Tag Archives: edinburgh fringe

The very interesting Thom Tuck sings The Mountain Goats and I’m convinced.

On Friday this week, there is a show at the Vault Festival in London titled THOM TUCK SINGS THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

The billing for the show reads:

“A barely known comedian (“increasingly melancholy” The Guardian) sings the songs of a band you probably don’t listen to. A phenomenally stupid idea. Total sellout Edinburgh Fringe 2017.”

Thom Tuck is a very interesting man so, obviously I had to ask him several questions. As is my wont, I tended to meander a bit. Well, OK, a lot.


JOHN: So why are you doing this show?

THOM: I fell into a hole by getting into The Mountain Goats – the best band you’ve never listened to. They are so good.

JOHN: Do they sing jolly, feel good songs?

THOM: They’ve got two styles of songs: sad and very sad. Well, three types: sad, weird and angry. New Chevrolet in Flames is about a couple who take a car for a test drive, park it behind a school and set it alight.

JOHN: So the attraction of The Mountain Goats is…?

THOM: John Darnielle is just a brilliant storyteller. The first few albums are just him with a guitar and a Panasonic boombox and they’re all first or second takes. Phenomenal stories. And then, when he decided to write about his own life it got even better. There was a concept album about loads of druggies living together in a house… then an album about his abusive stepfather.

They released a single last week. It is sort-of about a dragon.

The last record was about Goths getting old and it includes a song about The Sisters of Mercy and their lead singer – It’s called Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds.

JOHN: And you yourself were born in…

THOM: Leeds.

JOHN: And you feel Yorkshire…

THOM: Yes. There’s a Bill Bryson quote: You never feel so much a part of your own culture as when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t.

JOHN: You were brought up in…

THOM: Egypt, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

JOHN: How did Denmark get in there?

THOM: My (English) dad worked for Danish firms – Krüger, an engineering firm, and DANIDA, the Danish international development agency.

“Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’”

JOHN: Did being brought up in all those countries screw-up your brain about who you are and where you’re from?

THOM: Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’… That was just the way it was. I wasn’t anywhere longer than 18 months before Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh for six years – aged 10-16.

JOHN: The formative years.

THOM: Yes. I made friends pretty quickly, because I had to. I’m quite good at that first bit,

JOHN: Do The Mountain Goats know you are doing this show?

THOM: Well, I did it before, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, for Mark Watson’s Festival of Bad Ideas and John Darnielle knew about that one.

JOHN: Are you taking it back up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

THOM: Probably. I did it sort-of unofficially last year – about 17 shows. I just put on Instagram: I’M GOING TO DO IT NOW! and went to Bob’s Blundabus and started playing in the shed.

JOHN: And you have formed a band to do this show.

THOM: Yes. The Hospital Bombers – named after a line in the Mountain Goats’ song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton:

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Never settled on a name
But the top three contenders after weeks of debate
Were Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and The Hospital Bombers 

And all the band except one are obsessives about The Mountain Goats as well.

Thom and The Hospital Bombers’ possible set list for the show

JOHN: So this could be the start of a new career for you: singing.

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: But you’re a serious actor, really.

THOM: Well, the last big job I did was in the play Brexit.

JOHN: And you did Death of a Salesman.

THOM: Yes, two years ago. That was a torrid time. The lead actor died in tech rehearsal (three days before the play was due to open). Tim Pigott-Smith. So the first three weeks were cancelled.

JOHN: Had you wanted to be an actor originally?

THOM: I think so. But I always got cast as the comedy part in plays at school.

JOHN: I always think you went to university at Oxbridge, but you didn’t.

THOM: No. I went to Edinburgh University.

JOHN: Why?

THOM: Because, when I was 17, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and thought: Oh! I’ll come to university here, please!

JOHN: You studied…

THOM: Philosophy. I’m very glad I did it: I think I’m a better thinker because of it.

JOHN: But that’s no help in comedy, is it?

“Philosophical about things over which you have no control”

THOM: Well, just in life. Being able to remain philosophical about things over which you have no control and seeing logical flaws in things and fallacies in arguments.

JOHN: Seeing through bullshit.

THOM: Yes. I started doing Philosophy and Economics and that’s a bad pairing because, if you do them together, you realise Economics is false. It’s based on myriad assumptions and, time after time, these assumptions are not held up. Economists think they’re scientists and they’re fucking not.

JOHN: What are they?

THOM: They’re social scientists. They consider themselves on a par with mathematicians and they’re just not.

JOHN: You are very literate. You should be writing novels.

THOM: I’ve started a couple, but I’m not good enough yet. Jess Fortescue and I are trying to write a TV sitcom at the moment.

JOHN: So you’re busy. The Penny Dreadfuls have been commissioned to do another BBC Radio show and you run the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society live shows. 

THOM: Yes, it has been going about 7 or 8 years now. We have one next week – Tuesday 12th February – at The Albany in Central London.

One of Thom’s individually hand-drawn flyers for the show

JOHN: Your publicity for Thom Tuck Sings The Mountain Goats says you can’t sing.

THOM: I’m not a singer. That’s what I said.

JOHN: What’s the difference?

THOM: I have a nice voice, but I’m not very good at hitting the notes.

JOHN: So you sing all the right notes, but…

THOM: …not necessarily in the right order. Yes. If I was to sing in a cappella without any backing, it would sound great but, unfortunately, this is with a band.

JOHN: The Hospital Bombers.

THOM: Yes.

JOHN: And, when you did it in Edinburgh in 2017, it sold out.

THOM: Yes. When we did it for Mark Watson’s shows, it sold out because it was Mark Watson.

JOHN: It still sounds good to me. Do you see the show going further?

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: Any more singing ahead?

THOM: Long-term, I want to do a particular musical, but I don’t know how good I am. It’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the story of an East German transsexual rock singer. The film is exceptional and the stage version is just a rock concert with a monologue in-between.

JOHN: More singing for you, though… I’m convinced.

