Tag Archives: Brighton Fringe

Peculiar – Comic Jo Burke disappeared for 3 years, found true love and a show

The last time performer/writer Jo Burke appeared in this blog was in September 2015. There is a reason for that gap of over three years.


Three years absent and three books published

JOHN: So you have three children’s books here which you wrote. There is Standing on Custard

JO: That’s the first one. It’s a book of funny verse – for up to 10 year olds – and it’s really good for small ones because it’s rhyming. Then A Squirrel’s Tail is a whole story rather than verse. A really lovely story about inclusivity and diversity about a squirrel born without his tail. And then Molly, Chip and The Chair is for slightly older children: when they’re moving on to reading adult-style books.

JOHN: Why’s it called Standing on Custard?

JO: The book has lots of useful facts. So one interesting fact is that you can actually stand on custard.

JOHN: Eh?

JO: You get two tins of Ambrosia, you put them on the floor and you stand on them. (LAUGHS) No… It’s called a non-Newtonian fluid. You have to make it with cornflour and lots of it. What a non-Newtonian fluid does is, instead of like most fluids and liquids, it becomes harder the more pressure, the more weight you put on it.

JOHN: The books are beautifully illustrated.

JO: My talented husband Philip Price.

JOHN: You gave up comedy for three years.

JO: I didn’t intend to. My last show – the last time we had a chat – was 2015 and that was my I Scream show and I’d written a book about that as well. It was about online dating. 

“Most successful show… I was quite annoyed”

That was my most successful show so far and it was me as me. Before that, I had been doing character-based comedy. I was delighted that the one with me as me was the most successful. But also quite annoyed, because I had trained for many many years to be an actress. And the show I did as me was the most successful. 

I think I just felt like I’d plateaued a bit: that I didn’t have much else to say. I had sort of fallen… not out of love with it because it was fantastic… but I felt that, if I were to come back with something else, it would have to be as good and I didn’t want to rush into the next thing. I had kind of had enough of the whole Edinburgh Fringe thing. I had done about six Edinburghs in a row by that point. Six shows up to 2015 and, in two of those years, I did two shows each year, which was ridiculous.

Initially, I thought I might take a year off. But, I got back to London from Edinburgh in the September and, in the October I met the man who is now my husband. It was ironic that whole I Scream book and show had been about my disastrous love life. Then, lo and behold…!

JOHN: So you were only doing comedy to cover gaps in your acting.

JO: I had always done acting and ads and whatever and, up until that point as well, I also had a  mortgage-paying job which most performers have – a horrible office job three days a week which was not playing to any of my strengths and just to pay the bills. I had started to feel quite unhappy there and I thought: You know what? It’s time to move on. So I did. 

What I needed then was a revenue stream. So I thought: Actually, now I’ve met Phil, who is an artist… I had already written this book years and years ago for a friend’s daughter. And I said to Phil: “Do you think you’d be interested in doing the artwork for this book?” 

So that was our first project. We have released a book a year, basically; we are just finishing off a new one.

JOHN: You said you needed a revenue stream – to make money – so you started writing books… That is not a way to make money!

JO: The books are really popular in Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand, America. I sell them online and at a stall in Greenwich Market and I sell hundreds of them a month and we sell prints and artwork as well. I do a maximum of about three days there and it’s great because I can work it round castings – I just shot a commercial for IKEA in Italy for four days.

JOHN: And next Saturday (6th April), you are back on stage at the Museum of Comedy in London with a new show called Peculiar. Is it you as yourself or is it character comedy?

JO: It’s me again.

Jo Burke no longer screaming; just as creative

JOHN: A follow-up to I Scream?

JO: No, that’s why to have the space of three years between the two shows was good. I don’t really feel like that person I was any more. Straight after I Scream, I met Phil. I feel so far removed from that (previous) person and all of that angst and heartache and stuff. Everything changed. It was like a cathartic thing. I released the I Scream book and did that show then, all-of-a-sudden, the love of my life walked in the door.

JOHN: Is happiness good creatively, though? I heard Charles Aznavour interviewed and he was asked why he sang sad songs. He said they were more interesting because, when people are happy, there’s not a lot you can say. People are happy in the same way but, when people are sad, they are sad for all sorts of different. specific reasons.

