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The Comedy Cafe re-opens in London and Oslo but not yet on a Greek yacht

Yesterday, I talked to comedy club owner Noel Faulkner via FaceTime. It was raining heavily. He couldn’t be bothered to go out. I did not blame him. I was getting drenched coming back from Iceland. The supermarket, not the country.

Noel ran the Comedy Cafe club in London’s Shoreditch for 27 years. It closed in January this year but, next Saturday (16th September) it re-opens in Shoreditch in a different location.

“We talked to a lot of venues,” Noel told me, “but most of them didn’t understand what the fuck it was we wanted to do. Most of them wanted hundreds of pounds in rent every night. They just didn’t understand that comedy is not the big money it used to be.”

“But now you have,” I said, “found somewhere.”

The new Comedy Cafe – at the Miranda Room in Shoreditch

“Yes. The Ace Hotel in Shoreditch High Street – in the Miranda Room, a nightclub basement room with a nice atmosphere for comedy – it’s a lovely room. Holds 100 people. Lovely restaurant upstairs; great food.”

“Are you going to make money on it?” I asked.

“We’re not going to make any money,” said Noel. “We just want to keep it going because we enjoy what we do. And I have a really good promoter working with me. His name is Steve McCann. Us Irish have to stick together.”

“What have you been doing in your time off?” I asked. “Writing your book?”

Shake, Rattle n Noel? The famous book I’ve been writing for twenty years? I’ve done 40,000 words so far.”

Noel Faulkner’s 2016 Christmas present brought consolation

“So what were you doing?” I persisted.

“I’ve been sailing on a chartered yacht in the Greek islands.”

“You could be the L.Ron Hubbard of your era.”

“More like the Howard Hughes of comedy. I spend all my time on my yacht and in my penthouse with the curtains drawn. That’s the image I want.”

“So did you miss comedy?” I asked.

Noel laughed.

“I can’t tell you the truth coz you’d fuckin’ print it!”

The bar at the new Comedy Cafe in Ace Hotel, Shoreditch

“Can I print that?”

“You can print that.”

“Did you miss comedians?” I asked.

“Yeah. Like the time I had fuckin’ herpes.”

“Do you want to re-phrase that?”

“I missed comedians like I miss haemorrhoids”

“I will,” I told him, “add in that you were laughing when you say that.”

And he was.

“But I can tell you,” he continued, “and you can put this in too – that I WAS very impressed by the amount of serious and good comics who called me up or came up and talked to me and asked me if everything was OK and how I was doing.

Posters at the old Comedy Cafe, including one for Noel Faulkner’s autobiographical show

“The opposite side of that is, since we said we were opening again, I’ve been getting hundreds of Facebook requests. To me, Facebook is for friends. Becoming my ‘Friend’ on Facebook will certainly not guarantee you a gig at the Comedy Cafe. There’s a lot of shallow people in the business, like all businesses.

“But a lot of people have been very good and kind to me and very concerned, like Alan Davies and Ed Byrne. Alan Davies is kicking off the new Comedy Cafe on opening night. With Jimmy James Jones and Lauren Pattison – and Greg Faulkner is MCing.

“Is Ed Byrne playing the Cafe soon too?” I asked.

“He wants to, but he’s a bit busy at the moment. He asked me before I asked him.”

“Are the shows going to be monthly or weekly?”

“Weekly. Saturdays and Tuesdays, at first… Tuesday is the ‘new act’ night. We used to have the best new act night in the country.”

“Why was that?”

“Because we always had 100 people in the room. You didn’t have to bring a friend and you didn’t have to buy two drinks if you were a comic. We really had the best new act night in the country and nobody ever gave us that recognition.”

“So,” I said, “a new start in Shoreditch.”

Comedy Cafè opening night in Oslo – (L-R) Greg Faulkner, John Fothergill, Bjørn Daniel Tørum, Jimmy James Jones

“We have also opened a Comedy Cafè in Oslo,” Noel told me.,“in Norway. Same logo and everything.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Last week was the first one. We were approached by Bjorn-Daniel Torum. It’s once a month right now, so we can see how it goes.”

The Facebook announcement of the new club read: “One of London’s most iconic standupklubber through 27 years is coming to Oslo.”

Noel is clearly the unsinkable King of Standupklubbers, which made me think…

“You should,” I suggested, “open a comedy club on a yacht sailing the Greek islands. You would have the best of both worlds.”

“I thought about that when I was out there,” said Noel. “There was fuck all to do in the evenings.”

