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The best way to flyer for an Edinburgh Fringe show – use mice and terrorists

Sameena Zehra and husband Mike in Edinburgh yesterday

Yesterday, I went to see Sameena Zehra’s totally fascinating Edinburgh Fringe show Tea With Terrorists.

Afterwards, I got talking to her husband Mike, who flyers in the street for her show.

“I’ve been a musician all my life,” he told me. “A Blues singer. My name is Dr Blue.

“I love flyering. I love the challenge of flyering because it’s a 5 or 6 second performance. It’s the time it takes for someone to walk past you. I’ve got to get their attention in those few seconds. They need to know what the show is; where it is; and I need to get them to take one of the flyers.

“I never ever give a flyer to anybody. They always take them from me. Because, if you force a flyer on someone, they will throw it on the ground. I’ve got a patter which I use. It’s got various forms. It’s about getting someone’s attention but mostly their eye contact. As soon as I’ve got eye contact, they’re going to take a flyer.”

“So,” I asked, “why am I, a passing person, going to be interested in this show by a comedian I’ve possibly never heard of?”

“Well,” Mike explained, “the show itself has got to have a very catchy title. So Tea With Terrorists... Immediately people’s ears prick up. If I get eye contact, then I have another line – where it is, what time it’s on, the fact it’s free. But, if they’re waivering and they’re still smiling as they walk away, I’ll go:

Sameena has the full backing of her husband

No tourists or terrorists are harmed during the performance of Tea With Terrorists.

“And that’s when I’ve got them… Then you can extend that 5 or 6 second window by adding a bit more patter. Once they’ve taken the flyer, I can usually stop them and talk to them.”

“Do you say And it’s my wife?” I asked.

“I do sometimes,” he told me. “Once I’ve got them, there’s then a patter which I’ll use to talk about the show. I give them four key elements without giving anything away.”

“And they are?”

“Sameena did actually accidentally have tea with terrorists. She was nearly shot in the Green Zone in Kabul. She has got a grandmother who curses. And a friend who is frightened of sheep… Now you’re smiling,” he told me.

“If they’re not smiling by the end of those four,” he continued, “they’re probably not going to come to the show.”

“Flyering does work better,” I suggested, “if you’re a performer or a close blood relation.”

“Well, obviously,” agreed Mike, “I have a huge emotional commitment in this. I’ve watched the process develop. This show hasn’t just fallen out of the sky. It’s a writing process that’s been going on for 18 months. Sameena brought the show here to Edinburgh last year, when it was called Punching Mice.”

Punching mice?” I asked.

“Well,” he said, “that was an even better title to sell. I just stood on the street corner yelling PUNCHING MICE! and people came up to me and asked What the bloody hell are you talking about?”

“It was an earlier version of this show?” I asked.

“Yes. There used to be a sequence in the old show about punching mice as a form of stress relief.”

Sameena Zehra and her good luck panda without Jon Snow

Later, I asked Sameena about this.

“It’s pretty much the same story,” she said, “but it’s changed and it’s tighter. When I did Edinburgh last year, I had no idea what I was doing; I was pissing in the wind and it was a steep learning curve, but it was brilliant.”

“There are only really three comedians who tell gags in this country,” I suggested to Sameena, vastly over-generalising. “Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine. Everyone else is telling stories not gags.”

“Well, I’m not a punchline comedian,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for about a year and a half. I’m not a comedian yet. I am a storyteller and I will be a comedian. The new show I’m writing is much more comic, but I’ll still be a storytelling comedian.

“Tea With Terrorists is very much about fear being redundant: you have to live with joy, you have to deal with stuff. The next show I’m writing is about how we end up becoming the people we are.

“The working title is If Jon Snow Were My Dad, because I love Jon Snow and if he had been my dad instead of the emotionally incontinent parents I had, would I have been a different person? How much of our lives is inborn, how much accidental? I’m not going to say any of that directly in my show, but it will come out through the stories.