JO: Yeah. Also happy people can be a bit annoying to be around sometimes. I spent a huge chunk of my life being single and being around happy couples and I know the annoyance of it. (LAUGHS) Nobody’s interested in you if you’re happy and I don’t really write when I’m happy. I have always written when I’m annoyed. When you are happy, it’s quite dull creatively, I think.

JOHN: So when you got happy it must have screwed-up your creativity for the last three years?

JO: No. I never stopped writing. I made notes all the time in those three years and I did the children’s books. The children’s books are a gentler… they’re still funny, but it’s a gentler humour and a different audience. But I still always had dark, evil thoughts that I would set aside for future shows.

So when I decided to do this new show, Peculiar, I started looking back through all my notes and maybe I had written the equivalent of a show a year anyway, so Peculiar is really the best of all of that.

“It’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd”

JOHN: What’s the elevator pitch for Peculiar? Is it angry?

JO: No, but it’s a whole diatribe of things I find absurd and odd from nail varnishes to medication to marriage to eBay.

JOHN: So observational comedy.

JO: Yes, but not really. It’s… Jo Burke calls out the absurdity surrounding our every day life. She shoots down the lazy marketing we are perpetually bombarded with, ridiculous products and Amazon reviews plus a fair few things in between.

JOHN: Last time we talked, you wanted to do a show about working class life.

JO: Well, that’s always a bugbear of mine. I’m always slightly peeved at the fact there are fewer and fewer working class voices. There are sketches I’ve written just for bizarre funny’s sake, but a good 90% of what I do is with a reason, a message behind it. 

JOHN: To get your message out? But you’re not going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

JO: Part of the reason I’m doing Peculiar at the Brighton Fringe in May but I am not doing Edinburgh is that I priced it all out and I would love to go to Edinburgh – I absolutely love it – but, you know, I am still paying for the seven years I did before!

Why would I go to the Edinburgh Fringe? Because I love it. But that is not a good enough reason. It has not been a stepping stone for me so far and I can’t really afford to keep trying. I’m taking another tack now. I’m not really doing stand-up spots on other people’s gigs. It’s time-consuming and means travelling all around and I prefer doing my own shows. 

I did consider doing a children’s show in Edinburgh. Standing on Custard would make an amazing children’s show but… Well, it’s all very well signing books and making children laugh but it’s a whole different ball game when you can make a whole room of adults laugh.

JOHN: The lure of the applause?

JO: I was missing the feel-good. Also, because everything is so politically dark and horrible at the moment, I think if you have a skill – to make kids or adults laugh – now is definitely the time to be doing it.

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Award-winning UK comic to write play about Twin Peaks director David Lynch

Mr Twonkey promotes his Christmas in the Jungle in Brighton

So I had a chat with Mr Twonkey aka Paul Vickers at King’s Cross station in London.

He was on his way back home to Edinburgh. Last year, he won the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“How were your Christmas in the Jungle shows at the Brighton Fringe?” I asked.

“It was so hot,” he told me. “I don’t think people were feeling… They were… It occurred to me that maybe doing a Christmas show in the middle of the summer isn’t such a great idea.”

“But surely,” I said, “with your act, to do a Christmas show at Christmas would be a silly idea.”

“Well,” he replied, “I was pitching it as The only Christmas show on at Brighton in June. Unfortunately, there was another one called The Grotto. And, when I was flyering for it in the street, people were asking me: What’s wrong with you?”

“You are,” I checked, “still doing Christmas in the Jungle at the Edinburgh Fringe this August?”

“Yes.”

“Have you seen the new Twin Peaks TV series yet?”

“No. But I am trying to write a play about David Lynch.”

“Your previous play was Jennifer’s Robot Arm,” I said.

“Yes. That was more kitchen sink drama/science fiction. This would be about people who actually exist.”

“How are you getting the facts?” I asked. “From Wikipedia?”

“Various sources. There’s a few books about him. The trouble is none of them are any good apart from one which is not bad: Lynch On Lynch, which is a series of interviews with him.”

“Does he know anything about himself?” I asked.

“I would imagine there are a few gaps. But there’s also a good documentary online about someone following him around while he’s making Inland Empire.

“And there’s a book coming out in February 2018, published by Canongate Books which has his full support. I think it’s called Room To Dream.”

“So your play,” I asked, “is about… what?”

“I want to focus on is the time he spent in London. The early part of people’s careers is always the most interesting. He was living in a flat in Wimbledon, making a suit for The Elephant Man.

