Tag Archives: agent

How Doug Segal changed his image from top corporate advertising agency man to successful comedy mind reader

Changing his image - Doug Segal in 2008 (left) and in2011

To help change his image, Doug Segal lost 8 stone in weight

This Saturday is Star Wars Day – May The Fourth be with you – and I am probably going to Stowmarket in Suffolk to see two early Edinburgh Fringe previews – by comedian Juliette Burton and mind-reader Doug Segal.

Both are also performing their shows at the Brighton Fringe next month.

Whether I go to Stowmarket or not depends on the carpet man from John Lewis. Trust me. You do not want to know.

But I had a chat with Doug Segal in case I do not go.

Yesterday, he told me: “Stowmarket will be the first time I’ve ever done an actual ‘preview’ as opposed to a fully-honed show, so I’m packing extra trousers! I’ve already identified a bunch of major changes I’ll be making between this weekend and Brighton – but I’m leaving them in because I want to work on other stuff and I need to try that in front of a real audience.

“The new show is called I Can Make You a Mentalist and premieres properly on 24th and 25th in Brighton, then there are about ten dates around the country, then it runs at the Gilded Balloon throughout the Edinburgh Fringe in August and it tours the country in Spring next year.”

Doug is very successful but does not have an agent.

“I’m really struggling to get an agent,” he told me.

“But you have bookings coming out of your ears!” I said, surprised. We were talking in London at lunchtime; he was on his way to Brighton to play a corporate afternoon show, then he was returning to London in the evening to play another big gig.

“I’m playing big venues,” agreed Doug. “I played York Theatre Royal two weeks ago. It’s frustrating. I’ve got 15% of an on-going business that I’m desperate to give away.

Wrestling with the problem of agents who cannot categorise him

Agents’ problem with Doug’s act is they cannot categorise it

“Agents come along and say: I absolutely love what you do!

“Then they have a little think: Oh! I can’t just put it into the machine, crank the handles and it’ll fall into the normal places. I’ll have to actually think about it.

“Then all of them tell me the same thing: We adore what you do! Amazing! But it’s a lot of work for us at the moment and we’re not sure we’ve got the manpower.

“And I think: Well, I’m managing it AND doing the act, so why can’t you?”

Perhaps that might be because Doug is a better salesman than most agents.

He started off selling space to advertisers in the Today newspaper, the Daily Telegraph and the Evening Standard.

“I left advertising and did corporate after-dinner mind-reading shows for about six years,” he told me. “Then I went off and started a second career doing stand-up comedy and got to the point where I was getting regular paid middle-of-the-bills and the odd paid opener. And then I quit… because the whole point was learn how to make my act funny. So then I had a comedy mentalism act and started doing public shows and that took off beyond my expectations.”

“What first interested you in mind reading?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “I used to fanny around when I was doing psychology at London University – Birkbeck College – I started doing party pieces. I usually tell people I was taking hard science and perverting it for tawdry entertainment. I also did some acting with a theatre company and I’d been in bands in my teens – from 14 to 19. We supported some decent bands.”

Who knows what is going on here?

Mind reading? Who knows what is going on?

“So you had a desperate urge to be famous,” I said.

“I had that once,” said Doug. “Now I just want to make a decent living performing. I think Stewart Lee’s model is you want 10,000 people who are prepared, each year, to pay you £15 to come and see a new show.

“So I only want sufficient fame to make that happen. I would hate the level of fame where your life becomes a pantomime played out on the public stage. That would be horrific; I genuinely don’t want that.

“What happened was I had a son really, really young and needed to provide for my family and needed to get a sensible career, so I sold advertising space for newspapers and worked for an advertising agency. I learnt about persuasion, extended my repertoire of party pieces and then I had a client who bullied me into doing a show for a car manufacturer’s conference.

“It went down really well and I thought I could give this a go! I miss being on stage: I’ll give it a shot! And I sold out the Baron’s Court Theatre for two weeks and then things escalated from there.

“I was at quite a senior level in advertising when I left. I was on the board of a major agency: the third biggest agency in the UK at the time. I was one of the first people in Britain to spend money on posters in toilets. And I was one of the ad agency people developing all these LED sites you see on the roadside and in the underground.”

A sophisticated act, Doug never resorts to know gags

Off stage, Doug is an art connoisseur

“Can I say in my blog that you were very big in toilets?” I asked.

“Only in the context of posters,” replied Doug.

“What are you going to be doing in ten years time?”