“It’s going to have lots of stories from by my boarding school days in India. I went to a school run by a Socialist headmaster and started by Henry Lawrence, who was a British army officer. He started it in 1857 for the children of British Army officers. It was very very weird.”

Sounds ideal for Edinburgh.

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Yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe: lifting groin flaps on Austrian flyerers and punching an Italian comedian

Otto Kuhnle (centre) and his flyerers. Don’t mention goats.

Yesterday morning, the lovely photographer Kat Gollock took pix of me at Fringe Central for the weekly piece I will be writing for Three Weeks throughout the Edinburgh Fringe. The first issue is out on Wednesday.

Afterwards, I was sitting talking to Giacinto Palmieri about his show Pagliaccio when I was hailed by 2009 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Otto Kuhnle, whom Three Weeks (nothing to do with me) called “bloody brilliant” – and he is. He had just arrived to perform his Ich Bin Ein Berliner show (starting today) for the next 22 days. It is billed – I am sure correctly – as an hour of Teutonic mirth, music and gnome juggling.

“Ah! You are Otto Kuhnle!” said Giacinto. “I did not recognise you without your hat!”

This is Otto’s fifth time at the Fringe. Before, he has performed with fellow German Henning Wehn.

“So this is your first solo show in Edinburgh,” I said to him after Giacinto had left. “Why now?”

“I have a little son,” he said. “Two and a half years. So the last two years I have been a little busy. This year was the first time my wife allowed me to leave the house for a month. The little child now starts to eat. Father has to earn the food.”

“And your show this year is…” I prompted.

“…a little autobiographical,” he continued. “I talk a little bit about Berlin. It’s a little bit tribute to my home town. Ich Bin Ein Berliner.”

“A Berliner is a sausage, isn’t it?” I asked. “They say President Kennedy got it wrong.”

“No, no,” said Otto. “In Berlin, ‘Berliner’ does mean a citizen of Berlin… But, in south Germany, it’s a doughnut.”

“I didn’t realise your show is not going to be straight variety this year,” I said.

“It’s half-and-half,” Otto told me. It’s really like a variety show, but all the things I am doing have a certain link to my life, the fall-down of the Wall and so on. It’s in the style of a variety show, but I am doing all the acts and also being the compere.”

“And your two friends?” I asked, nodding over to two men in shorts sitting on a sofa.

Otto admires the groin flap for his flyers

“I have imported two flyerers from Austria,” he told me. “One is a promoter who owns a theatre in Vienna; the other is a comedIan and both have never been to the Fringe before. I trained them in a little mountain hut far away and in little villages in Austria. I gave them fake flyers and they flyered everywhere to convince the villagers to do this and that. This was tough training and now they are prepared for the Fringe.”

“They flyered the goats in the hills?” I asked.

“Don’t mention the goats,” said Otto.

The flyerers were very polite and showed me the flaps in front of their groins in which they hold Otto’s flyers.

“Women in the street are very keen to take a flyer,” one of them told me.

But back to my earlier conversation with Giacinto Palmieri.

I blogged back in February about Giacinto’s show Pagliaccio which, he said at the time, “is about comedians living together at the Edinburgh Fringe and sharing a show and working together and it is a true story of unrequited love and jealousy between the comedians.

Giacinto prepares to fend off punches

“The problem with writing autobiographical comedy shows,” he told me yesterday, “is that your characters don’t stay on the stage. I have this ‘baddie’ in my story – an Italian actor. I paint quite a nasty picture of him. And now I am really worried because he wants to see the show but he does not know he is in it.”

“Will he recognise himself?” I asked. “He’s an actor. He might think This is such a horrible person it can’t be me.”

“But I even say the name of a show he was in,” Giacinto explained. “He is very, very recognisable. He wanted to come yesterday, but I made the excuse that I was too nervous because it was the first performance. I said I prefer if you come later in the run.”

“Can you remove the references to him without destroying the entire show?” I asked.

“Of course I can,” Giacinto replied. “But there are a couple of good jokes in there. It is a tough call. Would you choose avoiding a libel case or keeping a good joke?”

