Tag Archives: comic

Should all jokes have a ‘Sell By’ date?

Perhaps the simple cactus has a lesson for us all

Perhaps the simple cactus has a lesson for comics & for us all

In that strange dream-like world between sleep and waking this morning, I was thinking about comedians telling jokes.

This is never a good idea.

I thought that, like tomatoes and broccoli on supermarket shelves, perhaps there should be a Best By… date and a Sell By… date on all jokes.

After that, it would be illegal to expose the joke to the public.

But then I remembered a conversation I had with a man who sold flowers.

There was a Sell By… label stuck on each and every cactus in his shop.

“Do cacti actually go bad after a certain date?” I asked. “I thought they just went on year after year, surviving through drought and everything.”

“Yup,” said the flower shop owner.

From memory, he told me the European Parliament had passed a law that all cacti should have a two-year Sell By… date.

“After that,” he told me, “the law says I have to throw them away.”

“So what do you do with them if they pass their Sell By… date?” I asked the flower shop man.

“I peel off the Sell By… label on the cactus,” he told me, “and stick on a new one.”

That is not a joke. It actually happened. In European Parliamentary legislation, the dividing line between a joke and reality can be a spider’s web-thin one.

Maybe, though, some jokes should have a Best By... date and a Sell By… date.

On the other hand, some jokes are like cacti.

They can go on forever.

The connecting factor may be the involvement of little pricks.

In the world of cacti, pricks are essential.

In comedy, you cannot beat a good knob gag.

Having rationalised this, I turned over and happily went back to sleep.

Perhaps it was a mistake.

Not the turning over and going back to sleep.

The rationalising bit.

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What happened to a female comic one night at London’s Comedy Store in 1981

Vivienne & Martin Soan on stage at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne and Martin Soan at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne Soan currently hosts the always excellent monthly Pull The Other comedy club. She tells me…

___________________

It was 1981…Tony Allen was the compere at the original Comedy Store in London and I had been to a very important England v Scotland football match that same day.

It was the match where the referee jumped over the ball.

I had been given free tickets and was sort-of fired-up from having sat with the Scots and cheered the English.

I had been in Europe for the past four years with Action Theatre and the queue to get into the lift at the Comedy Store had proved too tempting for the performance hostess that had been maturing within me. I worked the crowd before they got into the venue and so, when I stood up and took the mike after Tony Allen, I challenged the audience to “do better”… I had no doubts…The audience were on my side and I ‘stormed it’ (as an open spot) with a mixture of real life stories and old playground jokes.

My opening line was good. I had been sitting in front of a persistent heckler and said I had taken the stage to get away from him.

After the show, I was invited back by Don Ward (the Comedy Store’s owner) to do three weeks.

After the second week, it was whispered in my ear by the other comics that this was ‘alternative comedy’ and I could only perform original material.

“I’m a performer not a writer,” I proclaimed and they all turned away.

The third week, there was great excitement as the new-born Channel 4 was coming in to have a look.

There was a buzz …. “They are very interested in you,” I was told.

I bounced onto the stage, hit my head on the gong and told my caterpillar joke which ends in “I bin sick”.

At this point, Ben Elton turned the mike off and closed my set with the words: “I’m sorry, darling, you can’t tell jokes like that. We cannot allow you to perpetuate the myth of the dumb blonde”.

I left the night with my head between my legs.

I didn’t venture back on a comic stage until 1991.

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Pam Ayes on getting published, her TV talent show and early performing fears

Pam Ayres had the necessary aptitude

The Oldie magazine’s Soho Literary Festival continued at Soho Theatre yesterday with Pam Ayres plugging her autobiography The Necessary Aptitude and explaining how she first got her poetry published.

She was brought up in rural Oxfordshire and made the interesting point that, when she first started, there was a more thriving folk club circuit around the UK.

“Poetry has got a reputation for not selling,” she said yesterday, “What I did was go around the local folk clubs at the time Billy Connolly was working round the folk clubs in Scotland and Jasper Carrott was working round the folk clubs in the Midlands and I got some experience – they were like comedy clubs are today, I suppose.

“Also I went on the local radio and I produced a little book of my own – a little pamphlet, really – that’s all it was – and I drew the drawings and I typed the manuscript and I took it to the Church Army Press in Oxford and I got sixty run off .

“I took them round the local bookshops and it was, without a doubt, the most difficult and excruciatingly humiliating experience of me life. I had to stand in a bookshop surrounded by expensive, well-produced volumes and say: Please will you stock my book? It looked so paltry and they had used the wrong paper and if you touched it, the fingerprints stuck on it. So it looked really awful…

“But not a single person said No. Everybody took some. I always thought that was a great credit to the local booksellers.”

Her breakthrough came in 1975, when she won the Opportunity Knocks talent show on ITV.

“In an instant,” she said yesterday, “I went from folk clubs, where a few beer-sodden friends would cheer you on… to being thrust out in front of an enormous paying audience. One of the first professional gigs I had was at the Winter Gardens in Margate with thousands and thousands of people and I had an act of about 20 minutes.

“I was utterly mortified. I was terrified for years because, if you win a TV talent competition, you go from performing in a small way to going into a massive arena. It was terrifying. For years, I was terrified of performing and I always thought the audience was hostile. A lot of performers feel that. It’s not true, of course, otherwise they wouldn’t buy a ticket.

