Tag Archives: edinburgh fringe

Romina – Il Puma Londinese – with English variety and multilingual comedy

Romina – Il Puma Londinese – is back with a vengeance

Romina Puma used to run a fortnightly Italian language comedy night in London – Il Puma Londinese. I blogged about it in 2014.

She stopped in 2016.

But now she is back with more than one show.

This week, on Monday (tonight) there is The Puma Goes Wild at the Craft Beer Co in Islington. (It’s really more like in Angel).

On the next four Wednesdays, there is filming at the same Islington venue of an Italian-language show for the internet.

And, on 28th November, there is another Il Puma Londinese show at The Colonel Fawcett in Camden.

So I chatted to Romina…


JOHN: Il Puma Londinese ran until October 2016 then stopped. Why?

ROMINA: Giada Garofalo had been helping me with the night and she went back to Italy. I was too tired. I needed a break. And when I came back from the Edinburgh Fringe last year, I said: I’m not going to do comedy any more! 

JOHN: But now you’re back again. What made you start again in September this year?

ROMINA: Well, it’s what you like to do and you miss it after a while and you need to carry on. It was a show I did in December 2018 for Radu Isac, the Romanian comic. He had a free slot in one of his shows and asked me to perform all in Italian. It went really well.

JOHN: So Il Puma Londinese is back again in Camden on 28th November with stand-up acts in Italian and in English. 

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: But The Puma Goes Wild – The shows in Islington/Angel. They’re not straight stand-up comedy shows…

ROMINA: I wanted to do something different. So I am the only stand-up. The others are all surreal, weird, character, impro, sketch – all other styles. I’m trying to create an English/British following because, before, my audience were mostly Italian.

JOHN: And the Puma Goes Wild nights are in English.

ROMINA: Well, they can perform in any language they like. French, English, Italian, Spanish – any language. If it’s that type of comedy – surreal, impro – people will more-or-less understand in any language. Whereas, with stand-up, you need to know the language.

So far, I’ve always had an improv group who perform in Italian. All the others have been in English, including me.

JOHN: Would mime groups perform in English?

ROMINA: I still haven’t had a mime.

JOHN: What were you doing when you were having a break from comedy?

ROMINA: Recipe videos… Italian recipes online. There are lots of recipe/cookery groups on Facebook.

JOHN: And getting a following?

ROMINA: Yeah.

JOHN: Italian?

ROMINA: From America mainly. I was doing it in English. An Italian recipe, Italian cuisine, but in English.

JOHN: Any chance of a TV version in Italy?

ROMINA: Well, as you’ve mentioned it, there is an Italian online TV service based in London – Tele Londra – and this Wednesday in the Puma Goes Wild venue in Angel – we are recording a competition show – Il Puma Londinese Approda su Tele Londra – four episodes with me as MC, all in Italian.

JOHN: A competition show?

ROMINA: Two acts will compete against each other. The audience decides who wins. The final will be recorded on 4th December.

JOHN: Recorded. Not live.

ROMINA: At first, they wanted to stream it all live, but then they were too worried about the signal.

JOHN: Will there be further ones after the initial four?

ROMINA: We will show it to people and see if we can find a sponsor for next year.

JOHN: Other plans?

ROMINA: I am preparing a new stage show.

JOHN: About?

ROMINA: Well, the title is Freewheeling. It’s mainstream, light, fun. I’ve been asked to do the show in Italy next year, in Turin. 

JOHN: Where are you from?

ROMINA: Near Milan.

JOHN: Oh, just round the corner from Turin. That would be your first time performing in Italy?

ROMINA: With a full hour show, yes.

JOHN: Why Turin?

ROMINA: I know a girl who runs a comedy night there and she asked me. I would also do it in London. 

JOHN: And at the Edinburgh Fringe next August?

ROMINA: I’m not sure I’m keen on Edinburgh any more. After my last one – It’s All My Mother’s Fault – I… Well, you spend a lot of money just to be in the brochure and it doesn’t really help to get audiences in, so what’s the point? My plan is to go round the UK on my own – various cities – without festivals, getting people in via Facebook and so on.

JOHN: And it’s called Freewheeling?

ROMINA: Yes.

JOHN: Appropriate.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Italy

The Malcolm Hardee Awards and after – President Obonjo to buy Greenland?

