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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 8: These shows are all far too good and then Consignia

Pitch perfect, beautifully written and paced

It has been a bad Fringe for me in the sense that, so far, I have not seen a truly terrible show. Where have all the shit shows gone?

I started today with Katharine Ferns in Stitches – about domestic abuse. Well, it starts off about domestic abuse and then gets more and more horrific. It is a pitch perfect performance and a beautifully-written, perfectly-paced comedy script.

Absolutely wonderfully done. A perfect Fringe show. Laughs. Tears. Jaw-dropping. It deserves a (formerly-known-as) Perrier Award but the (formerly-known-as) Perrier Awards are possibly in terminal decline.

Then there was Giants’ sketch comedy show For an Hour with Ian Hislop’s son Will Hislop and his friend-since-childhood Barney Fishwick. The former is in the unenviable position of facing 3-4 years of being called “Ian Hislop’s son” and the latter is facing 2-3 years of being called “the other one”. Nothing can be done about this. That’s life. As Oscar Wilde did not say, the only thing worse than being labelled is not being noticed.

(L-R) Will Hislop succeed? Yes he will, with Barney Fishwick

That’s the downside. The upside is that they are supremely self-confident, highly professional and write and perform impeccably. There is a humdinger of a ‘door’ gag and a very clever ‘Israeli’ reference which are worth the price of admission on their own. And they will have their own TV series within 3-6 years tops. Probably in some BBC2 double-billing with Ruby Wax’s equally well-connected daughter duo Siblings.

The next two shows I saw were Ashley Storrie’s and then Janey Godley’s.

Janey is probably the most talented creative all-rounder I have ever met. Her autobiography Handstands in the Dark was a bestseller in Scotland and England; she had a column in The Scotsman; her shows are masterclasses in audience control and performance; and this year’s Fringe show was preceded by a two-day shoot in a part specially-written for her in an upcoming Julie Walters feature film. If she did not live in Glasgow, she would be a major star.

When you know Ashley is her daughter, you can spot the inherited performance skills, though their on-stage personas and schtick are different. I saw their shows (in different venues) consecutively and it was fascinating to see how they dealt with overlap material (particularly the recent death of Janey’s father) differently.

Janey’s act mentioned the time she and I were sitting in her living room in Glasgow and an entire building blew up across the road.

Consignia – Phil Jarvis (left) & Nathan Willcock

Which brings me to Consignia’s intentionally shambolic late-night Panopticon show.

This is one show which should create a sense of nervous anticipation in any audience and where Malcolm Hardee’s intro “Could be good; could be shit” resonates. And, in the case of Consignia, he might have added: “Good and shit could be the same thing here. Fuck it.”

This is the traditional spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

I had very little (possibly no) idea what was going on during the show but neo-Dadaism might be the best description. I was dragged out of the audience, a pink tutu put on my head to represent a bride’s veil and I was told to wave my hand while repetitive music played for I guess around 4-7 minutes. Might have been 47 minutes. Meanwhile, Nathan Willcock stood with (what I think was) a fake TV screen on his upper body and Mark Dean Quinn repeatedly hit Phil Jarvis in the face with a mop while he (Phil) yelled out “No!”.

Eventually, in its repetitiveness, this became quite reassuringly mesmerising and I felt sadly empty when it ended.

I think Stockholm Syndrome may have kicked in.

Either that or my green tea was spiked with some hallucinogenic substance.

On my short walk home, I passed three people sitting chatting and drinking on the edge of a building.

Nothing unusual there.

This is Edinburgh in August.

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Cally Beaton: How to recover an award nomination by revealing another oddity

The second blog

A couple of days ago, I wrote the second of two blogs about Cally Beaton and others claiming to have won an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe.

On Facebook, Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival asked: “Could you draw a flow chart of your blog? Even by Edinburgh standards it’s all a little complicated!”

And Martin Walker from the On The Mic podcast, asked: “Is this article a parody of a Stewart Lee sketch? I think it’s a parody of a Stewart Lee sketch. You know, that um, a parody of a sketch by that Stewart Lee. You know the one, it’s a parody, you know, of that Stewart Lee. The one where he, you know, keeps saying the same thing over and over again.”

Beware of what follows, Martin.