“I have no idea. What I wanted to do when I left the corporate world was to effectively have an early semi-retirement. The principle was: Don’t work very often but charge an obscene amount of money when you do. That model worked right up to the Recession.

“Then my wife told me: You need to do a tour. I said No, self-funded public tours lose money. So she said: You should do the Edinburgh Fringe. I said: Absolutely not. It’s a money pit. But she talked me into it and it went really well.

“That first year – 2011 – I did ten days on the Free Fringe, picked up ten 4 and 5 star reviews and, after accommodation costs, made £350.

“Last year, I played the Gilded Balloon and the average loss you make at a paid venue is something like £8,000… But, after taking into account accommodation and everything, I only lost £102 over the full run and that was only because I had a bloody expensive screen and TV camera. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have made a decent profit.”

“So this new show…” I said. “You do a mind-reading act… Mind-reading is mind-reading. Basically, it’s the same as your previous shows. It’s the same old – highly successful – tosh.”

“No,” said Doug laughing, “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the same old tosh. I’ve really ramped-up the comedy angle and there is a storyline. Things happen dramatically through the show. I don’t just move from one thing to another. There are ‘events’ within the show.

“It’s always been a comedy mind-reading show – there are gags and stuff – but, as well as that, there’s now sketch comedy, animation and music. The sketches I’ve co-written with James Hamilton of Casual Violence and Guy Kelly from the Beta Males.”

“Good grief,” I said.

“This year’s show,” explains Doug, “starts with a random audience member being chosen and then they do the show. They do all of the tricks in the show. I have this enormous machine on stage called the Brainmatiser 3000. It’s like my TARDIS, I guess. Stuff happens. The narrative of the show gets taken off-track. Unexpected events happen and then get resolved. Lots of physical comedy.”

“But you’re screwed on TV,” I said, “because there’s only room for one mentalist act at any one time on TV and Derren Brown is already there.”

“What I really want,” said Doug, “is for people to come out of my stage show this year and say I have really no idea what that show was. This year’s show is a Fast Show type comedy with mentalism plus a storyline running through. That’s something different. You could put that on screen and it would not be the Derren Brown show.”

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Money in comedy: Mr Methane’s problem; critic Kate Copstick’s rant

mrmethanebendsYesterday, I blogged about a discussion at Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival about whether the future of British comedy lies online instead of in live comedy clubs.

After he read my blog, Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing flatulist – he’s farted around the showbiz world for years – told me this:

_______________________________

I think its already happening, at least in the case of acts like mine.

People no longer have to go out to see some weird stuff anymore. They get sent it over the net by their mates seven days of the week and so, when they go out, they don’t go out to see something bizarre or different. Also the smoking ban has played its part as has the price of beer compared to Bargain Booze & Aldi for example.

All in all, people who want to see bizarre stuff nowadays are used to getting it for free on YouTube and the like: they don’t want to pay for it.

This means I get more exposure than I’ve ever had in the 23 years I’ve been farting around – just one YouTube vid of me has over 28 million views – but it doesn’t translate into more paid gigs.

If anything, it is a declining scale and you have to look to other revenue streams and opportunities the net presents which, when you’re not a Freemason or related to someone high up in the BBC, requires all your ingenuity and a good dose of good luck – This you can only make by doing even more free, web-based, social media publicity.

Possibly I and others like me are in a slow downward spiral. But, all this said, now I’ve had a moan, these are potentially more exciting times – or is that just another word for changing times? Either way, what is happening is a doubled-edged sword.

With regard to the Comedy Store Raw & Uncut film… Remember what happened to the acts that were on The Comedians on ITV. Big exposure but, when they came to do their next gig at a working men’s club, the audience had already seen their act.

The saying Swings & Roundabouts comes to mind.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

davesleicester_logoMaking money from a comedy act was also something discussed by the panel yesterday at Dave’s Comedy Festival (Dave being the TV channel which sponsors the festival).

“I think something ghastly and toxic happened round about the early to mid 2000s,” said comedy critic Kate Copstick.

“In the 1990s, there really wasn’t very much available for comics on television. So, before they all hurtled lemming-like to the nearest 12-year-old commissioning editor with half a Media Studies degree from a jumped-up Polytechnic, they at least had a chance to develop who they were and they had something to sell.

