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Yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe I saw and heard the strangest things

Cassie Atkinson - Supernumerary Rainbow

Ex-stalker Cassie Atkinson has a Supernumerary Rainbow

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, performer Cassie Atkinson and I seemed to be stalking each other. Almost every day, we seemed to bump into each other at least once. This year, she seems to have been replaced by Joz Norris and Scott Agnew. I keep meeting Joz in other people’s shows and Scott on street corners.

Surprisingly, neither were there when I saw Cassie Atkinson’s own new show Supernumerary Rainbow yesterday – in which she interestingly alternates between her on-stage fictional American showbiz character and her real-life Bolton-accented self, explaining why she hides behind characters.

Fringe comedy shows have moved on from gag-telling to storytelling and genuine autobiography over the years and I think it’s interesting when character comedy cracks slightly to reveal (or appear to reveal) the real performer while continuing with the character. Whatever Cassie is doing, it certainly attracted a full audience.

Frizz Frizzle - Ditty Fiddler

Frizz Frizzle – highly popular Ditty Fiddler

Which Friz Frizzle did too.

Attract a full house audience.

Apparently he writes jokes for other comedians. I have no idea what his own act is because, when I arrived at the Globe venue it was so overflowing with punters I could not squeeze in in any way. Ye Gods – that is some underground following he has there. I gave up any attempt to get in and went and had a bun.

On the way to my next show, Joe Davies’ Who’s The Daddy? I bumped into trombonist Faye Treacy who told me she had possibly booked herself into a performance room that was too small – at Cabaret Voltaire.

When she plays her trombone, the front row is in physical peril from her extended slide.

Faye Treacy

Faye Treacy – musical bag lady of Edinburgh

She told me she used to perform with a piano but the trombone was easier to carry. I suggested she look into the possibilities of a piccolo.

“In my room,” Faye told me, “my trombone is in people’s faces and I then loop up my trombone so it’s twelve times the volume.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I do a spoken word piece at that point and, obviously, I can’t speak and play at the same time. I hand out ear plugs at the start of the show. I had the trombonist from Madness turn up and watch my show yesterday. And, last year, I had the entire double bass section from the Philharmonia Orchestra.”

“How many people are in the entire double bass section from the Philharmonia Orchestra?” I asked.

“Twelve,” Faye told me. “I have a ukulele in my show this year as well, so Kate Copstick may hate it. Next year, I was thinking of putting a bass drum on my back and being a one-man band.”

Joe Davies prepares for his show Where’s The Daddy?

Joe prepares for his show Where’s The Daddy?

Joe Davies’ Who’s The Daddy? is about how he discovered, in his 20s, that his father was musical performer Hank Wangford, a man whom most of the audience had never heard of, but whom I almost met when I was working on children’s TV show Tiswas back when the world was young. I travelled all the way from Birmingham to London just to see him perform at a club where he had ‘left my name on the door’ to get in. Except he had not and the club was (like Friz Frizzle’s) so full it was impossible to get in. More about Joe Davies in a future blog.

Hank Wangford was/is a comic Country & Western singer by night – I recommend his  Jogging With Jesus – and a practising gynaecologist by day. He also apparently (Joe has a photo) went on holiday to Morocco with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Roger Waters. Now THERE is a story I would like to hear.

The Raunch

The Raunch – aerial acts, nipple tassels and a thematic misfire

In the evening, I saw The Raunch, a would-be risqué Wild West themed variety night in the circus area on The Meadows. Think aerial acts, naked breasts with nipple tassels, a carnival feel and an attempted Western narrative. Nothing wrong with nipple tassels and sword swallowing nor with any of the acts, but the attempt to theme the whole thing misfired and it needed a visible ringmaster-type person throughout instead of mostly voice-over commentaries.

Then it was Jo Coffey, highly professional and mystifyingly under-used on TV, who bills herself as “the comedy circuit’s fourth shortest comic” – and who seems to have worked on the production teams of more TV shows than I ever did.

Then I saw Femmetamorphosis – a play (in the Theatre section of the Fringe Programme) based round a lingerie party. I went to see it because I accidentally travelled up from London to Edinburgh sitting next to its author and star Sharron Spice. More in a future blog.

Late night at the Fringe is where you often get the really bizarre shows.

Bob Slayer tells tales in his double decker BlunaBus

Bob Slayer tells ad lib tales in his big double decker BlundaBus

Bob Slayer is doing 24 Hour Shows, a great title which means he is doing not day-long shows but a different hour-long show for 24 nights on the top floor of his double decker BlundaBus

And Hate ’n’ Live is always unexpected and interesting with Darius Davies, Leo Kearse and three or four guest comics improvising around why they ‘hate’ various things suggested by the usually-packed-to-gasping audience. Last night one of the comics was the inescapable Lewis Schaffer strangely yet successfully out of his comfort zone.

He had to talk about something other than himself.

You see and hear the strangest things at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The courtyard of the Free Sisters on a Saturday night - one of the seven gateways to hell

The courtyard of the Free Sisters on a Saturday night resembles one of the seven gateways to hell

 

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Jeremy Corbyn & my beard and the link to Martin Soan’s new free comedy club.

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming?

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming? A combination?

I am probably going to be Jeremy Corbyn. In a music video for Ariane Sherine’s Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

The London Evening Standard’s opinion is that this “steamy tribute” to the great man is “one of the most stirring”. But that “most of the verses are too graphic to be printed in a family newspaper”. The song includes the stirring lines:

One poke from the leader
And you’ll be in Labour

I was conned into saying I would appear in this video, to be shot in July, on the basis it would include “topless” scenes. Alas, these turned out to be not Ariane Sherine topless but the Jeremy Corbyn clone – me – and, because of this, I have been trying to slim down to something more approaching Jezza than Dumbo.