“I’m going to send you a decent picture,” Noel said. “You always take shit pictures of me.” This is his.

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If alternative comedy was the new rock ’n’ roll, is storytelling the new comedy?

Natural Born Storytellers at The Lost Theatre

Natural Born Storytellers went theatrical at The Lost Theatre

Comedy clubs in the UK are said to be on the decline. But storytelling is teetering on the brink of the possibility of becoming the new comedy.

Nowadays, by and large – especially at the Edinburgh Fringe – comedians do not perform traditional gag routines. They tell stories with laughs. Some – often the more interesting – do not even tell funny stories. They tell serious stories in a way that makes people laugh. I often say that my very talented chum Scottish comedienne Janey Godley does not tell funny stories: she tells stories funny.

A couple of weekends ago, at The Lost Theatre in London, I saw a Natural Born Storytellers show – their first in a theatre. It was packed. Their normal monthly shows are at the Camden Head pub. The next is tomorrow night. It is like sitting in some Icelandic hut thousands of years ago, listening to short sagas. Fascinating and entirely successful.

Natural Born Storytellers is run by comedians Michael Kossew and Matt Price. I talked to them at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Storytelling clubs could take off big,” I told them. “But it’s a marketing problem. The word ‘storytelling’ is not as sexy as the phrase ‘stand-up comedy’.”

Matt Price (left) and Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre

Matt Price (left) & Michael Kossew at Soho Theatre yesterday

Michael said: “If I tell people it’s a true storytelling night, they want to know more. I think the themes help to get people in.”

“We have a different theme every month,” explained Matt. “And it’s the ‘true’ element that attracts people. It’s true, alternative, raw storytelling. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Michael said: “I did Natural Born Storytellers at the Burning Nest Festival in May and I told one story. The rest of the 1 hour and 45 minutes was made up by everyone sitting round in a circle taking turns to tell their own stories. I thought This works! This really works! – in a festival environment, in a theatre environment. It works. People are really interested.”

“And in a corporate environment,” suggested Matt. “I am not lowering ourselves quite to the level of karaoke but, if you’ve ever seen a karaoke night, once one person has a go at singing, everybody else wants to have a go. We find our audiences stay behind after the show and people are telling stories. It’s a different vibe to a comedy night. Everyone has a story. It’s no different, really, to sitting round the dinner table. The difference is we are in a club and you have to walk into a building with strangers but, by the end, people become inspired and want to hear more stories and tell more stories.”

“It’s massive in America,” said Michael. “There’s a thing called The Moth.”

The Moth has taken off in the US

The Moth storytelling outfit has taken off in the United States

“The Myth?” I asked.

“The Moth,” said Michael. “It is like a fly-on-the-wall, but it’s a Moth. I’d never heard of them until we had been going a few months, but they do very similar things to us.”

“And there’s also RISK!” said Matt, “and CRINGE. I think raw and honest is the direction we want to go in although we have room for everybody – so long as their story has a beginning, middle and end. That’s what drives me mad sometimes. It’s such a simple concept and I can’t understand why some people don’t get it.”

“Even comedians?” I asked.

“Especially comedians,” said Matt.

“Surely in comedy,” I said, “comics are used to heading towards a strong end – a punchline?”

“But,” said Michael, “they are looking for laughs. They are not so comfortable with telling an eight-minute story – we have an eight-minute time limit – with no-one laughing. People can be sitting on the edge of their seats absolutely enthralled and then the comedian slips in a joke just to hear a laugh and the audience loses interest because it feels too contrived. People will laugh if it’s a funny story, but it’s a more natural laugh coming from empathy with the person telling the story. Not because there is a punch line. You don’t need that.”

“I guess,” I said, “that most of your current storytellers are comedians or showbiz people because of your contacts?”

“We’re looking to find a wider variety of storytellers,” said Michael.

“I don’t know if we want comedians, really,” said Matt.

“Some do get it,” said Michael. “They get on stage, use their normal voice and tell a story. That’s what we’re looking for. People to be themselves on stage. If you can’t be yourself, it’s going to be hard to tell a true story.”

“And you’ll hate it,” said Matt. “And the audience will hate it.”

“Eight minutes is not some arbitrary number,” explained Michael. “It’s pretty much the exact point where people will start losing interest in a short night. If you keep it to eight minutes, you’ve got them gripped the whole way through.”

“And the storytellers are restricted to the monthly theme…” I said.

