Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – organising anarchy

ITV’s Tiswas – Good clean family fun

I was a researcher on the final series of anarchic Saturday morning ITV children’s show Tiswas. It had been going for years at the point and everything ran fairly smoothly. It was broadcast live usually for 2-3 hours. I remember at least a couple of the live shows ran for 4 hours. I think the series I worked on ran for 39 weeks of the year. 

Because it was allegedly for young-ish children (and university students) all the items were very short because of their short attention span. The only long items were cartoons (about 7 minutes long) and live pop songs (about 3 minutes).

Everything else tended to be I guess no longer than around 30 seconds. 

On a live TV show – with guests, children, rock bands, cameras and crew in the studio, with anarchy being the format and with water, custard pies, electric cables and people moving all over the place all the time on the studio floor – this was a recipe for disaster.

The trick was to have one meeting early in the week with representatives of all the technical and editorial departments involved to pre-spot potential problems… and an editorial meeting late in the week to iron out the detailed practicalities.

One week, at one of these meetings, the producer lamented that everything ran far too smoothly on-screen. It was an ‘anarchic show’ but so well-planned that nothing ever actually went too wrong. How could we add in some genuinely unplanned chaos?

The answer was, really, that we couldn’t. Because the only way to run anarchy on stage or in a TV studio is to plan it carefully in advance, with fall-back positions, and then fly by the seat of your pants. You plan for as many possible contingencies as you can and then it is easier to cope with the ‘impossible’ things that actually happen on the day.

Which brings us to the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. I used to run them but no longer do – so, when things go wrong, I can comfortably sit back in London and observe from afar.

(L-R) The 2022 ‘Million Quid’, Comic Originality and Cunning Stunt Awards, designed by John Ward

The format is that there are (over the years) 4-6 judges who decide on three Awards – Comic Originality, Cunning Stunt and ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’. In the past, the Short List of nominees was announced around Tuesday of the Fringe’s final week and the Awards were decided by the judges at Friday lunchtime, then announced and presented during a live 2-hour stage show just before midnight in the ballroom of The Counting House venue, which is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

This involved me getting a taxi down to Leith as soon as the winners were decided… to get the names engraved on the three Awards… and rushing down again around teatime to collect them before the evening show. Meanwhile, acts for that night’s show would be dropping out or changing arrival times or causing creative chaos in sundry ways. 

During the show, acts would also not arrive at all or arrive an hour late or whatever. It was like juggling spaghetti. (Another thing I occasionally included in the show.)

Oh the joy of it all…

The ballroom had a 150 seating capacity and we got in trouble one year because too many people had been standing round the edges of the 150 seated audience. The fire regulations did not allow this.

The next year, we had officials counting numbers in and out of the room. With all seats occupied, no-one was allowed in unless someone went out. This meant, if you went out to the toilet, you might not be able to get back in again. I did wonder if some people just ‘did the necessary’ in situ rather than leave. If so, I suspect Malcolm would have approved.

Action-packed Russian Egg Roulette at the 2012 Awards

The live show was a Hardee-esque variety show of bizarre-as-possible comedy acts plus, in later years, a competitive Russian Roulette contest with eggs (organised by the World Egg-Throwing Federation) in which comedians smashed eggs against their forehead in a knock-out contest to find out which was the sole hard-boiled egg. It was messy.

I never booked the nominees or upcoming winners of the Awards to perform in these variety shows in case their acts were so bizarre the audience hated them…

I stopped organising the Awards in 2017 after ten years. 

There were no Awards in 2018 because I couldn’t find anyone to take them over – and nor could a top UK PR who tried to find sponsors for them.

They returned briefly in 2019 organised by the British Comedy Guide and then, of course, Covid hit. So there were no Awards in 2020/2021 although, in 2021, when there was a sort-of Edinburgh Fringe, Will Mars was given a Cunning Stunt Award.

The Awards re-started ‘properly’ this year, with the Edinburgh Fringe re-emerging from Covid.

The winners were due to be announced last night (Friday) during a live show in The Counting House at 11.30pm.

I am totally uninvolved in the Awards now but, as a courtesy, I am kindly kept in the loop by email, so I know roughly what is going on. 

On Thursday evening at 21.28, there was talk of cancelling the Friday show because “it wasn’t felt there were enough original acts here to put on a show and we’ve left it a bit late to organise a good show even if there were… (We) should be sending over the results and pictures that you can use in your blog first thing tomorrow”.

And, indeed, yesterday, Friday, the Counting House show was cancelled and moved to the upper level of former Award-winner Bob Slayer’s Blundabus venue (a double-decker bus), to start after midnight, around 01.00 .

I woke up this morning to an email sent at 02.59 telling me: “The news announcement (of the Award-winners) might be a little delayed… One bit proved quite controversial, so the judges are going to need a chance to decide on the wording first.”

Around 15.10 this afternoon, the Awards were finally announced: 

COMIC ORIGINALITY: The Flop.

CUNNING STUNT: Ivor Dembina & the Edinburgh bin collectors.

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID: Jerry Sadowitz.

The phrase “in light of the present unpleasantness” has been used on Facebook.

At the time of posting this blog, I know no more that you, dear reader.

I suspect more will follow in a further blog… AND IT DOES, HERE


Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005. Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue produced this tribute at the time…

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Bye Bye Baby: Hello thrills and comedy and two new British movie talents…

Recently, for the third year, I sat through (most of) the annual London Film School graduates’ short film screenings.

This year, I saw the best film I have seen in those three years – Bye Bye Baby. It was a joy.

