Tag Archives: Arthur Smith

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 19: How to perform comedy to a tough audience

Yesterday’s blog ended (because of the interruption of midnight) just before Arthur Smith’s annual alternative tour of the Royal Mile started (at 2.00am).

Telephone box claiming on the Royal Mile

This tour used to be a near Bacchanalian trip with occasional appearances by the boys in blue (usually the police; seldom the Smurfs).

Now it is a comparatively more civilised trip down the cobbles from the Castle to St Giles Cathedral – if you can call it ‘civilised’ with 60 people following Arthur down the street as he declaims poetry, misrepresents statues, accosts passers-by, encourages people to perform cartwheels, climb atop telephone kiosks and get into holes in the road, become living statues in the night-time street, and introduces a man loudly singing Frank Sinatra songs from a second-storey window at the top of his voice at around 02.30 in the morning.

Arthur approached one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges (not me) this afternoon to run naked down the Royal Mile but, alas, they felt the possibility of arrest and getting a criminal record was even riskier to their future reputation and job prospects than being an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge.

By the time Arthur had finished his shenanigans and I got home to my flat and into bed, it was around 04.00am. Which is fairly average for Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Later in the day, I bumped into former sailor Eric, who tried to persuade me again that he should get a Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality because he has now been performing the same show – Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn – at the Fringe for 10 years. He was eating a chip.

Could be good. Could be shit. Don’t matter.

The former squatters on the late Malcolm Hardee’s boat, the Wibbley Wobbley, are staging a one-off comedy play about him – Malcolm Hardee: Back From the Drink, on Wednesday at The Hive, not to be confused with my own Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday at the Counting House.

Their comic play should be interesting, as they never met him. And though I say it is a one-off. In fact, they tested it out on Friday in London… They are performing it this Wednesday in Edinburgh… And are hoping more London performances may happen.

They – five of them – came to the Grouchy Club this afternoon to discuss the show but I am told I have to keep schtum about it to avoid plot spoilers.

Who knows if it will be an audience-pleaser? I have not yet seen it. “Could be good. Could be shit,” as Malcolm used to say when introducing as-yet unseen acts.

To be really honest, it is not the shows I enjoy most about the Edinburgh Fringe, it is the city and the people. The shows come third.

The aforementioned Grouchy Club is open daily, totally free to all at the Counting House 1415-1515. If you got it, flaunt it.

The manager of the Counting House and the adjoining Pear Tree is Brian.

During the Fringe, all day long, weather allowing, he sits at a barrel on the pavement outside the Counting House, helping and supervising and helping and advising.

Brian is a big man. I did not realise how big he actually until today. He is normally seated at his barrel.

One of his lovely Counting House assistants told me Brian was officially the tallest teenager in Scotland in 1985.

Big Brian by his barrel with one of his lovely assistants on a surprisingly sunny day outside the lovely Counting House

“I was 6 feet 5 inches tall as a teenager,” he confirmed to me outside, sitting by his barrel. “I’m 6 feet 11¾ now – a quarter of an inch shorter than a giant. Imagine that. If I had just spent a little bit more time growing, I could have made it to giant status. I could have had it on my passport and my CVs. Occupation: Giant. There is a Tall Person’s Club, but I’ve never joined. It’s supposed to get you good flights with extra legroom and stuff.”

“Do you,” I asked, “get charged extra for having a sideways…”

“For having long legs?” Brian asked. “Yes. That or the drinks trolley goes over your feet. You are crucified either way.”

People. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about people.

I got an inevitable text message and two pictures from Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (left) with what he calls ‘candies’ and Eric

“Eric the Submariner,” it said, “has been going around town today handing out candies to brighten performers’ moods on what he calls ‘Shit Sunday’ – the third Sunday of the festival. He has picked the right person. I’m a mess.”

Eric the submariner used to be a regular in the audience at Malcolm’s Up The Creek Club and it was Malcolm who encouraged Eric to perform. His Tales of The Sea is a real audience-pleaser of a show with Eric in total control of the audience. Well, he should be, after ten years!