It has also meant I have kept my beard, which I had intended to shave off.

Now, though, the video shoot is going to be in September not July. So I was going to chop off my beard and re-grow it during the Edinburgh Fringe in August. (This has the added bonus I could get up later in the mornings).

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair on stage in 2013

My eternally un-named friend then suggested I should get Martin Soan to cut it off or, at least, cut one half of it – perhaps the left half – and half my shirt and possibly half my trousers.

Thus it is going to happen on the opening night of his new comedy club this Friday night. There is a bit of ‘previous’ here. In 2013, comedian Stephen Frost cut off half Martin Soan’s hair on stage at Pull The Other One.

For over ten years, Martin and his wife Vivienne have run the very successfully bizarre Pull The Other One monthly comedy club in Nunhead (Peckham to you and me, but don’t say that to the natives). Now they are also going to be running another monthly comedy night in Nunhead called It’s Got Bells On.

“So,” I asked him, “you’re going to do this new one monthly and carry on doing Pull The Other One monthly? What’s the difference going to be?”

“Well,” said Martin, “It’s Got Bells On is free and Pull The Other One is pay-to-enter.”

Martin Soan promoting new night It’s Got Bells On

Martin Soan promotes his new It’s Got Bells On

“Why is It’s Got Bells On free?” I asked.

“Because I’m very lucky. Someone who is really into comedy is sponsoring me. He wants to remain anonymous. He’s fronting the cash for it – not a lot of cash, but it means I can pay the acts and have a bit for myself as well. Basically, everyone will get expenses.”

I asked: “When you say ‘free’ it will have a bucket at the end for voluntary audience donations?”

“Yeah. But there will also be 30 tickets behind the bar which you can buy for £1 each in advance to guarantee a seat.”

“So it’s the Bob Slayer ‘Pay What You Want’ model from the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Is there any difference in the type of act or the headliners at the two clubs?”

“I don’t know what you call headliners now. I’m moving against ‘celebrity’ because it muddies the water yet again. Comedy should be whether you like it or not – nothing to do with whether people have been on TV or not. But everything still hinges on whether they are ‘famous’ or not.”

“Your Pull The Other One shows,” I said, “are usually full up and the format, as I understand it, is that they are all variety acts plus one stand-up comedian who is usually a ‘Name’.”

“That’s the way it works out normally, “ said Martin, “but it’s not a rule. Variety is the key. I wanted to put on a free night and now I’ve had this glorious offer of it being funded by an anonymous sponsor.”

Dr Brown and an audience member at PTOO

“I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic” (Photo of Dr Brown at Pull The Other One)

“Why did free-to-enter shows attract you?” I asked.

“With it being free,” explained Martin, “we don’t have to fulfil any audience expectations. Acts can be more free with the type of material they do. I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic – as it used to be. I am going to feature a slot a bit like The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green). I have Brian Sewer to fulfil that role in the first week. He’s an art critic.”

“Ah,” I said, “a piss-take on Brian Sewell? Who is doing that?”

“Ed At Last.”

“So the idea with It’s Got Bells On,” I asked, “is that you would not have one big name?”

“Well,” said Martin, “if Stewart Lee wanted to try out 10 minutes of new material, he would be just the same as anyone else on the bill. He would get 10 minutes and his expenses.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

Stewart Lee (left) and Martin Soan, backstage at P.T.O.O.

“I’ve got Stewart Lee booked on at Pull The Other One on the 9th September and I must be getting two e-mails a day saying Can I get tickets? Can I get tickets!

“I’m getting frustrated by this celebrity-bound comedy and the way comedy is being used yet again.”

“It seems now,” I suggested, “that people will pay to see an act they have seen on TV, but lots of venues are doing free shows with unknown acts who do not get paid to perform.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “It’s not that I disagree with free venues, but I think people need to get paid for what they do.

“Now venues are starting to refuse to pay artists, basically. We have gone backwards. I remember the days in the 1980s when bands used to have to pay to play. I was involved with bands through my wife Vivienne. There was one particular pub which was absolutely notorious. They charged all the bands something like £50 to use the PA.”

“In the 1980s?” I asked.

Vivienne and Martin Soan

Vivienne and Martin Soan – Campaigning comedy couple

“Yeah. And the band would get some percentage of any tickets. But, basically, very few people bought tickets. You were allowed two guests and the audience was just other bands. So the poor band that went on last played to no-one.

“I got quite political about it and helped start an organisation called Community Music and basically the practice was stamped out over a few years.

“Now with comedy, though, that seems to be happening again. Venues not paying the acts.

“There are very few venues where you have to pay to play but, nonetheless, considering it’s such a small business compared to bands – it’s just people coming along alone or with props – they just need a microphone and the overheads are cheaper – the venues are not passing the profits on to the performers. I know the overheads of venues are high. But, if they didn’t have this comedy going on in their pub, then they would be down on their takings. At one place I ran a comedy night, on my average night, the bar was taking maybe an extra £3,000.

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now."

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now.”

“I know the business from all sides now. The first guy who ran the Old Nun’s Head where Pull The Other One ran shows – Daniel – was very open about how he made his money and how much he needed to get. He was dead straightforward, put his cards on the table and I knew exactly where I was, which I appreciated. That enabled me to project a plan to make the club viable. And the new guy running the Old Nun’s Head is very straightforward too.”