The story so far…

2016 show did win a First Minute Award

Cally Beaton’s publicity for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Super Cally Fragile Lipstick claimed that she and her show Cat Call (with Catherine Bohart) had won “a Malcolm Hardee Award” last year. She/they/it had not. In fact, she/it had won an unconnected First Minute Award from TV producer Edward Hobson who gave the prize for the show with the best first minute. (He left after seeing the first minute of each show.)

So I thought: This could be worth a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nomination, because Cally is pulling a cunning stunt to plug her show this year. There was the added irony that pretending she had won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award might actually get her a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

But then her publicist(s) claimed that it was all a misunderstanding not a cunning publicity stunt.

This screwed Cally’s chance of being nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award – a mistake is not a stunt – although there was a slight chance that, if she had knowingly conned her publicists into the incorrect claim, that was a cunning stunt and she might still be a contender.

Yesterday, Cally seems to have re-inserted herself into the running for an increasingly prestigious nomination. Here is the correspondence.


CALLY
I think if I were to come clean about the fact that I wasn’t on stage during the award-winning first minute of Cat Call, then the Cunning Stunt nomination and indeed potentially award is mine…

JOHN
If you really were not on stage in the first minute of Cat Call and yet won the First Minute Award, that would be glorious. Especially if you used last year’s First Minute Award win to publicise this year’s show.

CALLY
Only Catherine Bohart, Edward Hobson and I know whether I was really on stage that fateful first minute… I’m quite sure that would be Edward’s recollection… My memory is that I was in the loo.

JOHN
I suppose the idea of audience members being present is too ridiculous a supposition at the Edinburgh Fringe?

CALLY
Both audience members that day were legless.

ED HOBSON
It is true. When I went to see Cat Call, it was a double-header with Catherine Bohart doing the first half hour followed by Cally Beaton doing the second.

I went for the first minute, saw Catherine Bohart for sixty seconds, thought it was great and shortlisted the show. During the judging session, I re-listened to the recordings of the finalists’ first minutes I had recorded and decided that show was the funniest. Consequently Cally Beaton’s show won without me ever seeing her on stage.

Only after meeting them again at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ceremony did I realise they were not a double act.

I still stand by the decision.

The First Minute Award is the premier comedy award at the Edinburgh Fringe that judges a comedy show in less time than it takes Martin Soan to get his cock out.

My fiancée arrives in the UK next Wednesday

Very excited.


Cally’s Fringe show this year. Worth a Cunning Stunt?

Whether any of this is true or not is irrelevant. To quote Malcolm Hardee: Might be good. Might be shit.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman and the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judging panel told me that Cally was inspired to start performing comedy when Joan Rivers told her to “get her ass on stage”.

“Is this true?” I asked Cally.

“Joan Rivers? All true,” she told me. “Her lesbian assistant developed quite a crush on me too. Other Hollywood ‘A’ listers who told me to try comedy include Amy Poehler & Kevin Hart.”

My head is starting to swirl.

Truth? Reality?

I live by the guiding thought that the more unlikely something sounds the more likely it is to be true.

Cally has two children.

On Facebook, she posted:

“For last year’s show, I bribed Offspring No 1 with a Nando’s to do material about him. Later today, we are off to negotiate this year’s show… over cocktails & a three course meal at Wahaca.”

Beware of people claiming awards…?

Did I mention that I am, myself, a multi-award-winner?

When I was around 12 years old, I won a prize from Brooke Bond Tea for my handwriting.

And, in 2010, Fringe Report gave me an award as Best Awarder of Awards.

All true.

Would I lie to you?

There is a blog about how to genuinely win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award HERE.

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Feeling slightly happier with attractive comic, actor, conman Nathan Cassidy.

Nathan Cassidy: a man hungry for publicity

I organise the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards – for the most cunning publicity stunt to publicise a performer or show at the annual Edinburgh Fringe.

My last blog was about cunning stunts and people being origami-like with the truth in publicity for their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. You can make up your own mind whether what follows is along the same lines or not.

When I talked to comedian Nathan Cassidy in a Haggerston cafe, he told me he had just been asked to audition for Puppetry of the Penis, the globe-trotting performance group who specialise in penile origami.

