I received this recent anecdote from John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.
It was a much normal day as such – weather atrocious outside – so I made myself busy indoors.
The doorbell rang.
I went to find a courier there holding a parcel.
On seeing me at my door, he asked for my address.
Then he asked for my name but he spoke in broken English as it was not his native tongue.
He looked at the parcel, then at me, then at his handheld wotever with an LCD screen. He checked to see if the details tallied and handed the parcel over to me.
It was my ‘dead cat’ microphone for my Sony camcorder to use alongside in lieu of the maker’s own mic when conditions are not too clever when filming outside etc.
I thanked him and closed the door and went back inside.
Before I had a chance to open the box up to see if it really was the item as ordered, the doorbell rang again.
It was the same courier.
He said he was sorry to disturb me and then said: “I know who you am!” in an excited tone.
Now armed with a big, beaming grin, he asked for my autograph.
Ever happy to oblige, I picked up a yellow coloured plain display card, A4 size, that was lying about and did the doodle/cartoon I normally do and signed it with: ‘Best wishes to Pieter’.
He seemed overjoyed, shook my arm out of its socket near enough and off he went.
A moment or two later, the doorbell rang yet again.
It was Pieter.
He stood there, pointing at the card: “Who dis?” he asked
“Me,” I said.
“No, no I want your real name!” he replied.
“That is my real name,” I told him. “I had this arrangement with my mother and father soon after I was born, so can’t really say too much about it with regard to my input on the matter as I was not consulted about it at the time.”
“Who dissa John Ward?”
“It’s me, the same as on the parcel you just delivered to me… John Ward.”
He looked slightly bewildered. He was not alone on that one.
“Is it you stage name thing you do when not doing you real work?”
“No, my stage name is Wells Fargo but I never really use it much, unless I am travelling overland.”
I have recently had some emails for him, cobbled-together by me below:
I have just finished construction of ‘Top Nut’, my latest squirrel feeder – as seen in Moulton-Seas-End (which is nowhere near the sea). It is based on Star Wars type stuff and cobbled together from all bits and bobs.
A few years ago now when I saw the squirrels we had running about in the garden I realised that a trail of nuts would lead their inquisitive minds to the pile of nuts or whatever I have built for them.
It has taken a week or so to get them to investigate Top Nut, but they are now getting used to it.
I have taken some ‘grabbed’ photographs through the kitchen window so they’re not that clear. Now I know how Attenborough’s lot must feel sitting it out, waiting…
How did all this come to pass? I hear you ask.
The wheelbarrow we used in the garden had collapsed – it’s always the metalwork that rots or rusts through it seems. So what was left was the heavy duty plastic barrow part plus the wheel.
The more I looked at the shape, the more I wondered what it would look like upside down.
Inspired by what it DID look like upside down, the plan was to build another squirrel feeder – You can’t have enough squirrel feeders I always say, moreso as we live rural.
The barrow bit was cleaned and large holes cut into it based on when we get winds – it blows straight through – a lesson learnt years ago with the bird table that was blown over and basically destroyed… So that was sorted.
Next the ‘deck’ or floor was a discarded off-cut from a sheet of MDF, the miracle TV ‘makeover’ show product that seems to be used for just about everything in building anything in this day and age.
It was shaped to fit the upside down barrow bit leaving a narrow, half inch margin all round so that rain water can escape so as not to flood it – and it works very well I am happy to say. Tick the box marked ‘Forward Planning’ here.
I also applied five coats of waterproof vanish to seal it against the elements, which took over a fortnight, on and off, to allow each coat to cure or dry properly hence being waterproof (I hoped…).
Next was a stable but firm base. This was achieved by cutting an industrial type slotted racking support in half to make a ‘V’ shaped support, then welded to a metal plate to partly form the base.
This was bolted to an old office chair base that was being thrown out by a local company that I ‘rescued’ from their skip (with their knowledge – although they didn’t quite seem to believe what I was building).
To gain squirrel access to the craft, I made a ladder from a plastic PVC off-cut from somebody who was having new soffits (the bits that hold the guttering up) and double glazing put in. The treads are plastic packers as used in the building trade to even brick/woodwork up… cut down to scale and stuck on with superglue.
Next up was making the superstructure. The rear ‘motors’ are four old 35mm film slide projector reels, reversed then glued/screwed end to end.
They were then attached to two loudspeaker ‘horns’ to form the ‘motive power’ with the actual top being an old industrial size fluorescent plastic based light unit, cut in half and glued together to form the ‘upper hull’ section.
The various ‘wings’ on top are parts from a discarded electric buggy/wheelchair.
The ‘flight deck’ is made from an old desk ‘odds and ends’ tray cut in half and miniature ‘seats’ handmade using an old black imitation leather shopping bag for covering and inserted into small square type flower pots to form ‘bucket seats’ that are about to scale considering the size of our semi-resident squirrels – Sid and Shazz.
The controls are assorted colour beads and anything lying about. The ‘gear stick’ is based on a 1987 model British Leyland Maestro car. The ‘handbrake’ based on a Ford Sierra of the same era.