Natural Born Storytellers Each month a different theme

For the last 18 months, a stage for Natural Born Storytellers

“The themes are designed to be flexible,” said Matt. “So, for example, with My Hands Were Tied there was the moral decision element, the sado-masochism element and we even had a guy who was a former escapologist who talked about the politics of being an escapologist.”

“In a future show,” said Michael, “we have a story about a man who boiled a parrot.”

“Perfect,” said Matt.

“I’m going to make up a special theme,” said Michael, “just so he can tell that story. It is one of the funniest stories I have ever heard in my life.”

“But,” I said, “the stories do not necessarily have to be funny.”

“Oh no,” said Matt.

“We have had people crying,” said Michael.

“It’s lovely to hear a gasp followed by a laugh,” said Matt, “and then people even crying.”

“Sounds like a synopsis of my sex life,” I said.

“There have been one or two occasions,” said Michael, “where events have happened almost too close to the person getting on stage and telling the story. To them, it’s more like venting and that’s not really what we’re about. We want a coherent story rather that a psychiatrist’s couch.”

Matt said: “We like to think of ourselves as alternative storytellers. We’re so modern, we don’t even know where we are going.”

“How can you develop it?” I asked.

“At the Camden Head,” said Michael, “we’re going to do a live podcast.”

“And,” I suggested, “although people don’t want to listen to the same jokes again and again, they will listen to the same song lots of times and still enjoy it. It can be the same with good stories.”

Chris Dangerfield’s 2014 Edinburgh Fringe show

Dangerfield’s Edinburgh Fringe show – quite a story to tell

“At the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” said Matt, “I went four times to see Chris Dangerfield’s show. The reason was because it felt like going back to listen to a really good music album. It was not radically different every night, but it took on a different tone each night. With stories, they evolve as you tell them. Some of the best stories are ones you can hear again and again and you actually gather more each time you hear them.”

“Well,” said Michael, “with any story, the more you tell it, the better you are going to get at telling it. I’m going to run a three-hour storytelling workshop starting in November – about techniques and figuring out how to elicit stories from your past and how to construct them. But every person tells stories completely differently. It’s mostly about constructing an atmosphere for sharing and constructive feedback between a group.”

“But if you can do workshops,” I said, “it implies there is no such thing as a natural born storyteller: the technique can be taught.”

“There are natural born storytellers,” said Matt, “but you may have to bring that natural talent out.”

“Some people,” said Michael, “need a little bit of coaxing out of their shell. It’s also about structure. Finding what is relevant. What is the story REALLY about?”

Can storytelling clubs ever become as widespread or as populist as comedy clubs?

At the end of each edition of BBC TV’s highly popular Graham Norton Show featuring ‘A’ List stars, he has ordinary members of the public tell stories in ‘the red chair’. If the story is not interesting enough, they get tilted out of the chair – a bit like a storytelling Gong Show.

Storytelling clubs could catch on now that the appetite for pure gag-based comedy appears to be waning.

The story told by Matt Price at Natural Born Storytellers in the Lost Theatre show is on YouTube.

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A comedy night in 1998 with Malcolm Hardee, Phil Nichol – not about Islam

Up The Creek comedy club in 2009

Up The Creek comedy club – still running in 2009

I had no blog ready today.

My eternally-un-named friend suggested I should post one about the origins of Shia and Sunni Islam.

Instead of that, here is an old diary entry about a visit to Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in South East London – on Sunday 4th October 1998.


A very small audience of about 50. Terrible start with a non-comedian and would-be surrealist who might go down well at retro-Sixties rock festivals to an audience of heavily-stoned revellers but who went down to total silence at Up The Creek.

In the second half, the show perked up with an extraordinary Open Spot from a man who strode the stage talking about Jesus, revealed a picture of a white stallion on an easel and a picture of a hedgehog which he said was “the people of Kosovo” – in the largely Albanian-populated Serbian province currently being attacked by Serbian forces. The act was screamed-at and yelled-at but not forced off the stage.

Phil Nichol (left) in Corky & The Juice Pigs in the 1990s

Phil Nichol (left) in Corky & The Juice Pigs in the 1990s

This was followed by Canadian (in fact, he was born in Scotland) comic Phil Nichol (of Corky & The Juice Pigs), whose act soared from good to brilliant as he ad-libbed and played off members of the audience. In particular, he spotted a drunken man who had tried a slight, amiable heckle and whom he decided to call Boris the Russian.