“I suppose it’s a different type of stand-up,” I mused. “Why are we meeting?”

“I want to ask you to be a judge,” Nathan told me. “The Rat Pack are producing this show in Edinburgh: The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final.”

Is this just leading me towards an empty room?

He put a poster for it on the table. It said: Cassidy is an attractive man (Fringe Guru 2012).

“Did you make that up?” I asked.

“Of course I didn’t make it up!”

At the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012, Nathan was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

“And is this bit true?” I asked. “Thousands entered. 6 MCs survived. £5,000 cash prize. Plus an amazing headline act.

“We have scoured the world,” Nathan told me. “As all comedy competitions do. The world. The whole world.”

“Qatar?” I asked.

“Yes, the Rat Pack have been there.”

“Syria?” I asked.

“Yes, everywhere. We have a spare slot on the judging panel. Are you free? Steve Bennett of Chortle has pencilled himself in. £5,000 cash prize. Thousands of auditions and this is the Grand Final. We can’t reveal the line-up at this stage.”

“How,” I asked, “do you prove you’re a good MC in a final? Will there be a physical line-up? Will they stand there and say: And now… some fake act who isn’t there?”

Comic Jo Burke, slightly happier with Nathan Cassidy in 2015

“There are no fake acts,” said Nathan. “It’s just the MCs. The MCs will introduce each other. They have 5-7 minutes each. I will introduce the first MC and then they introduce each other.”

“Who,” I asked, “does the last MC introduce?”

“There is not a last MC,” explained Nathan. “Read the poster. There is an amazing headline act.”

“So you are the headline act?” I asked, sceptically.

“No, I’m the MC. And we have one gap on the judging panel on 14th August. Are you free?”

(After consulting my Fringe Diary) “I can move things around a bit and do it,” I said. “So Steve Bennett is pencilled in? I think he is having building work done on his house. Turning it into a replica of Citizen Kane’s Xanadu.”

“Where does he live?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not grassing him up,” I said.

“There is,” said Nathan, “a quote from Steve Bennett on my other show’s poster: Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena.

Nathan Cassidy’s sold-out O2 gigs on right

He put it on the table.

I read: The entire second row is pissed… and there are only two rows (Steve Bennett, Chortle)

“What do you think of this other quote?” Nathan asked me. “Having seen Bill Hicks, I can honestly say he’s as good as him. It’s an official quote from the Buxton Fringe.

“Did you write it yourself?” I asked.

“No! That’s what everyone thinks. It’s buxtonfringe.org.uk – The Buxton Fringe sends out about ten reviewers to review all the shows. It’s a real quote. But I want a better quote I can use. AS GOOD AS Bill Hicks doesn’t really do it for me.”

“This poster,” I said, “says the show is sold out on 14th August, but you’re not doing it on the 14th – You’re doing the MC Awards.”

“No, it’s sold out,” said Nathan. “There are other dates still available.”

“You appear to have sold out the O2 Arena in October and November,” I observed.

“Well, I’m doing the O2 Arena on 4th November, as you know.”

“Do I? Which bit of it? The main auditorium?”

“Yes. Yes.”

“Are you going to fill it? I got free tickets to see Rod Stewart because he couldn’t fill it. How much are you paying for it?”

“I can’t divulge that.”

“So this is another Cunning Stunt?”

“Of course not.”

Nathan’s 2017 was even more sold out in 2016

At the Edinburgh Fringe in August last year, Nathan put up a poster for a fake tour – Nathan Cassidy: The Man in The Arena – with all the dates sold out throughout October/November 2017, except for a performance at the O2 Arena on 4th November 2017.

“People thought it was a fake show,” he told me, “but it was just pre-advertising for this year’s Fringe show… Bruce Dessau (comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge) covered it a couple of times but, when I asked if he wanted to come to the O2 show, he didn’t reply.”

“His loss, I’m sure,” I said. “So, basically, I am going to turn up at the Three Sisters to judge this MC Awards show and there will be an empty room as you attempt to win a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award…”

“No,” said Nathan. “It’s legitimate. The Rat Pack are spending £250 on a massive poster. We are not going to do that for nothing. It’s totally real. Genuinely, I swear on my… I swear on your life and Steve Bennett’s life that a £5,000 cash prize will be given to the winner on the day. I am totally gimmick-free this year.”

