Tag Archives: Frank Skinner

Comic Arthur Smith and critic Copstick talk comedy & hard core pornography

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the first show, the guests were comedian Arthur Smith and doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (who hates being called Kate). This is a short extract:

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ARTHUR: A naked man is funny whereas, with a naked woman, there are different things going on.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why?

ARTHUR: Well… because of the evil that is Man.

COPSTICK: A round of applause, please. The feminist contingent has arrived.

ARTHUR: Well, I do consider myself a feminist. When I arrived at university in 1974, there was a woman setting up The Women’s Liberation Society. You only had to think about it. Men had been oppressing women for thousands of years and she was absolutely right.

I always thought that the feminist ethos would continue more. For example, the ‘Ms’ thing. Fair enough. Why does a woman have to announce her marital status on a form by being Miss or Mrs? Men don’t have to. So I just assumed Ms would become standard, but it didn’t.

I assumed that the Feminist revolution, for want of a better word, would continue, but then Lad Culture suddenly appeared, courtesy of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel amongst others. And porn was alright.

COPSTICK: Porn IS alright!

ARTHUR: Yeah, but… I’m not suggesting porn should be illegal, but it’s another area of controversy.

COPSTICK: Have you ever been on a porn set?

ARTHUR: I was asked… Victoria Coren

COPSTICK: Oh, that’s not a proper porn set. That’s middle-class girls playing at making porn.

JOHN: Copstick has proper porn sets.

ARTHUR: I’ve always had this joke about balancing a tray on the end of me knob. It’s an idea that perhaps I could learn to do.

COPSTICK: I was only asking because I have spent quite a long while within the porn industry.

ARTHUR: Have you?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

ARTHUR: I didn’t know that.

COPSTICK: Oh yes.

JOHN: She owns the Erotic Review.

COPSTICK: But I’m not talking about the Erotic Review. I’m talking about hard core porn. Proper hard core, you know? Every industry has its sleazy end. I know nothing about the illegal stuff. I’m talking about… The mainstream porn industry is where the one group of people who can turn up on a set with a list of what they will do and what they won’t do is the women. And that list is adhered to.

A very good friend of mine does everything. She does things probably none of the lovely people here could even imagine.

JOHN: Such as?

COPSTICK: Have you ever seen a cream pie?

ARTHUR: Oh, I’ve heard of that one. There’s a woman I know who’s actually quite well-known who said Ooh, I’ve seen this lovely profiterole. I’ve got me eye on it. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but… she… she doesn’t eat it. Let’s put it like that.

COPSTICK: My friend does double-anal, she does double-pussy, she does cream pie, she does everything.

ARTHUR: With profiteroles?

COPSTICK: Well, there’s somebody there balancing them on a tray on his dick.

JOHN: And then?

ARTHUR: Is this comedy or porn?

COPSTICK: Oh, it’s porn.

ARTHUR: It sounds quite funny, doesn’t it?

COPSTICK: She’ll do all these things, but she doesn’t like anyone playing with her nipples. So, on her list of things the guys are not allowed to do, none of them are allowed to go anywhere near her nipples, no matter what else they are doing… And, if they do, she can stop the scene. The women are not downtrodden in porn… I haven’t convinced you, Arthur?

JOHN: Few people know you’re in the erotic industry.

COPSTICK: I thought we were talking about Arthur.

JOHN: Few people know you were in the erotic industry, Arthur.

ARTHUR: Mr Knobbo? He never really caught on.

JOHN: There was a lot of nudity surrounding Malcolm Hardee in the 1980s for no reason I could figure out except The Roman In Britain was getting publicity.

ARTHUR: Well, like I said, naked men are funny.

JOHN: Why?

ARTHUR: Kate will tell you.

COPSTICK: It is the danglies. Little squishy things that dangle are quite funny.

ARTHUR: Well, the testicles and penis are slightly silly things. The rest of your body doesn’t have things hanging off. You look at them and you think What the hell are…

COPSTICK: One wonders what Mother Nature was thinking… And there are an increasing number of chaps in really quite middle-of-the-road comedy shows who, at the end of the show, just randomly get their knobs out.

If I was male and I was going to get my knob out, I would want to know that people were going to have to gasp Whoaaah! but none of them are. Maybe it’s just a comedian thing. They’re all…

ARTHUR: All comedians have small knobs?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

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Working class/middle class comedy, Malcolm Hardee, Mr Methane, the Macc Lads & singer Robbie Williams

Patrick Monahan lost to Tim Fitzhigham in Russian Egg Roulette

Patrick Monahan on stage with Tim Fitzhigham last Friday (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

In yesterday’s blog, I quoted a Facebook conversation with comedian Bob Walsh about last Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got some reaction from readers, including Bob Walsh himself. On Facebook, he posted (and I’m not quite sure what the first seven words mean):

“If the press put on a show DONT SAY A WORD about it whatever you do. This so called Journalist has turned a 4am drunken rant on Facebook into a thinly veiled advert at my expense, classy ground breaking work. Even if wrong CAN NOBODY CRITICSISE THE CRITISISER without a sad bitter self obsessed old man attempting to ruin their career?”