President Obonjo and his fearsome bodyguards attended the Malcolm Hardee Awards last night

I am in London.

The Edinburgh Fringe is, as tradition dictates, in Edinburgh.

Up in Edinburgh, the 2019 Malcolm Hardee Awards were announced and presented last night – well, this morning, because the anarchy started at midnight – in the Ballroom of The Counting House during the traditional 2-hour stage show.

The winners were – indeed still are –

Legs display their Malcolm Hardee Award to its best advantage

COMIC ORIGINALITY
Legs

CUNNING STUNT
West End Producer

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID
President Obonjo

The Awards were classier and glitzier than in previous years because, I hear, the judges were supplied with chips during their deliberations. That never happened in previous years when dry and occasionally stale biscuits were sometimes, but not always, provided.

For American readers: ‘chips’ are French fries. (Sometimes I think George III did us a favour by getting rid of the Colonies.)

President Obonjo, who was also compering the show, arrived with a group of threatening-looking bodyguards. They remained throughout the night and ushered him on-and-off stage in case the deeply-dodgy BBC Studios or E4/Channel 4 had any pickpockets or muggers working in the vicinity.

The mysterious West End Producer

Fellow Award-winner ‘West End Producer’ arrived in his mask, wore it throughout and left in it so Mysterious Mark – organiser of the Awards on behalf of the British Comedy Guide – tells me: “We still don’t actually know who he is.”

Some of the full-house audience apparently walked out after a time, reportedly confused by the bizarreness of the acts: Tom Crosbie, Lucy Hopkins, Legs, Dragos Montenescu, Mandy Muden, Charles Quarterman, Scratch & Sniff and Twonkey.

According to judge Claire Smith, the walkouts were by a few slightly dazed people with startled looks in their eyes.

Fellow judge Kate Copstick confirmed the problem was a new Fringe app which tells people what shows are about to start nearby with the result that people turn up not knowing what the show actually is, just that it’s free.

The result last night, says Copstick was that “we got some young, slightly drunk people who mostly walked out during Twonkey’s performance”.

2016 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Twonkey apparently displayed a jaw-dropping excess of surrealism and, at one point, got thoroughly entangled in the leads of three microphones. It is unclear why he actually needed to have three microphones.

Someone who was in the audience last night tells me, though, that Twonkey managed to ignore the drunks and “pulled it around again, finishing with a blistering performance of Goat Girl – his song about a girl on a skiing holiday on ecstasy…”

Audience members try to restrain Lewis Schaffer last night

The audience contained a large smattering of other comedians including Lewis Schaffer, who may or may not have diabetes (his Fringe show is called Mr Diabetes) and who has been living for months on a diet which excludes all fruit & vegetables but includes lots of meat, some of it raw.

Claire Smith tells me: “He looks great. He has lost a lot of weight, which is good, but his breath smells horrible.”

Apparently, he has been seen around Edinburgh recently wearing a badge saying: YES, I KNOW MY BREATH STINKS.

This is, she tells me, partly because he now believes that eating no fruit or vegetables means he no longer needs to brush his teeth.

“I keep stumbling on him in Edinburgh,” Claire told me today, “crying in underpasses because he has accidentally eaten an avocado.”

Claire today also attended the other, less increasingly prestigious, comedy awards – Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards – where, she reports, significant numbers of half-starved young comedians were to be seen absconding with armfuls of the free croissants. (Dave’s sponsored Comedy Awards has a higher budget than the unsponsored Malcolm Hardee Awards).

President Obonjo salutes his Million Quid win

In later developments, President Obonjo announced he was thinking of putting in a bid to the Danish government to buy Greenland now that Donald Trump is out of the running…

And the BBC posted an online link to their World Service’s Focus on Africa which acknowledged that President Obonjo was “one of the few African comedy acts well known on the UK comedy circuit” (and, indeed, for the last ten years, the ONLY deposed African President/leader character on the UK comedy circuit)… which makes the self-proclaimed ignorance of the apparent Intellectual Property thieves at BBC Studios/E4/Channel 4 even more spectacularly jaw-dropping…

BBC Studios and E4/Channel 4 had originally been shortlisted for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character'”… but, on the night, they were trounced byWest End Producer –  a man in a rubber mask.

