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Bruce Dessau defends comedy critics and comedy agents and managers

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau, King of Comedy Critics

Bruce Dessau is comedy critic for the London Evening Standard newspaper.

“So you’re a bastard,” I said to him, when we met for a chat. “You criticise these poor, hard-working comedians, you’ve got no talent yourself and you destroy them. What’s all that about?”

“I don’t think I’ve ever destroyed anyone in my life,” said mild-mannered and eternally polite Bruce. “I sometimes wish I had: there are probably a few who deserve to be destroyed. I can only speak for myself but, as a profession, I think critics try to be constructive. I almost see my role as an unpaid director and I see my reviews as maybe providing performers with directors’ notes without them actually paying me for them. There have been occasions – maybe not many – where comedians have changed their show because they’ve taken on board what I’ve said. It’s a funny dynamic between critics and performers. I suppose we’re obviously quite parasitical. We only exist because the performers exist. But I think comedians benefit from critics.”

“You have watched all levels of comedy for years,” I said. “You have chaired the Perrier Comedy Awards panel at the Edinburgh Fringe. You have written a dozen books including Beyond a Joke (on comedians’ dark side). You run the comedy website Beyond The JokeYou are very experienced. But why should anyone listen to the opinion of someone who is not a normal comedy-goer? Wouldn’t it be better to read 25 or 50 ordinary audience members’ thoughts on a website forum and take an average of those opinions rather than some professional critic?”

Bruce Dessau: prolific Evening Standard critic

Bruce: a prolific critic for Evening Standard

“I have a perspective on things.” replied Bruce. “I think that’s what a good critic does. Part of what we do is place something in a context, whether artistic or historical. That’s something a critic with a bit of experience can do.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, you do have people who are frankly younger than me who sometimes get very excited about a comedian and I may go: Yeah, it’s alright, but it’s not new. I’m not saying it’s crap. They are saying it’s new. I’m saying it’s not new. I’m not saying their judgment that something is good is wrong. But I can give it context. I am a critic who goes to 2, 3, 4 gigs a week, sees a lot of comedy, digests a lot of comedy but, when I write for the Evening Standard, I try to write for people who only go to a couple of gigs a month, if that – maybe only a couple of gigs a year – or people who have only ever been to arena gigs.

“I’m so old, I have actually seen Bill Hicks perform live on stage. That wouldn’t give me a massive advantage if I were writing a piece about him, because there’s enough Bill Hicks on YouTube and DVDs and records for everyone to see.

“But, with someone like Daniel Kitson, of whom there isn’t much of online, I’ve seen pretty much everything he’s done for the last 12 or 13 years, so I’m in a good position to talk about him, because someone else who wasn’t physically there can’t access that.”

“When you talk to comedians…’ I started.

“I very rarely talk to comedians,” said Bruce. “The nature of my job is I arrive at a gig as it starts and, because I always have to do overnight reviews for the Evening Standard, I can never go to the after-show parties.”

“And it’s very difficult to review someone if you’re chummy with them,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” said Bruce. “Exactly. It’s very awkward if you get to know them.”

“But they’re interesting,” I said. “All comedians are frail little souls with frail little egos. Maybe you could unknowingly, unwittingly and unintentionally damage someone’s self-confidence?”

“By writing a damning review of them?”

“Yes,” I said. “I think their psychology is fascinating.”

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – more famous than many

“One of the many paradoxes of comedians,” said Bruce, “is that, on the one hand, there is this very supportive community – Yeah! Yeah! Go for it! Do it! Great gig! – but they’re also very competitive. If two people are sharing the bill at the Edinburgh Fringe and one gets a better review than the other – or they know one has gone down better than the other – that is quite hard to take. It must be quite a strange thing. I went to see (a well-known TV comedian) perform last night and he was talking about doing a gig at the Glee Club in Birmingham which John Bishop had compered. And it was a joke but (the well-known TV comedian) was still having a slight dig at the fact John Bishop is now much more successful than him and performing in arenas.