Phil Nichol in a recent performance

Phil Nichol in a more recent performance

He kept playing off this guy who eventually moved in embarrassment to another seat. Further into the act, Boris, drunkenly got up on stage without invitation and Nichol very bravely and – as it turned out – very sensibly kept him on, getting him to perform Elvis impressions while still retaining control of the act.

Boris could barely stand and was wobbling on his feet. On a yell from someone in the audience of “Do the Full Monty!” – taken up enthusiastically by the rest of the audience – he did a drunken attempt at a seductive lowering of the trousers, mooned, turned and then pulled them up again. Immensely funny.

Nichols eventually encored, had Malcolm up on stage playing his Blues harmonica and was able to ad-lib apparently genuinely made-up songs when Malcolm unexpectedly stopped and held the microphone to Nichols. An extraordinary example of someone at the peak of their abilities.

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Malcolm Hardee – live on stage – in his first UK comedy show since 2005

Malcolm Hardee died in 2005... Headlined a show in 2014

Malcolm Hardee died in 2005… back headlining in 2014

When I talked to Chris Dangerfield for yesterday’s blog, he gave me a photo of an interesting comedy poster.

It was interesting because it was for a gig billed two weeks ago in London –

ZIP ZIP COMEDY
WITH MALCOLM HARDEE

I would have paid a large amount to see this gig because Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.

Also on the bill were Ellis and Rose (billed as Ellie and Rose), Lee Kern, Rob Pybus and Tom Webb. As far as I am aware, they are all still alive.

When I asked Gareth Ellis (aka Gareth Ellie) this morning, he told me: “Ha! That gig was cancelled!”

Rob Pybus told me: “Ha! Yes – this was a bit of mistake by the publicity people at The Proud Archivist (the venue). Not only did they have the date wrong, but a line up that was a tad impossible. I wonder if anyone went? The proper night happened the following Friday and was great.”

So I asked Poppy Hillstead, who organised the gig.

Poppy Hillstead in a selfie taken this morning

Poppy Hillstead in a selfie taken this morning

“I’m unsure if anyone turned up for the gig,” she told me, “as I had the poster down quite quick! We didn’t even have a gig on that night: we actually had Trevor Lock headlining the week after. The Proud Archivist does its own posters for my show, I have no idea how they managed to get not only the wrong date but the wrong lineup – with Malcolm Hardee headlining!

“When I went in to speak to them, the staff said: We’re really excited about tonight’s show! I said: That’s great, but it’s not on and the headliner has been dead since 2005…

“They said: Aaaaw. Yeah, we should change that. And also I also pointed out that ‘Ellie’ and Rose don’t exist haha. We were meant to have a gig on that date with (Malcolm Hardee Award winners) Ellis and Rose and two other acts but it was moved to the next week because Ellis got ill and had to drop out. I don’t know how The Proud Archivist got it so wrong haha. I think they had a new poster maker in.”

“I see they also used a photograph of Malcolm,” I said, “which I took myself in about 1995.”

“They must have Googled it,” said Poppy.

Bob Slayer (left) with act Paul Currie (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

Bob (left) and act Paul Currie ‘finger piping’ from Paul’s show (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

If she had not told me the whole thing was a mistake, I might have thought it was a publicity stunt because, at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Poppy helped run (Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner) Bob Slayer’s two venues The Hive and Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop.

I asked Poppy about her experience of working with Bob this year – It is always an experience.

Poppy told me:

“The Hive smells but Bob Slayer wore the same Electric Eel Shock T-shirt every day of the Fringe and not once did it smell. By far the best smelling act was Chris Dangerfield. Nobody smells better than Chris Dangerfield, whose show Sex With Children did incredibly well. But it also meant I had to announce at the bar each night: Anyone for Sex With Children? Come on through for sex with children! This was met with disgust by people just out for a regular drink.

Bob Slayer (left) presented Wilfredo at the recent Edinburgh Fringe

Bob Slayer (left) presented Wilfredo at last month’s Fringe (Photograph by Poppy Hillstead)

“Other highlights included, every night, fetching Wilfredo‘s specially-purchased step, which prevented his bollocks getting crushed in his ridiculously tight trousers as he stepped up on stage.

“A major highlight, though, was watching Bob Slayer get his prostate checked by a lady with a very dirty industrial rubber builder’s glove.

“Now I’m back to running my own Zip Zip Comedy Night at the Proud Archivist. We want the night to be a mix of animation and live stand up from more alternative acts on the circuit. The first gig was mental: we tried to create this 3D compere which motion tracked comedian Rob Pybus‘ face in real time, projecting him as a Max Headroom type character onto the stage. But it was very complicated and deeply terrifying. We will probably bring him back at some point.

