Tag Archives: anarchic

Mike Raffone on street performance, Dada and his cabaret club for misfits

Mike Raffone bills himself as an “Eccentric Entertainer”.

I saw his Brain Rinse show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – it was billed as ‘Puppetry of The Audience’ – and I went to his monthly Cabaret Rinse club at the Elephant & Castle in London last month. It is wonderfully unpredictable. The next one is this coming Friday.

“Why,” I asked, “was your Fringe show called Brain Rinse and your London club is called Cabaret Rinse?”

“Because, hopefully it rinses your brain. Not a brainwash. Just a mild rinse.”

“How would you describe Cabaret Rinse?”

“A club for misfits. We did a similar thing about five years ago in Peckham for about six months – The Royal National Theatre of Fools. I just decided we needed a National Theatre for idiots, but it proved quite an expensive hobby.”

Cabaret Rinse is all variety acts,” I said. “Not stand-up comedy…”

The ringmaster of anarchic entertainment – Mike Raffone

“Well,” Mike responded, “what is stand-up? Cabaret Rinse is comedy definitely. Funny definitely. Out there for sure. Interesting I hope. Entertaining I hope.

“When we did Theatre of Fools, we did have a secret non-stand-up policy. We don’t have that with Cabaret Rinse. Last month we had Candy Gigi. You could say she’s a stand-up, but… she’s one in a million, really. There’s bits of stand-up but bits of brilliant clowning. I see that in all the people I like.”

“Candy Gigi is wonderful,” I said, “but I’m a bit wary of the way people use the word ‘clowning’ nowadays.”

“I hate the way the word is used,” said Mike.


“It’s the connotation. The art aesthetic. I think great clowning tends to be anarchistic. I would say The Greatest Show on Legs is great clowning. Or Ken Campbell’s Roadshow.”

“I agree with you,” I said, “that The Greatest Show on Legs ARE clowns, but I’m not quite sure why.”

“I think it’s well rehearsed,” said Mike, “but it looks like it’s thrown together.”

Greatest Show on Legs’ balloon dance in 2012

“Well,” I said, “with the Balloon Dance, the exact choreography is complicated and vital because it builds and it’s all about narrowly missing seeing the bits.”

“Ragged but in a great way,” agreed Mike. “It was by far the most hysterical thing that whole Fringe when I saw them in 2012.”

“Well,” I said, “they feel a bit like street performers but are not, though Martin Soan did start The Greatest Show on Legs as an adult Punch & Judy act. You, though, are basically a street performer at heart.”

“I dunno about ‘at heart’,” Mike replied. “I’m a performer at heart. But I’ve certainly done a lot of street performing. With Cabaret Rinse and Brain Rinse the idea is to take the energy and instantaneous edginess of street performing – of What the fuck is going to happen? – but NOT just do a street show indoors.

“Street theatre is so specific to where it is. There’s load of people there shopping and I’m gonna grab their attention. It’s the big trick. It’s grabbing the attention. If it’s a joke, it cannot be a subtle one. Everything’s big.  So I want to bring that kind of bigness and edginess and freshness into a – not an arty but a – theatrical setting.”

“You trained as an actor,” I said.

“…a misfit theatre course…”

“I remember, when I was a kid, around 16, ushering for my local theatre and seeing the Cardiff Lab and thinking This is weird. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. This guy is scary but I love it. Wow! This is incredible! 

“Then I did a theatre degree at Leicester Polytechnic which was a bit of a misfit theatre course. It was run by this guy – a little bit of a maverick – who wanted to make his own theatre school – a bit like Jacques Lecoq – and he didn’t want it to be conventional. But he also realised the only way he could get funding at that time – in the mid-1980s – was to hide behind the auspices of an academic institution.

“His philosophy was that he was going to run the course but try and have as little as possible to do with the bureaucratic workings of the polytechnic. I got to see things like Footsbarn. It was a very practical, creative course and I think I got a taste there for theatre that was out of the ordinary.”

“So you got a taste for the bizarre.”

“Yes. I got into street theatre 30 years ago. I remember going down to Covent Garden and seeing street shows – it was all quite new then – and thinking: I don’t have the balls to do that. But, within a month, I was doing it. Covent Garden was quite interesting at that time in the late 1980s. It was sort of mixing with New Variety.”

Mike Raffone, street entertainer, performing at the Covent Garden Piazza in London

“So you thought you could not do it but then started doing it?”

“There was a guy who dragged me into it because he wanted to do it. He was like a dancer and acrobat. So we put this terrible show together, did it for about three shows and then he fucked off. But, by then, I had my street performer’s licence.

“We did go to Paris and see this man called Bananaman, who was this mad bloke who collected junk and then played music with it outside the Pompidou Centre. It was all in French. And then he hit this real banana and smashed it and everyone just thought he was mad. Apparently he was seen in Paris as the world’s worst street performer, but I thought: Wow! That’s alternative!”

Mike has learned to conduct himself well in performance

“What did he hit the banana with?”

“A stick. To me it was an act of Dada.