‘You know, in Eraserhead, there’s a little deformed baby. I think he kept it very damp. I think he used chicken and raw animal flesh, moulded it together and used maggots quite a lot – to eat away the face. And then he kept it damp. His daughter wanted to play with it and he told her: You can play with it as long as you don’t touch it.

“After Eraserhead, he was a cult figure – a young hotshot director – and he had a few films he was trying to pitch. One of them was called Gardenback, which was about a community of people who could only speak to each other by passing an insect between them, either through the ear or through the mouth.

“The studio kept pushing him to write dialogue for it and he couldn’t write any. He said: Well, that’s the whole point: that they don’t speak. They communicate by passing the insect. So that project was shelved.

“Then he had another project called Ronnie Rocket, which was for the actor of restricted height in the Black Lodge. It was like Rocket Man, but he was small and it was surreal and it had villains called The Donut Men. But no-one would pick it up.”

“Jam on the fingers?” I asked.

“Yeah. So then they just gave him a pile of scripts and he picked The Elephant Man without reading it. Mel Brooks was producing it.”

“Mel Brooks,” I said, “once told me that, whenever you get your photo taken, you should always open your mouth.”

“Did he? Anyway, Mel Books had had success with Young Frankenstein as a black & white film and I think he quite liked the idea of re-invigorating the genre and Eraserhead had been in black & white.

The Elephant Man was a big responsibility for David Lynch and apparently it was the closest he ever came to committing suicide. He almost put his head in the oven in Wimbledon during the development process. I was going to have a bit in my play where he puts his head in the oven and it turns round and Mel Brooks comes out from a theatre where he has been viewing Eraserhead.”

“This is live on stage?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Will the insects from Gardenback take part?”

“They could. But I was thinking focussing more around the fitting of the costume. They gave him six months to make a costume for The Elephant Man based on the fact he had done well with the baby in Eraserhead. And apparently what he created was horrendous. John Hurt came round for a fitting and he couldn’t hardly breathe or walk and certainly couldn’t act in the costume.

Mr Twonkey takes a train and a door north to Edinburgh

“So that process was unsuccessful and a lot of money had gone down the drain and I think that was when he thought about putting his head in the oven.”

“And the costume in the finished film?” I asked.

“I think, essentially, he got someone else to make it. There was a bit of controversy on the set because he was young but had experienced British thespians like Sir John Gielgud and Anthony Hopkins who had been round the block a few times. I think there was a friction with young David Lynch adapting to these older British actors.”

“Maybe they didn’t talk about it,” I suggested.

“What?”

“The elephant in the room.”

“That’s a good title.”

“You just have to make the play relevant to the title,” I suggested. “Would you perform in it?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re the wrong shape for David Lynch,” I suggested.

“I don’t think I could play him convincingly enough for more than 5 or 10 minutes; then I would run out of steam. It needs to be a proper actor.”

“The good news with a play about David Lynch,” I suggested, “is that there’s no limit to the possible surrealism.”

“It can be a BIT eccentric,” Paul agreed. “It can be a bit Lady in The Radiator in Eraserhead.”

“But it can’t all be that. What would give it real poignancy is revealing a bit of his history that people didn’t know about. The main scene would be the fitting, where it goes wrong.”

“Hold on,” I said, “If you are going to do a show about David Lynch making a costume he can’t make, you have to make the costume, don’t you?”

“That’s true.”

“Is that a problem?”

“It will have to be a good costume.”

“The one that isn’t successful…”

“Yes. But it can be really horrendously bad. That will be good.”

Mr Twonkey and Sir Nigel Gresley, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Great Northern Railway (1911-1923) and the London & North Eastern Railway 1923-1941). He designed The Flying Scotsman train.

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A comedian’s blood, the Lady Gaga of comedy and Monty Python with chips

Texts flew through cyberspace last night

Texts flew through cyberspace…

So, last night, I was getting a train from my home in Borehamwood to see Joel SandersAngry Boater show by the Grand Union Canal in Haggerston, when I got a text from Juliette Burton.

“Driving past Borehamwood,” it said, “on my way to Putney to do a 5 minute gig after recording a Mills & Boon audiobook all day for the RNIB.”

Joel’s show started off slightly weird. Well, the show had not even started.

He sat at a table and, when the last member of the full-house, pre-booked audience walked through the door, asked her to help him. He then took a blood pressure reading. She was his witness.

His blood pressure was apparently very high. His show is about being angry and living on canal boats.