“Now we showcase a new episode of Rob’s Living Cartoon series each month. Using his skills as an animator, he projects cartoon environments and characters around him. You have to come down and see it. I will try and get Malcolm Hardee to headline it.

Trevor Lock (left) & Chris Dangerfield, by Poppy Hillstead

Trevor Lock (left) and Chris Dangerfield… by Poppy Hillstead

“Another night that I’m doing, which I’m proper excited about is Tell Us a Secret hosted by Trevor Lock with Chris Dangerfield and a showbiz pal on the panel. Comedians and the audience are asked to tell a single secret before the panel. This is going to be a good one. It is on the 17th of October!”

Maybe the whole thing with the Malcolm Hardee poster WAS a cunning stunt.

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How to publicise a new comedy club & write an Edinburgh Fringe press release

Sybil Soan, in hat, plays ping pong with Edwardian animal impersonator Vincent Figgins

Sybil Soan, in hat, with Edwardian animal impersonator Vincent Figgins

At the weekend, I went to see Pull The Other One club owners Martin and Vivienne Soan. Their daughters appeared to be wearing lampshades. This sounds rather odd but actually looked rather trendy.

More to the point, there was a man who shall be nameless who is thinking of starting a new comedy magazine – in print, not online. This is interesting, if foolhardy. Comedy magazines in print have come and gone – Mustard, The Fix, Heckler.

At the weekend, Martin had a February 1992 edition of Heckler.

There was a piece about him inside.

At the slim risk of getting sued for copyright infringement by the long-dead magazine, this is what it says:


THE GHOST CLUB

The cover in 1992 - note Stephen Fry, top left

The cover in 1992 – note Stephen Fry, top left

From Thursday February 6th the planes will align in an Aspect and House that has never before been witnessed by Mankind. This is the reason that Time Out Award-Winner Martin Soan has decided to open a brand new club which will run for eight weeks on Thursday evenings. Mr Soan assures us that for this period the aforementioned cosmic alliance favours great spiritual and paranormal activity. The chosen venue for this venture is The Comedy Cafe which it just so happens is on the very site where two lay lines cross: one from Mecca to Glastonbury and the other from the Holy Isle to the Lost City of Atlantis.

The whole venue is to be given over to the power of the supernatural with no limit to the amount of ghostliness and weird occurrences that will take place. Soan’s previous ventures have always been highly innovative and genuinely original in concept and practice. This has the makings of continuing that tradition with features like ‘This Is Your Plant’ – a spoof of This Is Your Life where the life of the house plant is examined. Also to be included is the Mind Fantasies Machine, The Incredible Floating Head and The Worst Double Act In The World.

This is highly recommended before it has begun because Soan’s ingenuity is well worth an evening of anyone’s time.


They don’t write publicity like that any more…

…or do they?

Below are Lewis Schaffer’s (so far) two press releases for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Success Is Not An Option.


PRESS RELEASE ONE

Lewis Schaffer’s poster for his Edinburgh Fringe show

The ever-optimistic British-based American

My Edinburgh Festival Fringe show for 2014 is called “Success Is Not An Option”. My show will not be a success because:

1. I’m using the same business model as last year, which didn’t work.

Under the Heroes of the Fringe “Pay What You Want” model, punters can pay £5 for tickets in advance or come in free at the door which makes absolutely no sense. As of today, I have sold nine tickets. Nine.

2. Most reviewers don’t like to go to free shows because they cannot be guaranteed a seat, and that can mess up their viewing schedule. And they don’t get something that regular people are paying for for nothing, which is the whole point of being a reviewer.

3. This is my seventh consecutive year at the Fringe and I have gained zero traction. 22 years in comedy and I am still doing these poncy shows in dingy subterranean bars.

4. There is always some American comic nobody has ever heard of riding into town, selling out every night and then leaving the country once the festival is over. Leaving is always sexy. My ex used to tell me “You used to chase me!” and I’d say, “You used to run.” I’ve stopped running. I’m not leaving the UK. I am stuck here with a knackered act, two kids, and nobody chasing me.

5. You could have seen me in London where I do a weekly show at the Leicester Square Theatre and two free shows a week at The Rancho Grill at any point over the past five years, but you haven’t, and I know you haven’t, so you’re not going to make me a success in Edinburgh either.

