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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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The Edinburgh Fringe: increasingly influential, surreal and assault-prone

The Greatest Show on Legs without masks (or clothes)

This morning, I got a phone call from the Daily Star newspaper, who had got wind of the fact the Greatest Show on Legs are going to perform their Naked Balloon Dance in Prince Harry masks at tonight’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Sadly, it came to nothing, even with a quote from Legs leader Martin Soan saying:

“Prince Harry is a mere beginner in flashing and cavorting with women in hotel rooms. We have been doing it since before he was a glint in his father (or mother)’s eye… It is a great British tradition and we stand proud and erect as true patriots in support of Harry. We cry Thank God for Harry, England and Saint George! What the Scots will make of it, we don’t know…”

Journalists can be quirky people but they can sometimes work under difficult circumstances.

Apparently, journalists who write about the rival Edinburgh Comedy Awards and call it the… erm… Edinburgh Comedy Awards are getting phoned to be told they have to now call them the Fosters Comedy Awards, although the official website still calls them the FOSTERS Edinburgh COMEDY AWARDS… Mind you, the Fosters website also talks of “32 years of discovering comedy genius” – a bit of a dodgy claim, given that they were sponsored by Perrier 1981-2005 and Intelligent Finance 2006-2008. Then, famously, impecunious American comic Lewis Schaffer offered to sponsor them for (if memory serves me) £99 and he was – some feel unjustly – spurned.

Fosters have sponsored the awards since only 2010.

Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?

So, strictly speaking, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, established in 2007, have been running longer than the Fosters Comedy Awards, established 2010.

Far be it from me to try to get some cheap publicity.

However, following in the promotional wake of the aforementioned Fosters Comedy Awards, we have decided to precede the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards title with the phrase “the increasingly influential” and are thinking of starting an “Increasingly Influential” company to sponsor our awards for £1 per year and justify the title The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards beyond doubt.

Ian Fox before he was attacked in Edinburgh

On far more serious matters, yesterday I asked comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox if he was coming to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show tonight to take his increasingly influential photos. I got this reply:

Probably not to be honest. I didn’t have the greatest of nights last night. I was randomly punched by some guy walking past me on Candlemaker Row. Never made eye contact with him, never even took any notice of him. He was walking down the hill I was going up. He got level with me and hit me. I ended up at Edinburgh Royal and now have three stitches in the side of my nose and a very swollen face. Evidently he was wearing a ring. If I can take photos I will but I’m going have to take it easy for the next day or two. 

I just had the inconvenience of four hours with the dibble in Edinburgh Royal. And the doctor told me he practised his stitching on cat toys. He replaces the cat nip every few weeks apparently. 

Shortly after this, I bumped into flame-haired American temptress Laura Levites.

“What are you doing after Edinburgh?” I asked.

“I may be going to red headed convention in Holland,” she replied.

I asked for no more details, as this seemed enough information.

Paul B Edwards (left) and Lewis Schaffer, Cowgate yesterday

Then I bumped into comedians Paul B Edwards, David Whitney and Lewis Schaffer in the Cowgate. Paul B Edwards told me BBC Radio 2 had interviewed him about the Fringe because, he thought, he had been mentioned in my increasingly influential blog.

After David Whitney had left, I told Paul B Edwards and Lewis Schaffer about the attack on Ian Fox.

“Well,” Paul said, “I heard that, two nights ago, Kunt and The Gang mentioned Margaret Thatcher in his gig. He gets a lot of punks at his gigs and a drunk punk at the back started screaming on a Thatcher rant that no-one could understand. He approached the stage and kept approaching the stage and Kunt said I have three words for you – ‘Fuck off now’ but the guy didn’t and threw a punch at Kunt and even though Kunt and The Gang looks like quite a little guy on the stage, he’s quite useful and apparently he punched this guy out of the venue. That’s what I heard. He punched him out and out of the venue to cheers and applause, because his crowd don’t have a problem with violence when it’s justified.”