Joel Sanders through th porthole

Joel Sanders – The Angry Boater – through the porthole

I have to say his hugely enjoyable show was very calmly – even gently – presented. It climaxed with the true and ongoing story of how the engine of his canal boat has been buggered. A new one may cost him £8,000.

Afterwards, I asked him about his show at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe in August.

“Fringe?” he replied. “Everyone assumes I will be at the Fringe! I did it in 2011 and found it a miserable period so I don’t have any plans to return – at least not this year.”

He is a very busy man for someone concerned with his high blood pressure and general health. He recently interviewed Jim Davidson and Matt Lucas on-stage at Bethnal Green’s Backyard Comedy Club and, tonight, he is interviewing Harry Hill there.

“My next thing,” he told me, “once I get the engine sorted, is to take the Angry Boater show up the canal and set up impromptu shows in the nether. Wherever I moor up, I’ll find a venue, spend a week promoting it, do the show, move on and repeat. I want to be P.T. Barnum on a boat. Show up in villages and small towns – places with very little entertainment – and try to create some hype. It has got to be easier than London.”

Juliette Burton’s selfie in a car last night

Juliette Burton’s selfie in her car last night

After that, I got a train home to Borehamwood and, on the way, had a text message conversation with Juliette Burton about how her gig had gone. she is the queen of complex 60-minute multi-media reportage shows, so I thought 5 minutes must ironically have been very difficult.

“Well,” she told me, “my 5 mins tonight was very interesting. Alex Martini, the lovely MC, greeted me saying he was a huge fan thanks to your blog and then bigged me up massively before bringing me on stage. I had been told a strict 5 minutes, but then I was told 10-15 minutes cos I was such a ‘big name’.

“I was incredibly flattered but really wasn’t sure my added-on material deserved the praise. According to Alex, I am ‘the Lady Gaga of comedy’ because I have an entourage. I rather like that. But I did turn up at the gig totally alone. And my dress wasn’t made of luncheon meat, sadly.”

In the British circuit comedy, it has to be said, only Lewis Schaffer has an entourage. Everyone else only has fans.

“I honestly don’t know how I went,” Juliette told me. “My ad libs got more laughs than anything. I spouted some stuff about recording the Mills & Boon book today, which they seemed to like.

“They laughed at me saying I had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act as a teenager and, the more I insisted it was not a joke, the more they laughed. Weird. Alex said he was heartbroken to learn I had a boyfriend.”

“How,” I asked, “did the Mills & Boon recording go?”

“I have never,” replied Juliette, “said the words ‘nubbin’ and ‘thickness’ so much in one day.”

“Nubbin?” I asked her. “Do you mean ‘knobbing’?”

“No!” she texted back, “Nubbin! It is used like the word ‘bud’.”

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

Claire Smith’s selfie in Brighton last night

I remain mystified by nubbin but, by then, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge and Scotsman comedy reviewer Claire Smith had started texting me from the South Coast, where the Brighton Fringe is in full swing.

“Tonight,” her first text said, “was the official opening of Lynn Ruth Miller’s art exhibition at Bardsley’s of Baker Street – which is one of Brighton’s oldest fish and chip shops.”

Lynn Ruth Miller, now aged 81, has one of the youngest minds on the UK comedy circuit.

“As well as showing Lynn Ruth’s paintings,” Claire told me, “the chip shop is also the permanent home of the Max Miller Society’s collection. There is a little room at the back where you can eat your fish and chip dinner surrounded by posters of the ‘Cheeky Chappie’ and cards with his jokes. They also have one of his floral suits in a glass case.”

“This,” I asked, “was a grand opening for Lynn Ruth’s art exhibition? Who was there?”

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller collection

Carol Cleveland with Lynn Ruth Miller in Max Miller heaven (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“The first to turn up,” Claire told me, “was Carol Cleveland from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  She told me she loved taking part in the Monty Python reunion shows at the O2 because one of the best things for her was that she finally got to act. As well as doing the dolly bird stuff she also got to play a couple of roles that used to be played by Graham Chapman in drag.”

“How is Lynn Ruth?” I asked.

“Busier than ever,” Claire texted. “I’ve seen her in two shows at the Fringe. Not Dead Yet – which is a musical version of her life story – and Eighty! – which is a show about growing old and continuing to have lots of fun. Last night turned into another of her chip shop salons – with a huge group of friends and admirers eating at a giant table as Lynn Ruth held court.”