6. If my show is a success, I will have been a failure in predicting its failure. If my show is a failure, I will have just been a failure. So no matter what happens, I’ll have been a failure.

7. I have waited until three weeks before the festival to send out a press release, and have no promotional budget to pay a PR to tell me that this level of self-flagellation in a press release is a terrible idea.

Be prepared. Lewis Schaffer isn’t. 
An hour of your life you’ll never get back. A lifetime of his completely wasted.

PRESS RELEASE TWO

The frolic-filled functor that is Lewis Schaffer

The frolic-filled funster success factory that is Lewis Schaffer

My last press release was “nothing short of genius” according to Simmy Richman in the Independent on Sunday. Read his piece here.

Here are four more reasons why my show “Success Is Not An Option” will not be a success.

9. Most people, upon having a piece of publicity material described as “genius” by a national newspaper, would then try to follow it up with something bigger, better and totally fresh.

I’m just rehashing the same thing and hoping that those of you that ignored me last time will pay attention to me. Einstein supposedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’m not insane, because I know that this is going to fail; you people never pay attention to me. I’m just desperate. Please pay attention to me.

10. My poster doesn’t have any quotes or stars from reviewers.

You, from the The Times, The Guardian, and The Telegraph, have never reviewed any of my shows.

My biggest supporter in the press, Kate Copstick of The Scotsman, has only ever given me four stars even though we had the closest thing to a sexual interaction that I, as a crumbling 57-year-old man, am capable of having with another human being. You can read about that on John Fleming’s blog here and then give me five stars to save yourself from the same fate.

11. I decided against using Stewart Lee’s quote about me – “Naked hostility and self-loathing” – or Daniel Kitson’s – “The logical conclusion of all stand-up comedy” – or Marc Maron’s – “Very bitter and weird” and “Not that good” – because name-dropping is the lowest form of self-promotion and I value my integrity.

12. The Relatives wrote a song about my going to Edinburgh and said the Number One reason I would fall at the Fringe was that I was “jerk”. They performed the song on my radio show Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer, broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM. Watch here – it is brilliant.

Here are the lyrics to sing along with:

Success is not an option.

Lewis was writing his Edinburgh show
Knew in his heart no one would go
Hasn’t got a bob for publicity, no
Only got five quid to blow
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

He’s written a list why it won’t work
But he missed the number one
“He’s a jerk”
The other comedians are going to smirk
Looks like he’s going to have to learn to twerk
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Well, what’s gonna happen to his radio show?
Its been five years but nobody knows
The team of five are ready to go
But does he ever listen?
The answer’s “no”
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Thank you for reading this far.  If you tell me you have read to the end I will buy you drink up in Edinburgh. If you are alcoholic, I will spend five minutes commiserating with you over how long the Ramadan fast is this year.

Let the love flow,

Lewis Schaffer

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Edinburgh Fringe’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards to be re-branded as non-competitive music competition?

Stephen K Amos hosted last night’s show

Stephen K Amos hosted last night’s show in the Purple Cow

My abiding memory of last night is of my chum Scots comedian Janey Godley biting my shoulder halfway through a comedy act. “I am being Luis Suárez in the World Cup,” she told me.

This is how it started…

At 6.05pm last night, I was sitting quite happily on my sofa in Borehamwood when I got a phone call from Janey asking me if I could get down to the Underbelly’s upside-down Purple Cow on London’s South Bank by 8.00pm to be a judge in the final of the English Comedian of the Year competition.

Janey has often mentioned to audiences that she can get someone killed for the price of a bag of chips (she is a Glaswegian with contacts), so I thought it best to agree.

When I got down to the upside-down Purple Cow, I found out that the other judges included Chortle comedy website editor Steve Bennett. His review of the evening appears on the website.

Amiable Janey Godley has given up smoking.

Ever jolly Janey Godley has given up smoking

But I also found that Janey had given up smoking four days ago.

This was not good.

She tried to attack me with a fork.

During the judging, she bit me on the shoulder.

I feel I got off lightly.

Promoter Alan Anderson’s Scottish Comedian of The Year contest has been running for almost a decade in Scotland, but this was his first English one.

300 comedians applied. We saw the last, best ten. The carrot which attracted them was a £1,500 prize, a trip to perform at the Adelaide Comedy Festival and, of course, the title English Comedian of The Year 2014.