David Whitney in the Cowgate yesterday

The back story to this is that David Whitney got criticised a couple of years ago when he allegedly head-butted an audience member after being provoked. A writer from a newspaper was present and wrote an article about the incident which, other comedians have told me, hurt his career.

“Sometimes,” said Lewis Schaffer, “people forget audience members deserve a good head-bashing, whether they’re walking or in a wheelchair.”

Paul and I laughed for reasons I have not yet, but might yet, blog about.

“I said ‘wheelchair’, said Lewis Schaffer. I didn’t say ‘paralysed’. Some audience members are just twats and, if they’re going to destroy a show and if they’re going to step towards the comedian, then they’re gonna deserve it. I’ve never hit a punter in my entire life but I…”

“Yes you have,” I interrupted. “You hit that bloke who smashed your iPhone at the Gilded Balloon the other year.”

“He wasn’t a punter,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He was just a guy in the street. He smashed my iPhone! That wasn’t comedy-related!”

“You gonna cry now?” Paul laughed.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “because now I’ve punched one guy…”

“You’ve got a taste for it?” I suggested.

“I’ve got a taste for it,” Lewis Schaffer agreed, laughing, “and all I want to do now is punch people in the face.”

These are the sort of conversations which happen during the Fringe and seldom elsewhere.

Shortly afterwards, I was due to meet Miss Behave, host of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. I was striding towards the appointed meeting place in Parliament Square when she passed me, speeding in the opposite direction.

“Hi, John!” she said, “Just got to pick up a sword. Back in a mo!”

The surreal soon becomes reality at the Fringe.

I went to the Gilded Balloon party last night after their So You Think You’re Funny talent show final. A banner proclaimed:


The Gilded Balloon venue – evacuated by fire fear last night

This was news to me. Those wacky brewers are at it again! I thought. How surreal a twisting of reality is that?. Then the fire alarm rang and the entire Gilded Balloon building was evacuated.

Exactly ten years ago, in 2002, the old Gilded Balloon building burnt down.

I texted my comedy chum Janey Godley:


Immediately, a text came back:


The fire alarm turned out to be a false alarm.

What a waste of a good alibi.

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At Edinburgh Fringe, naked Bob Slayer almost chokes to death on a balloon

The inevitable happened at the ever more complicated Edinburgh Fringe yesterday.

I was invited to an event and turned up on time at the Spiegeltent outside the Assembly Rooms in George Street in the new town… only to realise that the event was actually in the Spiegeltent at the rival Assembly venue in George Square in the old town.

I texted my Scots comic/playwright chum Janey Godley for some sympathy.

“You’re a cock,” came back the immediate reply.

True, but I blame the venues for fighting between themselves.

Owen O’Neill flyering charismatically in Edinburgh yesterday

Minutes later, I bumped into Irish comic/playwright Owen O’Neill flyering in George Street for his Struck By Lightning show at the Assembly Rooms. He had employed two flyerers until last week, when he decided they were a waste of money and flyered for himself.

“I quadrupled my audience,” he told me.

“You quadrupled it?” I asked, knowing he is a wonderful communicator but, even so…

“Well, it might have had something to do with this,” he said turning the flyer over and, a master at marketing, pointed to the stapled 4-star review from the Scotsman calling him the supreme master of the one-man show, storyteller extraordinaire and ex-lunatic (judging by his tales)… If you have seen one of O’Neil’s wonderful hours, you won’t need me to tell you to go sample his spellbinding narrative. If not, then, whether for the comedy, the beauty of the writing or the perfection of the performance, you really should go along.

“… or it might have been because it was a weekend,” Owen added.

“Or it could be your charisma in the street,” I suggested.

“I’d like to think so,” he said.