“I thought it was brilliant. So we went back to Covent Garden and decided we were going to create a police car out of rubbish. We got all this rubbish and two half-arsed costumes together and the idea was it would look terrible. Other street performers came up to us and said: Right, here’s a bit of advice – Get yourself some proper costumes because, frankly, it just looks like rubbish at the moment. And we said: No! That’s the POINT!

“The word anarchy,” I said, “might put some people off. But, if you say Dada, it sounds arty and acceptable and respectable. What does Dada mean?”

“Meaningless… I suppose I like it when you take it to the max, If you are truly going to be Dada, I suppose you have to be anti-everything. Anti-script. Anti-comedy. Anti-anti-comedy.”

His autobiography – Hitting The Cobbles

“Being a street performer, though,” I suggested, “is quite disciplined. You have to be half performer and half barrowboy/street market trader. You have to grab the punters’ attention at  the start and tout for money at the end, with a performance bunged in the middle. So, in theory, you could transfer the actual performance indoors if you remove the ‘selling’ element.”

“I would agree with that.”

“Except that the selling,” I said, “is an integral part of the street performance.”

“Well,” replied Mike, “they say you ‘sell’ a joke and I’m very aware of how I am going to set up any part of the performance. I am quite analytical about selling the material. I don’t know if it’s my inbuilt insecurity as a performer, but I so see myself as a writer. I think: This has got to work on paper or it won’t work in performance. That’s probably not the case, but it’s how I see it. I write everything down, even if it is just: We will be improvising at this point. It’s some weird fear.”

“So you are not a Dadaist really,” I said, “because you want everything written-down and organised in advance.”

“No, I don’t think I’m a Dadaist.”

“An absurdist?” I asked.

“I don’t know. To me, if it’s funny, it’s funny. I remember years ago I was called a post-modernist street performer. I didn’t quite know what it meant.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. We’re done. Where are you going now?”

“I’m going to a museum. It’s putting on a Dada cabaret… All I want is a bicycle hooked up to a whoopee cushion and, when people ride fast enough, it makes the whoopee cushion fart. That’s all I want.”

But what about his name – Mike Raffone?

Is it his stage name or his real name?

Say it out loud.

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A drunk comedian with blood coming out of his mouth = Great British culture

Tony Green after our tragic chat

Tony Green in London after our tragic chat

A couple of days ago, I had a chat with Tony Green who, I suppose, I have to describe as a comedy veteran.

In a tragic 21st century accident, I accidentally erased 59 minutes of the recording on my iPhone. The only snippet of an anecdote left is this one:

“…had this habit of going down to pick up the post with no clothes on and got locked out once. He said: Dave, could you phone up my girlfriend at work. She’s got a spare key. But Dave didn’t have a phone…”

With my bad memory I, of course, cannot remember how the story ended.

Yesterday, I had a chat with writer and occasional performer Mark Kelly.

I had not realised, until it came up in conversation with Tony Green, that Tony and Mark had known each other years ago but had fallen out. Tony told me why but, of course, I accidentally erased what he said.

So what follows is Mark’s version only…

“Tony and I were really good friends in the mid-1980s,” Mark told me, “and we fell out eventually over an act he started putting on which I thought was racist. The act claimed to be doing a parody of racism. But I found – particularly given the nature of the audiences Tony was encouraging…

Interrupting him, I asked: “What were the audiences like?”

Mark Kelly turns his back on the police state

Mark Kelly – never normally seen as Mr Light Entertainment

“Well,” explained Mark, “Tony was in love with East End lowlife culture so, at Tony’s gigs, there would be a mixture of arty Bohemians and East End criminals, some of whom were very right wing.

“It seemed very obvious to me that this particular act, whose name I genuinely can’t remember, was getting laughs for very mixed reasons and it was all very, very dodgy. And we fell out over that. Tony is a very interesting person.”

“He is indeed,” I said. “These shows were at his Open Heart Cabaret?”

“Yes. He ran it in various locations. He briefly ran it in Chiswick – not his usual territory. The pub had a function room at the back which was on stilts and once he was about to cancel the gig because there was hardly anyone there – three or four people – but then, for no apparent reason, a coach driver pulled in and everyone in the coach went into the gig. I think maybe the coach driver went off for a drink. The gig was saved in the sense of not being cancelled, but the coach party had no idea why they were there and they didn’t like any of the acts. It was terrible.”

“A lot of the acts he put on,” I said, “were… err… very experimental.”

“At Tony’s gigs,” agreed Mark, “even I felt like Mr Mainstream Light Entertainment. Tony was quite enamoured of an act called Ian Hinchliffe, an old performance artist who would usually take all his clothes off, eat glass – which he usually did quite badly – and get blind drunk.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony Green (as Sir Gideon Vein)

“The last time I ever saw Hinchliffe, he was naked, had Sellotaped his genitals together and was, of course, blind drunk. The glass-eating had gone wrong so he was bleeding from the mouth and he knocked over a couple of tables including all the drinks, horrifying the innocent people who were sitting there. That is my abiding memory of him.”