Janey Godley showed no side effects from giving up smoking. (Photograph by Steve Best)

Janey Godley: no change in her behaviour to me last night (Photograph by Steve Best)

Judging which of ten comedians is ‘best’, of course, is a thankless task. The five judges have now made enemies of nine comedians and, interestingly (or not), I said to Janey that I thought the comic most likely to ‘succeed’ was actually one not in the announced top three.

Opinion on contests varies, of course.

How can you say one comic is ‘better’ than another when they are performing different acts?

Well, often, it is not too difficult for the panel of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards to choose our annual winners at the Edinburgh Fringe. But, then, we are in a very niche market. And we have no rules, except…

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

3 Malcolm Hardee Awards await their winners in Edinburgh

To win the main Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality, your act and/or the way your act is presented has to be seriously weird. If we have seen the format before, you are probably not going to win. Last year, Adrienne Truscott won and, really, the number of shows I have seen in which a performer, naked from the waist down, presents a serious treatise on rape is… well… it was certainly comic originality. A straight traditional stand-up is unlikely to win.

Our annual Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt last year went to Barry Ferns aka Lionel Richie for printing and distributing around Edinburgh totally fake issues of the Fringe magazine sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks which publicised his own show and – to cap it all – he published fake news sheets at the exact time the former Perrier Awards were announced claiming he was a major winner. I saw people avidly reading them not realising they were fakes. An excellent Cunning Stunt.

Richard Rose (left) wit Gareth Ellis and his eye yesterday

Richard Rose (left) shows where he punched Gareth Ellis’ face

In lieu of any worthy winner of the Malcolm Hardee Award for Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid last year (and because the trophy had already been made) we gave a special ‘Pound of Flesh’ Award (in effect, a second Cunning Stunt Award but using the Million Quid trophy) to Gareth Ellis for getting repeatedly punched in the face by stage partner Richard Rose and then claiming he had been mugged in the street by a punter irate at the content of their Jimmy Savile show… all for a few inches of extra publicity.

These were all worthy winners in fields with few competitors, although we did find some worthy also-rans for them.

In theory, you cannot compare two comedians’ acts. But, if the results were worthless, no-one would care. People like to win prizes and titles… and reviewers’ stars… and good reviews.

We started with one Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award in 2007. Now there are three. They are increasingly prestigious.

John Ward with main Malcolm Hardee Award

Malcolm Hardee Award designer John Ward waits

This year, I am thinking of adding a fourth award: the annual Malcolm Hardee Blatant Bullshit Award.

So far, the only competitor would seem to be The Stand Comedy Club in Edinburgh (which also runs other clubs in Glasgow and Newcastle). The Stand Comedy Club ‘does not approve’ of competitions, although it advertises acts as “award winning” if they actually win any.

Recently, the Chortle comedy website reported this piece in their weekly trivia column:


He has been vehemently opposed to competitions in comedy, calling them a ‘malignant and destructive influence’ on the artform. Yet last night, The Stand Comedy Club owner Tommy Sheppard welcomed the Deuchars Beermat Fringe competition to his venue in Edinburgh, with heats in Glasgow and Newcastle to follow next week. And, unlike most competitions that keep the commercial side separate, this one insists that all acts must ‘weave’ the name of the sponsor into their set. But Sheppard told Chortle he saw no conflict as the Deuchars competition was across all performance genres: ‘We’re convinced it’s not a comedy competition,’ he said. ‘The majority of people taking part last year – and so far this year – are musicians.’ And the winner of last night’s heat? A comedian, Ross Leslie.


Tommy is an honourable man and the Deuchars competition is, of course, a music competition not a comedy competition. That is why, on their website, they say “whether you’re a professional, or simply someone who has a flair to share that will make us smile, laugh (or cry!), we want to hear about it.”

The winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality have included Reggie Watts (2005), Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds (2007), Robert White (2010) and The Rubberbandits (2012) – all of them basically music acts. So I am thinking of re-naming the awards The Malcolm Hardee Fringe Music Competition, running the show in a venue calling itself a music club and insisting that we will ban all performers who do not weave the phrase “increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee” into their acts. This would make the Awards more politically correct and also, that way, the event could no longer be considered a comedy competition nor, indeed, a competition at all – although, quite reasonably, comedians could compete in it.

Of course, I will only do this if someone pays me money to do it.

I have standards.

I await offers.

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Comedians on other comedians – “He was alright. Nah, nah. OK. He was shit.”