“So you will be running monthly pay-to-enter Pull The Other One shows at the Ivy House in Nunhead… and monthly ‘free’ It’s Got Bells On at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.”

“Yes.”

“Any more shows in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, in November. Bartushka, who is from Berlin but you saw her in Leipzig, wants to work with us over there.”

“Remind me of her act?” I asked.

“She is…” Martin started. “She… It is very difficult to categorise her. She is cabaret-inspired, very charismatic…”

“Much like Pull The Other One,” I suggested. “And, I guess, It’s Got Bells On.”

I may revise my opinion after I get half my beard, hair, shirt and possibly trousers chopped off on Friday.

It’s Got Bells On - free comedy

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The award-winning comic who almost joined the French Foreign Legion

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the Awards last night

Luca Cupani (bottom left) at the SYTYF Awards in Edinburgh

Luca Cupani won the already prestigious So You Think You’re Funny? contest at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

This Saturday, he appears with fellow Puma Londinese Italians as part of the launch weekend for Bob Slayer’s Blundabus in Hackney.

Next July, Luca goes to the mega-prestigious Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.

“Part of the prize for winning So You Think You’re Funny?” Luca told me, “is to go to Montreal and appear in a showcase for British comedy and I will have the spot as the up-and-coming British comedian.”

“So you,” I said, “an Italian, are representing Britain.”

“Yes,” said Luca. “This year was really a UKIP comedy. The runner up in So You Think You’re Funny? was Yuriko Kotani, who is Japanese. What I like about the UK is that I manage to win a competition despite my accent and broken English. This would not happen in Italy.”

“Don’t let the Queen down,” I said.

“She’s the head of Canada,” replied Luca, “and she’s not Canadian. This year, America’s Got Talent was won by an English ventriloquist.”

“And my chum Mr Methane, the farteur,” I said, “was in the semi-finals of Germany’s Got Talent, despite having nothing to do with Germany.”

“Ah,” said Luca, “but he speaks an international language.”

“You were an actor in Italy,” I said to Luca, “before coming here to do comedy. Why did you become an actor?”

“I was not happy with my job.”

“What was your job?”

“I was a freelance editor at a publisher. Not a bad job, but it did not pay very well. I thought: I’m not going to do this forever. I was already 35 and still living at home with my parents. I loved my parents but my mother was very possessive. When you do something that is boring, you sit at a desk and work and get up and ten years have passed and you do not have any memory of this.

Luca cupani took a selfie in London this week

Luca Cupani took a selfie in London this week

“Since I left that job, I now remember almost every single day, because every day something new happens. Sometimes horrible things like my mother dying, my father dying. But also sometimes beautiful things. New people. So I was looking for a way to get out of my boring job. And I thought: Why not join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Errrrrrr,” I said, surprised.

“I would never have joined the Italian Army,” said Luca, “because I’m not particularly patriotic. To be honest, Italy should be ruled by someone else. But, in the French Foreign Legion, they don’t bother where you are from. So I thought: Why not? It seemed a safe place to hide.”

“Did you mention this to your mother?” I asked.

“I tried. I thought about running away, but my father was disabled and I could not leave him alone.”

“But,” I said, “if you had joined the French Foreign Legion…”

“I just had this idea,” said Luca, “that, if something went wrong, I would join the French Foreign Legion.”

“Perhaps you should still consider it,” I suggested. “There must be an Edinburgh Fringe show and a book in it…”

“You can join the French Foreign Legion until you are 40 or 50,” mused Luca. “The transition from being a freelance editor or proof reader behind a desk to becoming a comedian or an actor did not change things too much money-wise – and uncertainty about the future was pretty much the same – but now I feel more free.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide not to join the French Foreign Legion?”

“Because it is so boring. I checked the website and the entry pay was only something like 200 Euros more than I was earning – to stay in French Guinea in the jungle – and you had to learn French. That could have been good, because I would have learnt another language, but you also have to sing and I sing terribly.”

“They sing?” I asked.

“They sing a lot,” said Luca. “Even before dinner. I learned one of their songs: Adieu vieille Europe…”

“Is it,” I asked, “one of the strict rules of the French Foreign Legion? You have to sing?”

“Yes. And then you have to iron your own uniforms. It is a clash between being macho and being quite camp. Their uniform is unique, so they make a lot of effort into putting the pleat correctly in it when you do the ironing. You have to put a lot of effort into the ironing and then, maybe, you have to kill someone.”

“Kill someone?” I asked.

“You have to, maybe. I don’t know. My favourite group in the French Foreign Legion were the Pioneers – the people who make bridges.”

Sappers?” I asked.

French Foreign Legion Pioneer wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather apron

French Foreign Legion Pioneers wearing off-the-shoulder buffalo leather aprons

“Yes. There are very few of them.”

“I guess there are not many bridges in the desert,” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Luca. “Their symbol is an axe and an apron open on one side. I don’t know why it is open on one side. And a long beard.”

“A bird?” I asked.

“A beard. A very long beard. And they hold axes and wear aprons. They seem very proud of their aprons.

“I also decided not to join because a friend of mine knew someone who had been in the French Foreign Legion and he was not happy and he left before his contract ended because he was heavily bullied. Apparently they were ‘fond’ of him.”

“Fond of him?” I asked.

“They fancied him,” explained Luca. “And I know men can fancy me. And so I thought: Mmmm. If I am in the jungle in French Guinea and find I am the most attractive ‘girl’ in the battalion, they will never get my heart but still they can…

“…get your butt?” I suggested.

Luca nodded.

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One man’s day at the Edinburgh Fringe: name-dropping, walking and hugging

Jo Romero - Scenes of a Sensual Nature

Jo Romero – Scenes of a Sensual Nature with comic actors

A sign of the times yesterday morning.

