Tag Archives: edinburgh fringe

The anarchic post modernist comedy group named after the Post Office. Not.

The interior of Cafe Diana in Notting Hill

The interior of Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill

Consignia won last year’s Alternative New Comedian of the Year title. The comedy group are Phil Jarvis, Andy Barr, Nathan Willcock and now “newcomer Jason Bridge”.

Phil and Nathan had tea with me in Cafe Diana – a culinary shrine to the late Princess of Wales, opposite the Consular Section of the Russian Embassy in London’s Notting Hill and near the brutalist Czech Embassy. It was their choice of venue. Also present was Dec Munro, one of the begetters of Angel Comedy’s Bill Murray club.

Dec has let them have an entire afternoon of six previews at the Bill Murray on Sunday 5th February – from 1.45pm to 6.00pm, unless they repeat everything twice, in which case who knows?

The logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Publicity logo for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show

Consignia were performing in Swansea last night. If I had been more efficient, I could have posted this blog before then to give the gig a plug.

But I wasn’t and didn’t.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I saw their show The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show twice. Well, I had little alternative. When it got to the end of their one-hour slot, they simply did the whole show again from beginning to end. When we met at Cafe Diana, Nathan was feeling ill and was very tired. Our conversation, under walls covered in photos of Princess Diana, went like this:


Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

Phil Jarvis at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2015

JOHN: I was surprised when you repeated the show in Edinburgh that there seemed to have been a script.

NATHAN: The Leicester Comedy Festival is the last time we will do that show.

PHIL: Yeah. Saturday 25th February.

NATHAN: And, after Leicester, we will do something new for Edinburgh this year.

PHIL: At the Edinburgh Fringe, I want to do an unofficial Dinner For One tribute show. I am trying to get the smallest room I can and put a table in it with six people round it.

JOHN: Isn’t the whole point of Dinner For One that he is serving things to non-existent people?

PHIL: But you could have someone playing the tiger rug and people playing the people who aren’t there.

JOHN: This show would run the whole duration of the Fringe?

PHIL: It would be a one-off. There would be a knees-up, because that’s what the show is.

JOHN: Is it?

PHIL: I think it is, yeah. A melancholic knees-up.

JOHN: A sort of Chas & Dave with tears?

PHIL: (TO ME) We are waiting for Bridge.

JOHN: Bridge?

PHIL: Jason Bridge.

JOHN: Like Godot?

PHIL: Mmmm…

JOHN: But, apart from your Dinner For One with six people, what is the new Consignia show for Edinburgh?

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis pay homage to Princess Diana

Nathan Willcock (left) & Phil Jarvis pay homage to Lady Diana

PHIL: Panopticon.

JOHN: Why is it called that?

PHIL: It has to be more pretentious than last year’s.

NATHAN: We have a gig booked in Norwich for it already.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: We did it last year. That’s where last year’s gig found its feet. Before that, The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show was a disaster.

NATHAN: I went to university in Norwich.

JOHN: Oh, I’m sorry.

PHIL: I’m going to run a gig in Basingstoke.

JOHN: What? Into the ground?

PHIL: Probably. It’s a regular monthly gig.

JOHN: Called…?

PHIL: Goat.

JOHN: Because it will make people feel horny?

PHIL: No. It’s just a name.

DEC: Someone named their rap album Goat.

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

Phil Jarvis (right) listens to his notes; Dec Munro concentrates

PHIL: I think there’s a band called Goat as well.

JOHN: And an animal.

PHIL: If you put the words ‘a Comedy Club’ next to it, it says ‘Go at a Comedy Club’.

NATHAN: Nobody says: “Go at a comedy club.”

PHIL: I do.

NATHAN: You should call it GOAT 2 – “Goat 2 a comedy club.”

JOHN: So why call yourselves Consignia?

NATHAN: We didn’t have a name in Edinburgh last year, but now we have retrospectively given ourselves a name.

JOHN (TO NATHAN): Are you going to fall forward unconscious into that soup or what?

Nathan Willcock was feeling a bit ill

Nathan Willcock alas did not fall into his soup

NATHAN: It’s very hot.

JOHN: Why did you choose the name Consignia?

NATHAN: It was going to be the new name of the Post Office but they got rid of it, so we thought: We’ll have it.

JOHN: You didn’t think of calling yourselves The Post Office?

PHIL: It’s not as funny.

NATHAN: With Consignia, only a few people remember it happening. It was so stupid. I had to check with people: Did that actually happen?

JOHN: Ah. So it IS suitable for your shows, then.

NATHAN: We are hoping to get into a high-profile legal battle with the bloke who thought up the name.

PHIL: We like faded things.

JOHN: Is that why you invited me here?

NATHAN: We like pointless, meaningless things.

PHIL: That is why we like brutalism in architecture.

Nathan Willcock (left) and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy

Nathan Willcock and Phil Jarvis approve the brutalism of the Czech Embassy in London

JOHN: Are you sure you are not misunderstanding the word? It is not just beating-up people in the street.

PHIL: We want to perform at The Comedy Store.

JOHN: In the Gong Show bit?

NATHAN: Yes. They film you and you can pay £5 to get a copy. We could probably use it in our new show: about us being booed off. We will just stay on stage.

PHIL: They will be gonging and we will just stay on until the bouncers come on to get us. They will think about it a bit.

NATHAN: Basically, we want them to get violent… and then we will see if we can still get the video.