Jessie (left) and Maria in London’s Soho…

So I had a chat with its writer/director – Jessie Barnett – and its co-writer Maria Pawlikowska, who also played the part of Jemima, a pill-popping housewife, in Bye Bye Baby.

Embarrassingly, one of the few films I missed at the screenings was the one Maria had directed – So Far So Good.

I have since seen it.

I was equally impressed.


An appeal for a “coming-of-age bloodbath” on Kickstarter

JOHN: Jessie, I stumbled online on a wonderfully enjoyable Kickstarter appeal for Everyone Wants to Kill Me which was going to be your graduation film. It was billed as “A coming-of-age bloodbath”.

JESSIE: Yes, we changed the idea.

MARIA: Everyone Wants to Kill Me was before my time, but we started working on that script together. Then we gave up because it was such a big number and there were about a hundred extras for this idea.

JESSIE: It became Strawberry Fields after that.

MARIA: …a virgin sacrifice movie.

JOHN: So Bye Bye Love started as a slasher movie, then became a virgin sacrifice movie and then ended as… How do I describe Bye Bye Baby without giving away what happens towards the end? “The heroine goes a bit looney and there’s blood involved”?

JESSIE: She has a quarter-life crisis, I would call it.

JOHN: At the beginning of the film, there is a caption saying it is based on…

JESSIE & MARIA (TOGETHER): …real insecurities.

JESSIE: I’m from North London. The North London bubble. It’s a very high-pressure community. Competitive. Get married young.

MARIA: Keep up with the Joneses.

Bye Bye Baby – billed as “A Killer Party”…

JESSIE: Yes. Keeping up. And I was going through this phase during Covid where I was single and depressed and unemployed and a lot of my best friends were getting married. I was only 24 and they were 24 too and I’d have to constantly go to these stupid ‘bridal showers’ and ‘baby showers’.

JOHN: What’s a bridal shower?

JESSIE: You don’t know? It’s a global thing. They do it in the UK a lot.

JOHN: I’m very old. We didn’t have them in the 19th Century.

JESSIE: I had to leave one because I had a panic attack and I had to go to Maria’s flat and I told her: “I don’t know why I’m reacting like this. It is so ridiculous. But I’m reacting so badly to all of this and I feel so angry.”

JOHN: Ah! I can see the Bye Bye Baby link.

JESSIE: I had been brought up a certain way.

JOHN: What way?

JESSIE: Once you get to 25, then you marry, have a family. I didn’t want that. I had a panic because I felt all my friends didn’t understand me. My friends from the world I had grown up in. I felt they didn’t take me seriously. They are all amazing people and I love them now. But it was just one of those moments: They don’t care what I care about. And it looks like I’m doing something wrong because I don’t want to co-operate. That’s what I felt.

JOHN: Why were they not treating you seriously? Because you were in the Arts and they weren’t?

JESSIE: It was all in my head. You just feel like you’re behind. They’re all getting married and doing all the things we’ve been told are the right way to live your life… I felt a bit lost.

MARIA: That’s how I felt too.

JOHN: But your family is already arty-farty so they must understand you.

MARIA: Well, my dad is a film director, but he is embarrassed about it. Mortified that he’s not a doctor or that I’m not a doctor. It seemed like every day I was told: “How nice it would be if you ended up being a doctor…”

I was supposed to be a doctor.

JESSIE: I guess we wrote the original script sort-of as a joke to let off steam then thought: No! There’s something in this!

JOHN: There’s humour in the film. You have the same sense of humour? 

JESSIE: Yes.

JOHN: Dark humour?

MARIA: Yes.

JOHN: Maria, your own film So Far So Good is a gangstery thing, so it’s necessarily dark.

MARIA: Very dark. It’s funny, but it’s not a comedy. There are some moments.

JOHN: And, Jessie, you’re doing comedy and violence too.

JESSIE: Yes, definitely. I want to definitely focus on that. Definitely, moving forward. Especially comedy.

JOHN: Would you do a comedy-comedy movie?

JESSIE: Maybe. But usually comedy with something else.

JOHN: Are you interested in doing comedy with horror and violence? Or horror and violence with comedy?

JESSIE: Both.

MARIA: Obviously both.

JOHN: And you are interested in…?

MARIA: I’m interested in… I think my stuff is less funny than Jessie’s. I’ve done three and none of them are (pure) comedy.

JESSIE: And a very different type of comedy, I’d say. More nuanced. It’s not in-your-face.

MARIA: Very different from Bye Bye Baby, which was just pushing as far as it would go.

JOHN: Pushing in which way?

JESSIE & MARIA (TOGETHER): To the extreme.

“…with Bye Bye Baby, we did get away with a lot…”

MARIA: Just because you have a good joke doesn’t mean it should go in. Often, joke-joke-joke-joke doesn’t actually amount to a good film. In my stuff, there’s always something else going on, so you have to be very careful with the jokes. Whereas, with Bye Bye Baby, we did get away with a lot.

JESSIE: Yes! Though we did cut a lot of jokes… and we cut out a lot of horror.

“There was much more horror involved…”

There was much more horror involved.

There was this whole scene with the girl who gets her head smashed with a bottle… She wakes up and then there’s this last fight and Rosie finds the e-cigarette and stabs her in the throat with it… Blood everywhere…

And then the woman who owns the home comes back; that was going to be another murder. There was a quick strangle; a quick break-neck.

JOHN: Neither of your films are pure comedy. What’s the quotable synopsis of So Far So Good?

MARIA: It’s about a Bulgarian girl who is hired to honeytrap a juror during a trial and she starts to fall for him and is unsure of what to do. I love film noir and I love femmes fatales and always wanted to do a story from the perspective of a femme fatale. 