#JusticeForObonjo

BBC World Service – President Obonjo

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour

Thieves at BBC Studios nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award in Edinburgh

President Obonjo – the original by ten years

As mentioned in my blog last week, BBC Studios have outrageously sold a stolen concept to Channel 4/E4 either by blatant amoral plagiarism or because of a breathtaking lack of interest in or knowledge of the current and recent UK comedy scene – a non-broadcast pilot that has clearly been based on the theft of the intellectual property of comedian Benjamin Bankole Bello – his comedy character President Obonjo.

In what could be read as a two-finger sign to BBC Studios, ‘President Obonjo’ has today made a clean sweep in nominations for the three annual Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The President Obonjo character has been nominated for Comic Originality (on the basis that the BBC have flagrantly ripped-off the basic idea)… and for the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award.

I am not so sure about the latter as BBC Studios’ actions potentially have the outcome of destroying Benjamin Bello’s so-far successful ten-year career… and the cynical BBC people involved must clearly know this – they are apparently amoral, not actually stupid.

Malcolm Hardee admired cunning stunts…

Ironically, E4 and BBC Studios have been nominated in the Cunning Stunt Award category “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character’.”

In an apparent further two-finger gesture to BBC Studios and E4, President Obonjo will be compering the traditional two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh’s Counting House venue starting tomorrow at 2359 – that’s midnight.

As it is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, entry is free. Whether you will exit with your soul unsullied is a matter for conjecture. 

The Award nominations are:


COMIC ORIGINALITY

Legs

Sean Morley

Joz Norris

– President Obonjo

– Charles Quarterman

Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield


CUNNING STUNT

– E4 & BBC Studios – for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their “appalling theft of his character”.

– Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield – for creating and distributing flyers which have scratch-card like elements on them.

– West End Producer – for releasing a poster featuring 5-star reviews appearing to be from well known critics and producers (M Billington, L Gardner, S Clapp, C Mack, Andy Webber). However, the names mentioned were actually members of the public he phoned up (eg Andy Webber is a man who lives in Bognor Regis), who gave permission for their names to be used.


ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID

– Catherine Cohen – for her force-of-nature take on millennials and their outwardly perfect, inwardly bleak lives.

– Tom Crosby – for creating a highly addictive video game and getting people hooked on it during the introduction to his show

– Sophie Duker – for being a self-aware, increasingly prominent voice of intersectionality as it changes Western culture

– Candy Gigi – for having a world class voice that could go global and showcasing it in a new musical genre

– President Obonjo – for, in future, either winning a legal battle over ownership of his character or becoming leader of the country


Malcolm Hardee’s children, Frank and Poppy Hardee, say: “One of our dad’s greatest qualities was finding and supporting new talent. This award in honour of our father will hopefully help to continue to promote new, exciting and slightly eccentric comedy acts at one of the world’s most famous comedy festivals.”

#JusticeForObonjo

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy

Comic Malcolm Hardee – the infamous tractor incident at the Edinburgh Fringe

Malcolm Hardee, prankster (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

With the revival of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe this week, it is maybe timely to remember the late, great prankster’s infamous incident with the tractor…

Here is an extract from his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake… 


We went back to Edinburgh the next year – back to The Hole in The Ground – and this time Circuit had three tents. They loved a tent. They had a big one in the middle, with a small one on one side and a medium one on the other. Like Daddy Tent, Mummy Tent and Little Baby Tent. You could pay to see one show and hear all three as the shows were running simultaneously.

We were in the Daddy Tent. Emma Thompson was in the little one with ‘The Emma Thompson Band’. And, in the medium one, was this American creature called Eric Bogosian. He later starred in Oliver Stone’s movie Talk Radio. I never got on with him. He was a prima donna. He upset everyone. He upset Emma Thompson. She was in tears and I boldly told him to leave her alone. 

All the arguments and artistic friction came about because of the clash of noise.

What we tried to arrange was to perform all our noisy bits at the same time and all our quiet bits at the same time, so the audiences wouldn’t get too distracted. But Eric was having none of it. One part of his show had Heavy Metal music – very loud – in our quiet bit. His show was called Funhouse – An Anarchistic Romp Through The American Way of Life. So, I thought, well at least he’s a bit of an anarchist. He’ll like a laugh, won’t he? 