Meanwhile, with the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show set for tomorrow night, I’ve just lost my techie (who does the sound and lights) and will have to find another. And Pete Cunningham who appeared on last year’s show as Frank Sanazi (the singing Hitler) and who was going to perform this year as Tom Mones (the singer from the Welsh valleys) has lost his voice in London. He partly blames Sue Perkins of the BBC Culture Show:

Frank Sanazi was never going to appear on the show

“It vos ze Hitleresque ranting zat vos mein ‘Downfall’ (excuse the pun) and ze screaming at Sue Perkins up ze steps (Edinburgh’s Goose Steps) on ze BBC’s Culture Show last week zat has caused zis problem !!!!” he e-mailed me.

He added:

“Mein throat is, as they say in the business, ‘Well & truly f***ed’ (the Fringe made me delete the middle of this). It was swollen when I left Edinburgh on 14th August but another five gigs in London have left me in a sorry state. The doctor has told me to shut up (not for the first time). I was sorely tempted to email you, John, stating that I’d had a massive heart attack, but I’ve noticed this year that stunts like this don’t even get a nomination for the ‘Cunning Stunt Award’ ! Even faking my own death would probably not even register at the Awards, such is the stiff (excuse the pun) competition.”

Martin Soan chats to Arthur Smith last night

I saw three acts still definite for the show last night at The Hive venue when the Greatest Show On Legs performed their first show at the Edinburgh Fringe for thirty years (with Bob Slayer replacing the dead Malcolm Hardee). They’re having special guests from their past join them each night and, last night, it was Arthur Smith.

Afterwards, I asked lead leg Martin Soan the incisive question:

“How has it changed – performing the show again in Edinburgh after all these years?”

“It’s exactly the same, John,” he told me. “Mostly sweaty.”

Fellow original leg Martin Clarke told me after the show:

“That was the first night of real laughter I’ve heard since I did the show with Malcolm thirty years ago. I saw people crying with laughter and, when I went behind the stage to change, I could hear some people in the bar still shrieking with laughter at the memory ten minutes after the show had finished and I thought That’s just how it used to be!

The Greatest Show on Legs on stage in Edinburgh last night

“I was never sure we could do it again without Malcolm but maybe he was with us, because we’ve been nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“No you haven’t,” I said.

“Yes we have,” said Bob Slayer. “For comic originality.”

“Is that what it is?” asked Martin Clarke.

“Nobody else is recreating entire music hall traditions,” said Bob. “Tony Law didn’t. Nor did Dr Brown. And they got nominated for that ‘other’ award. They’re going for something new and easy. We’re recreating originality. There are other has-beens, but they’re successful. We’re different.”

“Our selling point is being unsuccessful has-beens,” agreed Martin Clarke.

“And I’m a never-been,” said Bob. “That is the twist.”

“That’s what is so incredible about tonight.” said Martin Clarke.

“And that is comic originality,” said Bob Slayer. “We thought we would only start performing our shows after you had made the nominations and then make you re-assess your nominations and realise you are wrong. It’s comic originality. I nearly died tonight by almost swallowing a balloon during the Naked Balloon Dance.

“The other two think the funny way to do the Balloon Dance is to blow the balloons up and then put the other ones inside your cheeks. I thought No, I’ll put the balloons in my cheeks first and then blow the balloons up. So what I did was a deep breath and the heart-shaped one went down my throat.”

“Testicle-shaped,” corrected Martin Clarke.

“It was down my trachea,” continued Bob, “and I was pulling it out and puking balloons out backstage. That’s why I was late.”

“That’s original,” said Martin Clarke.

“Never happened before,” said Bob. “Comic originality and death. I think that’s the way to do it and that’s how I’m going to do it every night.”

“And to be perfectly honest,” said Martin Clarke, we’ve never used balloons shaped like testicles before.”

Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?

“I think you’ve blown it,” I told Bob. “The idea of a posthumous Award was the way to go, but you’ve blown it by not dying.”

“But many people have been given posthumous Awards before,” said Bob, “and I’m not going down that tired old road. Kurt Cobain, Heath Ledger, Graham Chapman…”

“Graham Chapman?” I asked.

“He got the award for being the most dead Monty Python,” said Bob. “Stick that in your blog.”