JOHN: You really do misunderstand what Brutalism is.

NATHAN: He still hasn’t turned up.

JOHN: Who?

PHIL: Jason Bridge. He will be with us in Leicester. With my son.

JOHN: You have a son?

PHIL: No.

NATHAN: Do you remember anything from our show in Edinburgh?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: The one you sat through twice.

JOHN: No. I do remember the second time was a revelation because I thought: I’ve never seen anything like this before.

PHIL: Do you not remember me covered in blood wearing a gas mask, holding my son?

JOHN: No. I thought I must have dreamt that.

PHIL: You saw my penis.

JOHN: Did I see it twice?

PHIL: Yes you did.

JOHN: I don’t remember it.

NATHAN: My girlfriend hates that.

Nathan Willcock Facebook header image

Can you spot Nathan Willcock in his Facebook header image?

JOHN: His penis?

NATHAN: No… Nicholas. Because Nicholas is covered in egg and mud…

JOHN: His son?

PHIL: …and guacamole…

NATHAN:…but I refuse to throw it out. It’s in our cupboard.

JOHN: Why is guacamole funny? All those Al Queda prisoners in there for years on end…

PHIL: Do you not remember our show at all, John?

JOHN: No.

NATHAN: You remember we put a carrot and some humus on stage…

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: …and then played a really slowed-down version of Daphne & Celeste and then walked off stage and the audience just looked at this carrot and humus.

PHIL: One night, we couldn’t find any humus. We could only find discounted guacamole.

NATHAN: That was the night the second show happened – the X-rated one – the night you were there, John. We did everything naked.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And, instead of putting a carrot in the guacamole, we put Phil’s penis in it and put a microphone to it.

JOHN: Did you?

NATHAN: And guacamole is a bit spicy so Phil said it hurt quite a bit.

PHIL: I had a mild burn for the rest of the Fringe.

Phil Jarvis

Phil Jarvis felt off-colour during the Fringe

NATHAN: That’s how committed we are.

JOHN: And your girlfriend is not keen on this?

PHIL: His fiancée now.

JOHN: (TO NATHAN) Oh! Congratulations.

NATHAN: She asked me.

JOHN: How did she ask you?

NATHAN: She took me to Belgium.

JOHN: Is that a euphemism I don’t know? I have heard “took me round the world” but never “took me to Belgium”.

NATHAN: Ghent. She didn’t go down on one knee. She just gave me a ring underneath the belfry.

JOHN: Is that another euphemism I haven’t heard?

NATHAN: December 9th. The wedding. It’s going to have a Christmas theme. We had a load of crackers delivered the other day.

JOHN: In January? For your December wedding? That’s forward planning.

NATHAN: She’s very organised. We have put the soundtrack for The Abridged Dapper Eleven-Hour Monochrome Dream Show up on Bandcamp and you can buy the full album for £1,000. You can also download individual tracks for free.

JOHN: It is all commercialism with you, isn’t it?

Consignia logo

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Simon Jay on the inauguration thoughts of the OTHER President Donald Trump

Simon Jay - Donald Trump

Simon Jay’s show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

Simon was at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe

For about nine months, Simon Jay has been getting noticed for his one-man show Trumpageddon in which he riffs as the esteemed President Elect, who gets inaugurated this Friday.

“Are you doing anything to celebrate?” I asked Simon via Skype this morning.

“I’m going to go on Facebook Live,” he told me, “and, at 5.00pm (UK time), as you watch the inauguration on TV, you’ll be able to hear his thoughts streamed via Facebook Live –  as voiced by me.”

“When you first started doing Trump,” I said, “you must have thought: I want Trump to be elected President because I can get a four-year-long act out of this.”

“I was hoping he would LOSE for two reasons. One, obviously, for the good of the planet. But also because, genuinely, I think he has a very limited shelf-life as effective satire. It will become less effective.”

“Well,” I suggested, “there are three possibilities. One: he will get shot. Two: he will get impeached. Three: he might turn into a good President because you don’t want a nice, principled man as President. Jimmy Carter, apparently nice man: ineffective President. Richard Nixon, a right shit: internationally, a pretty good President.”

“I think that’s a little over-simplistic view of American politics!” laughed Simon.

“That’s my speciality,” I told him. “The trouble is Trump is not a hard, cynical politician. He’s a little schoolboy throwing tantrums and trying to bully people… So do you feel an affinity to him? How do you ‘become’ Trump?”

“Well,” Simon told me, “it’s like drag. You put on the orange make-up, put on the suit and red tie and flop the hair about.”

Simon Jay being made into Donald Trump

“It’s like drag. You put on orange make-up and flop the hair”

“You wear a wig as Trump?” I asked.

“No! It’s my own hair. Unlike him, I actually use my own hair.”

“He wears a wig?” I asked.

“It’s monkey glands,” Simon replied. “Implants, like Elton John. Trump’s hairline goes in two different directions. Half of it grows from one angle and the other half from another angle. It’s like M.C.Escher hair.”

“And his psychology?” I asked.

“He’s so easy to play,” said Simon, “because he thinks everyone loves him. No matter what happens or what I say, I will be loved – so it’s perfect. It’s a wonderful narcissistic power trip.”

“How,” I asked, “do you put yourself inside his mindset?”