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Filed under Comedy, Music

Mr Twonkey tries to plug his show but gets sidetracked by cheese and fast food

I had a very fuzzy talk with Mr Twonkey

I had a video chat with comedy performer Mr Twonkey (Paul Vickers) on FaceTime but I could only see him as a frozen, fuzzy presence.


PAUL: That’s just the way I look.

JOHN: Where are you? Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes, on the shore at Leith in my windmill.

JOHN: Your windmill in Edinburgh.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: You wanted to talk to me to wantonly plug your show at the Bill Murray comedy club in Islington next Thursday (7th February).

PAUL: And I’m at the Leicester Comedy Festival the weekend after that – Saturday 9th.

JOHN: The same show?

PAUL: Yes. Well, the same show with a different title.

JOHN: The last time I talked to you, there seemed to be a planned, linear progression to your shows. I was quite shocked.

PAUL: Well, to me there’s a plan, but people just think they’re… well, just… well… mental… But to me there’s a plan.

JOHN: So what’s this new show about?

PAUL: A conspiracy theory. The idea that all the weather we currently experience is generated in one small factory in the Dordogne in France. And the ‘front’ for it is a cake decorating shop. Behind the scenes, they are making weather, but it is mal-functioning. So I go to investigate. That’s the central crux… There are connections with Leonardo da Vinci.

JOHN: Which are?

PAUL: Apparently he had plans to re-invent the weather.

JOHN: Title of the show?

Mr Twonkey’s new show is coming to Islington

PAUL: My original title was Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change but, when I told my PR, the phone went silent. Now it’s called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch. She didn’t like Whizz, Weathercock, Whizz! either. Next Thursday will be the first time I’ve performed it. The other night, we wrote a new song for it because we were watching Neil Diamond videos and became inspired. So now there’s a new bit in the show about a temporary exhibition of Neil Diamond stage costumes at Luton Airport.

JOHN: Separate from this show, you have a new music album coming out…

PAUL: Yes. There’s a new Paul Vickers and The Leg album called Jump! There have been some problems on that with label changes, but I think what is going to happen is… Well, I don’t know what is going to happen at all. The main thing we’re focussed on is getting it finished. We’re mixing it at the moment. It takes a long time to finish a record because, when you get five grumpy men in a room, it takes a while.

JOHN: Are you going to tour with the band?

PAUL: Hopefully. But it’s a case of time and money. There’s a lot of things I would like to do. My play about David Lynch is ready, but it’s too expensive for me to do at the moment.

JOHN: Why expensive?

PAUL: I need actors and actors cost money. The last time I did a play – Jennifer’s Robot Arm – it cost me a fortune. The trouble with plays is the cost escalates. It’s like digging a hole and just throwing loads of money into it. Whereas, with a Twonkey show, there’s a limit to how much the cost can escalate because it’s basically just me and what I buy in junk shops.

JOHN: How is your good lady? Is she still making props for you?

“Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver. Sounds strange”

PAUL: Yes. And buying me things. The other day, she bought me a xylophone that plays by itself, but I think it’s broken. It sounds wrong and wobbles a lot.

JOHN: But, then, so do I… Is it having creative differences with itself?

PAUL: It appears so. It’s quite rusty as well. Somebody had a go at it with a screwdriver but it sounds very strange now.

JOHN: It plays itself?

PAUL: Because it’s from the early 1970s, the way you program it is with a coil. It’s kinda like an auto-piano that you would get in a Wild West saloon. It’s very old and broken.

JOHN: But, then, so am I and, if you tweaked me with a screwdriver…. What else have you been doing?

PAUL: I made a little video in the western town in Morningside

JOHN: Western town? Morningside??? The very posh part of Edinburgh?

PAUL: Yes. Behind the library, there’s a street that’s like the Wild West.

JOHN: What?

PAUL: It was built for some advertising thing. There’s a saloon and a canteen. It’s like a proper little Wild West street. It used to be a dance hall; now it’s a street.

JOHN: What is the video about?

Mr Twonkey inside his windmill, holding quite a large cheese

PAUL: Cheese. How America lacks high quality cheese… American cheese is kinda plastic cheese. Was there ever a point where they tried to introduce European or exotic cheeses into America? I had the idea there was a time in the Wild West where cheese was more valuable than gold. So I’m trying to smuggle cheese and I steal the sheriff’s cheese and he tries to win it back. It’s very simple.

JOHN: What triggered you into thinking about the low quality of cheese in the USA?

PAUL: I just couldn’t think of any high-quality American cheese. In this country, every different region has its own cheese. And I thought: That surely must be the case in America; they must be making some kind of local cheese… but they’re not. Why not? But they love cheese. 

JOHN: Their showbiz can be quite cheesy. There’s Brie Larson.

PAUL: But does she generate genuine cheese?

JOHN: I don’t know her that well.

PAUL: There is no great American cheese. It is such poor quality that it can’t officially be classed as cheese.

JOHN: Who says?

Mr Twonkey – a man, a myth, a large sombrero

PAUL: The cheesemongers of the world. The Cheese Police. (LAUGHS)

JOHN: Is there some official supervisory cheese body?

PAUL: There must be. You can’t get away with just knocking out anything and calling it cheese. There must be someone who says: “Hang on a minute… That’s not proper cheese!”

JOHN: Is all this because American cows are below par?

PAUL: The thing about America is it’s massive. They’ve got snake farms. There are places out in the woods where they’re making things in a DIY homemade manner. You would think somewhere out there someone would be making high quality cheese…

You would think maybe someone with French ancestry would be thinking: I want to make a really smelly, runny cheese. But I don’t think there’s anyone in America doing that. I have Googled extensively online and the best I could come up with was Vermont Cheddar which, if you put it on a plate in France, they would say: “Well, that is… average.”

I have never been to Vermont. All I know is the Captain Beefheart song Moonlight on Vermont.

JOHN: Does Moonlight on Vermont include any reference to cheese?