I was sitting in Cowgate waiting to go into Jo Romero’s Scenes of a Sensual Nature – four playlets with Jo in various states of undress, Mick Ferry stripped to the waist, Gary Colman doing a sex tape, James Dowdeswell looking nervous and David Mills in a vest. Something for everyone.

So…

There I was, sitting in Cowgate typing a text message, when I heard a voice say: “Are you interested in comedy shows?”

It was a comedian whom I had seen in clubs a few times. We had never met. He handed me a flyer and pitched his show. When he left, I checked and, sure enough, we were Facebook Friends.

But we had never met.

Later, waiting to go into the Noise Next Door’s Really, Really Good Afternoon Show, I bumped into comedian Diane Spencer. She told me she had had ten Norwegians in her Power Tool audience the previous day. I told her comic Lindsay Sharman had had five Norwegians in her show the previous day. It sounded like they were different groups of Norwegians. I went and joined the Noise Next Door queue. The two people behind me started talking in Norwegian. Totally true. (I used to work for a Scandinavian TV company.) Inexplicable but true.

The Noise Next Door

The Noise Next Door seem to come with a built-in TV aerial

The Noise Next Door are a faultless improv troupe. Why they do no have a TV series is more a reflection on TV producers and commissioners rather than on them.

After the Noise Next Door show, I went to see the Laughing Horse Free Comedy Selection show.

On the way, I passed Bob Slayer’s double decker BlundaBus venue. Bob told me: “I have a blocked urinal. Somebody was sick in it. This is the exciting end of running a bus venue.”

At this point, performer John Robertson joined us.

“Parking this bus,” continued Bob, “was easy but these toilets have cost me £1,000. I can’t afford to have them filling up. They are no-poo toilets. I hope people don’t find them. There are no signs to them. Have you seen the sign inside?

WE DON’T GIVE A SHIT AND WE
WOULD APPRECIATE IT IF YOU DO NOT TOO

Bob Slayer and John Robertson at the BlundaBus yesterday

Bob Slayer and John Robertson at the BlundaBus yesterday

“Bob’s toilets,” said John Robertson, “are the only venues on the Fringe you don’t want to have full.”

As John Robertson and I walked along the Cowgate, we saw comedian Patrick Monahan coming towards us.

“Oh dear,” I said to John, “he is going to, isn’t he?”

Sure enough, Patrick spread his arms wide, said nothing, hugged us both simultaneously and then continued along the Cowgate.

John and I then bumped into eccentric performer Mr Twonkey. John went into the Underbelly venue. I continued walking along with Mr Twonkey, who told me he had been unable to think up a decent idea to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. I tried to console him but it proved impossible.

When I got to the Laughing Horse Free Comedy Selection show it was, unlike Bob Slayer’ blocked toilet, filled to the brim and overflowing. I stayed to see Juliette Burton’s set. She hugged me. I left.

This gave me time to go and record a Grouchy Club Podcast with Kate Copstick.

Tim Renkow

Tim Renkow: man with a dangerous title

Then I went to see Tim Renkow’s show Kim Jong-Un, Muhammad, Jesus and Other Power Hungry Maniacs. Highly intelligent. Very funny. As expected.

Tim hugged me as I left and I went to have a chat with Kate Cook, who had asked to meet up so she could plug her show Invisible Woman.

“Food is essential here in Edinburgh,” she started.

I said: “It’s fairly essential everywhere.”

“Yes,” admitted Kate, “but somehow you really notice it is working as fuel here. I can’t eat just before a show and I ate too early this morning. So, by the time I was getting towards the end of my show today, I could feel the madness setting in. You have seen my show. It’s quite physical.”

“It is very good,” I said. “What sort of madness?”

“I miss my dog,” said Kate. “I think animals keep you sane. I do feel a little bit mad in Edinburgh, but maybe you need to. It’s completely mad here. In a good way.”

“How?” I asked.

“I suppose we’re all very vulnerable,” Kate explained.

“People,” I said, “talk about all the performers’ egos but I suppose all the vulnerabilities are feeding on each other too.”

Kate Cook at Soho Theatre

Kate Cook – she misses her dog, but has a supportive Wolf

“We are all vulnerable,” said Kate, “and maybe we all need one another. I think everyone’s actually quite supportive of one another. I brought a technician up with me called Max Valentin Wolf. That’s a good name, isn’t it? He doesn’t look like he’s called Max Valentin Wolf.”

“Bob Slayer’s toilet is blocked-up,” I told Kate.

“On the BlundaBus?”

“Yes. Apparently it takes liquids but not solids. That is a bit of a drawback in a toilet. Where is your show?”

“The Mash House. It’s very nice. It smells of wood.”

“Like being buried alive?”

“No.”

“Any humorous show-publicising anecdotes?” I asked.

Kate Cook - Invisible Woman

A wooden leg, one arm, a pipe and chickens

“I play lots of characters in the show,” said Kate. “Invisible Woman. You’ve seen it.”

“I have,” I said. “It’s very good,”

“It’s very fast-paced,” said Kate, “and yesterday I got some scenes mixed up, which has always been my nightmare. I was being the man with a wooden leg and I should’ve been the posh lady with one arm. So I had to apologise to the audience and make a joke about it and then become the lady with one arm. And, during the same show, a box full of rubber ducks fell off a chair backstage and you can imagine what sort of noise that made.”

“Quacks?” I asked.

“Chickens,” said Kate. “They were chickens.”

“What?” I asked.

“Well, I’m a chicken,” said Kate.