“Is there more?” I asked.

“Is that not enough for you?”

“I would prefer £250 in a brown envelope,” I said.

“I am doing a third show in Edinburgh,” said Nathan, “but it’s a theatre show.”

Love & the winner of Sir Michael Caine’s Award

He put the flyer on the table. The title of the show is Nathan Cassidy: Watch This. Love Me. It’s Deep.

The headline pitch read: FOR THE PERFECT LOVE STORY YOU HAVE TO GO TO RIDICULOUS LENGTHS.

I turned over the flyer and read out loud:

“ONE-MAN THEATRE SHOW FROM THE WINNER OF THE SIR MICHAEL CAINE NEW WRITING AWARD.”

“Who won that?” I asked.

“Me,” said Nathan. “You are very sceptical, John. You think everything is a ruse to get you along to an empty room.”

“When did you win the Michael Caine Award?” I asked.

“About ten years ago now. I did theatre before I did stand-up. I won it for a play called A Cure For The Common Cold at the Leatherhead Theatre.”

“It says here,” I said, “that you have a distinctive stand-up style. What’s that?”

“Well,” replied Nathan, “last year Steve Bennet said: Nathan Cassidy will make you slightly happier for an hour or so… So I am ‘an attractive man’ who will ‘make you slightly happier’…”

“What’s the theatre show about?”

“Something happened in the last year which reminded me of a story that happened to me starting when I was 15 and it’s a perfect love story and it would not fit within stand-up but it would fit within theatre. People think that perfect love is impossible but I am telling you a true story from my life to show it is possible. There may be a happy or a sad ending; you will have to come to the show to see which.”

“You are very persistent,” I said.

Chubby had a female agent…

“In 2010,” said Nathan, “when I first did the Edinburgh Fringe, I performed to two ladies and Roy Chubby Brown’s agent. She never got back to me.”

“His agent was a she?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes. I first met Chubby Brown when I was 12 years-old. For a 12-year-old kid, it was fun. Do you remember his song He’s a Cunt?”

“Sadly not.”

“But those two ladies have come back every year to see me and, the last couple of years, they have even given out flyers for me.”

“Is that the smallest audience you have played to?”

“No. Once at Buxton Fringe, I performed to two people in a fridge. It had a capacity of three, so it was only two-thirds full. I was gutted I had not filled it.”

“What reaction did you get?”

“A standing ovation. They loved it. Admittedly there were no seats.”

The fridge story I believed. The Roy Chubby Brown story I believed. The Puppetry of the Penis story I believed. But I was unsure about the Michael Caine story.

I Googled it afterwards. There were pieces about it online. And a photo of a young Nathan Cassidy with Michael Caine.

Who knows what truth is at the Edinburgh Fringe or anywhere? I look forward to a tranquil night alone at the Three Sisters/Free Sisters venue at 7.45pm on 14th August.

The award-winning young Nathan with Sir Michael Caine

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The Edinburgh Fringe: How to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

Well, the best way to win an Award and to honour Malcolm’s memory would be to lend me £500 and not expect to get it back but, if you are more vanilla in your Award approaches, the first thing is to know is what the fuck the awards actually are.

There are three and they are given in memory of the late Malcolm Hardee who was, according to The Guardian, the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”. The Daily Telegraph called him “godfather to a generation of comic talent” and, in their 2005 obituary, the Independent said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

I know the last quote must be totally true because I wrote the obituary myself and included that phrase on the basis that future lazy journalists would simply blindly copy it.

The current three annual, increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality

Basically, we have no idea what we are looking for. If we did know what we were looking for, we would be able to define it and it would not be original. But the award is for a performer not for a show and one producer who approached me this year touting a “family friendly” children’s show was wide-of-the-mark on almost all counts. Malcolm was known for having the biggest bollocks in show business and for showing them to everyone at the drop of a testicle. On stage, he was not family friendly.

Past winners of the award have been Reggie Watts, Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds, Edward Aczel, Otto Kuhnle, Robert White, Johnny Sorrow, The Rubberbandits, Adrienne Truscott, Candy Gigi and Michael Brunström.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

For Act Most Likely To Make A Million Quid

Well, the title says it all, really.