“It must be quite strange when you look back and think There were five of us on a bill at the Comedy Store and one is now a heroin addict, one is now doing the O2 Arena and I’m doing a gig at the Bearcat Club. At one point you’re all on the same level and then – particularly with what’s happened to comedy in the last 5 or 6 years – the fickle finger of fate can pluck someone.’

“And not always the best,” I said.

“But,” argued Bruce, “the thing about comedy is – up to a point – it is a meritocracy. If people are selling out the Hammersmith Apollo, they must be doing something right.”

“Or maybe,” I suggested, “they’re just lucky and a mate got them a regular spot on a TV panel show? There are probably 150 or 1,500 equally good comics out there.”

“I thought you were going to say Maybe they had the right manager,” said Bruce. These things are all connected. In defence of these much-criticised comedy agencies and managers. They are not scouring the circuit to turn rubbish acts into stars. They are looking for talented acts. It’s not quite the same as pop music, looking to put together a boy band, where you might say It doesn’t matter what his voice is like, he looks good.

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

News, comment & reviews: Beyond The Joke

“In comedy, I’m not saying what you look like is totally irrelevant but you do have to have the comedic equivalent of being able to sing, otherwise you’ll be found out. And that’s why, as a critic, I feel I’m not destroying people’s careers. I’m just doing a little pecking order of who is better than others. I’m not saying X, Y and Z comedians are rubbish, but I might be saying X is better at a certain type of humour or Y is better with a certain type of story. I’m describing their strengths and weaknesses, but I could never say anyone playing the O2 Arena was rubbish… Well, now I’m thinking, I’m sure there are exceptions.”

“I got told recently about a female comedian,” I said. “I don’t know this girl personally. But she is about 25 or 26 – and a talent scout for a big comedy agency told her: You’re too old for us. What they want is inexperienced 18 and 19 year olds they can mould.”

“I would accept that up to a point,” said Bruce. “They might be looking for raw talent and they might also think: Ah, yes, I can shape that person. But they are going to shape them from a point of having some basic talent. They are not going to take a completely blank slate, otherwise they might as well go to a model agency and look in a catalogue. If there’s a gap in the market for a sexy female comedian, there’s no point going to an escort agency or a glamour model agency and picking one out. You go to a comedy club and find a sexy comedian and hope they’ll improve.”

“But this mid-twenties comedian is dead in the water, yet she is probably as good as or better than an 18 year-old.”

“Well, in that sense,” said Bruce, “it’s only as brutal as Hollywood.”

… CONTINUED HERE

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A glimpse back ten years ago to Queen Elizabeth I of Scotland’s Golden Jubilee

Concorde flypast of Buckingham Palace on 4th June 2002

In those less cyberspaced days before I blogged, I occasionally kept notes in diaries. These are extracts from 2002, when Queen Elizabeth II (or, if you are being very Scottish, Queen Elizabeth I) was celebrating her Golden Jubilee.

Saturday 1st June 2002

I went to see comedian Charlie Chuck at home in Leicestershire. In the local pub in the evening, there was a noisy disco – people wearing St George’s flag clothes amid Union Flag bunting.

Sunday 2nd June 2002

Actor Mike Wattam told me that, in the Vietnam War, the Vietcong hung prisoners upside down with bags on their heads. The bags had rats inside. The prisoners’ blood rushed to their heads. The frightened and hungry rats ate the prisoners’ faces.

On my way home, I drove through a street party in Radlett, Hertfordshire. Union flags and St George’s flags flying, bunting, trestle tables with food, lots of children excited at a licence to do pretty much whatever they wanted.

Monday 3rd June 2002

Extracts from an Instant Message with a friend in Washington DC:

Her: I met a twat hack from the Washington Post last night. Complete arrogant tosser.

Me: You have a way with words. What was wrong with him?

Her: I told him : “At least you’re consistent, as all the bars and restaurants you recommend tend to be crap.”

