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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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A Rumble, women talking about their sex lives, Fringe awards and my big toe

Things are not as bad as they seem (Photo by MEUNF)

Yesterday someone – as people often do – asked me if it is difficult to find subjects for this daily blog. “No. Not at all,” I told them.

But, of course, the difficulty is often fitting in time to actually write the bleedin’ blogs, especially if (as is often the case) listening to, transcribing and editing 45-60 minutes of chat is involved even before I start writing the bleedin’ things.

Even when there are no lengthy chats to transcribe, time or too much stuff coming together can be a problem.

For the 16 days until I leave for the Edinburgh Fringe, I already have 9 recorded chats, I am seeing 11 upcoming shows, there are two podcasts to plug and I am meeting up with 5 other people for possibly bloggable chats. Plus whatever else turns up.

Ali Jones having a Rumble in Hemel tonight

Ali Jones having a Rumble in Hemel tonight

Tonight I went to Hemel Hempstead to present one of The Rumble Awards. They “celebrate the positive contribution people with learning disabilities and differences make to the world and recognise their unique skills and talents and personalities”.

Organiser Ali Jones says the awards are not about doing things for people but doing things with people. The recipients are the participants and her Pioneer Approaches organisation are complementary therapists who compliment people.

The prestigious two-hour Rumble Awards show tonight was basically a series of awards wrapped up in a variety of other interesting events.

More later in this blog, as you might expect, about another increasingly prestigious two-hour awards show.

Sofie Hagen has a memorable opening line

Sofie Hagen has a memorable opening line

The last couple of weeks have involved me seeing a lot of Edinburgh Fringe previews in London.

Some of the ones I have seen recently might seem to imply that a 2015 Fringe theme will be female comedians talking in extreme detail about their sexual experiences. So far I have had Sara Mason with tales of Burt Lancaster piercing her hymen and much more… Giada Garofalo linking her sex life, fairy tales and serial killers… and Sofie Hagen, whose very first line in a preview of her Bubblewrap show two nights ago (I might be paraphrasing, but only slightly) was:

“So, I was pissing on this man…”

This week has been awash with unexpected lines. I had Fringe preview organiser Dec Munro say to me, without any introductory explanation:

Dec Munro attempts to mount a horse

Dec Munro tries his best to mount a horse

“I wanted to be the king of gerbil sales at school. Michele was going to be Gary Lineker’s wife and so I played romantic music – Barry White, all that sort of stuff – into their little gerbil cage and actually sang Let’s Get It On a couple of times to them. Unfortunately, after six-and-a-half months, it transpired that both of them were male.”

“Explain,” I asked him, “the phrase ‘I was the king of gerbil sales’.”

“I said,” replied Dec, as if explaining it, “I WANTED to be the king of gerbil sales.”

“Ah,” I said.

That was on Monday.

Then, last night, after a preview of her show Punching Pigeons, Martha McBrier insisted I should give her a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier after London show last night

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “Malcolm Hardee died on my birthday – the 31st of January – and that was very hard to organise in advance.”

“You were born in 2005?” I asked.

“I was ‘created’ in 2005,” she insisted.

“So you’re ten years old?” I asked.

“In many ways,” she replied, as if this explained something.

Either I am developing dementia or explanations are getting less clear.

Then the Edinburgh Fringe Office sent me a list of awards at the Fringe this year, which excluded any mention of the three increasingly prestigious annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. I suggested, they could just repeat last year’s listing, but a new one was written by them for me, which was very nice of them. It read:


THE MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS 2015

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

The three Malcolm Hardee Awards await their Fringe winners

The Awards are in memory of Malcolm Hardee, one of the most anarchic figures of his era, a great influence on British comedy over the last 25 years and the Godfather to a generation of comic talent.

The Comic Originality Award is for performers who, in the opinion of the judges, have not yet been given the attention they deserve and who have potential for continual development.

The winning act does not need to have the potential to become a major mainstream star. It is an award for people who deserve to succeed and who deserve to have their potential recognised and nurtured but who have not yet received their due recognition.

  • The Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality
  • The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe act or show
  • The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges and awards will be presented during a two-hour variety show Friday 28th August 2015 as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.


The Fringe Office asked: “Could you clarify how the selection process is made?”

I suggested: “If you fancy, you could change:

“Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges and awards will be presented …”

to

“Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges more-or-less on a whim and awards will be presented …”

My damaged big toe

My toe – shortly after it got unexpectedly shelved

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So it has been a fairly odd week.