Tiernan Douieb at the Malcolm screening this week

Tiernan after the screening

A couple of days ago, I mentioned going to see a screening of The Tunnel documentary about the late Malcolm Hardee’s legendary comedy club. The screening was followed by a comedy show which included the wonderful Tiernan Douieb who remembered, when he was (even) younger performing at Malcolm’s Wibbley Wobbley floating pub.

“I didn’t have any jokes,” Tiernan told the audience this week.

“I sort-of knew who Malcolm was and I was quite nervous. I turned up and he was very nice to me. He asked my name. I said Tiernan Douieb and he asked how to pronounce it and he wrote it down, made sure he got it all right and he explained how the evening was going to go. I was going to be on first and it all seemed lovely until the gig started.

“There were only about eight people there. Five of them were tattooed skinhead builders on a break and the others were teenagers who had snuck on the boat somehow. Malcolm walked on and went:

This is a new act night. It’s either gonna be good or it’s gonna be shit and, to be honest, it’ll probably all be shit. Anyway, now here’s some cunt whose name I can’t pronounce…

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in Up The Creek office

Malcolm Hardee at work in his Up The Creek office (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“And I walked on to that. I lasted two minutes, then all the builders started singing – it’s not even a song, but – When the fuck are you goin’ home? When the fuck are you singin’ the song? – They knew all the words and sang in unison, so I very quickly left and all I could hear behind me was Henning Wehn walk on and all of them Sieg Heil! at him because he’s a German.”

Yesterday, I chatted to comedian Matt Price about being threatened by gangsters and getting a stab vest through the post. The blog may well appear tomorrow. But, inevitably, Matt too had a Malcolm Hardee story.

“I met Malcolm years ago,” Matt told me, “when he was running Up The Creek in Greenwich. I was just starting and I didn’t really know what was going on but he said: You’ll be alright. I’ll sort you out.

“He decided to introduce the acts in order of size and he introduced me with the fairly standard He might be good. He might be shit. All the way from over there, that big bloke.

“I walked out, did my thing, got about two minutes in and a guy who used to be a street performer mime artist in Covent Garden shouted out: Why don’t you kill yourself! I thought it was a bit ironic I was getting heckled by a mime artist.

Matt Price in Camden Town yesterday (Photograph to be explained tomorrow)

Matt Price in Camden Town yesterday (Photograph might be explained tomorrow)

“It might have been 12 years ago and my West Country accent was quite thick then, so I’m stood on stage in Greenwich with a blinding light and I can only see the outline of the hostility and, in my thick Cornish brogue, I hear myself saying: You Cockney bastards!

“But I stood my ground and managed to walk off to shouts of Taxi! – Malcolm! – Please, please, Malcolm! – and then he walks out on stage and says: He was alright, wasn’t he? He was alright. Nah, nah. OK. He was shit.

“And that was it. That was the end of my Open Mic appearance at Up The Creek and my one-and-only Malcolm Hardee memory. It’s easy to get all dewy-eyed about it, but…”

“Jewy-eyed?” I asked. “I think that’s Lewis Schaffer’s new show.”

“I love Lewis Schaffer,” said Matt. “I was on his radio show recently.

“I remember when he came to Cardiff years ago. They’d seen him before and he was saying: Lewis Schaffer does this thing and Lewis Schaffer was walking down the street… and my friend said: Oh! It’s Lewis Schaffer! Let’s play the Lewis Schaffer drinking game!

“You’ve got to drink two fingers of your beer every time he says the words Lewis Schaffer. He did a 25-minute set and, halfway through, I was well on my way to being hammered because he had said Lewis Schaffer so many times.

“I said to him the other day: You know, you’re like a cross between Johnny Vegas and Jackie Mason.

Oh! I like that! he said. Ya gotta Tweet that, Matt! Ya gotta Tweet that about me! Ya think so? Am I more Vegas than Mason? Am I more Vegas? Is that good or bad? What an extraordinary man.

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London last night

Lewis Schaffer, the Arthur’s Seat of comedians

“The last time I saw him, there were 40 people in the room – There are only 40 of you! he said. The room’s too big! Have you got no friends?

“They were roaring with laughter for the first ten minutes – the funniest thing ever – then he offended someone and this couple got up and walked out, but he managed to talk them back into the room and then he sat down on this guy’s lap and said: Look, should I do the Holocaust material or not? and the couple got up and walked out again.

“It was brilliant.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, Lewis Schaffer is like the comedy equivalent of Arthur’s Seat. You have to see it and do it and it hurts a bit but you go along anyway and you get a view of something spectacular. You think God! That’s how comedy should be!

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