“Hinchliffe,” I said, “was quite nice except when he got drunk, which he usually quickly did. He didn’t really become a befuddled drunk; he became an aggressive drunk. But I can see why Tony found him interesting.”

“What I did find interesting,” Mark told me, “was that, even towards the end, the British Council was still sending Hinchliffe abroad, representing Britain culturally.”

“That must,” I suggested, “have caused a major deterioration in international relations.”

“I presume,” said Mark, “that he was only bookable wherever there was a bar and a drinking culture.”


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The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show gets thrown together – much like spaghetti – at the Edinburgh Fringe

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

The Awards Show poster at the 2012 Fringe

I always tell people that staging the annual two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe is a win-win situation.

If the show goes smoothly, that is good.

If the show turns a bit shambolic, then it is a true tribute to Malcolm and just as good.

The trick is really to book a good MC. Last year I struck gold with the excellent Miss Behave, who was and is on the right wavelength of Bizarre and knows all the best odd acts. This allowed the show to comprise even more speciality acts and less straight stand-ups. I hope she will present the Awards Show again this year but her availability is still uncertain – as is always the case with all acts at the Fringe.

I am not going to approach most acts until after the Fringe Programme is published on May 30th and I know who is actually in town, but I have some building blocks.

Last year, we had a very successful celebrity Russian Egg Roulette contest – instead of holding guns to the head, two people face each other across a table and smash hard-boiled eggs on their foreheads BUT one of the eggs is not hard-boiled – it is raw. The result is messy and that person loses.

Last year, contestants included comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith as well as eventual winner Lewis Schaffer.

This year, the World Egg Throwing Federation’s esteemed president Andy Dunlop will again be supervising a contest and has agreed our event will be the official Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship.

I feel honoured and humbled. And somewhat soiled.

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in 2011

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh in 2011

The two-hour Awards Show will also (I hope) include the return of uncooked spaghetti juggling.

Several Fringe performers and passers-by tried this a couple of years ago outside the Beehive Inn in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. The only one who managed it truly successfully was juggler supreme Mat Ricardo who (unless he gets a better offer) will recreate his triumph on the show.

It is also likely that the farter of Alternative Comedy, the world’s only performing professional flatulist Mr Methane (after a run of his own show earlier in the Fringe), will make a special trip back up to Edinburgh to perform on the Comedy Awards Show.

As for publicity, I will be hosting five daily chat shows in the week of the Awards Show, titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show. Book early to avoid disappointment – it’s only a fiver.

Malcolm Hardee pioneered the use of Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! in Fringe show titles as a way to get first listing in the Fringe Programme. One can but pray no-one else has added more letter ‘A’s this year. The Awards Show itself is titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! Free! It’s the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Details of who is appearing in the show will be posted on my website www.thejohnfleming.com and on the long-due-for-a-re-design Malcolm Hardee website www.malcolmhardee.co.uk/award

But also, in keeping with the title of the show, I have bought the domain name www.increasinglyprestigious.co.uk as well as www.fringecomedyawards.co.uk and, as the current newish sponsors of what used to be the Perrier Awards keep misleadingly implying that they have been sponsoring their awards for the last 30+ years, you can also find details of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk

This is in a general hope that they may try to sue me for misleading punters – something that is, I would argue strongly, at the heart of the Fringe experience. We do, after all, have an annual award for the best Cunning Stunt.

Our two hour charity variety show will, of course, include the presentation of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (even I would not be THAT misleading). These are:

– The Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality

– The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

and, hopefully self-explanatory…

– The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

The Malcolm Hardee Awards by the Forth Bridge

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection by Forth Bridge

Obviously, there are no rules, no forms and no application processes. The winners emerge, much like a new Pope, after obscure consultation in small rooms and modest tea-drinking by the judges who are more talent spotters than Simon Cowell type judges.

We hope to stumble on the winners. We do not particularly encourage people to suggest themselves.

The winner of the main Comic Originality award has to have a truly original act, show or persona. Anyone who thinks their show is “zany” is on the wrong wavelength. We have no idea what we are looking for – if we knew what to look for, it would not be truly original – but we recognise it when we see it.

If anyone has to tell us they have pulled a cunning publicity stunt, then they are not going to win by definition – If they have to tell us because we have not heard about it, then the stunt has failed to get publicity.

As for the ‘Million Quid’ award, the number of people likely to pretend to think they are going to make a million quid is too high to even begin to think about. Even if they do make a million quid, it will probably be squandered on drink, drugs, sex and agents they can’t afford, so it is usually a hollow success. But it sounds good as an Award title.

Last year, Ireland’s Rubberbandits won the Award For Comic Originality… England’s Stuart Goldsmith won the Cunning Stunt Award… and South Africa’s Trevor Noah won the ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award.

