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Comedian Bob Slayer has a big rant at me about the Edinburgh Fringe shows

Bob Slayer is not a man to mess with

Bob Slayer occasionally gets grumpy

Yesterday, comedian Bob Slayer got a bit grumpy about the blog I posted two days ago about the six Edinburgh Fringe shows I am involved in this year – Five of them are happening at Bob’s Bookshop, one of the venues he will be running in August under the banner of his Heroes of Fringe.

His grumpiness had been triggered by reading in my blog that I thought his ‘Pay What You Want’ model within the Free Festival would be confusing to punters.

“There is no real confusion,” he moaned to me, “unless you plant it. It is Free Entry – just turn up – or, to guarantee getting in, buy a ticket in advance. What possible confusion is there there????”

“But,” I tried to argue, “it’s confusing enough already that you’re expected to pay for ‘Free’ shows on the way out. Now you’re just calling ‘Free’ shows ‘Pay What You Want’ shows – calling the same thing by two different names – and adding in an extra layer of confusion by offering advance tickets for sale.”

In 2011 I presented Bob with his Malcolm Hardee Award

I presented Bob with his Malcolm Hardee Award in 2011

You are often wrong, John!” Bob ranted at me yesterday. “You were wrong not to give Chris Dangerfield the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award last year. You were wrong not to give John Robertson the award for Comic Originality and you were certainly wrong to nominate me (twice). Don’t be wrong again!

“Not only is ‘Pay What You Want’ a more honest description of Free shows,” he argued, “it is a more honest name for most Paid shows where, at the Fringe, so many shows give away tickets for free due to low sales – or ‘papering’ as it’s called.

“There is a massive gap between Free and Paid shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and we are planning to bridge that gap. Pay What You Want is the best of both Free and Paid. It is a natural evolution.

“As Free shows have become more successful on the Fringe, a better standard of acts are keen to do them, especially with the main venues continuing to adopt their ‘Pay-To-Play’ model.

“It got to the point with many of our Free shows at The Hive venue last year that we were regularly turning people away because they were full. Heroes of Fringe has an even stronger line-up this year which would be the envy of any Paid venue and we will be turning people away from shows again this year. So if you really want to see a show, get a ticket!

“Heroes of Fringe is about promoting and developing the most interesting acts that can sell tickets but who don’t want to lose money in order to do so.

“Last year we promoted both Paid and Free shows. That was partially in response to the growing claims that Free shows are more ethical than Paid shows. While this is true when you compare Free shows with the Pay-To-Play model adopted by most venues, Free shows are not ethically superior in themselves. We wanted to show that it didn’t have to be the case. It is not how you pay for the show, but the model behind the show and how much money the performer sees.

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

The public will pay to see Bob Slayer like this

“What we accidentally discovered was that punters who really wanted to see a particular show were happy to buy tickets in advance so that they could guarantee they could get in – even if that show was advertised as free. What we also found was that, by telling punters that some folks had already paid a fiver, they were prepared to give more to the performer at the end.

“In an ideal world, punters would pay what they wanted in advance as well, but the Fringe Box Office can’t cope with that at the moment. Maybe in the future…”

But Bob’s grumpiness with me was not just caused by me criticising the ‘Pay What You Want’ idea.

He always gets grumpy when I mention the fact that performing at the Fringe is (in the words of a comic whose name I have forgotten) like standing in a cold shower for three weeks, just tearing up £50 notes.

“Don’t accept the bullshit that people don’t make money in Edinburgh!” Bob rants at people… He had another go at me yesterday about this, saying those words.

“The PR people, management, agents and venues make pots of money,” he ranted. “With nearly 2 million tickets sold, the money goes somewhere!”

This, of course, I agree with, though I think the big venues sometimes unfairly get cast as the big villains. They provide a lot of background support and infrastructure but do not own their venues.

It sometimes seems that half or more of Edinburgh is owned by Edinburgh University, who rent out their buildings to the large and medium venue-runners. The venue-runners are, themselves, at the mercy and whim of the charges and overheads levied by Edinburgh University, whose level of charging is never mentioned.