There’s a lot of absurdity and humour that comes from this clash of worlds. This very English, sweet software developer who is honeytrapped by this exotic bird.

JOHN: You both always wanted to go into the film industry?

MARIA: Well, I didn’t want to go into the film industry. I was a theatre nut. I was the same as Jessie; a musical theatre freak. I just wanted to go to Jacques Lecoq in Paris and I wanted to sing. I had my band. 

JOHN (TO JESSIE): You were a musical theatre freak?

JESSIE: Very much so. I actually went to the Sylvia Young Theatre School. I wanted to be ‘in the West End’ as a performer but, y’know…

JOHN: Family background in showbiz?

JESSIE: No. I guess my uncle was once an actor.

JOHN: You guess?

JESSIE: He was, but it didn’t go anywhere. He almost made it in New York and then it just got too much, the acting industry.

JOHN: The people?

JESSIE: The people. The environment.

JOHN: Why did you both go to a film school, not just try to get jobs straight into the industry and work your way up?

MARIA: I was already working in the film industry before. I did English Literature at university and then I was working in film for a couple of years as the development executive for a producer. Then I made my first short A Little Death. 

I was born into it. My dad is a film maker: a writer-director. So I tried NOT to make films.

JOHN: Your university was…?

MARIA: Cambridge.

JOHN: You said that with a tinge of embarrassment.

MARIA: Because it’s very embarrassing. I did English and did all the theatre stuff and I was really into it and film happened kind of by accident.

JOHN: You didn’t go into Theatre because…?

MARIA: The thing that I found really difficult about theatre, especially here, is that you really seem to have to have ‘permission’ to do stuff. You can’t just walk into a room and put-on a play. With a film, you can literally just go out and make a film.

JOHN: Can you?

MARIA: If you shoot it on an iPhone.

JOHN: With theatre, surely you can just rent an upstairs room in a pub and put on a play?

MARIA: I suppose. But I think theatre is very cliquey. You need to be in the ‘in crowd’. I just felt alienated from that whole world. At university, obviously, there were a lot of cliques and, let’s say, children of big names. It all felt like a mini-real-world.

JOHN: Were you in The Footlights at Cambridge?

MARIA: I was a Footlights princess.

JOHN: Yer wot?

MARIA: There’s a Footlights panto every year. People take it very seriously. I remember causing a bit of a stir: Who the fuck gave THIS girl a lead roll? 

JOHN: Which panto? 

MARIA: The Princess and The Pea. I was the princess.

JOHN: Who was the pea?

MARIA: It was just a pea.

Cambridge Footlights’ production of The Princess and The Pea

JOHN: So you had a family background in film and, after university, you were IN the film industry… So why the hell did you decide you had to go to a film school?

MARIA: You really have to LEARN how to make films. 

JESSIE: And I felt I needed to learn a lot too. I’d worked on adverts and event videos before film school. I was working as a video editor and just decided I really wanted to make films and I thought: Now’s the time to do it while I’m still young.

MARIA: I’d done costume and running and production assisting and whatnot.

JESSIE: And I felt I needed to learn a lot.

JOHN: Now that’s in the past. You, Jessie, have started Jessie B Films… Is that both of you?

JESSIE: Currently yes.

MARIA: We want to start a company that’s just the two of us, but we need to come up with a name ASAP.

JOHN: ASAP Films. There you are. 10%. Are you actively working on scripts together again?

MARIA: I’ve got this film that I’m obsessed with. There are funny elements, but it’s not a comedy. It’s a horror romance set in Mexico.

JOHN: You should get finance for that. They love a bit of blood in Mexico.

MARIA: Jessie has also come up with this idea for a very morbid rock musical. We are constantly concocting.

JESSIE: Always, always.

MARIA: She needs to write songs. She’s a real songwriter. She wrote all the songs in Bye Bye Baby (except the title song).

JESSIE: They were meant to be trashy pop songs. Not the score. 

MARIA: No. The pop songs that play diegetically in the scenes.

JOHN: Die-a-wot? I should have gone to film school. I feel emasculated.


Jessie Barnett’s current director’s showreel is on Vimeo: 



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Who/Where on Earth reads my blogs?

45 minutes ago, someone asked me if all my blog readers were in the UK, which is an interesting question and the answer is No.

This is often called a “comedy blog” but not by me. I see it as just whatever takes my fancy. I have, in the past, called it a blog mostly but not exclusively “about interesting people doing interesting (often creative) things”.

I am sometimes approached by performers who want a specific comedy show mentioned/plugged… for example at the Edinburgh Fringe or in London.

And I sometimes (not always!) point out that the blogs may be read way after the show has finished and certainly not exclusively in London or Edinburgh or any-pinpoint-where.

If an interview is involved, I record it so that I cannot misquote people. I do make some edits to what people tell me, mostly to clarify what is being said. I take out the umms and erms and general linguistic ramblings which everyone does. Including, very much so, me.

And I try to clarify details for non-UK residents. For example, when “Soho” is mentioned, I usually expand this to “Soho, London” to avoid confusion with Soho in New York.

Most of my readers are in the UK, followed by the USA, then by the native English-speaking countries. There is also a TRANSLATE button on the blog. Who knows what gibberish that may create?

But, as a public service – and as a crass piece of self-promotion – here are four graphics showing where my blogs are read.

The first shows the hits on the blog today… up to 3.00pm… so there are still another nine hours to go in the day.

 

As you can see, most of the hits ARE in the UK, with a strong secondary following in the USA.

The next image shows the hits received in the last seven days:

I find it a tad unsettling that I appear to be read in Russia.