Kate Copstick,” I texted back, “was telling me she might go down to Brighton just to see Lynn Ruth in the fish and chip shop. I could be persuaded too.”

Lynn Ruth Miller  + Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & chip shop, Brighton

Roy Brown of Bardsleys Fish & Chip Shop + Lynn Ruth Miller (Photograph by Claire Smith)

“I’m not sure if there is a programme for these,” explained Claire, “or if they just happen when Lynn Ruth decides to do it. But I am sure if La Copstick were in town a salon would spontaneously arise.”

I think I must phone my friend Lynn (not to be confused with Lynn Ruth) who lives near Brighton and see if she fancies some fish and chips in exchange for me having a kip (not to be confused with kippers) in her spare bedroom.

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Casual Violence no-show at Ed Fringe + new Malcolm Hardee Award concept

Jams Hamilton at Soho Theatre (connoisseurs of the Malcolm Hardee Awards might want to look more carefully at what is in this picture)

James Hamilton at Soho Theatre, London (connoisseurs of comedy & Malcolm Hardee Awards might appreciate what is also seen)

“Why have you changed your hairstyle?” I asked James Hamilton at the Soho Theatre Bar.

“I’ve going for the shit Wolverine style,” he replied.

“I have a shit memory,” I told him. “Why am I meeting you?”

Casual Violence Live!” he said.

Casual Violence are one of my favourite acts at the Edinburgh Fringe. They have been twice nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

“Ah yes!” I said. “Casual Violence. How long have you been going? I’ve forgotten.”

“Fucking ages,” said James. “In our current post-studenty form, almost five years now.”

“And this is your first DVD?” I asked.

“Yes… Well, we don’t have the money to make it a DVD, but we’re putting it online as a download. It’s uploading as we speak”

I think I have seen all the Casual Violence shows – in Edinburgh, Brighton and London – except this year’s one The Great Fire of Nostril. At the Edinburgh Fringe, its show times clashed with my own Grouchy Club shows.

Casual Violence's 2014 Edinburgh show

Casual Violence’s 2014 Edinburgh show

“You’ve done four different shows and a Best Of show?” I asked.

“Yes,” said James. “But the most recent show – The Great Fire of Nostril – is not really a sketch show. So the DVD is a mix of stuff from the first three shows plus a few sketches that didn’t fit into any particular show. Well, it’s not a DVD; it’s a download. Maybe a third of the material in it wasn’t in any Edinburgh Fringe show but stuff which we’ve occasionally done out-and-about. “

“There must,” I asked, “be some sketches which work live but not on a screen?”

“Yes, we found that with the seven web series sketches we did. The one with the Human Defence League guys in a shed… We spent 16 hours in a normal-sized garden shed with five people. It was horrible and then the sketch wasn’t as good on screen as it is live. The three sketches I wrote specifically for the web work very well on screen but can’t be done live.”

There are several Casual Violence taster sketches on YouTube.

“So,” I said, “at the Edinburgh Fringe next year…?”

“Casual Violence are not going to do a new Edinburgh show next year,” said James. “But I may be doing a solo show. We’ve done five shows in a row together. We’ve basically got Edinburgh fatigue and, by developing what we do, we found ourselves… confined is probably the right word… by that particular style

Casual Violence - not appearing at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Casual Violence – not appearing at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

“We love doing stories because, when it works, it’s better than doing a ‘normal’ sketch show. But it’s so much more difficult and we don’t realistically have another one in us. We could say: Oh, let’s just churn out an hour of sketches, but that’s lazy and none of us really wants to do that. So, instead, we are filling our time with all the projects we always wanted to do but can’t do because Edinburgh takes over all our time.”

“They’re solo projects?” I asked.

“Yes. But also group stuff. We’re making a podcast. You came to see the Obsoletium read-through a year ago. We’re going to do that as a podcast and we’re currently writing the second episode. We’ve re-titled it Hector vs The Future because no-one could spell Obsoletium.”

“You’re writing that alone?”

“I’m co-writing it with James Huntrods, our co-producer. He’s got a very good handle on story structure, which I tend to be weaker at.”

“Is that why you’ve done sketches within a single situation in the past, rather than a single linear narrative?”

“Pretty much, although The Great Fire of Nostril had one complete narrative even if it’s a very weird narrative – a bizarre, surrealist one. We’re performing it at the Soho Theatre in the first week of February.”