Me: Bunting, St George’s flags and Union flags aplenty here.

Her: He told me: “Oh, I only recommend places that I think readers will like, not places I like.”  Critics don’t do that!  It’s egocentric that brand of journalism.

Me: It’s normal!

Her: Really?

Me: Like TV producers looking down on punters and making programmes they wouldn’t themselves watch.

Her: So film critics don’t recommend movies they like, but that they think other people will like?

Me: I think tabloid journos probably do that.

Her: Well I still think it’s wrong.  He recommends very expensive very bland places where he gets free drinks.

Me: It is wrong

Her: The place I went to last night he said was the most disgusting skanky place in DC. It’s actually a really nice private house with eclectic decorations (you would love it), full of interesting people. But he is so goddamn arrogant because people in DC cannot go out without consulting his reviews. You would really like it. He started to insult me because he thought I was stupid (I mentioned I had friends in the Independent Media who are Socialists)

Me: What’s the Independent Media?

Her: dc.indymedia.org Free press. I told him I’d rather live in a society where people get free healthcare and education and he left the room.

Me: In the US, “Liberal” means Communist, so “Socialist” must mean “In League With the Devil”… Americans!

Her: I think Socialism means Communism here.  He said he’d read Marx and I told him he obviously didn’t know what Socialism actually is. I think he got pissed off when he realised I was more intelligent than him.

Me: I should tell him kibbutzes are Socialism in action. Communism, indeed. Ironic that right-wingers in the US support Israeli kibbutzes.

Tuesday 4th June 2002

Live Jubilee coverage all over the TV. Somehow it seems bigger than the Silver Jubilee.

Wednesday 5th June 2002

I talked to someone who has dealings with prisoners. She says prison letters all have the same smell. Slightly musty, slightly medical.

She told me about an old woman of 78 who reads newspapers then, unsteady on her feet, moves around her home by touching the walls for support. She leaves black finger marks everywhere – which she can’t see because of her bad eyesight.

‘Britain’s Most Violent Prisoner’ Charles Bronson, has been inside for 28 years. This week he was given a TV set for the first time and, for the past three days, he has been totally docile – watching episodes of the children’s series Teletubbies.

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Malcolm Hardee Award nominee James Hamilton aims to prove comedy critic Kate Copstick wrong by writing weirder

James Hamilton, yesterday, drinking it all in

At the Edinburgh Fringe last year, writer/performer/producer James Hamilton was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. One of the judges for the Malcolm Hardee Awards is doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick.

James runs a comedy sketch group called Casual Violence and, last year, their show was called Choose Death. At the time, I blogged that “I had absolutely no idea what was going on… Casual Violence could have created a new genre of ‘realistic surrealism’… Choose Death was so strange it is beyond any sane description. The show was written by James Hamilton. I think he may need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. He is doing something right. There is something very original in there. I just don’t know what the fuck it is.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe the previous year,” James told me yesterday afternoon in Soho, “Kate Copstick gave us a one-star review for our show Dildon’t. At the time, it was quite… eh… demoralising. It was our first time at the Fringe. It was a play more than a sketch show and, after her one-star review, people were turning down our flyers in the street. They’d say: No thanks, mate. I read the review in The Scotsman… Which was really tough to deal with at the time.

“But, last year, we quoted her review on the back of our flyer for Choose Death and it genuinely sold us more tickets than it had cost us the year before, because people would look at it and go Oh! That’s honest of you! which they don’t quite expect in Edinburgh in August. The word we quoted on our flyers from Copstick’s review was just the word Irritating….”

IRRITATING – ONE STAR (THE SCOTSMAN)

“A one-star review,” I said, “can be quite effective. The worst thing to get is a 2-star review. But a one-star review means there’s something odd going on. And if you can get a one-star review AND a 5-star review for the same show, it means it’s definitely worth seeing!”