“Then we got the industrialisation of comedy which happened in the 2000s. All of a sudden there were more TV channels and…”

“There were more opportunities,” interrupted Nica Burns, organiser of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. “There were more opportunities for comedians to get on television. There were all these channels and comedy is very cheap. A half hour of stand-up comedy is much cheaper than a half hour of sitcom and a fraction of the cost of an hour of drama. And that is the critical thing because underlying all this is money. They needed to fill up their hours, comedy was a very cheap way of doing it and the comedians were desperate to get a wider audience.”

“It took a long time for that to come around,” said Kate Copstick, “and, in one way it was wonderful when it did. I produced a TV show called The Warehouse and comics were gagging then to get a chance to do stand-up. There were very few places to go on television. Tiny bits-and-bobs. And then, all-of-a-sudden, there was a rush. It think it was something to do with (agent/management companies) Avalon and Off The Kerb not only having a foothold as managers but also as producers.”

“There were a lot of things coming together,” agreed Nica Burns, “in terms of the growth of managers who had career visions for their clients.”

“And none of that,” said Kate Copstick, “was bad until it all kind of turned toxic. Comedy is not a nice business and it’s not got nice people in it. Really, genuinely nice people don’t go into comedy. Comedy always had a career ladder. Now it’s got a bloody express elevator.

“Like I’m 18-year-old. I’m a student comic. I look right. I sound right. I’m fucking lucky. I’m possibly connected. Look! I’ve got five minutes. Good grief – I’ve won a student comedy competition! Crikey – now I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe! Woo – now someone’s picked me up and stuck me on a Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Great! Now I’m back with my own one-hour show with a strap on the poster that says STAR OF the Stand-Up For The Pointless Pre-Written Gag of The Month TV show. Now I’ve won the Best Newcomer or the Panel prize because nobody can think of anybody else to give it to. Next thing you know, I’ve done five heavily-edited minutes of Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and now I’ve got my own telly series!… and I didn’t ever actually want to be a stand-up comic. I just wanted to be rich and famous and wey-hey! Thanks to luck, ego and Addison Cresswell (of Off The Kerb) and lots of stupid audiences out there, now I am!

“What then happens is that the decent stand-up comics, the ones who do want to be stand-up comics and who want to play the clubs, aren’t getting audiences, because the audiences only go – like a comedic Pavlov’s dog – where there’s a TV sticker on the poster… STAR OF MUFFIN THE COMEDY MULE – Oh wow! That must be good!

“I could shit into a bag and, if some high-powered PR person stuck an As Seen on Mock The Week sticker on it, people would come and see it. They genuinely would! This is not good for comedy.”

(A slightly edited podcast of the panel session is on the Demon FM website.)

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Comedian Martin Soan breaks a rib in bicycle accident and loses his main act

Martin Soan yesterday with unexplained moustache

Martin Soan yesterday with moustache

Yesterday, my eternally-un-named friend and I went to spend Boxing Day at Martin & Vivienne Soan’s home. They run their Pull The Other One comedy club at two venues every month in South London.

I did not know that, four days before, Martin had broken a rib in a bicycle accident and also had a broken leg.

The broken leg was the leg of his spectacles.

The rib was his own. He was in a lot of pain and, since the accident, he has had to sleep overnight sitting upright in a chair because he cannot lie flat on a bed.

He also wore an unexplained false moustache.

“Have you had an X-ray?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“I will have one when I feel better,” he replied.

“Don’t you think there’s a logical flaw in that reasoning?” I asked.

“No,” he told me.

“But you have a broken rib,” I said.

“I know,” he replied.

“How did it happen?” I asked.

“I went arse-over-tit over the handlebars,” Martin explained. “I was on a lovely bike and was drifting from lane to lane at three o’clock in the morning, coming down to the north west corner of Peckham Rye Park.”

“You were coming down a steep road,” said Vivienne, “and I bet you had not had to push a pedal. I reckon you went down the hill and, because there was no traffic, you had a straight run and you would’ve been seeing how far you could get without pushing a pedal”

“Probably,” said Martin, “I went up a couple of pavements, just because I wanted to glide, and I went up this one and it had a nobbled surface for blind people…”

“And that’s what caused it?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin.

“There was a blind person and you ran over the blind person?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “I just carried straight on, but they had nobbled the piece of kerb. And they’d also cut into the kerb to give access for wheelchairs. The edge of the other kerb was about six inches straight up vertically. I went into it. Didn’t even see it. I went straight off. Projectile. The bike stayed where it was. I went straight over the handlebars. I landed on my front with the side of my head on the ground and I must have been knocked-out for a little bit.