President Obonjo harangues his full audience of 350

The same could be said of President Obonjo – Benjamin Bello – whose African dictator character dominates any room – which is more difficult than he makes it seem because it could be fraught with all sorts of racial stereotype problems. The fact it sails smoothly through and he had his audience of 350 (he insists all his audiences anywhere at any time are and forever will be 350 but, in fact, today he did have a full-to-the-brim audience) eating out of his comedic hand is a tribute to his skill.

Matt Price was in charge of the Royal Marines

A talent that Matt Price (partner of cunning stunt vixen Martha McBrier) had to have in spades tonight.

His show The Weed Fairy is about his father – so-called because of his dad’s predilection for growing marijuana plants at the family home in Cornwall and consequent visits from those boys in blue again.

But that was not why Matt needed all his audience-controlling cleverness and amiability tonight.

Matt and men from 42 Commando, K Company, including Corpsey in the striped shirt, second from the right

He had eight Royal Marine Commandos in the audience, one of whom – Corpsey – was almost paralytically drunk. Matt managed to be relentlessly insulting to Corpsey (which is what his Marine mates wanted) without in any way offending either Corpsey or his mates.

It was an extraordinary feat of professionalism intermingling the scripted show, drunk-wrangling, physical improvisation, ad-libbing and street psychology.

Matt played very literally passive aggressive. He would be insulting to Corpsey and the other Marines (which they loved), then back-off into amiable self-effacement and amiability, then swing back into put-downs, then be your-best-chum, then land a slight insult, all-the-while keeping the pace of the narrative of his story on-course and on-pace.

Brilliant.

Plus there was film of him, as a slim teenager, skateboarding… and an online instruction video about didgeridoo-playing from a man claiming to run ‘The Didge Project’.

It might have been a Cunning Stunt.

Anything could be.

Fantasy and reality are beginning to merge in my mind. That is not uncommon at the Fringe, which may be the best thing since slice bread.

Meanwhile, the world outside the Edinburgh bubble still turns.

In non-Fringe-related news, my eternally un-named friend points out to me that entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who died three days ago, and Jerry Lewis, who died today, were older than sliced bread.

Sliced bread was born on 7th July 1928.

Bruce Forsyth was born on 22nd February 1928.

Jerry Lewis was born on 16th March 1926.

There are sequences from Jerry Lewis’ unseen movie The Day The Clown Cried in a documentary extract on YouTube. It has a commentary in Flemish…

Welcome to my reality.

 

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

Arthur Smith is singing as the dead Leonard Cohen – again

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

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

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

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

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

“Was he Irish?” I asked.

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

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

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

“Never stood a fucking chance”

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

“How did he fare?” I asked.

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

“Like Malcolm,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arthur Smith Sings Harry Styles?” I suggested.

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

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One of comic Malcolm Hardee’s famous stunts. The legend… And the real truth

Malcolm Hardee: a shadow of his former self

In a blog in January this year, I mentioned that Darryl, one of the squatters on the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley boat, was thinking of producing a one-night-only Edinburgh Fringe play about Malcolm.

This now seems to be happening at The Hive venue on Wednesday 23rd August under the title Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink – two days before the last ever annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Malcolm was famous for his stunts at the Fringe. One of the most famous was writing a review of his own show which he conned The Scotsman newspaper into publishing in 1989.

In his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he described this jolly prank:


One year, we were playing at The Pleasance venue and, as normal, when you open the first week, there’s no-one there. All the other shows at The Pleasance had been reviewed by The Scotsman newspaper. Again, we were ‘wrong side of the tracks’. They hadn’t come to review our show. I was feeling bitter. So I thought I’d write my own review for them. 

Malcolm’s stunt-laden autobiography

I got a copy of The Scotsman and picked out a reviewer’s name at random – William Cook. I talked to someone I knew who used to write reviews for The Scotsman and found out how to do it. All you do is type it out in double-spacing. That’s the trick. 

