Tag Archives: Andrew Maxwell

Humanity, humour, farting, eccentricity and tragedy at the Edinburgh Fringe

Sal Monello - a creator of fringes at The Fringe

Sal Monello – cutter of hirsute fringes at The Fringe

Yesterday morning at the Edinburgh Fringe, as Irish comedian Christian Talbot was trying to get me to talk coherently for his Seven 2 Ten podcast, I got a text message from American comedian Lewis Schaffer saying:

Sal, the comic barber, is cutting hair for free during the Festival.

Thus I later found myself in Fringe Central sitting on a chair with Sal Monello standing behind me holding sharp, pointed scissors saying:

“I come from Corleone in Sicily.”

“As in The Godfather?” I asked politely.

“Yes. My surname is not Monello… Monello means ‘villain’ or ‘naughty boy’. My father genuinely did escape from the Mafia. In my comedy set, I make it funny but it was rather tragic. My father was in the Communist Party and his name was put on a hit list in 1955 and he had to leave the country. They were going to kill him.

“Ironically, my dad killed himself when he was 66. He had managed to keep his life together while he was working and brought up us seven kids. The minute he retired, he thought Fuck, my life is over.

“He did all sorts of jobs: fork-lift truck driver, railway line worker, hospital porter. The job we liked best was when he worked in a chocolate factory. He used to cut my hair with clippers to keep the cost down and I ended up being a hairdresser. I’ve only been doing comedy for three years. My marriage broke down after 25 years. We divorced two years ago, but my wife left about three and a half years ago. She ran off with a Polish taxi driver. I still love the woman, that’s the problem – fucking damaged me. In order to stay sane, I threw myself into comedy, because you can totally absorb yourself in it.

“I set up gigs, performed and got so involved in it very quickly but, one day, I looked down at my shotgun – I shoot – and thought I’m going to kill myself.

“But then I had visions of him with his arm round her saying in a Polish accent: Oh, it is terrible tragedy. Clearly he was insane. He probably better off where he is. But now we have a lovely house and business.

“So I thought Fuck you, mate – I’m not going to shoot myself. And I didn’t.

“I stayed sane through comedy.

Sal had some cutting remarks yesterday

Sal Monello shared some cutting insights with me yesterday (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

“When I started doing comedy, I quickly found people have to believe what you say.

“I actually lost my virginity to a whole family. I fucked a whole family when I was 17 – well, not the dad. But the mother – she was a widow – and her three daughters. I screwed all of them. That’s how I lost my virginity.

“If I tell people that on stage, they don’t believe me but I’ve learned that, if a say someone in my hairdressing chair has told me the story, they’ll believe me because they know people are prepared to talk to a hairdresser. I’ve got that unique angle: I can be anybody.

“I’m not doing a show at the Fringe this year but, next year, I want to do a show called A Free Haircut. I’ll get people up on stage and I’ll do a full haircut while telling stories.”

At this point, my former temporary Edinburgh flatmate Andy Zapp passed by:

“My gorilla is arriving tonight by plane,” he told me.

“He must be a very well-off gorilla,” I said.

“Yes,” said Andy Zapp.

“Is he a gorilla-gram?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Andy. “A stripper-gorilla-gram.”

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane yesterday

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane’s act yesterday

Then I went to see my new temporary Edinburgh flatmate Mr Methane’s first show at Bob’s Bookshop – part memories of his life professionally farting around the world; part fart demonstrations.

He had managed to get a full audience on his first day with little publicity. The outside door was left open for ventilation; passers-by occasionally looked through the window at what was happening in the front room of Bob’s Bookshop. Oddly, they only occasionally appeared surprised.

“Farting doesn’t get any easier,” he told his audience. “I’ve been doing this since I was 15. After school, I moved on to a sensible career on the railways, followed by a bit of japing around and then into full-blown – if that’s the right word – showbusiness when I was 25.”

As he lay back on the table and splayed his buttocks under his green and purple costume, he explained: “What we do is we open the sphincter muscle – you lads from Glasgow, we’re talking about the turd-cutter here.

Bob Slayer was saying to me last night Comedy isn’t easy. There’s a crafting. Comedians can work on a joke and it might not be funny for three years then, one night, they just change a couple of words or put a pause in and everyone laughs hysterically. It’s a craft. And then they see me come on stage, I get me legs in the air, I part me buttocks and rip one off and there’s a big laugh from the audience. It seems easy.