“When people say to me I’d like to be a performer I tell them the only way to do it is to do it. Even if you fail the first few times, you learn from it and you become more relaxed.

“Now that I’m a woman of a certain age I think, Well, I’ve got me marbles and I’ve got me health. But I don’t know how long I’m going to keep those for, so I just enjoy it now and all that fear has lifted off. I just write the funniest things I can and go out and put them over as best I can and enjoy it and love it in a way I wasn’t able to earlier.”

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Comedian Bob Slayer, the gay pub and the relationship with a famous comic

Bob Slayer yesterday with partner Shirley and two lucky cats

Yesterday, with my eternally-un-named friend, I went to comedian Bob Slayer’s home for dinner.

Bob had a bad cough, but regaled us with tales of his early days as a jockey. He broke his back and had to stop riding horses.

It also turned out, not surprisingly, that his mother was born in a pub. Bob, more often than not, downs at least one pint in a single gulp during his stage act.

“My mum was born in the Wheelbarrow Castle pub at Radford in Worcestershire,” he told me, “which my great-grandfather owned and it went out of the family for a long time, but my uncle has recently bought it to bring it back into the family. They lost the farm – my other uncle lost the farm because he pissed it away.”

“Is he alive?” I asked.

“Yes,” Bob replied.

“Then that’s potentially libel,” I said.

“No, I don’t think it’s libel,” said Bob. “Uncle John would say Well, I did piss it away, yeah. My youngest uncle Martin was in short trousers while John was pissing the farm away. Martin is Gemma, my cousin’s, dad – she’s the one you met who helped me run The Hive venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

“My Uncle Martin re-bought the Wheelbarrow Castle but what he didn’t realise at the time was that he had bought a gay pub.”

“Ah,” I said, “so this is the pub where you suggested we go see The Wurzels perform in October.”

“Yes,” said Bob.

“A gay pub with The Wurzels performing?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bob. “And, in this pub, my mother was born.”

“Was she gay?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” replied Bob. “but I was at a wedding once…”

“A gay wedding?” I asked.

“No but, at my other cousin’s wedding… He was the first of my cousins to get married… and my uncle came up and said I think it’s about time you heard all about Guzzleguts. And I asked What’s that, Uncle Anthony? And he said When your mum was a teenager, she used to be called Guzzleguts. 

“My mum is one of nine… Well, eight, because Uncle David died last week… but all the brothers would drink in the family pub and they would play pool and people would be travelling through and they’d hustle them and it would get to the stage where they were pissed and they’d lost money and big stakes were going down and they’d say Ah! I bet even our sister could beat you at downing a pint! And these big bets would be put down and then my mother would be brought in and two pints put down on the table and my mum would Phrooom! guzzleguts this pint down. And that’s where I get it from.

“Apparently they also used to interrupt her doing her school work – she was a real swot when she was a teenager – lie her on the bar, put a funnel in her mouth and they would pour three pints into her and they would have had a bet on that – We bet you our sister can down three pints in under so many minutes.”

“And this is where we are going to see The Wurzels?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Bob.

“You told me,” I prompted, “the original Wurzel died in a tragic Marc Bolan style car crash?”

“More tragic than Marc Bolan,” said Bob. “Marc Bolan was a very influential and interesting musician, but he wasn’t really up there with Adge Cutler.

“The band was originally called Adge Cutler and The Wurzels… Adge was driving home from a gig in Hereford in his MGB sports car 1974 and he ran into a tractor and died and I think that’s the most rock ‘n’ roll death ever.”

“No connection with combine harvesters?” I asked.

“Well,” said Bob, “I was originally told he ran into a combine harvester, but that was an exaggeration. It was a tractor. He was full of cider as well, I’d like to say. Cider and acid. That’s a bloody good combination.”

“Lots of drinking in Archers country?” I asked.

“It was very interesting for me to learn about alcoholics,” said Bob, “in a family where they are all pissheads. Their attitude towards alcoholism was Well, you could tell she had a problem, because she hid it. We ain’t got a problem, do we? Cos we don’t hide it. I was taught that when I was growing up: You’re not an alcoholic if you don’t feel the need to hide it.

“So,” I asked, “alcoholism was not so much a warning as an aspiration?”

“I think so,” said Bob, “yeah,” and then he had a coughing fit.

“How many brothers and sisters do you have?” asked my eternally-un-named friend.

“I’ve only got one brother,” said Bob. “But I’ve got fifty cousins… I’ve got nine uncles and aunts and most of them are re-married, so…”

“Not 49 or 51 cousins but 50 exactly?” I asked.

“Well, it might be 51 by now,” said Bob. “We do get the odd extras. But they’re all really ugly….” He turned to my eternally-un-named friend: “Going back to this conversation earlier where you decided that 99% of sex-changers do it for the wrong reasons, based on the ones you knew… John here has met one of my cousins – Gemma – at the Edinburgh Fringe, so he would extrapolate that they’re all gorgeous but she is the only one. She is the exception that proves the rule that all the Fernihoughs are ugly as… I’m also related to Ted Edgar.”

“Who?” I asked.

“A showjumper,” replied Bob. “And I’m related to George Formby.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes.” said Bob. “George Formby was a jockey, from a horse racing family. The Edgar side of the family is related to George Formby’s dad. His sister is like my cousin’s great-grandmother.”