By whom I dare not guess.

The next graphic shows the hits in the last 30 days:

This one is even more worrying because it shows people reading me in China and, as far as I know, all Western blogs are blocked (to ordinary people) in China.

The good news is that I appear not to be read in North Korea.

Finally, a map showing the origin of hits on my blog in the last 12 months.

Clearly I have much work to do in the Faroe Islands, Iran, Yemen, Tajikistan, Honduras, Madagascar and chunks of Africa. I will continue to try to avoid drawing the attention of anyone or, rather, any organisation in North Korea.

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What happened when I produced a Jerry Sadowitz TV comedy special…

WARNING! THERE ARE MULTIPLE USES OF THE ‘F’ WORD AND THE ‘C’ WORD IN THIS PIECE… PROCEED AT YOUR PERIL IF YOU ARE OF A NERVOUS OR EASILY-OFFENDED DISPOSITION… OTHER BLOGS ARE WIDELY AVAILABLE TO READ ELSEWHERE…

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz in September 1990


Yesterday’s blog was an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s 1996 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in which Malcolm recalled being, for a time, Jerry Sadowitz’s manager/agent in the 1980s.

I encountered Jerry through Malcolm during that time and later, in 1990, I produced a couple of TV shows for BSB (the precursor to BSkyB) via Noel Gay Television.

One was Malcolm Hardee: 25 Years in Showbiz, a variety show interspersed with various people, including Jerry, paying tribute to Malcolm.

The other was an episode of Noel Gay’s series The Last Laugh.

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz was recorded to be a 55-minute show though it was later transmitted as a 45-minute show (for general scheduling reasons, not because of content).

BSB had a fairly liberal remit for comedy content. 

Comedians were allowed to swear, within reason, and could use the words ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ if they were an integral and essential component of the routine – ie if removing or changing the words would weaken the gag.

However, as Jerry tended to have a high level of expletives in his act – and, indeed, at one time used to say, with some justification, that “The word ‘cunt’ is a term of affection in Glasgow”, I thought trying to bar him from using the F and the C words altogether would damage the flow of his delivery of the lines.

So I told him in advance something like (I can’t remember the precise words nor the exact number):

“Try not to swear but we can probably cope with a couple of ‘cunts’ and four or five ‘fucks’. We won’t cut them out or bleep them but, if you try not to use them at all then, if a few slip through in the nature of the act… that’s OK.”

Imagine my surprise when he did the whole comedy and magic act, full-on for 55 minutes without a single ‘fuck’ or ‘cunt’. And he was still able to maintain the offensiveness of the act.

There was one, not really surprising, problem though.

During the show, there were two lesbians in the audience whom Jerry spotted and, inevitably, he started making them the butt of some of his material.

Afterwards they made clear to me and others how outraged they had been by all this “offensive” material aimed at them.

I can’t remember whether Jerry was there when they complained or whether I told him afterwards.

But he was, in my opinion, genuinely taken aback that anyone would or could be actually offended and complain about the content of his comedy show. His reaction was – and again I paraphrase here – “But it’s a comedy show!” 

I tend to agree with him. 

(The lesbians were cut out of the transmitted show for flow-of-the-programme reasons, not for offensiveness reasons.)

The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz but without lesbians, for time reasons…

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What UK comedy ‘Godfather’ Malcolm Hardee thought of Jerry Sadowitz…

Jerry Sadowitz’s Edinburgh Fringe show and his upcoming, now fast-selling-out UK tour…

As the Jerry Sadowitz row at the Edinburgh Fringe is still rumbling on (see my previous three blogs), below is an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

Jerry in Malcolm Hardee: 25 Years in Showbiz, a 1990 variety show I produced for Noel Gay TV/BSB

Note: This book was published in 1996 and, despite several heads-ups and complaints over the years, amazon.co.uk still has the book listed with a totally irrelevant description from someone else’s academic book page.

I imagine Malcolm would have approved.

Note also that, at the time the book was written, Jerry had a tendency to randomly bill his name as both Jerry Sadowitz and Gerry Sadowitz.

You can’t keep a good anarchic comedian down.

So, what Malcolm said in his 1996 autobiography…


Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography

The most talented performer who never made it is probably Gerry Sadowitz, because he is a genuinely gifted magician-comedian. I recently read Alexei Sayle quoted as saying he thought Gerry was the only current comic genius.

*** *** ***

The first time I delved into management was with Gerry Sadowitz and, like most managers, I was also his agent, although he did get some bookings from other agents.

I first saw him when he came down to The Tunnel Palladium. His act was brilliant. A breath of fresh air. He just launched into a tirade of abuse.

This was at a time when, to be considered funny,  all an alternative comedian had to do was to say that Mrs Thatcher was horrible and Barry Manilow had a big nose – which is itself a Gerry Sadowitz line. 

Gerry came on stage at the Albany Empire in Deptford, which had an extremely ‘politically correct’ Arts Centre audience. And he started his act with: 

“Nelson Mandela. What a cunt!” 

But you had to realise he was deliberately doing it to upset that particular type of audience. And they WERE upset. He was on for two nights and, on the second night, they picketed the place. It was all water off a duck’s back to Gerry. I never knew if he really meant half of it or not. He is a very complex character, to say the least.

When he’s good he’s very, very good, but he gets black moods. A year ago, I saw him for the first time in ages in a curry house in the East End, which I’d introduced him to years ago. He came in with this woman and just didn’t speak. He looked at me and went: 

“Ugh!”

He just grunted and sat down. Another time he might go: 

“Oh! Malcolm! Hello – How are you?” 

