Being at the Edinburgh Fringe can be a bit like the long-gestating new tram system: no-one knows what’s going on. It is like being in a self-contained bubble. The outside world disappears into mist. All the moreso this year as BBC TV News appears to have given up reporting most news except the Olympics. I have been watching Al Jazeera and, superb as they are, they tend not to report too much UK news trivia.
I completely missed the news that London’s Time Out listings magazine announced last week that it is going to become a free publication.
We live – as the Chinese curse goes – in interesting times.
Someone told me this morning that the Guardian is currently selling so few copies per day of its print edition that Alan Rusbridger, the editor, is no longer committed to the print edition and is inclined to cease publication of the printed paper within a year, relying on the millions who access it online. Even now, there is more Guardian content free to access online than in the pay-to-read print newspaper. So why buy it?
Is this true or is it gossip or is it spin?
It is not happening inside the Fringe bubble in Edinburgh in the next three weeks. So who cares?
Meanwhile, Fringe life continues apace. After I saw Half Past Bitch at the Hive yesterday afternoon, its co-star Daphna Baram told me:
“Last night I got on a taxi at 5.00am. The driver immediately asks me if I am a comedian and took an interest in my shows. He was in his 50s and he said he was a Scottish Moroccan. I told him that Mina Znaidi, my partner in Half Past Bitch, is Moroccan. He looked at her photo on the flyer and said She’s a good looking woman. Is she good?
“I embarked in praise of Mina’s comedic mirth but he dismissed it all, saying By ‘Is she good’ I mean does she do as she’s told? I was quite shocked and very drunk but not enough to realise that it would probably not be a good idea to quote back at him Mina’s joke: I was raised to be an obedient girl; I never say no to anal… You don’t want to know his reaction.”
Daphna and Mina’s show has a good selling point for would-be punters. They are given free cookies when they come into the room at The Hive. “Our slogan,” says Daphna, “is Free comedy. Free cookies. Free shelter from the rain. Three for the price of none.”
The downside is that the show is only on until Friday.
I stayed on at the Hive yesterday afternoon to see David Mills’ show David Mills is Smart Casual – Free.
“How do you stay stylish in this weather?” I asked David.
“Stay indoors,” he replied.
“I’m the best-dressed female comic in Edinburgh,” Daphna Baram said as she left. “And David’s the best-dressed male comic.”
“I don’t want to be in this competition,” said David. “This is the Fringe. How can you compete with half-naked teenagers doing an all-male version of The Diary of Anne Frank in a sweaty basement?”
“What was that I saw last year on your chat show with Scott Capurro?” I asked. “I seem to remember semi-naked men.”
“It was the all-male version of Sweet Charity,” David reminded me.
“Ah, yes!” I said. “Did you enjoy that?”
“Well, I enjoyed watching (chat show guest) Simon Callow try not to pop a boner.”
“Can I say that in my blog?” I asked. “Has Simon Callow come out?”
“Out, John? He was never in!. What are you? Nuts?”
“Well, I don’t follow the ins and outs of gay life,” I said defensively. “Is your show this year your first solo Fringe show?”
“Yes,” said David, “it’s me on a stool looking great talking for laughs. Is your eternally-un-named friend up in Edinburgh with you?”
“No,” I said. “She doesn’t fancy the crowds and the thought of being with comedians en masse talking about themselves.”
“Well,” said David, “it is like being a therapist because it’s just one clown after another talking about themselves. Me too.”
“I’m sure you enjoy it.”
“Are you kidding? It’s a nightmare. This is a complete nightmare. When I do my show on the continent, it’s mostly non-verbal.”
“Do you?” I said, amazed, “But you’re not a non-verbal comedian. You…”
“I was joking, John,” said David. “It was a joke.”
“I really shouldn’t mix with comedians, should I?” I said. “You’re like Dave Allen; very verbal. Including the chair. I guess you never saw Dave Allen in the US?”
“Yeah,” said David. “They used to show Dave Allen on Public Television when I was growing up in Pennsylvania before we moved to the West Coast and I would sit there literally going Who is this old freak with half a finger, drinking and sitting on a stool? I couldn’t understand most of it because the accent was too thick. But the style of it was so great. It was really compelling.”
“Did he actually inspire you?” I asked. “I want to sit on a stool and do that sort of stuff?”
“Well,” said David. “I saw it as a kid and many years passed and I was doing comedy and I did a bit of cabaret, sitting on a stool and then it came back to me and I Googled it and found the name Dave Allen and thought That’s it! That’s the guy! and I started watching and thought That’s it! almost like I had retained it in my mind without remembering his name.”
“I suppose,” I said, “that Dave Allen was really doing a 1930s American cabaret format.”
“Exactly!” said David. “I knew that style already from the US scene, but Dave Allen really crystallised it although American cabaret is very different from British cabaret. British cabaret has that end-of-the-pier and music hall element. American cabaret is literally sat-on-a-stool, singing show tunes, bantering with the audience. I was doing that, getting nowhere and simply cut the piano player.”
David will be singing on my two hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 24th August.
“The song I’m thinking of singing on your show,” David told me, “isn’t really a comedy song.”
“I’ll have to hear it,” I said. “But variation is good. If I put it after or before slapstick it might work.”
David’s show at The Hive was followed by one of Lewis Schaffer’s two daily Fringe shows. I made my excuses and left (look, I know Lewis – and The Scotsman gave him a 4-star review today – he doesn’t need me). On the way out, bumped into my Facebook friend Laura Levites. She told me that she and Lewis both came from Great Neck in New York.
Lewis tells me Great Neck is “an iconic location for rich, flashy, post-poor Jews and a smattering of the failed Jews”.
“It sounds like an interesting blog if I can get you and Laura together,” I said.
“I just want to stand next to her,” said Lewis.
Entirely coincidentally, through six degrees of accident, my evening was rounded-off by a meal with Lewis Schaffer (an American living in England), Spring Day (an American living in Japan) and Billy Watson (a Scot living in Turkey). That epitomises the Edinburgh Fringe.
At the end of the meal, we divided the cost and Lewis decided to collect our notes and pay the £50 bill with his small change.
This passes for normal during the Edinburgh Fringe.