Then, with Arthur Smith, I wrote a review of my own show, put William Cook’s name at the bottom, folded it up, put it in an envelope and went to the Scotsman’s offices at about 9.00pm when all the staff had gone home and gave it to the porter. Sure enough, next day, they printed it. After that, the show was full up. 

Then The Scotsman went mad because someone told them I’d done it and William Cook didn’t speak to me for years. I don’t know why. I presume he got paid for it.


This week, I asked William Cook what he remembered of all this.

“Since it was all so long ago – I make it 28 years – tempus fugit! – I’m not sure there’s much (if anything) I can add. I’d been writing reviews for The Scotsman for a grand total of about a fortnight and I had never even heard of Arthur Smith or Malcolm Hardee – although I naturally saw them perform and interviewed them quite a bit thereafter.”

Arthur Smith this week remembered the glamour of it all

Earlier this week, I asked comic Arthur Smith what he remembered.

“The story as it is usually told,” I began, “is that Malcolm wrote his own review. Did he write it? Or was it both of you?”

Arthur laughed. “I wrote every word. My memory is that his show had been going a week or so and it wasn’t getting big houses. So he shambled into the bar one day and said to me: Oy! Oy! Do you wanna write a review of my show?… So I said: If you like… And he told me: I’ve found a way of getting it into The Scotsman. I guess he must have been buttering-up some critic and –  typical Malcolm – he had a bit of deviousness in mind.”

“Surely not,” I said.

“It only,” Arthur told me, “took me half an hour or something like that. Obviously, Malcolm wanted me to write it very favourably, but not so they would read it and say: Fuck off! That’s not a real review! It was a fairly straightforward kind of review in a way.”

This is what Arthur Smith wrote and what The Scotsman printed:


Malcolm Hardee shambles on-stage in an ill-fitting suit looking like a debauched Eric Morecambe and initiates the funniest show I have seen in Edinburgh this year.

The infamous fake Edinburgh Fringe review

Hardee delivers some gross but hilarious one-liners before giving way to John Moloney, “angry young accordionist”; his sharp and aggressive observations had the audience hooting with laughter.

Then Hardee, who looks like he lives in a bus station, introduced the open spot. On the night I went a 13-year-old called Alex Langdon did a standup routine which put many of his professional elders to shame.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Terri Rodgers, who walked on looking the epitome of a sweet old lady but then introduced her puppet friend Shorty Harris, who proceeded to tell a string of jokes that made Gerry Sadowitz’s material sound like Jimmy Cricket’s. This is alternative ventriloquising of the highest order.


Note: Terri Rogers is mis-spelled as Rodgers. Jerry Sadowitz, at that time, would occasionally and, I think, fairly randomly sometimes spell his forename as Gerry.

Brian Mulligan, who was, at that time, half of comic duo Skint Video, said last week: “It wasn’t completely gushing which I thought was very amusing.”

“That’s right,” Arthur told me. “Maybe, in a way, I should have gone: This is the greatest show ever. But maybe I thought that would alert the sub-editor or something. It was quite a good review. They didn’t have stars then but I would have given him 5-stars.

“I’d written reviews before for people. I had a column in the Guardian where I could write anything I liked provided it was vaguely arts-based and I reviewed a friend’s show – I don’t think I’d even seen it – and I just gave it 5-stars as a favour.

The former Scotsman building – now The Scotsman Hotel

“Anyway, I wrote the Scotsman review for Malcolm and, maybe two days later, there it was. I recall it really caused quite a kerfuffle. They got very upset about it.”

This week, writer/performer John Dowie told me: “I recall the editor of The Scotsman releasing one of the greatest ever closing-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted remarks: We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again.

Arthur Smith’s opinion today is: “I thought they took it a bit more seriously than they really needed to. They went on about the freedom of the press. It was just a great stunt, really, though I suppose it made them look a bit like cunts… but not really.”

“Did Malcolm tweak the review at all?” I asked.

“No,” Arthur told me. “It was printed exactly as I wrote it. I would have written it by hand back in those days and he must have typed it up and handed it in.”