And then the nail of my big toe started coming off.

Over a month ago, the sharp edge of a heavy wooden shelf fell on the big toe of my right foot

Cutting into the bottom of my big toenail.

Well, I think maybe it actually did cut the toenail under the skin.

The nail has now grown to a point where it is loose on the right and unconnected to anything at the bottom.

toenail

My toe this week – The left is just hanging on.

But it is stubbornly remaining attached on the left by, I suspect, clinging on to some congealed blood.

I suspect the nail will come off any day now.

Someone suggested, when it inevitably does, I should wear it round my neck.

Like a medallion.

I meet some strange people.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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Comedy competitions, awards and reviews – it’s mostly a matter of luck

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I try not to review shows. That just leads to people unleashing verbal abuse on me in later months and years. So I really do not know why I agree to be a judge on award shows. I think I have been on two – it might have been three – this year.

That excludes the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which I organise every year at the Edinburgh Fringe. All three of those awards – for Comic Originality, best Cunning Stunt and ‘the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ are so quirky that people do not seem to take too much offence at being nominated but not winning.

Last night, I was a judge at the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year Competition – twelve acts, eight judges. The winner got £1,000 and a booking in (I think it was) Hong Kong. Next year, rather than be a judge, I might enter as a Lewis Schaffer tribute act to try and get the money and the free trip. How hard can it be?

I mean being a Lewis Schaffer tribute act.

(From left) Nick Coppin presented the Award to winner Jenny Collier; with runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

Last night (from left) presenter Nick Coppin with winner Jenny Collier and runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

For the record, comic Jenny Collier won last night.

She was a very worthy winner. Well-constructed gags; excellent delivery; attractive stage persona; would appeal to a mainstream audience but, as I wrote on my non-PC sheet of paper “can do dirty sweetly”, so she will also be able to appeal to less mainstream audiences. And she looked, sounded and performed as television friendly.

She was one of two Welsh acts with English accents. Perhaps this is a new genre of comedy. She deserved to win but, to be honest, she was one of four acts I would have been equally pretty much content with winning. And, of the other eleven acts, all were arguably good in different ways. As the fifteen acts had been whittled down from over 800 entrants, there were never going to be any bad acts on the bill.

What I am trying to say is:

  1. it is almost a matter of luck who wins competitions although
  2. there must be some reason why eight judges settled on one act although
  3. it is still almost a matter of luck who wins competitions because
  4. judges are just people and different people have differing tastes

It is a bit like the star system in reviews.

If you get 3 stars, there is nothing at all wrong with your act. It is a good, entertaining act.

If you get 4 stars, you were exceptional on the night.

If you get 2 stars, there is a structural or presentation problem with your act.

If you get 1 star, you have an interesting act or show. At the Edinburgh Fringe, I once talked to a performer who had had a show which got a 5-star and a 1-star review FOR THE SAME PERFORMANCE. The two critics went on the same night and saw the same performance.

Coins of the realm - you could almost just as well throw one

Coins of the realm – you might almost just as well toss one

If you get more than one 1-star review, your show is either irredeemable buffalo dung or you are so wildly original you split critics and audiences which is probably a good thing.

The bad news is that true comic geniuses seldom make money. To be popular, you have to tread some sort of acceptable middle ground which means you are never shit but you also never hit the peaks of unexpected, original uniqueness. Abject failures can take solace from this.

Which brings us to 5-star shows.

Frankly, in my experience, whether you get 4 or 5 stars is a matter of luck because – certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – critics do not want to give out too many 5-star reviews because it demeans their credibility. If 174 movies all got Best Film Oscar one year, you would not think much of the credibility of the Oscars.

And, in a festival like the Edinburgh Fringe (which runs three-and-a-half weeks) I think it is extremely difficult to get a 5-star review in the first week. It certainly is with any critic who is doing his or her job properly. Because, at the start, the critic has no benchmark to measure this year’s standards by until he or she has seen quite a few shows.

If he or she gives a 5-star review to a show they see on the first or second day, what happens if most of the other shows they subsequently see in other days and weeks are equally good or better? They can’t give 5-star reviews to everyone.

So the moral for today is…

Awards, prizes and star ratings mean something.

They can be used in publicity, which is useful. But, if you don’t get ‘em, it ain’t the end of the world and, in that horrible but true American phrase, today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Today is your starting point.