Between the seats at the rear is a scale model fire extinguisher. Should there be anything untoward happening on the flight deck, then this won’t make the slightest bit of difference, but it looks good!
The outside solar power and heat transfer modals are waffle plates – one per side – from a sandwich/waffle maker that somebody donated to the construction as they never used them as they only use the sandwich, toasty plates so they are brand new, unused.
The ‘front screen’ is an empty space with thin elastic threaded through drilled holes to form the ‘screen surrounds’ similar in appearance to WW2 planes.
The ‘Sid and Shazz’ sun visor – going back to the 1970s – where it was the thing to have the driver and passenger’s name in the sun visor over the windscreen – is a separate piece of Perspex with their names stuck on with letters from Poundland.
PS: in the first video, and possibly in a photo or two, there is a sign with ‘Painting by Carl’ on it.
He is the paint sprayer for a local engineering firm who was silly enough to ask if he ‘could do anything towards your project’ and so he sprayed the exterior of Top Nut in the machine grey you see.
I have mentioned the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in the last couple of blogs. The actual trophies were designed and made by mad inventor John Ward who is particularly keen (via an email this morning) that I mention he lives in or near Moulton-Seas-End in Lincolnshire.
If you go to Wikipedia, you will find there is an article on Moulton-Seas-End currently illustrated with a sole photograph (below).
John Ward clearly is, indeed, a man out standing in his own field.
Moulton-Seas-End, home of John Ward (Photograph supplied by Kate Jewell via geograph.org.uk)
I suspect he may be trying to drum up tourist trade for Moulton-Seas-End, which is nowhere near the sea.
These, like the Malcolm Hardee Awards, are currently organised by the British Comedy Guide with trophies designed by John Ward but, in this case, there is sponsorship from London’s Museum of Comedy.
The Comedians’ Choice Awards were founded in 2014 and aim to help highlight “the amazing work of those at the Fringe who may well otherwise go unrecognised, as judged by those who understand their efforts the best: their peers.”
Every comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe is eligible to both cast a vote and to be voted for.
There is no panel of judges, no industry specialists. The performers themselves decide who wins. Voting is conducted during August via an online form administered by the British Comedy Guide.
The Comedians’ Choice Awards are presented in three categories:
BEST SHOW at the Fringe.
BEST PERFORMER – The best individual comedy performer at the festival.
BEST PERSON – “A person who the voter feels should get recognition for their contribution to this year’s Fringe. This does not need to be a performer; it can be anyone associated with the comedy industry at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, from reviewers to producers and venue staff.”
The Best Performer and Best Show winners and the Best Show shortlist nominees get invited to take part in a special Comedians’ Choice showcase season at London’s Museum Of Comedy in October.
This year, as a bonus, streaming platform NextUp Comedy will also record some of the Museum Of Comedy nights, with the performer receiving a revenue share.
The actual trophies, as I said, are designed and made by John Ward, who lives in or near the village of Moulton-Seas-End in Lincolnshire. He tells me:
John Ward, from Moulton-Seas-End, with the original Award
Before the Covid, if you recall we met up at Milton Keynes with the then ‘new’ Award that – unbeknown to me at the time – was then given in three classes and not one as I first thought.
Trying to replicate that one this year has been slightly chaotic… Since the Covid malarkey, things have been a bit fraught in acquiring the same materials in the making of.
The materials that went into making that Award are not readily available nowadays – blame the Ukraine business, the 3 Day Week, fluoride in toothpaste, wotever.
John Ward, resident of Moulton-Seas-End, crafting an Award
The new design is more handy for standing on a bookshelf, fireplace or to use as a door stop.
It’s in a mask configuration with the now standard ‘red nose’ being central, with a slanted ‘comedic eye’ on one side with the Comedy Guide emblem opposite making the twin ‘eyes’ as such with raised eyebrows.
The ‘grinning’ mouth has been chiselled out and filled with red ‘sparkly ripple’ type finish inserted and is not symmetrical but, as you look at it, there is a small curl on the left hand side at the top of it.
It is secured to the base with twin screws and a central wooden dowel so, in theory, there is not much chance of it falling apart… but, then again, they said the Titanic was unsinkable..
I have made nine of these: three for 2021 to give to the winners from then, three for this year 2022 and three for next year 2023, with each year being designated its own colour scheme.
The colours per year are: Gold, Silver and Bronze. This year, for 2022, it’s Silver.
Three years’ worth of The Comedians’ Choice Awards
THE COMEDIANS’ CHOICE AWARDS
Jordan Gray …performing in Jordan Gray: Is It a Bird?
Sharing the news on social media, Gray said: “This means EVERYTHING to me.”
Rob Copland: Mainstream Muck (Gimme Some of That)
In a nod to his unconventional show, when asked what it felt like to win, Copland supplied this statement: “\m/”.