Our show that year started with me entering on a tractor. I tried to leap over ten toy cars but, of course, the tractor went off the ramp and squashed the cars. Good opening. We had persuaded the manager of a local garden centre to lend us the tractor for free and we advertised his business. He was a typical dour Scot and was in the audience with his family the night I decided to visit Eric Bogosian.

We had had about six days of Eric’s Heavy Metal music coming through into our show, so I decided to go and see Eric in his tent. During a performance.

It came to the part of our show where Eric was making a hell of a row with his heavy metal tape. I screamed at our audience to make myself heard above the noise: 

“Look, we’ll go and see Eric. All of us. He’ll like it. He’s a bit of a laugh. He’s an anarchist.” 

I jumped on the tractor, naked. The stages were flat. So I drove out of our tent on the tractor and straight in to his tent and onto his stage. Our audience followed behind the tractor. 

“Hello, Eric!” I said.

He was swaying backwards and forwards, ‘air-guitaring’ with a broom handle in his hands and he was going “Brrrrrmmmmmm!” to this AC/DC track that was coming out of the loudspeakers. Very witty, I presume. 

When he saw me in the nude on the tractor followed by all our audience, he stopped performing and flopped in a chair that was at the back of the stage. We all filed past, then came out of his tent and back into our own and thought no more about it. 

After about two minutes, I heard the sound of a tractor being smashed up with a sledge-hammer. Then I heard, round the back, all the dressing-rooms being smashed up. Then he came running in. By this time, Martin Soan was naked and I had clothes on. Eric saw Martin and thought it was me. So he hit Martin and knocked him over and then ran out screaming. Martin got up and carried on, because we’ve had worse than that.


Malcolm’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is out-of-print but still available on Amazon.co.uk, where the description of it has been wildly incorrect for several years. It currently reads:

“For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.”

Despite at least three attempts to get Amazon.co.uk to correct the description, they seem to be incapable of doing so.

On the other hand, I suspect Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) would approve the surreal description with a hearty “Oy Oy! Fuck it!”

The details are listed correctly on Amazon.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Humor, Humour, publicity stunts

Why you should always seek out and watch really bad live comedy shows

“Saw my first really terrible show yesterday. What a relief after so much brilliance.”

That is what Claire Smith, esteemed comedy critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge, posted on her Facebook page this morning.

She is at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As a result, I really want to see that show if it ever plays London.

You can seldom learn much from watching perfection. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own).

If you are interested in the creative process, which I am, then to see what does NOT work in a show is far more educational and interesting than to see something with no flaws which just flows.

I seldom seek out long-established, very successful acts because what is the point of being entertained by a well-oiled, flawless piece of work which can be – and is – repeated perfectly night after night, performance after performance?

Uniformity is the enemy of originality.

So I prefer to see newish acts (but with some experience) which are still developing as well as good acts which are very professional but are not yet famous in a general everyone-in-the-queue-at-the-bus-stop-knows-them way. 

When success hits, acts do not need to have gone for the lowest common denominator. But they need to have found some common denominator of some kind which will appeal to a mass audience.

So, to an extent, there is a smoothing-over, blandifying factor involved.

If you see a very good, solid, professional act who has NOT yet had mainstream success, there is probably some interesting edge which has not yet been knocked off. 

And acts with enough experience to be watchable but which can still be variable and unpredictable (because they are still trying out new ideas and approaches) will have multiple jagged edges some of which may or may not work or which may half-work.

Sometimes, a show is bad because a good performer has had the balls to try out something truly original which does not quite (yet) work.

If you watch a truly truly bad show (and they are as rare as a police station without corruption) you can learn.

I have no urge (and no ability) to be a comedy performer, but the creation of the on-stage character and the performance interests me and – to repeat in a sledgehammer way a previous sentence – You can seldom learn much from watching perfection. You can learn a lot from other people’s mistakes (and your own).

Don’t bother telling me that posting this blog was a mistake.

It is too obvious a punchline.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Creativity, Performance

How to create an Edinburgh Fringe comedy award in less than a fortnight…

Going Forth: the old Malcolm Hardee Awards (L-R) Comic Originality, Million Quid, Cunning Stunt

The annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe ended in 2017.