As in comedy clubs, so in life.

I think I may start to submit pseudo-meaningful sayings to calendar and diary manufacturers.

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

Next year’s increasingly prestigious  Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards await collection in Edinburgh

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Comedy awards: how they start, how they get credible & where they may lead

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Desperate posing with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Comedy awards seem to be a growing industry.

In this blog a couple of days ago, Brian Damage and Vicky de Lacy mentioned that, at the Edinburgh Fringe one year, they had given a Derriere Award in competition with the then Perrier Award.

I have been giving my own increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards since 2007 and they will continue until 2017 when I run out of the increasingly prestigious trophies made by increasingly prestigious mad inventor John Ward.

This week, the British Comedy Awards announced their nominees for 2014. And, on Thursday, there is the announcement of the 3rd annual Gareth Morinan Alternative New Act of The Year Award, seldom known by its acronym The GMANAOTYA.

“I hear your annual award is becoming increasingly prestigious,” I told him.

Gareth Morinan talked to me at Soho Theatre

Gareth Morinan talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Surprisingly Credible is the line I go for,” he told me. “because no-one expects anyone to care about any…erm… definitely not my awards.”

“I was surprised two years ago,“ I said, “when a couple of people were clearly very pissed-off at not being nominated for my awards. I thought But it’s only the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards!

“I take them very seriously,” said Gareth. “I’m still working towards winning one day.”

Fringe Report,” I said, “once gave me an award for being the best awarder of awards. Frankly, I’m saddened I have never been nominated for your award.”

“There is a strict application process,” explained Gareth. “The main thing is you have to apply. I put up an advert; I get maybe 50 responses; and then I pick the 10 or 12 acts that sound most interesting.”

“Pity I’m not an act,” I said. “So what type of acts do they have to be?”

“Interesting.” said Gareth. “It’s for people who are doing something a bit different. Interesting. That’s the criteria I tell people to judge on and that’s what I book the acts based on.”

“I set up the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards so I could get free tickets to shows,” I said. “That was before free shows got started at the Fringe. Now I mainly go to free shows because they tend to be the more interesting and original ones. So I needn’t have bothered to set up the Awards in the first place.”

The show that started the Gareth Morinan Awards

The show that started Gareth’s Awards

“The only reason I set up my awards,” said Gareth was to get an audience for a preview of my debut Edinburgh Fringe show two years ago. I had a double preview booked, the other performer dropped out and I thought: Shall I book another act who will probably bring two of their friends? Or shall I just announce a ‘new act’ competition which means ten acts will turn up bringing their friends? It was the best-attended preview I had ever done.

“I thought that was pretty clever. But what is not clever is then carrying it on as a serious competition for two years after.”

“Especially,” I said, “as it might risk becoming prestigious.”

“I think it has become credible,” said Gareth. “Maybe in several years time it will become prestigious.”

“Why has it got credible?” I asked. “Because you chose the right people?”

“Well,” said Gareth, “people reviewed it last year and the winners of my award always go on to get nominated for a better award. Adam Larter, who won the first year, got nominated for a Chortle Award. Michael Brunström won last year and went on to be nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.”

“What is happening this year?” I asked.

“On Thursday,” said Gareth, “it might actually be a proper gig. Barry Ferns has given me his Angel Comedy Club for one night, so there will be an actual audience there who will not know what to expect, which will be great. Everyone gets a vote, including the acts.”

“But,” I checked, “they are not allowed to vote for themselves?”

Acts can vote for themselves this Thursday

Acts can vote for themselves this Thursday – if they want to

“They can,” said Gareth. “Everyone in the room gets three votes.”

“Do acts often not vote for themselves?” I asked.

“All the votes are equally weighted,” said Gareth. “So the really bad acts who have voted for themselves only get their own votes.”

“How many acts?”

“Twelve this year.”

“Just one award?”

“Yes, though we might also have a Judges’ Choice which will be just my choice, We might also have the Previous Winner’s Choice, because Michael Brunström will be headlining.”

“So you might have three awards. Any trophies?”

“Oh no. There’s absolutely nothing. This is why it’s surprisingly credible. There are no trophies but people still bother to apply. Last year the first prize was £1, the second prize was 50p and the third prize was the last half of my pint of cider.”

“Have you won awards yourself?” I asked.

