Tag Archives: cunning stunt

Malcolm Hardee, the squatters and the upcoming Cunning Stunt in Edinburgh

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock

In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.

There were squatters living on board in November.

In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.

This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.

“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”

“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”

“Any leftovers?”

“No. Only mice.”

“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.

“We could, but we have standards.”

“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”

“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”

“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”

“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”

“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”

“Physically?”

“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”

“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”

“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”

“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.

“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”

“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.

“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”

“What?” I asked.

“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”

“What does it mean?”

Darryl the Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre Bar

Darryl the Saintly Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”

“What?”

“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.

“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”

“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”

“What was in the fridge?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.

“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.

“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.

“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Malcolm would have approved of what you are doing.” (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”

“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”

“Did he ever find out?” I asked.

“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”

“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.

“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”

“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.

“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”

“From…?” I asked.

The interior of the Wibbley Wobbley during the occupation by squatters

Interior of Wibbley Wobbley during the squatter occupation.

“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”

“She lived in a nearby flat?”

“Yeah.”

“And threw rocks?”

“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”

“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”

“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.

“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!

“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”

“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.” 

“Not in those exact words?”

“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”

“And the future…?” I asked.

“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”

“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

“And the stunt is…?” I asked.

“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.

“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”

“Legal, I think.”

“How disappointing,” I said.

“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”

“Between time and space?” I asked.

“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.

“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”

“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”

“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”

“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”

“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”

“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”

“Absolutely,” said Darryl.

transformerdiy

“Anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe”

 

1 Comment

Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, London

Why Richard Gadd won a Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but justifiably failed to get a Cunning Stunt Award

Richard Gadd with his used-to-be Perrier Award

Richard Gadd with what used to be called the Perrier Award

Richard Gadd’s first words to me were: “You thought I would cancel this meeting, didn’t you, John? You thought I would be too big for you now. But I like you, John, even though everyone else doesn’t.”

He was joking.

I think.

After he was nominated for – but failed to win – this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award back in August, he texted me a message saying: “You. Are. Dead. To. Me.”

He was joking.

I think.

Yes, he was.

Yes.

We nominated him for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that he had caused a buzz at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe with his show Waiting For Gaddot – mostly because it was stunningly original but also because it was almost impossible to get in to see it because there were far more people wanting to see it than there was space in the small room he had booked at the Banshee Labyrinth venue.

So, this year, he booked his new show Monkey See, Monkey Do into an even smaller room at the Banshee Labyrinth, meaning the difficulty of getting in – and the consequent buzz – was even greater. We checked with him and he said, Yes, indeed he had booked himself into the smaller room as a cunning stunt to create more buzz.

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ award in Edinburgh

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ comedy award in Edinburgh

He failed to win our award, but he did go on to win the other main comedy prize at the Fringe – the one that is forever called the Perrier Award even though the sponsors have changed over the years.

“So,” I told him this week, “booking yourself into a smaller room was a very clever cunning stunt…”

“Well, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t a stunt.”

“You told us it was!” I said.

“No, it wasn’t a stunt,” Richard repeated. “When I visualised the show, there was only one room in the whole of Edinburgh I visualised – the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room. I needed a screen that was bigger than me. I needed a screen that would engulf me and engulf the audience.

“I thought: What do I do? Do I sacrifice audience numbers and money for artistic gain? And the answer was: Absolutely. I didn’t do it to create a buzz or as a cunning stunt or anything like that. It was a genuine artistic decision that I made.”

The poster image for Monkey See, Monkey Do

The poster image for award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do

“And Monkey See, Monkey Do went on to win the Perrier,” I said. “That can be life-changing.”

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve had a lot of interest since then, but I’m not a mainstream act. It used to be, back in the day, that someone would win it and get a TV series straight away. But those days are over.

“I think now, if you win the Perrier, there is a more logical route towards the Have I Got News For Yous and Mock The Weeks. But that’s not my route either because I’m a very alternative act.

“I’m very interested in the art performance and I’m very theatrical, so those sort of (panel show) offers did not come through the door, but a whole bunch of people did get in touch who do want to work with me. Television companies and theatre companies. Writing work, drama work, stage work. And better acting auditions.

“People seem to take you more seriously. They know who you are – you’re not just a sort of underground comedian this, cult comedian that. People now know who I am and I think that’s important – and they know I take myself seriously and I’m still young – I’m 26.

“People don’t really trust people in their mid-twenties but, if you win the Perrier, if they have whittled down 1,000-odd shows in Edinburgh, it’s no easy feat to win that award. So at least I’m not being patronised any more.”

“A lot of people,” I said, “thought you should have been nominated for the Perrier last year.”

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

“All my other comedies have been very -in-your-face romps”

“Well, I think my work until very recently has been very polarising, very in-your-face and some people don’t like their eardums blasted or their eyes tainted with images of this and that. I think this year it set out to make a difference and to change opinions on things and it did tackle some big subjects.

“All my other comedies have been joyful romps or very -in-your-face romps but this year it set out to say something. I’ve had a challenging and complicated life in a lot of ways and this year I was tackling a subject that not many people speak about.”

“There is,” I prompted, “an autobiographical revelation in the show.”

“Yes, I use an autobiographical account in the show to reveal this information about myself. It’s an incident I went through that no person should go through and it caused a lot of turmoil and upheaval in my life, especially as a man.”

“I don’t want to give too much away,” I said.