BEST SHOW SHORTLIST
Ali Brice: I Tried To Be Funny, But You Weren’t Looking Chelsea Birkby: No More Mr Nice Chelsea Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann The Delightful Sausage: Nowt but Sea Elf Lyons: Raven Luke Rollason: Bowerbird Siblings: Siblage Shelf: Hair Stuart Laws – Putting Zoo
He is managing director of show production company Objectively Funny. The company also produces and distributes the Small Book on Mental Health at the festival, to support performers.
Martin Willis said: “It is a massive honour to win an award like this, one that’s voted for by people involved in shows here. It means the world to be recognised by a community that I care so dearly about, and I’m incredibly grateful.
“That being said, it cannot go unmentioned that in the history of this particular award the winner has always been a man. That fact speaks both of the demographics of the voters but also of what we actually see from behind the scenes. For an industry that is historically male-dominated onstage, there is a vast array of brilliant women that have made so much work possible in so many ways – technicians, producers, agents, venue programmers and people that do whatever job needs doing with care and gusto.
“I would like to accept this award on behalf of the Objectively Funny team that has worked so hard to make excellent things happen at this festival: Ellie Brayne-Wyatt, Maddy Bye, Kathryn Higgins, Olivia Phipps and Lois Walshe.”
The late Malcolm Hardee outside his childhood home
Alas no attempt was made to link the fact that the Award and the dead-but-impossible-to-forget comic Malcolm Hardee himself are both late.
Normally, there are three Malcolm Hardee Awards but, with no Fringe last year, with Covid still stalking the land and with staggeringly fewer shows at the Fringe this year, it’s a miracle there was any award at all.
As for the lesser Fringe awards… There were no Edinburgh Comedy (aka Perrier) Awards at all this year. And the eponymous TV channel did not attempt to award any prize for ‘DAVE’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2021’.
Fittingly, then, the winner of the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year was Will Mars, who announced his own ‘(Some Guy Called) DAVE Joke of the Fringe 2021’.
A cunning stunt indeed.
The TV channel’s annual prize is awarded after multiple allegedly top comedy industry professionals assiduously scout for jokes to nominate a shortlist and the final winner is decided by an allegedly carefully supervised public vote.
This year, Will Mars just got together a few gags from people’s shows and then wandered up the Royal Mile in Edinburgh trying to find anyone called Dave who would pick a winner from the bunch.
Surprisingly, finding someone called Dave turned out to be almost as difficult as picking a winner.
The chosen winning joke was Masai Graham’s:
“I thought the word ‘Caesarean’ began with the letter ‘S’ but, when I looked in the dictionary, it was in the ‘C’ section.”
The shortlist of other jokes – inexplicably Caesar-centric – which Will had got together included:
Adele Cliff: “The Roman emperor’s wife hates playing hide and seek because wherever she goes Julius Caesar.”
Ben Clover: “Getting a caesarian is dangerous in Russia. If they open you up and find a little girl, they open her up to see if there’s another.”
Ivor Dembina: “My therapist told me, ‘A problem shared, is a hundred quid’.”
Sameer Katz: “I think Chewbacca is French because he understands English but refuses to speak it.”
Leo Kearse: “Marvin Gaye used to keep a sheep in my vineyard. He’d herd it through the grapevine.”
Will Mars’ own: “My grandparents were married for forty years, but everything took longer back then.”
Tom Mayhew: “Me and my ex were into role play. I’d pretend to be James Bond and she’d pretend she still loved me.”
Rich Pulsford: “I don’t know what you call a small spillage from a pen but I have an inkling.”
The trophy for the one-off 2021 Award itself was designed and crafted by mad inventor John Ward, who has designed and made all the previous trophies.
But you can’t just knock-off a Malcolm Hardee Award in a minute or two. Oh no. Oh my dear me, no. Quality counts.
You need raw materials and then you have to decide what the fuck to do with them…
Once you have ’em, you have to shape ’em and craft ’em…
Then, if you’re talented like John Ward, you have to tart ’em up into a final trophy…
John Ward (he’s the one on the right) with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award 2021
John Ward told me: “It’s basically Malcolm’s bonce, with real imitation hair, plus the specs mounted on an ‘H’ shaped base for Hardee.
“I used a BAFTA type theme but tried to take the piss out of it with the silver (on the right) symbolising the bland year and half it’s been with Covid and the golden ray of laughter (on the left) is pure (if that’s a suitable word) Malcolm with a hearty grin.”
“With real imitation hair?” I asked. “From where?”
“From a fabric shop I patronise for such things…”
“Such things?” I asked.
“I use it to make wigs and I buy it by the yard as you never know when you might run out of the hairy stuff…” replied John.
Here is a reminder of John Ward.
Here is Will Mars’ typically non-promotional speech accepting the 2021 Cunning Stunt Award…
This Saturday, he appears with fellow Puma Londinese Italians as part of the launch weekend for Bob Slayer’s Blundabus in Hackney.
Next July, Luca goes to the mega-prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
“Part of the prize for winning So You Think You’re Funny?” Luca told me, “is to go to Montreal and appear in a showcase for British comedy and I will have the spot as the up-and-coming British comedian.”