PAUL: I don’t think he mentions cheese.

JOHN: I seem to remember cheese being a motif in previous shows of yours.

PAUL: It is. It’s one of the things I focus on. Certain things keep coming back: cheese, World War Two, escapology, engineering and witchcraft. But you Google American cheese. You’d be amazed.

JOHN: I don’t doubt it.

PAUL: The country that invented the cheeseburger doesn’t have decent cheese.

JOHN: Did they invent the cheeseburger?

PAUL: Well, they invented fast food. Have you seen that film The Founder?

JOHN: About Colonel Sanders?

PAUL: No, about the guy who started McDonald’s. Except he didn’t start McDonald’s. He went into business with the McDonald brothers and their original intention was high-quality fast food.

Michael Keaton’s movie as The Founder

The way they did it was they didn’t open a restaurant first; they booked a tennis court, got a piece of chalk and divided the tennis court into different areas for preparing different types of food, then employed staff who came to the tennis court and they mapped-out a kitchen and they were directing people round this tennis court to see who could make the quickest high-quality cheeseburger. Then they built a restaurant to the exact specifications of the tennis court.

JOHN: Didn’t the net get in the way?”

PAUL: I think they maybe took down the net. We have gone off-track…

JOHN: I feel there is a rock opera to be written about cheese and you are the man to do it.

PAUL: The Americans invented jazz and fast food… And that’s it… We are going off-track.

JOHN: So you are performing at the Bill Murray in London on Thursday.

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch.

Twonkey… Another gig. The same show. Another title… A fez

JOHN: And then at the Leicester Comedy Festival on Saturday 9th February..

PAUL: Yes. Twonkey Turns The Umbrella of History, Meets Leonardo da Vinci and Explains Climate Change.

JOHN: Which is the same show, but with a different title.

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: And, at the Edinburgh Fringe, it will be called Twonkey’s Ten Year Twitch?

PAUL: Yes.

JOHN: That seems reasonable.

… Mr TWONKEY’s MORNINGSIDE VIDEO IS ON YOUTUBE …

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Filed under Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Music

Comedy performer Becky Fury in Berlin with the man who had had too much fun

Becky Fury… And this is the way the conversation went…

My last blog, a week ago,  was about What happened when award-winning performer Becky Fury went to Berlin for a week to create art but she only stayed for a day. 

It was not exactly clear why her stay was so short. And several readers of this blog have asked me (yes indeed they really have) why.

The only explanation in the previous blog was: “the guy that invited me to Berlin, who has taken way too much acid… didn’t really think about the logistics of inviting people to make art there. So I decided to get a plane back to London after I went into Berlin itself on a psycho-geographic ramble.”

So, obviously, a couple of days ago, I sat down and had a cup of tea with Becky (we are, after all, British) and asked her to be more specific. 

And this is the way the conversation went…


BECKY: The guy read your blog, contacted me and said he had been wondering what happened to me.

JOHN: He didn’t realise you had left Berlin?

BECKY: No. I hadn’t told him.

JOHN: You left over a week ago.

BECKY: Well, there were a few things he didn’t notice and the fact that I had left Berlin was one of those things. 

JOHN: He had done too much…

BECKY: He had done too much… of something. He had had… erm… He had had way too much ‘fun’. That’s a nice way of explaining it.

JOHN: But he never noticed you had gone? Did you leave a stuffed dummy of a human body under your bedclothes?

BECKY: This was the thing. I didn’t have a bed to sleep in. That was mainly the reason I left. Because I was given a couch in a freezing cold warehouse in East Berlin in January. 

JOHN: We couldn’t afford couches in my day…

BECKY: Maybe I should have considered myself lucky… And I had a dirty sleeping bag to sleep under.

JOHN: Sounds ideal. This is the stuff of award-winning Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows.

BECKY: I know… I… err… I don’t want to get distracted by what you’re saying.

JOHN: Few people do.

BECKY: Basically, I went to Berlin to do some art. We had had this really, really interesting conversation, this guy and me. I had met him when I first started to do squatting and alternative politics in 2002. It was a really interesting thing to catch up with him and have a conversation about all the things that had happened since 2002. And he told me we could do a film in his ‘green screen room’ in Berlin. I knew that, over the previous 17 years, he had been taking a lot of… having a lot of ‘fun’.

“I can’t work in this space and I can’t work with you.”

When I got to Berlin, he took me up to see the green screen room and it was the size of… well, basically, you couldn’t stand up in it. Which is a bit of a problem for a green screen room. And he had a tent in the green screen room and he was sleeping in there.

I looked at him and he looked at me and he said: “Oh, no, no, well, we could do it like a rocket. We could film it like we were in a rocket ship in here.” 

And I was thinking: No, we couldn’t. We could only film it in here like we were two tramps living in a tent in a green screen room. There’s nothing else you can do in this space. You ARE actually like a tramp living in this tent in a room that you have green screened and this is fucking insane. I can’t work in this space and I clearly can’t work with you.

And he kinda knew there was something wrong, but this is the thing about people having too much… who have had too much ‘fun’. It is like you’re tripping all the time.

I wasn’t angry with him at all. He was in his dream and he wasn’t really seeing why there was a problem. In his dream, it was fine. We would absolutely make an amazing film with us in a tent flying through space.

He told me this guy from (a well-known cabaret music group) was coming down. And he did. But the date he had given the guy was totally wrong: it was like four days afterwards. I mean, you really can’t get people to fucking come from other countries to meet up and the two people who are meant to be doing the project together arrive four days apart!

He had not done the logistics and I was meant to stay on this freezing cold couch under a dirty sleeping bag for four days. He told me that is what everyone in Berlin does.

So I wandered off. 

There was also inter-personal politics with people in the house.

Basically, they had set up an art space in an enormous warehouse space.

There was the original Tacheles squat after the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the squatters got evicted and it was turned into luxury flats. And these were the same (squatter) people who had moved and set up a new Tacheles.