“Righto,” I said.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith’s usually anarchic, sometimes illegal night-time tours of the Royal Mile

Arthur Smith at the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards

This Friday at 11.pm, The two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show starts at the Counting House in Edinburgh, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. Have I mentioned that before?

The show will include the Greatest Show on Legs performing their Naked Balloon Dance and a Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, international president of the World Egg Throwing Federation. So it’s all respectable stuff, not just people randomly smashing raw eggs in their faces.

Among those taking part in the Russian Egg Roulette will be comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith. After our show finishes at 1.00am, Arthur will be legging it up to the gates of Edinburgh Castle for 2.00am which is when he starts one of his legendary night time tours of the Royal Mile. To give a flavour of these always impressive cultural events, here are two extracts from Arthur’s autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax, available from all good bookshops and a few dodgy ones:


My tour of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh that year, a genre I now described as ‘radical site–specific outdoor promenade performance art,’ was a riot, ending outside John Thomson’s flat. John, a funny man and a mean impressionist had, that night, collected his Perrier award with Steve Coogan. He spoke from the shadows of the flat convincing a number of my crowd that I was talking to Sean Connery. We dispersed minutes before several police vans full of coppers arrived.

By now the tour began long after midnight; the most extreme starting time – 4am – is, surely, both the latest and earliest show to appear at the festival. The historical element of the event had been largely replaced by more muscular antics. I paid members of the crowd to climb onto an empty plinth, strip naked and sing Scotland the Brave; offered the squaddies guarding the castle a joint to slowmarch (yes, they usually did); induced residents of the Royal Mile to open their window and burst into song; staged kissing contests; introduced guest speakers such as Paul Merton, Hank Wangford, Mike McShane and Big Bobbie the armpit-farter; I might hush the audience to sneak up on a drunk enjoying a solitary piss against a wall, or stop by a shop displaying mannequins in tweed suits, introducing them as The Oxford Revue; I led everyone onto the back of an empty lorry and once ended the show at the Station where I got on the first train to Galashiels.

Oh, we had some laughs.

A DVD of my 1990 tour turned up recently, and watching it alone in the sober light of a Monday morning. I was appalled at how dangerous it now seems, how reckless I was, and how fortunate that no-one was ever seriously injured or even killed.  A fire breaks out, a pissed member of the Doug Anthony All Stars accepts twenty pounds to clamber up the scaffolding clinging to a building, a policeman appears in the background, and then mounts the portacabin on which Malcolm Hardee is standing in his traditional uniform of two socks.

In the previous year’s baccanal, I had turned up with an unruly mob of two hundred at a police lock-up round the back of the Royal Mile.  It was while Nelson Mandela was in prison so I informed the throng that he was in this very jail.  On cue everyone started singing, “Free -ee Nelson Mand-e-la!” until a small old policeman appeared and barked, “Will you please be quiet?  You’re keeping the poor prisoners awake.” Big laugh. Emboldened by my witty foe, I declared, “We will go when you release Nelson Mandela,” to which the gaoler responded, “We’ll be letting him out through the side door further up the road.”  Everyone roared and clapped and we moved on. The funny copper, whoever he was, was a class act, a Scottish Syd, a man of style who diffused a tricky moment with charm and humour.

Although I never did the day-time Royal Mile walks again after ‘83, I have presented a couple of more elaborate and innocent promenades shows elsewhere in town, My eccentric take on Swan Lake unfolded unpredictably round the back of the Pleasance

* * * * *

It was a full, fat, hard-drinking festival for me in 2000, with a suitably dramatic finale which contained the words

‘I am arresting you for breach of the peace and possession of a megaphone.’

I was in an Edinburgh Police Station at 5am when a police officer spoke this sentence to me. How did this unfortunate situation come about?