“You can say sexual assault,” Richard told me.

“So the type of show you did,” I said, “was different this year…”

“I think the difference,” replied Richard, “was that, this year, it had a lot of heart and a lot of soul. It was trying to challenge views on masculinity. That was quite important to me. I’ve always felt I was a man but, after the incident, my masculinity was taken away from me.”

“Can I include that?” I asked.

“You can put what you like but just put me in a bloody good light, for the love of fuckery.”

“Righto,” I said.

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

“I wanted,” Richard continued, “to challenge the mainstream media definition of masculinity, cos masculinity needs to shift now, in this day and age of feminism and emotion on your sleeve. I feel masculinity needs to become synonymous with openness, But there is still this keeping-it-all-bottled-up masculinity; being ‘the man’.

“I bottled it up for so long because I felt it was a dent in my masculinity. That was the difficult part. But then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realise: Jesus Christ! It’s just a word. It doesn’t exist.

“Your masculinity is as fickle as sexuality. These words that just cause people so much pain and don’t mean anything in the end, because boundaries are blurred. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is concrete. They’re just words, but they can cause so much misery.”

“It must,” I suggested, “have been scary to decide to talk about it openly.”

“I hinted about it in every single thing I did. Every single show I did, there were big overtones of it.”

“You seem,” I said, “very commendably serious about what you do as being art.”

“Yes, I am. I care. I kick myself if things aren’t good enough. I always try my best. If I’ve made mistakes, I will try to learn from them. I’m interested in the process of art and what it can achieve. And I’m interested in always doing things differently. You just have to keep staying one step ahead of what people expect you to do and expect you to be.”

“So what is your next step ahead?” I asked.

“I’m going to chop my cock off on stage and then eat it and regurgitate it and use it as a flute.”

“And,” I asked, “in reality?”

“I have ideas about what next, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to you, Mr Fleming.”

“Would these new things,” I asked, “be like writing a different type of comedy drama or coming out of a totally unexpected trap like writing a musical?”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd: “I wasn’t doing anything different”

“I did Cheese and Crack Whores. Then Breaking Gadd the year after… and Breaking Gadd was Cheese and Crack Whores in a different setting with a different group of characters but sort of the same. Despite the fact it did well and got well-reviewed, I realised that the buzz was elsewhere because I wasn’t doing anything different. So the next year Waiting For Gaddot was a big shift in a different direction and that got the buzz.”

“Some people,” I said, “equate arty success with low audiences.”

“Yes,” said Richard, “Some people think: I like being cult. I like being not for everyone. I’m too cool for mainstream. But it’s ridiculous to think I would write a piece of work so only the cool people can enjoy it. I would like to be as mainstream as possible. But I still like to bring these off-kilter themes into the mainstream and still be challenging. You can be challenging in the mainstream: you just need to figure out how to do it. To rebel against it is wrong. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone who manages to be quite challenging in the mainstream.

“I don’t care about money. I was brought up better than that. I don’t care about that. I would like to expand my audience size but, at the same time, get my message over and do a piece of work in the best possible way it can be done.”

“We are having a chat,” I reminded him, “to plug your Monkey See, Monkey Do show at the Soho Theatre in London, so when is it on?”

richardgadd_sohotheatre_cut

Richard trying to keep one step ahead outside Soho Theatre

“We are doing a live recording for the DVD this Saturday at 5.30pm. Then the show runs 18th October to the 12th November. That run is completely sold out already, so it will probably be back in the New Year.”

“So this blog is completely pointless,” I said. “You don’t need the publicity.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Richard. “But I like talking to you, so that’s fine.”

I do not think he was joking.

But who can tell with comedians and actors?

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Drama, Sex, Writing

The Edinburgh Fringe: How to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award

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

Well, the best way to win an Award and to honour Malcolm’s memory would be to lend me £500 and not expect to get it back but, if you are more vanilla in your Award approaches, the first thing is to know is what the fuck the awards actually are.

There are three and they are given in memory of the late Malcolm Hardee who was, according to The Guardian, the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”. The Daily Telegraph called him “godfather to a generation of comic talent” and, in their 2005 obituary, the Independent said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

I know the last quote must be totally true because I wrote the obituary myself and included that phrase on the basis that future lazy journalists would simply blindly copy it.

The current three annual, increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality

Basically, we have no idea what we are looking for. If we did know what we were looking for, we would be able to define it and it would not be original. But the award is for a performer not for a show and one producer who approached me this year touting a “family friendly” children’s show was wide-of-the-mark on almost all counts. Malcolm was known for having the biggest bollocks in show business and for showing them to everyone at the drop of a testicle. On stage, he was not family friendly.

Past winners of the award have been Reggie Watts, Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds, Edward Aczel, Otto Kuhnle, Robert White, Johnny Sorrow, The Rubberbandits, Adrienne Truscott, Candy Gigi and Michael Brunström.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

The Act Most Likely Award awaits its fate in Edinburgh this morning

For Act Most Likely To Make A Million Quid

Well, the title says it all, really.

The judges have to take a wild punt on who may survive the vagaries of – and triumph over the good and bad luck inherent in – a comedy career to attain seldom-attained financial success.

There is no point anyone approaching us to suggest themselves. If we think you are likely to fulfil the future requirement and win it, that’s our call, not yours.

Past winners have been Bo Burnham, Benet Brandreth, Trevor Noah, Luisa Omielan and Laurence Owen.