In fact, exactly how it was delivered to The Scotsman has got hazy in the mists of time.

Last night I talked via Skype to Woodstock Taylor in Edinburgh. She was the then-journalist who actually told Malcolm how to submit the fake review.

“How did you know Malcolm?” I asked.

Woodstock Taylor, taken  sometime back in the mid-1990s

“We had a dalliance,” she told me. “I had been dallying with (another now high-profile comedian). He dumped me, then Malcolm seized the opportunity and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We dallied for a while, then stayed friends after we stopped dallying.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“Basically,” she told me, “I used to review for The Scotsman. I was the comedy critic for several years, before William Cook got there. He took over my patch.”

“William Cook said,” I told her, “that he had only been in the job about two weeks when this fake review came out.”

“That’s right,” said Woodstock, “because I had been going to do it and then I didn’t.”

“So that,” I said, “was how Malcolm knew how to submit a review to The Scotsman. But do we now own up to the fact you told him how to con The Scotsman?”

“I think so,” said Woodstock. “It’s been 28 years. I’m not likely to write for them again. They’re not very likely to come and review my Fringe show this year. And, in any case, I have a different name now.”

Founded in 1817 – survived Hardee in 1989

“So how,” I asked, “did the fake review come about?”

“Malcolm kept coming up to me and pestering me to do a review of his show and I was trying to explain to him that I didn’t have any control over what was reviewed. I would have done him a review if it had been allowed and possible.”

“This was after you dallied?” I asked.

“Ooh, ten years after. He kept saying – about a review – Oh, come on. You can make it happen. And eventually, he got this idea and I told him how it was done.”

“He just,” I said, “put it in a tray one night, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Woodstock, “in those days, all you had to do was phone up the paper, reverse charges, and ask for the Copy Desk and then just read them the review.”

“So,” I asked, “he just phoned up and said: Ello! This is William Cook!?”

“Yeah. That’s exactly how it was done.”

“Poor old William Cook,” I said.

William Cook: now a successful author on the comedy industry

“I think it probably made him,” suggested Woodstock. “Nobody knew who he was before and everybody did afterwards.”

This made me wonder, when the editor of The Scotsman said We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again, what those steps actually were.

John Dowie told me: “When I mentioned it to Malcolm, he said: It’s a code number which you have to attach to the copy. But I know what it is. I gave a journalist ten quid and he told me. I could use it. But it’s somebody else’s turn now.

The last ever Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards take place at the Edinburgh Fringe next month, billed as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s the Last Ever Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – and It’s Free!

One of the three awards is the Cunning Stunt Award for the best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe performer or show. There is a piece on how to win a Cunning Stunt Award HERE.

As for William Cook, he did not bear a grudge. When Malcolm drowned in London in 2005, he wrote a generous obituary for the Guardian which was headed:

MALCOLM HARDEE

PATRON SINNER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY,
HE WAS RENOWNED FOR HIS OUTRAGEOUS STUNTS

It concluded:

On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged on the Wibbley Wobbley to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the river where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

(Video produced by Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon venue in Edinburgh)

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith and his socks and a duck jockstrap gift

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks

Arthur Smith opens his Museum of Socks at Edinburgh Fringe

“Are you doing your traditional late-night tour of the Royal Mile?” I asked comedian and national treasure Arthur Smith yesterday, beside his new exhibition of socks.

“Yes,” Arthur told me. “And I will be introducing the13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.”

“She’s the one with only one sock?” I asked.

“Yes,” confirmed Arthur.

“Which Saturday night?” I asked.

“The 20th,” he said. “Well, strictly speaking, it’s the Sunday, because it’s after midnight.”

“What time?” I asked.

“I dunno,” said Arthur. “One o’clock? Two? I don’t care. You decide. If you put it in your blog, that’ll be the time I do it.”

So, dear reader, Arthur Smith’s legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile this year will start at 01.00am on Saturday night 20th August – or Sunday morning 21st August if you are being pedantic. The starting point, as always, is the top of the Royal Mile outside the entrance to the Castle.

