Tag Archives: edinburgh fringe

Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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Mike Raffone on street performance, Dada and his cabaret club for misfits

Mike Raffone bills himself as an “Eccentric Entertainer”.

I saw his Brain Rinse show at the Edinburgh Fringe last year – it was billed as ‘Puppetry of The Audience’ – and I went to his monthly Cabaret Rinse club at the Elephant & Castle in London last month. It is wonderfully unpredictable. The next one is this coming Friday.

“Why,” I asked, “was your Fringe show called Brain Rinse and your London club is called Cabaret Rinse?”

“Because, hopefully it rinses your brain. Not a brainwash. Just a mild rinse.”

“How would you describe Cabaret Rinse?”

“A club for misfits. We did a similar thing about five years ago in Peckham for about six months – The Royal National Theatre of Fools. I just decided we needed a National Theatre for idiots, but it proved quite an expensive hobby.”

Cabaret Rinse is all variety acts,” I said. “Not stand-up comedy…”

The ringmaster of anarchic entertainment – Mike Raffone

“Well,” Mike responded, “what is stand-up? Cabaret Rinse is comedy definitely. Funny definitely. Out there for sure. Interesting I hope. Entertaining I hope.

“When we did Theatre of Fools, we did have a secret non-stand-up policy. We don’t have that with Cabaret Rinse. Last month we had Candy Gigi. You could say she’s a stand-up, but… she’s one in a million, really. There’s bits of stand-up but bits of brilliant clowning. I see that in all the people I like.”

“Candy Gigi is wonderful,” I said, “but I’m a bit wary of the way people use the word ‘clowning’ nowadays.”

“I hate the way the word is used,” said Mike.

“Why?”

“It’s the connotation. The art aesthetic. I think great clowning tends to be anarchistic. I would say The Greatest Show on Legs is great clowning. Or Ken Campbell’s Roadshow.”

“I agree with you,” I said, “that The Greatest Show on Legs ARE clowns, but I’m not quite sure why.”

“I think it’s well rehearsed,” said Mike, “but it looks like it’s thrown together.”

Greatest Show on Legs’ balloon dance in 2012

“Well,” I said, “with the Balloon Dance, the exact choreography is complicated and vital because it builds and it’s all about narrowly missing seeing the bits.”

“Ragged but in a great way,” agreed Mike. “It was by far the most hysterical thing that whole Fringe when I saw them in 2012.”

“Well,” I said, “they feel a bit like street performers but are not, though Martin Soan did start The Greatest Show on Legs as an adult Punch & Judy act. You, though, are basically a street performer at heart.”

“I dunno about ‘at heart’,” Mike replied. “I’m a performer at heart. But I’ve certainly done a lot of street performing. With Cabaret Rinse and Brain Rinse the idea is to take the energy and instantaneous edginess of street performing – of What the fuck is going to happen? – but NOT just do a street show indoors.

“Street theatre is so specific to where it is. There’s load of people there shopping and I’m gonna grab their attention. It’s the big trick. It’s grabbing the attention. If it’s a joke, it cannot be a subtle one. Everything’s big.  So I want to bring that kind of bigness and edginess and freshness into a – not an arty but a – theatrical setting.”

“You trained as an actor,” I said.

“…a misfit theatre course…”

“I remember, when I was a kid, around 16, ushering for my local theatre and seeing the Cardiff Lab and thinking This is weird. I don’t know what the fuck’s going on. This guy is scary but I love it. Wow! This is incredible! 

“Then I did a theatre degree at Leicester Polytechnic which was a bit of a misfit theatre course. It was run by this guy – a little bit of a maverick – who wanted to make his own theatre school – a bit like Jacques Lecoq – and he didn’t want it to be conventional. But he also realised the only way he could get funding at that time – in the mid-1980s – was to hide behind the auspices of an academic institution.

“His philosophy was that he was going to run the course but try and have as little as possible to do with the bureaucratic workings of the polytechnic. I got to see things like Footsbarn. It was a very practical, creative course and I think I got a taste there for theatre that was out of the ordinary.”

“So you got a taste for the bizarre.”

“Yes. I got into street theatre 30 years ago. I remember going down to Covent Garden and seeing street shows – it was all quite new then – and thinking: I don’t have the balls to do that. But, within a month, I was doing it. Covent Garden was quite interesting at that time in the late 1980s. It was sort of mixing with New Variety.”

Mike Raffone, street entertainer, performing at the Covent Garden Piazza in London

“So you thought you could not do it but then started doing it?”