Then there was a distraction and we lost that line of conversation.

Kate joined me to see Die Roten Punkte: Haus Party.

Kate Copstick lip-syncing at the Haus Party

Kate Copstick with low-key lip-syncing at the Haus Party

Frankly, you can’t go very wrong if you perform as a brother-and-sister German neo punk band duo with guests Paul Foot being surreal, a big black transvestite called Le Gateau Chocolat who can sing anything from Wagner to Whitney Houston, critic Kate Copstick lip-syncing a song and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Adrienne Truscott taking her clothes off. It was the second time in a week that I had gone to a show where Adrienne Truscott took her clothes off. I am not complaining. Just saying.

After all this finished, Kate Cook hugged me goodbye and I left for The Illicit Thrill at the Voodoo Rooms – a show which had been recommended to me.

Frank Sanazi & The Iraq Pack with two punters

Frank Sanazi and The Iraq Pack + two happy Iraq Pack fans

When I arrived, Frank Sanazi’s Iraq Pack were having photos taken with their fans.

I also bumped into Paul Eccentric, who is here in Edinburgh as a punter until, on Wednesday, his book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshell is launched in Leith. (I blogged about the London launch last month) He had a large bandage on his hand.

Paul Eccentric fell over a tree

Paul Eccentric. An arboreal tale of movement

“What happened?” I asked.

“I fell over a tree,” he told me.

“You fell over a tree?” I asked.

“It moved,” he explained.

“That’s the trouble with trees,” I said.

Waiting for The Illicit Thrill to start, I checked my e-mails.

Mark, a man of mystery who runs the British Comedy Guide website, had sent me a piece about Abigoliah Schamaun, who has been plastering fake review quotes and stars on her show posters. He suggested she might be a worthy Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nominee.

Abigoliah Schamaun poster

Abigoliah Schamaun poster. A cunning stunt?

The quotes include: “A true talent!” (Just One Person’s Opinion) and “Funny. Hilarious. I laughed Loads!” (Rather Redundant Mag)

I must have not paid attention when The Illicit Thrill was recommended to me. It turned out to be a fairly straight hour-long strip show. Not really a Fringe show, more a well-produced strip show. In its own terms, it was extremely well-done, although excellent local rock band Black Cat Bone looked mildly embarrassed. We were given fake dollar bills on entry to stick in assorted garters and gaps.

Whereas Adrienne Truscott had been completely naked earlier in the evening, the professional strippers in The Illicit Thrill kept their lower regions thong-covered. Unless I missed something. I do not think I did. I am not sure what this difference in nudity between art and populist perv entertainment demonstrates sociologically (The Illicit Thrill’s slogan on the dollar bills is: Teaching Edinburgh To Perv Responsibly). But I am sure it must illuminate something.

Illicit Thrill dollar bills

Crisp Illicit Thrill dollar bills awaiting insertion late last night

The Illicit Thrill included Mother Masochista – a stripping nun – and, separately, JC – a Jesus Christ male stripper of whom I have been an admirer ever since seeing him in 2013 at a Frank Sanazi extravaganza at the Fringe.

Last night, he did not go as far as he did in that extravaganza, but apparently he returns to the Fringe in his own show next week: Christ on a Bike.

After that, I walked back to my flat at about 02.30 in the morning with the slightest of toothaches, amid a fairly common Edinburgh late-night event which is unbilled and rarely mentioned – flocks of giant white seagulls swooping low and fast along the roads and around the junctions, as if looking for small dogs, children or crushed egos to snatch off the darkened streets.

Sometimes I think I might as well have taken drugs.

 

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Edinburgh Fringe: some shows, a man dangling from a bridge and a romance

Passing performer Richard Gadd prepares to punch comic Joz Norris yesterday

Performer Richard Gadd (right) appeared to be preparing to punch comic Joz Norris in an Edinburgh street yesterday

My yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe started with a Danish man playing the bagpipes and ended with a policeman.

There were stunts along the way, but none of them cunning stunts.

I saw seven shows yesterday. Five of them were:

Claus Reis: Return of the Danish Bagpipe Comedian
The show works, but there’s a presentation problem. If your USP is confounding expectations by being a Danish bagpiper and you dress up in a kilt and traditional Scots piper costume and you look fairly Scottish, then there is no real visual USP. Naff as it may sound, you should be wearing Viking horns or some equally stock cliché Danish costume while playing the pipes.

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Chicken Soup
Last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award winner for comic originality. This year, she has developed the madness, adding in more glimpses of her acting and great singing voice and, yesterday, picked a perfect punter to unleash her insanity on. She handled him so well, I thought he might be a plant. He wasn’t. It was like watching a mescaline-crazed Cilla Black. Her shows tread a narrow line between sunshine and darkness.

Joz Norris: Hey Guys!
Always talented and charismatic, Joz’s new show now holds together as an entity. Tremendously enjoyable, with hints of a genuinely interesting autobiographical back story. If he has the nerve to increase the true stories while retaining the surrealism, he could break through massively. Perfect TV face.

Martha McBrier: Pigeon Puncher
It is easy to think she is ‘just’ a naturally very, very funny storyteller, but there is a lot of preparation and an enormous talent in audience control behind this show and her performance. Very very very funny indeed.

Bob Slayer conducting business on his BlundaBus

Bob Slayer conducting his BlundaBus show

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus: Never Mind the BusStops
With anyone else, this unplanned rambling shambles of comic chattery in a double decker bus would be a car crash. With Bob (nominally) in charge, it still is – but that is the point of it. It’s a success! Not so much as a show but as an event.