“Well,” said James, “we got that in 2010. We got one 5-star review, three 4-stars and a 3 and a 1. So we almost had the full set.”

“If you get a one star review AND 5-star review,” I said, “there’s maybe something wrong with the critic who may have got out the wrong side of the bed that morning – Copstick will kill me  – or it’s the audience or the performance that particular night. Or it’s some unknowable factor. And, as you found out, a one-star review can be useable in publicity – if you are careful – especially if you get 4 and 5 star reviews too. It signals it may be a ‘Marmite’ show – people either love it or hate it with no in-between – and, certainly in Edinburgh, that’s good.

“Whatever it was,” said James, “it got that one-star review in 2010 and, when we quoted it in 2011, people seemed to think it was weirdly honest of us. A couple of people asked us if it was a requirement to put the bad reviews on the flyers!

“So, this year, we’re doing it again, but we’re using the word STUPID from Copstick’s 2010 review. On the front of the poster, we’re going to have One Star (The Scotsman) and, on the back, we’re having the one star with the words: Stupid. A waste of rather a lot of perfectly serviceable latex (The Scotsman)”

“And your show this year is…?” I asked.

A Kick in The Teeth,” James said. “We’re trying it out next Friday and Saturday – the 25th and 26th – at the Brighton Fringe.”

“It’s a sketch show?”

“I think of it more as character than sketch,” said James. “It’s the same sort of format as last year’s Choose Death show. But it’s a weirder show in some ways. There’s less Siamese Twins. There’s a character called The Poppyman who’s horrendously sinister with some really weird, quite dark, quite bizarre stuff in there. We’ve got a clockwork man character that we’re quite looking forward to trying out.

“Actually, I say there’s less Siamese Twins, but they do have a sort-of cameo in the show. It’s the only throw-back to last year’s show that we’re including.”

“And do you know what show you’ll be doing in 2013?” I asked.

“I know roughly,” James replied, “but it’s only a vague thing. I want to do a more theatrical show with more narrative. It would be based on the Roger and Charlie Nostril characters from Choose Death last year. They were the characters who lived in the mansion full of taxidermied people. Roger Nostril was the old, dying man who ordered his death bed and got a death lilo instead and Charlie’s his son who just got abuse hurled at him for most of the show.

“This year, with Kick in The Teeth, we’ve kept that structure of having five sets of characters and having them hurtle towards their fate through their own doings. But I couldn’t kill them all this year, because we did that last year and it would have felt like a re-hash. Basically, worse things happen to them than death this year.”

“So some of it’s sad again?” I asked.

“Yes. One of the big worries last year was finding the balance. Making it funny while also being quite tragic and quite unpleasant.”

“Do you,” I ask, “write comedy shows with dramatic bits or theatrical shows with funny bits?”

“They’re comedy shows with theatrical bits,” James answered. “They’re comedy shows ultimately. A lot of comedy can feel a bit throwaway. Getting a laugh out of an audience is a bit of a quick fix. It’s a great feeling for a moment, but then it passes. The thing we really wanna go for is making comedy that ekes other feelings out of people.

“My favourite stuff in Choose Death last year were the bits that made people go Oooaaa….

“Over the course of the run, we had a couple of people who said the Clown bit made them cry. It’s a silent bit where the Clown has a picture of his dead girlfriend and he takes a real girl out of the audience, puts a wig on her and makes her up and poses her to look like the dead girlfriend in the picture just so he can give her a hug.

“When I wrote it, I thought it was going to be quite creepy but, when Greg performed it, it was adorable and, from the audience during that sketch, you got as many sympathetic noises as you did laughs. And I liked that. I like the sort of comedy that makes you feel sorry for characters and worried for and by characters and has that sort of tension there as well.”

“And is weird,” I said.

“And is weird,” James Hamilton said.