“I was in a big puffer jacket and there was no-one else about and I could hear myself going: Ah! No no no no! Alright. OK OK. Aaaaaahhh! No. I remember doing all that nutty trauma talk. You’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna be alright. You’re gonna be alright. Breathe breathe breathe. Where’s the cameras? Why am I talking about cameras? Help me help me help me.

“I managed to roll over and there were some railings. I pulled myself up and banged the side of my face. I had landed on my rib cage. I could hear myself say: I’m standing. I’m standing. The bike’s there. The bike’s there. You’re gonna be alright. But it’s going to be tough,” said Martin, “because I can’t do any lifting.”

“And you’ve got a Pull The Other One show this Friday…” I said.

“Me and Vivienne,” said Martin, “decided we’d spend these two days not talking about it.”

I looked on the wall where future Pull The Other One shows and acts were listed on a whiteboard.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, at least you’ve got Aaaaa Bbbbb on 11th January . He’s good.”

“He’s let us down,” Martin said.

“We don’t normally book people through agents,” explained Vivienne. “We do it through our contacts. But, after Eddie Izzard performed at Pull The Other One, we suddenly got loads of e-mails from agents saying Oooh! Maybe you’d like to book this comic or that comic. So we booked Ccccc Ddddd through an agent and he let us down after we’d done all the publicity.”

“Ccccc Ddddd let us down,” said Martin. “But who did we get to fill-in for him at the last moment? Omid Djalili. And he filled the whole club on word-of-mouth.”

“So that was great,” said Vivienne. “We got Omid. But Ccccc Ddddd letting us down was not funny, really. We managed to get Omid on the printed bill, but this time with Aaaaa Bbbbb it’s too close. The second time we booked a comedian through an agent was Aaaaa Bbbbb who has now let us down and we’re desperately looking round for somebody who can fill the club on a word-of-mouth on 11th January. We haven’t got the money to spend on reprinting the posters and flyers because we’ve already spent it on printing the posters and flyers which are now wrong.

“How can we ever trust an agent?” she continued. “If you go to an agent – as we did – and you say Here’s the publicity. Are there any glaring mistakes here before we go to print? and they say No, absolutely perfect. And we send another e-mail saying So Aaaaa Bbbbb is definitely booked for 11th January? And they tell us Yes. And then you send one more e-mail saying Are you sure? Because rumour has it he’s booked for another comedy gig…? And they reply No, no. He’s definitely on at your club. And then, because we do not want to be left at the last, last minute, we say Actually, we know he’s doing a specific gig we know about and the agent goes Oops! Yes. Sorry. So that’s an agent. So what’s the point? Aaaaa Bbbbb blames his agent; his agent blames him.”

“What can you expect?” said Martin. “The word ‘agent’ is a derogatory term – estate agent, publicity agent. Then there’s…”

“What about that story you refused to tell me a couple of weeks ago?” I asked Martin. “The one about the NHS. The Social Structure is Alive and Well in the NHS.”

“You’re never going to get it,” Martin said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because you’re recording me. I won’t get it perfect if you record me and there’s no point if I don’t get it perfect.”

“It was about exploratory anal surgery, wasn’t it?” I asked.

“How is your moustache held on under your nose?” my eternally-un-named friend asked Martin. “Is it with Sellotape?”

“Double-sided tape,” he told her.

“So why won’t you tell me?” I asked Martin.

“Because being recorded is…” he said, “If I say it and it’s recorded, it’ll sound like I’ve made it up. But it’s true… It actually happened to me.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“You’re recording it…” said Martin.

“I was creasing up this morning,” said my eternally-un-named friend, “at John’s blog about how he likes to be depressed at Christmas and…”

“A mis-representation,” I interrupted.

“…then he turns his iPhone on because I’m laughing my head off at it…”

“It wasn’t meant to be funny!” I pleaded.

“…and then,” my eternally-un-named friend continued, “I couldn’t quite laugh as naturally as…”

“You were laughing like a comedy drain,” I told her.

“So what was your…” my eternally-un-named friend asked Martin. “I’ve forgotten what it was… It was a National Health story?”

“I was in a situation,” said Martin, “where they had to put us out. A general anaesthetic. You were taken off to the theatre and knocked out and came to and…”

“So how could you remember anything that happened,” asked my eternally-un-named friend, “if you were unconscious?”

“No,” said Martin, “it happened before.”

“What? What?” urged my eternally-un-named friend.

“There were three guys in there,” Martin explained. “One was a Jamaican. One was me. And the third one was a rather suave and well-to-do man… We were all in cubicles and had surgical gowns on…”

“And?” I asked.