“The frightening thing about living in the 21st century,” I said to my eternally-un-named friend, “is that, before we get home, Bob will have changed the Wikipedia entry on George Formby so that all this is true.”

“Look at it now,” said Bob.

And I did. The Wikipedia entry said:

In 1921, three months after the death of his father, Formby abandoned his career as a jockey and began appearing in music halls using his father’s material. At first he called himself George Hoy, using the name of his maternal grandfather, who came from Newmarket, Suffolk, where the family was engaged in racehorse training.

“George Formby Senior – George Formby’s dad,” said Bob, “was a performer and used his money to set up racing stables. George Formby became a jockey to please his dad and had maybe twenty or thirty 2nds – he had loads of rides – but never rode a winner. He was going to take over the stables but, when his dad died prematurely, his mum persuaded him to go on the stage.

“His sister took over the stables and that’s the side of the family that has relations to my mother. My mother’s grandmother was George Formby’s sister; so my mother’s great-grandfather was George Formby Senior.

“George Formby was born blind or he didn’t open his eyes until, at the age of six months or so, he had a violent coughing fit and opened his eyes for the first time.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Bob. “Check Wikipedia.

I did.

The entry read:

Formby was born blind because of an obstructive caul. His sight was restored during a violent coughing fit or sneeze when he was a few months old.

“I’ve even got George Formby’s chest at the moment,” said Bob, “with this sore throat and the coughing. Coughing was quite a thing in the Formby family. George Formby stopped being blind after he had a coughing fit. His dad George Formby Senior had been neglected by his parents and left out; he often slept rough and he ended up busking and that’s how he got into performing, so he had a bad chest and later TB and that’s what killed him. He would often cough up a lung on stage but make a joke of it and bet the audience he could out-cough them.”

“So he was an early TB star?” I asked.

“It’s getting late,” said Bob.

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Edinburgh Fringe ‘Big Four’ venue boss shocker: English ‘man’ is Scots woman!

So You Think You’re Funny?

Tomorrow night is the final of the So You Think You’re Funny? talent show for new comedy acts in the Gilded Balloon, one of the ‘Big Four’ venues at the Edinburgh Fringe. In past years, the contest has ‘discovered’ acts including Johnny Vegas, Dylan Moran, Peter Kay and Lee Mack – and it is now in its 25th year.

Jason Cook will be compering tomorrow night; celebrity judge will be Ruby Wax; and also on the judging panel, as always, will be Gilded Balloon boss Karen Koren.

“Ben Elton and all those alternative comics had started in the early 1980s,” Karen told me yesterday. “By 1988, when we began So You Think You’re Funny?, Saturday Live had been on TV but my idea was to find new comedians because they were few and far between – or, at least, scattered – in Scotland. That’s how it started.”

The ‘Big Four’ venues at the Fringe are, it is usually said, run by English men who went to public school.

Karen Koren is definitely not an English man

“I am not English,” Karen told me,” I’m definitely not a man and I didn’t go to public school. Well, I went to a private school, but I wasn’t boarding or anything. It wasn’t posh!”

In fact, Karen was born in Norway but brought up in Edinburgh; and Anthony Alderson who now runs the Pleasance venue was born into a Scottish family.

Another ‘fact’ which is always said or assumed is that all the Big Four owners are based in London and swan up to Edinburgh in August to make money at the Fringe then return South.

“I live and work here all the year round,” Karen points out. Her Gilded Balloon company produces stage and occasionally TV shows in Scotland.

When the Gilded Balloon started in 1986 Karen focussed, from the beginning, on comedy… well, from even before the beginning.

“I had actually started staging comedy in 1985 at McNally’s,” she told me, “a place I was a director of and all these wonderful new alternative comedians were there. Christopher Richardson at the Pleasance and William Burdett-Coutts at Assembly were doing comedy to subsidise their theatre shows, but I focussed on comedy.

“At that time, there weren’t loads and loads of comics, but there was a great camaraderie. Everyone helped each other. It wasn’t the struggling business it is now where everyone wants to be stars. Today there’s not the same support mechanism we had in those days.

The original very very late-night Fringe show

“Comedy at the Fringe had started properly in the early 1980s, really with Steve Frost and his wife Janet Prince. They wanted places to perform in Edinburgh. Janet and I started Late ‘n’ Live together, but she lived in London and I kept going with it.”

When I first came to see comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe in the mid-to-late 1980s, Late ‘n’ Live was the one late-night show. Comics used to go there after their own shows finished to drink and watch – and sometimes heckle – other comics.

Late ‘n’ Live has been rough this year,” Karen told me yesterday.

“Financially or physically?” I asked.

“The audiences have been very, very…” she started. “Well, I made a TV programme called The Late ‘n’ Live Guide to Comedy and maybe audiences now think they can misbehave dreadfully. We’re going to have to shake them into shape. We’ve had a couple of rough nights.”

“Is it like that thing,” I asked, “with Malcolm Hardee’s club The Tunnel, where its reputation fed on itself?”

“That’s right,” said Karen. “Late n Live has always been fairly rowdy, but in a good-natured way. But now, in the Recession, maybe people are a wee bit more desperate… people are not doing so well financially or whatever… so maybe they’re just a bit ‘hungrier’ and want to ‘make’ things happen.”