“I just go blank,” explained Simon. “It’s a kind of Zen state, because he doesn’t say anything particularly. His verbal mannerisms are just so airy, it’s almost like Beat Poetry – the same couple of phrases and words over and over again. It’s not like thought, is it?”

“He really IS like a school kid stamping his feet,” I said.

“Well,” said Simon, “if you look at his childhood, he used to bite his nannies and attack them. Terrible anger issues.”

“Have you,” I asked, “watched Alec Baldwin do Trump on Saturday Night Live?”

Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

Alec Baldwin in NBC’s Saturday Night Live

“Yes. It is really interesting to see Saturday Night Live go a bit further in its takedown of a politician, but it’s still nowhere near like our satire. We are a lot more horrible to our politicians. Saturday Night Live say: Oh, Trump is obsessed by money and is a bit sexist! On Spitting Image, we had Thatcher as Adolf Hitler, gassing people! They could be a bit tougher. When Tina Fey did Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, it was still a nod and a wink and the real Sarah Palin actually appeared with her.”

“Trump has gone wrong on the PR,” I suggested, “by attacking Saturday Night Live. Politicians have to be seen to laugh with comedy digs.”

“But maybe Trump is very clever,” Simon replied. “Everyone is reporting: Look at him! He can’t even take a joke! That distracts people from the politics: Look! He’s appointed this cabinet that are going to roll-back so many things. They’re pro-life, anti-gay, racist. People are talking less about that when they’re talking about him and Alec Baldwin.”

“So,” I asked, “how do you differ from Alec Baldwin?”

“I’m nowhere near as famous!” laughed Simon, “and I have nowhere near the same influence.”

“Will you be doing 20-minute spots in comedy clubs as Trump?”

“No, because it’s not an impression; it’s a whole hour-long show. It’s a characterisation in its own surreal world. So seeing it for a few minutes would not work in the same way.”

“Is there a risk,” I asked, “that you get so typed as Trump in the next four years that Simon Jay will lose-out as a performer?”

“Yeah. I’ll do other projects. I want to go to the Edinburgh Fringe and do Trump AND something else. Everyone is advising me against doing two shows again, but I would like to.”

“So your Trump show at this year’s Fringe…?” I prompted.

Orange is the new black in the US Donald Trump Simon Jay

For voters in the USA, it seems orange really is the new black

“The Trump thing has been taken on by a proper producer now – James Seabright – so it will be more packaged and slick though it will still be the same raw, slightly unpalatable truth it was last time.”

“Any reaction so far from the man in the Trump Tower?” I asked.

“No,” said Simon. “Part of the previous show was a bit where I was molesting a rabbit and I got the audience to take pictures of it and said: Can you Tweet the pictures to me? meaning me. But some people sent them to the real Donald Trump. So he maybe has a lot of photos of me looking like him, molesting a rabbit, but I have had no complaint from him yet.”

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Malcolm Hardee, the squatters and the upcoming Cunning Stunt in Edinburgh

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock in February 2014

The Wibbley Wobbley in its original berth at Greenland Dock

In November and December last year, I posted a series of blogs about the late comic Malcolm Hardee’s former floating pub/comedy club The Wibbley Wobbley.

There were squatters living on board in November.

In December, the boat was towed away from Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe to nearby South Dock Marina and, a few days later, towed away to be scrapped.

This week, I had a chat with Darryl, one of the squatters.

“So you got ousted from the Wibbley Wobbley,” I said. “Where are you squatting now?”

“In a building. An ex-restaurant.”

“Any leftovers?”

“No. Only mice.”

“You could eat the mice,” I suggested.

“We could, but we have standards.”

“So,” I said, “The Wibbley Wobbley got moved from Greenland Dock to South Dock Marina. Were the squatters still on board at the time?”

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe(Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

The Wibbley Wobbley was temporarily berthed in South Dock Marina, Rotherhithe (Photograph by Jody VandenBurg)

“I wasn’t on board,” replied Darryl, “but other people were. There was no notice and it was a dawn raid. They just cut off the supports, attached a boat with a power motor and towed the Wibbley Wobbley around the corner.”

“What happened,” I asked, “when it got taken away from South Dock Marina?”

“No idea. It’s a mystery. We had all got off by then.”

“Because you had decided it was not a good place to stay?”

“No, the people were quite aggressive. They booted us off.”

“Physically?”

“Pretty much, yeah. We couldn’t put up a resistance, so…”

“There was some verbal aggression and you left?”

“Well,” said Darryl, “there was some physical violence to one of our crew. But we realised the boat was going to be sailed away and dismantled or whatever, so we…”

“What sort of physical violence?” I asked.

“A punch to the head,” said Darryl. “It was not very nice.”

“How had you originally started squatting there?” I asked.

“We went on board in late May last year – Pirata Mala Pata…”

“What?” I asked.

“Pirata Mala Pata,” Darryl repeated.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“The name of the man who went on board to start off with. He’s my friend. Pirata Mala Pata. It’s Spanish.”

“What does it mean?”

Darryl the Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre Bar

Darryl the Saintly Squatter talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“No idea. We have pirate names. Pirata Mala Pata. He went on board first, with Back from the Dead Red.”

“What?”

“Back from the Dead Red – That’s his name.

“Then I went on – Darryl Kia Kaha – and then Conrad the Cut-Throat Lipstick Killer. Then, after that, quickly, there were Bristima Long Wave, Diabolito, Deptford Drake, Slayer Crow, Belly Bones Beerhead and Bluebeard Barbarossa. They are all very interesting characters.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “When you started squatting on the Wibbley Wobbley, you told me no-one was clear who owned it.”

