Tag Archives: Deuchars

Paying publications to review your show is like having paid-sex with a famous wit

The Chortle piece on pay-to-review

Chortle piece on pay-to-be-reviewed

Someone told me about this yesterday.

I said: “Are you sure it’s not an April Fool prank?”

“If it is, it’s a day late,” the person told me.

And this is no surreal joke.

Just like my Frank Sanazi blog yesterday – which included Jesus Christ flying in from Glasgow for Hitler’s birthday – this is true.

I was more than a little surprised to see on the Chortle comedy industry website these words:

“This year we make explicit what we’ve always tried to do anyway, and promise to review any show that spends at least £250 on advertising on Chortle. To avoid any Daily Telegraph-style conflicts of editorial interests, we won’t make any promises as to which reviewer will see a show, when it’ll appear – or most crucially whether we’ll like it! And you’ll have had to have settled your bill before the Fringe, so you can’t back out if you don’t like what we’ve written.”

Each to his own, but I think once you allow people outside the publication (the performers themselves) to dictate which shows will receive reviews (by, in effect, paying to be reviewed) you have lost editorial control.

There is a story which is told about George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill or a variety of other fairly witty people in various versions…

There is a dinner party. The conversation turns to the concept that ‘Everyone has their price’ and the famous man turns to a lady sitting at the table and says – purely as a matter of intellectual theory, in order to spur the debate along – “If I offered you £10 million to sleep with me for one night, would you accept?”

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

“I suppose,” the lady says, laughing, “for £10 million, I would.”

“In that case,” says the great man, “here’s ten shillings. Sleep with me tonight.”

“What kind of woman do you think I am?” the outraged lady replies.

“We have already established,” the great man says, “what type of woman you are. We are now merely haggling over the price.”

There is no actual moral or logical difference between saying: “If you pay me £250, I will guarantee to review you rather than another show which I could have chosen to review” and “If you pay me £500 I will allow you to veto what I say in my review” or “If you pay me £1,000 I will let you write your own review as a press release which I will print word-for-word.”

By receiving payment to get reviewed, we have already established what type of editorial judgment a publication has. We have established the principle. We are merely haggling over how much it might cost to influence the content.

If an act pays £250 (for whatever reason) to guarantee a review, the publication has relinquished editorial responsibility by letting an outsider decide which shows (among so many others) will be reviewed. If a publication had time and space to print 500 reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and 500 acts were happy to pay £250 to get reviewed, then that publication would not be deciding to review any shows on the basis of merit or perceived interest. It would be merely selling space to acts to advertise their wares via reviews. Even if the act has no control over the content of the review, it has still turned an objective review into a paid-for advert.

Over the years, as reported in Chortle, some comedy venues have attempted to charge performers a fee to perform in their clubs or to have the act guarantee that a certain number of their friends will pay for tickets to their show – this has rather sniffily been described as ‘pay-to-play’.

There is no difference that I can see between ‘pay-to-play’ and ‘pay-to-get-reviewed’. In both cases, the result may backfire – the audience may hate the act or the reviewer may hate the act. But the principle of payment-to get-exposure is the same.

On Facebook, performer Richard Vranch has pointed out that the Chortle idea of being paid by acts to review their show is not new. In June 2012, Chortle ran a news item headlined:

Caimh McDonnell’s PR stunt became true

Caimh McDonnell’s jokey PR stunt has became true

COMIC TO PAY FOR REVIEWS
£100-a-Time ‘Bribe’ to Win Fringe Coverage

Comedian Caimh McDonnell was pulling a publicity stunt but interestingly called his scheme ‘undoubtedly a new low for British journalistic integrity’. In fact, to avoid actual bribery, Caimh said he would not pay the £100 to publications but – up to a maximum of £3,000 – he would pay the money to the Macmillan Cancer Support charity. Fair enough.

In May last year, Chortle ran this report:

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

Paying £100 for a review… or paying £250 for the publicity of a review even though you don’t control content… or saying you don’t believe in competitions then hosting competitions which force acts to include brand names in their performances…

It all seems much of a muchness to me.

But, then, who am I to quibble? On my Facebook pages yesterday, I posted:

I am physically harassed yesterday

I am not one to take base bribes for publicity in my blog

If anyone would like to give me £251 in cash, I promise to print the name of your 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show in my increasingly prestigious daily blog.

For a further £251 in cash I will print the name of your venue.

And for a further £251 in cash I will print the days and time of the show. Only cash. Only sterling. Only current notes.

In the spirit of Kickstarter enticements, if you give me a further £53.96p in cash, I will also give you a free Mars Bar on the final day of the Fringe. And, as an extra gift from me to you, if you pay me an additional £2,373 in cash, you can also appear (naked) in the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 28th August in Edinburgh.

I am awaiting offers.

Noel Faulkner: man with a calm persona

Noel Faulkner truly does not give a shit

Meanwhile, also on Facebook, iconic Noel Faulkner, the ever-outspoken owner of London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre, says:

There are a lot of talentless fucks worming their way into the business. When a comic sends me a list of credits and reviews and they list Broadway Baby, The List and all the other rags that send 20-year-old reviewers out to review, my first thought is You’re probably shit. I would pay these reviewers not to review my show.

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

Stephen K Amos hosted last night’s show

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

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

This is how it started…

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

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

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

Amiable Janey Godley has given up smoking.

Ever jolly Janey Godley has given up smoking

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

This was not good.

She tried to attack me with a fork.

During the judging, she bit me on the shoulder.

I feel I got off lightly.

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

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

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

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

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

Opinion on contests varies, of course.

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

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

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

3 Malcolm Hardee Awards await their winners in Edinburgh

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

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

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

Rose (left) shows where he punched Ellis’ face

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

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

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

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

John Ward with main Malcolm Hardee Award

Malcolm Hardee Award designer John Ward waits

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

I have standards.

I await offers.

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