“So you,” I said, “an Italian, are representing Britain.”
“Yes,” said Luca. “This year was really a UKIP comedy. The runner up in So You Think You’re Funny? was Yuriko Kotani, who is Japanese. What I like about the UK is that I manage to win a competition despite my accent and broken English. This would not happen in Italy.”
“Don’t let the Queen down,” I said.
“She’s the head of Canada,” replied Luca, “and she’s not Canadian. This year, America’s Got Talent was won by an English ventriloquist.”
“And my chum Mr Methane, the farteur,” I said, “was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent, despite having nothing to do with Germany.”
“Ah,” said Luca, “but he speaks an international language.”
“You were an actor in Italy,” I said to Luca, “before coming here to do comedy. Why did you become an actor?”
“I was not happy with my job.”
“What was your job?”
“I was a freelance editor at a publisher. Not a bad job, but it did not pay very well. I thought: I’m not going to do this forever. I was already 35 and still living at home with my parents. I loved my parents but my mother was very possessive. When you do something that is boring, you sit at a desk and work and get up and ten years have passed and you do not have any memory of this.
Luca Cupani took a selfie in London this week
“Since I left that job, I now remember almost every single day, because every day something new happens. Sometimes horrible things like my mother dying, my father dying. But also sometimes beautiful things. New people. So I was looking for a way to get out of my boring job. And I thought: Why not join the French Foreign Legion?”
“Errrrrrr,” I said, surprised.
“I would never have joined the Italian Army,” said Luca, “because I’m not particularly patriotic. To be honest, Italy should be ruled by someone else. But, in the French Foreign Legion, they don’t bother where you are from. So I thought: Why not? It seemed a safe place to hide.”
“Did you mention this to your mother?” I asked.
“I tried. I thought about running away, but my father was disabled and I could not leave him alone.”
“But,” I said, “if you had joined the French Foreign Legion…”
“I just had this idea,” said Luca, “that, if something went wrong, I would join the French Foreign Legion.”
“Perhaps you should still consider it,” I suggested. “There must be an Edinburgh Fringe show and a book in it…”
“You can join the French Foreign Legion until you are 40 or 50,” mused Luca. “The transition from being a freelance editor or proof reader behind a desk to becoming a comedian or an actor did not change things too much money-wise – and uncertainty about the future was pretty much the same – but now I feel more free.”
“So why,” I asked, “did you decide not to join the French Foreign Legion?”
“Because it is so boring. I checked the website and the entry pay was only something like 200 Euros more than I was earning – to stay in French Guinea in the jungle – and you had to learn French. That could have been good, because I would have learnt another language, but you also have to sing and I sing terribly.”
“They sing?” I asked.
“They sing a lot,” said Luca. “Even before dinner. I learned one of their songs: Adieu vieille Europe…”
“Is it,” I asked, “one of the strict rules of the French Foreign Legion? You have to sing?”
“Yes. And then you have to iron your own uniforms. It is a clash between being macho and being quite camp. Their uniform is unique, so they make a lot of effort into putting the pleat correctly in it when you do the ironing. You have to put a lot of effort into the ironing and then, maybe, you have to kill someone.”
“Kill someone?” I asked.
“You have to, maybe. I don’t know. My favourite group in the French Foreign Legion were the Pioneers – the people who make bridges.”
French Foreign Legion Pioneers wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather aprons
“Yes. There are very few of them.”
“I guess there are not many bridges in the desert,” I said.
“I don’t know,” said Luca. “Their symbol is an axe and an apron open on one side. I don’t know why it is open on one side. And a long beard.”
“A bird?” I asked.
“A beard. A very long beard. And they hold axes and wear aprons. They seem very proud of their aprons.
“I also decided not to join because a friend of mine knew someone who had been in the French Foreign Legion and he was not happy and he left before his contract ended because he was heavily bullied. Apparently they were ‘fond’ of him.”
“Fond of him?” I asked.
“They fancied him,” explained Luca. “And I know men can fancy me. And so I thought: Mmmm. If I am in the jungle in French Guinea and find I am the most attractive ‘girl’ in the battalion, they will never get my heart but still they can…”
“It all started last year,” Charlotte told me, “when I did the face-sitting protest. On 1st December, the government created amendments to the 2003 Communications Act so certain activities were now deemed illegal online and face-sitting was one of them. So, on 12th December, I got about 350 people outside Parliament singing Sit On My Face by Monty Python while sitting on people’s faces.”
“Fully clothed?” I asked.
“Fully clothed,” said Charlotte. “It was a cold day. And I did my William Wallace speech at the end: You can try and ban our liberties, but you can never take our sexual freedom. You can see the speeches on my YouTube channel.
We got support from lots of people. I’ve always had support from Lembit Öpik – and from Rupert Everett since I did the Channel 4 documentary Love for Sale with him.