“But it’s bloody hard after you’ve farted for a bit to carry on talking. What I do is difficult and I do train a lot. It gets harder as you get older because your body gets less and less subtle. But I do a lot of yoga and stretching the hamstrings, trying to keep the abdominals tight which, at 47, is becoming difficult. Still, I think I’m in reasonable peak farting condition.

“I used to be able to do a full lotus position in yoga, though I can’t do it any more. But, when I could, I noticed I was naturally double-jointed and, when in this position, I could breathe both fore and aft.

Mr Methane, pumping prodigy, prepares to Fart A Dart

Mr Methane, the pumping prodigy, prepares to Fart A Dart

“At school, I became a pumping prodigy in the lunch hour. We used to break into the squash courts and I used to fart How Much Is That Doggie in The Window and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in exchange for pocket money.

“As you can see, I’ve not progressed 30 years later. A lot of people want to be on stage: Come over here! Look at me! I’ve always thought I want to be a train driver. But always I get pulled back to being on stage. I’m like a reluctant farter.”

If Mr Methane is a reluctant farter, Tim Fitzhigham is a wholehearted eccentric.

Tim Fitzhigham discussed increasingly prestigious eccentricity

Tim and increasingly prestigious eccentricity

I went for a chat with him last night after his Challenger show which has had extra dates added. We were talking about him appearing on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show next Friday (23rd).

He is currently thinking about juggling ice on the show, although this may change, as I have already booked Mat Ricardo to juggle spaghetti.

We also talked about him appearing on my Fringe chat show next Wednesday afternoon, at which point he told me about an extra big charity show – only just announced – happening next Wednesday (11.59pm till late) at the massive McEwan Hall venue.

“I had a chat with Charlie and Ed who run it for the Underbelly venue,” Tim told me, “and they have given it to us for free.”

Tim occasionally does OTT gigs called Maxwell’s Fullmooners with Irish comic Andrew Maxwell. Next Wednesday’s charity gig is called PaulMooners: A Fullmooners Moontacular and co-stars Terry Alderton, Ed Byrne, Jason Byrne, Phill Jupius, Lady Carol, Glenn Wool – and John Bishop coming specially up from London for his only appearance at this year’s Fringe. Plus other names to be announced.

Why would they all appear on a Fullmooners show re-named PaulMooners?

Because the show is raising money for Paul Byrne, the highly-respected director of both Tim Fitzhigham’s Fringe show and Andrew Maxwell’s Fringe show. Paul, aged 36, has just discovered he has cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

“It was only diagnosed after the first Edinburgh show and we’re all more than a little bit shell-shocked,” Tim told me last night.

Paul Byrne has returned to London to embark on an intense course of chemotherapy. Tickets for next Wednesday’s Paulmooners charity show are £15 and can be bought from all five of the Edinburgh Comedy Festival box offices – Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just The Tonic, Pleasance and Underbelly.

In the midst of comedy, real human life goes on.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics

How Set List marketing and Sarah Palin made comic Rich Hall soar last night

There seem to be comedy improvisation shows all over London at the moment. If comedy is the new rock ’n’ roll, then I guess improvisation is like the occasional fad for long guitar riffs.

I have mentioned in a previous blog that, when I was a student (around the time Louis XIV was on the throne of France), I saw Keith Johnstone’s seminal weekly Theatre Machine in Hampstead.

I have also blogged before about the comedy improvisation show Set List, when it was the sleeper comedy hit at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

It started small but gathered extraordinary word-of-mouth, especially among performers and, despite venue and time changes which would have scuppered other Fringe shows, it very quickly had full houses and ‘Name’ comics lining up, desperate to perform and – just as important – to be seen to perform. It was a show with prestige among comedians.

Last night, ending a run at the Soho Theatre in London, Set List had a packed audience, up for anything, full of anticipation at attending an ‘event’.

You know you are onto a winner if your first-on-the-bill is the wonderful Rich Hall, your final act Andrew Maxwell has ploughed through Saturday night London traffic from a performance in Greenwich to take part in your show and, when a billed act drops out, you can get a last-minute stand-in of the calibre of Dave Gorman.