“But what about Arthur Smith’s socks?” I hear you cry with some justification.

Well, tough shit. You will have to read on for a bit.

A few days ago, I got a Facebook message from one Broome Spiro asking if I fancied having breakfast with a stranger.

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

Broome Spiro and his levitating breakfast

So, of course, I let him buy me breakfast yesterday morning. He turned out to be a retired immigration attorney living in upstate New York who had chucked in his job and gone to work in a pizza parlour. His son had worked in Zoo venues at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago. Broome is fan of my blog and of the weekly Grouchy Club podcast I do with Scotsman critic Kate Copstick.

“How did you stumble on us?” I asked.

“When my son was working at Zoo,” explained Broome, “my wife Penny was following the Fringe on the computer – online, you can almost be here – and we became interested in the politics behind the Fringe and the different business models – PBH and Bob Slayer – and we ran into your blog, which was ‘real’. It’s nice to have it done with historical perspective so you can understand if you are new to it all.

“Over the years, I have collected a tremendous amount of things. My first job was with an antiques dealer, holding up stuff, and my mother made me quit after a month because I had not had a pay cheque yet, but I kept on coming home with antiques. I have this 3,000 square foot house with four 38ft tractor trailers and two barns filled with things and how I finance coming to Edinburgh is by selling things.”

Broome tests the straps of his jockstrap

Broome tests the straps of his gift jockstrap

He took out and showed me a jockstrap made from a plastic duck.

“You created it yourself?” I asked.

“Well,” said Broome, “I found the duck and designed the jock strap, but a guy called Dara Albro is the one who made it a reality.”

“Was it tested for size and comfort?” I asked.

“I was the fitting model,” admitted Broome. “I am going to present it to Paul Currie.

“Why?” I asked.

“I like his show.”

Later in the day, Broome also turned up at the Pleasance Dome for the official opening of the exhibition of Arthur Smith’s socks.

Which is where we came in.

The exhibition includes one sock belonging to (or, more correctly, formerly belonging to) the aforementioned 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga.

Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick is of a mind to nominate Arthur’s sock exhibition for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award on the basis that it is “very Saatchi”.

“Have you,” I asked Arthur, “ever been prosecuted in a Scottish court for your legendary annual late-night tour of the Royal Mile?”

“Not quite,” he said. “There was a balustrade on a corner once – well, it’s still there – and I paid a guy to stand on it and take his top off and sing Scotland The Brave and then a woman said Oh! That’s sexist! so she took her top off as well. They were a couple and had a big row. Anyway, the next day I looked, I realised there was a 40ft drop behind it and they had both been arseholed. They could have died. Maybe I would have been up for manslaughter if they had fallen. I dunno.”

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano creator Iain Gordon at Arthur Smith’s opening

Claire Smith, Broome Spiro and piano builder Iain Gordon

Also there at the grand opening of Arthur’s sock exhibition – rather grandly titled Arturart’s Museum of Socks – was Scotsman journalist and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith.

“I am staying in a tent in Worbey and Farrell’s garden,” she told me.

“What if it rains?” I asked.

“It makes a lovely splashing sound.”

“Why are you staying in a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“Because I love them. They are sweet.”

“Why a tent in their garden?” I asked.

“It’s really lovely,” explained Claire. “I’ve got a little office in there. And WiFi, a vase with lilies and a carpet. And a cherry tree. Have you heard about Lewis Schaffer?”

“Constantly,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer: sexist or vulnerable?

Lewis Schaffer in days before he went grey

“He forgot his suit,” continued Claire. ”He left it in London. He had to do his show in civies yesterday. In his jeans. But he needs his suit. He usually buys his suits from ASDA because he says they are very Armani-ish. Well, a bit. But cheaper. So he left his suit in London and had to do his show in his jeans yesterday and he is wondering if it is a subconscious desire to give up comedy forever.”

“Has he started performing comedy now?” I asked, surprised.

“I have heard,” confided Claire, “that his suit is on its way up from London.”

