Tag Archives: Frank Chickens

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – Why? How?

The bad news is that, every year around this time, I fear nobody will do any publicity stunt that is award-worthy by the end of August. The good news is that every year so far, somebody has.

The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting an act or a show at the Edinburgh Fringe was created in 2008 specifically because comedian Gill Smith sent me an e-mail halfway through the Fringe nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

She said she was writing to me nominating herself because then she could then legitimately put on her flyers and posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE even though we had not nominated her.

She said she thought Malcolm would have approved.

I had to agree that he would have.

So I started the annual Cunning Stunt Award and Gill won it. We felt we had to give it to her before she awarded it to herself.

In 2009, the award-winner was fairly obvious even before the Fringe started.

The Perrier Awards had lost their Perrier sponsorship in 2006, then got sponsored by Intelligent Finance who, for one year, called them the unwieldily-named if.comeddies then, for two years, called them the if.comedy Awards and then Intelligent Finance removed their sponsorship possibly because of utter confusion over the name, possibly because of world financial meltdown or possibly because everyone still called them “the former Perrier Awards” anyway, so the publicity value to Intelligent Finance was zero. Personally, I had always called the new awards The Iffies.

So, in 2009, the awards were looking around for new sponsors.

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer – always an original thinker – issued a press release to the media saying he was now sponsoring the awards for £99, they would be called “The Lewies” in his honour and his mother and agent would be on the judging panel but this would not mean he had any undue likelihood of winning. He issued this spoof press release under the name Nika Burns (the former Perrier Awards were/are run by Nica Burns).

A couple of publications actually fell for this stunt and printed the spoof as fact and, even more ridiculously, Nica Burns’ lawyers threatened to sue Lewis for defamation because his ‘Nika Burns’ press release had made slighting reference to the French and Nica did not dislike the French. Lewis also got ‘sacked’ by his own agent for the spoof.

Nica’s lawyers demanded an apology, which Lewis duly gave them in writing. It included the sentences:

“Lewis Schaffer wants to make it clear that Nica Burns had absolutely nothing to do with the press release sent on June 6th, 2009 from ‘Nika Burns’, it was entirely created by Lewis Schaffer. Nica Burns did not say she ‘gladly accepted his offer of £99 a year for sponsorship’ of what had previously been called the ‘Perrier Awards’. Anyone knowing Lewis Schaffer knows he couldn’t come up with that kind of cash… Lewis Schaffer’s only defence was that his ‘press release’ was created to publicise his Edinburgh Fringe show -‘Lewis Schaffer – Bigger and Blacker’ – running August 6 to 30 in the Ballroom of The Counting House, behind the Pleasance Dome.”

This apology, written under legal threat, was also issued as a press release and admirably managed to include (for a second time) his Fringe show’s name, dates, venue name and location. A neat trick, even if he did lose his agent.

So there was really no serious doubt about who would win the 2009 Cunning Stunt Award, which Lewis eventually did.

Last year, again, the award was almost in the bag before the Fringe began – again through the misdirected actions of the former Perrier Awards.

By now, those eternally-named “former Perrier Awards” had managed to get Fosters lager as a sponsor. The Perrier Awards had started in 1981, so 2010 was their 30th anniversary. Fosters had the bright idea of pretending they had been associated with the awards for somewhat longer than they had by mounting a campaign “Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards – Celebrating 30 years as the unofficial Oscars of Comedy”.

I thought this was a dodgy strategy because it seemed to risk them getting sued by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, who are usually very protective of their ownership of the name ‘Oscar’.

But they got away with it, though people still called the things “the former Perrier” Awards.

Part of their strategy last year, however, was to invite a public vote for a ‘Comedy God’ to be chosen from all 173 (mostly Perrier) nominees of the previous 30 (well 29, actually) years. Their idea, I presume, was to get some iconic populist name like Al Murray or Frank Skinner associated with their branded awards.

This incurred the always fearsomely impressive wrath of comedian Stewart Lee who sent what he called a “grumpy” e-mail to the organisers and who wrote about his objections in the Guardian and elsewhere. His valid point was that it was ludicrous to compare past nominees – some were entire shows, some were artists and most were performances never seen by the people voting. How could you compare or choose between Catherine Tate and The Arthur Dung Show? He suggested people might as well vote 1984 nominees, the excellent though little-seen and (he thought) disbanded Japanese performance art group Frank Chickens.

This people did in droves, presumably as a protest vote, and, as a result, the Frank Chickens art collective won the contest as ‘Comedy Gods’ – announced in a rather low-key way by the award organisers. Frank Chickens, it turned out, had not disbanded and, though they had not played the Fringe for years, they came up for a special performance with Stewart Lee.