As usual, the three Awards this year will be presented by The Scotsman’s legendary comedy reviewer Kate Copstick and the evening will end, I hope, with The Greatest Show On Legs performing their traditional naked balloon dance. I certainly hope this is going to happen, because central ‘Leg’ Martin Soan is coming up to Edinburgh solely for this show and is stealing my bed in my Edinburgh flat on the basis he will get his kit off and wave some inflated rubber spheres around in a balletic manner.

Other performers will be announced nearer the date. Previous Malcolm Hardee tribute shows have included Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee, Johnny Vegas et al. Do not expect Justin Bieber.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – free entry, but with the audience encouraged to donate money as they leave. A full 100% of all money collected (with no deductions of any kind) goes to the Mama Biashara charity run by Kate Copstick.

As Malcolm Hardee’s reputation on money was not angelic, I feel obliged to spell out the exact details.

Especially as this year, for the first time, the Awards Show will be sponsored.

Just The Greatest sponsors

Just The Greatest sponsors the 2013 Comedy Awards

The new Just The Greatest comedy audio label is kindly donating a lump sum to cover the cost of designing, printing and distributing flyers and posters… and the cost of the Fringe Programme fee, the sound teching of the show and the cost of engraving the trophies. A full 100% of any money left over from this lump sum will be donated to the Mama Biashara charity.

I have always been a bit wary of sponsorship for the Awards because of the risk of anything too corporate being connected with an anarchic-imaged set of awards. Also, I do not want to make or to be misinterpreted as making money out of giving awards in memory of dead Malcolm. And I would have trouble getting top acts to perform for free if the few pennies donated were not going to charity or if I were making anything out of it. So I have never covered any of my costs before.

Because of Malcolm’s rather dodgy reputation, just to be clear… None of my personal costs are being covered. No transport; no accommodation costs; no personal costs. Nowt is being covered except show costs – the Fringe Programme entry, flyers, posters, engraving and sound teching. To save money, the flyers and posters will probably advertise both the Awards Show and the five days of my chat shows. In that case, only 50% of their costs will be taken from the sponsorship money (to cover the Awards Show element) and I will pay for the other 50% (to cover the chat shows’ advertising) out of my own pocket.

100% of any sponsorship money not spent on specific show costs will go to the Mama Biashara charity. As will 100% of all money given by the audience on the night of the Awards Show – Friday 23rd August, the final Friday of the Fringe.

Jesus! The hoops I have to make sure I am seen to jump through just because Malcolm might have been a bit creative with money. And I will still be losing money on the show. All this for some dead bloke with big bollocks!

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I criticised the BBC shows first! Plus today’s other Edinburgh Fringe tales.

You read it first here (Photo by Kat Gollock)

This morning’s Scotsman newspaper carries an article saying that the pay-to-enter venues at the Edinburgh Fringe are having a bad time with ticket sales down anything from 7% to 30%. This is rather odd as, at the start of the Fringe, I seem to remember the same venues were saying sales were 70% up – a figure that always smelled of bullshit to me.

Interestingly, part of the blame for lower ticket sales is being put onto the BBC which, this year, has been staging a veritable cornucopia of free shows.

Coincidentally – remembering that self publicity is what keeps the Fringe going – the new issue of Three Weeks hits the streets today. That means I can publish on this here blog the column which I wrote in last week’s issue of Three Weeks, which was headlined Is Auntie Stealing Your Bums on Seats?

In it Mervyn Stutter, who has been staging his Pick of the Fringe shows for 21 years, criticised the BBC for putting on so many free Fringe shows this year. Remember, dear reader, that you get the news and views first by reading my columns and blogs! Among Mervyn’s comments last week were:

“Their (the BBC’s) shows are free. They have stars in. And you don’t have to pay. Why is the BBC doing so many shows here? It spreads the audience energy too wide. In the past, there have been only one or two BBC shows and there have been queues round the block. Performers think: ‘Oh, that would have been nice for an audience at my show’. But it’s free and it’s famous and it’s the BBC. It’s an attractive deal. I would go. Brilliant… if there were only a couple of shows. But this year there are acres of BBC shows. I’m sorry. It’s irritating. It’s the Fringe… It’s hard enough already. It’s a legitimate complaint. I’ve nothing against the BBC, but why are they here putting on so many shows?”

You can read what Mervyn said to me in full here.

But now back to yesterday and the genuine PBH Free Fringe and Laughing Horse Free Festival shows.

I bumped into Paul B Edwards flyering in the street for his show Songs in the Key of Death outside the Banshee Labyrinth venue. He said he had not bothered to put a listing in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme this year because it was not worth forking out almost £400 to list a free show.

Not listing a show in the main Programme has the upside that you save almost £400 but the downside that you cannot expect to get reviewed. Paul does not care about that. But he shared with me an interesting idea about reviewers.

With Fringe shows often being reviewed by unpaid 20-year-olds, he suggested that starting-out reviewers should only, at first, be allowed to review 5 or 10 minute open spot acts. Then, like the acts themselves, reviewers with a bit of experience under their belts could progress to 20-minute acts. Then they could start to get paid to review longer acts or whole club shows and, after 5 or 6 years, once they knew what the were doing, they would be allowed to review 60-minute performances at the Fringe.