“There was a guy who dragged me into it because he wanted to do it. He was like a dancer and acrobat. So we put this terrible show together, did it for about three shows and then he fucked off. But, by then, I had my street performer’s licence.

“We did go to Paris and see this man called Bananaman, who was this mad bloke who collected junk and then played music with it outside the Pompidou Centre. It was all in French. And then he hit this real banana and smashed it and everyone just thought he was mad. Apparently he was seen in Paris as the world’s worst street performer, but I thought: Wow! That’s alternative!”

Mike has learned to conduct himself well in performance

“What did he hit the banana with?”

“A stick. To me it was an act of Dada.

“I thought it was brilliant. So we went back to Covent Garden and decided we were going to create a police car out of rubbish. We got all this rubbish and two half-arsed costumes together and the idea was it would look terrible. Other street performers came up to us and said: Right, here’s a bit of advice – Get yourself some proper costumes because, frankly, it just looks like rubbish at the moment. And we said: No! That’s the POINT!

“The word anarchy,” I said, “might put some people off. But, if you say Dada, it sounds arty and acceptable and respectable. What does Dada mean?”

“Meaningless… I suppose I like it when you take it to the max, If you are truly going to be Dada, I suppose you have to be anti-everything. Anti-script. Anti-comedy. Anti-anti-comedy.”

His autobiography – Hitting The Cobbles

“Being a street performer, though,” I suggested, “is quite disciplined. You have to be half performer and half barrowboy/street market trader. You have to grab the punters’ attention at  the start and tout for money at the end, with a performance bunged in the middle. So, in theory, you could transfer the actual performance indoors if you remove the ‘selling’ element.”

“I would agree with that.”

“Except that the selling,” I said, “is an integral part of the street performance.”

“Well,” replied Mike, “they say you ‘sell’ a joke and I’m very aware of how I am going to set up any part of the performance. I am quite analytical about selling the material. I don’t know if it’s my inbuilt insecurity as a performer, but I so see myself as a writer. I think: This has got to work on paper or it won’t work in performance. That’s probably not the case, but it’s how I see it. I write everything down, even if it is just: We will be improvising at this point. It’s some weird fear.”

“So you are not a Dadaist really,” I said, “because you want everything written-down and organised in advance.”

“No, I don’t think I’m a Dadaist.”

“An absurdist?” I asked.

“I don’t know. To me, if it’s funny, it’s funny. I remember years ago I was called a post-modernist street performer. I didn’t quite know what it meant.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. We’re done. Where are you going now?”

“I’m going to a museum. It’s putting on a Dada cabaret… All I want is a bicycle hooked up to a whoopee cushion and, when people ride fast enough, it makes the whoopee cushion fart. That’s all I want.”

But what about his name – Mike Raffone?

Is it his stage name or his real name?

Say it out loud.

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Worldwide comments on Louise Reay’s husband’s self-destructive court case.

Controversial Edinburgh Fringe show

If you want to complain about something included in a comedy show you have not seen, my advice is do not sue the comic. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the case, it will not make you look good and the media will love it.

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay starting a crowdfunding appeal to cover court costs because her estranged husband is suing her for mentioning him in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode last year.

As far as I am aware, he has never actually seen the show, which was about political totalitarianism and what would happen if the Chinese government took over the BBC.

I saw a preview of Hard Mode before the Fringe in which Louise mentioned how sad she was about her marriage breaking up. Without details.

I never saw the show in Edinburgh. Apparently her husband objected to some comments he was told she had made in a handful of shows and she removed the comments. Now, six months later, he is suing her.

Drawing attention to something only a few people heard by going into a public court and attracting inevitable media publicity is staggeringly counterproductive. As I mentioned in my blog yesterday, it triggers the Streisand Effect. I showed how the story had spread, virus-like – basically Husband Sues Comedian Wife for Talking About Him on Stage – and, since yesterday, it has spread further with people now commenting on it worldwide. The latest new references to it which I spotted on a cursory Google this morning are listed below at the bottom of this blog.

Eraserhead – Louise’s new show had to be written in 48 hours

In Australia, The Advertiser noted that the complained-of show “last year won an Adelaide Fringe Best Emerging Artist Weekly Award”. This year (Louise is currently performing in Adelaide), The Advertiser notes she was forced to write a new show Eraserhead in just 48 hours. It is “about the experience of censorship and the way it makes you feel like your identity is being erased”.

Louise is quoted as saying: “he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me. As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.”

Canada’s National Post wisely got in touch with Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who actually saw and reviewed the complained-about show in Edinburgh for The Scotsman last year.