THE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

I pose with the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

This is the one the press like. It is for the best CUNNING stunt promoting a Fringe performer or act or show.

But pay close attention to the inclusion of the word ‘cunning’.

Riding an elephant painted pink down Princes Street and inviting the press is a stunt but it is not a cunning stunt.

This award was started when comic Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that her email to me allowed her to legitimately put on her posters and flyers “Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee”. She said she thought Malcolm would have approved. I thought he would too and started the award.

The winners have been:

GILL SMITH – for that initial piece of chutzpah.

LEWIS SCHAFFER – for convincing several publications that he was the new sponsor of the (formerly Perrier) Edinburgh Comedy Awards for £99 and that his mother and agent would be on the judging panel.

STEWART LEE – for successfully encouraging people to vote for little-known Japanese act Frank Chickens in a poll for Best Fringe Performer despite the fact they were not performing at the Fringe. (As a result of the publicity, ironically, they did perform at that year’s Fringe.)

KUNT & THE GANG/BOB SLAYER – for getting fans to put stickers depicting penises on the posters of rival acts to promote Kunt & The Gang’s show. Personally, I never liked the original stunt but Bob Slayer, Kunt’s promoter, kept the publicity stoked-up and refreshed for so long in so many ways it became a work of PR art.

STUART GOLDSMITH – for a series of YouTube videos about Fringe censorship of the title of his show Prick.

BARRY FERNS – for printing and distributing around Edinburgh fake copies of Broadway Baby which gave his show 6-out-of-5 star reviews and reported that his show had been nominated for the Fosters Comedy Awards, in both the main category and the newcomer category.

CHRISTIAN TALBOT – for using his 12-year-old daughter Kate to go up to strangers, looking sad, ask them “Have you seen my daddy?” and, if they said “No”, handing out flyers to them.

MATT ROPER – for hacking into the Facebook account of Malcolm Hardee judge & Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick and posting fake messages – purportedly from her – “bigging himself up”.


Jay Handley’s Cunning Stunt contender

Jay Handley’s Cunning Stunt

This year, there have already been two arguably worthy contenders for the Cunning Stunt Award – though that is no guarantee they will get nominated – There may be better as-yet unpulled cunning stunts.

Jay Handley has launched an online change.org petition to get the Oxford English Dictionary to change the spelling of ‘Religion’ to ‘Relgion’.

His basic argument is that “For too long people across the country have been spelling ‘religion’ in a manner that is unacceptable to people who have ordered 5000 flyers for their Edinburgh Fringe show with it spelled ‘relgion’ in the main copy of their blurb.”

John Robertson’s stunt

John Robertson’s Cunning Stunt

Meanwhile, there is an online Huffington Post piece by John Robertson lauding the “Ten Best New Comedians” at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Number One is John Robertson and the other nine also contain references to John Robertson and his Fringe comedy show.

It is, in a way, a combination of Barry Ferns’ stunt of publishing a fake edition of Broadway Baby and one of Malcolm Hardee’s most infamous stunts where (with Arthur Smith) he wrote a review of his own Fringe show and conned The Scotsman into publishing it under the byline of their own comedy critic.


The judges for this year’s Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show (that is the way it is billed in the official Fringe Programme) are:

MARISSA BURGESS
Freelance comedy critic, lover of all things weird and an inveterate streaker. This Fringe she will be criticising comedians for The List and Fest.

KATE COPSTICK
Chief Comedy Critic of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Loudest member of various judgely huddles from the Perrier Award to Home Made Pickle of the Year at The Parrot in Forest Green and author of The Illustrated Guide to Sapphic Sex.

BRUCE DESSAU
Comedy Critic of the London Evening Standard, editor of website beyondthejoke.co.uk and author of biographies of Rowan Atkinson and Reeves and Mortimer.

JOHN FLEMING
Handsome, debonair fashion icon. “The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle) Co-host (with Kate Copstick) of the Grouchy Club’s weekly podcast and its live shows at the Fringe.

JAY RICHARDSON
Freelance journalist for The Scotsman, Chortle, The Guardian, Independent, Sunday Times, Metro, BBC, Channel 4 etc.

CLAIRE SMITH
Freelance journalist, reviewer and feature writer for The Scotsman. Fringe lover, cabaret freak, arthouse baby, catastrophe thinker, water rabbit.


The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show takes place at the Ghillie Dhu in Edinburgh on Friday 26th August and MC Janey Godley should be introducing music by (but one can never be sure at the Fringe):

Bob Blackman’s Tray
Ursula Burns
Kate Copstick
Elvis Corpsley: The Zombie Elvis
Brian Damage & Krysstal
Candy Gigi
Kunt & The Gang
Lynn Ruth Miller
Laurence Owen
Ariane Sherine

The show will also include the announcement and presentation of this year’s awards, the annual Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette contest and the presentation by Edward Hobson of Ed at Last’s new FirstMinute Awards for the best first 60 seconds in a Fringe comedy show. The fact that the long-running, formerly Perrier Edinburgh comedy awards are now sponsored by lastminute.com is, I am sure, entirely coincidental.

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer and manufacturer of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, PR

At the Edinburgh Fringe: a financial bribe to win a Malcolm Hardee Award

Joz Norris

Shameless Norris tries to sway my principles

Yesterday, with the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations announced, I bumped into performer Joz Norris in the street, who tried to persuade me it was not too late for him to win for a Cunning Stunt Award.