“When we went on board,” Darryl explained, “the power was still all activated, the fridge had been running for I don’t know how many years and there was a lot of alcohol left on board which was good for about a week.”

“What was in the fridge?” I asked.

“Nothing, but there was lots of electrical equipment still on board. The water supply was still on. It was a great environment.

“We contacted the Harbour Master to find out who the owner was so we could maybe make a deal with him and say we would look after the boat. The person we met at that time – we could not confirm if he actually was the owner – said we would have about three weeks.

“So we said: OK. That’s fine. Three weeks is great. And those three weeks came and went and we were there for about six months. But the Harbour Master didn’t want us on board. He turned off the power pretty quickly, so we got a generator and a lot of battery stuff. After another couple of months, he removed the water supply, which was a bit contentious. You’re not supposed to remove a water supply. But there was not much recourse for us, so we just bought big bottles. And then there was the sewerage problem.

“That was part of why the whole boat closed down in the first place. There is a big sewage tank at the back of the boat and, when it gets filled up, it starts to sink the boat.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Malcolm would have approved of what you are doing.” (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

“Ah yes,” I said. “I was at Malcolm’s birthday party in 2002 when the boat started to sink with the weight of its own shit.”

“We actually sorted it out,” said Darryl. “The Harbour Master disconnected the sewerage. We didn’t like that. So we re-connected it, got a pump and our generator and managed to send the shit back up the pipe and around the harbour to his tank. He didn’t know. But it worked and we were pretty much self-sufficient.”

“Did he ever find out?” I asked.

“No… In the squatting network, people are very resourceful. A lot of people have a lot of knowledge. As you can imagine, with a disparate group of people, everyone has their own agendas. My agenda was to run creative events. My background is film-making and music. We made little films on the boat, which was cool. And we had events, which was really cool.”

“When did you find out about Malcolm Hardee?” I asked.

“As soon as we got on, we started researching. We found lots of articles inside the boat and really quickly found out about him. We thought: Wow! This is exciting! This is obviously a kindred spirit. And, amongst many people who came by the boat, were a couple of people who said: Malcolm would have approved of what you guys are doing.”

“I think they are probably right,” I told Darryl.

“But,” he continued, “along with that, we also endured quite a lot of hostility.”

“From…?” I asked.

The interior of the Wibbley Wobbley during the occupation by squatters

Interior of Wibbley Wobbley during the squatter occupation.

“Oh, as soon as we got on the boat, word spread around. It had been the pub for some of the old locals, so it was understandable they would feel jilted that we had taken over what used to be their bar. So we suffered quite a lot of verbal abuse, threats of violence. We recorded a lot of it on camera to protect ourselves. Also there were drunk people trying to come on board. There was also a mad woman who would throw huge rocks at us. We had to get the police around to her.”

“She lived in a nearby flat?”

“Yeah.”

“And threw rocks?”

“Yeah. Big rocks. She was mentally not well. Also, towards the end of summer, we had a gang of marauding 10-year-olds on bicycles throwing rocks at us.”

“What,” I asked, “did the police say?”

“They came round in the early days and said: You guys are fine. You’ve got occupancy, so you have the right to be here.

“Once, we had an open painting day and put large canvasses up on the pier and invited people to come and paint. We had lots of kids come along. The Harbour Master came along and said: You can’t do this! You’re trespassing! He called the police. He told them: Look! These guys are trespassing and disturbing the peace!

“And,” I asked, “the police reaction was…?”

“They said: No, no. They’re not. Sorry. There’s nothing you can do about it. Bugger off.” 

“Not in those exact words?”

“No, not in those exact words, but it was a bit humiliating for the poor guy.”

“And the future…?” I asked.

“We have been inspired by Malcolm and an anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

“Ooh,” I said. “Are they actually staging a show at the Fringe?”

“Yes. the group intends to put on a comedy piece.”

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

One of the increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Awards

“And the stunt is…?” I asked.

“Something is going to happen,” said Darryl.

“Always good,” I said. “Is it legal or illegal?”

“Legal, I think.”

“How disappointing,” I said.

“Well,” said Darryl, “the hologram might infringe some boundaries. You’ve got maritime law, terrestrial law and then you have aerospace. They are going to attempt a hologram between the dimensions.”

“Between time and space?” I asked.

“Yes. Totally shred the space-time continuum,” said Darryl.

“What,” I asked, “is the stage show they might be putting on at the Edinburgh Fringe?”

“Apparently it’s going to be inside a four-walled venue for one day only – because, once you have burnt down a building, you can’t do it again…”

“Malcolm did,” I told him. “And when might this show happen in Edinburgh?”

“No idea,” said Darryl. “But they have said they will release information. They have got birds: pigeons. They will be sending them out to various addresses at the right time.”

“Including my address?” I asked. “I hope so.”

“Maybe…” said Darryl. “Maybe leave some crumbs outside the front door to your house so the pigeons will know where to land.”

“Except,” I said, “I suppose I should not tell you my address in case I wake up tomorrow and find you are squatting in my back bedroom.”

“Absolutely,” said Darryl.

transformerdiy

“Anonymous group has decided to take on the concept of the Cunning Stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe”

 

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Edinburgh Fringe: Why the Counting House is now free from Ballooning fees

The Gilded Balloon’s Counting House The signposted entrance on the left on the left is not the entrance

Gilded Balloon’s Counting House last year. The prominently signposted entrance on the left is not actually the entrance!