Nathan (right, in red) with his de Lorean

Nathan (right, in red) with DeLorean before the wind came


In among all the above, I also went to the Three Sisters pub in the Cowgate, where Nathan Cassidy had managed to get hold of and park a DeLorean car to plug his Back To The Future trilogy of shows.

People could wear the hero’s red jacket and get photographed in the car and the bonnet was covered in flyers for Nathan’s shows: a good stunt undercut by the fact this is eternally-windy Edinburgh and occasional gusts blew the flyers off the bonnet into the street.

On second thoughts, though, perhaps that was not a negative factor. That was publicity. This is the Fringe.

John Robertson: The Dark Room in the underbelly

John Robertson: very Dark in The Underbelly

Walking away from that, I bumped into John Robertson in a rubber suit (no change there, then) plugging his Dark Room show… and then photographer Garry Platt, who has been wandering round photographing shows and events.

As Garry and I wandered off, I looked up. The Old Town of Edinburgh is built on two levels. Above out heads was the George IV Bridge from which a giant trapeze was dangling and a young gent was climbing down a rope towards it.

I said to a girl standing on the pavement: “He has eleven minutes to kill himself.”

“What?” she said, slightly surprised.

“I have to leave in ten minutes,” I explained, “so he only has eleven minutes to fall onto the road and plug whatever show it is by killing himself.”

It turned out she was doing the PR for the show.

The dangling Dolls duo above the Cowgate (Photograph  by Garry Platt)

Dolls duo dangling dangerously above the Cowgate yesterday (Photographs by Garry Platt)

The young man dangled and was followed by a young woman who dangled. They both dangled. By the time I left, a fair crowd had gathered on the bridge above and on both the pavements below to watch them dangle.

The traffic slowed as drivers looked up and small flyers were handed out to publicise the show Dolls.

But I think, to be truly effective, it needed a banner dangling from the bridge itself, above the two dangling trapeze people risking their lives for a line in The Scotsman.

Semi-ironically, the next event I went to was a 90-minute event publicising Death on the Fringe, an umbrella organisation which I blogged about last month.

It aims to stimulate discussion of death, end-of-life issues, bereavement and grief.

It was held in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in the Medical School building of Edinburgh Universally.

All the talk was of death, terminal illnesses and mortality, but it seemed strangely refreshing amid the incestuous atmosphere of egos swirling around in the streets outside.

There have been sadly few cunning stunts so far this year.

Mark Dean Quinn - King of Fringe Flyerers

Mark Dean Quinn – King of Fringe Flyerers

But I bumped into Mark Dean Quinn yesterday. Last year, he got a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nomination for his flyering techniques.

This year, he is mostly plugging his own show More Observation Without Comedy Is Not On Today about which he was strangely quiet, perhaps because it does not start until ten days time and is only on for two days. But he is also plugging Ben Target’s show Imagine There’s No Ben Target (It’s Easy If You Try) by handing out imaginary flyers and paper bags which say:

A BAG IN WHICH TO PLACE
YOUR IMAGINARY FLYER FOR
IMAGINE THERE’S NO BEN
TARGET (IT’S EASY IF YOU TRY)

3pm
THE HIVE
WEAR SENSIBLE SHOES

“How does Ben Target pronounce Ben Target?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Mark, “he pronounces Target as target and Tarjay as tarjay

“Each day,” Mark told me, Ben has given me a precise number of people he wants me to get into his show by flyering.”

“A different number each day?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Mark.

“What,” I asked, “happens if you miss the target for Ben Target?”

“Well, I don’t intend to fail on any particular day, because I’m sure there will be serious ramifications and I have seen what he carries in his suitcase.”

Janey Godley in suitcase

Janey Godley in a suitcase. There is no Ben Target on view

“What does he carry in his suitcase?” I asked.

“I have signed an actual written document to say I can’t say what’s in it, but it’s quite special.”

“Is the penalty different,” I asked if you are over or under on the audience numbers?”

“If you want to find out what the penalty is – and see what’s in the suitcase – come to the show at 3.00pm at The Hive daily, you’ll actually see the inside.”

Now THAT is effective promotion with a hint of cunning stunt.

As I walked back to my flat at around 2.00am last night/this morning, I turned down a side street. On the other side, walking in the opposite direction, back into the centre of Edinburgh, were a ballerina and a policeman hand-in-hand. They were not publicising anything. Just happy to be with each other.

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Comedy genes in one Irish family?

Kate Talbot with her 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot with 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

A month ago, I blogged about Irish comic Christian Talbot and his now 13-year-old daughter Kate who jointly won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award last year and who are both performing at the Edinburgh Fringe next month. Christian is currently doing previews.

“How’s your daughter?” I asked him.

“She’s now booked in for I think it’s two – might be three – dates for Comedy4Kids and Bob Slayer sent me a message:

Hey! The good show you talked about on Fleming’s blog – Let’s do it on the bus! We have Grace the child (11) and Robin (3) who are both performing on the bus.

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus

Bob Slayer BlundaBus currently in Croydon; soon Edinburgh

Bob Slayer has a double decker bus – the BlundaBus – as one of his Edinburgh Fringe venues this year.

“I sent him dates when Kate was over,” Christian told me, “but then he didn’t reply. I think he’s got caught up touring with Electric Eel Shock (Bob’s Japanese rock band) and then with the BlundaBus. I must email him again and refresh his memory.”

“So are you encouraging Kate to be a comedian?” I asked.

“I don’t really want my daughter to be a comedian though, if she’s good, I’ll happily take the money. She’s interested in doing it and, if she wants to do it, then… It just really depends on whether she enjoys it. We’ll just have to see.