“And I’m not going to tell you,” said Martin. “I am not going to tell you.”

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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The scams of Malcolm Hardee

Brian Mulligan, of late lamented comedy/music duo Skint Video, read my blog yesterday about the always financially creative Malcolm Hardee, who used to be their agent. He tells me it brought back fond memories of Malcolm “telling venues when they paid us cash that they needed to give us the VAT at 15% – he would say he had forgotten the invoice but would write one out there and then.”

As he was not actually registered for VAT and not entitled to collect it, he used to write down a friend’s telephone number as the VAT number, thus getting an extra 15% on top of the fee, which he then pocketed as well as his agent’s fee.

This was one of the many fine pieces of lateral thinking that Malcolm became known for.

When, on one occasion, he had to send his driving licence to the DVLA in Swansea (one of many, many occasions) they sent him back a new licence in the name of “Malcolm Hardy”. He pointed out the spelling mistake to them and they sent him another licence with the correct spelling “Malcolm Hardee”. But he never returned the first licence. This meant he had two driving licences so, if he was banned from driving and his licence suspended for some dubious motoring offence or offences, he still had what he reckoned was a ‘valid’ licence he could show to police if stopped again – the ‘other’ licence.

When Malcolm’s brother Alex was sorting out paperwork after his untimely death, Malcolm’s phone rang: it was the Inland Revenue rather optimistically asking when Malcolm was going to settle his tax bill. Alex told the taxman that, sadly, Malcolm had died. Their response was:

“You told us that last year, Mr Hardee…”

You can hear Malcolm’s son Frank telling similar stories at Malcolm’s legendary 2005 funeral HERE. If you listen to this, remember that it takes place in a church at a funeral not, as it may sound, at a stand-up comedy club…

(In August this year, the Edinburgh Fringe will include a week of events celebrating the spirit of Malcolm Hardee.)

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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He’s a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character – long may he continue to rip us all off

A while ago, I wrote a blog which answered nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Answer 6 delved briefly into the murky waters of dodgy agents/managers/promoters who rip off their own acts.

But there are some people who try to rip you off so endearingly that you can’t help but like them.

A few weeks ago, writer Mark Kelly, who used to perform stand-up as Mr Nasty, told me about playing three consecutive nights at one of the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. Each night, Malcolm tried to pay Mark less than he agreed by pretending he had forgotten how much he had agreed or pretending they had agreed a different sum and, each night, Mark ‘reprimanded’ him and had to go through hoops to get his money. It was like a game. Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm knew Mark knew Malcolm was trying to rip him off. But Malcolm almost felt obliged to play this Jack The Lad figure because it was part of the persona he had intentionally built up over the years. When he died, people joked – actually laughed – about the amount of money he owed to each of them. They enjoyed having been part of his games.

I was reminded of this by an e-mail from Mr Methane late last night: he is still away from home farting around the world. The name of the agent in this message has been changed. Any similarity to any agent with access to libel lawyers is unintentional and purely coincidental.

Mr Methane told me:

“I just bumped into our old friend Lobby Lud, he still talks me up despite not putting a booking my way since about 1994 when I started asking for a decent cut of the fees he was charging. I remember arriving in Baden Baden by limo from Frankfurt airport with Lobby one time to meet a producer and Lobby said, Let me do the talking…

“Before I knew it, I apparently had a house in London and one in Los Angeles; then the producer said we must be tired after our long flight, to which Lobby quickly got the first word in and said yes we were. It turned out he’d charged the producer for two Business Class fares from Los Angeles to Frankfurt although he had flown me bargain bucket from Manchester. He had even tried to get me to pay for a peak hour train from Manchester down to London Heathrow so he could fly me over even cheaper !!!!”

I had much the same shenanigans with Lobby when we were making Jack Dee’s Saturday Night for ITV. I can’t remember the exact details, but it somehow involved clearly non-existent flights from Los Angeles to London. The over-all cost was acceptable so was not queried, but Lobby was shafting his own act rather than us as it was him who was pocketing the conned money, not the act.

We all liked Lobby because he had – and I guess still has – a genuine love of the show business and a love of and fascination for good acts.

As Mr Methane wrote to me:

“A loveable rogue: that’s Lobby. You can’t help but like him even when he’s shafting you big time. He’s such a great parody of the showbiz agent, a real cartoon character full of genuine 100% bullshit.”

Long may he thrive. And he has some great showbiz stories. It’s almost worth getting ripped off just to meet him.

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