She said that the show was about freedom of speech and political oppression. At one brief point in the show, she told the National Post yesterday: “My memory of it is that (Louise) said that she’d realized that she’d also been in an oppressive relationship. But it was so minor — there was very, very little detail… I’ve seen lots of shows where people talk about relationships where they’ve gone into a lot of detail about their relationships, their marriage. Mostly what she was doing was making a political point. It seems extraordinary that he has taken this view of it.”

The Malaysian Digest quoted Mark Stephens, a libel lawyer at Howard Kennedy in London, who told the UK’s Guardian:

“There’s a long history of British juries – before they were abolished [in defamation cases] – not finding in favour of claimants when it’s a joke… This will be the first time [the issue comes] before a judge. It’s going to be a test of whether the British judiciary understands a joke – I mean that seriously. It’s a test case for the judge to see whether they will follow the same route as juries used to take, which was to throw libel cases which were based on humour out on their ear. Judges have traditionally had something of a humourless side.”

The Malaysian Digest continues: “Drawing from personal experience has been key to vast numbers of comedians’ work. Last year’s Fringe, even, featured separate shows by ex-couple Sarah Pascoe and John Robins in which they discussed their break up, the latter winning the Edinburgh Comedy Award for Best Show, shared with Hannah Gadsby. Sarah Millican won the if.comedy award for Best Newcomer in 2008 for her show Sarah Millican’s Not Nice, inspired by her own divorce.

“It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism…”

“(Louise Reay’s) solicitors have also issued a statement on the case, reading: Louise started to write her Hard Mode show when she was still with her husband. It was a show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese Government. It was in no way a show about her husband. While performing the show after their separation, Louise mentioned her husband a couple of times but this was in the context of telling the audience how sad she was that they had recently separated.

“At certain performances of the show, she cried at this point. While she used Mr. Reay’s image of a couple of times, she invited the audience to admire how good-looking he was and expressed sadness that the marriage had come to an end. She used an image and some footage from their wedding that she had been using in her shows for years without any objection from Mr. Reay.

Mr. Reay had claimed that there are sections of the show which will have been understood by the audience to mean that he was abusive to Louise. Louise’s position is that the key sections that he claimed are defamatory of him were not intended to be understood by the audience to refer to him. During the most of these sections, Louise was playing various different characters, including a newsreader and Jeremy Clarkson. Should this case go to trial, there will undoubtedly be debate over the meaning of the words complained about and whether they can truly be said to refer to Mr. Reay.

Claire Smith’s review of the show in The Scotsman last year, by the way, said it was: “an absurdist show about totalitarianism which intentionally makes its audience feel uncomfortable. We are hustled to our feet, given identity papers and surrounded by masked guards who are watching our behaviour. In the past Reay, who is fluent in Chinese, has been sponsored by the Chinese government to create absurdist mime shows in Chinese. It is safe to say Reay and the Chinese government are getting a divorce – particularly as she has worked on this show with dissident artist Ai Weiwei. It’s a bold experimental comedy.”

In fact, the Chinese, as far as I am aware at the time of writing, have not yet threatened to sue Louise.

Louise’s TV documentary work covers difficult subjects

Incidentally, Louise’s TV documentary credits include BBC1 Panorama, Channel 4’s Dispatches, BBC2’s study of income inequality The Super Rich & Us, Channel 4’s series on immigration Why Don’t You Speak English?,  BBC2’s series on education Chinese School: Are Our Kids Tough Enough?, BBC4’s History of India: Treasures of the Indus and Channel 4’s History of China: Triumph & Turmoil.

I don’t think the current court case could easily be the subject of some future TV documentary. More a TV sitcom.

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page is HERE.

The latest batch of media reports are:

THE ADVERTISER (AUSTRALIA)

BBC NEWS, SCOTLAND

DAILY EXPRESS

DAILY RECORD (SCOTLAND)

(LONDON) EVENING STANDARD

GIZMODO

THE i

LINDA NIEUWS (HOLLAND)

MALAYSIAN DIGEST

MANDY NEWS online

NATIONAL POST (CANADA)

NEW YORK POST

THE SCOTSMAN

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Comic Louise Reay, her husband suing her and the destructiveness of publicity

Friday’s blog

On Friday, I blogged a story about comic performer Louise Reay crowdfunding to cover her legal fees because her estranged husband is suing her as a result of her saying, he claims, something derogatory about him in her Edinburgh Fringe show back in August.

She had removed the reference after he complained so why he has decided to sue her now – in February – is beyond me.

But, leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the case – I have no idea what his complaint is and the preview show I saw in advance of Edinburgh was not derogatory about him – there is the Streisand Effect to take into consideration here.

I mentioned this is my blog last Friday.

I can do no better than to quote the current Wikipedia entry – if it’s in Wikipedia, it must be true…

“The Streisand Effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet. It is an example of psychological reactance, wherein once people are aware that some information is being kept from them, their motivation to access and spread it is increased.

The complained-of photo of the Barbra Streisand mansion (Photo Copyright (C) 2002 Kenneth & Gabrielle Adelman, California Coastal Records Project)

It dates back to 2003, when Barbra Streisand sued a photographer for violation of privacy by making an aerial photograph of her mansion publicly available amid a collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs which aimed to draw attention to coastal erosion.

The photograph she complained about had only, one presumes, ever been seen by coastline erosion enthusiasts and had only ever been downloaded six times (two of those were by Streisand’s attorneys). As a result of the legal action, more than 420,000 people visited the site over the following month.  (The lawsuit was dismissed and Streisand was ordered to pay the photographer’s legal fees, which amounted to $155,567.)

Last Friday, I blogged about Louise Reay being sued by her estranged husband over an Edinburgh show which, let’s face it – Louise is good, but – only a small number of people had ever seen.

On Saturday, the Chortle comedy website picked up the story.

On Monday, the Guardian newspaper was reporting it.

On Tuesday morning, it was on Channel 5.

By Tuesday teatime, it was on the BBC World Service.

By this morning – Wednesday – on a very superficial search (excluding blogs and social media mentions) these outlets (listed alphabetically) had reported the story:

BBC WORLD SERVICE
“BBC OS” at 16’00”-20’00” on
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w172vrbbtvrl739

CHANNEL 5
“The Wright Stuff” at 54’24”-55’55” on
https://www.my5.tv/the-wright-stuff/season-2018/episode-32

CHORTLE COMEDY INDUSTRY WEBSITE

CRAVE

(GLASGOW) EVENING TIMES

GUARDIAN

(GLASGOW) HERALD

THE INDEPENDENT

METRO

DAILY MIRROR

NATIONAL POST

THE SUN

THE TIMES

THE WEEK

Louise – the allegedly offensive show

Louise Reay’s husband is apparently suing her because he says she said things about him which will make people think less of him.

Apparently Louise Reay’s estranged husband is suing her for £30,000.

It seems to me that, if he is claiming damage to his reputation, then (if true) £29,999.50p of that damage would have been caused by he himself and 50p by anything a few people heard in less than a handful of shows in Edinburgh back in August 2017.

Do people take what comedians say in comedy shows seriously?

As Terry Christian said yesterday on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5: “Imagine how much money Les Dawson’s mother-in-law would have got.”

Someone on Facebook commented about Louise’s un-named husband: “He’s trying to tell the world he’s not a cunt by being an utter cunt.”

Louise Reay’s crowdfunding page to cover her legal costs

Note that that comment (with which, of course, I do not associate myself) is referring not to the perception of the estranged husband raised by Louise’s Edinburgh Fringe show but by the perception raised by the estranged husband’s legal action.

If it is possible under English law, I think Louise’s estranged husband would have a very strong case for suing himself for self-defamation of his own character.

Now THAT is an Edinburgh Fringe show I would pay to see.

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Comedian Louise Reay is being sued over a Fringe show about free speech

Louise Reay, has come up against a brick wall, not in China

Last year, comic Louise Reay previewed her then-upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Hard Mode at critic Kate Copstick’s increasingly prestigious London charity emporium Mama Biashara.

It was the first time I knew Louise had separated from her husband.

Beyond that fact and a lot of rather arty Chinese references, I discovered no details of why they had separated. That is relevant to what follows.

The  blurb for Hard Mode read:


“Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship”

Imagine how you’d act if you were always being watched? Imagine if you couldn’t speak freely? Imagine if the Chinese government bought the BBC?

An immersive comedy show where the audience experiences life in an authoritarian regime. Yay!

Based on a dialogue with Ai Weiwei and featuring a team of masked police, this provocative show explores censorship and surveillance.

Hard Mode is the latest show from multi award-winning comedian and journalist, Louise Reay.

‘Reay can legitimately claim to be unique’ (Independent)

‘Truly fantastic, utterly out there’ (Al Murray)

**** (Skinny)


“I am being sued. It’s really happening”

Last night, I got an email from Louise. She is currently in Australia, performing at the Adelaide Fringe. Her email read:

Dear John – I am being sued. It’s really happening. 

She is being sued by her estranged husband because he objected to what he claims was in her Hard Mode show.