“What’s your cunning stunt?” I asked.

“Although the nominations have been announced and I’m not in them, you could give me the Award on Friday anyway. That would be a cunning stunt.”

“Why should I?” I asked.

“Because I can give you £10 right now.”

“Times are tough,” I said. “It is a tempting offer. Let me think about it.”

Keep your eyes out for the Awards announcement on Friday and see what my conclusion was.

This morning, I got a Facebook message about the Awards from performer Ashley Frieze. He wrote:

Is there room in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for the “luckiest Fringe venue company”? – It has to go to the Freestival for losing one venue, then another, then all their acts, then having their poorly-attended venue broken into and set on fire… surely… I just wanted to nominate them for something, but “biggest clusterfuck of 50 years of the Fringe” seemed unkind.

I almost regretted the Award shortlist had already been announced on Monday because of some of the shows I saw yesterday.

Not quite… If any of the judges DID see a worthy show, it COULD in theory win because, as a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee, the rules are whatever rules we make up along the way.

(R-L) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and possibly deaf sound man

(Right-to-left) Johnny Sorrow, Richard Drake and their possibly deaf sound man yesterday

The shows I saw yesterday started with former main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Johnny Sorrow, performing with a man in a balaclava who used to be known as Sir Richard Swann and who is now known as Richard Drake. the last couple of days, he has been coming in to The Grouchy Club and sitting in the corner of the room in his red knitted balaclava saying nothing. He could grow to be an elephant in the room.

He and Johnny Sorrow are performing this year as Bob Blackman’s Tray. they previously performed as The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society.

Yesterday, when I came into the Three Sisters venue, I bumped into performer Ian Fox who, last year, was helping out the Bob Blackman duo as their sound technician.

“You’re not doing it this year?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “This year, they have a deaf sound technician.”

I think this was literally true. It would be par for the brilliantly surreal course.

While waiting to go into the Bob Blackman show, I just had time for a half hour chat with Irish-born writer Ian Smith, whom I blogged about last month. He lives in Sri Lanka, has just been working in Algeria and is over in Scotland for a week. But we were interrupted. He only had time to tell me that he once opened a Cuban bar in Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, and that, in 2012, the current Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had his iTunes account hacked into and it turned out he was a massive fan of camp novelty group Right Said Fred. Ian wrote about it in his own blog Blood and Porridge.

“I am a big Heavy Metal fan,” Ian told me, “and you never get murderous dictators who are into Heavy Metal.”

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl in Auld Reekie

At this point, we got interrupted by an American girl dressed as a showgirl. She was flyering for her show Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl which, annoyingly, I don’t think I can fit-in in Edinburgh (though I will see it in London).

The show sounds fascinating because it is the story of how she – Amelia Kallman –  went to Shanghai and opened China’s first burlesque nightclub. The Chinese authorities and the Triads were not amused.

Since relocating to the UK, she has lectured at Cambridge University, written a graphic novel, scripts for television and a book also called Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl.

Equally interesting was her husband Norman Gosney who was born in Bristol but lived, for 25 years, in the penthouse of the legendary Chelsea Hotel in New York (where he and Amelia ran an illegal speakeasy The Blushing Diamond). It was a conversation we had no time to have, but Norman, Ian Smith and I have all been to North Korea at various points and, when you have, you always want to talk to fellow travellers about it.

There is a promo video for Diary of a Shanghai Showgirl on YouTube.

Other stand-out shows I saw yesterday included Patrick Monahan’s extraordinarily entertaining and energetic audience-thrilling romp The Disco Years. It is his first show where autobiography creeps in but, yet to come, there is still what I suspect will be a humdinger of a future autobiographical Edinburgh show.

Then I was able to catch the end of Spencer Jones’ show as The Herbert in Proper Job – wildly inventive prop-based comedy.

And, when I got back to my Edinburgh flat, there was a message from this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, currently roaming the streets of Edinburgh.

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

David Mills with a misunderstood flag behind him (Photograph by Sandra Smith)|

We are both enormous fans of gay (it becomes relevant in the next paragraph) American comic David Mills.

“During his show, “Sandra told me, “I said: Oooh look. The ISIS flag is behind you. It really did look like it.”

Actually, on closer inspection, it turned out to be a black flag with a PBH Free Fringe logo.

Equally confusing is a video that has appeared today on YouTube.

On Monday, we nominated Miss Behave for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for putting brown cardboard signs up around town with the hashtag MBGS (tangentially promoting Miss Behave’s Game Show). She claims that it is not her putting up these signs and now this bizarre semi-hidden-camera video has appeared on YouTube.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Edinburgh Fringe. Too late for a review? When is a cunning stunt not cunning?

Sultry temptress Lynn Ruth Miller

The fascinating yet still unquoted Lynn Ruth Miller

Getting publicity and reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe can be just a case of happenstance and luck.

Just to get mentioned in this little blog… Well, lots of conversations at the Fringe are too long or complicated to put in this blog because of the time it takes to transcribe them.

This morning, I had a fascinating chat with Lynn Ruth Miller about the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – she knew people who were sent to the camp and it is all linked up to why she became a comedian – but it will probably never see the light of blog.

What you read here – or anywhere – does not even superficially skim the surface of what is happening at the Fringe.

At the Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon, there was a discussion about the abnormally high number of performers with – and shows about – physical medical problems this year. Of course, performers with psychological problems is just taken as normal.