It was recently announced that The Counting House venue is reverting to the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, after it was last year poached by pay venue The Gilded Balloon.

I blogged about this in February last year under the title Gilded Balloon venue’s deal excretes on the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe and, in August, under the title The Edinburgh Fringe venue that doesn’t know where its own entrance is.

The successful poaching expedition by the Gilded Balloon last year ousted the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show and the Grouchy Club comedy industry chat shows from their traditional venue of many years.

I thought I would ask Laughing Horse Free Festival boss Alex Petty about it and tracked him down in Thailand, on his way to Australia for the comedy festivals out there.

Well, “tracked him down” is a slight exaggeration. I FaceTimed him in his hotel in Thailand.

“Which festivals are you going off to?” I asked.

A selfie by Alex Petty in Thailand

A selfie taken by Alex Petty in Thailand

“Perth Fringe World, then the Adelaide Fringe and the Melbourne Comedy Festival,” he told me. “The Australian festivals are basically like a three-month long Edinburgh. I get back to the UK at the end of April or beginning of May, then it’s straight down to the Brighton Fringe. It’s non-stop on Fringes and Festivals these days.”

“Are you looking at any other ones?” I asked.

“We have an eye on doing maybe either New Zealand or Sydney… and we are looking at Glasgow and Leicester in the UK.”

After these polite starters, I asked about The Counting House.

The Gilded Balloon (where acts pay to perform and audiences pay to watch) had billed their newly-acquired Counting House venue as Pay-What-You-Want – free for audiences to enter and they can (if they like) pay at the end plus they can guarantee themselves a seat by buying a ticket in advance. But, whereas under the Free Festival, performers did not pay to hire the venue, the Gilded Balloon charged performers a hire fee and various other fees which meant the venue was free for audiences but relatively expensive for performers.

This cynical dog’s dinner got – it seems to me – the reception it deserved.

“My understanding,” I said to Alex Petty, “is that the bar did not take as much money under the Gilded Balloon at last year’s Fringe as it had at previous Fringes under the Free Festival. And the Gilded Balloon did not take as much money from the shows as they expected.”

“I don’t know the numbers,” replied Alex, “but I think it was pretty obvious to anyone going there that the venue was a lot quieter than expected. And a lot of the performers were saying that. The Counting House very kindly said they would like us to go back and offered it to us for this year.

“I think,” he continued, “that the Gilded Balloon, with the whole Pay-What-You-Want thing, tried to ride on the coat-tails of Bob Slayer (who created the concept), but it wasn’t really Pay-What-You-Want. People who went in told me that audiences were turning up expecting shows to be free and the Gilded Balloon staff were trying to get people to buy tickets in advance. In the end, the Gilded was trying to sell tickets up-front and there were not the same numbers of people hanging around that there had been in previous years.”

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet in Edinburgh

(L-R) The Peartree courtyard, Counting House and Blind Poet

The Counting House is part of a triple venue – three pubs next to each other all with the same owners – The Blind Poet downstairs, The Counting House upstairs and The Peartree downstairs with a courtyard.

“The venue is being renovated, isn’t it?” I asked.

“They’ve just started now,” Alex explained. “It sounds like what was The Blind Poet is going to become the back end of the Peartree bar and become a performance space like it was before but letting you walk through into the Peartree courtyard. That will also give people access up the inside stairs into the Counting House as well.  So, in the Counting House, there will be the Lounge and the Ballroom and, upstairs from them, the Attic and the Loft.”

I asked: “Is Brian going to be back sitting outside on a stool by a barrel?”

The pub’s manager Brian had tended to sit on the pavement outside the entrance, giving information to audiences and interested passers-by. This was missing last year with a swarm of (in my view) officious and often ill-informed people in Gilded Balloon tee-shirts. On one occasion, the Gilded Balloon ‘helper’ on the pavement thought the entrance to The Blind Poet was actually the (entirely separate) entrance to the Counting House.

“Brian was very keen to have us back,” said Alex. “He had put so much work into things the year before (2015) and it really pushed the venue on and we had had so many plans for last year (2016) which did not happen when the Gilded Balloon took it over.

“We are going to try to sort out a slightly better place for him to sit in the Edinburgh ‘summer’ weather. I think, for a lot of people, Brian and his barrel were two of the mainstays of the Fringe a couple of years ago.

“It was such a shame to lose it but I completely understand what the owners did. It was a business decision.”

“I’m glad it’s back,” I said.

“So am I,” said Alex.

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show will be held 11.00pm-01.00am in the Ballroom of The Counting House on Friday 25th August. And The Grouchy Club will be in The Lounge live every afternoon for the second half of the Fringe.

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree on West Nicholson Street, as seen on Google StreetView

The Blind Poet and Counting House with The Peartree’s courtyard wall beyond (Google Street View)

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Cameryn Moore’s Smut Slam comes to the UK & I learn about ovipositor porn

So I got this email: from Cameryn Moore:


camerynmooreWe’ve met once before, the night that I told a story about one of my phone sex clients at Stand Up Tragedy, in the spring of 2015. Now I’m collaborating with Stand Up Tragedy‘s Dave Pickering to bring the UK something entirely new.