Very strange chap. 

He doesn’t drink.

Sometimes, he’d do a really good show and come off stage in a really horrible black mood. Another time he’d have one of the worst reactions ever and he’d come off and be as happy as anything. I think he hated success, really. I had to almost pull him out of cars onto the stage sometimes. He refused to go on loads of times and his later agents Avalon had the same problem with him. 

Once, in Edinburgh, he was asked to perform five minutes on the Pick of The Fringe programme on BBC TV Scotland. Michael Leggo was directing it. I hadn’t met him since we were childhood neighbours in Lewisham. When I turned up, Arnold Brown was remonstrating with Gerry, who was refusing to go on. We cajoled him and threatened him and, in the end, he agreed to do it only if he could do what he wanted because he was obviously going to be heavily censored. They filmed his act with the Cunts and Fucks and everything in, then edited it with beeps. The result was like watching Gerry Sadowitz but listening to jokes in Morse Code.

The first year I took Gerry up to Edinburgh, his advert in the Fringe Programme was something like: 

GERRY SADOWITZ – GLASWEGIAN COMIC MAGICIAN.

A MAN WHO’S HAD HIS ACT 

COMPLETELY RIPPED-OFF BY BING HITLER.

Bing Hitler was the stage name of Craig Ferguson

Gerry had told everyone about Bing Hitler ripping-off his act and I quite sincerely believed it. 

Craig Ferguson was up there in Edinburgh, being represented by Vivienne Clore, a big high-powered agent who later became my agent. Craig wanted to sue the Fringe Society and Gerry for libel, which meant I was going to be sued because it was me who’d put the advert in. As I dug deeper into it, I couldn’t find one example where Craig Ferguson had actually nicked any line. 

They’d started off at around the same time at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and, at the time, Craig Ferguson was doing witty songs on the guitar. Possibly Craig was influenced by Gerry’s style and started doing things where he said: I hate this… and I hate that…. but that was as near as it got. 

Craig Ferguson had a record out as Bing Hitler and there wasn’t one line of Gerry’s on it. He would have won his case but what was decided in the end was that the Fringe Society fined Gerry and he didn’t get his Fringe Club ticket money, which upset him greatly. I think it would have been about £1,500. 

I arranged a meeting between the two of them at which Craig said he didn’t do it for the money and he agreed to give the money to a charity of Gerry’s choice.

I took Gerry up to the Edinburgh Fringe twice. He’s a Glaswegian, so he hates Edinburgh because of that. Or, at least, he feels and sounds Glaswegian. 

He was actually born in America and has an American passport. His dad was an American who split up from Gerry’s Glaswegian mother. Gerry came over to Glasgow when he was very young and later said he had hardly any schooling because he had a serious medical condition which he insisted was coprophilia. He spent a lot of time in hospital, which is where he started to learn magic. He spends hours and hours perfecting magic tricks. He’s written books on it and writes for a monthly magic magazine about new tricks he’s invented. He’s a very clever bloke. 

He was very difficult to handle but I stayed with him because he was so good and everyone wanted him. There was a point where the phone didn’t stop ringing but a lot of the time he wouldn’t do the work. One day it would be because he wasn’t offered enough money; another day he’d travel the length of the country for next-to-nothing.

It didn’t make any sense. 

Once, before he’d become high-profile, I had a phone call from Sheffield University and they were offering him £300 for a show, which was good in those days. Most comics were going out for £100. He asked if it included travel or accommodation but it was an ‘all-in’ fee and he said: 

“No! I’m not doing it!” 

About two hours later, Sheffield Polytechnic rang up and offered him £200 plus travel and accommodation. In those days, travel and accommodation came to £40-£50. I phoned him and he said: 

“I’ll do it!” 

So he accepted the £240-£250 and turned down the £300. 

The amount of money wasn’t the most important thing. They could have offered him £3,000, I reckon, and he’d have turned it down if it meant he had to get on that train and fork-out money for his own ticket and sort out some accommodation. He had a syndrome where small amounts of money seemed an enormous amount, but enormous amounts didn’t mean anything. 

There was a point in his career where he was earning a lot. He earned £6,000 for one Avalon gig at the Clapham Grand, got paid in cash, was in the car with the bloke from Avalon, driving back and the car broke down. The bloke from Avalon asked Gerry if he’d lend him the £12 cab money to get home and Gerry wouldn’t lend it to him. He had £6,000 in his pocket that the bloke had just given him. But the £12 seemed like a lot of money to Gerry.

One of the unsettling things about him was he didn’t seem to know the difference between night and day and he’d ring me up at 4.00am to say someone had nicked one of his lines. 

He was also a very male-orientated comedian with much of his material being deliberately misogynistic. He once told me he wanted to play to an audience full of men and I said he probably would do if he ended up in Nick. He wanted to fill Wembley Stadium with men. It was just one of his ideas. He also wanted to do a show where the audience didn’t pay to get in: they just all brought him presents. I thought that was quite a good idea.

He was never unbookable in live venues. There were always people willing to book him. But on TV he was said to be unbookable. Eventually, he did get his own TV series, but it didn’t work. The whole thing about Gerry was the shock and the outrage, which you can’t do on TV – not to the level he did on stage.

(…SORT-OF CONTINUED HERE… What happened when I produced The Last Laugh with Jerry Sadowitz, a one-off  TV comedy special…)

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President Obonjo on the Pleasance’s dangerous Edinburgh Fringe decision

Benjamin Bankole Bello, who performs comedy as President Obonjo, is rather concerned by the Pleasance venue’s banning of comedian Jerry Sadowitz’s show at the Edinburgh Fringe…


For well over 11 years I have performed as self-exiled dictator, President Obonjo, living in the UK – bombastic, loud and terrorising the audience – a great conduit for jokes.