“She can write phenomenally well. Her teachers are just blown away by her writing. The only trouble is she gets distracted by doing that to the detriment of anything else – her maths, her languages and the other stuff. She just wants to read books and write stories. She did this thing for school where she had to describe what it was like to be a cliff.”

Kate and Christian Talbot

Christian Talbot – not an éminence grise, just a proud dad

“A what?” I asked.

“A cliff. And she was talking about the weeds coming up out of it, like the dead fingers of sailors who had crashed against the rocks. I’m very proud of her. And some of her stuff’s quite dark.”

“Got her parents’ genes, then?” I asked.

“Gayle and myself went to Queen’s (University, Belfast) and we were the only two people to do the same degree. We both did English and Anthropology – social anthropology. Kind of learning about cultures. But I started off doing chemistry and physics and computer science and then I changed because I didn’t like it. I was good at chemistry; I just didn’t want to do it for the rest of my life.”

I told Christian: “I think my chemistry master emigrated to New Zealand because he couldn’t face teaching me any more. I always came last – except once when I came next-to-last in the class – and he wrote on my report: A fair try. He emigrated shortly afterwards. He probably thought his teaching career had peaked.”

“I remember,” said Christian, “going to the Head of Chemistry at university when I finished my first lot of exams and asked: Is this what it’s going to be like? Just doing titrations and bunsen burners and beakers and working in a lab? And he said: Yup, pretty much, unless you’re very lucky and you get into petrochemicals and work for somebody like Exxon or Esso or BP or Shell. That didn’t really appeal to me, so I changed courses.”

“Has your wife Gayle got any performance genes?” I asked.

Gayle Hayes with Christian Talbot

Gayle Hayes with Christian Talbot – a showbiz couple or not?

“She did stand-up a couple of weeks ago in Belfast. She did a course on stand-up with a load of other new people and wrote a thing but she had no interest, really, in performing it. She enjoyed the writing and the creating part of it. So she got up and read it off the sheet. Her heart wasn’t really in it and I asked her: Do you want to do it again? She said: No. She just doesn’t have that need – that void – that comedians have… I have to get up and say something!

“Gayle doesn’t admire it particularly. She just thinks there’s something lacking in people who want to get up and show off and talk about themselves. She’s right, of course!”

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Edinburgh Free Festival boss on PBH fall-out and the Cowgatehead fiasco

The Cowgatehead venue last year

Cowgatehead venue – entrance to the Edinburgh labyrinth… Abandon hope all ye who try to explain what’s happened here.

This year, the Edinburgh Fringe Programme will make the Minoan labyrinth seem like the open plains of the Serengeti (and contain more rogue animals) because of the ongoing Cowgatehead affair. As a result of it, acts are going to be performing in different venues at different times to where/when they are billed. Or not at all.

The Cowgatehead elevator pitch explanation is that there are four organisations offering ‘free’ shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. In order of appearance: the PBH Free Fringe (so-called after its founder Peter Buckley Hill) from which split off the Laughing Horse Free Festival, Bob Slayer’s Heroes of the Fringe and the Freestival.

Freestival understood they had rights this year to programme acts in the Cowgatehead venue. Now the PBH Free Fringe has those rights. As a result, it has been calculated that (overall) acts will lose at least £77,000.

Over a week ago, I had a long-planned chat with Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival (not directly involved in the Cowgatehead fiasco) and I have been sitting on the resultant blog ever since then, awaiting the rumoured sudden announcement of a new venue or venues (unconnected with Alex).

Two days ago, I was told yet another free venue may have been lost because there was no signed contract (again, unconnected with Alex). And not a venue one might have expected. But that (if true) has not yet been announced.

The Edinburgh Fringe thrives on gossip, starts in just four weeks time, the chaos continues… and the most gobsmacking story of the whole Cowgatehead affair (which I believe) seems unlikely to be revealed for several months, if ever. Now there is a tease. I do like a good tease.

Anyway, I met and chatted to Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival over a week ago.

“Cowgatehead has been a mess, then,” was the first thing I said to him.

Alex Petty at Soho Theatre, London

Alex Petty at the Soho Theatre last month

“I think that’s fair to say,” he replied.

“It could be turned into a show,” I said.

“Probably a musical,” suggested Alex. “That’s what usually happens at the Fringe.”

When booked and advertised shows were unceremoniously chucked out of the Cowgatehead, some were given homes by other promoters.

“The Free Festival,” said Alex, “has got about 15 shows that have moved across this year. Bob Slayer has some. And I know Darrell (Martin, of Just the Tonic) has a load. Behind-the-scenes, most venues do help each other. That does genuinely happen. I was lending equipment to Freestival people last year.”

“And,” I said, “The Gilded Balloon had trouble with a new room this year, so the competing Pleasance Dome has let them use one of their rooms. And a couple of years ago, Bob Slayer was short of chairs, so the Underbelly venue gave him some – for free.”

“There is a genuine Fringe community,” said Alex. “The one good thing about the Cowgatehead affair is that people have proved this community idea does happen. I find Peter’s publicity wants to make people believe there is a battle between free and paid venues, a battle between Free Fringe and Freestival and Free Festival but most of the venues just want to get on with it and will help each other out.”

“The whole Cowgatehead thing was unnecessary,” I suggested.

“In reality,” agreed Alex, “if everything that Peter said had happened had happened and Freestival had maybe buggered it up a bit, then if Peter had just put out just exactly what had happened and said We have six spaces rather than nine, so six shows are going to go ahead and we will help out the other shows, finding them other places, then people would have said he was brilliant for saving the venue. But it was the whole way he did it that has made him into a Public Enemy as well.”