You could call me the Pied Piper of pervs; my Smut Slam storytelling open mic has drawn tawdry true-life tales out of people all across the U.S. and Canada. This January I’m leaving a network of eight Smut Slam branches around North America and coming to the UK to launch an entire circuit there. I’ll be hitting Bristol (Jan 10), London (Jan 11), and Brighton (Jan 12) in rapid succession, with Manchester rolling around later in the month (Jan 31)

Open mic hosts know that one unexpectedly “blue” anecdote can derail a show. What happens when the whole show is blue?


Cameryn Moore performs in New York City (Photo by Ed Barnas)

Cameryn performs in New York (Photograph by Ed Barnas)

Obviously, I had to talk to her.

“So it’s like a poetry slam?” I asked, “but with smut.”

“Yes,” said Cameryn, “Slam and dirty stories. Poetry slams are set up for championships and are very competitive. In this case, we only called it a ‘slam’ because people are competing for sex toys. It is an astounding motivator for most people.

“Every time I do a Smut Slam, I get a local sponsor so the Sh! Erotic Emporium in Hoxton is providing various sex toys for the London show. Stores in Brighton and Bristol are also providing sexy prizes.”

“It is like an open mic night?” I asked.

“The way I do it at the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes is it’s like a cabaret. But the Smut Slams in London and Bristol and Brighton and Manchester are open mics. Every Smut Slam I have ever done since 2011 has had an amazing mix of stories.”

“How many have you staged since 2011?”

“Probably close to 50 or 60. It’s been on a monthly basis in Montreal since 2011. I’ve done them in between 15-17 cities around North America every year.”

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smutty stories?”

Smut Slam poster

“What sort of audience do you get turning up to hear smut?”

“It depends, to a large part, on who I am collaborating with. In the UK, I have found co-producers for  every city. In London, it’s Dave Pickering from Stand-Up Tragedy so he is drawing on his storytelling audience. In Brighton, it’s Mathilda Gregory, who does storytelling and erotica. I do outreach to the kink communities and to comedy audiences because, while the point of Smut Slam is not comedy, most sex stories can get awkward and funny pretty quickly.”

“So,” I asked, “the attraction is ‘awkward and funny’?”

“I would say,” Cameryn laughed, “that ‘awkward and funny’ are definitely high points.”

“And you want to set up a circuit of Smut Slams in the UK?”

“My goal is to relocate to the UK, so I want to set up a circuit – like the old-time travelling preachers.”

“I am,” I told her, “sure preachers will be honoured for their sermons to be compared to your shows.”

“Well,” she replied, “I have had people say I am doing God’s work and, while I don’t believe in God, I do believe there is something important in gathering people together and having some open, honest, authentic discussions about sex. That is one thing lacking in our society today. There is sex-sex-sex everywhere. But it’s all about sales and marketing. There is nothing being sold at Smut Slams except this sharing opportunity that most of us don’t have.”

“But,” I asked, “are you not titillating the audience to get some cash?”

“Sure,” she replied. “I am hoping to make some living money, but I don’t think that’s any more of a problem than social workers who get money just for listening to people. I have a sense of mission about it, but I’m not an altruist. Obviously sex will titillate, but people will come to these things and find out it goes a lot deeper than that.”

“Into which depths does it go?” I asked.

“What Smut Slam offers is a safer place where people can share. That is cathartic; it is community-building. People can hear their own experiences reflected from on stage. Or share entirely new experiences they maybe haven’t known before. It’s almost educational. Those are the deeper things. It’s a learning experience.”

“So you’re a preacher and a teacher?” I asked.

Cameryn Moore with Pavement Pornography at the Manchester Fringe

Cameryn preached some Sidewalk Smut at Manchester Fringe

“I tell the opening story. I set the guidelines. I build the segues between the storytellers. But the great thing is it’s not me doing any educating or outreaching. It’s other people who are willing to be brave and stand up.”

“Isn’t this,” I asked, “the audio equivalent of voyeurism?”

“It is. Exhibitionists need voyeurs. There are going to be people who just rush the mic, desperate to tell their stories. But there will also people who are feeling a little intimidated by the microphone.

“We have something called the Fuck Bucket – a receptacle into which people put an anonymous question or confession. That is a raffle pot for the end of the evening but I also read the slips during the course of the night. And people feel they are contributing and sharing even if no-one knows it’s them.”

“Some people,” I suggested, “will surely make up fantasies?”

“I don’t have any way of verifying. But the guidelines are that all the stories need to be real life.”

“What is your background?” I asked.

“I identify first and foremost as a playwright and performer. I have done five solo shows since 2010 and I have done phone sex for the last 7½ years, which I have now quit.”

“Phone sex?” I asked.

“Engaging in other people’s fantasies over the phone: so 7½ years of working with other people’s stories. Everything dovetails.”

“Why do you want to relocate to the UK?”

“I have spent three summers touring the UK and feel there are markets for the Smut Slams and my own shows because ‘Fringe’ is such a strong culture in the UK but not in the US. I am a non-traditional performer – I started late – I’m 46, I’m what you would call unconventional looking. Also, I will be honest. I am following true love. It is a Brit I met when I was touring the UK in 2014.”

“Male? Female?” I asked. “Animal, vegetable, mineral?”

“He’s a dude.”

“Why settle in the UK not the US?”

“When we talked about where we could be together, there was the States or the UK and – after the major electoral events in 2016 – both are turning into these incredibly horrible pits of bigotry, right? – it came down to: Which place has more guns? Let us not go there.”