“I’ve got a new petition coming up which I’ve just started to allow two independent sex workers to be able to work together for safety in regards to brothel keeping. Brothel keeping is against the law. In 2010, Labour looked at allowing 3-4 sex workers to work together. 10,000 signatures would start the ball rolling. 100,000 signatures will hopefully get me a debate if I can get the right people on board with it.”
“You’ve run for Parliament in two by-elections, I said. “Did you decide to do that as a result of the face-sitting protest?”
“No. Clacton-on-Sea was in October last year. It was a great opportunity for me to really talk about sexual freedom of expression. Then, when the second by-election came up in Rochester & Strood in November, I thought Well, I may as well. I quite enjoy it. But that is when I actually realised it’s like standing on top of a mountain screaming what you know is right yet nobody is listening. Unless you’ve got a good wedge of money behind you, you’re nothing.”
Charlotte seen via FaceTime yesterday with her latest award
“He’s just like a guy you’d get pissed-up with in a pub. There aren’t many people where I find there’s something I dislike, but he just has such a smarmy way about him. You don’t know if he IS coming across genuine or if he’s just a people-pleaser. I think it’s his mouth. His mouth doesn’t portray honesty. You know how some people have a wiggling corner of their mouth sometimes when they lie? It’s like horses.
“I don’t like horses because their eyes have no iris, so you can’t see where they’re looking. I’m just so wary of a horse – it’s probably one of the only animals where you would never know if it’s going to turn on you. Because it’s got no iris, you can’t read it.”
“Nigel Farage,” I said, “comes across as the man next door, but he was a commodity broker, wasn’t he?”
“Then he’d make a perfect hotelier,” said Charlotte, “because normally anyone who has stocks or assets or is an accountant goes into hotels but they lack the charisma. They probably have the same level of charisma as a caterpillar.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “Nigel Farage could become the new Basil Fawlty.”
“At Rochester & Strood,” Charlotte told me, “Britain First got 13 votes more than me. I can understand that Britain First has got some very patriotic points of view, but the majority of it was a racist, damaging stab and I thought: People would rather vote for racism than the choice of sexual expression.
“Whereas I believe, if people were having more sex, the serotonin levels in their body would be fantastic and everybody would be happy. We wouldn’t have time to be vindictive or have hatred towards people. We would be smiling more.
“Did you read that story about judges in the court system who got sacked for watching pornography at work? I would rather have my court judge watch pornography before my court case. If he’s just had a wank, I know he’s going to be level-headed, very happy and I’m not going to have a problem. I think I would specifically ask that, if I was up in court for anything, I want my judge to go and have a wank before he listens to my case.”
“Now there’s a project for you,” I said.
Charlotte with her 2013 Sex Worker of the Year award
“I’ve got a new project,” replied Charlotte, “called The Sex Avengers. That’s up-and-coming for January. I want to build an army of support – not a hierarchy – activists, then industry, then the public. A huge directory: a one-stop shop that people can go to.”
“If you are an Avenger,” I asked, “what’s your super-power?”
“I think to deliver strength and positivity in my speech. I’ve done a lot of speeches now and I love sharing what’s happening. But, rather than being a speech that moans, I build positivity, I build energy, I build unity. I think that’s my strength: to be able to share energy and build on positivity.”
“You have moved to London recently,” I said. “Why?”
“Yes,” said Charlotte. “The Sex Workers’ Opera. It’s an award-winning show. We’ve been running it since 2013. We put it on at the Arcola in Dalston last year and won the Pioneer Award at the Sexual Freedom Awards which used to be called the Erotic Awards. We are hopefully doing a documentary for Channel 4.”
“No. It’s more like a hip-hopera. It’s a bit more funky. Two hours. We’ve got scenes about prohibitionists, the Soho raids, the porn laws. It’s 50% sex workers and 50% allies.”
“Sex and music?” I asked.
“I’m also going to be putting on events to promote the Sex Avengers. Ben Dover is a good friend of mine and he plays the drums for a tribute band called Guns 2 Roses. It would be absolutely fantastic if I could find people in the sex industry who play an instrument and we actually form a rock band and go round all these events promoting sexual freedom through music. That would be great.”
Kate Copstick – just not a comedy critic to mess with
Well, the energetic typhoon and bundle of occasional volcanic anger that is The Scotsman’s comedy critic – Kate Copstick – arrived yesterday and has been arranging tickets to see shows. Sometimes acts say they will not let critics in for the first two or three performances as their show will not be ready for appraisal. This can lose them a review either because critics’ schedules are so tight the show can’t be fitted in elsewhere or – as with Copstick – on principle.
I paraphrase, but her attitude is: “if the show is not ready to be seen by a critic, then they shouldn’t fucking be performing it and charging the fucking public money to see it”.
I do not paraphrase the swearing.
As of yesterday afternoon, one show will certainly not get her review because it was “not ready to be seen”.
George’s Fringe poster for Anarchist Cook
Having rescheduled my yesterday to do other things by cancelling three shows (to be seen later), the only one I did see was George Egg’s Anarchist Cook – a cracking show – a bizarre combination of comedy and cookery using items you can find in hotel rooms, including Bibles, irons and trouser presses.