“No. That’s why I set it up.”

“Did we nominate you?” I asked.

“You nominated me for the Cunning Stunt Award last year.”

“Oh yes,” I said, “so we did. You’re Gareth Morinan. I wondered who you were. Well, hopefully this blog will publicise your awards.”

Gareth Morinan in Soho yesterday, shocked by his memories

Gareth faces the prospect of people turning up for his Awards

“They’re at Angel Comedy on Thursday,” said Gareth, “but it’s always really crowded, so I would not recommend that people come to see it, because they won’t get a seat unless they turn up really early. But I have another show in two weeks, on 25th November – a new type of improvised comedy show that involves stand-ups. It’s got Pat Cahill and John Kearns and Harriet Kemsley. The Chronicles of Pat Cahill.”

“And why is it original?” I asked.

“Well,” said Gareth. “It may or may not be. The Advertising Standards Authority may sue me. It’s in The Proud Archivist in Haggerston.”

“That’s suddenly got very trendy,” I said. “But it’s the back of bleedin’ beyond.”

“Well, it’s in the trendy East London area,” said Gareth.

“It’s the back of bleedin’ beyond if you live in Borehamwood,” I said.

“Basically,” said Gareth, keeping on-message, “we will tell the life story of Pat Cahill.”

Pat Cahill, winner of an Amused Mose Award

Cahill, time-travelling winner of  Amused Moose Award

“What?” I asked. “every week?”

“No,” explained Gareth, “it’s a different person every week. And, when I say week, I mean month. So that’s why it’s unique: there’s no consistency and it’s like having people who can improvise do a story but the main character is a relatively well-known stand-up comedian.”

“Award winning,” I said.

“Multi-award-winning in Pat’s case,“said Gareth.

“How are you telling his story?” I asked.

“Well,” said Gareth, “to be honest, it’s not exactly his life story… It’s going to be more about him being a time traveller who saves the world or whatever.

The show that does not exactly tell Cahill’s story

The show that does not exactly tell Cahill’s story

“But it will be loosely based on his life story. It’s gonna just be a bit of fun, anything can happen and the audience can get involved. The audience will be like a Council of Time who get to decide what happens.

“It will be sort-of like the improv show you saw in Edinburgh. It’s sort of like that but better because there will be more people in it and I won’t be on stage. It will be almost worth £4”

“What are you doing next year at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“That is a good question,” replied Gareth. “I will probably be screaming more and the line between comedy and tragedy will become blurred.”

 

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My cheap life and how PBH changed the very costly face of the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee Show 2014

Tonight, I stage the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – starting slightly late in The Counting House, one of the venues provided by the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am old enough to remember Swinging London and the Summer of Love. I helped out briefly at The Free Bookshop – it was a garage in Earl’s Court – where people donated the books they had read and other people could come along, take them away, read them and, if they wanted to, bring them back.

I even went barefoot for a brief time, but grit and dog turds on suburban London pavements proved to be a deterrent to long-term foot liberation.

The International Times ‘it’ girl

The iconic ‘it’ girl on the hippie International Times logo

Later, I was Film Section Editor – I wrote reviews and gossip about movies – for a re-incarnation of iconic hippie newspaper International Times (latterly called simply it after The Times threatened legal action on the basis people might confuse the two).

So I am no stranger to the concept of “Let’s make it free, man” which has now changed the face of the Edinburgh Fringe.

There are currently four free organisations at the Fringe: the original PBH Free Fringe… the breakaway Free Festival… Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want model which is separate from but happily co-exists with the Free Festival… and the Freestival, this year’s new breakaway from PBH. I understand that, next year, there may even be a fifth free organisation.

My first involvement with the free organisations at the Edinburgh Fringe was in 2008, when I helped stage a comedy show for a performer.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

The performer wanted to go with the PBH Free Fringe, so I staged my other show with the Free Festival to keep a foot in both camps. If the performer had wanted to go with the Free Festival, I would have staged the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards shows with PBH.

In 2011, I staged some chat shows with the Free Festival.

In 2013, I staged some chat shows with Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want operation.

And this year’s Grouchy Club chat-with-the-audience shows are with the Free Festival.

The ‘free’ show model is that the audience pays nothing in advance. They can pay whatever they want (or nothing) on leaving. It is like indoor busking.

With the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award Shows, I take no profit and cover none of my costs. 100% of any and all money donated goes to Kate Copstick’s admirable Mama Biashara charity in Kenya.