The story starts in the small hours of Sunday August 27th m’lud. A large crowd is gathered opposite the Tron church watching a man standing on a wall talking through a megaphone.  His underpants are on display and he seems somewhat the worse for wear.  It is myself and I am declaring an end to my tour; what remains of my audience are drifting off home. A couple of policemen arrive on the scene. Unsurprisingly, there is some light jeering from the remaining tourists. But now there are 5 police cars, a van and an armoured black maria. A couple of revellers hustle me round a corner where I put my trousers on and return in time to see post-renaissance comedian Simon Munnery being handcuffed and bundled into one of the cars.

At the time Simon had just taken the sacred megaphone from me, which he was perfectly entitled to do, since he had taken hilarious part in the improvised promenade, having reprised the role of Heinrich, the deranged Nietzschean German tourist.  Now a new part was thrust upon him – arrested man sitting in a cell feeling very pissed off indeed. I felt guilty that it had been Simon, and not me, the police had nabbed, so I led a few stragglers, whose outrage briefly outranked their tiredness, to the Police Station to await his release.  It was a long, strange night. At around 5am Rich Hall came by, fresh from collecting the Perrier award, and joined our vigil for as long as his eyes were able to remain open.  Not long after he left I was taken into a room, charged and immediately released. Later, when I was less angry, I was able to laugh at an imaginary conversation between the coppers.

PC:                  This Arthur Smith is obviously the Mr Big, Sarge.

SARGE:          Aye, we’d better arrest him.

PC:                  I wonder where he could be?

SARGE:          Let’s try the waiting room.

They seek him here, they seek him there…..

At approximately 8am, your honour, Simon was released from custody.  I decided to stay up since my last Leonard Cohen show was at lunch-time and it felt like Simon and I should top the night off together. We repaired to my nearby digs and an unlikely bottle of Asti Spumante. Sipping it, smoking, dazed at the chaos that had led us here, I grimaced at the realisation that I would have to tell Syd about this one. And then I laughed at the thought that I was forty-five years old. It was a beautiful, sunny, late-summer morning.  ‘Goodness me,’ I thought, ‘if this is what I have to do to avoid being bored, it’s pretty damn exhausting.’

“One must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star” – Nietzsche

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Edinburgh Fringe… Sex workers, naked men, a Twitter sensation and Alan Carr

One fan of Chris Dangerfield’s act has expert views on shows

Enterprising Edinburgh Fringe act Chris Dangerfield, whose show Sex Tourist is sponsored by a local escort agency, e-mailed me this morning:

“A sex worker with a blog likes my show,” he said. “How nice. She’s also asked me out for a coffee.”

Headed Hooker-tainment at Edinburgh Fringe, it is an interesting blog and no doubt hopes to ape the success of Belle de Jour.

But, as the lady’s fees start at £190 per hour or £1,000 for the night, I am not plugging the blog’s address except for hard cash.

Interestingly, though, she says this:


Assaulted with jokes about sex workers from the very first show I saw at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival, I’m trying to understand why we’re supposedly the edgiest, funniest material on everyone’s lips right now…

Now that racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are less acceptable in main-stream entertainment, it seems like sex workers are really the only ‘other’ people to pick on. Because that’s the real reason that this kind of comedy works; it used to be OK to laugh at people of colour or gays because it used to be OK to think they actually *were* different.

It’s OK to make jokes at sex workers because they in no way could be sitting next to you in the audience, oh no. Sex workers all walk around with red flashing lights over their heads, everyone knows that… Transphobia particularly is still fairly prevalent in entertainment, and anyone saying that the acceptance of drag or ladyboy shows is good for trans rights is fairly misguided…

The unspoken issue here is that, of course, many performers at Edinburgh must also themselves be sex workers or have had sex work experience. Supporting a creative career is very hard to do around a 9-5 job although, of course, other kinds of self-employed or freelance work are probably possible.


Now, from naked women to naked men…

Two thirds of the Greatest Show on Legs arrive in Edinburgh tomorrow. Famed for their Naked Balloon Dance, they are the reason why it was widely said the late Malcolm Hardee literally had “the biggest bollocks in showbusiness”.