As a result, Stewart Lee almost inevitably won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award because, although totally unintentional, his e-mail to the former Perrier Award organisers and his later articles and interviews resulted in media publicity and a viral campaign which resulted in successful promotion for a Frank Chickens Fringe show which did not exist at the time but which, as a result of the publicity then did exist.

You can see Stewart talking to Malcolm Hardee Award judge Kate Copstick about his prestigious win here.

The fact that a publicity stunt is unintentional is no bar to winning a Cunning Stunt Award. There are no rules (Malcolm Hardee would turn in his urn if there were) and you don’t have to apply for the Cunning Stunt Award (though Gill Smith did).

Indeed, applying for the prize makes a win less likely.

If you have to make the Malcolm Hardee Award judges aware that you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed because they were not aware of the publicity.

Having said that, I now fear nobody will do any publicity stunt that is award-worthy by the end of August.

Oh Lord.

Another year. Another Fringe.

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Taking the Malcolm Hardee Awards decision

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

At lunchtime on Friday, we decided who was going to win the Malcolm Hardee Awards. We decided with the easiest first.

It was fairly obvious that Stewart Lee should win the Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt of the year as his e-mail of complaint about the Foster’s poll to find the ‘Best Ever’ Perrier winner in the last 30 years had the side effect of publicising the Japanese group the Frank Chickens who weren’t appearing at the Fringe and had not appeared there for 25 years. That would have been good enough to win on its own, but the fact the Frank Chickens actually then did appear at the Fringe as a result of the publicity was the cream on the cake.

Twenty-year-old American stand-up Bo Burnham was a shoo-in for the ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award after his British PR made it clear earlier in the week that Bo did not want to be considered for the award because “making money is not what he’s driven by at all and (we) don’t think he’d be at all comfortable with receiving this award”. This encouraged us to further nominate Bo for the main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality on the basis that any modern day stand-up comic not interested in money would indeed be entirely original. Again there was a secondary level factor at work here, when it then transpired that Bo had never been told by his own PR that he was not interested in money and, Bo claimed, not only was he perfectly happy to be nominated for the award but he was actually aware of and, he claimed, a fan of the late, great Malcolm Hardee. This appeared to have come about because Bo had read a lot about Andy Kaufman and anti-establishment “anti-comedy”. Good to know Malcolm’s infamy has spread to another generation on another continent.

Deciding who would win the main Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality was a big problem because of the two front-runners; a discussion then ensued about the risk of appearing to only give the Award to seriously weird or perceived-as-weird acts. But, then, as the award IS for comic originality and it IS in Malcolm’s name, “unusual” is perhaps not something to be avoided. The award went to Robert White.

Next year… hold onto your hats…

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Surreal reports and Malcolm Hardee Awards mistranslations

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

All publicity is good publicity, especially if it’s extraordinarily surreal.

We announced the Malcolm Hardee Award shortlist yesterday and, today, there was a very funny report on the nominees in The Scotsman, but also a wonderfully surreal online report which I can only assume was cobbled-together from other reports and put through a particularly dodgy piece of automatic translation software.

It begins “Comedian Stewart Lee has been beheld unintentionally compelling Japanese deed the Frank Chickens who were not conducting at this year’s Fringe….” and then goes downhill linguistically.

As the Malcolm Hardee Awards are, in part, a search for the bizarre, this is a fitting report and I know Malcolm would certainly have approved.

Click here if you fancy a surreal trip through the English language.

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MALCOLM HARDEE AWARDS 2010 – shortlist announced at the Edinburgh Fringe

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

After an ‘interesting’ discussion** this morning, the shortlist for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards has been announced. The Awards are being presented until the year 2017 in memory of the late “godfather of British alternative comedy”.

The Malcolm Hardee Award winners will be announced around midnight on Friday 27th August during the nightly Shaggers show at the Three Sisters in Cowgate, Edinburgh as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.
Today, the shortlist for the three awards was announced as:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Dr BROWN is an act where ‘surreal’ does not quite do justice to what is or is not happening on stage – “Uncomfortable weirdness” was one attempt to categorise it.

LEWIS SCHAFFER for turning round his act Into a highly improvised and totally unpredictable event… and for being able to literally take his show Free Until Famous onto the streets.

BOB SLAYER for his continued services to anarchy in comedy, including his  gobsmackingly anarchic Punk Rock Chat Show (which usually has nothing to do with punk, rock or chat)

ROBERT WHITE for his enthusiastic unconventionality and for being (in his own words) “the only gay, Aspergers, quarter Welsh, webbed-toed dyslexic pianist debuting this Fringe”

THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

(for best Fringe publicity stunt)

STEWART LEE who, while complaining about the former Perrier Award incidentally, almost accidentally promoted Japanese act the Frank Chickens who were not performing at this year’s Fringe. As a result, they actually did come up to Edinburgh to perform at the Fringe for the first time in 25 years – at a show promoting Stewart Lee’s new book. The fact that Stewart did not intend to unleash publicity does not negate his success.