That’s what he told me and it is, but there were two sets of agendas going on.

He has sort-of ‘arted’ all over the warehouse – like he has pissed all over the place, but with art. Art everywhere. So the people upstairs have to deal with him: this guy who is ‘arting’ all over their place.

JOHN: Is this not good? Whatever happened to the joy of anarchy?

“Like I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave. and run away very fast.”

BECKY: Well, the thing about anarchy is it needs some level of organisation for it to function, otherwise it’s just chaos and a big mess. Which is fun. And it was interesting to go and visit it. But I think that might be why, in the picture you put in the last blog, I look like I’d seen a ghost: that I had seen The Ghost of Anarchy Past and had to leave and run away very fast.

JOHN: So, basically, you just left because you were a bit cold…

BECKY: (LAUGHING) Basically, that’s it! I could have waited to find out if the guy turned up from the (well-known cabaret music group) – which he did.

JOHN: So, at what point did this bloke who enticed you over to do art discover you had left Berlin? Only when he read my blog?

BECKY: No. When the other guy turned up four days later and I wasn’t there.

JOHN: How had you left?

BECKY: I said: “I’m going to go for a walk.”

JOHN: To the guy who had had too much fun?

BECKY: No. To the other guys upstairs. They said to me: “We don’t really know what you’re doing here.”

And I was thinking: I don’t really know what I’m doing here either.

I could have won them over with my natural wit and charm and – obviously – the opportunity to be mentioned in your blog. But I thought: I don’t really want to be here and I’ve got other shit to be getting on with. So I said I was going for a walk and was thinking I’d get an AirBnB or something but, by the time I had left and got a bit of food and was near the station – I hadn’t eaten since I got there because the guy didn’t have any food…

JOHN: You had only been there for like half a day! That’s hardly hardship…

BECKY: (LAUGHS)

JOHN: So you said you were going off for a walk like Captain Oates?

BECKY: Yeah. “I might be some time” and they never saw me again. I did my Captain Oates bit and bowed out disgracefully.

JOHN: Though, unlike Captain Oates, you went to a warmer place.

BECKY: Though we don’t know what happened to Captain Oates, do we?

JOHN: No we don’t. But you left because…

BECKY: I had thought it was going to be a really functional space with loads of people. Not just three cold and very irritable hippies and a man who had taken too much fun.

Although, to be honest, that is a better audience than I’ve sometimes had at the Edinburgh Fringe…

So I came back to London and learnt the script for Political, my show at the Leicester Comedy Festival on 22nd February.

JOHN: Well promoted.

BECKY: I try.

JOHN: And you’ve succeeded.

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Filed under Anarchy, Comedy, Drugs

What other comedians said about “the godfather of UK comedy” after he died

Today would have been comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 69th birthday. Who knows how he might have commented on that number?

He was born on 5th January 1950. He drowned in a dock in Rotherhithe, by the River Thames,  on 31st January 2005. He was drunk and fell in.

In their coverage of his death, the Daily Telegraph called him the “Godfather to a generation of comic talent”.

The Guardian’s extensive coverage called him the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”

The Independent’s obituary said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

The Times’ obituary said: “Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences”.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

These are a few of those memories, starting with my own…


JOHN FLEMING – 3rd February 2005

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. 

For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not AGAIN, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that, with his trousers down, he was never embarrassed.


BRIAN DAMAGE, comedian – 4th February

I’ve met some great people on the comedy circuit but Malcolm was without a doubt one of the best… and the funniest.

When I heard the terrible news, after the initial shock, I hoped that this might just be another of his scams to wind people up. I wouldn’t put it past him – but sadly I now know it isn’t.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night at Up The Creek when two girls died a terrible death. As they left the stage with the hair standing up on the back of their necks, Malcolm said: “Well, they were shit but… I’d fuck the fat one!”

Thanks Malcolm for all the laughs and encouragement and South Africa and Glastonbury and The Wibbley Wobbley and the odd bit of trouble you got me into. I’m proud to have known you. I’ll miss you a hell of a lot.

The comedy circuit won’t be the same without you

Oy Oy mate. Knob out.


IAN COGNITO, comedian – 5th February

My abiding and most recent memories involve an early morning swim (I know) after a bit of a night ahht. 

He’d managed to find some security code for one of the big officey blocks round the dock with its own, and subsequently Malc’s, private pool overlooking the Thames. It was an hour earlier than I expected ‘cos he’d never put his clock back and this was December. 

So it’s into one of his dodgy cars to visit an 80 year old lady called Moth for morning coffee, then off to try and blag some horse riding. Upon reaching these stables, after a spot of lunch, we were told someone had moved in nearby who claimed to know Malcolm. 

Without ascertaining friend or foe, we went to a house in the middle of nowhere. 

“Who am I?” asked Malcolm. 

We were invited in for champagne and Christmas dinner. Then to the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich where we seemed to blag some free buffet, (I can just see him wiping his hands halfway up his suit, the way he did after cleaning his plate with his finger, and why not.) 

Finally back to the Wibbley Wobbley to find more playmates. 

Up until the evening, Malcolm had drunk just half a pint of bitter and blagged a fiver off me for petrol. 

No fucking drama, just a lovely day out with a lovely man. 

All that for a fiver.


JERRY SADOWITZ, comedian – 6th February

Irresponsible, conscience free, worry free, fun seeking, knew how to have a laugh, a woman in every port, highly intelligent… all the things I wish I could be… So I resented him a lot of the time! 

But the measure of this man is that he could wind you up, rip you off, embarrass and exasperate you… and you’d still love him despite all that. What a rare quality!!

I will miss him, despite the load of shit he spouted about me and the world is definitely a poorer place for his passing. Why could this not have happened to any other comic or promoter????!!!!!


MAURICE GIBB, Edinburgh fireman – 6th February

I first met Malcolm back in 1981 when he appeared with The Greatest Show on Legs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following on from their successful TV appearance on OTT performing the Balloon Dance. 