“Do you think the comics are precipitating the behaviour?” I asked.

“No,” she said immediately. “Not at all. Though I think if you put a comic on who doesn’t know Late ‘n’ Live… well, there was an American comic who went on and talked about not being able to use Scottish money in England and he was saying it as a joke but the minute you touch on that  kind of subject in Scotland… Ooh! Oooh! Ooooh!… and the audience reacted and he only did five minutes. He walked off. Though he came back and did very well but… The problem is we have to put on comics who are challenged by the audience in order to make it work, but…”

“Lots of changes over the years,” I said.

“I expanded from one small theatre to 14 in the heyday of our building in the Cowgate,” said Karen. “And then we were up in Teviot one year before the fire which burned down our old building. So now we are in Bristo Square.

“I did have another venue called The Counting House at the beginning of the 1990s. I named it The Counting House because that’s where they counted the money above the Peartree pub and that was around the time I gave up my full-time position as the PA to the Norwegian Consul-General in Edinburgh. Before that, I had taken my holidays in August to coincide with the Fringe.”

Did I mention the Malcolm Hardee Show?

“Oh,” I said, “I didn’t know you had had the Counting House. That’s where I’m doing the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Friday.”

In Edinburgh, promotion is everything.

Karen, of course, knew Malcolm from the 1980s onwards and he appeared many times on Gilded Balloon stages.

“We all still think about him today,” Karen told me, “though I loved him better when he was sober than when he was drunk. But I nearly always did what he asked me at the Gilded Balloon, that was the odd thing.”

“He must have been ‘challenging’ to put on,” I suggested.

“But always entertaining,” Karen said. “The last time he was on, he just took it upon himself to go on Late ‘n’ Live speccy-eyed and glaked-looking and then just took off his clothes. And there he was with the biggest bollocks in showbusiness.”

“And that was the act?” I asked.

“Well,” said Karen, “a pint of beer might have been involved. I actually found some film of that recently – the last time he was on stage here – when we were making The Late n Live Guide to Comedy… and I wanted them to use it on the TV series, but they wouldn’t.”

“Because it was in bad taste?” I asked.

“Well,” Karen said, shrugging her shoulders, “they screened footage of Scott Capurro pissing on the stage and, although there was a big ‘X’ over his baby elephant trunk, you could see the glistening pee well enough.”

“Censorship is a variable art,” I said.

“Yes,” laughed Karen. “At least Malcolm never peed on stage.”

“Well, perhaps not in Edinburgh.” I said. “I once saw him go to the back of the stage at the Albany Empire in Deptford and pee during a show.”

“Well, that’s OK,” said Karen. “He had his back to the audience… With Malcolm, it wasn’t just about his appendage, it was about what he did. He always gave people a chance. I listened to him when he told me about the young Jerry Sadowitz – Oh – go on – Give him a chance! – and I did and that was something I always did do with Malcolm. He did play all the Big Three venues, as they then were, and he invented the Aaaaaaaaaaarghhh! at the beginning of show titles so he would get the first listing in the Fringe Programme. And he had the art of being noticed with publicity stunts – writing a review of his own show and getting it published by The Scotsman and all that. We all do still think about him today. Never forgotten.”

Karen Koren talks about Malcolm Hardee in this video made by the Gilded Balloon which opens with The Greatest Show on Legs, currently performing in Edinburgh (with Bob Slayer replacing the late Malcolm) for the first time in over 30 years:

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The confusions of the Edinburgh Fringe and lessons learned from Lewis Schaffer

On the stylish streets of Edinburgh, the Athens of the North

It must be a nightmare for newcomers to the Edinburgh Fringe.

First of all you have to get your head round the fact there is an Official Festival which is not the one most people think of. Then there is the Edinburgh Fringe, the Free Fringe, the Free Festival and the Alternative Fringe (linked to the Free Festival), all of which come under the banner of the Edinburgh Fringe Office who stage no shows themselves.

Then yesterday I got an invitation to a showcase event today at the Spiegeltent Teatro at Assembly George Square Gardens in the Old Town. This is not to be confused with the Famous Spigeltent in the New Town outside the Assembly Rooms, which has no connection with Assembly.

Fringe newcomers have all that to contend with but I have worse. I have to contend with American comedian Lewis Schaffer who has temporarily landed in my spare bedroom for two nights and, as if that were not enough, I keep bumping into him in the street.

Yesterday, I bumped into him in Bristo Square standing with another comic.

Lewis Schaffer (left) gives advice to comedian Erich McElroy

“This is Erich McElroy,” Lewis told me. “He is the young Lewis Schaffer and he is one quarter Scottish.”

“Hello,” said Erich McElroy, shaking my hand.

“He has an American accent,” I told Lewis Schaffer.

“He is still one quarter Scottish and he learned from Lewis Schaffer,” replied Lewis Schaffer.

“What did you learn from Lewis Schaffer?” I asked Erich McElroy.

“Years ago, in 2002,” Erich McElroy told me, “Lewis Schaffer told an audience of English people that he was going to be the funniest comic in Britain that year. He had been storming the night and, as soon as he said that, they turned on him and then he turned on them and said, Fuck you! I will be! I will be! Afterwards...”

“I never said Fuck you!” Lewis Schaffer interrupted.