It is, indeed, odd that one publication this year is actually printing blurbs like: Cynthia Smyth-McTavish has written 4 reviews since joining our team in 2012.

Well, at least they are being honest that she has no experience!

Half an hour after bumping into Paul B Edwards, I walked into the Gilded Balloon to see Doug Segal’s How To Read Minds and Influence People.

After the show, I told him (I saw his show last year too): “It was a bloody amazing show, Doug. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful audience manipulation. Really jaw-droppingly impressive.”

So far, it has garnered two 5-star reviews and six 4-star reviews. I would have given it a 5-star last night.

Doug told me in all seriousness: “You came to the worst show of the run. I’m really sorry.”

What can you do with performers?

As I went in to see Doug’s show, I bumped into my chum Laura Lexx rushing between her two shows. She had just strutted her energetic stuff in the excellent comedy sketch show Maff Brown’s Parade of This at the Gilded Balloon – a very funny show in which she is oddly and erroneously teased for being a boy, something visibly untrue… She was rushing to get over to TheSpace @Surgeon’s Hall to appear in a serious drama show which shall remain nameless as the production company turned down my request for a free ticket. Petty? What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t be petty?

On the other hand, their show is inspired by Chekhov and I am getting free tickets under the banner of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. Perhaps they thought I wasn’t serious.

“I’ve only got 40 minutes between shows,” Laura told me, “and I just fell off my stool in a moth suit.”

“I might mention it in my blog,” I told her – my now automatic reaction to anything anyone tells me. But then I stopped and thought. “What?” I asked. “A moth suit? Why we’re you dressed as a moth? I don’t remember a moth sketch when I came to see the show.”

“A MORPH suit,” she said.

“A moth suit is funnier,” I said.

“Then say that,” she told me. “You can say I have a slightly broken leg if it helps!” and then she disappeared into the crowds.

Breaking a literal leg is the sort of thing Bob Slayer would do on a whim to get a single line of publicity. I have told him I am going to charge him rent for appearing in this blog.

In his latest attempt to get a plug, he told me:

“I have now come up with this new Fringe show concept mid-Fringe… My show Bob Slayer – He’s A Very Naughty Boy – at The Hive – has become a Trilogy! Each part is self-contained and can be seen in any order or in isolation…

“When I did some previews for my show, they ended up about two hours long, but I figured, if I removed the distractions and tangents, it would boil down to under an hour. Unfortunately, after my first week up here, I realised that I love a good tangent and distraction and I am simply unable to remove them! So, each night, I was failing to get beyond the first third of my story of getting banned and my other problems in Australia and beyond…

“And then the answer came to me when stepping out on stage and seeing a bunch of people return from the day before. Why not just start off where I left off yesterday? I did this the following night and it went a cracker! People bought tickets for the next part of the show on the way out of the venue, which is always a good sign! Mervyn Stutter’s scout signed me up for his Pick of the Fringe show and Bernard, the comedy editor of The Skinny who, earlier in the Fringe, had given me a generous one star review… took me out on the piss for the night…”

Still trying to assimilate all thus, I rushed across to the Pleasance Courtyard to see Jon Bennett’s Pretending Things Are a Cock which does what it says on the label but has an interesting amount of story depth to it. As I rushed past three men drinking outside a bar, I heard one say to the others (and I am not making this up):

Adam Smith, yes. David Hume, maybe. But Henry Dundas? You must be joking!”

I then proceeded to Pretending Things Are a Cock.

Edinburgh is an interesting city.

The latest issue of Three Weeks – in Edinburgh

My latest Three Weeks column is on the streets today. It is about publicity stunts. If you are not in Edinburgh – and why would you not be? – you can read it online here or download the whole Three Weeks issue as a PDF by clicking here.

I will be posting my column on this blog in a week’s time, once it has disappeared from the streets of Edinburgh like a used, discarded and doused fire-eating busker.

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How to kick women plus Bob Slayer’s Edinburgh Fringe review : 1 star, 2 balls

WARNING: This blog has language offensive to non- Glaswegians.

Bob Slayer: one of the most Marmite of performers?

I woke up at 4.00am this morning and, after listening to stories about women kicking each other, I checked my e-mails.

One of these, inevitably, was from comedian Bob Slayer. His latest Edinburgh Fringe show Bob Slayer – He’s a Very Naughty Boy – has received a one star review from The Skinny.

“I am very proud of this review,” he tells me – and I believe him.

You can read the review online here, but I think it is worth me risking copyright infringement by re-printing it, if only because it includes a link to this blog. It goes like this…


Bob Slayer appears with no jokes and no material, and ends up with no clothes. Although there’s a sound of laughter, we’re not quite sure why. Surrealism is not dead, it seems.

Diamonds from coal is what we’re after as he focuses on a few members of the audience to try to coax something into the gig. A suitcase of props is used to re-enact a children’s story, the lead character a good sport from the small crowd.  It’s shambolic, usually awkward and frequently painful, yet there’s a split in the crowd as some lap it up.