An Edinburgh street during the Fringe

An Edinburgh street just off the Royal Mile during the Fringe

But, whatever the cause, I think most performers see going to the Fringe as going somewhere to lose money.

“Of course,” agrees Bob, “most comedians at the Fringe don’t see any of the cash swilling around… but the smart ones do. All the comedians on my Alternative Fringe (now called Heroes of Fringe) at least broke even last year and most of them made money…

“This is because we offer acts proper deals.

“If, as an act, you put all your efforts into being ‘discovered’, then you are embarking on a ‘shit or bust’ path and – even if someone does come along and gives you your big break – they are the ones who are going to decide the terms and conditions. But, if you strive to be self-sufficient and build your own sustainable audience, then the industry will hear about you and seek you out. Then they will have to offer you what you want or you will simply carry on doing what you are already successfully doing.

Dr Brown was ignored by the industry for three Fringe Festivals, but he was slowly growing an audience so that, when he was picked up and produced by Soho Theatre and Underbelly, they supported what he was doing.

John Robertson (left) and Bob Slayer

John Robertson (left) negotiates with Bob

“Heroes of Fringe has lost a show to Underbelly this year. It was one that had become a word-of-mouth hit at our Hive venue last year – John Robertson’s The Dark Room. The show is amazing. It should have been nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award last year! Underbelly had to offer John a bloody good deal in order for him to move on. He won’t lose money and – with a bit of luck and the proper support of the Underbelly – he will be a major hit at the Fringe this year.”

So there can be silver linings to the inevitable clouds at Edinburgh. But the clouds are still there.

Performers always have to add in to the Fringe experience the eye-watering cost of accommodation and of some Pay-To-Play venues, plus the factors of some financially rapacious promoters, some management agencies wantonly ripping off their own acts and some occasional… erm… highly dubious behaviour.

Bob with Claire Smith of The Scotsman at the 2012 Fringe

Butch Bob and Claire Smith of The Scotsman at Fringe 2012

In The Scotsman last year, journalist Claire Smith wrote a piece on the financing of the Edinburgh Fringe and the fact that she was threatened, during her research, both by a prominent, very long-established venue owner and by a prominent British comedian.

And, just to clarify…

That was NOT one of the Big Four venue owners…

And nor was it Bob Slayer!

He just gets grumpy occasionally.

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe can be like juggling jelly on quicksand while dog-sized mosquitoes attack you… in the rain. But, perhaps fortunately, most newcomers are too drunk, drugged or sex-crazed to notice until they get home and recover…

… and then they decide to go back for another year…

Edinburgh is addictive.

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Chinese cupping, some Australian wet comedy, a doctor and a baby on stage

Should I turn my back on Chinese medicine after this result?

I was hit by a truck in 1991. It pulverised two parts of my shoulder which still occasionally hurts; I also hit the back of my head on the edge of a brick wall and have not been able to read books since and the base of my spine is slightly damaged, causing me occasional pain.

The bottom of my spine is painful as I write this.

In my apparently never-ending quest to try and stop this occasional pain, a friend and I tried a cut-price offer from the Daily Telegraph this week – three Chinese techniques, one of which was cupping.

Certainly interesting. But, three days later, we still have giant red-and-brown blotches on our backs. My friend likes to swim but can’t go to the pool with these blotches – “I will look like a mobile art installation!” she says.

I tried to cheer her up by suggesting she could sell herself to Tate Modern, but this only made things worse. One problem, I think, is that she believes the blotches on her back look “very Sixties”. There is nothing worse than being scarred in an outdated style.

But our mild medical traumas are minor compared to British comedian Eric’s financial problems at the Adelaide Fringe in Australia, where he had his credit card stopped after a company tried to take over $4,000 from it for a hotel bill which should have been $640. Being on the other side of the world with his wife Helen and newish-born baby ‘Little E’  but without access to credit, he is struggling a bit.

And it never rains but it pours.

Eric, Helen and ‘Little E’ were eating a pizza under a tree when a leaf fell off the tree onto the pizza, signalling, Eric presumed, the arrival of autumn.