Yesterday, I was talking to a performer whose show I had seen and which had a full house of people adoring him/her and he/she was going on about what a terrible show it had been. “I was awful,” he/she said. He/she had not been.

The Edinburgh Fringe: you may have to make your own rainbow

In Edinburgh, you may well have to make your own rainbow

I chatted to another performer who was having full houses every day but who had not yet been reviewed. Unless there is massive word-of-mouth, it is now probably too late to set reviewers’ imaginations alight to the extent that they will completely re-arrange their schedules. To be really effective, the press releases had to be sent out at the point the Fringe Programme was published and just before the Fringe started.

I am seeing around seven shows each day and, as far as I know,  publications like The Scotsman worked out which shows would be reviewed before the Fringe started (with gaps to add-in shows which unexpectedly developed strong word-of-mouth).

A third performer was complaining on Facebook that his audiences were not laughing at his material and blaming the audiences specifically and Edinburgh in general.

Once the Fringe is in full flow (and it is over the halfway point now) there is not much performers can do to change the ongoing flow. Just keep plodding on and build the word-of-mouth and pray.

Meanwhile, one agent/promoter was telling me he had a stunt to publicise one of his acts which he reckoned was going to put all the traffic in Edinburgh into gridlock and he was trying to persuade me this would be worthy of an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nomination.

But this would be more likely to get the act thrown out of their venue, him prosecuted and the show loathed by locals rather than an award nomination. For another, if you were to bring Edinburgh traffic to a stop, with a Sky News helicopter filming it all from above, it IS a stunt, but the word ‘cunning’ might not be appropriate.

Possibly a cunning stunt in the streets?

Possibly a cunning stunt in the streets? Depends who did it.

A definitive Cunning Stunt would be Malcolm Hardee writing a rave review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into publishing it because they thought it was written by their own critic….

A stunt but not a cunning stunt would be getting loads of ginger-haired people marching through Glasgow to plug a named show. It is not cunning. It is a photocall.

An interesting publicity stunt this year is the fact lots of cardboard sheets with odd slogans and the hashtag #MBGS have appeared among the general Fringe show posters.

These obviously but obliquely promote Miss Behave’s Game Show and would possibly be eligible for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis they promote the show without, as such, saying the title of the show or where/when it is. It is a good cunning stunt to get people’s attention.

However, Miss Behave swears blind neither she nor her cohorts are putting these up – that it must be an unknown fan. If this is true (and who am I to gainsay her?) then it is not eligible for a Cunning Stunt Award because it is not a cunning publicity stunt, merely graffiti by someone who gains nothing from the show.

If someone unknown to me does a brilliant cunning stunt which promotes The Grouchy Club shows, I cannot be nominated for doing the stunt. It is nothing to do with me.


My three show highlights yesterday were:

Matt Price: The Boy With Cake On His Face
Matt reckons he will not get onto television regularly because he does not have the right look. I am not so sure. His personality and charisma scream pure TV ‘natural’.

Joey Page: Catastrophe Party
Former Malcolm Hardee Award nominee Joey has the cliché looks for TV and has been on Never Mind the Buzzcocks et al and there is no reason why he is not on more often except the whims of producers.

Wilfredo at the Gala

Stu Turner’s Big Charity Gala
…for Autism Initiatives Scotland. This pulled-off that rare Fringe trick of not just attracting Fringe-goers but also getting-in ordinary Edinburgh residents – I suspect readers of the Daily Record rather than the Guardian.

The fact it took place in the 400-seater New Empire Bingo Hall may have helped.


Oh, by the way, this blog has now managed to get over 1 million hits.

It means nothing, but it is worth a mention because the Edinburgh Fringe mantra is: It’s all about self-publicity. You have to build your own luck, build your own rainbows.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR

Performers to see at the Edinburgh Fringe plus the abduction of echidnas

Kate Copstick during the recording of the first Grouchy Club podcast

Kate Copstick – just not a comedy critic to mess with

Well, the energetic typhoon and bundle of occasional volcanic anger that is The Scotsman’s comedy critic – Kate Copstick – arrived yesterday and has been arranging tickets to see shows. Sometimes acts say they will not let critics in for the first two or three performances as their show will not be ready for appraisal. This can lose them a review either because critics’ schedules are so tight the show can’t be fitted in elsewhere or – as with Copstick – on principle.

I paraphrase, but her attitude is: “if the show is not ready to be seen by a critic, then they shouldn’t fucking be performing it and charging the fucking public money to see it”.

I do not paraphrase the swearing.

As of yesterday afternoon, one show will certainly not get her review because it was “not ready to be seen”.

George’s Fringe poster for Anarchist Cook

George’s Fringe poster for Anarchist Cook

Having rescheduled my yesterday to do other things by cancelling three shows (to be seen later), the only one I did see was George Egg’s Anarchist Cook – a cracking show a bizarre combination of comedy and cookery using items you can find in hotel rooms, including Bibles, irons and trouser presses.

Mixing cookery and comedy live on stage has been done before, but this version was so filled with comic originality that it took the audience around ten minutes to accept they really were seeing what they were seeing. After that, they were with him all the way. The word-of-mouth will be great.

Meanwhile, on the streets, flyerers have a tendency to look at me, think I am far too old to be interested in comedy and ignore me. Yesterday, among the flyerers doing this were ones touting a couple of shows I am actually going to go and see.