The press statement from the Pleasance included this:

“In a  changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged”. 

This has more implications for Character Comedy than Straight Stand Up. There is a difference and I have always believed that, when performing Character Comedy, you can get away with anything you say on stage… and I mean absolutely anything.

Displaying the characteristics of a dictator on stage has been warmly received over the years, The audience automatically assume he is a tribute act of the late Field Marshall Idi Amin. 

They know what to expect once they attend the show. They could end up with their heads in a fridge. They are expecting to be shot for comedy effect

The audience “could end up with their heads in a fridge…”

President Obonjo will never get his knob out to the audience, do racist, sexist or homophobic material. But audiences who come to see him know what to expect.

Dictators use intimidation, terror and the suppression of fundamental civil liberties.

He is likely to bring a gun out and threaten to use it, grab a woman and ‘marry’ her in front of an audience. He may threaten to waterboard an audience if they don’t laugh.  

Audiences have continued to accept this brand of comedy.

This statement from the Pleasance opens a can of worms for character comedy.

Saying something in character that is not in alignment with the organisation’s views could get your show cancelled.

Would President Obonjo survive performing at the Pleasance, if given the opportunity to do so, using the above characteristics? 

In fact, he did perform at the Pleasance as part of a compilation show AAA produced by Bound and Gagged in August 2019.  

The act has taken a new direction since 2019. What he says now is different from what he said in 2019. 

One of the President’s confidants recently said: “I think you need to go darker with your audience. They are  expecting it. You should do it and go darker.”  

I think the West is now so confused about Freedom of Speech, it is clearly exhausted with democracy.

President Obonjo (ironically) is the man to defend freedom of speech.

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“I was at the Jerry Sadowitz show… The Pleasance are just making **** up…”

As an addendum to the blog I posted earlier today about the Jerry Sadowiz/Pleasance venue contretemps at the Edinburgh Fringe…

My eagle-eyed, eternally-un-named friend has spotted a Tweet posted yesterday.

I cannot guarantee it is genuine, but I have no reason to suppose it is not…

I have put asterisks in the title in case anyone feels scared by words…


So, I was at the Jerry Sadowitz show last night at #edfringe and it was fucking hilarous. There was not a single walk out I saw, people laughed, and honestly what the fuck did you expect booking him @ThePleasance? He did what he does. If you are cancelling this you are fucked.

In case anyone thinks I’m bullshitting here is my booking. 

I have honestly never seen the left and right of Twitter united like this. Fuck you @ThePleasance. What he did was his act. That’s it. I understand he’s a thoroughly nice bloke away from his stage persona too.

Can confirm he did get his willy out, for anyone wondering. How many other festival shows have penises in them? Loads.

He’s also, by the way, one of the best magicians I have seen.

The comments by @ThePleasance about the walkouts are just completely fabricated btw. Neither my partner or I saw a single walk out, indeed we both commented on it after the show. 

The Pleasance are just making shit up to justify what they did.

I’m on the left btw, Jerry Sadowitz does not want to become a poster boy for the right, he’s said so publicly in the past. Anyone who thinks he’s a right winger is in for a shock – expect to face tirades aimed at you and your views/beliefs if you go see him live.

Everyone is a target. That’s the point.

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Jerry Sadowitz, “freedom of speech” and The Pleasance paving the Road to Hell…

(WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS AT LEAST ONE OFFENSIVE WORD; DON’T READ FURTHER IF IT IS GOING TO SCARE YOU)

Jerry Sadowitz’s 1987 album Gobshite

The aftershock of The Pleasance venue cancelling the second of Jerry Sadowitz’s two comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe rumbles on.

Yesterday’s blog was a transcript of what I said in an interview with LBC Radio yesterday morning.

As a reminder, the venue’s jaw-dropping Doublethink ‘explanation’ for cancelling Sadowitz’s show was:

“The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material… the material presented at his (Jerry Sadowitz’s) first show is not acceptable… This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.”

After criticism, the venue has now issued a second carefully-worded (I emphasise carefully-worded) statement including the frankly chilling: 

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

I have italicised “whether performed in character or not”.

As people who have actually seen Jerry Sadowitz shows over the last 30 years know (as opposed to those who have not seen the act) his confrontational delivery sets out to affront. It is clear he is being offensive as an act, for an effect.

He used to open his shows with: “Nelson Mandela – What a cunt!” presumably just to set the tone while the esteemed Mr Mandela was alive.

The Pleasance knew that Jerry Sadowitz’s act was – and would be – confrontational and intentionally offensive. Always has been. Indeed, it was advertised by Jerry and by The Pleasance as such. And they have staged his shows before. 

The Pleasance stages theatrical performances as well as comedy.

To repeat with additional italicisation:

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

This means – and, yes, it can only logically mean – that character comedy such as Al Murray’s comic creation The Pub Landlord and Steve Coogan’s Alan Partridge character should not be allowed to express their ‘unacceptable’ stories and views.

Both on-stage/screen characters often express views which are not the performer’s. Jerry Sadowitz’s on-stage performances – though more extreme – also include views which are equally and clearly not his own. 

First they came for the words and I said nothing; then they came for the stories and I said nothing; then they came for the thoughts and I could say nothing. 

“…stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged…” 

Vast swathes of British drama would presumably be deemed unacceptable because to express offensiveness would itself be unacceptable, even if the offensiveness expressed was by a character. That’s the end of parody, satire and irony, then. Context becomes irrelevant.