A picture painted by William Frederick Yeames in 1878

A picture painted by William Frederick Yeames in 1878

“How’s your father?” I asked. “Is he no longer trapped in the depths of the London Silver Vaults in Chancery Lane?”

“I don’t know where he is,” said James. “Since leaving the depths, he’s been gallivanting around the… I dunno… I dunno… I tend to leave him to it… He’s just working in…I dunno where he goes… Wherever he goes… God knows where he is.”

“And you?” I asked.

“It wasn’t planned,” said James, “but, over the course of the next couple of months, we have so many projects all happening at the same time. Casual Violence are doing the podcast and the Soho run and I’m developing my solo project and there’s the Casual Violence Live! DVD… erm download. We filmed it at the Brighton Fringe in May which was advantageous, because we won an award specifically for the show we filmed.”

“Which award?” I asked.

Argus Angel Award

Argus Angel Award

“The Argus Angel Award. I think they used to do trophies, but now they just e-mail you a PDF of the award certificate, so it’s an award that actually costs you, because you have to print it out yourself if you want a physical version.”

“That’s quite a good idea,” I said. “Perhaps I should do that with the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. In 2007, I had trophies made for every year up to 2017. After that, I could just send people PDFs of photos of the trophy they might have won if I had bothered to have one made.”

“Or,” suggested James, “part of the prize could be that the winners this year have to design and make trophies for next year’s winners.”

“It would be in the spirit of Malcolm,” I said, “that the winners lose money. I did originally have the idea that part of the prize for each winner would be that they had to buy the judges drinks. But, as I don’t drink alcohol or spirits, it seemed a rather pointless idea… and it doesn’t really work as a concept if they have to buy the judges tap water. It would somehow diminish the award. Although there did used to be the Tap Water Awards. Perhaps I should reconsider the idea.”

On YouTube, there is a trailer for Casual Violence Live!

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Comedians’ crowdfunding, books and ‘missing’ Edinburgh Fringe free shows

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

This year, several performers crowdfunded their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I was in Brighton for the launch of registrations for the Brighton Fringe festival.

The crowdfunding site Zequs are saying that they will give £500 each to the first ten people who raise £1,000 for their shows via the Zequs site.

And, in a reassuring marketing wheeze, they cleverly point out that crowdfunding is not new – the plinth for the Statue of Liberty was financed by crowdfunding.

Crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

The crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

It certainly seems to be on the rise.

Last Saturday, I was at the launch of comedian Phil Kay’s crowdfunded book The Wholly Viable at the Soho Theatre, despite the fact I seem to remember there were two launch gigs for it at the Edinburgh Fringe back in August.

Still, it is being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob is also crowdfunding a new “children’s book for adults” with illustrations by Malcolm Hardee Pound of Flesh Award winner Rich Rose. The online Kickstarter appeal seems suitably non-sober.

Bob Slayer appeals - not very soberly - in a Kickstarter videoStill, it was being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob Slayer appeals – not very soberly – in a Kickstarter video

His book is called The Happy Drunk and he aims to raise £666 (I wonder where that number came from?) and, at the time of writing, he has already raised £481 with 12 days still to go.

The Happy Drunk is sub-titled Bob Slayer: The Baby Years and Bob’s pitch is: “Got kids? Here’s how to start them on the booze!”… “I don’t know why this was rejected by my publisher,” he says. “You can receive rewards of exclusive artwork, a caricature, a show in your own home, a magical mystery tour… even your very own baby… all of which will help make this project happen…”

CalPolIsEvil

The original title of Bob’s book

The book was originally titled Calpol Is Evil, but Bob surprisingly changed the title.

Meanwhile, fellow comedy performer and Edinburgh Fringe regular Ian Fox has updated his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show.

Now updated both online & as print book

Now updated both online & as print book

The book, says Ian, “shares eleven years experience of producing shows at the Fringe for the price of a café latte, without the social awkwardness of having to sit with the author in a coffee shop – highlighting the author’s personal experiences of half-full houses, flatmates gone bad, hostel horror stories, campsite calamities, and general comedy cock-ups.”

“Why update it?” I asked Ian yesterday. “Surely advice about putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago is much the same as today?”

“The principles are the same,” he told me. “but some of the information has changed. Things like the price of ads in the Fringe Programme and the PBH Free Fringe have a voluntary contribution for their shows.”