I was the Fire Brigade officer that year tasked with ensuring the public were safe in respect of fire hazards during a performance – no mean feat considering Malcolm’s love of all things incendiary!

Like many others who knew Malcolm I was taken by his personality, intelligence and love of fun but in particular it was his “Fuck it” attitude to life that I truly admired and envied the most.

Malcolm and I remained friends and in contact right up to his untimely death and I will always be grateful for the fun and laughter that we shared over the last 23 years.

I will miss him a lot.


PAUL ‘WIZO’ WISEMAN, accomplice – 6th February

I first meet Malcolm when I was five. 

I was dressed in a full cowboy outfit (it was the fashion then) and it was my first day at primary school. He looked at me and started giggling.

We then spent the next 48 years giggling with occasional bouts of prison, setting fire to cinemas, blowing up stolen buses with fireworks and driving cars through supermarket windows as well as showbiz bollocks. 

He was the most fearless man I have ever meet as well as painfully shy, which he overcame with bluster and sheer persistence and a large pair of bollocks. 

When we were both sentenced to Borstal for various naughty boy things at Exeter Assizes in 1971, we both got our dicks out to the judge when he sent us down.

Knob out, thousand pounds, nightmare.


GEORGE EGG, comedian –  7th February

I was 19 when I did my first paid spot on the comedy circuit. It was at Up The Creek and for many years after it was the only club I played, because Malcolm was the only person who’d book me.

Some years ago I’d expressed interest in the fairground mirrors that were in the since closed Comedy Empire in Willesden and Malcolm had assured me I’d be able to get them for only a few quid so I took a trip up to London especially. 

I was directed to some bloke in Greenwich market who said they’d cost me a grand, so I called Malcolm who apologised for the mistake but asked me to pop round. 

We visited his boat and ‘Concrete Ken’, where we had a beer, and then we drove to some place in Whitechapel for a fantastic curry, all courtesy of Malcolm of course. 

Next we visited a bookie’s where he proceeded to bet shockingly high stakes on two races, both of which he won and we finally drove back to his place where his son’s friends were hanging around outside the house, sitting on steps and car bonnets.

“Look, it’s like New York,” he said, and then, “Right, I’m going back to bed. Knob out!”

It’s a small but fond memory.

A genuinely lovely man. The comedy circuit will not be the same without him. Malcolm was to British comedy what John Peel was to British music.


DOMINIC HOLLAND, comedian – 7th February

Is there anyone in comedy who was more liked than Malcolm? 

It is sad but, in an industry where success is covertly resented by too many, I suppose Malcolm fitted the bill for being liked perfectly. He was notorious but crucially not so successful either. 

What he had that set him apart was his great generosity of spirit. 

A rogue and a shyster, of course, but he was also a genuinely kind man and, aside from all his knob out antics, he was actually a shy and sensitive man who needed just as much approval as the next comic. 

I expect most people that knew him weren’t altogether surprised to hear the sad news about his death, but their sadness would have been brief and countered by their own memories and warmth of this lovely man. 

I’ll remember him most for the way he brought me on stage at the Creek on a dire Sunday night. I’d avoided Sundays for years. All the comics said that they were shit, so I thought What’s the point? But Malcolm kept on at me and finally I stuck it in the diary. 

So, after about 8 acts, most of which hadn’t gone very well, Malcolm was about to bring me on: 

“Last bloke on now. It’s his first Sunday night down here, because he just does Fridays and Saturdays and storms it… so he’s well overdue for a shit one. Oy, oy.” 

And he was right. 

I had a shit gig and smiled all the way home because only Malcolm would have said that and only Malcolm Hardee could have got away with it. 

In comedy, people try desperately hard to appear different. 

Malcolm was different, and as said by so many other people, he will be very very missed.


Mr METHANE, farteur – 7th February

I always thought that, underneath all that East End stuff he had going on, Malcolm was genuinely a really nice bloke and a real character. There’s not enough characters around these days and consequently its a sad loss.


OWEN O’NEILL, comedian – 7th February

You were suspicious of poetry
saw clear through most of it
even with those glasses.
Dickens would have loved you Malcolm
would have immortalised you, given you
a name like Swindle Rotherhind, or Tucker Lawless.

But you didn’t need Dickens, you wrote
the chapters of your own life.
MALCOLM HARDEE
Your name fitted you like your food-stained ill fitting baggy suits. You were wide open, a big bad innocent book with no new leaves to turn.
All your pages stuck together, bound by your first rule of comedy: “Fall over! Get your knob out!”

You once caused me to cry with laughter until
I thought I would die. You took me for a ride in The Tartan Taxi. It had tartan seats and tartan carpets and tartan fairy-lights and a tape playing awful tartan bagpipe music and the driver changed hats and smiled like a lunatic as he drove us round and round and round the same roundabout for half an hour.

You encouraged him Malcolm. You encouraged the child in all of us, blew raspberries and pissed down the back of pomposity. We will miss you Malcolm. No one is brave enough to take your place. So when you fell over for the last time on Monday the thirty first of January two thousand and five, I really hope you had your knob out.

This last bit of the poem is a bit tasteless Malcolm. Some people might be offended by it.
They might think it’s not very nice to speak of the dead in this way… What’s that you say?
Fuck ‘em Oy Oy!
Yes, that’s what I thought you said.

… CONTINUED HERE

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My Comedy Taste. Part 4: There was a Scots woman, a Jew and a dead writer

Here is the final part of my conversation with comedy festival judge and linguist Louisette Stodel which took place in London’s Soho Theatre Bar one afternoon back in 2017.

I think Louisette was impressed by and appreciative of the insights I shared with her…


JOHN: Janey Godley is interesting… You know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

JOHN: The Perrier Award judges individually went to see her show and it was not until they sat down together to discuss possible nominees that they realised they had all seen her perform totally different shows because she was making it up every night. Stories from her life. Very very funny. But different hour-long shows every night.