A drama – or indeed a comedy – about Hitler would not and should not be allowed to include the character of Hitler expressing any racist views. So Hitler’s thoughts and beliefs could not be shown to be vile because the thoughts and the expression of those thoughts would be in themselves too offensive to utter.

Last night on GBNews, Andrew Doyle’s Free Speech Nation, with comics Leo Kearse and Josh Howie, discussed The Pleasance’s first steps on the Road to Hell.

Andrew Doyle is a former writer for the comedic Jonathan Pie character.

Someone I know tells me they won’t watch this clip because they won’t watch (their words) “right wing” GBNews.

For those who won’t watch the nationally-transmitted GBNews, at one point Andrew Doyle, who is gay, says: 

“There’s always something in a Jerry Sadowitz show that makes you think: That’s too far! He couldn’t possibly have just said that!

“And that’s the point. That’s the context.

“I remember sitting there watching him do this TEN MINUTE rant about the evils of homosexuals and the disgusting things that they get up to behind closed doors and it was hilarious and (in theory) so offensive to people like me.

“He’s also incredibly anti-Semitic. He’s Jewish!

“That should give you a clue about what he’s doing there…”

Later, Doyle says:

“I heard, by the way, that the complaints mostly came from members of staff at the venue.”

I have no way of knowing if that’s true but, according to the BBC, The Pleasance said that “unacceptable abuse” was later directed towards some staff on Saturday from people phoning to criticise the cancellation.

Some members of the public complained about the show, so it was cancelled…

Some members of the public complained about the show being cancelled, so did The Pleasance bow to their individual views? No.

Presumably The Pleasance places more importance on the opinions of their temporary staff on the night and after the night than on the reportedly 600 punters who chose to pay to attend and see the show, which had up-front warnings from both The Pleasance and Sadowitz about it being offensive.

Incidentally, the show was titled: Not For Anyone

Yesterday, Jerry Sadowitz put a video online promoting his upcoming comedy tour…

…and he also Tweeted, via @RealJSadowitz, a comment on The Pleasance’s actions.

“The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material… the material presented at his first show is not acceptable…”

“In a changing world, stories and language that were once accepted on stage, whether performed in character or not, need to be challenged.”

First they came for the words and I said nothing; then they came for the thoughts and I could say nothing.

The road to Hell is paved with right-on thoughts…

Next step: the book burnings.

(…THERE IS AN ADDENDUM TO THIS BLOG HERE…)

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What I told LBC Radio about Jerry Sadowitz’s Fringe show being cancelled

Andrew Castle on LBC

I was interviewed by Andrew Castle on his LBC radio show this morning.

It followed the Pleasance venue at the Edinburgh Fringe cancelling Jerry Sadowitz’s comedy show.

On the same day that Salman Rushdie was stabbed in the US for writing something which some people found offensive, Anthony Alderson of the Pleasance (normally a logical man) issued a statement saying surreally:

“The Pleasance is a venue that champions freedom of speech and we do not censor comedians’ material… the material presented at his (Jerry Sadowitz’s) first show is not acceptable… This type of material has no place on the festival and the Pleasance will not be presenting his second and final show.”

The Pleasance had no inkling that Jerry Sadowitz might be offensive…

My reaction on air was:


Well, I think he should do a comedy show based on that. shouldn’t he?

The story is that Jerry was offensive. I mean, Jerry has been doing offensive material for 30 years – 40 years? – and the Pleasance have been going for about 30 years. The Pleasance and Jerry have been going for about the same amount of time.

He is famous for being offensive. That’s why you book him in. That’s why the Pleasance booked him in, presumably – that he would be offensive. That’s his schtick. 

So, if he’s NOT offensive, people will complain. But now, because some people complained about him being offensive – despite the fact he was clearly flagged as being offensive – the Pleasance appears to be committing professional suicide.

Interestingly, they say it’s the material. Apparently he showed his willy to the front row. But they didn’t find that offensive; they found the MATERIAL offensive. 

The whole point about Jerry Sadowitz is “He’s offensive!” That’s it.

It’s a sort of doublethink from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

“We support comedy”… Well, clearly not.

Most comedy really has to be offensive in some way – or it has to be surprising. The whole point is a ‘punchline’ at the end. And a punchline is something you don’t expect, coming out of nowhere.

One of the best ways to come out of nowhere with a punchline is to do something that’s ‘offensive’. Frankie Boyle does it all the time. Bernard Manning used to do it to mainstream audiences. Bernard Manning is a great example.

I saw Bernard Manning at his own club twice and he had four-letter words all over the first half and then he stopped. They weren’t in the second half. 

I thought: This is strange. Then I realised, in fact, he was being offensive to his very mainstream, middle-of-the-road audience in the first half but, having established that he was offensive, he didn’t have to do it any more. (They came to be offended.)

If you go to a Sadowitz show, you want to be offended.

There are no rules in comedy, really. People say you can’t make rape jokes. You can’t make jokes about rape. Generally, that’s true. But I have seen very funny rape jokes – But they’re not really about rape, they’re about…

I mean, Janey Godley, the Glaswegian comedian, had problems recently: being Cancelled. She put on Jerry Sadowitz’s first stand-up show in her pub. She did a show in Edinburgh – and wrote her autobiography about – being raped when she was a child, I think from about 5 to about 12.

And people laughed in the Edinburgh show. They didn’t laugh AT it. (They laughed WITH it.) She made the jokes against the rapist and she made the audience laugh despite the fact it was an ‘unacceptable’ subject.

You can make a joke about an unacceptable subject if you do it in the right way.

