available.”

“You appear to have sold out the O2 Arena in October and November,” I observed.

“Well, I’m doing the O2 Arena on 4th November, as you know.”

“Do I? Which bit of it? The main auditorium?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“Are you going to fill it? I got free tickets to see Rod Stewart because he couldn’t fill it. How much are you paying for it?”

“I can’t divulge that.”

“So this is another Cunning Stunt?”

“Of course not.”

Nathan’s 2017 was even more sold out in 2016

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August last year, Nathan put up a poster for a fake tour – Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena – with all the dates sold out throughout October/November 2017, except for a performance at the O2 Arena on 4th November 2017.

“People thought it was a fake show,” he told me, “but it was just pre-advertising for this year’s Fringe show… Bruce Dessau (comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) covered it a couple of times but, when I asked if he wanted to come to the O2 show, he didn’t reply.”

“His loss, I’m sure,” I said. “So, basically, I am going to turn up at the Three Sisters to judge this MC Awards show and there will be an empty room as you attempt to win a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award…”

“No,” said Nathan. “It’s legitimate. The Rat Pack are spending £250 on a massive poster. We are not going to do that for nothing. It’s totally real. Genuinely, I swear on my… I swear on your life and Steve Bennett’s life that a £5,000 cash prize will be given to the winner on the day. I am totally gimmick-free this year.”

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Is that not enough for you?”

“I would prefer £250 in a brown envelope,” I said.

“I am doing a third show in Edinburgh,” said Nathan, “but it’s a theatre show.”

Love & the winner of Sir Michael Caine’s Award

He put the flyer on the table. The title of the show is Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love Me. It’s Deep.

The headline pitch read: FOR THE PERFECT LOVE STORY YOU HAVE TO GO TO RIDICULOUS LENGTHS.

I turned over the flyer and read out loud:

“ONE-MAN THEATRE SHOW FROM THE WINNER OF THE SIR MICHAEL CAINE NEW WRITING AWARD.”

“Who won that?” I asked.

“Me,” said Nathan. “You are very sceptical, John. You think everything is a ruse to get you along to an empty room.”

“When did you win the Michael Caine Award?” I asked.

“About ten years ago now. I did theatre before I did stand-up. I won it for a play called A Cure For The Common Cold at the Leatherhead Theatre.”

“It says here,” I said, “that you have a distinctive stand-up style. What’s that?”

“Well,” replied Nathan, “last year Steve Bennet said: Nathan Cassidy will make you slightly happier for an hour or so… So I am ‘an attractive man’ who will ‘make you slightly happier’…”

“What’s the theatre show about?”

“Something happened in the last year which reminded me of a story that happened to me starting when I was 15 and it’s a perfect love story and it would not fit within stand-up but it would fit within theatre. People think that perfect love is impossible but I am telling you a true story from my life to show it is possible. There may be a happy or a sad ending; you will have to come to the show to see which.”

“You are very persistent,” I said.

Chubby had a female agent…

“In 2010,” said Nathan, “when I first did the Edinburgh Fringe, I performed to two ladies and Roy Chubby Brown’s agent. She never got back to me.”

“His agent was a she?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes. I first met Chubby Brown when I was 12 years-old. For a 12-year-old kid, it was fun. Do you remember his song He’s a Cunt?”

“Sadly not.”

“But those two ladies have come back every year to see me and, the last couple of years, they have even given out flyers for me.”

“Is that the smallest audience you have played to?”

“No. Once at Buxton Fringe, I performed to two people in a fridge. It had a capacity of three, so it was only two-thirds full. I was gutted I had not filled it.”

“What reaction did you get?”

“A standing ovation. They loved it. Admittedly there were no seats.”

The fridge story I believed. The Roy Chubby Brown story I believed. The Puppetry of the Penis story I believed. But I was unsure about the Michael Caine story.

I Googled it afterwards. There were pieces about it online. And a photo of a young Nathan Cassidy with Michael Caine.

Who knows what truth is at the Edinburgh Fringe or anywhere? I look forward to a tranquil night alone at the Three Sisters/Free Sisters venue at 7.45pm on 14th August.

The award-winning young Nathan with Sir Michael Caine

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How to edit your script and not be invisible at the Edinburgh Fringe (etc)

To be pompous… and, if I can’t be pompous here, then where can I be?…

If you fancy yourself as a wordsmith on stage or screen, my advice is to write as little dialogue as possible.

If your work of genius would work as well on radio as it would on stage or screen, then it needs visuals added.

Television is not radio.
Movies are not radio.
The stage is not radio.

That’s a big thing of mine.

If a script will work on radio, then it is probably a bad script for stage or TV/movie production.

Having said that, Johnny Speight and a lot of Galton & Simpson TV shows are all dialogue….

So what do I know?