“Via one of his entourage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What other news?” I asked.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Loitering within tent? Claire Smith and Michael Topping

“Topping (of Topping & Butch) has given up alcohol and wants to do people’s feet in Edinburgh. He does reflexology in London. He’s really good at it. He lives in a little castle in London. He thought he would come up here and offer people reflexology.”

“People at random in the street?” I asked.

“Well, he was wanting to do it from my tent, but we haven’t really been able to organise it. We thought, if it was sunny, we could have a garden party. Get a load of people round to my tent and get their feet done.”

“Sunny?” I asked. “In Edinburgh in August? Where is your tent?”

“Near Meadowbank Stadium.”

“Oh,” I said. “I’m moving to a flat between Meadowbank and Easter Road for the last four days of the Fringe. It could be noisy at the weekend.”

Meadowbank is a 16,000 seat sports stadium and Easter Road is the 20,000 seater home of Hibernian football club.

“There’s a circus tent down there now,” said Claire.

“Let us hope,” I said, “that they don’t have elephants.”

Arthur Smith and sock of 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

Arthur Smith in Edinburgh with the newly exhibited sock of the 13ft Norwegian giantess Jadwiga

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Tis the season to be jolly – now comic Lewis Schaffer converts to Christianity?

Steve Frost caught in flagrante delicto with capitalist caviar

Frost caught in flagrante delicious with capitalist caviar

Yesterday, I went to the annual Christmas party thrown by comic Charmian Hughes and husband David Don’t. On reflection, ‘annual Christmas party’ might be tautology. Anyway, a good time was, as always, had by all the tight-packed throng including writer and troublemaker Mark Kelly who insisted I take a photo of esteemed thespian Stephen Frost eating caviar and thus demonstrating he had given up his youthful ambitions to change the world and abolish elitism.

I should point out that the caviar was from Lidl, apparently retails for less than the cost of a Big Mac and comes not from sturgeon but from capelin, a small forage fish found in the Arctic.

I have no idea what a forage fish is, but its slimy bits can apparently legitimately be classed as caviar.

Charmian Hughes offers me her bras

Charmian Hughes shows me her bras last night

As I left the party, Charmian Hughes gave me a plastic bag filled with bras which, I was told, I had to give to comedy critic Kate Copstick for her Mama Biashara charity. I asked no questions, but I can only assume they are destined for some bemused and heavily bosomed Kenyan women.

Tomorrow, with Kate Copstick chairing, the last live Grouchy Club meeting of this year (all welcome) involves comedy industry chat + some OTTness from Ada Campe + mulled cider + nibbles provided by the aforementioned Copstick. Usually, she bites.

There is an oft-used but admittedly here irrelevant Scots saying: “Many a mickle maks a muckle”.

“Many people make mulled wine,” Copstick tells me, “but I’m Scottish, therefore I’m cheap, therefore I make mulled cider, but it’s lovely and it’s still alcoholic and it is absolutely delicious. There will be nibbles and chocolate in almost every conceivable form, plus crispy things, possibly dippy things and cakey things.”

Lewis Schaffer’s flyer image for his Leicester Square shows

Lewis Schaffer in erstwhile  youth. Once seen, never forgotten

Tonight, I am off to see Lewis Schaffer’s final 2015 performance of a show at the Museum of Comedy – a show that was billed as Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £10… until about five hours before the first performance when, with cavalier disregard for any rules of publicity – like what name is actually on the posters, flyers and listings – he changed it to Lewis Schaffer: You Are Beautiful… a title which could arguably see him in court charged with breach of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

Lewis Schaffer says there will be an after-show party and, as he does not care what is written about him provided the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ are inserted at regular intervals, I can exclusively reveal that Lewis Schaffer will be at the party naked, draped in nothing but a Stars & Stripes flag and he will be singing Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, having last week converted to Christianity.

LewisSchaffer_PinkHair

A Goy or a Doll? – Which is worse?