MANOS THE GREEK for claiming he will donate 10% of the total earnings from his Free Fringe show to rescue the Greek economy and by pushing his luck in a Hardee-esque way by, one hour before we decided on the shortlist, having a photocall wearing a langolia (Greek kilt) atop Calton Hill in front of the Doric columns of the National Monument.

ARTHUR SMITH for declaring that he would pay £100 to any journalist attending his show who would juggle fish. When his bluff was called by critic Bruce Dessau, Arthur neglected to buy the required kippers, but he still got publicity out of a silly idea: a pre-requisite for getting a Cunning Stunt nomination.

THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID’ AWARD
(first time this new annual award has been made)

BO BURNHAM certainly one of the hottest young comedians on the Fringe for several years. Might already have made a million in the US, which might or might not disqualify him.

GREG DAVIES for his sense of the absurb. Known as the psychotic head of sixth form, Mr Gilbert in The Inbetweeners and the most out-of-shape member of We are Klang.
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Separate from the Awards, The Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview continues to screen daily at 1520 at the Newsroom venue in Leith Street (east end of Princes Street) until 28th August. The screening comprises a 32 minute documentary The Tunnel about Malcolm’s most notorious comedy club; and 17 minutes of clips from the currently-in-production 90-minute documentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There.
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** The’interesting’ discussion resulted in the shortlist for the ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award’ reduced from four to two nominees.

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Cunning Stunts, Chainsaw-Jugglers and 8-Month-Old Babies

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

There’s been a distinct lack of publicity stunts in Edinburgh this year. The Fringe used to be full of bizarre events and admirably surreal attempts to steal a few column inches in The Scotsman. Where are the naked tractor rides, the motorcycle-riding chainsaw-jugglers and the men and women dressed as woodland creatures committing sex acts illegal in the majority of American states?

At the moment, front-runner for the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt) would seem to be Stewart Lee for his accidental promotion of the Frank Chickens who were not performing at the Fringe although, ironically, he was so successful in unintentionally raising their profile that they then made a one-off appearance (the first in 25 years) on his own Stewbilee book-promotion show.

People are at least starting to try now.

Always pro-active New York promoter Cal Wynter phoned me up to tell me Manos The Greek is going to offer to re-finance the ruined Greek economy.

Meanwhile, I bumped into Gill Smith, the 2008 recipient of (and, indeed, inspiration for) the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

In 2008, she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that she could then justifiably put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE (because she had nominated herself). She reckoned Malcolm would have approved. I agreed he would.

So we gave her a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt of the Fringe on the basis that, if we didn’t give her a Malcolm Hardee Award of some kind, she’d give herself one, thus diminishing our credibility.

This year, Gill is up here performing with her 8-month old daughter who does not take part in the stage show itself but who collects the money afterwards at Gill’s Free Festival show OCD: The Next Generation. Very difficult not to give money to an 8-month old smiling up at you expectantly.

The fact Gill is a new-ish mum is attracting other new-ish mums with small kids to her show and she reckons there might be some mileage in trying to get publicity on the basis that her show has had the largest number of audience members simultaneously breast-feeding.

Her husband has meanwhile been amusing himself by trying to (often successfully) persuade people that the baby long-pictured on the Gilded Balloon’s So You Think You’re Funny posters grew up to become the young woman bending over on the Spank! posters. Given that the Gilded Balloon is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, it is credible though deeply untrue.

Something of which Malcolm Hardee would have certainly approved: “credible though deeply untrue”.

The 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards are announced next Friday 27th August during Shaggers.

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Frank Chickens are Our God

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

According to the comedy industry website Chortle, the gloriously eccentric Japanese group Frank Chickens are likely to be named the best comedy show to have performed at the Edinburgh Fringe in the last 30 years. This has transpired because comedian Stewart Lee complained about a misguided attempt by Fosters, new sponsors of what used to be the Perrier Awards, to get some cheap publicity and pretend they’d been sponsoring the prize for 30 years. (This is their first year.)

As a further result of this misguided publicity stunt by Fosters, I have now nominated Stewart Lee for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Fringe – in this case, for publicising a non-existent show not playing the Edinburgh Fringe. I feel Malcolm would have approved both of Stewart’s original complaint and the nomination.

Frankly, so far, it looks like a pretty slim year for publicity stunts and currently Stewart stands a pretty good chance of winning.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards this year are going to be presented on Friday 27th August during Nik Coppin’s nightly show Shaggers, part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Three Sisters in Cowgate

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