I can only assume her estranged husband has not heard of The Streisand Effect.

Louise has started a GoFundMe crowdfunding page. It reads:


Hi! I am Louise Beamont, my stage name is Louise Reay.

I hope you’ll forgive me – but I need to ask you something.

You see, I am being sued over one of my stand-up shows.

Not just by anyone. By my husband (now separated of course).

He has a lot more money than me and he says that I accused him of abusing me in my show. And so he’s suing me, which in my opinion is simply an attempt to silence me.

As standup comedians, I believe it’s the very definition of our job to talk about our lives and social issues.

So this has become a free speech issue – and free speech means everything to me. As a Chinese speaker, I’ve spent many years in China and experienced the social impact when people do not have this freedom. I’ve also spent many years making documentaries for the BBC with vulnerable people whose voices are rarely heard.

And, I cannot begin to tell you how difficult an experience it has been to have my Edinburgh show censored.

I think therefore it’s really important for me to defend myself in this case.

And I’m afraid I need your help please because. I need to pay lawyers you see.

Here’s a bit more detail ….

I am a stand up comedian and documentary-maker, with a particular interest in speaking out for oppressed people.  On Tuesday 30 January 2018, I was served with defamation, privacy and data protection proceedings by my husband from whom I am separated. I cannot tell you how oppressive that feels.

The claim is in relation to a comedy show that I performed last year. a few times last year. It was a 50 minute show about censorship and authoritarianism, asking the audience to imagine that the BBC had come into the control of the Chinese government.

During that show, I referred to my husband a couple of times – perhaps 2 minutes’ worth of reference in a 50 minute show. The main gist of those references was to tell the audience how sad I was that my marriage had broken down recently. He has complained about 2 performances of my show in London, and my shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

He is seeking £30,000 damages, his legal costs (which I can only assume will be massive) and an injunction stopping me from publishing statements about him. This is despite the fact that I gave him an undertaking (a sort of legal promise – without admitting liability of course) not to mention him in any further performances of the show, as soon as his lawyers complained. Indeed, all further performances of the show at the Edinburgh Fringe were without reference to him.

Defamation and privacy cases like this can be very expensive to defend. At present, I do not have the funds to defend this case. Therefore, I’d be very grateful for any assistance with costs. I have struggled greatly to pay all of my costs to date but and cannot afford to pay a barrister to prepare my defence.

I am confident I can defend the claim. However, these sorts of cases are fraught with uncertainty. It will depend on what the judge finds the words mean and possibly on whose testimony the judge prefers.

I am therefore seeking to raise an initial fund of at least £10,000. I might need to raise more as the case goes on.

If I am successful in defending this case, I hope to secure the recovery of some of my legal expenses from him (around 70% is typical I’m told). If I am able to recover some of my legal expenses, I will reimburse all those who have contributed to my defence fund in proportion to what each party has contributed.

Funds raised in this crowdfunder shall be used solely for my legal expenses. If I lose the case and damages and costs are awarded to my husband, I shall be personally liable for those. I’m told that, if this happens, it could be in the hundreds of thousands of pounds, and I will be bankrupt.

In any responses to this message can I please ask that you don’t post any negative comments about my husband. I’m not trying to embarrass him with this plea. I’m desperate. I need help. It’s about free speech … just like my show was.

Thank you very much for reading.


The link to the GoFundMe crowdfunding page is HERE

MORE ON THIS STORY HERE

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Legal system

My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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Filed under Blogs, Crime, Nostalgia

How to think up a title for your very first Edinburgh Fringe comedy show

First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.

In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.

ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.

By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..

For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.

He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.

In Edinburgh in August, you are not the only show in town…

Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.

Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.

Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.

Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.

No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.

Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.

Your self-explanatory title has to stand out without an image

You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.

The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.

My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.

Then figure out three words which make that obvious.

Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).

And mix your name in there somehow.

I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?

As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.

So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.

Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.

Janey Godley is unusual in that her name will bring in punters

Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.

But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.

Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.

And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…

“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.

Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?

Do not even THINK about being zany!

Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.

These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.

In my opinion.

But that don’t mean a thing.

The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.

However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.

You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.

Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.

Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.

Richard Herring had to splurge out his ‘O’

There was one inglorious year – 2012 – when a completely barking mad person was in charge of the printed Programme. I blogged about it at the time – here and here and elsewhere.

2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.

In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as  AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.

Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.

2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.

The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.

Mindless Fringe Office censored the word but not the image

To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.

The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row –  $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.

Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.

Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.

Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.

One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:

AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.

Trust me.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Edinburgh