“Afterwards,” Erich McElroy continued, “I explained to him, Lewis, you can’t tell an English audience that. You need to tell them you’re going to be the worst comic of the year and they will love you for that. And he said, No, no! I am going to be the best, Erich. I AM going to be the best! and I told him That doesn’t matter. You can’t tell them that.”

“And what did you learn from that?” I asked.

“I learned you can’t talk the way he talks and say those things with an American accent,” said Erich McElroy.

“I never said Fuck you!” Lewis Schaffer protested again. “In Britain in 2002, when I said I’m going to be the best comic in Britain in 2002, British people thought: You arrogant American!… But, when I told my American friends I was going to be the best comic in Britain 2002, they suggested I aim higher…”

“That was just after the 9/11 attacks,” I said. “Has he told you about his Tweets today?” I asked Erich McElroy.

Erich McElroy shook his head and looked rather worried.

“After seeing my show, somebody sent me a Tweet,” Lewis Schaffer explained to Erich McElroy. “It said: For the first half of your show, I wished you were in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. And, during the last half, I wished I was in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

“That is good,” said Erich McElroy. “That is good, Lewis.”

At about ten minutes past midnight this morning, as I was about to go to bed, I got a text message from Lewis Schaffer.

“Oh my god. Huge fuck up,” it read.

“…and what would that be?” I texted back.

“Horrible,” Lewis Schaffer texted back. “I need some advice.”

I eventually got to bed at 3.10am.

It may be a bumpy two days for me.

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I don’t mind being called a lady, but I am not English, despite the Italian slur

Does this chin make you think I am an English lady?

Last night, I flew back to the UK to what seems to be a tsunami of publicity – on BBC Radio 2, on French TV, in UK newspapers and online about my fellow Scot Janey Godley’s ‘Train Tales’ Twitter saga.

I myself wrote about Janey’s allegedly public-privacy-invading Twitters (soon, perhaps to become an Edinburgh Fringe show) in this blog and in the UK edition of the Huffington Post two days ago… and the US edition of the Huffington Post re-visited the story in a second article yesterday.

Janey is very good on publicity. And she is not alone.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned some of the stories in the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera.

Italian-born, mostly British-based comedian Giacinto Palmieri commented:

“I think what is missing in Italy is the newspaper market ‘segmentation’ between broadsheets (most of which nowadays are tabloid-size) and tabloids. So, Corriere della Sera and Repubblica are a mix of ‘serious’ articles of the type you could find in the UK in the Guardian or the Telegraph but also the kind of gossip you mentioned. Having said that, it’s also true that politics in Italy is often about personalities, so political reporting tends to be quite gossipy in nature.”

I prefer to think of it all as admirable Italian eccentricity.

Yesterday, in a shopping centre in Milan, I spotted a tanning salon where people go to get fake tans. The temperature was 102F and sun is not an unknown phenomenon in Italy.

“A tanning salon? Is this some new thing?” I asked my English friend who has lived in Italy for almost 25 years.

“No,” she told me. “They’ve been here as long as I have.”

“Why would Italians want fake tans?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” she said. “It’s a mystery.”

Giacinto Palmieri was born and grew up in Milan. I asked him what he thought of my view of Italians as ever-so-slightly eccentric – in an admirable way.

“I’ve been following your reports from Milan with great interest,” he told me. (He will go far.) “They remind me a bit of what I’m trying to do with my own comedy as an Italian in Britain: showing how things that are too familiar to be noticed in the eyes of the ‘natives’  can be shown as surprising, weird and (hopefully) funny in the eyes of an outsider.

“Having said that,” he continued, “I have also enjoyed observing the observer and I need to confess a mental association you might not find very flattering.

“There is this comedian in Italy called Enrico Montesano who, a long time ago, had a character called La romantica donna ingleseThe romantic English lady. She was a comedic equivalent of the mother in A Room With a View. Her catchphrase (uttered in a strong mock English accent) was ‘Molto pittoresco’ – ‘Very picturesque’ – a comment she found suitable for almost everything she saw.

“I don’t know what Montesano’s source was, but the character was spot on. It really seemed to capture something true about the English visitors’ view of Italy. Please don’t take it as a criticism: your remarks are, indeed, very interesting and often funny. Besides, nobody can be held responsible for his free associations.

“By the way, I tried to find a seamless link into a casual mention of my Edinburgh Fringe show Giacinto Palmieri: Pagliaccio at the Newsroom, 2-26 August, 7.00pm… but I couldn’t find it.”

Relentless publicity is a vital thing for any comedian: which is unfortunate, as an awful lot of comedians – Pagliacci indeed – are ironically so lacking in self confidence that they are terrified of the self-exposure in print and in the media that they confusingly crave on stage.

But Giacinto Palmieri, like the unstoppable force of nature that is Janey Godley, is different and will clearly go far.

Well, he will in this blog.

But not if he calls me English again!

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Filed under Comedy, Italy, Marketing, Newspapers, PR, Twitter

The £1,000 publicity stunt worthy of a 2012 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award?

Usually, each year at around this time, I lament the fact that good publicity stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe have been, in recent recent years, thin on the ground and I try to encourage people to pull their publicity finger out so we have some worthy nominees for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award – No need to apply. If you have to tell us your publicity stunt has happened it has, by definition, been a failure.