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Top comedy critic Kate Copstick spends $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi, Kenya

Oy! Oy! - Kate Copstick reveals her other life

Kate Copstick, the doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers, is an interesting person. Call her Copstick, never Kate. She used to appear on children’s TV series No 73, owns the TV production company Bobby’s Girl, owns The Erotic Review and was cast as the ‘outspoken’ comedy judge on ITV’s Show Me The Funny.

According to ITV, she “has seen more live comedy and spotted more new talent than any other comedy critic in the UK… with a fearsome reputation on the circuit as being the toughest of the tough, who can either make or break a career.”

She has also been a judge for the Perrier Awards, Amused Moose, So You Think You’re Funny and my own highly-esteemed-by-the-comedy-cognoscenti Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

Every year, 100% of any profit from staging the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe (no costs are deducted) goes to the Mama Biashara charity run by Copstick. She is currently in Kenya and sent me this:

__________

Yesterday afternoon I spent  $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi. Fifty two of them, in fact. Fifty girls and two boys.

My charity (how I hate the proto-Christian smugness of that word) Mama Biashara works in the slums setting women (mainly) up in small businesses to pull them out of the absolute poverty in which they are living and elevate them to simple poverty. It is, I have found, generally the best I can do.

Most sex workers here are girls with no education and no skills who turn to the street as a last resort to feed, house and clothe their children. Offer them a chance to do some other business and they leap at it. Mama B just gives them a financial trampoline to leap over the big barrier called ‘set up costs’. I say big barrier – usually $25 suffices.

Most of the girls (and two boys) are great. They mainly have good workable business plans – some even great. Waldah – an absolute charmer – is not fazed when I balk at the cost of a hot sausage selling machine. She has identified one and the owner has told her his price. Which is too high for Mama B.

“Eh” says Waldah, twinkling, “I am a sex worker… I can persuade him to lower his price!” 

There is one older woman, a widow,  from out near Mombasa who has come specially to see me. She is in her late forties. She has four children and now they are all in secondary school or college. When her hotel (cafe) business was simply not making enough money to pay school fees she did the only thing she could to give her children the education she believes they deserve – she went on the game. I felt like giving her a medal, never mind a business grant. 

She got 5,000ksh (about $50) which will enable her to set up a much bigger and smarter cafe. We are staying in touch to see how things go. She is the loveliest woman, a real quiet, gentle person. I hope her kids appreciate her.

One boy was a victim of the post-election violence in the Rift Valley. His family were killed and he lived on the streets for two years. Now – by becoming a rent boy – he has accommodation. But he has researched a business selling hot sausages (yes, yes, as opposed to selling his own ‘hot sausage’). There is, he assures me, a great demand.

Martin is quite a high-end (if you will pardon the expression) rent boy. He has a degree in International Relations, speaks perfect English, Farsee and Russian and worked successfully in PR till his employer sacked him for being gay.

“So you have real skills!” I remark.

“I’ve got skills!” affirms Martin, “I can get a ten inch cock up my arse”.  

His mother recently died and left him her house. Not exactly in the most salubrious setting, but it could be worse. There are two bedrooms. Sadly all the furniture was sold for funeral expenses. Martin wants to furnish the second bedroom (already decorated in fabulously flamboyant colours) and rent it out to gay people (workers, researchers, writers… people from activist groups or just travellers) as a place where they will be welcomed and safe when they visit Nairobi. Homosexuality is not at ALL safe in Kenya.  I think this is a great idea. A Brighton-style B&B in the heart of Homophobialand.

Everyone, as well as their start up grants, gets a dozen condoms and a small vibrator. Martin gets a Durex special vibrating cock ring.  He beams with delight as he lopes off to his next client.

“Charge extra,” I advise.

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Chortle at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival’s free comedy shows

A few days ago, I blogged about the fact that, because ‘free’ comedy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe are ticketless, that might actually be a barrier to getting reviewers to come and see the shows.