Al Porter strikes camp in Edinburgh

Irishman Al Porter strikes camp in Edinburgh

One who did grab me – because he recognised me – was Irish comic Al Porter, flyering for his own show Al Porter Is Yours. I don’t think he is likely yet to get the Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award, but he has the chutzpah it takes to get success on TV.

You could not call it subtle schmoozing, but it is the sort of full-throttle PR assault mixing OTT flattery with Irish charm which will go down well in the corridors of the BBC and ITV. He also has a good memory –

  1. my face
  2. that we met two years ago
  3. that I write a blog which is “wonderful” and which he “reads all the time”

Al Porter Is Yours was already on my list of shows to see, so the flattery and full-throttle schmoozing was unnecessary, but full marks for the in-yer-face promo assault.

In the evening, there was another assault on the senses of a different kind.

My chum Janey Godley performed at the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch show. It looked to me like most of the audience had not actually seen her perform before, so it was like watching a collection of cuddly toys facing the full force of an Apache attack helicopter with all weapons systems blazing. I would be amazed if less than half the audience did not leave last night with her at the top of their list of Shows To See.

Janey Godley live on Periscope last night

Janey Godley was live on Periscope last night

Janey has single-handedly made me think I should switch off my Periscope alerts as, every ten minutes, I get a mobile phone fanfare and the news that Janey is “live on the streets” or can be seen “in bed”. Just getting the alerts exhausts me. But it is effective publicity. She tells me there has been a surge in sales of her jaw-dropping autobiography Handstands in the Dark from people who have seen her on Periscope – despite the fact she has never mentioned the book on Periscope.

She also told me someone had suggested she put on an exhibition of her paintings and drawings in London – an excellent and overdue idea which I tried to encourage her to do though, I suspect, to no avail.

Janey Godley at the Fringe in 2007

Janey with her clown painting at Edinburgh Fringe in 2007

In 2007, her painting of a clown was sold for charity at an an Arthur Smith Arturart exhibition of comics’ paintings. If I had known it was for sale, I would have bought it myself, because I had seen her paint it – It started out as a planned portrait of comedian Malcolm Hardee then changed into a scary clown.

She recently painted a watercolour landscape for me as a gift. I was going to collect it when I got to Edinburgh, but she has now lost it. I am beginning to get paranoid.

Last night, I understand Malcolm Hardee Awards-stealer Juliette Burton (see yesterday’s blog) arrived in town but could not be found. I suspect she is in hiding in her dubious and by no means certain pursuit of a Cunning Stunt Award nomination.

All this and a tooth

All this and a bit of tooth falls out…

On a more personal note, a tiny slither of tooth seems to have come out of one of my molars, though there is no pain yet. And I have the Edinburgh sniffles – I think I may have the beginnings of a cold caught standing in the rain at last night’s Free Festival launch.

This morning I awoke to an email from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She sent me a CBC news report about a man who had been charged with “fornicating the National War Memorial” in Ottawa.

She added: “At least we don’t have the echidna abductions that are racking Australia.”

No, I have no idea what she is talking about either.

But it is good, in a way, to know anarchy reigns worldwide, not just in Edinburgh during the Fringe.

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy

Cunning Stunt obsessed comic steals all three Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Adam Taffler at the Grouchy Club

Adam Taffler – Grouchy Club last year

And so the insanity has begun.

The Edinburgh Fringe has started.

Three-and-a-half weeks when anarchy is the norm.

Yesterday, it turned out that both the Grouchy Club and comedian Paul Kerenza’s show are booked into the same room at the Counting House 3.45-4.45pm on 14th August. So – as it does not affect us as much – and because we are so sweet – Kate Copstick and my Grouchy Club chat shows will now start on the 15th August not the 14th.

Performing at the Fringe is like a needle in a haystack trying to get noticed in the Amazonian Jungle. The haystack may stand out when you see it, but the Amazon is a big place. And, even after you find the haystack, you still have to find the needle.

Paul Ricketts who, in this blog two weeks ago, mentioned he was organising a comedy show in a toilet, tells me he now has several comedians interested but still has no confirmed (or maybe that should be engaged) venue:

Ceci n'est pas une affiche Édimbourg

Women wanted for stand-up urinal comedy

“There’s interest in the show,” he says, “and it’s been nominated on the Sell This Gig Out! Facebook page, even though it’s impossible to sell-out a show when no-one knows what day or in which toilet it will be held. But there is already standing room only. And I would also like to reach out to women comics to get involved and break down this last bastion of male oppression. If any ladies want you to do stand-up comedy in a Gents, they can contact me via the event page on Facebook.“

Paul helpfully sent me a link to the YouTube video of his last toilet exploits.

Twonkey this is a “haunting photo

Twonkey says this “haunting photo” is from a final rehearsal of Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop

Meanwhile the inexplicable Mr Twonkey sent me an inexplicable photo of what he claims was the final rehearsal for his show Twonkey’s Stinking Bishop.

And the unavoidable Lewis Schaffer, appearing in his first play since his schooldays, sent me a message: “I’m super busy trying to remember my lines so I don’t destroy Giant Leap the play I am in AND also I am thinking about the funny stuff I need to say at my own show Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, £5.”

Lewis Schaffer is never knowingly under-sold.

Which brings us to the core of this blog.

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

Lewis Schaffer (extreme right) in rehearsal for the Giant Leap

As I – perhaps foolishly – decided this year to come up to Edinburgh on an overnight coach rather than by car, I – perhaps foolishly – left the three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards with performer Juliette Burton. She promised to deliver them to me later today – she is driving up from London to Edinburgh today. At least, that is what she claimed.