They have not performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this century and, with Malcolm Hardee dead and Steve Bowditch banned by the Peter Buckley Hill Free Fringe from performing at the rival Alternative Fringe’s Hive venue on pain of excommunication, the line-up is original members (I use the term innocently) Martin Soan and Martin Clarke plus the shy performing wallflower that is Bob Slayer.

They are billed as performing their hour-long show – Aaaaaaaaaaaaarghh! It’s the Greatest Show on Legs – from this Wednesday to Sunday but are now adding what they call a public dress rehearsal (without dresses) tomorrow night at 9.15pm. Well, I’ll be there for sure.

Janey Godley’s viral sensation – on stage tonight in Edinburgh

And I will also be at the other big unbilled gig of the Fringe week tonight – Janey Godley’s one-performance-one-night-only play #timandfreya based on the extraordinary viral Twitter success of her live blow-by-blow tweets about an overheard argument in a train between the titular Tim and Freya.

The half-hour stage version was dramatised by Janey’s daughter Ashley Storrie, who also appears in it tonight.

“It was an amazing conversation between Tim and Freya,” Janey tells me, “Everybody loved it. But it’s no really a play because there’s gaps. I was Tweeting between Glasgow, Carlisle and Oxenhome. So Ashley had to adapt it and introduce new characters to drive the story forward.”

Ashley herself plays the new character Laura and Philip Larkin (no, not that one – he’s dead) is Alec.

“Do you know why they’re called Laura and Alec?” Janey asked me.

“No,” I said.

“Because they were the characters in Brief Encounter,” said Janey.

“And you’re in it?” I asked.

“I play the ticket collector,” Janey replied. “Rick Wilson, the lead singer from the Kaiser Chiefs, called me and wanted to play Tim because he was fascinated by the story when he read the original Tweets. And I got an e-mail from an actress in Los Angeles who wanted to come over and play Freya. This is true! I said, No. It’s for one night and there’s no money! I’m no letting people do that. That’s insanity.

“One really weird thing is that lots of people have been Tweeting me and e-mailing me saying they do a wee Tim & Freya sketch themselves in their office. They’ve been ‘acting’ the Tweets out loud to each other.

“Rick from the Kaiser Chiefs told me he and his girlfriend did that and everybody read it out and an actor Jack Klaff, who was in Star Wars – he played Red something (Red Four) – Ashley recognised his voice on the phone as a man who was in Star Wars… Jack Klaff called me and gave me ideas about what to do with the story, so everybody’s been calling me and wanting to be involved.”

“Rick Wilson really wanted to do it, didn’t he?” I said.

“Yes, he phoned to apologise when the band schedule eventually came through: I can’t do it. I’m really sorry.

“And the comedian Alan Carr,” I said.

“Yes,” said Janey, “Alan Carr was desperate but he has a Channel 4 pilot tonight. He wanted to push a trolley saying Teas! Coffees! Teas! Coffees! which would have been good.”

Whatever happens tonight, like the original train journey, it should be an interesting trip. And as the real Tim – the man on the train – contacted Janey after he read the Tweets, even he might be there in the audience…

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The vulnerability of anarchic comedians Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan

The young-ish Malcolm Hardee (left) and Martin Soan (right) (Photograph courtesy of Steve Taylor from up north)

Last night, a preview of the Greatest Show on LegsEdinburgh Fringe show at London’s Comedy Cafe was cancelled due to a gas leak.

So, instead, leading Leg Martin Soan talked to me about the oft-called ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, about whom I have oft blogged here.

Martin and Malcolm met, in their late teens, shortly after Martin had started The Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. The Legs were perhaps most famous for their Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT TV show.

“There was other stuff in Malcolm,” Martin said, “but, because he was a bit lazy and always took the easy options… We did talk about some fairly sophisticated stuff for the Greatest Show On Legs to do and, if only we’d pursued that and had had a university-educated ethic about work, we would have come up with some lovely scenarios, me and Malcolm, as a working partnership, except they would have been upper class rather than middle class or working class.