The judges have to take a wild punt on who may survive the vagaries of – and triumph over the good and bad luck inherent in – a comedy career to attain seldom-attained financial success.

There is no point anyone approaching us to suggest themselves. If we think you are likely to fulfil the future requirement and win it, that’s our call, not yours.

Past winners have been Bo Burnham, Benet Brandreth, Trevor Noah, Luisa Omielan and Laurence Owen.

THE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

I pose with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

This is the one the press like. It is for the best CUNNING stunt promoting a Fringe performer or act or show.

But pay close attention to the inclusion of the word ‘cunning’.

Riding an elephant painted pink down Princes Street and inviting the press is a stunt but it is not a cunning stunt.

This award was started when comic Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that her email to me allowed her to legitimately put on her posters and flyers “Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee”. She said she thought Malcolm would have approved. I thought he would too and started the award.

The winners have been:

GILL SMITH – for that initial piece of chutzpah.

LEWIS SCHAFFER – for convincing several publications that he was the new sponsor of the (formerly Perrier) Edinburgh Comedy Awards for £99 and that his mother and agent would be on the judging panel.

STEWART LEE – for successfully encouraging people to vote for little-known Japanese act Frank Chickens in a poll for Best Fringe Performer despite the fact they were not performing at the Fringe. (As a result of the publicity, ironically, they did perform at that year’s Fringe.)

KUNT & THE GANG/BOB SLAYER – for getting fans to put stickers depicting penises on the posters of rival acts to promote Kunt & The Gang’s show. Personally, I never liked the original stunt but Bob Slayer, Kunt’s promoter, kept the publicity stoked-up and refreshed for so long in so many ways it became a work of PR art.

STUART GOLDSMITH – for a series of YouTube videos about Fringe censorship of the title of his show Prick.

BARRY FERNS – for printing and distributing around Edinburgh fake copies of Broadway Baby which gave his show 6-out-of-5 star reviews and reported that his show had been nominated for the Fosters Comedy Awards, in both the main category and the newcomer category.

CHRISTIAN TALBOT – for using his 12-year-old daughter Kate to go up to strangers, looking sad, ask them “Have you seen my daddy?” and, if they said “No”, handing out flyers to them.

MATT ROPER – for hacking into the Facebook account of Malcolm Hardee judge & Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick and posting fake messages – purportedly from her – “bigging himself up”.


Jay Handley’s Cunning Stunt contender

Jay Handley’s Cunning Stunt

This year, there have already been two arguably worthy contenders for the Cunning Stunt Award – though that is no guarantee they will get nominated – There may be better as-yet unpulled cunning stunts.

Jay Handley has launched an online change.org petition to get the Oxford English Dictionary to change the spelling of ‘Religion’ to ‘Relgion’.

His basic argument is that “For too long people across the country have been spelling ‘religion’ in a manner that is unacceptable to people who have ordered 5000 flyers for their Edinburgh Fringe show with it spelled ‘relgion’ in the main copy of their blurb.”

John Robertson’s stunt

John Robertson’s Cunning Stunt

Meanwhile, there is an online Huffington Post piece by John Robertson lauding the “Ten Best New Comedians” at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Number One is John Robertson and the other nine also contain references to John Robertson and his Fringe comedy show.

It is, in a way, a combination of Barry Ferns’ stunt of publishing a fake edition of Broadway Baby and one of Malcolm Hardee’s most infamous stunts where (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a review of his own Fringe show and conned The Scotsman into publishing it under the byline of their own comedy critic.


The judges for this year’s Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (that is the way it is billed in the official Fringe Programme) are:

MARISSA BURGESS
Freelance comedy critic, lover of all things weird and an inveterate streaker. This Fringe she will be criticising comedians for The List and Fest.

KATE COPSTICK
Chief Comedy Critic of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Loudest member of various judgely huddles from the Perrier Award to Home Made Pickle of the Year at The Parrot in Forest Green and author of The Illustrated Guide to Sapphic Sex.

BRUCE DESSAU
Comedy Critic of the London Evening Standard, editor of website beyondthejoke.co.uk and author of biographies of Rowan Atkinson and Reeves and Mortimer.