You have to be a very good comedian, as Sadowitz – and Janey – are.


MORE HERE

…and, coincidentally, Jerry Sadowitz also cropped up in a blog of mine in March this year

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Phil Jarvis of Consignia’s alternative review of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe

“If you like fat blokes sweating, futuristic, nihilistic storylines, confusion… and a LOT…”

I blogged about the commendably eccentric Consignia comedy group at the beginning of last week.

They are currently at the Edinburgh Fringe

Their penultimate show is tonight; their run finishes tomorrow.

Yesterday morning,The Scotsman gave their show The Flatterers a 4-star review.

Critic Kate Copstick’s piece included: “I won’t understand Consignia. I never understand Consignia. I suspect that they, themselves, don’t understand Consignia. But some things are just not meant to be understood… 

Phil, an otherwise amiable and admirable chap

Consignia fans will be surprised at the use of an unexpected joke at one point, but, as usual, if you like fat blokes sweating, futuristic, nihilistic storylines, confusion, repetition and a LOT of poo, then this is undoubtedly the show for you.”

I thought it would be interesting for Consignia’s main begetter Phil Jarvis to write a review of his time at the Fringe this year. 

The result is below. 

The neglected brutalism of Glasgow’s Savoy Shopping Mall…

I should warn you in advance that Phil – an otherwise amiable and admirable chap – has an unfathomable adoration of brutalist architecture…


Edinburgh in the sunshine makes the city exceedingly beautiful, if that was even possible. However, I started off in Glasgow, enjoying the neglected brutalism of the Savoy Shopping Mall, which I give 10/10

At-swim comics Caitriona Dowden and Nate Kitch

Eventually, I make my way to Edinburgh, where I watch three afternoons in a row of Nate Kitch and Caitriona Dowden’s double bill, At-Swim-Two-Birds but it’s Two Comics called Nate Kitch and Caitriona Dowden at BrewDog (The Garage)… enjoying the masterful storytelling and deadpan delivery of Caitriona’s set and Nate’s commitment to pushing his ideas to unexpected outcomes. 10/10

Some of what surreal Alwin Solanky left behind in Uganda…

Alwin Solanky’s monologue at the Omni Centre – about his personal experiences as a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda – What You Leave Behind makes me cry each time I’ve seen it.

This is a show that deserves to be snapped up by arts theatres across the land, detailing the social relations of living in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s as a refugee, told through well-crafted vignettes and the approachable surrealism I have come to expect from Alwin. 10/10

Sisyphean Mark Dean Quinn really did have a stroke

Mark Dean Quinn’s show Mark Dean Quinn: Has a Stroke but at Least He Got a Show Out of It at the Revolution Bar is different each evening. The first set I see ends with a visibly distressed Mark. I overhear some audience members asking afterwards if that was real. Oh yes, all too real.

The next time I see the show, Mark puts himself and the audience through even more of an endurance test with a flip chart. I count only one walk out: a real feat considering Mark is possibly the most experimental comedian in the UK devoted to a Sisyphean struggle. 10/10

Bleeding Baby Train psychedelia with Rob Duncan

The Omni Centre venue has wonderfully put together performance spaces with stages, with an unfortunate consequence of sound bleeding from one show into another. This makes for an interesting experience. 

Within this sound collage, I watch Rob Duncan’s Baby Trains which delivers the goods on a segue, a functioning train set prop in his hands, taking the audience on a journey of being a CEO and a teacher. Perfect psychedelia for my sunburnt scalp. 10/10

Ceci n’est pas un cheval… C’est un spectacle.

Also at the Omni Centre, I zoned out a bit to Soliloquy of a Horse, but my headspace was probably on the right planet for this tale of misadventure and redemption, performed in a stripped-back, low-fi aesthetic with no props, apart from a chair in the middle.

Perfect ground to just let your imagination run wild conjuring up the visions the storytelling leads you on. 10/10

I show my pal from Consignia, Nathan “Wilco” Willcock, the Basil Spence designed Canongate building (10/10), with the concrete fire exit taking our senses to a state of transcendence. 

4-star Jarvis (L) plays it cool with Willcock…

On this high, we find out Kate Copstick has given our show a 4-star review in The Scotsman. Wilco is desperate to find a copy of The Scotsman. I just play it cool but, secretly, I’m happy.

As it turns out, the gig we do that evening is the worst it’s been the whole run. The costumes Nathan and I wear are now drenched in the fat man sweat we have unleashed over the run so far and humming hard. Nathan performs with minimal energy and I flounder not knowing how to riff off it. 0/10

I bury my sorrows by paying an overpriced £7.50 for chips, cheese and curry sauce, lathered in brown sauce (10/10) on the walk back to the digs. 

St Andrew’s House: creates ecstasy for two (Photo by Daboss)

The next day, to rejuvenate ourselves, a trip up to Carlton Hill has Nathan and me ecstatic at the sight of the Art Deco St Andrew’s House (10/10).

We climb up the steps to Carlton Hill and Nathan is disgusted at the sight, in the distance, of a shopping mall that now looks like a Mr Whippy style turd (1/10)

Still, Edinburgh is pretty beautiful in the sun.


Consignia’s latest and possibly last ever show The Flatterers 

Consignia’s latest and possibly last ever show The Flatterers ends tomorrow.

Sometime during that theatrical experience at the Banshee Labyrinth, they will also be giving out their Gareth Morinan Alternative New Act Of The Year Award.

I  realise none of this venue information is of any practical use to my long-suffering reader in far-off Guatemala nor for anyone reading this three years hence, but I feel obliged to share it for completism’s sake.

 

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