“A good joke,” I said immediately, “because the libel case brings more publicity. Is he Italian?”

“Yes. And he’s quite big,” said Giacinto, “which is what worries me more than a libel case.”

“Usually, people can get away with anything by saying it’s ‘comedy’,” I suggested. “You say you stretch descriptions and exaggerate reality to create a comic point of view.”

“But, from a physical point of view,” said Giacinto, “if I get a punch…?”

“If you get punched,” I said, “you have to make sure he punches you after you have alerted a photographer from The Scotsman. You have to ask him to give you some notice he is going to punch you – perhaps a couple of days.”

Lewis Schaffer was punched last year,” said Giacinto, brightening up.

“No,” I said. “that was a couple of years ago. And he wasn’t punched. Someone smashed his iPhone and he punched the guy. He said it was very empowering. Years ago at the Fringe, comedian Ian Cognito insulted Ricky Grover’s wife and Ricky – who used to be a professional boxer – knocked him out. The next day, though, Ian Cognito did admit he had been in the wrong.”

“If he comes to my show – the Italian actor,” continued Giacinto, “maybe instead of removing references to him, I will exaggerate. I might try to make it even more sarcastic.”

“You could make him part of the show,” I said. “You could say: That’s him sitting there.”

“I’m not sure about that,” said Giacinto.

“He can’t react badly or complain,” I persisted. “It’s a comedy show and he’s an actor. He has to be seen to take it in good spirit. He’s an actor. He’ll be the centre of attention. He’ll love it!”

“That’s true,” said Giacinto gloomily, clearly unconvinced. There was a pause, then he livened up:

“Of course!” he said. “Opera! This situation reminds me of the stone guest in Don GiovanniHe comes uninvited as a ghost because he’s dead and he comes as a statue.”

“You will be dressed as Pagliacci,” I said. “No-one will actually punch anyone dressed as Pagliacci.”

“But I have more problems,” said Giacinto, reverting to gloom. “The female in the story in my show is also in Edinburgh this year. It is all a bit sticky. It is all a bit… What’s the word…?”

“Dangerous,” I suggested. “I should leave town if I were you.”

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Cunning stunts and a Kunt apology

I complained in my blog yesterday that there were no classic Malcolm Hardee style cunning stunts around at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

And, of course, since then people have been telling me about broken bones and hospitalisation. I’m not sure these totally count as publicity stunts – more like the wrath of humourless god. But…

First of all Adrian Rox told me about comedian Jeff Mirza being physically attacked as he walked down the Royal Mile dressed as Colonel Gaddafi. The reason remains shrouded in mystery. Possibly some American tourists, famously weak on geography, thought they had accidentally wandered into Libya, got drunk and lived out their dream of being SEALS. The near-constant rain might have stoked their aquatic fantasy.

Then Kate Copstick, aka Cruella de Cowell from ITV1’s Show Me the Funny, told me about Tim Fitzhigham’s extraordinary run of bad luck while preparing for and performing his show Tim Fitzhigham: Gambler.

He has chipped and broken multiple bones. Malcolm Hardee only destroyed his body with excessive drink and occasional drugs. I think Tim may be trying too hard to win a Malcolm Hardee Award next week.

Then we have the lovely and very highly talented Miss Behave, host of the upcoming Malcolm Hardee Award Show on Friday 26th August. She has been laid low in London with potentially-fatal meningitis for the last few weeks and only a few days managed to struggle up to Edinburgh to host her extraordinary variety show The Mess at Assembly in George Square.

I wandered over to George Square to see her in the rain yesterday afternoon and found her wearing what I think was a bear costume. Well, it was quite cuddly and had bear-like ears. She was not wearing this for publicity purposes, she was not in public view and it was around six hours before her show started. She was just dressed as a bear. Perhaps I should have asked questions. I did not.

Last night, in The Mess, she recreated the Malcolm Hardee/Greatest Show on Legs’ naked balloon dance with original GSOL member (and what an appropriate word that is in the circumstances) Chris Lynam, Steve Aruni and Bob Slayer. I could not be there because I was watching Janey Godley storm Paul Provenza’s jam-packed Set List: Standup Without a Net, which has had to move from the Tron to the larger Caves to accommodate the punters.