Interaction with the audience should lead to more chuckles, but there’s little flow to proceedings. The show becomes something of an open mic night, individuals cajoled to the spotlight, and it is at all times entirely unpredictable.

Slayer leaves the stage to give way to a perplexing straight soliloquy from one, unabashed nudity to another, and an a capella rendition of Our House by yet one more. It’s madness indeed and the sight of a nude Slayer at its death, balls bouncing as he jogs on the spot, seems, strangely, to be the only possible conclusion.

Footnote: Bob Slayer has written his own very amusing review of this performance on John Fleming’s blog


I feel I should point out that Bob Slayer will be naked again when he performs as part of the Greatest Show on Legs at my two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh on Friday 24th August.

Now back to women kicking each other.

Janey Godley demonstrates how to kick people

My Glaswegian comedy chum Janey Godley has descended on my rented flat in Edinburgh for a couple of nights while she does various Fringe shows. I now know what Iraq felt like when the Americans arrived.

As I only had three hours sleep the previous night – Paul Provenza’s late Set List show was to blame – I had a half hour doze on the living room floor at 10.00pm last night… except I did not wake up until 4.00am this morning, when Janey arrived back at the flat with a clatter of sausage rolls and beef sandwiches. How does anyone make bread clatter? It was like a juggler throwing a tantrum in a kitchen.

When I had gone to sleep on the floor, Janey had been asleep in the spare bedroom. While I was in the land of nod, she had woken up, gone out, probably attacked people in the street, then certainly performed at the late-night Spank! show and she had just come back, I suspect, with the sole purpose of waking me up by recreating the Battle of El Alamein in the kitchen.

“The Sunday Herald phoned me up yesterday and asked for my best memories of the Olympics,” she told me.

“What’s the uncensored version?” I asked.

“The gymnastics men,” she said, “on that big padded horse thing like in the war film. The fake horse with the two handles. They hold on to the handles, then swing their legs round and try to not catch their balls on it. That’s an amazing sport. Men swinging their big long legs round a fake horse trying not to catch their cock on it. And then Jade Jones was great.”

“Who’s she?” I asked.

“She’s a wee Welsh taekwondo girl who won a gold medal for Britain. Never heard of her before. All we ever got on the news for four fucking years was that wee Tom Daley boy in his pants. Tom Daley the diver. He was constantly on the news for four years, sitting in his swimming trunks and then he didn’t win a gold medal.

“But Jade Jones, who we’d never seen, is a wee chick who is only 19 and taekwondo is a sport where you can kick in the body, you can do a roundhouse to the head, but what they quite favour is a quick kick to the cunt. And she won a gold doing it. I was never good at much, she said, but then they found I could kick quite high and they made me do this sport. Now she just goes around kicking women in the fanny.”

“A roundhouse?” I asked.

“You’ve seen it in all the Steven Seagal movies,” Janey explained, “where he turns his body round like a windmill with his leg out and cracks somebody in the head.”

“Would you like to demonstrate?” I asked.

“I WILL kick you in the fucking head,” said Janey. “Taekwondo  is great. They go tippy-toes… tippy-toes… tippy-toes… kick… tippy-toes… kick… tippy-toes… kick. I thought This is fucking fantastic! Why did I not know this existed? I think every single angry, violent, public fight should be sorted by women outside pubs not stabbing or screaming and bitching, just going tippy-toes… tippy-toes… tippy-toes… and then trying to kick each other in the fanny. Arguments would get resolved and people would get to watch it.”

“Not for posh folk, then,” I said.

“For them, there’s dressage,” said Janey. “Dressage is like Mrs Poshingtons riding horses that look like they’re having a very slow nervous breakdown doing tippy-toes… tippy-toes… Who the fuck makes horses do that? Really bored, rich people, that’s who. You don’t have people from Castlemilk in Glasgow saying Ma wee Tanya-Marie’s into dressage! and then getting a pony to go tippy-toes into the city centre.

“Someone must have said: You know what I like? I like a horse galloping as Nature intended with its big flanks sweating and running. And some other posh person’s gone: No, I want to see a horse walk like it’s got big elastic bands round its legs. What the fuck is that about?”

“Was it a good idea to have a sleep before the gig or a bad idea?” I asked her.

“When I was out yesterday,” she told me, “I started to get cold and that made me sleepy. I had on flip-flops and bare feet and pyjama bottoms and a top.”

“In the street?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she replied. “It’s called fashion. So I came back and went to bed and was absolutely soaked in sweat when I woke up, but it’s not the onset of the menopause. It would be brilliant if it was: I was promised a menopause and it’s not happened. I was told my womb would dry up, I was told I’d get quite cranky and shouty…”

“GET quite cranky and shouty?” I interrupted. “GET?”

“That’s what my husband said too,” admitted Janey. “He said: So this is where the barrier’s set already and it’s about to go UP a crank? I told him he had to be prepared for me to get judgmental, sweaty, hot and angry. I might throw my wobblies for no good reason and there might be times when I’m highly emotional.