To consolidate this, in the New Year, Lewis Schaffer will be appearing in a stage production at the National Theatre of Goys and Dolls. He may be playing one of the female leads, judging by a photo of him in publicity for Martin Besserman’s Jewish Xmas Eve Matzo Ball Special in which he (Lewis Schaffer) sports pink hair.

We live in a time of flux and this morning I got a Christmas e-card from Arthur Smith comprising a giant picture of himself either as Scrooge or a mullah. If the latter, he – like Lewis Schaffer with his conversion to Christianity – may be hedging his New Year bets.

ArthurSmithChristmasCard

Arthur Smith – the ghost of Christmas Bahs?

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Arthur Smith says Jimmy Carr is “working on a comedy algorithm”

Arthur Smith in a Soho alleyway

Arthur Smith at the Grouchy Club in a Soho alleyway

As Kate Copstick is still in Kenya, I was joined for this week’s Grouchy Club Podcast – in a Soho alleyway – by comedian Arthur Smith.

This short exchange cropped up:


ARTHUR
More and more, there are people creeping into the world who aren’t real. they’ve been fabricated by programmers.

JOHN
For example?

ARTHUR
Well, Jimmy Carr. I don’t think he’s a human being. He’s…

JOHN
Poor Jimmy Carr!

ARTHUR
No, he’s a synthesised creature working on a comedy algorithm that just creates jokes. But, obviously, there’s no feeling or soul or anything. And this is happening more and more. everyone’s job, soon, will be done by a synthesised creature and we’ll just be sort-of vegetables sat at home watching afternoon TV.

JOHN
But surely Jimmy Carr is a traditional old-style comedian, in fact. He tells jokes, which people don’t do now. There’s Jimmy Carr, there’s Tim Vine, there’s about three other people doing jokes and everyone else is telling stories.

ARTHUR
Yes. Because that’s all synthesised creatures can do, because they’re working on a series of algorithms, like I say. So they regurgitate the form of a joke.

JOHN
You’re not a joke man yourself?

ARTHUR
A man goes to a doctor. The doctor says: “I’m afraid you’re going to have to stop masturbating.”

“Oh no!” says the man. “Why?”

“Well,” says the doctor, “I’m trying to im…examine you.”

I nearly fluffed the punchline… I’ll do another one.

A man goes to the doctor with a bit of lettuce sticking out of his bottom.

The doctor says: “It’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

Oh, no, I like an ancient joke.

JOHN
But does this mean you’re an algorithm?

ARTHUR
Yeah, but I’m a Barry Cryer algorithm and that’s a different kind of creature altogether.

JOHN
Well, Barry Cryer is a sort of a gag merchant and Jimmy Carr’s a gag merchant. I have to say I quite like the gypsy moth joke myself.

ARTHUR
Hang on, whose gypsy moth joke is this one?

JOHN
Jimmy Carr.

ARTHUR
Oh, yeah, that one! Well he’s got in trouble again, I noticed. He’s quite clever. It was a classic; he wanted to do a very short joke and the joke was a dwarf shortage. But, of course, he was on The One Show and got in trouble for that.

JOHN
And, when people complained, he said: “Oh, grow up!” which, I thought, was a double funny.

ARTHUR
Yeah, I agree. I agree they’re good gags. I just wish he’d… Yeah, but he’s not a human, is he? There’s no heart; there’s no soul, is there?

JOHN
David Mills, who you probably don’t know, was saying that he…

ARTHUR
Yeah, I know David Mills – the American – he’s brilliant.

JOHN
He was saying he’s going to try and incorporate himself more into his act, because he’s never really done ‘himself’ before.

ARTHUR
The thing is, he was constructed, that’s why. He’s a synthesised comedian; I told you.

JOHN
David Mills??

ARTHUR
No, not David MIlls. Oh! I see! David Mills is going to incorporate…

JOHN
Yeah, David Mills is going to incorporate personal stuff whereas, before, he’s just been a man sitting on a stool.

ARTHUR
Yeah, well I think, in the end, that is a good thing to do.

JOHN
Sit on a stool? At our age?