On my Grouchy Club shows, no money is collected. The shows are totally free. This is because I am old enough to know how to stage 23 hour-long shows for a total cost of £60.

I love Edinburgh.

My favourite places in the world are Edinburgh, Prague and Luang Prabang in Laos. I feel more at home in Edinburgh than anywhere else. Which is strange, as I have never had a home here.

My other childhood destination in August

Isle of Whithorn: Another childhood destination in August

When I was a kid, after my parents moved to London, my family used to go to Scotland every August for our summer holidays – we stayed (for free, obviously) with relations in Wigtownshire where both my parents grew up, and in Edinburgh, where my father had an aunt. After I left college, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival (then in August; now in June). And, around 1985, I started going to the Edinburgh Fringe. So I have been going to Edinburgh in August for most of my life, possibly since I was an embryo.

And, perhaps excepting two years, for free.

When I was accredited at the Film Festival, I happily sat in press screenings in darkened rooms from 10.00am to 10.00pm.

When I came to the Fringe, it was usually scouting talent for TV companies, publishers or whatever.

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

The three Malcolm Hardee Awards, awaiting their collection

I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in 2007 partly because I thought Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) deserved to be remembered, definitely because I wanted to see new comedy talent and partly because it was a good way to get free tickets to every comedy show in Edinburgh for ten years. (I had trophies made in advance for 2007-2017.)

In 2007, shows were mostly pay-to-see at a rapidly escalating rate. If a show costs £10 and you see 6-8 shows per day for perhaps 28 days, that adds up. Well, at that rate, 6 shows per day actually adds up to £1,680.

It is said that the Free Fringe was started by PBH (Peter Buckley Hill) with one show in 1996. But it took a few years to get momentum going and it was probably just before I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards that the Free Fringe started having a serious impact.

In 2008, PBH himself was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality for starting the Free Fringe (the award eventually went to comic Ed Aczel) and, in 2009, PBH won the panel prize from the Perrier Award (which, that year, was calling itself the Edinburgh Comedy Awards).

This year, PBH has again been nominated for one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – as the Act Least Likely to Make a Million Quid because (the nomination says) “unlike most acts, Peter has heroically never aspired to make any money from the Fringe and has staunchly defended his free model.”

Peter has said he declines to be nominated: “I did not seek it and do not want it.”

Well, you can’t really turn down a nomination. You can turn down an award, if it were to be offered (which it has not been yet, at the time of writing) or send a Native American Indian along, like Marlon Brando did at the Oscars. There is, luckily, a community of Native American Indians in nearby Glasgow, left behind from when Buffalo Bill performed his Wild West show there in the early 20th century…

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

The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely’ Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

I have no idea if Peter will win this, one of the three increasing prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards. We decide this afternoon and announce the full awards at midnight tonight, during the Counting House show.

But he deserves an Award. He has changed the face of the Fringe.

Most of the shows I saw at the Fringe this year were free shows.

All three of the nominees for the main Comic Originality Award were performing free shows.

For the Cunning Stunt Award, two of the nominees were flyerers and the other one was performing a free show.

In the Act Most Likely To category, both the nominees were linked to free shows.

That reflects a major change in the Fringe.

Janey Godley podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

Janey Godley (left) podcasts with daughter Ashley Storrie

In her podcast last week, my comedy chum Janey Godley, who has always very successfully performed in pay venues at the Fringe, revealed that, next year, she will be performing in a free venue. I know that she and her husband go through Fringe revenues with a fine tooth comb. This is not a minor change. If someone with Janey’s profile in Edinburgh is prepared to move from the pay model to the free model, others will move.

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Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at Edinburgh Fringe potential shambles

John Fleming

The chaos I have seen over years of Hardee annual shows… !

When I started the Malcolm Hardee memorial shows in 2006 followed, in 2007, by the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Shows, I realised I was in a win-win situation. If the shows were a shambolic mess, I would get credit for honouring the true spirit of Malcolm. If they went smoothly, I would get credit for putting together a good show in his memory.

In a sense, I welcome chaos.

The Awards themselves were thought-up not just to get me free access to Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows for ten years but because the existing Fringe awards had got a bit stale and serious.

So there was – if you want to look at it that way – bad news AND good news for me yesterday.

A bit of rising chaos.