Reviewers at traditional ‘paid’ shows get free tickets in advance. But, because the performers at ‘free’ shows tend to stand by the door afterwards, encouraging people to put money in a bucket if they have enjoyed the show, there is an embarrassment factor for the anonymous and sometimes-unpaid reviewer if he/she does not fork-out money. The result is that, ironically, reviewers see ‘paid’ shows for free but may have to pay to see ‘free’ shows (and, over the Fringe, may see 125 shows of various kinds).

In my original blog, I extensively quoted the opinion of Peter Buckley Hill, organiser of the PBH Free Fringe at Edinburgh; and I ran some other reactions to my blog the next day.

Steve Bennett, editor of Chortle, the UK comedy industry website which runs extensive reviews of the comedy shows at each year’s Edinburgh Fringe, has now sent me this reaction to my blog:

* * *

Yes, it is a bit odd that those are the only shows we reviewers end up paying to see… but to me it’s not a deal-breaker even if it can be an awkward moment. I sometimes put a couple of quid in, though actually putting money in can seem weirder than not, if I know the performer. Financially,  it doesn’t add up to that much over the whole of the Fringe – though it is socially odd.

It is harder to get the ‘intern’ reviewers to go and see free shows, as free tickets is a perk of the job, but I pay the more established writers, so that’s not so much of an issue. Strangely, though, it can mean the more experienced writers reviewing the less experienced acts, and vice-versa.

I agree with Peter that reviewers have a greater role with the paid-for shows, in directing people as to what to spend their hard-earned on. But time is as much as a commodity in the Fringe, too, and I think it’s useful to point people out to the free shows that are worth seeking out. There is a lot of dross in the free circuit (not that it’s confined to the free circuit, but still…) but some absolute diamonds in the rough, and I hope reviewers have a role in identifying that.

Plus I think performers feel that being reviewed on the Free Fringe/Free Festival legitimises it… to push the idea that shows there are not a poor second to the ‘paid for’ model. Also good reviewers (and I accept there are an awful lot of people writing fringe ‘reviews’ with no real grasp of the subject) should be able to give pointers that the comedian MIGHT want to consider about their work, even if they dismiss it.

Not getting in can be a pain – but usually avoided if I drop an email beforehand (which can solve the payment awkwardness too) as people are usually happy to reserve a seat/perch at the bar. But then a lot of free shows I go to because of last-minute schedule snafus which don’t leave me time to sort a press ticket from the paid venues, so that’s just the swings and roundabouts of taking a punt on a random show.

One thing, though, is that on the free circuit acts never know when a reviewer is coming, whereas the press ticket system means they do in ticketed places. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter – as Peter says, comics should do the same show whoever’s in the audience – but I know free performers can get a shock when they see me walk in. Oh, and the packing the room with your mates thing never works… the laughs always sound false and badly timed, and it winds most critics up.

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Do Germans have a sense of humour? Hitler is playing the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, in memory of the late, great godfather of British alternative comedy who drowned in 2005 – all proceeds go to the Mama Biashara charity run by Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Kate Copstick.

As part of Malcolm Hardee Week, on Friday 26th August, there will be a two-hour variety show to celebrate Malcolm’s memory which will include the announcement of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

Previous Malcolm Hardee tribute shows have included Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Omid Djalili, Janey Godley, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Richard Herring, Jools Holland, Phil Kay, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Phil Nichol, Arthur Smith and Johnny Vegas.

We are not announcing who is on this year’s bill until nearer the time but the two comperes for the evening – you read it first here – will be cabaret legend Miss Behave – star of Olivier Award winning show La Clique – and the Third Reich’s favourite crooner Frank Sanazi – he is, according to The Scotsman, one of the “Top 20 Comedians to Catch” at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

For those who have not experienced Frank Sanazi, he sings like Frank Sinatra but looks like Adolf Hitler. Classic songs on his album Mein Way on a Steinway include Third Reich and Strangers on My Flight (about the 9/11 attacks) – and let’s not even mention The Guy From Al-Quieda (featuring Osama Bing Crosby).