This year things are looking better, though, thanks to comedian Stuart Goldsmith.

I have blogged before about the publicity he gathered when the Fringe Programme went mad and started ludicrously censoring the title of shows like Richard Herring’s Talking Cock – The Second Coming and Stuart Goldsmith’s Prick while (quite rightly) leaving untouched Kunt & The Gang and Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory.

Stuart cleverly posted a video on YouTube to reap the benefits of the Fringe’s mindless stupidity.

This was not a stunt. It was intelligent marketing.

But now he has got a bit closer to a potential Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nomination by posting on YouTube a cleverly thought-out stunt.

He says that, at the end of the Edinburgh Fringe, he is going to donate £1,000 of his own money to the Waverley Care HIV charity…

“…unless I see a single instance of the title of my show being used in a pun… If any puns at all based on the title of my show being Prick are used in any piece of comedy review or criticism, either in a magazine, in a paper or online then for every instance I will remove £100 from my charitable donation. So that’s my challenge to you, comedy critics. What’s most important to you? Looking a little bit clever? Or saving a life?”

I mentioned this yesterday to Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy critics and a Malcolm Hardee Award judge and said I thought Stuart might be in line for a Cunning Stunt nomination because the stunt plugs his show’s title strongly and he will clearly never actually have to pay any money out (something that was close to Malcolm’s heart). It also publicises a worthy Scottish charity to non-Scots journalists.

She responded:

“Absolutely. I have offered to put ALL of the puns he mentions into one review if he will give me the money for my Mama Biashara charity…”

Copstick is on to a winner whatever happens, as 100% of any money the Malcolm Hardee Awards make in audience donations go to Mama Biashara.

This year’s Awards are announced during a two-hour variety show as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 24th August. There are three Awards:

– The Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality

– The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best stunt publicising a Fringe show

– The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

Stuart may or may not be on the shortlist for the Cunning Stunt Award. There is plenty of time for other even more cunning stunts to burst forth.

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How not to run a comedy club – and Mr Nasty’s five nightmare comedy gigs

Mark Kelly amplifies tales of bad clubs

So I was talking to comedy scriptwriter and author Mark Kelly, who used to perform as a stand-up comic under the name Mr Nasty and this is what he told me:

__________

Gigs can go wrong for all sorts of reasons, sometimes because of human stupidity.

I once did a gig at a really big student venue in Central London with a brilliant new sound system. We did a sound check and it was really, really good.

I was on first and there were about 350 people in the audience.

I started off and it was absolutely fine, but I started losing people at the back. It was a bit odd: people turning away, talking and leaving, but it was only at the back. Then I started losing more of the people now left at the back.

You can lose an audience, but why would you start losing them sequentially?

I was going very well to the people down the front but completely lost the people at the back. I did about half an hour. By the time I finished, there was a semi-circle of people round the front – maybe only about 30 people – who really, really liked my act. Everyone else had given up.

It turned out the students running the venue had forgotten to switch the sound system on. There was no foldback, so I hadn’t twigged I wasn’t being amplified.

I remember turning up at a another gig at another student venue where they were really, really proud of their brand new sound system. They showed me the speakers – Yes, they look really new and good – and they showed me the microphone – Yes, that looks really good….

But there was nothing in-between.

I said: “Where’s the amp?”

And they just looked at me.

“Oh,” they asked. “Do we need something else?”

“Yes,” I said, “you can’t plug microphones into speakers. You need an amp.”

It was quite a big venue and I had to do it without a microphone.

But worse than that was a nightclub near King’s Cross in the 1980s, when comedy was becoming popular and a lot of places decided to start hosting comedy nights even though they weren’t necessarily physically suitable.

This was the opening night and, as it turned out, the closing night as well.

There were three acts and I had opted to go on first but was also compering.

When we turned up, there was no obvious performance space. They said they would clear a circle on the dance floor: they would put a microphone on the dance floor with a light on the microphone.

So the first problem was that we had to perform in the round, which isn’t ideal for comedy, particularly not with one microphone, because I had a guitar as well.

What happened was they ejected everyone off the dance floor – and the people dancing were not best pleased at this – then turned all the flashing disco lights off, put a microphone with stand in the middle of the dance floor and turned the light on to illuminate the performer at the microphone.

But, when they turned the light on, it also turned on the strobe light.

“Can you turn the strobe light off?” I asked.

It turned out they couldn’t, because the strobe was somehow connected to the only lighting which could be used in the centre of the dance floor.

So the choice was to perform in the dark or perform in the strobe light.

Faced with this and the desire to be paid, we decided to perform possibly shorter sets in the strobe light.

I was the first act and I had never performed comedy in the middle of a strobing light. Trying to get your timing right was not easy. I didn’t even make ten minutes. I got a blinding headache and everyone else just abandoned it.

The audience were at best bemused. They’d come for the disco; they hadn’t expected comedy anyway. The idea of some bloke standing there at a microphone with an acoustic guitar round his neck in a strobing light… They just stared at me…

A venue that was even more badly thought-out was a gig I played in Middlesbrough in the early 1990s.

I turned up at this pub which had been running comedy gigs for a few weeks and I was going to be headlining with a local act supporting.. The pub had bouncers outside and looked like a bit of a heavy pub, but not too bad.