And, although I was actually not annoyed by his Facebook comments, merely interested to hear in more detail what they were, Bob has commented at the bottom of yesterday’s blog:

“While I understand you may be annoyed a drunken 4am rant on Facebook of mine after the MH Awards which was a garbled mess I admit and I read your article with interest.. I find it difficult to understand why you would take it all so seriously frankly, a drunken comedian acting out on social media about comedy stuff ! NO !
I did withdraw the thread as I realised it was drunken rubbish that had upset people but really you in your job reacting to a few contrary opinions with an article like that. Pathetic.
As for my sources some people have conversations not statements and I am allowed to allude to a conversation with my friends on Facebook without naming them thank you. Is nobody allowed wether correctly or otherwise to CRITICISE THE CRITICISER !”

Another reaction came from Mr Methane, the farter of alternative comedy. He was slightly miffed by Bob Walsh’s quoted comment:

“I hope y’all enjoyed the MH awards whilst the people that actually worked with him DIDNT GET INVITED! The people that headlined his shows ARE NOT INVITED! And his whole ethos has been ignored by middle class cunts who he would have HATED enjoyed yourselves.”

I got this reaction from Mr Methane today, before he set off to appear at a week long steam fair in Dorset:

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Mr Methane in a train at Crumpsall station, now on Manchester Metrolink

Mr Methane in the cab of a train at Crumpsall, Manchester

Interesting stuff and a strange rant. In my case at least as I worked with Malcolm Hardee. In 1992 I did a short spot at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh in the Pleasance at which Frank Skinner saw me.

A few years later, in 1997, Frank had a TV chat show and mentioned me to Gene Wilder during an interview – making a casual remark about me being a bit out of tune.

I contacted Frank who said he was only joking and would I like to come on the show and sing a duet which I did… Then it got banned by the BBC and was released on a video which then had an injunction placed on it by Phil Spector as he didn’t like our duet of Da Do Ron Ron.

Frank later wrote in his autobiography that Spector had ranted about our defilement of his masterpiece during an Australian music awards ceremony to which Frank replied: You can have your wall of sound, Phil, and I’ll have mine.

All of the above happened because Malcolm had invited me to make an appearance on his Edinburgh show.

I came to appear at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh because Malcolm knew me from cameo appearances at his Up The Creek club with Charlie Chuck.

These performances allegedly led to Vic & Bob’s El Petomane characters in their Smell of Reeves & Mortimer TV series – They saw what a big laugh a fart gag got.

In the year Malcolm was promoting Jools Holland in Edinburgh he also asked me and Charlie to do a spot at the old Gilded Balloon’s Late ‘n’ Live show.

All these above events happened because of Malcolm’s role as a hub through which comedy ideas and characters flowed and connected with one another.

So, in my case, it’s a very big pair of Malcolm’s Bollocks when someone says I never worked with him and that he would have hated me.

If so, why would he have kept putting opportunities my way?

As for middle class… Well, sorry, Bob Walsh lost me there.

I come from a working class background and think the Guardian is for champagne socialist wankers. I was a staff rep for ASLEF in the 1980s – the union which, after the NUM, was Margaret Thatcher’s most hated trade union and a hotbed of ‘Commie Bastards’ according to most of the tabloid press.

I don’t, however, wear my working class pedigree like a badge of honour or alternatively a chip on my shoulder.

I am very proud of my working class roots as I feel working class values have a far greater depth of meaning, value and integrity than some of the valueless values of being middle class.

The old saying that there is more warmth in a Working Class insult than there is in a Middle Class greeting is, I feel, very true… But, that said, I can live with the middle and don’t endlessly need to slag them off as I believe in respect for others.

As you know, I drove up to do the gig in Edinburgh at my own expense and didn’t stop to network afterwards as I had a drive home ahead of me. In fact, I don’t really network after comedy shows in any case.

So, to summarise & clarify: I let just my arse do the talking and, on this particular night, it seems I was not the only person doing so.

Yours flatulently,
Mr Methane!

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A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane yesterday

Mr Methane showcased his talents at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Mr Methane had performed for a week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, then returned home and, as he said, he came back up to perform on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show for free, paying his own expenses.

All proceeds from the show are donated to the Mama Biashara charity and no personal expenses (including mine) are reimbursed. While Mr Methane was in Edinburgh for his week-long Fringe run, he stayed in my rented Edinburgh flat and we talked of many things, including his time touring with the infamously offensive Macc Lads punk band. (Macc = Macclesfield in Cheshire)

“The ironic thing is, when I was on tour with them, I was the only one who was actually born in Macclesfield,” he told me. “The original line-up were public schoolboys taking the piss out of the homophobic, sexist and…”

“They were all public schoolboys?” I asked.

“All except Stez 2,” said Mr Methane. “He was actually a drummer in The Icicle Works. And he was also Eddie Shit, one of Malcolm Hardee’s favourite acts.”

“People took the Macc Lads too literally,” explained Mr Methane. “Jeff, the beta – the lead guitarist – he’s now a postman – he lived with a nice girl. Her family were quite well-off, because they ran one of those car and home stereo businesses. So he’s all right; he doesn’t have to do too much.