Quite how this ‘hot ticket’ feeling happens is almost always beyond comprehension.

Of course, it helps that the man behind Set List is Paul Provenza director of the cult comedy industry documentary The Aristocrats(who flew over from Los Angeles to attend the last few shows) and that his man on British soil is the well-connected comic Matt Kirshen, but there is also very shrewd marketing going on.

The sense of anticipation last night (in an audience who had overwhelmingly not seen Set List before) was built-up partly by its late start – there’s nothing like being stuck in an over-crowded entrance hallway filled with chatty Guardian readers for 20 minutes to build a sense of up-market expectation – but also by an on-stage screen which, as the room filled up, was flashing rave quotes about the show from publications and, surprisingly, one from the excellent rising comic Diane Spencer.

There are currently bigger comedy names than Diane Spencer, but I suspect the Set List originators have rightly thought, “She is likely to become very successful,” and are getting into her good books early.

Shrewd marketing. If the punters recognise her name, they give themselves a pat on the back for having their fingers on the pulse. If that is physically possible.

All improvisation shows are, by their nature, a variable ride, but the (justified) self-aggrandisement of Set List works wonders. You are left in no doubt from the flyers, pre-show build-up and great sales technique of compere Matt Kirshen that you are attending an ‘event’ of some importance and that you are a superior punter for having chosen to be there.

Of course, it also helps that, unlike most improvisation shows which have built-in safety-nets of pre-prepared arcs and relationships, Set List is genuinely improvised by the comics and often savagely exposes comedians who are falling back on their own old material or who cannot link the six bizarre topic titles they are given.

If they perform six little separate routines based round the six given phrases, it does not work. They look like open-spot beginners.

But, if they can knit the six unconnected Set List topics together with one or more ongoing subject threads, then they can soar – as Rich Hall did last night with Alaska, grisly bears and Sarah Palin working wonders for him.

He triumphed, but I think the reason top comedians want to perform on Set List is really because it is creatively dangerous. The risk of falling off the comedy high-wire is greater because the performers are not in as much control as in a normal stand-up act and, as I have written before in this blog, I think comedians are a bunch of masochists with an urge to fail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Marketing

Malcolm Hardee Week starts to fall apart – ?

What an interesting man Tim FitzHigham is.

If being successful involves a high percentage of sheer luck in being in the right place at the right time, he will soon be mega-famous.

He has his feet and image well inside the differing markets of English eccentricity, mad adventurer type, sophisticated and nostalgic Flanders and Swann entertainment, children’s shows and Andrew Maxwell’s madly OTT Fullmooners alternative comedy shows.

One of those areas must hit paydirt for him at some point, especially as he seems willing to literally break every bone in his body in the quest for a laugh.

He mesmerised me over a drink last night with tales of an English equivalent of  William McGonnagal, lauded like a stand-up comic in Elizabethan times because he thought he was a serious poet but his poems were so crap people loved to hear them.

And then Tim had tales of carousing in Soho pubs with actor Richard Harris, a man of legendary drinking capacity.

And, to top it all, it also turned out (because of an eccentric escapade with a paper boat) that Tim is an honorary member of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames and told me that late comic Malcolm Hardee and Malcolm’s father (a Thames lighterman) are both fondly remembered.

Tim also has access to unpublished and unperformed Flanders & Swann songs, which is something I would certainly like to hear at a future Edinburgh Fringe.

Meanwhile, Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe starts, inevitably, to fall apart.

No problem with tonight’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debate on the proposition that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” based on a blog I wrote a while ago.

As far as I know, Kate Copstick, Janey Godley, Paul Provenza and Bob Slayer will all turn up to argue the toss at The Hive venue 6.15-7.00pm. Five people; five chairs; two microphones – it’s the Free Festival.

But the lovely Miss Behave, due to host Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Award Show, is now too ill to do it – she has meningitis and is returning to London.

And two people who were coming up to Edinburgh to help me on people control at Wednesday’s/Thursday’s spaghetti-juggling and Friday’s two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – which is really a variety show with an unfeasible number of performers – are not coming.

So I am now desperately seeking a new host and two people to help me. No money on offer. But a free copy to each of the two helpers of Malcolm Hardee’s out-of-print cult autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

How could anyone resist?

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Theatre