Bob Slayer tells me that, back in George Square, after the balloon dance, he “ended up running around the Assembly area  naked – as one does – and I caused Tim Key a suitable level of confusion by hugging him and doing a poem”.

I suspect this is only a low-key start to the mayhem that Miss Behave may visit on unsuspecting, unprepared Fringe-goers who attend The Mess.

Bob Slayer – you would not think it to look at him – is keen on Kunt and the Gang and I would not be surprised if they connived on publicity. In 2009, Lewis Schaffer showed the value of apologetic press releases in garnering publicity with a press-released ‘apology’ to the Edinburgh Comedy Awards which managed to plug his own show twice – in detail.

I was never totally convinced by Kunt’s recent scam of sticking paper penises on other shows’ posters. But yesterday’s ‘apologetic’ press release manages not only to get publicity for himself but to add in what are, in effect, review quotes from other performers. I print the apology below without comment, but it possibly deserves a review of its own.

_______________

Sorry About The Cocks:

Kunt and the Gang would like to apologise to anyone who is upset about the ‘crudely drawn cock’ stickers that have been appearing all over posters in Edinburgh. When we had 5000 of the cock stickers printed in the run up to the Fringe Festival we just thought it would be a light-hearted alternative to flyers. The plan was to give them to our audience each night so they could go out and vote with their cocks by sticking them in amusing places on posters. It was intended to be one big jolly jape that everyone laughed along with. This I now know was a badly misjudged joke that horribly backfired.

Unfortunately it was brought to our attention that some comedians were extremely angry at seeing their posters adorned with an effigy of a male member. This culminated in myself being physically threatened by one irate comic who failed to see the funny side of his poster being decorated by a member of the public with a crudely drawn image of a man’s winky.

Further to this, after only four nights of the audience being handed stickers at the end of my show, I received a warning from the Fringe Police and was told that Underbelly had threatened action should any more of my stickers be handed out. I suspect the cock that broke the camel’s back was the penis that ended up in Christine Hamilton’s wine glass on their flagship poster on Bristo Square. The same night I received a visit at my venue from Edinburgh Council Environmental Dept who told us that they had spent the day pulling off over a hundred cocks. They showed us examples of cocks they had found on posters, including the one of Russell Kane with his mouth open, the one of Richard Herring lying on a bed and the one of the Spank Comedy Club with that bird bending over. I gave them my assurance to that no more cock stickers would be given out.

I would like to take this opportunity to say my cocks were not meant maliciously or designed to annoy anyone and I sincerely apologise if one of my cocks got up anyone’s nose. Admittedly I didn’t think it through properly. I mistakenly thought everyone would share my enthusiasm for seeing Edinburgh covered in crudely drawn cocks for a month. In retrospect I realise I was like America selling Weapons of Mass Destruction to the Middle East without a thought for who my cock shaped missiles would be affecting. Furthermore I would also like to apologise to any of the performers who have had a cock removed and are now left where the sticker once was or a ‘ghost cock’. I’m sorry if my cock cheesed anyone off.

Kunt (Kunt and the Gang)

Notes to Editors

– Yesterday Stewart Lee, the thinking man’s comic, went to see Kunt and the Gang, the most puerile show on the fringe, for the second night in a row. Mr Lee, and his wife Bridget Christie, once again laughed like drains throughout renditions of classic Kunt songs such as: Wanking Over a Pornographic Polaroid of an Ex-girlfriend Who Died, Fucksticks and Hurry Up and Suck Me Off Before I Get Famous.

– Serial prankster Lewis Schaffer was asked what he thought about it all and he said: “Well I was thinking of going to see Russell Kane’s show but when I saw his poster I was worried that he might be a cock sucker and so have decided to give it a miss.”

Russell Kane: “I actually found it fucking funny! Keep printing cocks and saying it too. It’s proper funny.”

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