You might think one place it could be problematical for Frank Sanazi to play would be Germany, especially as there have long been legal problems impersonating or representing Hitler on stage… well, you tend to get arrested.

But Frank played three gigs in Berlin last year.

His opening words in Berlin were:

“Nice to be back…”

“The locals were a bit shocked at first,” he tells me, “but then I added I know what you’re thinking… This guy looks like Charlie Chaplin and, when they realised it was all parody, they really got into the swing of it. One man even asked if I would consider performing for his company’s annual office party… though he did later phone, embarrassed, to say that his company directors didn’t share his sense of humour.

“By and large, anyone who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour or irony is severely mistaken as I never encountered a single adverse reaction or comment.”

Surely not?

“Well, OK…” he admits, “I must admit that, at my first gig in Berlin, there were a few stunned elders who didn’t really know what to make of me. But they kept a dignified silence apart from one older German lady who had a noticeable sharp intake of breath when I appeared. But maybe she was asthmatic…”

“All three gigs in Berlin were really well received,” Frank tells me. “However, my run in a cabaret show in Munich this October has been cancelled. The promoter thinks the locals in Munich would not take kindly to reminders of their past. As an act of protest, I have arranged to do a show on top of The Brandenburg Gate in October…

“No, I haven’t really but – seriously – I am back in Berlin in early October.”

So is he looking forward to the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe?

“Heil yes,” he says and waves goodbye to me with a cheerily raised hand.

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Lewis Schaffer stunt scuppered; Charlie Chuck fights back with ducks in his hair

A few days ago, I wrote a blog which basically lamented the lack of decent publicity stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is of particular interest to me as I organise the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt. I started it because the Fringe seemed to have lost part of its original irresponsibility.

In 2009, American comic Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release in which he claimed he was sponsoring the former Perrier Awards for £99 and they would henceforth be named after him.

But once is never enough for Lewis.

A few weeks ago, he was going to issue a list of the Top 20 comedians not to have appeared on television and he was going to put himself in the No 7 position “because I don’t really believe in myself”.

I thought this was an interesting self-publicity idea. But his plan was accidentally scuppered when, a couple of days later, Malcolm Hardee judge and doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick, coincidentally published a list in the Scotsman newspaper of her 20 Comedians to Catch at the Edinburgh Festival. As she put Lewis in third place on this ‘proper’ list of good comedians, it tragically undercut his self-deprecation schtick.

Still, I have hopes he will come up with another unexpected publicity stunt. I have always fantasised about him dressed as a chicken. But any Schafferian avian stunt may have been scuppered too.

I had a phone call yesterday from Charlie Chuck whose girlfriend, as I blogged a couple of days ago, has 21 ducks in her back garden, some of them small chicks.

Ducks are occasionally mentioned in Charlie Chuck’s act and he had a cartoon character of himself created years ago which has ducks in its hair so, on the phone, he suggested that… yup… He suggested I should go up to Leicestershire and see him in his girlfriend’s back garden where I could take photographs of him with ducks in his hair.

Or, at least, ducklings.

“There’s this little one that’s up for it and probably more,” he told me. “This one’s only four days old and it’s well up for a bit o’ adventure. It loves being in me hair.”

This idea was so obviously insane and pointless that I immediately said Yes.

I’m driving up in a couple of days time.

As there are not and never will be any hard-and-fast rules for any Malcolm Hardee Award, I see no conflict of interest in taking the photos myself and then, if they are any good and get any publicity for the show, nominating Charlie Chuck for the Cunning Stunt Award.

But, in fact, I’m not convinced one publicity photo taken in a back garden in rural Leicestershire counts as a publicity stunt.

If he were to walk down Princes Street in Edinburgh during the Fringe with 15 birds in his hair, yelling out details of his two shows, that would be a stunt.

But, if it works as a photo – which it may not – it gives an idea of the area we’re interested in for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

I think mad, bad and dangerous to know is almost always good.

Pity about the price of petrol.

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