First of all, in the morning, it turned out that a show was listed as not following on from our show after a decent gap but actually overlapping us in the same venue. They were due to start at 0045. We were due to end at 0100. That was sorted. Our show will end spot-on 0100 and they will start slightly late, with us encouraging our audience to see their show.

Luca Cupani & Kate Copstick hear a comic is fleeing the Fringe

Luca Cupani and Copstick heard a comic was fleeing the Fringe at yesterday’s Groucho Club

Then, in the middle of yesterday afternoon’s Grouchy Club show, an act who had, two days before, agreed to appear in Friday’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show, said he had decided to abort the whole of the rest of his own Fringe show’s run and return to London.

Shortly afterwards, it turned out there was a show in the same venue as our Friday Malcolm Hardee show which was not billed on the Free Festival listings but which was billed in the main Fringe Programme and which ended at 2315. Our show starts at 2300. This was sorted-out by agreeing to start the Malcolm show slightly later than billed, as soon as the previous show ends.

Last year, we had to turn people away from the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. We were full.

Who knows what chaos may ensue when we start late this year?

My advice: get there early to ensure a seat. Be physically prepared with sandwiches. Be psychologically prepared for cannibalism. Allegedly we may start 20 minutes late. But I have not yet won the Lottery.

The exact length of the show now depends on our uncertain start time. Think of the joy. Fortunately, co-hosts Miss Behave and Janey Godley can cope with anything.

More chaos will ensue because this year’s show is being videoed for a charity DVD/download release.

A few months ago, I got an e-mail from Colin Simpson of AVProductions.

AVProductions logo

AVProductions will shoot comedians at random during show

“We’re a small cottage industry based in Durham,” it said. “We’ve got a lot of comedians up for filming their DVDs this summer/after the Fringe and we’ve just filmed a TV pilot with Phill Jupitus and Ross Noble.

“But I’m looking forward to the Fringe right now and can think of nothing better to get us started than a charity DVD of the show I had the most fun at last year. It was beyond brilliant last year: I was sat at the front of the audience between Tanya Lee and Stewart Lee and, aye, I bloody loved it!

“Basically, we’re working for free/for expenses now as we build our name up, so a charity gig is a great idea, I’m a full-time carer for my gran so I have that £59 a week carer’s allowance to live on while I spend every spare hour I have editing stuff together that I’ve filmed.

“We have all the industry standard equipment – over £15,000 worth of cameras – but now I’m stuck in Durham looking after me gran I’m trying to replicate what I was doing at BBC 6 Music, but with comedy as well as music.”

So three cameras will be videoing this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday just after 11.00pm sometime. Profits from the DVD/downloads will go to Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity as will (as every year) any donations made by the audience at the end of the stage show.

I do not cover any of my costs in staging the show and take no money of any kind in any way.

The video crew are shooting the stage show and editing the result for free. They will recover the physical cost of producing DVDs etc and the actual cost of selling the end result. But they will take no profit of any kind. I will take no money of any kind. All profit goes to Mama Biashara.

If it all falls apart, if it will be a fitting tribute to Malcolm.

That will be my position.

Juliette defeats Richard Herring in Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

Juliette Burton (right) defeats Richard Herring (left) in the Russian Egg Roulette at last year’s Malcolm Hardee Show (Photo by Keir O’Donnell)

The show will include the official Scottish national Russian Egg Roulette Championships.

It may – or may not – also include a series of comedians doing impressions of comic Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer will judge which is best and will give a fish to the winner.

What could go wrong?

About a week before I came up to the Fringe, I had a check-up at my dentist. He said one tooth might cause problems, but he was loathe to touch it in case it triggered anything during the Fringe.

Last week, the tooth started giving me slight, intermittent twinges. Paracetamol has been bought.

Similar but not identical panda lost in Edinburgh

Similar but not identical panda has been lost in Edinburgh

Yesterday, I left my iPhone/iPad charger somewhere. Possibly in the Pleasance’s Brooke’s Bar or in the Underbelly’s Abattoir. Possibly not. The very very amiable staff at both have not had it handed in. It is a white iPhone charger with a panda on it. Yes it is.

Last night the toilet cistern in my rented flat started being iffy on the flush. No shit.

I thought: Phew! I am safe now. That’s the Rule of Three things going wrong – tooth, charger and toilet cistern.

This morning the bulb in the tiny, windowless toilet/shower room of my rented flat died.

I think a plague of locusts may be about to descend on me.

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