“I think,” I said, “the Rubicon was that meeting arranged by Freestival to agree a compromise in London which Peter said he couldn’t go to because it didn’t exist (using the present tense). If that meeting had happened, no act would have lost money or rooms. I think the Free Fringe and Freestival have both (as far as I can see) told the exact truth and, with Peter’s very exact use of present and/or past tenses in what he said, apparently opposite realities can both be true. Did you see the emails between the Free Fringe and Freestival which I posted in my blog? They were both co-operating amiably on all sorts of things. earlier his year.”

Free Fringe

Free Fringe – interesting times

“I would suggest,” said Alex, “that Peter had never seen any of those emails. The problem with the Free Fringe which I had, Bob Slayer had and Freestival had was that, as individuals, you think: I could do this better. If we could change that a little bit, that would help. And you genuinely believe you can take things forward. But then you hit a brick wall with Peter.”

“Why did Laughing Horse and PBH fall out?” I asked.

“We worked with him for two years and it gradually got more and more obvious that we had – and it was probably only slightly – different views on how things should work. Obviously, Peter is well-known for his (acts) not-contributing-any-money-for-anything stance unless it’s voluntary. Whereas we suggested acts should bung in a bit of money to go towards printing a programme. It was a hundred little things like that amplified.

“Essentially, after two years, I came to the realisation: This whole thing is being held together by a very narrow, wet bit of string. It’s not working for everyone. Peter wasn’t happy about it. We weren’t happy. What can we do? Let’s go and do our own thing. In our own heads, not really knowing the full psychology of Peter, the whole idea was: We will go and run some free stuff our way – which is basically the way Peter does it, but we take a bit of money and we supply equipment. Same ends; slightly different route getting there. We can maybe both have a brochure together and work together where we can.

“At that point, there were only four venues – Lindsay’s, Canons’ Gait, the Meadow Bar and Jekyll & Hyde. As part of a conversation we had with Peter, we said: If you speak to them and we speak to them, they’ll make a decision about what they want to do. And, obviously, the moment we said that, we were Public enemy No 1.”

“You started Laughing Horse,” I said, “with just one little club in…”

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

Free Festival shows in the Fringe Programme

“Richmond,” said Alex. “In March 1999. I’ve never had any sort of plan. I went up to Edinburgh one year and thought: Better do something here. We don’t do so many comedy clubs these days. We still have the one in Richmond. One in Brighton. Edinburgh has pushed us on to doing festivals. We still do our New Act competition each year in the UK. We’re probably associated with 4 or 5 different venues but it’s really moved on to festival stuff.

“We do the Perth Fringe World and Adelaide. So much of the stuff has all sprung from doing Edinburgh. Last year we did the Singapore Comedy Festival for the first time: lots of expat Brits, Americans and locals – a good mix of Malay and Thai and other people doing comedy.”

“You co-run that festival, don’t you?” I asked.

“My job mostly is finding the acts, looking after the acts and maybe giving advice on setting up venues. There’s a couple of people out in Singapore who essentially run it.

“This year, we did three nights of shows in Hong Kong, Manila two nights, Singapore three nights. It worked pretty well. It was fun. Twenty-odd comedians all meeting up in Hong Kong and having ten days together in three countries and figuring out if comedy is ever going to work in Manila.”

“Because?” I asked.

“Because Manila was certainly an experience. It’s the only time I’ve been nose-to-nose with someone who is meant to be the head of a biker gang who says he doesn’t want comedians anywhere near the venue because they’ve had a bit of a falling-out with one of the acts.

“It was completely not the act’s fault. But there was a disagreement with the act and the wife of this guy who was really kicking-off – irate, with hands all over the place. We ended up just basically bundling the comedians out the back door and saying: Let’s not do any more comedy here. He was a really irate man. It was my first trip to the Philippines; never been there before.”

“Are you going to be back in Manila again next year?”

“Yes.”

“So, after this,” I said, “the Cowgatehead kerfuffle was a stroll in the park?”

“Absolutely.”

“Laughing Horse,” I pointed out, “has not done the obvious leap from comedy promotions and venue-running into comedy act management. Why?”

“I like to be out doing shows. Management is just more admin, more sitting in front of a computer, more shuffling numbers and contracts around. We’ve had conversations about Laughing Horse having a small agency but it’s not what I’m interested in.”

“How are you going to expand?”

“Well, Perth has only happened the last couple of years. That is a cracking festival. At the moment, I just produce shows there. I’d eventually like to find a venue to run and push it forward that way. In Adelaide, we’re involved in a couple of venues – one we run; one we co-run. I’ve been at Melbourne two or three years now and I’m hoping to build up and see what happens there. The Sydney Comedy Festival happens in May and that could be added on to the end of Melbourne. We may look at that one year. There’s also the New Zealand festivals that happen in May. So there are some other things out there to look at. Though May clashes with the Brighton Festival back in the UK, which has ended up being the Edinburgh preview festival.”

“Next year?” I asked.

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Alex Petty at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013 (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“For Laughing Horse, the plans are more of the same, really. I would like Freestival to continue. The more promoters of free shows there are the better. This nonsense happens at Edinburgh every year in one way, shape or form. It’s chaos. My experience of other festivals around the world is you just turn up and do your thing. Why not at Edinburgh? Is it lack of spaces? Is it bigger egos? I don’t know. I think it was Brian Damage who said to me that the Fringe basically is always chaos for everyone but you get there and always get through in the end and that’s a philosophy that has always been true. Somehow it all works. But I don’t think anyone really knows how.”

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