Juliette has always shown an obsessive, possibly unhealthy interest in the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

Now, this morning, I have received an e-mail from her with photos attached and a link to an 8-second online video. The photos are of a letter she has written to me. It says:


Dear John

Ransom letter, page 1

Ransom letter, page 1

As you know you gave me your awards. Thankyou for trusting me/falling prey to my masterplan. 

I’ve wanted to get my hands on these awards FOR YEARS! Now I have them I thought about not letting them go. I thought about holding them to ransom (because, let’s face it, that’s the only way anyone performing at EdFringe will make any money, right). 

But I’m keen to challenge mental health stigma and misconceptions about people like me, a known nutcase, so I thought the image of “crazed mad person holding awards for ransom; psycho lunatic threatens Fleming” may not help that cause… 

Ransom letter, page 2

Ransom letter, page 2

So instead I thought I’d permanent-mark my name on all 3. But my own plan was foiled… I awoke today, ready to head to Edinburgh with the awards, with permanent marker in hand… only to find the attached security camera footage. And 3 empty boxes.

Your awards seem to have escaped.

If you want to see your 3 empty boxes again, please send me £1,000,000,000,000 … in Scottish notes. 

Ransom letter, page 3

Ransom letter, page 3

With that, I might break even this festival.

Yours,

Juliette.

PS No, I don’t know why I wrote this and then emailed you the picture of it rather than just type it in an email… Artistic? Old fashioned? Crazy?


This is the 8-second video she linked to.

Juliette is fast catching up with Lewis Schaffer in the self-promotion stakes.

Juliette Burton with Russian Egg Roulette medal

Juliette proudly displays 2014 Russian Egg Roulette medal

She is also appearing in the official Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championship at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 28th August. At least, she thinks she is. She will learn I am not a man to mess with.

But, even if I ban her from that, she is still up at the Fringe performing her Look At Me show (6 performances only) AND her Happy Hour show (9 performances) AND is appearing in the tenth anniversary Abnormally Funny People shows.

Look At Me - Fringe 2015

Happy Hour - Fringe 2015

Inevitably – this being the Fringe – entirely separate from Juliette, last night I was sent a link to the new Abnormally Funny People video.

And now I have very slight toothache.

Fairly regular – every third year or so – I get toothache in Edinburgh and have to get dental treatment.

Welcome to the Fringe. Share my pain.

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Festivals, PR

Comedy genes in one Irish family?

Kate Talbot with her 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot with 2014 Cunning Stunt Award

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

“How’s your daughter?” I asked him.

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

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

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus

Bob Slayer BlundaBus currently in Croydon; soon Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

Kate and Christian Talbot

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

“A what?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gayle Hayes with Christian Talbot

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

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

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Family, Ireland

Malcolm Hardee Award winners Ellis & Rose rumbled in Soho Theatre ruse

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

The original James Hamilton photo with the rogue photograph directly above his head

In this blog back in December last year, I ran a chat with writer/performer James Hamilton. Included in the blog was a photo which had the (I thought) intriguing caption:

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

No-one asked why.

In fact, I had photographed him at the Soho Theatre Bar in London, sitting beneath one of the photos on a wall dedicated to the great and good acts who have performed at Soho Theatre.

The photo directly above his head was of Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning double act Ellis & Rose. But they have never appeared at Soho Theatre.

So why was it there?

Because they put it up themselves.

I spotted it in November last year. I told Ellis and Rose that, if they managed to keep the picture on the wall until the start of the Edinburgh Fringe in August, I might well give them a special Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

The Soho Theatre’s Tweet yesterday about Ellis & Rose

The Soho Theatre’s Tweet yesterday

Alas, yesterday, Soho Theatre spotted the rogue photograph and took it down. The esteemed London theatre Tweeted:

HA! This lot have skipped the Soho show & put themselves ont’ photo wall regardless. 5* for Effort. (@jameshamilton).

Why was James Hamilton mentioned? Because the caption on the photo said:

Ellis & Rose (2014)
Photo J Hamilton

In fact, James had not taken the photo and had not even known about it until I told him last December when I, as it were, shot him underneath it. (The spoof photograph was actually taken by Charlie Dinkin.)

Obviously, today I had a chat with Ellis about all these shenanigans.

“We put the picture up in October last year,” he told me. “We met Steve Marmion (the artistic director of Soho Theatre) once at a party and he knew about our Edinburgh shows but said he didn’t think we were ready to appear in the Soho Theatre.

Gareth shocked by Soho Theatre’s removal

Ellis, shocked earlier today, with Wall of Fame behind him

“So we decided we would appear but we would skip doing a show and just go straight to appearing on the Wall of Fame. We had a bigger picture than Tim Minchin.

“We sat in the booth one day and, just out of curiosity, decided to see if we could take the pictures off the wall. We took Lady Rizo’s picture off the wall and measured up the photo using the Soho Theatre’s laminated menu.

“We had access to a photo studio rig and we took pictures and then they were edited to look like we were performing in a ‘black box’ studio theatre space and then we copied the style of the captions and got one printed.

“We went to Soho Theatre with it in a bag, ready to put it up but then realised they had replaced Lady Rizo’s A4 picture with an A3 one. So we grabbed another performer’s picture and replaced his photo.”