“You are,” I said, “a multi-award-winner for your shows.”

The award winning Phone Whore

Her stage show Phone Whore won multiple awards…

Phone Whore got a number of awards across Canada,” said Cameryn. “Slut Revolution got an award. My fifth show is Nerdfucker, which I’m bringing to the Brighton and Edinburgh Fringes this year.”

“You have,” I said, “written ‘pornography as street performance’… Is this legal??”

“In most places,” said Cameryn. “Unless the police tell me to hustle along.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“Well, she explained, “It is not strictly pornography; it is erotica, But the phrase ‘pavement pornography’ has nice alliteration. In North America, I call it Sidewalk Smut. I just set up my manual typewriter on the sidewalk and do custom erotica for people who come up and commission it. I will be doing more of that in the UK when the weather is good which is – what? – maybe two weeks in the year?”

“You are an optimist,” I told her.

“I managed to do it in Edinburgh,” she explained. “Underneath the arches in Cowgate.”

“So,” I asked, “if I came along and asked for a bit of stuff about having sex with a giraffe, you would write me a short story about it?”

“Only if I really felt you were erotically attracted to giraffes. I don’t do novelty pieces. I want people to have fun but also be serious. I have never done giraffe smut, but I have done ovipositor porn.”

“Eh?” I asked.

“Insects or aliens laying eggs inside you,” explained Cameryn. “That’s something people like.”

“Giraffes seem less exotic now,” I said.

Rule 34,” said Cameryn, “is very much alive and well, even with ovipositor porn.”

“Rule 34?” I asked.

“If it exists, there is porn about it,” explained Cameryn.

After we ended our conversation, I googled ‘giraffe porn’.

It does, indeed, exist.

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An actor’s tale: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

Peter Stanford took tea with me at Soho Theatre

Peter Stanford sipped tea at Soho Theatre Bar

The last time I blogged about Mensa member Peter Stanford was in June four years ago, when he was taking part in the annual Naked Bike Ride in London.

A couple of weeks ago, he was telling me: “Yes.  I am moving out of the hostel for the homeless to a Church’s Housing flat soon and do not know how much notice I will have. (Four hour’s notice to get in the hostel.)  Library computer running out. If you blog about me, will it affect my chances of getting acting work? Should it therefore be anonymous?”

When we met, we decided it would not.

We met in the Soho Theatre Bar.

“So currently,” I said, “you are living a transient life…”

“I am living in a hostel, yes. I was sleeping rough, living on the pavement, from last Christmas to about April this year.”

“I suppose, as an actor,” I said, “it doesn’t matter where you are.”

“And I have a bicycle,” said Peter. “I haven’t got my youth, but I have my stamina and I can cycle across London and back. Swimming and cycling I can still do.”

Why he is homeless is complicated and he feels too personal to print, as it might affect someone else.

"I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story"

Turned down 2 offers from producers saying: Tell your story

He also told me: “I have turned down two offers from producers saying: Tell your story about middle class homelessness.”

“You were,” I said, “almost in Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Grimsby.

“Well…” he replied. “I got an email from one of the agencies saying: Would you object to being a urinating vicar in the film called Grimsby? So I told them: Not at all; sign me up. But then I never heard from them again.

“I can,” he continued, “think of other tales to destroy one’s self-image – being invited onto Take Me Out, turning up on set in my normal clothes for the role of a squatter and being told: You’ve been to costume and make-up then?

“On the other hand, I was writing out my theatrical CV the other day and it looks quite impressive. I sang at the London Palladium with Robbie Williams. I sang at the London Coliseum with ELO.”

“With Robbie Williams?” I asked.

“I was ‘a fat popstar’,”he explained. “At the time, Robbie Williams was getting a lot of flak in the press for looking fat, so he wrote a song and all these fat people ran out and sang No-One Likes a Fat Pop Star. And I’ve sung opera in my time.”

Peter Stanford: one man in his time plays many parts

Peter Stanford… “One man in his time plays many parts…”

“Weren’t you Henry VIII?” I asked.

“Yes. At Hampton Court. But my best story of being a homeless actor was when I was living on the streets. I went to the library to do my emails and was offered the chance to be the new face of Stella Artois beer. I had not told any agents that I was sleeping on the pavement.

We would be filming in Rumania, they told me, so we will put you up in a five star hotel for a week and then buy you out for eight thousand Euros. Is that acceptable?

“I told them that it was and thought that I must get the job for the irony alone. Pavement to 5 Star hotel, then back to the pavement (if I know anything about the wait before payment). I was going to be a Victorian doctor in the ads. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it.”

“But you almost got it,” I asked, “by going to the library?”

Peter’s multiple London library cards

Peter’s has multiple London library cards

“Oh, every day I go to the library and log on: Wandsworth, Ealing, Kingston, Southwark, Greenwich… Westminster is good because it’s open until 9.00pm. They are all good places to go and sleep. I once fell asleep while I was cycling.”

“What?”

“Fortunately,” Peter continued, “I didn’t go under a bus. I went to other way and hit a kerb, flew through the air and landed on my knee. It woke me up.”

“So how do you survive financially?”

“When I became homeless, for the first time in my life, I signed on the dole. I had been living off my acting and living with a relative. I was always brought up to be frugal.”