“Ah, that’” I said, is one of the advantages of eBooks and publishing on demand: you can update facts immediately for new purchasers of the book.”

“And,” said Ian, “everything new which I’ve added, I have put online. Both the Kindle and the on-demand printed version have an address in them which tells you where you can find the updates on-line. It would be a bit unfair if you had to pay for small updates.”

“What’s the main difference,” I asked, “between 2003, when you first produced a show, and 2013?”

Michael McIntyre beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award

Oddly, Michael McIntyre was beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award in 2003 by Gary Le Strange

“The number of free shows,” replied Ian. “There weren’t any in 2003 and there were 814 last year… Well, 814 official ones, because a lot of the PBH Free Fringe ones aren’t actually listed in the Fringe Programme. The Laughing Horse Free Festival insists all its shows are listed in the official Fringe Programme, but the Free Fringe doesn’t.

“I got the 814 figure by searching the official Fringe site for free comedy shows, but the Chortle and the British Comedy Guide websites actually listed over 1,000 shows: so those extra ones obviously listed themselves on those websites but didn’t pay to list themselves in the Fringe Programme.”

“So,” I asked Ian, “if I ‘m a performer thinking of going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time next year, why should I buy your book?”

“It will probably save you £300 or £400,” replied Ian. “The secret to making money at the Fringe is knowing how to not spend money unnecessarily. One Fringe publication was offering – for £100 – to put your ad on a webpage that got 10,000 impressions. But I remember from 2011 – the year of ‘Cockgate’ – when I took all those photographs and put them on my blog site… I thought I’d put an advert for my show down the side of the page…. I did… I got 14,000 hits on that page on the first day and I got two clicks on the ad… and one of them turned out to be Ashley Frieze, who I was sharing a flat with.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s say I’m going to perform at the Fringe for the third time next year. Why should I buy your book?”

Ian Fox in Edinburgh during the Fringe

Ian Fox – now over a decade at the Edinburgh Fringe

“I probably can teach you some stuff, but there’s also loads of stories in there and some of the history you might not know, people’s failures. It’s not just a technical guide; there’s loads of anecdotes. There was one year when me and Ashley were putting free tickets for our shows in the Half Price Hut and people were getting them, even though the tickets were free. It’s just an extra outlet, another way of advertising a show – our show came up on the LED board outside the Half Price Hut – Shows starting in the next hour… There’s loads of tips like that in the book.”

“Do you know what show you’re doing yourself next year?”

“Sort of. I read that blog of yours about the more interesting shows being less straight-stand-up. I’m definitely going in that direction: that it’s not totally straight stand-up.”

“You could do burlesque,” I suggested. “Stripping in a sequin dress. I’d pay to see it.”

“I’m definitely not doing that,” laughed Ian, “though I once did a video with Mick Ferry. He used to do a show in Manchester called Mick Ferry’s Space Cadets and, every month, the audience used to set him a challenge and, because they’d had a burlesque dancer on in a particular show, they said he had to be a male burlesque dancer. I used to make videos of his challenges – shoot them on the Monday for the gig on the Tuesday. They’re on YouTube and on the videos page of my website.”

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If the Daily Mail calls you “zany” is that good or bad at the Edinburgh Fringe?

It is good to know the Daily Mail reads my blog, even if a little belatedly.

Yesterday’s column by Richard Kay carried a piece using a quote from my blog last week about increasingly embattled government minister Chris Huhne. I am not quite sure if it is intended to support or undermine him. Who can understand the Machiavellian machinations of Fleet Street where politics are concerned? Or maybe it’s just printed because the quote is quite sweet. Let’s assume it is that:

________

Chris Huhne’s reputation as a ladies man has been enhanced by zany stand-up comedienne Charmian Hughes, who recalls a romantic encounter with the priapic Lib Dem Cabinet minister when they were teenagers in West London.

Convent school-educated Charmian says her first snog came courtesy of Huhne, who used to drive around in a London taxi, when she was 15 and he 17. 

‘He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.’

________

It is a pity the Daily Mail calls Charmian “zany” as that is one of those words which sometimes sit uneasily as a quote on an Edinburgh Fringe poster – and anyone performing at the Fringe in August is currently poring over possible quotes for posters, flyers and press releases.

“Zany” is one of those words which student revues use on their first trip to perform at the Fringe – it’s only one step down from the much-dreaded word “wacky”.