“Why,” I asked, “did you put James Hamilton on the caption as the photographer?”

Gareth, stunned at the loss of a Malcolm Hardee Award

Realising loss of a potential Malcolm Hardee Award

“We just wanted to put on the name of someone who would find it amusing. We told him he should go to the Soho Theatre and have a look around, but apparently he didn’t see it for a month.”

“Not until I showed it to him,” I said. “But, judging from their Tweet yesterday, Soho Theatre seem to have taken it all in good spirit.”

“Yes,” said Ellis, “And I see from their photo on Twitter that they’ve actually re-framed our picture in another frame. So they must rate it. Are they going to put it up somewhere in their office or what?”

“Probably what,” I told him.

The rogue photograph. The face of Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmian is dawn on the balloon.

The rogue photograph with face of Soho Theatre’s artistic director Steve Marmion drawn on balloon. (Photograph by Charlie Dinkin.)

6 Comments

Filed under Comedy

How do you win an increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award?

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

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection near Edinburgh

Every August at the Edinburgh Fringe, I give away three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the godfather of British alternative comedy. One of these is a Cunning Stunt Award for the best stunt publicising a Fringe show or act.

And every year, around this time, people ask me for the definition of Cunning.

Well, non-cunning stunts are easy to think up. You can walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh wearing a read nose and handing out flyers.

That is a stunt but is in no way cunning.

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Last year, the Cunning Stunt Award went to comedian Christian Talbot and his 12 year-old daughter Kate.

Cute Kate would wander around the streets outside Christian’s venue looking sad and distraught, go up to strangers and say plaintively: “Have you seen my daddy?”

When they replied in the negative, she would tell them: “Well, you should, because Kate Copstick of The Scotsman says he’s an engaging performer” and give them a flyer.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer – a man not unused to cunning publicity stunts

In 2009 – a year when Perrier stopped sponsoring some other less increasingly prestigious awards – Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release which fooled several publications into printing stories (which they believed) saying he was taking over sponsorship of the awards for £99 and was re-naming them The Lewies. This resulted in a threat of legal action from the awards’ organiser and his agent sacked him. But he did win the Cunning Stunt Award, so it wasn’t all gloom and doom..

The Award started in 2008 when performer Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, if she nominated herself in the email, she could justifiably put on her posters: MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She thought Malcolm would have approved. I agreed and gave her the first Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

One of Malcolm’s own cunning stunts at the Fringe, of course, was the year when he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s own show and put it in a tray at The Scotsman under the name of that august publication’s own reviewer William Cook. The Scotsman printed it, thinking it was a legitimate review.

Bob Slayer & Kate Copstick exchange specs & tongues yesterday

Bob Slayer found another way to influence  Kate Copstick

Another legendary stunt was the year Scotsman critic Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge) gave comedian Jason Wood’s show a 1-star review. He immediately plastered his posters and flyers with the strapline: “A STAR” – THE SCOTSMAN.

These are definitive cunning stunts.

Last year (or it might have been two years ago – I have a shit memory) an act publicised his show by having lots of ginger haired people march through Glasgow.

I got a vitriolic letter later from a PR man berating me for not nominating this for the Cunning Stunt Award because the stunt had got worldwide press and TV coverage.

But it was not in any way a cunning stunt. It was just a stunt – and a little odd as it happened in Glasgow. It was no different to walking up and down the Royal Mile wearing a red nose. There was no con involved.

In 2013, Barry Ferns rightly won the Cunning Stunt Award for a series of stunts including publishing fake editions of Edinburgh Fringe review sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks publicising his own show, but we sort-of gave a second award (which we called the Pound of Flesh Award) to Ellis & Rose.

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising?

Comic Ellis was prepared to do anything for publicity…

Ellis had been beaten-up in the street by a punter angry about the duo’s Jimmy Savile comedy show.

Except it never happened. In fact, Ellis’ comedy partner Rose had repeatedly punched him in the face to give him a bruised cheek and genuine black eye… all to get a few inches of column space publicising themselves and their shows.

Like Lewis Schaffer doing a stunt in 2009 which lost him his agent, this seemed commendably OTT in stunt terms. And definitely cunning.

All this comes to mind because, a couple of weeks ago, Simon Caine invited me to be on his Ask The Industry podcast in the mistaken belief that I am increasingly prestigious in the comedy world and that he might get a Cunning Stunt Award for setting up a podcast solely so he could plug himself to allegedly influential people.

Previous interviewees had included Julian Hall (former comedy reviewer for the Independent and former Malcolm Hardee Awards judge), Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse comedy clubs and Edinburgh Free Festival) and Hils Jago (of the Amused Moose clubs and Comedy Awards).

Simon Caine Podcast

Simon Caine has another cunning idea – interviewing clothes

I told Simon that, if you set up a podcast simply to plug yourself to the people you invite on it, that is a commendable stunt but not a cunning stunt.

It would only be a cunning stunt if you invited people to the podcast recording, spoke to them for an hour and actually there was no podcast.

Sadly, he has scuppered his chances because there is a (very good) ongoing series of podcasts.

He has suggested he can get round this by never uploading the podcast with me or by not uploading it until September – after the Fringe has finished – but I am currently not convinced.

Watch this space.

This year, Ellis & Rose already have a cunning stunt up-and-running. I have told them, if they can keep it going successfully until August without anyone noticing, I will nominate them for a Cunning Stunt Award (provided they actually do use it in August to publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show).

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, PR