‘Mad inventor’ John Ward designed and made the actual trophies awarded over the previous ten years – for Comic Originality, for best Cunning Stunt and for the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid.

A fortnight ago, it was announced the awards – re-named The Hardees – would re-start, this time run by the British Comedy Guide website.

The BCG already give annual Comedians’ Choice Awards at the Fringe.

With the Malcolm Hardee Awards revived after a short hiatus, new trophies had to be made. So the BCG asked John Ward to make more with (this year at least) the same design AND also to design and make a new-style trophy for their Comedians’ Choice Awards.

John Ward lives in Lincolnshire. I live in Borehamwood, on the edge of London. 

So we met in Milton Keynes, somewhere between us, and he showed me the newly-designed Comedians’ Choice trophy which, together with The Hardees, will be awarded in Edinburgh next weekend…


John Ward with Edinburgh’s newly-designed Comedians’ Choice Award in… erm… Milton Keynes

WARD: I wanted to design something that would stand out, so it doesn’t look like everybody else’s trophies, although whoever wins will probably need a hernia belt – it weighs about a kilo. It’s made from a recycled plastic tube, copper pipe, steel, wood and other bits.

It’s mounted on a base composed of three pillars, representing Mirth, Merriment and Laughter. There is a brass/copper central stem (based on the idea you might need a ‘brass neck’ to perform in some venues!) with a big, wide, steel ‘grin’ signifying laughter and a red nose on top – the traditional emblem of the clown.

My original design for the grin was symmetrical but, when I looked at it there was something odd about it. So I turned the grinning mouth to one side by an inch so now it has a sort-of jaunty ha-ha-ha look about it. I think that works. If you look from the front or the back, it’s still a laughing mouth with a nose on top.

FLEMING: How long did it take to make?

WARD: You don’t wanna know.

FLEMING: I do.

WARD: No you don’t.

FLEMING: Yes I do.

WARD: You don’t.

FLEMING: Oh yes I do.

WARD: Oh no you don’t.

FLEMING: Oh lord.

WARD: I would think I probably spent – cutting, shutting, painting, all of that… a good three days there, on and off.

FLEMING: Cutting and shutting??

WARD: Cutting the tube and shutting the ends off to get them smooth and level, not sharp edges. There’s nothing on there that would cut your hand or anything or…

FLEMING: Where’s the fun in that?

WARD: True: that Boadicea with her chariot; think of the fun she could’ve had with her chariot down the Tottenham Court Road on a Saturday. But that were before the days of Health & Safety. For me, it were a case of making something so no-one could say: “Oh! It fell on me and broke me big toe”… Although, to be fair, that could happen.

FLEMING: Comedy is all about the unexpected.

WARD: Three days.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, design

BBC Studios and Channel 4 risk court case by ripping-off President Obonjo…

#JusticeForObonjo !

BBC TV has a track record for simply stealing ideas.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics agrees: “They do have a bit of a rep for being sticky-fingered.”

I mentioned one case in passing in a 2013 blog in which the Beeb tried to rip-off an idea the late Malcolm Hardee and I had. 

Which brings us to the current great rip-off scandal involving BBC Studios.

Monday 12th August sees a one-off event at the Edinburgh FringeAn Audience with President Obonjo: in effect, a fake press conference by the original African comedy dictator. This should be quite an event. Fur will fly.

Everyone on the UK comedy scene seems fairly gobsmacked at the utterly blatant rip-off of Benjamin Bankole Bello’s widely-known, much admired and increasingly prestigious character President Obonjo – an African military dictator adrift in the UK – which he has been building on the UK comedy circuit for the last ten years…  

The BBC have sold a non-broadcast pilot idea to E4 (part of Channel 4) featuring an African military dictator adrift in the UK but in what – on the basis of a trailer promoting it – appears to be a wildly racist lowest-common-denominator pile of steaming crap.

I am, perhaps, being too generous.

The general perception of the BBC (and, guilty by association) Channel 4 is that they are either 

  1. blatant thieves or 
  2. an amateurish shambles who don’t know anything about the live comedy industry…

When news of this rip-off first surfaced a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that it was, indeed, a rip-off. But, as I blogged at the time, there was and is another – perhaps worse – possibility:

The (as it turned out) ironically-titled 2015 Fringe show

“If the BBC Studios Comedy team are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.”