Mixing cookery and comedy live on stage has been done before, but this version was so filled with comic originality that it took the audience around ten minutes to accept they really were seeing what they were seeing. After that, they were with him all the way. The word-of-mouth will be great.
Meanwhile, on the streets, flyerers have a tendency to look at me, think I am far too old to be interested in comedy and ignore me. Yesterday, among the flyerers doing this were ones touting a couple of shows I am actually going to go and see.
You could not call it subtle schmoozing, but it is the sort of full-throttle PR assault mixing OTT flattery with Irish charm which will go down well in the corridors of the BBC and ITV. He also has a good memory –
that we met two years ago
that I write a blog which is “wonderful” and which he “reads all the time”
Al Porter Is Yours was already on my list of shows to see, so the flattery and full-throttle schmoozing was unnecessary, but full marks for the in-yer-face promo assault.
In the evening, there was another assault on the senses of a different kind.
My chum Janey Godley performed at the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch show. It looked to me like most of the audience had not actually seen her perform before, so it was like watching a collection of cuddly toys facing the full force of an Apache attack helicopter with all weapons systems blazing. I would be amazed if less than half the audience did not leave last night with her at the top of their list of Shows To See.
Janey Godley was live on Periscope last night
Janey has single-handedly made me think I should switch off my Periscope alerts as, every ten minutes, I get a mobile phone fanfare and the news that Janey is “live on the streets” or can be seen “in bed”. Just getting the alerts exhausts me. But it is effective publicity. She tells me there has been a surge in sales of her jaw-dropping autobiography Handstands in the Dark from people who have seen her on Periscope – despite the fact she has never mentioned the book on Periscope.
She also told me someone had suggested she put on an exhibition of her paintings and drawings in London – an excellent and overdue idea which I tried to encourage her to do though, I suspect, to no avail.
Janey with her clown painting at Edinburgh Fringe in 2007
In 2007, her painting of a clown was sold for charity at an an Arthur Smith Arturart exhibition of comics’ paintings. If I had known it was for sale, I would have bought it myself, because I had seen her paint it – It started out as a planned portrait of comedian Malcolm Hardee then changed into a scary clown.
She recently painted a watercolour landscape for me as a gift. I was going to collect it when I got to Edinburgh, but she has now lost it. I am beginning to get paranoid.
Last night, I understand Malcolm Hardee Awards-stealer Juliette Burton (see yesterday’s blog) arrived in town but could not be found. I suspect she is in hiding in her dubious and by no means certain pursuit of a Cunning Stunt Award nomination.
All this and a bit of tooth falls out…
On a more personal note, a tiny slither of tooth seems to have come out of one of my molars, though there is no pain yet. And I have the Edinburgh sniffles – I think I may have the beginnings of a cold caught standing in the rain at last night’s Free Festival launch.
This morning I awoke to an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She sent me a CBC news report about a man who had been charged with “fornicating the National War Memorial” in Ottawa.
She added: “At least we don’t have the echidna abductions that are racking Australia.”
No, I have no idea what she is talking about either.
But it is good, in a way, to know anarchy reigns worldwide, not just in Edinburgh during the Fringe.
The three nominees for the MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
for best (cunning) stunt promoting an Edinburgh Fringe act or show are:
for persuading people that comedian Frankie Boyle was playing a secret gig at the Pleasance, then revealing that the gig did not feature Frankie Boyle at all but was a Luke McQueen gig. There was reportedly an element of disgruntlement in the audience. A brief debate between the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges seemed to decide that stupidity was possibly a bonus in being nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award. Irate audience members can find him at the Pleasance Courtyard at 8.00pm in a show called Now That’s What I Luke McQueen.
Mark Dean Quinn
for bringing originality to the vital yet under-rated art of flyering for two shows. To ‘sell’ Ben Target’s show, he handed out blank strips of paper to passers-by. If they asked why, he gave them a small card with show details. This meant the right audiences self-selected themselves for the show. He also flyered for the ACMS (Alternative Comedy Memorial Society) by standing with his head in a cardboard box full of flyers. People were inclined to take them. He also flyered last year for a non-existent Fringe show. If we had heard of this last year, I would have certainly nominated him for that. As I wrote re the previous nominee, stupidity is a plus point.
– another award for creative flyering – for getting his 12-year old daughter Kate to wander up to strangers in the street, looking sad and distraught, asking them “Have you seen my daddy?” then, if they say No, handing them a flyer with details of where they can see his show – which is called Hello Cruel World (8.20pm at the Underbelly, Bristo Square).
All this brings us to the increasingly contentious ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD
Last year, we did not present this award because we did not think anyone deserved it.
However, the award had already been made, so – given that it is in the form of a £ sign with a bite taken out of it, we awarded it under the name THE POUND OF FLESH AWARD to Ellis, who was beaten up by his double act partner Rose so that they could claim he was beaten up in the street by a punter irate at their Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.