One Foot in the Grave, though, has loads of visual gags. There’s a gag where the phone rings and Victor, asleep on a chair, sleepy, reaches down and picks up a small dog.

The tortoise episode has visual gags aplenty. There are loads of surreal visuals in Grave which don’t rely on spoken words.

And, of course, allegedly the British public’s most beloved and memorable TV comedy sequence is not Ronnie Barker’s “four candles” routine nor John Cleese’s ‘dead parrot’ routine but the visual gag from Only Fools and Horses.

Just because something ain’t got spoken words doesn’t mean it ain’t a good piece of scripting.

Clint Eastwood says he told Sergio Leone to cut acres of his character’s dialogue out of the original script of A Fistful of Dollars. He told Sergio: “I can do those two lines of dialogue by just one look”.

The 2mins 40secs pre-credits opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West is brilliantly scripted but has only three short, totally inconsequential lines of dialogue.

So write a stage or screen script.

Then go through it and try to cut out as many words as you can because, if you can, they are unnecessary.

Then go through it again and try to cut out as many of the necessary words as you can and replace them with something visual.

If words can be cut out and the point made visually, that’s miles better – though, if it’s for a stage performance, the people at the back have to see it. So subtle eye movements may be invisible.

And I get SO annoyed when performers sit or lie on the floor in venues bigger than the ones they are used to.

It may have worked in some room above a pub with an audience of 5 but it don’t feckin’ work when you are sitting in the audience at the back of a non-tiered room with even only three rows of people seated in front of you. If the performer’s head is below the heads of the people sitting in the front row then the odds are that even the person sitting in row 4 can’t see it clearly if at all.

End of pomposity. Raises eyebrow. Slaps forehead. Says nothing.

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How to alienate an Edinburgh Fringe audience with mis-conceived videos

Yesterday’s blog was about things which could be wrong in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show’s script but which can be changed even at a very late stage.

Today’s blog is about something it is less easy to sort out.

AND IT IS BLOODY ANNOYING!!

When people ask me about performing at the Fringe, they are concerned about getting audiences in. They are concerned with bums-on-seats. Fair enough.

But one thing I remind them – rightly or wrongly – is that the real reason performers flock up to Edinburgh in August is not to fill seats with money-making ‘real’ members of the public (most performers make a loss) but to be seen by the media and the showbiz industry.

Many years ago, I was up in Edinburgh with one act who was unknown at the time and was getting virtually no audiences. He was talking about giving up and going home. I told him not to. One night (when I was not there) he had only four people in the audience.

But it turned out that two of them were TV producers looking for talent for a new series they were preparing. He was booked for two full runs of a BBC2 TV series.

Oh, alright, it was Charlie Chuck and the series was The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer where he performed as the Charlie Chuck character but was called Uncle Peter.

Another time, I turned up to see an interesting-sounding show at the Fringe. The only audience members were me and another man. But the two performers had given up a few days before and gone back to London. I was looking for acts for a Channel 4 TV show. The other man was a BBC Radio producer. We never saw the show or the performers.

It is not the number of bums-on-seats that matter… It is whose buttocks they are.

30 ‘ordinary’ punters in an audience cannot make you famous.

One person in the audience could make you a millionaire and the biggest thing in British entertainment.

Though not if it’s me, obviously.

It is all smoke and mirrors.

I remember several years ago, one act who was hot, hot, hot. He is now a known Name comedian. Everyone was talking about his Fringe show that year. It sounded massively successful. And it was. But, when I went to see it, he was performing in a small shipping container. Perhaps there was room for 30 people in the audience. But the right people had seen the show and the word-of-mouth was massive. I repeat:

It is not the number of bums-on-seats that matter… It is whose buttocks they are.

Richard Gadd clearly did it right at the Edinburgh Fringe

In 2015, Richard Gadd was booked into a venue in Niddry Street that turned out to be too small when the word-of mouth about his show Waiting for Gaddot became massive. People were getting turned away every night, which just fanned the flames of the word-of-mouth.

In 2016, he was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award because – now much much better-known and guaranteed to sell out a much bigger venue – he had booked himself into the same small venue on the basis that even more people would NOT be able to see his equally superb show Monkey See Monkey Do, thus making himself and the show even hotter.

At least, that was the story. It might have been bullshit to get nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award. But, if it was untrue, that was a successful Cunning Stunt in itself.

My point is that acts perform on the Edinburgh Fringe to be seen by the press, TV & radio producers and prospective managers, agents, promoters, whatever. They want to be talked about. They want to be hot and to be seen to be hot.

But, as a result of this, an appalling habit has crept in over the years.

Pre-recorded video clips.

They started, I think, because people wanted to demonstrate to TV producers what fine comedy sketches they could do if given a TV show.

That was bad enough.