I wrote comedy reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe for a couple of years. One comic still calls me a “cunt” on sight because of one rather mild review I wrote of her performance. But, if I ever saw publicity for a comedy show billing itself as “wacky”, I would run a royal mile and try to find a group of limbless orphans performing a play about the Moors Murders. More chance of comedy in that.

The other problem is that the “zany” quote comes from the Daily Mail.

The Mail is like a red (or should that be blue?) rag to a bull for many comics because of its perceived too-far-to-the-right-ness. What this knee-jerk reaction misses, of course, is that it has built up its massive circulation because it knows what Middle England likes and thinks. (Its sales in Scotland, interestingly, are negligible.) I wrote an unloved blog about this which got me e-mails saying I’m a prat with neo-Fascist tendencies. But beware of ignoring the selling power of the Daily Mail.

A quote from the Daily Mail will not get you loved by mostly Guardian-reading reviewers, but it may well get you more bums-on-seats.

Whether a very good stand-up like Charmian Hughes can put “zany” on her poster (I think she can) and can use a quote from the Daily Mail (I think she should) even if it’s out-of-context because it is not actually a review of her show (everyone does that at the Fringe) will be one of the many interesting things to see in August.

When I told her about the Daily Mail quote, Charmian’s reaction was:

“OMG, how do they know I am zany? Do you think they were secretly in my audience at the Brighton Fringe?… I’m using ‘hilarious’ Guido Fawkes as a quote.”

This could turn out to be a battle of the quotes. The Guido Fawkes political website – which deals in Westminster gossip – tweeted that my blog is a “hilarious read” and that the specific Chris Huhne blog in question was “a brilliant post”.

Now I just have to figure out how to spread the news that I am a “hilarious read” before news of Charmian’s “hilarious” zaniness spreads to Edinburgh.

Or could Charmian’s surprising and, to me, suspicious schmoozing of politicians, websites and the Daily Mail be a devious early ploy in a campaign to win the much-coveted and increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award?

Publicity?

Tell me about publicity…

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A dog called Dylan and the fickle finger of fame

Last night I went to South East London to see Charmian Hughes’ try-out of her upcoming Brighton Fringe/Edinburgh Fringe show The Ten Charmandments at the equally charming and fascinating Living Room Theatre which is, indeed, just what it says on the label.

It’s a living room theatre.

I suppose I should have counted, but I think the full room had an audience of twelve, sitting in a U-shape. That’s ten or eleven more than some Edinburgh Fringe shows I’ve been to.

The Living Room Theatre allows performers to preview and try-out shows in an amiable, low-key atmosphere and is run by writer-performer Claire Dowie and Colin Watkeys who, among his other accomplishments was apparently the late, much-lamented Ken Campbell’s manager. Now THAT must have been a job and a half.

But, oddly, it was the theatre dog’s name that leapt to mind this morning and the fickle nature of fame. Yes, the Living Room Theatre has a dog. Dylan the dog, though missing from the performance itself, was an amiable and attentive addition to the over-all theatrical event.

It was the name “Dylan” that got to me, though.

People want their name to be remembered, but how that name is remembered is sometimes not what they might have hoped for.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wanted to be remembered as a serious mathematician, logician and academic; instead, he was remembered first as children’s author Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland and, more recently, as the taker of some rather dodgy photographs of young children; his reputation has started to transform into a sort-of Victorian wannabe Gary Glitter.

Thomas Crapper was a very admirable man whose hard work and professionalism changed the hygiene, health and social behaviour of the British nation – there are manhole covers with his company’s name proudly displayed in Westminster Abbey, scene of our recent glamorous Royal Wedding… but his surname has become synonymous with shit. He can’t be turning happily in his grave.

And pity poor Dylan Thomas, the verbose Welsh bard, who presumably wanted to be known for his literary art and womanising but people’s first thoughts of the name “Dylan” soon turned into a Jewish folk singer with incomprehensible lyrics and a terrible singing voice, then into an animated rabbit with acid-head drug fans in the Anglicised version of The Magic Roundabout and now, it seems, among cutting-edge theatre-goers in South East London, into a dog’s name. Though, admittedly, he is a very likeable dog. Probably more likeable than the verbose Welsh bard.

Oh – for the record – The Ten Charmandments is very well worth seeing, though God may disapprove of the name change.

I particularly recommend the sand dance.

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