“My husband just looked at me and said: You’re already all o’ they things and you have been since you were seventeen. So I have all this to look forward to and then my vagina dries up. Great. But it hasn’t happened yet. I was promised a menopause, but my ovaries are saying No, we’re still quite healthy and releasing eggs like a fucking battery hen. I’ve been told my ovaries will dry up like walnuts and my nipples will fall off and my skin will go flakey and I’ll start shouting at people.”

I feel I should point out – publicity is everything at the Fringe – that Janey Godley will be appearing on my two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh on Friday 24th August.

She may kick. She will shout.

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The Edinburgh Fringe is sick. What is missing? The true spirit of the Fringe…

A comedy god has vomited on Edinburgh

The anonymous Poster Menace has e-mailed me another photograph. It is of an food trolley standing unattended in the street after some unknown accident. Unexplained. It could be an exhibit from Tate Modern. To me, it looks like abstract vomit. And a sign of the former essential anarchy now largely missing from the Edinburgh Fringe.

Walking round the streets of Edinburgh this last week, I have realised there is something odd this year.

Things are neater.

They were neater last year.

They are even neater this year.

The Fringe is sick.

The original basis of the Fringe is that it is an open festival. No-one is invited; no-one is organised. Anyone can come, put on any show they like in any place they can get and no-one actually controls what they do. The central Fringe Office simply issues a Fringe Programme with information provided by the performers. It does not control what goes into the Programme or what the performers do.

Except now it does.

As of this year, it has censored shows’ titles, it has censored shows’ descriptions, it has even insisted that the written description of shows printed in the Fringe Programme should use correct English grammar in the phrasing. It has become a schoolmasterly control freak.

Parallel to this, Edinburgh Council has controlled how shows are advertised on the streets. You can still say COCK, PRICK, SHIT in large letters on your posters prominently displayed in public thoroughfares throughout the city (although the Fringe Office has banned these words in its printed Programme – despite the fact they were acceptable in previous years).

In a seemingly reasonable move a couple of years ago, Edinburgh Council stopped turning a blind eye to random postering in the streets by rogue postering companies. This seemed reasonable enough. You cannot, so the argument goes, have people randomly postering on private and public properties and walls all over the city. It also meant the Council could charge for postering. But there was a consequence.

Now you can only poster in designated ways on designated sites using designated postering companies.

Look around the streets of Edinburgh and it still seems like hundreds of different shows are being advertised. But, look closer, and you see that (ignoring the mega big posters which were always put there by big companies) the ‘normal’ sized posters on the streets are almost all for the Big Four venues or for acts being put on by the big promoters.

Any small or middling shows have been marginalised to the half-glimpsed windows and doorways of small shops or, almost invisibly, inside and to a tiny extent outside the smaller venues.

The original basic and essential anarchy and uncontrollability of the Fringe is being reined in and controlled. The big venues are becoming bar areas with performance rooms not performance rooms with bars. The Fringe Programme is becoming a magazine where people have to pay to advertise but have no final control over their own paid-for words. The street advertising has already been moved into more corporate control.

The Fringe has been officialised, standardised and controlled. The PBH Free Fringe  and Laughing Horse Free Festival (occasionally bitter rivals) have re-invented the spirit of the old Fringe. But it may be too late.

On the other hand, there are still some free spirits and uncontrollable events.

Janey Godley and Paul Provenza in Edinburgh last night

Last night I went to see my comedy chum Janey Godley perform on Paul Provenza‘s (terrifying for performers) improvisation-based Set List. She stormed it, but told me afterwards: “It’s like the opposite of normal comedy. Set List gets harder the more you do it. You run on adrenaline the first time but then, the more you do it, the more your brain knows how difficult it is and tries to sabotage you!” 

An extra last-minute guest on the show was Phil Kay, who arrived without a plectrum for his guitar. Someone lent him a credit card and he played with that. There will probably be some Fringe rule preventing this soon, unless the credit card belongs to a Fringe-sponsoring bank.

When I got back to my flat at 3.30am, I found Free Festival/Alternative Fringe promoter Bob Slayer had sent me yet another e-mail. Is there no end to his quest for self-publicity? Let us hope not.

His venue The Hive is on Niddry Street, a narrow, steep street linking the higher Royal Mile with the lower Cowgate. A couple of doors down from his venue is the rival PBH Free Fringe venue The Banshee Labyrinth. At the bottom of the street are Bannerman’s pub and some Just The Tonic venues.

Bob’s latest e-mail reads :


Bob Slayer’s show has ended up in the gutter

John –

I want you to know that it wasn’t me! 

The blocked drains at the PBH Banshee Labyrinth that are causing poo and pee to flow down the street into PBH Bannermans are nothing to do with me! The Alternative Fringe flyers which are floating out of the drain and along the river of tepid toilet water are merely a coincidence… 

Earlier in the week, Daryl at Just The Tonic came up and asked me if I had anything to do with their power cut. 

And now I am getting fingered for blocking drains… ____________________ 

Some people will do – or, at least, suggest – anything to get mentioned in this blog.