This year, we have decided to nominate two acts for this trophy and, depending on who wins it, we will call it by a different name.
The first nominee – for the ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD is the amazing crowd-pulling Luisa Omielan. Over the last year, she has been touring with What Would Beyonce Say? This year, her new Fringe show is Am I Right, Ladies? (10.15pm at The Counting House)
If the other nominee wins the trophy, it will be called the ACT LEAST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD. The nominee for that is Fringe legend Peter Buckley Hill, who created the Free Fringe and spawned all the other copies of the ‘free’ model in Edinburgh, London and elsewhere. Unlike most acts, Peter has heroically never aspired to make any money from the Fringe and has staunchly defended his free model. His unlisted-in-the-main-Fringe-Programme show Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians is 9.35pm at Canons’ Gait.
The three awards for Comic Originality (left), Cunning Stunt (right) and the Million Quid Award
“I got a loan of a bike. It was too big and I banged my fanny on it – In Edinburgh 10 minutes and I cracked my vag.”
Fringe fever has started early this year.
Joys of modern life at motorway service station near Stafford
I am driving up from London to Edinburgh today, so I am writing this blog at the Costa cafe in Stafford service station on the M6 motorway.
This year’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is being held on Friday 22nd August. The three awards are in memory of ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in 2005. So it goes.
Below is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, published in 1996. Amazon.co.uk’s current listing retains their own humorous and extensive balls-up in which it describes the book as an aid to classroom teaching.
In this edited extract from the book itself, Malcolm talks about the first time he appeared with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Fringe.
Not a standard aid to class teaching
We did our first Edinburgh Fringe in August 1982, before it became so commercial.
That year, we were playing in a venue called The Hole in The Ground which literally was just that: a hole in the ground. An ‘organisation’ called Circuit had erected a 700-seat marquee on this piece of derelict wasteland.
Also performing in The Hole in The Ground was The Egg Man, who was Icelandic years before Björk. His show consisted of a two-hour monologue performed, completely in Icelandic, to an audience of one in cave which was one of the ‘natural features’ of The Hole in The Ground. He used to auction the ticket for each show and a reviewer from the Scotsman actually had to pay over £50 to watch a performance of this two-hour Icelandic monologue. He couldn’t understand a word but, in a way, it was Art.
Today, this just wouldn’t happen as the big Agencies use Edinburgh to hype-up future short-lived TV ‘stars’.
That first year, the Circuit tent in Edinburgh held about 700 people.
I had stupidly agreed we’d do it for a ‘wage’ of £500 a week. In the meantime, we’d been on (the TV show) OTT, we were popular and we were selling the tickets out at about £5 a ticket. So they were making about £3,500 a night and we were getting £500 per week between the three of us. So I felt bitter again.
There was another lot performing at The Hole in The Ground: a group of feminists. They were called Monstrous Regiment. They were doing a play about prisoners. About how it’s not the prisoners’ fault they’re in prison. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all of our faults. All of that nonsense.
We were really poor that first year. We were performing in The Tent in The Hole in The Ground and we were living in tents next to The Tent. Edinburgh is always cold and it was even colder that year: it snowed.
Also that year, a German opera show had a pig in it and I had my tent next to the place where they kept the pig.
So, I was feeling bitter and feeling bitter cold.
At, the end of the week, Circuit decided to have a Press Conference and they put another tent up. They loved a tent. A big marquee. Commissionaire outside. Posh. We turned up and they wouldn’t let us in even though we’d been there a week and sold out our shows and everything. Well, we were naked, which might have had something to do with it. And not entirely wholesome. So we went and got dressed and eventually they let us in. But I was still bitter.
We went to this restaurant in the marquee and it was a bit of a posh do. Wine and all that stuff going on. Monstrous Regiment were there but their feminist dungarees were off and their public school cocktail dresses were on.
Then one of the Monstrous Regiment women – one I particularly didn’t like – got her handbag nicked. And she went berserk.
“Catch him!” she yelled. “Get the police! I want that man put in prison!”
So I said to her:
“It’s not his fault. It’s Society’s fault. It’s all our faults”.
At the end of all this, they asked one person from each show to get up on the bar and give a speech to the assembled Press.
By now, the Monstrous Regiment woman had calmed down. She got up on the bar and said:
“We’re doing a play. It’s about prisoners. It’s all Society’s fault and it’s a scathing indictment of Society”.
Then she jumped off the bar and the German with the pig got up.
“We’re doing an opera with a pig,” he said.
So we were next and I stood up on the bar, having told Martin to tug my trousers at the appropriate moment.
“Well, ladies and gentlemen of the Press,” I started saying: “We’re The Greatest Show on Legs and we have a bit of a comedy show in that tent over there, but this is no night for comedy because I’ve just read in the paper that the great Glenda Jackson has passed away and, in the spirit of the Fringe,” – I had a real tear came out of my eye at this point – “I’d like to ask for one minute’s silence for a great actress.”
And they did.
A whole minute.