He tells me:

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It appears the change of seasons are very marked here. I wasn’t able to finish my pizza as I had to go see Gordon Southern’s show A History of History. As I walked away, the sky darkened quickly and I heard a clap of thunder, followed by the inevitable lightning. “Crikey,” I thought. “It was 31 degrees when we went to the restaurant!”

Then it started to rain. I was wearing only shorts and a shirt – I have not worn a coat or carried an umbrella since I got here in October. The trees on my side of the road provided some cover, but spotting an awning outside a pub over the road I made a dash for it. This was a big mistake. I got as far as the median strip and it absolutely fell down and, as the traffic slowed dramatically at the onset of the downpour, the gap I had anticipated in the cars closed up and I was stranded in the middle of the road with no cover whatsoever… And this was no light shower – it was bucketing it down! Within seconds, the rainwater overwhelmed the drainage system (which is probably only designed to cope with about four inches of rain a year) and great puddles formed by the kerb.

By the time I reached the awning, I was already soaked to the skin and the shelter it offered was of no use to me now. I continued in the pouring rain to see Gordon’s show. I arrived but had missed the start – he was already up to the Greeks (not the financial bail-out, but Aristotle). I sat on a stool at the back of the room and wrung my socks out into an empty glass on the windowsill.

When I had finished, I did not know whether my glass was half full or half empty (of sock juice).

__________

Eric started his comedy career when the late Malcolm Hardee dragged him out of the audience and up on stage at Up The Creek and, ever afterwards, encouraged him to become a performer. It seems Eric’s baby daughter ‘Little E’ may follow in his footsteps (when she learns to walk):

__________

Helen and I have been taking ‘Little E’ to shows at the Adelaide Fringe and she has seen quite a few now, though we suspect that some of the more subtle stuff has gone over her head and a lot of her dinner has certainly gone over Helen. Nevertheless she seems to be having fun.

We went to see the legendary (almost wordless) Dr Brown’s show. I first saw him at the Edinburgh Fringe and he ejected me from his audience, because my mate Charlie Saffrey clapped in the wrong place and Dr Brown thought it was me.

‘Little E’ was silent all the way through his show and, when it came to the part where Dr Brown was miming a baby onstage, I whispered to Helen that, for once, the little one’s cries might actually have fitted in with the proceedings, instead of proving a distraction.

No sooner had the words left my mouth, than Dr Brown left the stage as part of his continued mime and, when he got to the back of the room, he spotted our silent ‘Little E’ perched on Helen’s lap. So he whisked her onto the stage to the delight of the whole audience and ‘Little E’ made her stage debut at 11 weeks and 12 hours old.

Afterwards, Dr Brown said that “it was an honour to be working with such a professional.” Well, actually he said “playing with” but I felt I should change the wording.

My first stage performance was as a result of being dragged up onstage by one comedy legend. Now Erica has followed in her father’s footsteps, but at a much younger age.

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Digressions in British comedy and acting and a sad death in Los Angeles

I went to Hastings on Friday for the first of Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull the Other One comedy shows there. They now have monthly Pull The Other One shows in Peckham, Herne Hill and Hastings. One laughing audience member came out at the end saying:

“I haven’t seen so many naked men since… well, I don’t think I ever have…”

I guess that will inevitably happen when you have Martin Soan, Bob Slayer and Dr Brown in among fully-clothed Simon MunnerySol Bernstein and Charmian Hughes, who tells me she is not (as I thought) giving up her sand dance just at the very point when she is thinking of performing next year in Australia – a land not short of sand.

Australia has sand the way my blogs can sometimes have digressions.

Nay. Nay. Thrice nay. Charmian tells me she is not giving up her sand dance but will be “rationing it due to the erotic pandemonium in unleashes on unsuspecting audience ‘members’.”

She will instead occasionally replace it in her stage routine with the ‘dance of the seven cardigans’.

The real highlight for me of trekking through Friday night traffic to get to Pull The Other One, though, was chatting off-stage to actor and now film-maker Robin Hayter, a man of inexhaustible and fascinating anecdotes.