When this scandal – for scandal it is – blew up, the BBC producer associated with the apparent rip-off, Ben Caudell, contacted Benjamin Bello for a meeting on 22nd July… presumably to try to smother criticism. 

He was apparently a tad surprised when Benjamin turned up with the aforementioned Kate Copstick, the most revered and arguably most fearsome comedy critic in the UK. It is not irrelevant that Copstick trained as a lawyer.

So let us be generous and presume that the BBC did not wantonly steal the idea from Benjamin. Let us assume that they are simply incompetent.

At the meeting with Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name) and Copstick – speaking in his capacity as a member of the BBC Studios Comedy team – Ben Caudell claimed never to have known about the widely-known President Obonjo character before the scandal blew up – although ‘President Obonjo’ had been performing on the live circuit over the last ten years, had staged two well-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows and had had multiple contacts with the BBC over a period of years. 

Ben Caudell also detailed how the BBC’s character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK had been developed separately from any knowledge of the existence of ‘President Obonjo’, an African military dictator adrift in the UK.

Interestingly, Copstick was later told by another BBC production person an entirely different story of how the BBC ‘innocently’ developed the entirely original character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK. 

A load of bull (Photo by Christian Wiediger via UnSplash)

The cynical might observe that, if you are going to tell potential porkies, at least agree beforehand on the same story. At least one (or more) of these conflicting stories has to be bollocks.

Anyway… Ben Caudell said, in his own defence, at the meeting with Copstick and Benjamin Bello (ie in front of witnesses), that “I don’t have much to do with live comedy… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

This might go some way to explain how a BBC producer or a bunch of BBC producers (I believe the collective noun is ‘a bullshit’ of BBC producers) could be totally and utterly ignorant of an act which had been playing the London and UK circuit for ten years – widely known – AND had staged two well-reviewed (4-star) Edinburgh Fringe shows AND had multiple contacts with BBC TV over several years specifically about the President Obonjo character (the BBC response at that time had been: “We like what you do”).

Let us be clear that the BBC rip-off character was (allegedly) thought-up by BBC producers, progressed after discussion and development with others to the top of BBC Studios Comedy tree without anyone realising there was a President Obonjo act. Allegedly.

President Obonjo had been twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition with videos submitted in 2012 and 2014. The character was considered for the BBC’s own Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme in 2018 and President Obonjo sketches were submitted to BBC3 earlier this year.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s ‘Colonel Banjoko’ character was (allegedly) created by people who had never heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s original character President Obonjo. There is a striking similarity in names going on there.

I had thought Ben Caudell might have gone for the My Sweet Lord defence in which George Harrison copied I think note-for-note Ronnie Mack’s country & western song He’s So Fine but said he had not consciously copied the song: it must have got into his subconscious after hearing it.

The increasingly prestigious President at the 2017 Fringe

But, no, Ben Caudell, speaking on behalf of BBC Studios, was not saying he or anyone else had seen or heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s President Obonjo character when creating their Colonel Banjoko character.

They could have said they didn’t like ‘President Obonjo’ and had been inspired to create a ‘better’ and different character.

But no. The claim was that no-one at all at any point in the development and commissioning process had ever heard of or seen the President Obonjo character… (Reminder: the previous BBC response to viewing the President Obonjo character: “We like what you do”)

So Ben Caudell suggested:

“As a gesture of goodwill, we will use best endeavours to feature President Obonjo in some way in an episode of a potential future series. This would of course be subject to broadcaster and commissioner approval.”

So no real offer of anything.

As Copstick wisely says: “As soon as they say best endeavours, they’re really not interested.”

When pushed further, Ben Caudell suggested: “How about this: to demonstrate that we really do want to acknowledge President Obonjo, why don’t we – with your permission – do a video version of your poster idea in our pilot? We’re thinking of doing a VT explaining Colonel Banjoko’s rise and fall. A photo of President Obonjo could feature in that, as the Colonel’s predecessor. How does that sound?”

Worth remembering here that it is a non-broadcast pilot which would not be screened on-air.