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Comedy in an economic recession: how the Greatest Show on Legs survived

(This was also published in the Huffington Post and on the Chortle comedy industry website)

There is a report in The Scotsman today which starts: “Theatres across Scotland have had their best winter for years as families flock back to the panto to raise morale and spread Christmas cheer during a time of economic crisis.”

Who knows whether a Recession is good or bad for showbiz in general and comedy in particular? Hollywood movies and Busby Berkeley escapism prospered in the 1930s.

I was chatting to performer Martin Soan recently.

With his wife Vivienne, he currently runs the Pull The Other One comedy clubs whose format is, basically, to book several bizarre variety acts and one token Big Name stand-up comic. It is an unusual formula and always interestingly different.

But Martin is also renowned for his Greatest Show on Legs comedy troupe, which included British comedy godfather Malcolm Hardee. Their main claim to fame was the naked Balloon Dance which they performed on Chris Tarrant’s OTT TV show in 1982. Once seen, never forgotten.

The Greatest Show on Legs’ surreal and anarchic comedy survived the last big Recession and also the rise of straight-faced political comedy in the 1980s. I asked Martin how The Greatest Show on Legs prospered and survived changing comedy tastes until Malcolm Hardee’s death in 2005.

This is what he told me:


What happened in the 1980s with Thatcher was that just everybody jumped on the political bandwagon. Even with The Greatest Show on Legs, we used Margaret Thatcher posters instead of balloons at one point. If you ripped the mouth out, you could just stick your knob though it and get a big laugh. It was hardly political satire: it was a visual knob gag.

In the 1980s, a lot of comics were derisory – to say the least – about The Greatest Show on Legs. But the good guys found us funny. The bad guys said things like: “Your style of comedy is dead. It’s now all about stand-up gags and politics. You look so silly. Stupid. Why are you doing this?”

It was depressing for a bit because people coming up to you and saying those things can knock your confidence a little bit. But we had no capability or talent to change in any way whatsoever, so we stuck to our guns. We had no choice.

How did it turn round? Well, I don’t think you can keep stuff down, so we did start getting a little more complex in our ideas. We did start experimenting a bit more.

We had a Hands piece where we used Johann Strauss’s Radetzky March 

We had a very ordinary, black proscenium arch with eight holes in it and black curtains so you couldn’t see the holes and then we choreographed a routine with white gloves. So, at the beginning of the show, the music starts and eight gloved hands appear and open and close and create this pattern. Doesn’t sound much but, for us, it felt like Oh God! We’re really going out on a comedy limb here.

Malcolm pushed it forward in terms of business and I was forever trying to push it forward in terms of the creative side. But, of course, Malcolm was a genius. He’d just say one phrase and then I would go away, envisage it all and choreograph it all.

The classic example of that was the Red Sparrows routine. He said:

“Oy Oy. Instead of the Red Arrows, we do the Red Sparrows.”

Just from that one phrase – the Red Sparrows – I go away, make all the sparrows on sticks, choreograph it, get the music, turn up and try to do a bit of rehearsal.

“I ain’t fucking doing a rehearsal,” Malcolm says.

“Oh, come on, look Malcolm,” I say, “I’ve made all this fucking gear. At least put five minutes in before we go on stage.”

“Well,” he says, “I wasn’t expecting this. Having to rehearse!”

With some other ideas I suggested to Malcolm, he said: “Nah. It’s too artistic.”

Once, I said: “I’ve got a great one about voodoo, Malcolm. You come on and you talk about voodoo and you say I’ve got a voodoo doll here this evening and you hold this doll up and it’s got a very specific costume and, as soon as you bring it up in front of the microphone, I pop out from downstage in this same very specific costume that’s on this voodoo doll. You lift the arm up; I do exactly the same. I just mirror whatever you do with this doll. And then you say Voodoo? It’s a load of old bollocks! throw the doll over your shoulder and I do a back flip.

“That,” he said, “is much too poncey and artistic.”

I suppose a combination of Malcolm and the Balloon Dance created a whole image that we were just a load of old Joe Soaps going around.

I was always a little disappointed, because I wanted to work harder. Malcolm was always content with being a bit of a minor celebrity, owning a club and going around doing our Balloon Dance and Michael Jackson’s Thriller routines. I wanted to push it forward. But we got the reputation of just being a load of drinking men getting up and taking our clothes off.

There was an element of that, of course.

But, if you ‘do’ surreal and anarchic, you have to be disciplined if you want to reproduce that on stage time-and-time-and-time again. You have to think things through, work out how ridiculous props can be fitted-into small spaces and all the rest of it. It’s discipline.

If you get more than one person doing the same thing at the same time to a bit of music, it’s always impressive.

I would say I am a performance artist with a sense of humour.

It’s well-on-the-cards now that we are probably going from Recession into Depression. Even the optimistic forecast says it’s going to be five years before we get proper growth again.

So I reckon the way through for people like me is to do the cabaret/German type surreal comedy of the inter-War years where you are reflecting how people feel.

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