His ubiquitous father James Hayter starred in BBC TV’s first ever sitcom Pinwright’s Progress in 1946-1947, seemed to be in every British feature film of my childhood and is perhaps most fondly remembered as the definitive on-screen Mr Pickwick in The Pickwick Papers and as the original actor who declared in TV ad voice-overs that “Mr Kipling make exceedingly fine cakes”.

I had not known that James Hayter appeared in a regular role in BBC TV sitcom Are You Being Served? nor that the Mr Kipling cake people paid him a very large sum of money indeed to drop out of the show because they felt it was too down-market a series and his appearances in it might devalue his dignified voice-overs in what they saw as their up-market cakes’ ads.

It also turned out that Robin Hayter and I had both worked with the wonderful David Rappaport. Robin was a fan of ‘Green Nigel’, the character David performed as a piss-take of children’s TV show Blue Peter when I worked on the final series of anarchic TV show Tiswas.

David Rappaport was a very highly intelligent man; a friendly, kind person and a charismatic actor who appeared in Time Bandits and many other movies. I never saw his appearances in his own US TV series The Wizard but, apparently, he was wonderful.

Like Robin Hayter, I was very shocked and very sad, when I heard that he had shot himself, depressed, in Los Angeles in 1990.

Very sad.

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Robin Hayter’s video ‘pitch’ for a proposed documentary movie is HERE.

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Painting a New York fart, Tony Blair and Jo Brand

Yesterday, in response to my blog mentioning farteur Mr Methane, Jackie Hunter, former features editor of The Scotsman newspaper, reminded me that early 20th-century artist Maxfield Parrish painted a fart into a mural that now adorns the famous King Cole Bar in New York’s St Regis hotel. I have to agree with her that painting a fart is quite an achievement.

Yesterday was a funny old mixture of a day because British comedians are now planning for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Going to the Fringe, like having a baby, is a nine-month project involving a lot of nausea, pain and uncertain results.

Charlie Chuck phoned me about his planned return to Edinburgh which sounds suitably unusual and the extraordinarily multi-talented Janey Godley, not planning to play the Edinburgh Fringe this year but just about to go to the Adelaide Fringe, told me about two possibilities she has been unexpectedly offered in two totally different media. From Janey, the unexpected comes as no surprise.

In the afternoon, I had to take a friend to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, is surrounded by a high Grade A security fence which makes it look more like a Stalag Luft Queen Elizabeth II escape-proof prison camp in World War II or a Ministry of Defence site in the Cold War.

In the evening, I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club at the beleaguered and now closed Ivy House pub in Nunhead. The venue was re-opened specially for the night to stage Pull The Other One with this month’s headliner Jo Brand.

Vivienne & Martin now have their next six shows arranged but with no definite venue and are looking round, although they would prefer to stay at the warmly ornate and atmospheric mirrored ‘golden room’ behind the Ivy House bar. One local alternative might be The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station.

Comedian and novelist Dominic Holland, making his second appearance at Pull The Other One called it “the weirdest gig that exists,” which it surely is. The format is about two hours of variety acts and two stand-up comics. Unusually, nowadays, the bizarre variety acts – far be it from me to name-drop Bob Slayer and Holly Burn – are as important to the feel of the shows as the stand-ups.

Afterwards, Dominic told me that his 14-year-old son Tom Holland, recently on stage as Billy Elliot in the West End, is currently in Thailand filming a lead role in major Hollywood blockbuster The Impossible. I thought Dominic was probably ‘talking up’ this film out of fatherly pride until I looked it up on IMDB Pro and found it is a big-budget tsunami disaster movie “starring Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland” and is one of the “most anticipated films of 2011”.

Other shocks of the evening were that the much talked-about cult comedian Dr Brown has got an entirely new character act in which he actually moves and talks semi-coherently. And I heard that legendary ‘open spot’ act Jimbo – he seems to have been doing open spots as long as Cilla Black has been acting-out the role of ordinary woman next door – is now getting paid gigs, has allegedly changed into a (different) character act and is perhaps going to the Edinburgh Fringe. If he won an award as Best Newcomer at the Fringe it would be very funny and would be a triumph for Brian Damage of Pear Shaped, who has long championed Jimbo and other – even by my standards – very, very bizarre acts.