JOHN FLEMING
Handsome, debonair fashion icon. “The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle) Co-host (with Kate Copstick) of the Grouchy Club’s weekly podcast and its live shows at the Fringe.

JAY RICHARDSON
Freelance journalist for The Scotsman, Chortle, The Guardian, Independent, Sunday Times, Metro, BBC, Channel 4 etc.

CLAIRE SMITH
Freelance journalist, reviewer and feature writer for The Scotsman. Fringe lover, cabaret freak, arthouse baby, catastrophe thinker, water rabbit.


The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show takes place at the Ghillie Dhu in Edinburgh on Friday 26th August and MC Janey Godley should be introducing music by (but one can never be sure at the Fringe):

Bob Blackman’s Tray
Ursula Burns
Kate Copstick
Elvis Corpsley: The Zombie Elvis
Brian Damage & Krysstal
Candy Gigi
Kunt & The Gang
Lynn Ruth Miller
Laurence Owen
Ariane Sherine

The show will also include the announcement and presentation of this year’s awards, the annual Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette contest and the presentation by Edward Hobson of Ed at Last’s new FirstMinute Awards for the best first 60 seconds in a Fringe comedy show. The fact that the long-running, formerly Perrier Edinburgh comedy awards are now sponsored by lastminute.com is, I am sure, entirely coincidental.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer and manufacturer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards

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New age of Alternative Musical Comedy

Eight years of ignorance on my part - Musical Comedy Awards

Eight years of talent show ignorance from me

Yesterday afternoon, I went to a Quarter Final of this year’s Musical Comedy Awards, which had 12 contestants performing. The Semi-Finals and Final are yet to come.

The Awards have been running eight years and I had not been aware of them. Which demonstrates what I know about anything.

I had seen two previous Musical Comedy Awards heats and now this Quarter Final and the strangest thing to me was that there was not one duff, sub-standard act in any of them. Genuinely surprised me.

As well as seeing these three Musical Comedy Awards shows in the last few weeks I have seen three other talent shows and it just reminds me how impossible it is to spot at an early stage who will succeed in years to come.

Some average or below-average acts develop quickly or slowly into wonderful acts. Some really talented, stand-out acts never get anywhere. You might as well toss a coin.

So the old cliché that “everyone who took part is a winner” is sort-of true.

Getting to the knock-out stage of any serious competition is something. After that, the rest is persistence and/or pure luck. No-one can really spot who will succeed.

Some brilliant performers self-destruct. A lot of them. I have seen it happen. Repeatedly. It is in the nature of talent. Often, average acts succeed because they are simply more persistent and more reliable.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe, of course, are no exception to this You Can Never Be Certain rule.

But our ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid Award’ is, I suspect, likely to have a very high success rate. The winners so far have been:

2010 – Bo Burnham 

2011 – Benet Brandreth (both as legal eagle and performer)

2012 – Trevor Noah

2013 – (no award given)

2014 – Luisa Omielan

2015 – Laurence Owen

A couple of weeks ago, I saw (again) Laurence Owen’s marvellous Cinemusical show and – my God! – we were absolutely right to give him the award.

Musical Comedy may be a rising genre. Let us hope so. There certainly needs to be something to liven up samey comedy club shows which have mostly become a procession of perfectly acceptable but unexceptional comedy clones spouting perfectly acceptable but unexceptional straight stand-up material. Or open mic shows with wildly variable acts mostly performing to other performers and no genuine audience.

Alternative Musical Comedy’s day may be coming. There is a video for Laurence Owen’s superb song Empowered on YouTube.

As is a video of journalist and ’new’ act Ariane Sherine’s Hitler Moustache – a song with which she wowed the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Live audience last week on only her sixth live performance (if you ignore her brief period treading the boards 13 years ago).

This could be the dawning of the age of Alternative Musical Comedy.

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Comic Michael Brunström likes to do things he is not naturally good at doing

Michael Brunström holds his Malcolm Hardee Award

Michael Brunström and Malcolm Hardee Award

The annual Malcolm Hardee Awards are given to individuals.

At the Edinburgh Fringe last month, Michael Brunström won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. His show was titled The Golden Age of Steam and, this week, he performed it at the Museum of Comedy in London – which was arranged after he won the award.