I looked at my watch and the whole minute went by.
A long time.
Then Martin tugged my trousers and handed up my newspaper to me. I looked at it:
“Oh!” I said. “Not Glenda Jackson. Wendy Jackson. A pensioner from Sydenham….. Doesn’t matter then, does it?”
The tent fell even more silent than during the Minute’s Silence.
After a pause, a thespian in the front just looked up at me and theatrically projected the words:
The ironic thing was that he was wearing a pink and green shirt at the time.
This was the beginning – 1982 – of a beautiful, long-running relationship between the Edinburgh Fringe and me.
Comedian Dan Adams was one of the four-headed hydra who explained to me what was planned but seemed to take a lot of interest in the highly coveted annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.
It is for the best cunning stunt publicising a show or act at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Before we chatted, fellow Freestival hydra-head Sean Brightman had talked with me about the Cunning Stunt award too – and how funny it would be if the whole long genesis of the Freestival with its well-publicised bust-ups with the Free Fringe were simply the most complicated ever publicity stunt for a clutch of shows in an attempt to win the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.
Of course, the Freestival is not a cunning stunt.
It is real…
On the other hand, if I were trying to get a cheap blog out of this, I might bring up the interesting background of another of the Freestival’s hydra-heads, comedian Al Cowie.
“So you’re an aristocrat,” I said to him after my blog chat with the Freestival Four.
“No,” said Al. “I’m the smell left behind after the aristocrats have left the room. I have the accent but none of the cash.
“Horace Cole was my grandmother’s cousin. He was the ultimate Cunning Stunter. He was peripheral to the Bloomsbury Set and he did the Dreadnought hoax. He hired a train to go down to HMS Dreadnought in Weymouth. He said he was a member of the Foreign Office and went there with other members of the Bloomsbury Set, all dressed up as Abyssinian royalty. Virginia Woolf was the Crown Prince of Abyssinia.”
The Abyssinians – Virginia Woolf is on extreme left in a beard and Horace de Vere Cole is on the extreme right in a top hat
Cole went to Paddington station in London, claimed that he was ‘Herbert Cholmondeley’ of the Foreign Office and demanded a special train to Weymouth.
The stationmaster arranged a VIP coach.
In Weymouth, the Navy welcomed the Abyssinian princes with an honour guard but could not find an Abyssinian flag. So they flew the flag of Zanzibar and played Zanzibar’s national anthem.
The group inspected the fleet, had their own translator and talked in gibberish drawn from Latin and Greek.
“When the Navy found out…” said Al.
“How did they find out?” I asked.
“Because Horace Cole went and reported it to The Times, who would not print a photo, and the Daily Mirror, who did… When the Navy found out, they sent two young subalterns up to Cambridge to give him a good caning…”
“Did he do the party stunt with the bottoms?” I asked.
“Yes,” said. Al. “He organised a white-tie party and invited lots of people whose only connection with each other was that they had the word ‘bottom’ in their name and he had a man at the top of the stairs at the party announcing the arrivals as they walked down the stairs:
“Mr and Mrs Bottomley… Mrs & Mrs Ramsbottom… and, because he didn’t have ‘bottom’ in his surname, he didn’t turn up.”
“Oh,” I said, “I hadn’t heard the bit about the announcing of the names. I read that all these people, none of whom knew each other, were invited to this party without any explanation of why and it was only after everyone started talking to each other that they eventually worked out it was a vast practical joke and why they had all been invited.”
“All of these stories.” said Al, “have been told to me and I don’t know which the accurate ones are. One of the best is that he bought out the entire first night – every seat – of a stage show in the West End of London and then gave the tickets out to various people with carefully allocated seating so that, when the lights went up, if you were looking down on the stalls from the circle, all the bald heads in the audience read out a rude word. But I’m not sure what the word was.”
“It must have cost a fortune,” I said.
“Yes,” said Al. “He wasted his entire fortune on practical jokes… He dug up Piccadilly. He got his mates dressed up in workmens’ clothing and they went and dug a trench all the way across Piccadilly. There was a policeman there, so they hauled him in to divert the traffic while they did it.
“When they had dug a trench all the way across Piccadilly, they went into The Ritz and just watched the chaos which ensued. It took London about four days to work out what on earth had gone wrong.
“Then, a few weeks later, he went up to a bunch of real workmen who were digging up the road and said: Look, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but a group of my friends have dressed up as policemen and they’re going to try to stop you digging up the road.
“He then went up to a group of policemen and said: Look, I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but a group of my friends have dressed up as workmen and they’re digging up the road.
“And then he left them to it.
“He was a fascinating character,” said Al. “Winston Churchill described him as a man who was dangerous to have as a friend. His sister married Neville Chamberlain. But, when he died, no-one turned up to his funeral because they thought it was a practical joke.”
Horace de Vere Cole (1881-1936) died in poverty in France.
So it goes.
The winner of the highly coveted 2014 Cunning Stunt Award will be announced during the Highly Coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 22nd August in Edinburgh.