There was a big discussion about whether she was eligible for the Award. Some people were keen to nominate her but the rules were that you were nominated for performing ‘a show’ and what she was doing was not the same, single show every night. She was, it could be and was argued, simply chatting to the audience.

She was making up a different hour-long show every night for maybe 28 nights on the trot. Utterly brilliant and much more impressive than doing the same show every night. But, because it was NOT the same basic show every night, eventually, it was decided she was ineligible and she was not nominated for the Perrier.

LOUISETTE:  That’s exactly what you were talking about earlier, in a sense.

Janey Godley in Glasgow at Children In Need Rocks Scotland

JOHN: Yes. And, as far as I know, to this day, years later, Janey has never scripted a Fringe comedy show in her life. You get roughly the same show each year now – a different show every year – but she plays it by ear.

I remember once in London walking up Dean Street with her to the Soho Theatre for a supposed ‘preview’ of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show and she told me not only did she not know exactly which stories would be in the show; she did not know what her opening line would be.

She maybe had twelve or fifteen or eighteen basic unscripted stories and could fit maybe five or six into an hour-long show, but there was no script and no pre-decided running order. And the show was brilliantly funny. Now THAT is talent. THAT I admire.

LOUISETTE: How does she end her shows on time?

JOHN: Well, I know one year she did have one climactic prepared story and it lasted exactly nine minutes. It wasn’t scripted, but it was structured tightly. So she had the sound technician at the back of the audience flash a torch exactly ten minutes from the end of her scheduled time and, whatever she was saying at that point, she would get seamlessly into the start of the final story and, every night, she would finish to within about 30 seconds of her scheduled end-time – every night. Brilliant.

LOUISETTE: So what excites you is seeing unique shows.

JOHN: Well yes. I like Lewis Schaffer shows, of course. The ultimate in unpredictable rollercoaster shows.

LOUISETTE: You prefer the uneven acts.

JOHN: Yes. Well, sort of. Janey’s shows are not uneven – they are uniformly funny and smooth, but they are not tightly pre-planned. She’s just a great, great storyteller.

LOUISETTE: Slick?

JOHN: Smooth. She has great audience control. But, in general – Janey is an exception – I prefer rollercoaster acts. And maybe, for that reason, I prefer newer acts. 

LOUISETTE: Lewis Schaffer is not a new act.

JOHN: OK. I prefer newer acts OR wildly unpredictable acts.

LOUISETTE: And Lewis Schaffer is dependably unpredictable.

“He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could… become a TV success” (Photograph by Garry Platt)

JOHN: To say the least. Sometimes he will, from nowhere, just go off on a complete tangent and come up with wonderful original stuff.

I like seeing unexpected, brilliant stuff coming from nowhere.

Lewis Schaffer is never going to get success as a TV comic. Not as a stand-up. He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could, like and unlike Johnny Vegas, become a TV success through personality.

In his case, I think he would be a good presenter of documentaries because he has all these bizarre angles. He has a Wikipedia mind: he knows a little about a lot.

LOUISETTE: He’s also very funny on his Facebook page. But what is it about Lewis Schaffer specifically on stage? OK, he’s unpredictable; he’s up-and-down; he has great ideas…

JOHN: If you see him once, you might think it’s a shambles but, if you see him five times in a row, you get addicted.

LOUISETTE: The first time I saw him, his show was brilliant.

JOHN: Is this the My girlfriend had a penis show?

LOUISETTE: Yes.

JOHN: Now that WAS a show!

LOUISETTE: Friends of mine who recommended him told me: “See this guy. You never know what’s going to happen…”

JOHN: Yeah.

LOUISETTE: …and it wasn’t like that.

JOHN: Not that show. It actually had a structure. I nearly fell off my seat with shock because it was a ‘real’ structured show.

Certainly, with Lewis Schaffer, you see the real person. You can’t bloody avoid it. With him, the attraction is the unpredictability and the flashes of genuine left-field insight. He’s the definitive rollercoaster.

LOUISETTE: …which excites you because you don’t know what’s going to happen?

JOHN: Yes.

Not relevant: L’Ange du Foyer ou le Triomphe du Surréalisme by Max Ernst, 1937;

LOUISETTE: You like amazing stuff coming from nowhere. I had been going to ask you if it is the writing, the performance or the delivery that gets you excited, but it’s actually none of those things.

JOHN: Well, ‘writing’ is maybe not the right word. It can be. But it’s something coming from the laterally-thinking recesses of the brain.

LOUISETTE: So with someone like Ross Noble, where you know it’s going to be a little bit unpredictable but you also know that he’s probably going to make it all come good, does that make it less interesting because it’s less dangerous?

JOHN: No. You can make something become good through talent.

LOUISETTE: So it’s the creation ‘in the moment’. You like seeing things happen ‘in the moment;’.

JOHN: Probably, yes. I like to be surprised by where something goes. It’s like a good twist in a film.

LOUISETTE: The unexpected. We are back to that. Tales of the Unexpected.

JOHN: Yes. The unexpected. Someone said the other day that I look like Roald Dahl. I don’t think this is a compliment. Do I look like Roald Dahl?

I sign some random books for a few of my appreciative blog readers in Amsterdam, in October 1988.
(Photograph by Rob Bogaerts / Anefo)

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My Comedy Taste. Part 3: Stand-ups vs jugglers. Skill is not the same as talent.

I posted Part 1 and Part 2 the last couple of days, so …here is Part 3 – the penultimate part – of a conversation in London’s Soho Theatre Bar back in the mists of 2017 in which comedy festival judge and linguistic advisor Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy. I continue to talk less than fluently through my own anal passage


LOUISETTE: So you admire skilled and talented people…

JOHN: Yes, but skill and talent are not the same thing. Malcolm Hardee – the highly-regarded British comedian, philosopher and nudist – always used to say he didn’t like mime or juggling, because they are skills not talents and “a tragic waste of time”.