I got the train up from London, got there early and wandered round the pub, but couldn’t find anything that looked like a stage area. It was a very big pub and there were lots of different alcoves where small groups of people could drink. Scattered around the pub were maybe 20 small CCTV-type screens which were showing the best bits of various comedy shows – big laugh, short clip stuff.

It turned out that they had one small alcove into which no more than half a dozen people could fit and they set up a microphone on a stand in this alcove with a camera in front of it.

In order to do the gig, you had to perform to the half dozen people in the alcove and to the camera. This was relayed round the pub on the small CCTV-type screens.

So the idea of the ‘live’ comedy performance was, essentially, just performing to a camera.

The local support act was on before me. So, suspecting what was going to happen, I walked round the pub when he was performing and, sure enough, no-one was taking the blindest bit of notice of him because they’d already had all the laughs they were going to get from the comedy clips.

He came on. The sound was terrible and the camera was not at the best of angles. No-one was taking any notice of him.

So I went on and had to do nearly an hour performing to, at most, five people I could actually see and I pretty much opted to perform to them and, if anyone watching on the screens decided to enjoy it, it was entirely up to them.

The idea that live comedy could possibly work in that situation was absurd.

Topping that venue in awfulness, though, was a gig I vaguely remember was somewhere just off the M25 orbital motorway around London and, in fact, it would actually have been easier performing on the M25 itself.

This was again in the early 1990s.

This guy had seen me somewhere, really liked what I did and booked me for the opening night of his comedy club.

He was on the phone to me for a long time and seemed very enthusiastic about comedy. He said he’d made quite a bit of money and had bought this pub. He had decided to re-design it himself because he wanted a ‘real’ comedy venue. He went on and on about how much thought he’d put into it. I was going to love it. I would absolutely love performing there, because it was a custom-built comedy venue.

Three of us – all fairly decent established acts – came out from London for the opening night and there were some teething problems in the sense he had forgotten to do any advertising.

There was actually no audience whatsoever expecting a comedy show. He literally went out into the street and tried to drag people in. However, the  pièce de résistance of the evening was his architectural design.

When the three of us walked in, we couldn’t quite spot the stage. It was a very large room with a very high ceiling. As my eyes ran up the wall, about 20 feet up, there was a very large enclave.

You had to go in a door at the side of the bar, up a rickety wooden staircase and into what the guy described as a stage area which had an inbuilt disco console which could not be moved. So, in the actual stage area, although it was quite deep, the actual width you could use was quite small.

The audience that night got to look up the nostrils of three comics who teetered on the edge of the 20ft high performance alcove trying not to fall out, trying to perform comedy halfway up a wall to an entirely bemused audience down below.

There was little applause. He had – literally – had to persuade people off the streets. They were all just standing around drinking and occasionally looking upwards.

My understanding is that was the opening and closing night of his comedy club.

The guy who ran it was very nice, very keen, genuinely loved comedy and had sunk all his money into this. He wanted it to work, but he obviously had not asked advice from any comics.

There’s a lesson there.

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Martin Soan: the tit-fancying surrealist comic who props up other comedians

Yesterday: Martin Soan in a quiet suburban setting

Yesterday, on his way back home to London from Leicestershire, where he had been writing scripts with comedian Boothby Graffoe, surrealist comic Martin Soan stopped off for a meal with me and my eternally-un-named friend at my home in Borehamwood.

“What was that kitchen set you built for Boothby at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago?” I asked.

“You know what it was,” Martin said.

“I never saw it,” I replied.

“That was my biggest prop ever!” Martin said. “The idea was that it was a whole kitchen including a Welsh dresser with plates, a washing machine, fridge, double freezer, table, pictures on the wall and bookshelves.

“Boothby did a load of sight gags around the kitchen and, at the penultimate moment of the show, he put some washing in the washing machine – a real one – and says, Look after it and he goes through the door and the washing machine is left alone on stage.

“The washing machine goes whiiiirrrr… Silence… Then whiiiirrrr… Silence… Just the washing machine on stage doing this… and I had programmed it so that, on the third one, it goes into this spin… Whiiiirrrrrrrrrr… and I had upset the balancing of the machine so it gets a lot of vibration and wobble on it and the whole kitchen set starts vibrating and, slowly, things start falling off: the oven walks out and explodes, the fridge falls down in bits, the Welsh dresser’s shelves all drop at a special angle so the plates run off like a pinball machine and it all falls apart in a spectacular and stylistic way.”

“And what were you writing with Boothby yesterday and today?” I asked.

“Basically, the return of The Greatest Show on Legs to the Edinburgh Fringe in August with their new show,” he replied, “which is a deconstruction of the Legs, basically.”

“What’s a deconstruction?” I asked.

Deconstruction means taking it apart and building it up again,” explained Martin.

“And how are you going to do that?”

“We don’t do it. It’s just what we tell people. Then we do the same old shit and everyone thinks we’ve re-invented ourselves.”

“You do other writing work with Boothby, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yup,” Martin said. “He’s a great gag/punchline man and I’m good at creating scenarios and situations. What a lot of people don’t realise about Boothby is he’s a great physical actor: a great clown, great at being stupid. Most people think of him as being a rather cerebral comic on the surreal/intellectual side of things. They don’t realise he’s a great prat-faller and he does that for me and I think he really enjoys it. When I’m writing with him, I’m falling about laughing, because he’s a genius.”