“I think,” I said, “you’re allowed to work up to something like 16 hours a week and still sign on?”

“Something like that.”

“How many acting jobs do you get a month?”

“Two or three. I’ve been auditioning a lot. I was a vicar the other week. When they gave me the address, it was where they had had my uncle’s cremation last year.”

“You seem to be getting typecast as vicars,” I suggested.

“Well, I have a deep voice, so I am either good guys or bad guys. A deep voice means evil or benign. A psychopath or wise old man.”

“There’s no way out of this, is there,” I asked, “unless you get a big role?”

“There is my one-man show about James Robertson Justice,” said Peter.

“Except,” I said, “no-one remembers who he was.”

“Alas,” said Peter.

“You wrote it for yourself,” I prompted.

James Robertson Justice in his prime

Actor James Robertson Justice

“I was writing it as a one-man play about James Robertson Justice and someone was interested and, three quarters of the way through, he suddenly asked: Could you make it about Brian Blessed instead? I told him the main reason I couldn’t do that was it was based on James Robertson Justice’s life.”

“Ironically,” I said, “the best person to play the part of James Robertson Justice would be Brian Blessed.”

“That part’s taken,” laughed Peter. “By me.”

“You have already performed it?”

“Written and performed it.”

“You could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe,” I suggested.

“I could do it anywhere. I’ve got a friend for free accommodation in Edinburgh, but I have never been to the Fringe.”

Peter Stanford at Wellington Arch, London, yesterday

Peter Stanford at the Naked Bike Ride in 2012

 

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Reports of an attempted coup within the Free Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

NOTE: KATE SMURTHWAITE SAYS WHAT IS QUOTED IN THIS BLOG IS TOTALLY UNTRUE..

I once had to write an encyclopaedia entry on ‘Christianity’ in, I think it was, 23 lines.

It was an utter nightmare because, almost as soon as Christianity started, it broke into schisms which then, themselves, broke into other schisms. One might almost call them catty-schisms.

Or not.

I would not like to write an entry on the Edinburgh Fringe, especially the history of its ‘free’ shows.

The Edinburgh Fringe is like the Great Barrier Reef – a vast sprawling single entity controlled by no-one, not even itself.

Who am I to query the Byzantine plotting, counter-plotting and shadow nether-world of gossip surrounding Edinburgh?

The basic back story is that Peter Buckley Hill rescued the Edinburgh Fringe from high prices and mediocrity by creating the Free Fringe. He was later helped by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse. But they split and Alex formed the Free Festival, competing with the PBH Free Fringe of Peter Buckley Hill.

These ‘free to enter’ shows were theoretically free for audiences, but there was a bucket at the end into which people could throw money. It was like indoor busking.

Promoter Bob Slayer then came along with what was possibly a more honest name instead of ‘Free’ – ‘Pay What You Want’ shows – via his Heroes venues which initially appeared in the Free Festival brochure but which then amicably became more separate.

Then there was another schism within the Free Fringe and this new breakaway group promoted themselves as the Freestival.

A couple of years ago, there were blogs aplenty about the tussle between the Free Fringe and the Freestival over the Cowgatehead venue in Edinburgh. Who knows which brother said what to whom about what or whom? Who knows if some meetings which allegedly did not take place two years ago were actually sound recorded? I merely mention it.

I just know that, if I get sent a good story, I will print it.

A couple of days ago, I got a message from someone I shall call Captain Bird’s Eye. The good Captain told me something I knew and something I did not know. He told me:

PBH was unfortunately poorly and in hospital for a short while.

I knew this.

Then he told me something I did not know:

Whilst PBH was out of action one of his leading team members Kate Smurthwaite took over the reigns immediately ousting Paul B Edwards and then appointing Chris Coltrane as comedy director. PBH is now out of hospital. This was his response:


Dear Friends (I hope) of the Free Fringe

As I wrote to you some days ago, I’m quite ill. Many of you have expressed sympathy, for which I thank you. This is not a plea for further sympathy.

My point is: I’m ill. I’m not dead.

And while I’m not dead, the Free Fringe is still my organisation, in which you of course have a stake.

While I was in hospital, the reins were taken up by some members of the team, some of which was indeed helpful. However, I did not anticipate that decisions and personnel changes would be made without consulting me and presented to me as faits accomplis.

I had, and I sent it to you, a scheme for encouraging more volunteers to come on board in a transparent fashion, so that we could transition to the next generation of management openly and co-operatively. My illness meant that I was not able to set this in motion in October as I had planned.

This does not mean that decisions others have made, no matter how helpfully, are binding on me. I’m still the dictator until a better and more harmonious scheme is put in place.

The only new Artistic Director I have appointed is Ewan Leeming, to replace myself as AD of Science and Rationalism.

Contrary to what you may have heard, I have not approved a new arrangement for Comedy. There will need to be one and I would like to hear from interested and appropriately experienced parties. This is a large portfolio and will require a team.

As of the sending of this email, Kate Smurthwaite has no managerial or organisational role within The Free Fringe. I thank her for all the things she has done in the past, both professionally and personally.

Regards

PBH


I merely pass this on, as I received it, unedited, without comment.

Except to say I feel I have come unstuck in an alternate universe in which the after-events of the Russian Revolution or the start of Christianity have somehow transposed themselves into the world of Edinburgh Fringe comedy.

What further truths, half-truths and fantastical twists lurk in the shadows I know not.

We live in interesting times.

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