A very funny night at Pull The Other One ended very entertainingly but totally unsurprisingly with nudity. There were even some calls for The Naked Balloon Dance of fond memory.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, Tunisia continued to stumble around like a blinded meerkat towards potential anarchic chaos and tanks were rolling around Cairo to prevent what threatened to be a popular uprising.

Is it my imagination or have things deteriorated badly in that area since the United Nations, evidently an organisation with no sense of irony, appointed Tony Blair as Middle East Peace Envoy and why is it I never actually see any pictures of him in the Middle East?

Could it be he’s just too busy talking to God and this week, according to The Times, signing a six-figure deal to make four speeches for a hedge fund which made around £100 million by betting on the collapse of the Northern Rock bank in the UK?

This was shortly after the Daily Mail reported that he got £300,000 for making one speech for banking giant Goldman Sachs, while he had a £2.5 million deal as “advisor”  to JP Morgan, who, according to London’s Evening Standard, won a contract to set up an Iraqi bank in the wake of the US-led invasion.

Which gets us back to the subject of Mr Methane and farting around the world and brings up the possibly pertinent question:

What is the difference between being a comedian and taking the piss?

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MALCOLM HARDEE AWARDS 2010 – shortlist announced at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

After an ‘interesting’ discussion** this morning, the shortlist for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards has been announced. The Awards are being presented until the year 2017 in memory of the late “godfather of British alternative comedy”.

The Malcolm Hardee Award winners will be announced around midnight on Friday 27th August during the nightly Shaggers show at the Three Sisters in Cowgate, Edinburgh as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.
Today, the shortlist for the three awards was announced as:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Dr BROWN is an act where ‘surreal’ does not quite do justice to what is or is not happening on stage – “Uncomfortable weirdness” was one attempt to categorise it.

LEWIS SCHAFFER for turning round his act Into a highly improvised and totally unpredictable event… and for being able to literally take his show Free Until Famous onto the streets.

BOB SLAYER for his continued services to anarchy in comedy, including his  gobsmackingly anarchic Punk Rock Chat Show (which usually has nothing to do with punk, rock or chat)

ROBERT WHITE for his enthusiastic unconventionality and for being (in his own words) “the only gay, Aspergers, quarter Welsh, webbed-toed dyslexic pianist debuting this Fringe”

THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

(for best Fringe publicity stunt)

STEWART LEE who, while complaining about the former Perrier Award incidentally, almost accidentally promoted Japanese act the Frank Chickens who were not performing at this year’s Fringe. As a result, they actually did come up to Edinburgh to perform at the Fringe for the first time in 25 years – at a show promoting Stewart Lee’s new book. The fact that Stewart did not intend to unleash publicity does not negate his success.

MANOS THE GREEK for claiming he will donate 10% of the total earnings from his Free Fringe show to rescue the Greek economy and by pushing his luck in a Hardee-esque way by, one hour before we decided on the shortlist, having a photocall wearing a langolia (Greek kilt) atop Calton Hill in front of the Doric columns of the National Monument.

ARTHUR SMITH for declaring that he would pay £100 to any journalist attending his show who would juggle fish. When his bluff was called by critic Bruce Dessau, Arthur neglected to buy the required kippers, but he still got publicity out of a silly idea: a pre-requisite for getting a Cunning Stunt nomination.

THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID’ AWARD
(first time this new annual award has been made)

BO BURNHAM certainly one of the hottest young comedians on the Fringe for several years. Might already have made a million in the US, which might or might not disqualify him.

GREG DAVIES for his sense of the absurb. Known as the psychotic head of sixth form, Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners and the most out-of-shape member of We are Klang.
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Separate from the Awards, The Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview continues to screen daily at 1520 at the Newsroom venue in Leith Street (east end of Princes Street) until 28th August. The screening comprises a 32 minute documentary The Tunnel about Malcolm’s most notorious comedy club; and 17 minutes of clips from the currently-in-production 90-minute documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.
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** The’interesting’ discussion resulted in the shortlist for the ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award’ reduced from four to two nominees.

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