If an average person practises for 12 hours a day for 5 years, they could probably become an excellent mime or an excellent juggler. But, if they practise endlessly trying to be a good comedian, they would not necessarily end up an even average comedian because there is some innate talent required to be a good comedian.

If you have two good jugglers or mimes, they can probably be as effective doing each other’s routines.

If you have two good comedians, even if they deliver the lines with exactly the same intonation and pauses, they very possibly cannot be as effective doing each other’s material.

LOUISETTE: Because there is something in the person…

Tommy: often copied; never bettered

JOHN: Yes. Though it depends on the jokes a little. People CAN do Tommy Cooper jokes and impressions quite successfully because the jokes are very short and simple and the timing is built-in to his very specific style of delivery. But I have seen people steal short, snappy, very funny Milton Jones jokes and they can’t deliver them as effectively as he does.

LOUISETTE: Some funny people are born writers and some are born performers.

JOHN: In days of yore, you didn’t write your own jokes; you bought them. Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin used to write for Bob Hope. Well, that still happens, of course. (Famous comedian A) has a scriptwriter. And (Famous comedian B) buys loads of gags. I know the guy who writes for (Famous comedian A) and he was watching some TV panel show recently and one of his jokes from a few years before turned up. Which was fine; he had been paid for it.

LOUISETTE: Bob Monkhouse was brilliant. But would you have paid to go and see him? You said earlier that you would not pay to see Michael McIntyre because he was too professional for you.

JOHN: Interestingly, I WOULD have gone to see Bob Monkhouse and I have no idea why… I… I dunno. He was the Michael McIntyre of his time and he would have been the same every night.

LOUISETTE: He was a different comedian to McIntyre with a different relationship to the audience.

JOHN: I suppose the attraction of Monkhouse was that you could throw any subject at him and, off the top of his head, he would have six or ten cracking good jokes about it. No tricks. He was just like a joke encyclopaedia.

As a kid, I never rated Ted Ray – who was a generation before Monkhouse but had that same encyclopaedic joke ability. But maybe that’s because I was just a kid. Maybe if I saw him now I would appreciate his ability more. Though, to me, he never had Monkhouse’s charisma.

Bob: “He just really was hyper-sensitive”

Monkhouse had a terrible public reputation for being smarmy and insincere – largely from his stint presenting The Golden Shot – but I don’t think he was. He just really was hyper-sensitive. I only encountered him once. We had him on Tiswas and he famously liked slapstick: he had acres of slapstick films and idolised the great slapstick performers but, when he agreed to do Tiswas, the one thing he specified up-front was: “You can’t shove a custard pie in my face.” No-one had any idea why.

The pies were made of highly-whipped shaving foam, not custard, so they wiped off without damage or stickiness, but he wouldn’t have it. No problem. He said it up-front. No problem, but very strange.

LOUISETTE: You like the encyclopaedic part of Monkhouse and his ability to tell pre-prepared jokes well. But what about, at the other end of the spectrum, Johnny Vegas? He appeals to your love of more anarchic things?

JOHN: Malcolm Hardee phoned me up one Sunday afternoon and said: “You gotta come down to Up The Creek tonight to see this new comedian Johnny Vegas. You and me will love him but the audience might not.” No-one had ever heard of Johnny Vegas, then. 

I went and saw him that night and Malcolm and I loved him and the audience loved him. You could feel the adrenaline in the air. You had no idea what he was going to say or do next and I don’t think he did either. I remember him clambering through and over the audience in the middle of his act for no logical reason.

Hardee called Johnny Vegas “a genius”

He had no vastly detailed act. He just reacted to the audience’s reactions to what he did. Utterly brilliant. I said to Malcolm: “He’s never going to be a success, because he can’t do 2-minute jokes on TV and repeat them word-for-word and action-for-action in rehearsals, camera rehearsals, dress rehearsals and recordings.”

And I was wrong, of course. He HAS become very successful on TV. But not really as a comic. He made it as a personality – on panel shows where he could push the personality angle.

There was amazing adrenaline in the air that night at Up The Creek. You can feel adrenaline in a live show. But you can’t feel it through a TV screen.

A few years later, I saw Johnny Vegas perform an hour-long show at the Edinburgh Fringe and Malcolm had seen the show for maybe seven nights before that – every night. And Malcolm used the word “genius” about Johnny and I said: “You almost never ever use that word about anyone,” and he said, “Every time I’ve seen this show in the last seven days, it’s been a totally different show.”

Not just slightly different. A 100% totally different show.

Janey Godley is interesting in that respect because you know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

… CONTINUED HERE

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My Comedy Taste. Part 1: Improvisation good and bad but not Michael McIntyre

The late Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe

I started and used to run the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They started in 2005. They were due to (and did) end in August 2017. 

To coincide with their end, I thought I might post a blog about my taste in comedy. What is the point in having a blog if you can’t be self-indulgent? 

So, in June 2017, I persuaded my chum, oft-times comedy judge and linguistic expert Louisette Stodel to ‘interview’ me in London’s Soho Theatre Bar for that planned blog. But then I never got round to transcribing the interview and actually writing it. Unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it too.

Time passed, as time does, and I was going to run the interview/blog to coincide with the start of the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. But again I never got round to transcribing the interview and writing that blog. Again, unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it.

But, with performers now preparing to start to book venues and think about getting round to writing or at least pretending to start to write shows for the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, I miraculously got round to transcribing the interview at the weekend and here is Part 1 of that  June 2017 chat.


LOUISETTE: When did you first go to the Fringe?

JOHN: Well, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival in the mid-1970s when I was reviewing movies for magazines and, around the mid-1980s, I switched to the Edinburgh Fringe, which is around the time comedy started taking over from naff university theatre groups. I was looking for acts to appear on TV shows.

LOUISETTE: How long have you been blogging about comedy?

JOHN: It has never really been a 100% comedy blog. I started it in 2010 to plug a movie I had foolishly put money into and it became daily around April 2011 to plug comedy-related stuff I was helping to stage at the Edinburgh Fringe that August and I stopped doing it daily at the end of December 2016.