“With a university education, we’d have known all about writing and we’d have motivated people to do it and we would have been ahead of our fucking time.

“What you don’t write about about Malcolm, what you don’t write about about me is that we were vulnerable. We didn’t possess – I don’t possess – natural self-confidence. Malcolm didn’t. He really didn’t. That was our affinity with each other. We bullshitted; we both tried to get away with it; we were out for a good time. But, basically, we were both vulnerable. And that was very true about Malcolm.

“Though,” I said, “Malcolm exuded confidence to other people.”

“Yeah, he did,” agreed Martin.

“But…?” I asked.

“But…” Martin said and then stopped, lost in thought.

“He was shy, wasn’t he?” I said.

“He was shy, yes,” said Martin. “Not able to express his emotions.”

“Yet everyone who didn’t know him thinks he was this outrageous, extrovert character,” I said.

“As a human being, he had his faults and that’s why we loved him,” said Martin. “He was like, in some sort of way, a Mr Punch character. All the things that were wrong about a person were all the things you loved about them at the same time. That was Malcolm.

“There was an affinity between me and him because we met when we were young and we felt we weren’t worthy. We had this hang-up but, at the same time, it was Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it!

“And you told me the vulnerability was about education,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “There was this Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it! But you couldn’t take that vulnerability out of me and Malcolm. There was a tragic inability for these young, sometimes charismatic working class lads to… we couldn’t quite fucking crack it.

“In a sense, we all did really well, but still there’s that feeling in the back of the mind: We’re no good.”

“But Malcolm wasn’t really working class,” I said. “And I don’t think he had a thing about education, did he? He went to Colfe’s School and he could have done better but,” I laughed, “the way he told it his father buggered-up his chances in the interview. I don’t think Malcolm had a thing about lack of education, did he?”

“He did,” Martin corrected me, “Malcolm did. On the very few times – in the early days, not so much in later days – we levelled with each other, I’d say Don’t bullshit me, Malcolm! He was a huge bullshitter. But he did talk to me about the cynical resentment he had – exactly the same as me. He did resent the Oxbridge comedy ‘passport’ to success though, at the same time, he wanted to get in with them. He wasn’t too good on those inroads, though.

“The first time we went up to the Edinburgh Fringe, Emma Thompson was doing a sell-out show. We did go along and see her and she was in the same venue as us – The Hole In The Ground.

“But he developed other relationships at that Edinburgh Fringe – with Arthur Smith and others – and he moved on. I was slower. I was a lot more introverted than Malcolm in terms of the whole social thing. I probably suffered more than he did from the whole insecurity thing, thinking I’m shit! and the whole thing.”

“Are you OK saying this in a blog?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin, surprised.

“The only semi-bad review Malcolm’s autobiography got,” I said, “was one by Stewart Lee in the Sunday Times which said it wasn’t analytical enough of Malcolm’s character – though Stewart did add that Malcolm wasn’t naturally someone who analysed himself. And he didn’t. When we were writing his autobiography, I occasionally tried to get Malcolm to analyse things he’d done and he wasn’t interested. And I figured it was an autobiography not a biography, so that was part of the nature of the person. He wasn’t analytical in that way and he did find it difficult to express his…”

“Me and Malcolm,” Martin interrupted, “were ‘family’ for a time. We grew up together. We started with that Hole In The Ground show at the Edinburgh Fringe, pushed it on and ended up going all over the world together and.. it was a big adventure.”

“Like brothers,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “I used to try and talk to Malcolm. Forget all that education stuff, I’d say. Here we are now. Let’s just enjoy ourselves. But I had to bludgeon him into it. Just sit and relax and savour all the memories. That dog when we were doing the naked balloon dance! Do you remember this? Do you remember that? That’s what ‘family’ is all about. It’s about memories and what you do together and fuck what anybody else thinks about it. It’s about what we did together and it was amazing!”

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