ARTHUR
Well, you’re better off with a back to it. But I think having something of yourself is what makes you unique as a comedian whereas, if you haven’t, then you’re just a synthesiser.


You can hear the full 25-minute Grouchy Club Podcast HERE, in which Arthur talks about his theory of mindlessness, writing for Frankie Howard, being in a Danish pantomime, why he may go trans-gender, Shakespeare, being pedantic, semi-colons, creative writing courses, Daphne Fairfax and his several half-written novels… plus he performs the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno in the original medieval Italian. Oh yes he does.

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Edinburgh: critic Copstick ejected from Gilded Balloon; Freestival venue burned

Papa CJ with two passing strangers in Cowgate

Papa CJ with two passing strangers in Edinburgh’s Cowgate

On Sunday, I thought Papa CJ was going back to India on Monday.

Then he announced an extra show in Edinburgh tonight (Tuesday). I had no idea how or why.

I didn’t ask him until last night.

“I had 18 back-to-back full-houses,” he told me. “Then, during a coffee chat with (comedy critic) Kate Copstick, she mentioned it would be great to be able to say ‘extra shows added’. Also a few people who wanted to see me weren’t able to. So I found out what rooms might be available, changed my return flight to India and added one show. The only catch is that there is no publicity about it out there. So I’m hoping people come in on the back of flyering and social media. Also, in all honesty, I’m really enjoying the response the show is getting from audiences… so subconsciously I probably just got greedy for one more gig.”

So do I know what is happening in Edinburgh?

Well, to be honest, I have never claimed to.

Arthur Smith, alien, in the Royal Mile last night

Arthur Smith on Royal Mile tour

This was proved yet again yesterday when this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith (who is not in the comedy business but seems to know everybody at the Fringe) told me that, this year, Arthur Smith is probably not doing his famous – some might say infamous – last-weekend-of-the-Fringe tour of the Royal Mile.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he’s not here at the weekends.”

“Ah,” I said.

“He will be doing it next year,” Sandra told me.

“Ah,” I said, as if this was no surprise to me.

Last night, critic Kate Copstick was ejected from the Gilded Balloon venue for falling asleep in the Wine Bar. Thankfully not during a show.

The Edinburgh Fringe can be tiring even for people who are not performing.

For the last couple of weeks, I have been seeing around seven shows each day (each show = one hour) and, last night, I went to bed at 04.30am and got up at 08.30am.

But that’s my choice.

My highlights yesterday were Mathilda Gregory’s hour-long show on How To Be Fat – just the right balance of comedy and serious fascination. I could say comedy is often better with some meat to get your teeth into but, of course, would never dream of being so shallow.

An even more quirky show was Accident Avoidance Training For Cutlery Users in which Jimmy Frinton (performing as character Ian Crawford) … erm … well, he does what it says in the title. He gives a lecture on how to avoid getting injured by your own cutlery.

Safety can be comic or not.

Earlier today, I blogged about the eccentricities of the PBH Free Fringe.

There has been drama too at the Freestival, who were ejected from their presumed Cowgatehead venue by PBH and belatedly found homes in the New Waverley Arches.

The Freestival Arches

The Freestival Arches: site of a weekend break-in and burning

In the early hours of Saturday morning – around 4.00am to 5.30am – a person or persons unknown broke into one of their arches and their chairs got burned.

“Somebody broke in,” Dan Adams of Freestival told me today,”and appears to have known enough about how we work to get the generator going and plugged in the bar power to the generator. But the lights are on a different power ring which they appear to have been too pissed to realise. So they went into the venue proper and plugged our lights into the bar circuits with an extension causing overload to build.

“They stole one of our PA units and about three cases of booze and left stuff running which caused a fire because it wasn’t set up correctly. The venue’s 40 chairs are covered in burned particulate. Part of the bar burned where the fire started melted cables etc and pump beer coolers. On Sunday it was all hands to the pump and yesterday and we got it all turned around and ready by about 12.30pm. No damage to the other arches at all.”

In Edinburgh, that counts as a happy ending.

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