“So,” I said to him, “since you won the Malcolm Hardee Award, your life has just been one long round of parties, champagne and job offers?”

“It’s more of an ego boost, really,” he told me. “It’s very hard to measure success. It seems like I’ve got a few interesting gigs gravitating towards me.”

“Where,” I asked, “do you keep your award?”

“On my bookshelf.”

“Do you think you can build on it?” I asked. “The award, not the bookshelf.”

“It’s all ballyhoo. It’s all nonsense,” said Michael. “But enough of it builds up a certain presence. The important thing, while still taking yourself seriously, is not to believe the ballyhoo. People have come out of the blue with unusual offers, but I can’t discuss them.”

“Why?”

“Because,” he laughed, “they’re the kinds of things that fall through.”

“I was sad,” I told him, “that your 1960s-clothes-desiger-Mary-Quant-on-a-whaling-expedition-to-Antarctica routine didn’t end up in your Golden Age of Steam.”

“It might end up in something else,” he told me.

“Was she really speaking in a slight German accent,” I asked, “or did I hallucinate that?”

Michael Brunström not Noel Edmonds

Michael Brunström’s eye not Noel Edmonds’

“I can’t do accents,” Michael told me. “I’m doing Noel Edmonds on Monday at Cabarera. I ordered myself a beard today. I can’t grow one by Monday.”

“You’re quite shy,” I said, “so it’s surprising you do audience involvement as much as you did in Edinburgh.”

“Well,” explained Michael, “it’s good to do things you’re afraid of. It’s good to stretch yourself. I am not a natural showman. Maybe that’s what makes it funny. I don’t regard myself as a natural chatty, confident compere type – so that’s why I want to do more of that.”

“What do you want to be doing in three years time?” I asked. “At the Edinburgh Fringe, people tend to succeed well with autobiographical theme shows: My ten years of heroin hell or whatever.”

“Perhaps in three years time I will do an autobiographical show. I don’t have the guts to do that yet.”

“Where were you brought up?”

“West London.”

“Oh dear,” I said. “That’s dull. And I suppose you had a happy childhood? That’s death for comedy.”

“I don’t think I did have a happy childhood,” said Michael. “But I think it was unhappy in a rather dull and complex and un-theatrical way. I had a difficult, unhappy, Liverpudlian father who used sarcasm as a defence mechanism.”

“Sarcasm is never good in a father,” I said. “It was sarcasm, not irony?”

“I think the distinction was not something he would be prepared to pick apart.”

“What was his job?”

“He was a management consultant.”

“Oh dear,” I said, “That’s dull. What was your mother?”

“A laboratory assistant. She worked in a hospital, but spent most of her time looking after her four boys. I’m the youngest of four.”

“What are the others now?”

“One is a doctor of English Literature at St Patrick’s College in Dublin. One is a social worker in Brighton. And the other one is a professor of Psychology at Bristol University. I am the least accomplished of the four.”

“I wouldn’t say that,” I disagreed. “You’re an editor at a serious publisher…You should surely be writing books yourself.”

“I don’t find writing easy.”

“You think of yourself more as a performer than a writer?”

“I’ve never been a writer.”

Ken Campbell - The éminence grise of alternative comedy

Ken Campbell – The éminence grise of alternative comedy

It was at this point I remembered Ken Campbell. I have a shit memory. I had forgotten that, in my first blog chat with Michael in May last year, he mentioned working with Ken Campbell, the éminence grise of UK alternative comedy. Michael recently wrote a blog about Ken’s influence on him.

“What’s the attraction of surrealism?” I asked Michael.

“I think” he replied, “that audiences like to be bemused, surprised and shocked. In live performance, the audience doesn’t want to be experiencing it inside their heads. They want to experience the thing that’s happening immediately there in front of them.

“The way I like to explain it is that, if you go to a chess match, you don’t go there to watch what’s happening, you go there to think in your own head what could happen and experience your own understanding of what’s going on.

“In a live performance, it’s not that. The audience is there to watch what is happening. I don’t think my stuff would work on radio. It’s very visual. But, in the same way I try to do lots of audience interaction because I’m not very naturally good at it, I want to do audio stuff because…”

“Well,” I foolishly interrupted, “any sensible producer goes for the person then develops the most suitable material. It’s the person that’s important.”