But it has never really been a comedy blog. I tend not to write reviews of comedy. They tend to be previews in advance of the actual performance of a show. In a sense, I don’t care so much about what the show is like but about how it got created by this particular person. It’s about interesting people doing interesting things, usually creative and/or in some way quirky. It’s always about people, rarely about things. People, people, people. And I do like a quirky anecdote.

LOUISETTE: What is it about quirkiness you like?

JOHN: The TV programme stuff I used to do was usually related to quirkiness. I would be finding ordinary people who did bizarre things… a man rollerskating wearing a bright yellow plastic sou’wester while simultaneously playing the harmonica and spoons, with a seagull on his shoulder. Ah! Mr Wickers, a Tiswas Talented Teacher!

LOUISETTE: You like eccentricity.

Surprise! Surprise! – A show and a clue to what I really like

JOHN: Admire it, for sure. But I remember having a conversation with another researcher on Surprise! Surprise! at LWT and we both agreed, if you want to find a real eccentric, you do not go for extroverts. You do NOT want the person who makes all his mates laugh in the pub. They are just superficial.

What you want is an introvert with eccentricity within. The extrovert just likes the sound of their own voice and just wants attention. The eccentric introvert has got odd quirkiness in depth within them. 

Comedians are odd because you would think they would have to be wild extroverts, getting up on stage wanting applause, but loads are deep-down shy and terrified inside. Maybe it’s the dichotomy that makes them. I like people who think differently.

People often contact me and say: “Come and see my show for your blog.” And I may do but it’s not the show – not the end result – that attracts me. I don’t really do reviews. I am interested in interviewing the person about why or how they did the show or what they feel like when they are performing it. I’m interested in the psychology of creative people not the end result itself, as such.

In a sense, I am not bothered whether the show is good or not good provided it is interesting. I would much rather watch an interesting failure than a dull success. You can very often learn more from what doesn’t work than from what works.

LOUISETTE: So what is ‘interesting’?

JOHN: Lateral thinking is interesting. Instead of going from A-B, you go from A to T to L to B or maybe you never get to B.

LOUISETTE: So you like the unexpected.

JOHN: I think Michael McIntyre is absolutely brilliant. 120% brilliant. But I would not pay to see his one of his shows, because I know what I am going to get. I can go see him in Manchester and the next day in Swansea and the next day in Plymouth and it will be the same show. Perfect. A work of art. Superb. But the same perfect thing.

LOUISETTE: So you are talking about wanting unpredictability?

JOHN: Yes. And people flying, going off at tangents, trying things out which even they didn’t know they were going to do.

LOUISETTE: How do you know they didn’t know?

Boothby Graffoe – always the unexpected

JOHN: I think you can tell… Boothby Graffoe had a very very good 20 or 30 minute act he would do in clubs. (His 60-minute shows were good too.) Fine. It was all very good. Audiences loved it. But, in a way, he was better with a bad audience. The good audience would listen to his very well put-together material. But, if he got hecklers or distractions, he would fly off on wild flights of fantasy, even funnier than the prepared show, almost soar round the room then eventually get seamlessly back to the prepared show. Brilliant.

There was another act, now established, whom I won’t name. When he was starting off, maybe 50% of his stuff was OK, 45% was not very good and 5% was absolute genius. I would go watch him for that 5% genius. And I would still rather go see a show like that which is 5% genius than a solid mainstream show that is 100% perfect entertainment.

If someone creates something truly original in front of your eyes, it is like magic.

LOUISETTE:  Michael McIntyre get laughs from saying unexpected things.

JOHN: If I see Michael McIntyre, I do not know what is going to happen, but it is pre-ordained what is going to happen. It is slick in the best way. If people are on TV and ‘famous’, I am not that interested because they have reached a level of professional capability. I prefer to see reasonably new acts or lower middle-rung acts. And people untarnished by TV.

If you see someone who is REALLY starting off, they are crap, because they can’t adjust their act to the specific audience. When performers reach a certain level of experience, they can cope with any type of audience and that is interesting to see how they can turn an audience but, if they are TV ‘stars’ they may well automatically have easy audiences because the audience has come to see “that bloke” or “that girl off the telly” and they are expecting to have a good time.

If it’s Fred NoName, the audience have no expectations.

I prefer to see Fred NoName with a rollercoaster of an act and I am interested in seeing the structure of an act. I am interested in the mechanics of it.

LOUISETTE: And you like the element of danger? It could all go wrong, all go pear-shaped?

JOHN: Yes. On the other hand (LAUGHS) most improvisation is shit because the performers are often not very good.

LOUISETTE: Don’t you have to be very skilled to improvise?

“Most improvisation is shit: the performers are not very good.”

JOHN: In my erstwhile youth, I used to go every week to Pentameters club at The Freemasons Arms pub in Hampstead and watch the Theatre Machine improvisation show supervised by Keith Johnstone.

Very good. Very interesting.

But, for some reason, I don’t like most improvisation today.

Partly that’s because, a lot of the time, you can see it’s NOT fully improvised. You can see the…

LOUISETTE: …formats?

JOHN: Templates. Yeah. Certain routines they can just adjust. Give me the name of an animal… Give me a performance style… It sounds like they are widening possibilities, but they are narrowing them so they can be slotted into pre-existing storylines and routines they can adjust. 

Also, a lot of improvisation groups seem to comprise actors trying to be comedians… I have an allergy to actors trying to be comedians. They’re just attempting and usually failing to be comedic until a ‘real’ job comes along.

LOUISETTE: Surely an actor can be funny in character, though.

JOHN: Often I think: What I am watching here is like a showreel of their theatre school training. It’s like an audition show. They go through 20 characters just to show their breadth of ability – to impress themselves as much as the audience. But the audience has not come there to appreciate their versatility. The audience wants to be entertained not to be impressed. The audience wants to enjoy their material, not give the act marks out of ten for technique. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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