“And you’re a bird watcher,” I said.

“A lot of comedians are ‘twitchers’,” Martin replied. “When I was a kid, I studied my Observer Book of Birds every night before I went to bed. When I was eight years old, I became a member of the XYZ Club.”

“The XYZ Club?” I asked.

“Exceptional Young Zoologists,” Martin explained. “It involved taking a keen interest in animals and birds and their welfare and, when I was eight years old, I was involved in the ecological side of the balance of nature. For my efforts, I received a monthly periodical called Animals and twelve free tickets to the London Zoo which, even in those days, was well worth getting.”

“What’s your favourite bird?” I asked.

“Probably the mistletoe thrush.”

“Why would that be?”

“Because,” he said, “I have a great fondness of them, being a London EastEnder. It was probably the most exotic type bird that I regularly saw.”

“You saw it in Forest Gate?” I asked, genuinely surprised. “Surely it was all sparrows in the East End?”

“I was tremendously fond of sparrows and starlings and skylarks,” he said, “And thrushes, bullfinches and tits – They were all common in the East End at that time.

“Lots of tits in the East End?” I asked.

“Lots of tits in the East End, yeah. We used to get coal tits but no marsh tits and no long-tailed tits.”

“Cold tits?” I asked.

“There are about six tits,” said Martin. “There’s a blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, coal tit and long-tailed tit. I think there might be a bearded tit, too, but I might be getting mixed up with a circus act.”

“You were telling me that,” I said, “this time of year, you get depressed because you have to build all sorts of sexual props for other acts.”

“Yes,” he agreed, “stand-up comedians going up to the Edinburgh Fringe want to do a new show and sometimes they either think of slide shows or some sort of sexually-orientated genitalia props – usually mammoth-sized. In the past, I have had to make a woman’s genitalia six-feet high – all-talking, all-singing, all-dancing… it actually talked. I built it so it talked like a mouth. I looked at millions of women’s genitalia to get it anatomically correct, but I decided there were no two anywhere that were similar.”

“This was research you had to do?” my eternally-un-named friend asked, “on the internet? Or you actually had to go and find…”

“No I did not,” Martin interrupted. “I did not go round asking people like you: Can I have a look at your cervix for someone else’s comedy show?

“Which internet pages did you look at?” I asked. “I think we should see.”

“No,” said Martin, “I don’t want to look again because, in the end, they all start to look like aliens. You start having dreams about them.”

“I know,” I said. “Are you doing any of those sort of props this year?”

“Yes,” said Martin. “I’m doing one for an act that I really do like: Bridget Christie. I’m making a birth canal for her.”

“But you’re not using any for your own Greatest Show on Legs performances at the Fringe…”

“Oh, well,” he replied, “I’m using loads of proper ‘prop’ props. I’m going to have Bob Slayer come on with an enormous pair of maracas and, of course, one of them explodes.”

“Of course,” I said supportively.

“And I’m going to have a proper hospital drip,” Martin continued, “on wheels so we can move it around.”

“Why do people approach you to make props for them?” I asked.

“Because I’m so cheap!” said Martin. “And because I specialise in low-tech props.”

“Innovative,” my eternally-un-named friend interjected,” with materials that are easily acquired.”

“Yeah,” said Martin. “So, if it goes wrong, they can very easily…”

“Like the Red Sparrows on sticks,” my eternally-un-named friend interrupted.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “You got it. And I’m beginning to familiarise myself again with latex.”

Martin paused and looked at me.

“When you write this as a blog, John I expect you to use a little grace,” he said.

“Oh, come on,” I replied.

“At least modify my foul mouth,” he replied. “There was one blog you wrote about me where I was saying Oh, for fuck’s sake fucksake, John, don’t you fuckin… ‘ave you fucking ‘eard of… I mean,” he said, turning to my eternally-un-named friend, “I’m drunk and telling a mate a story and he copies it all down and leaves all the fucks in! He could have quoted me as saying, My goodness, my good man, why I do believe it once happened that... But some of your blogs are funny, John. That one about the mice and Lewis Schaffer…”

There was a suspiciously long pause and then Martin looked me in the eye and said: “You known I had a relationship with a mouse?”

“You see,” I told him. “Lines like that, Martin, are ideal for blogs.”

“It was driving me mad,” he continued, “and I was very cruel to this mouse.”

“You were?” I asked.

“I was,” he replied, “and then I felt sorry for it.”

“How were you cruel to the mouse?” I asked.

“It had made an actual mouse hole,” he explained, “like a Tom & Jerry mouse hole. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a hole and it was very Tom & Jerry and it was in the wainscoting.

“So I set up this very elaborate little crossbow pointing at the mouse hole, triggered by a hair. And, when the mouse came out to get this little bit of cheese, it set off this hair-triggered crossbow which was rubber band powered. The ‘arrow’ was a match with a little pin stuck in the end and it just shot it towards the mouse hole.

“I fucking pinned the mouse! I got it! I killed the fucking mouse! I was so shocked I was immediately full of remorse. But I skewered him. I pinned him. I got the mouse. I killed the bloody mouse. And it made me feel really guilty.”

“Imagine how the mouse felt,” I said.

“I killed a mouse!” said Martin, looking simultaneously glum and triumphant.

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