“I want,” continued Michael, “to make some little podcasty audio things to put out there.”

“Have you played around with sound?” I asked.

“I used to when I was a kid,” he told me. “Me and my mate Robert used to make spoof radio shows together on an old cassette player. Introduce songs and interviews. That sort of thing. I haven’t done it in the last 30 years. Doing it in audio is the constraint.”

“You like constraints?” I asked.

“Yes. The constraint for The Golden Age of Steam was that I wanted to do a show without any food in it.”

“Is that a constraint?” I asked. “Surely lots of shows have no food in them. Macbeth, for example… Oh, no! There’s the banquet!”

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

Michael Brunström wants to be constrained by food

“It’s the go-to thing with alternative comics,” explained Michael. “They always mention or have food in their shows. It’s not easy to do a show with no food. I didn’t even succeed. It had two cans of Lilt in it.”

“Strictly speaking,” I said, “a can of Lilt is not food. Maybe next year you should do a show with no mention or presence of liquids.”

“That’s very difficult,” said Michael. “because liquids are comedy gold.

“Mmmm…” I contemplated. “No pissing jokes. No sweating jokes.”

“How,” asked Michael, “Can you do a show without sweating?”

“No sneezing,” I said.

“Audiences love liquids,” said Michael. “It’s like when there’s a gun on stage. They pay attention when there is liquid on stage.”

“You should maybe do a show with a gun but no liquids,” I suggested.

“It’s on my list,” admitted Michael. “My current plan is to write a one-hour show with the theme of an art history lecture. Maybe take a painting and extrapolate from that like Peter Greenaway does.”

“Why art?” I asked.

“I think you need a strong visual image. Maybe The Garden of Earthly Delights or something like that.”

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An award last night, awards tonight and a very offensive act at Edinburgh Fringe

Copstick’s dream did NOT involve Peter Michael Marino

Innocent young Peter with Kate Copstick

At yesterday’s Grouchy Club the star of the previous show in the room, gentlemanly Peter Michael Marino, gallantly went to kiss our Jewish comedy princess Arlene Greenhouse’s hand. Unfortunately, her hand twitched and hit him in the face. Late last night, he was still nursing a bruised lip.

This seemed an unfortunate accident until, at the end of yesterday’s Grouchy Club, Arlene also managed to accidentally hit amiable comic Denis Krasnov in the face.

Because of the Rule of Three, I will be keeping well away from Arlene at tonight’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Peter will be performing and Denis might be dragged onstage for the official Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship. If we decide to add a boxing match, my money is on Arlene.

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the Awards last night

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the SYTYF Awards last night

Also appearing at and in the increasingly prestigious show tonight will be Luca Cupani who, last night, won the actually prestigious So You Think You’re Funny? competition at the Gilded Balloon. Previous winners have included Peter Kay, Phil Kay, Lee Mack and Dylan Moran.

Luca, Italian, started performing comedy in the UK only last year and has been a daily attendee at The Grouchy Club this year.

This afternoon, I may have to leave The Grouchy Club early, as we decide the winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at noon and, before 5.00pm, I have to go collect the engraved trophies from the marvellous Engravers’ Workshop in Edinburgh, who have engraved the plaques for us since 2007.

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Malcolm Hardee, a skilled shadow puppeteer

The winners of the Awards are announced at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show tonight, 11.00pm-1.00am in the ballroom of The Counting House. Given past experience of the queue, arriving for the show half an hour early may be too late.

I never announce all the acts and items in advance of the show because who knows what may happen but, suffice it to say that Malcolm Hardee’s sister Clare will be performing on this, the tenth anniversary of his death.

Comedy critic Kate Copstick has been complaining throughout this year’s Fringe that, try as she may, she has not been able to find a truly offensive show. I like to help people out.

As of yesterday, she has said she wants nothing to do with – and may actually leave the room on principle during – one item on tonight’s show which she finds particularly and appallingly offensive.

At the moment, unless things change, this year’s award winners will be announced at the end of the show and will be followed by a final act in Malcolm Hardee’s memory.

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