BUT, OH COMEDIAN OF LITTLE SELF-BELIEF, YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE PERFORMING A LIVE STAGE SHOW, NOT SCREENING A SHOWREEL!!!!

It has now got worse than trying to demonstrate TV sketch performance potential on stage via pre-recorded video clips. Comedy performers are now willy-nilly bunging pre-recorded videos in their solo shows, having ever-changing stills backdrops and all sorts of appalling visual distractions.

This CAN work and it CAN be relevant.

In Richard Gadd’s aforementioned, rightly-acclaimed 2015 stage show Waiting for Gaddot, the conceit was that he was not there. The pretence was that he was late for the billed show and other people performed while waiting for him to arrive – and this was interspersed with make-believe-live video clips of his various problems trying to get to the venue. Eventually he did arrive and he ran into the venue just as the show was about to end.

In that case, the video clips had a very well-thought-through purpose which was part of the cleverly-conceived format of the show.

But, mostly, comedy performers – an insecure and neurotic breed at the best of times – witter on about wanting to add ‘production value’ to the show and how just watching them stand at a microphone talking for 55 minutes would be dull for the audience. They want to make the show “more interesting”

Well, if you are worried about people getting bored watching you talk to them uninterrupted for 55 minutes, you should not be taking a show up to the Fringe and you should consider a career change. If you want the show to be more interesting, then be more interesting.

One thing you definitely don’t want in your show – feared comedy critic Kate Copstick commenting via a video screen. (In this blog, this is an example of an irrelevant distraction.)

Adding videos to the show is not ‘adding production value’, it is distracting the audience and interrupting their concentration. Every time you show a video or a series of stills to ‘add production value’, the audience has to switch attention from the performer’s face to a TV screen of totally different luminosity. Their visual focus literally shifts and their ears have to re-tune to a different type of sound wave. And sometimes there is also a lighting change involved to further distract their concentration.

It destroys whatever momentum the performer has built up.

The audience, who have been (or should be) intent on watching the performer’s face and listening to his/her carefully-crafted spiel, have to mentally switch off and re-tune to the ‘other’ (pre-recorded) video performance or visual.

At the end of that, they have to mentally, visually and aurally re-adjust back to the performer. Literally change their focus, literally re-adjust to a totally different visual display.

Every time the performer stop/starts his/her performance, the momentum is stop/started and the audience’s concentration diluted or lost.

Also, the audience must inevitably have at least a slight thought in the back of their minds: I came here tonight to see a live comedy performance. Why am I sitting watching a TV screen/projected image that has been pre-recorded?

And, while they are watching this unexpected interruption, they are half-flicking their attention every now-and-then back to the performer who is just standing around like a wanker doing nothing or – God forbid! – has walked off-stage for the duration of the clip.

The audience will and must think: Hold on! Am I watching this because the performer doesn’t have enough confidence to risk doing it live and has pre-recorded it? Or: Is the performer not talented enough to entertainingly describe in fascinating language what I am watching?

I am not a performer. I can show you a video of a monkey juggling a meringue and get laughs. A talented comedian can describe it to you and get even more laughs.

Every time I have to sit through bloody video clips in a live show in which the performer stands to one side and scratches his/her nose/anus, I start to wonder: If this wanker can’t perform the whole show live, why not just record the whole thing, email the video file to me and I wouldn’t have to come out on a wet night, have my luxuriant hair half-blown off by the wind and be shat upon by giant seagulls with attitude problems! (This is Edinburgh, after all.)

These annoyed and annoying thoughts will also, most of the time, be shared by the TV or (God help them) radio producers whom the performer most wants to impress.

If you don’t think you are interesting enough to hold people’s attention in a 55 minute live show, just don’t go to the Edinburgh Fringe. (This is another distracting picture.)

If you are trying to demonstrate what a good writer and live performer you are in front of a live audience on a stage, then don’t go multi-bloody-media luvvie unless it is vital to the whole caboodle (like it was in Richard Gadd’s show).

If you are a sketch group, don’t bloody have me sit in a darkened room in Edinburgh watching you being clever in Take 13 of some video you pre-recorded in a London park four months ago. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not going to impress me. If you can’t think of an entertaining way to perform sketches live on stage in a room in Edinburgh, then don’t go up there and go get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket.

If you can’t do 55 minutes of straight-to-the-audience stand-up material then (unless you can make it VERY original and an integral part of the live-to-the-audience act), don’t have video inserts. Just do a bloody stand-up routine entertainingly. Or send a showreel to Netflix or Amazon or BBC3 or put it on YouTube. Don’t inflict it on me, sitting on an uncomfortable chair in some annexe to a church or some student lecture room draped in black curtains in Edinburgh.

I could be watching re-runs of old Tommy Cooper shows instead.

Of course, if you take all the advice above, you will never be nominated for, let alone win, an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality.

Life is a bitch.

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