Last week, Kate Copstick got in touch with Karl Warner, Controller of E4, pointing out that the proposed BBC/E4 series “with its curiously, closely similar spoof African dictator will destroy (Benjamin Bello’s) act, his career and his livelihood. We met with Ben Caudell, who is producing the pilot. He gave one version of how the character came to be, since when we have been assured by someone else of another version (completely different) of how the character came to be. He (Benjamin Bello) is looking at a ten year career disappearing. Should this show be allowed to go ahead he will have nowhere to go with his character… his career… his creation.”

Karl Warner replied: “We’re satisfied that there’s been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Studios in this case.”

Note that Channel 4’s statutory public service remit includes that it should “be innovative and distinctive.” 

I think a hollow laugh might be in order at this point.

Obviously, Copstick, I and Benjamin Bello have discussed the problem. This part of our discussion might be interesting, remembering that Copstick and I have a TV production background and Copstick trained as a lawyer:


President Obonjo and Copstick in Edinburgh

COPSTICK: Ben Caudell talked vaguely about the people upstairs. But, basically, anyone who has any power at the BBC doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and they’re just going to carry on. He can do nothing. 

The men in suits will not react, because they are so sure they are more powerful than anybody and can just wait until it all goes away. Or they will mumble something about “best endeavours”. 

There was a chance when we met him that he was actually vaguely decent and was thinking Well, maybe there’s something we can do that will keep everybody happy. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he was just sent in there like a canary in the mine. They think it’s all going to go away.

I contacted a very prominent QC who specialises in Intellectual Property who says we have a reasonable case on several fronts. I asked to what extent could sections of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, as taken on by the EU’s Human Rights legislation, be used in an Intellectual Property case where the victim has kind-of shot himself in the foot because he has previously sent off ideas to a company. And, as we know, ideas are not copyrightable. 

JOHN: That’s the massive get-out clause for all broadcasters ripping-off people’s ideas.

COPSTICK: Yes. The fucker is that Benjamin sent the BBC ideas and one of them was not a chat show but, from what I’ve read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your rights in your own Intellectual Property are your human rights, because your Intellectual Property is seen as an extension of yourself – especially where it’s something like a character. So, even though you are fucked under UK statute law, because you sent them ideas, there is the Human Rights angle.

JOHN: What did the QC say?

COPSTICK: He said: “That’s interesting”… Given than Benjamin has been doing this character and only this character for ten years, you could argue that it is his business… It is a business he has created and a business in which there is a lot of goodwill. It is a ‘brand’ and there is a lot of goodwill. So, by doing what BBC Studios and Channel 4 are doing, they are infringing the goodwill of the brand. Which is (a) true and (b) very monetisable.

JOHN: Well, I’m not worried about a court case. I would welcome the publicity!

COPSTICK: We will fight if necessary and the embarrassment factor for them would be at absolute maximum.

JOHN: And the QC would work pro bono…

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: My angle is that, even if they didn’t rip it off intentionally – which stretches credulity a bit – the only alternative explanation is that they are incompetent idiots.

COPSTICK: They are worse than incompetent idiots. They are dangerous and damaging. 

JOHN: …because they are knowingly going to destroy a career built-up over ten years…

COPSTICK: Yes. They are going to destroy a career AND… they don’t care!

JOHN: And, given that Ben Caudell is married to an actress, Diane Morgan, it’s shocking that he doesn’t care more about performers’ careers.

COPSTICK: They really don’t care and also, even if everything they say is true, then what does that say about the attitude of BBC Television Comedy to live comedy? Live comedy is only important to them as a place where they go to steal ideas.

Although Benjamin did not send them a format with the President in a talk show format, by putting AN Other President in the talk show, they have more or less stolen the character as long as there’s enough similarity between the two presidents. What they will do is change his back story.

BENJAMIN: I talked to an Intellectual Property lawyer too and one of the things that President Obonjo does is he is very prominent on social media including YouTube videos and he is talking in character. 

JOHN: You are so prominent all over the place that it is inconceivable – unless the producers at the BBC are utterly incompetent and simply not even remotely doing their job properly – that they didn’t know you existed. The only way in which they could not know you existed was if they were totally inept.

If they claim that nobody developing or commissioning comedy at BBC TV or at Channel 4 had ever heard of you, it implies nobody at BBC TV Comedy or at Channel 4 Comedy knows or cares anything about live comedy over the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years.


#JusticeForObonjo !

President Obonjo’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Copyright, Television