“He didn’t like it when people threw urine at him and one night he got upset because he said: Someone must have thrown a turd at me, cos me teeshirt smells of shit.

“He was only doing it for the money. His love was jazz. Back at that time, he was living in Didsbury (a well-to-do part of Manchester) and he was into jazz guitar. So, really, playing in the Macc Lads was below him. It was something he’d done at school. It was something he could still go out on the road and earn a few hundred quid a night in cash from.

“The Macc Lads used to sell out Rock City in Nottingham which is a 1,700 capacity venue. They used to do two tours a year – so, 20 years ago, they were getting a cash income of about £9,000 a year after all expenses were paid.

“Mutley was the lead singer and he was the brains behind it. He started the Macc Lads because he wanted to make a social commentary. He came from Liverpool – I think he came from Fazakerley – and he wanted to make a social comment because he came to this small town – Macclesfield – where people just drank and farted and fought and did very little else and were these strange sexist and racist stereotypes. He decided, rather than write about it, he would make a social commentary, which was the Macc Lads, and he’d take the mickey out of it. But people took them seriously.

“At the time, he was co-promoting it with Sandy Gort. Mutley eventually bought him out or they parted in some way and Sandy went to Manchester to manage various acts which became Steve Coogan, John Thomson and Caroline Aherne.

“Mutley now runs a corporate voting system. When you go to conferences and people ask Do you agree with this? and you press the keypad and you immediately see on the screen what several hundred people think… that’s him. He makes a shedload of money from that.

“But he’s also got this huge back catalogue of social commentary which he sort of shies away from. He’s a reluctant cult superstar. He’s known but he doesn’t like to be known. He’s a very complex intellectual. His house is full of books like Power of The Mind and psychology books. He’s into what goes on in your head.

“Eventually, it all became too much when somebody threw a paving slab at him in Chester and it severed a main artery in his head and, because he had to play this tough guy, he had to carry on to the end of the show.

“Afterwards, he was like something off a horror movie – just congealed blood around his face. It had pumped out of his body. He walked offstage, collapsed in the back and they carried him off to the A&E. In his own words, he said They put me on the machine that goes beep. They pumped a load of blood into him and he said, after that, he was never going to do a gig again because they’d said to him Your artery’s weak there now. You only need another bang there. I think it was near death enough for him to give up. Rock City, at one point, were offering him £6,000 to play Christmas but he said No thankyou.” 

“So there will never be a reunion of the Macc Lads?” I asked.

“We had a reunion when Al O’Peesha Peter Bossley died. He’s the guy who everybody walks away from in the bar scene of the Newcy Brown video. Mutley had brought him in when Sandy Gort left because he needed a PR man and Peter came in from the South Manchester News where he was a journalist and then, when the Macc Lads finished, he went to work for The Sentinel in Stoke and won some national award for his investigative journalism.

Robbie Williams (left) in the Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams (left) in the Macc Lads’ Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams is in the Newcy Brown video,” Mr Methane told me. “I think that was his first taste of the music business. He was a big Macc Lads fan. His dad was – still is – a singer called Pete Conway – a Sinatra type crooner. If you go to an over-50s hotel, he’ll be there singing Spanish Eyes or something.

“Like Amy Winehouse learned off her dad, I guess Robbie Williams learned off his dad about singing but, in the early days, it wasn’t working out for him. Robbie was struggling. I remember his dad sent him down to Stoke railway station for a job. But it was the early 1990s and there was a recession, so they weren’t taking on staff.

“So he went away and, a few months later, he got the gig with Take That. Whether he got it on the basis of being in a Macc Lads video, I wouldn’t know.

“The Newcy Brown video is a segment of a whole bigger video of different tunes. I was in a tune called Mr Methane where I solve all the world’s problems – You ring me up and I fart down the telephone.”

“You’re well known for your ring,” I said.

Mr Methane did not react.

“I sort out German unity,” he continued, “and I tell you with a fart who will win the 2 o’clock at York racecourse. At the time, it wasn’t the high point of my career but, because the Macc Lads have got such a strong fanbase and it’s so cult, people are always telling me: It must have been incredible when you were on tour with the Macc Lads. It must have been fantastic!

“At the time, I just remember we were all very young, so everyone had big strong egos and wanted to be top of the pile.

“I think their downfall was that Oasis took it to the mainstream. Oasis behaved like a real Macc Lads. They were real working class and did the whole rock carry-on, so really the Macc Lads became very tame… And then your rap artists had all these horrible, sexist lyrics contained within the culture of their whole thing. So the Macc Lads weren’t shocking any more.”

So it goes.

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Frank Skinner & Mr Methane TV act banned by the BBC (and Phil Spector)

Mr Methane ended up looking like a Muppet

Someone on the BBC TV show ended up looking like a Muppet

The comedy ‘Rule of Three’ and Fate have combined to decree that Mr Methane appears in my blog for the third day running.

One of his better stories can never be told because, before the performance, he had to sign a non-disclosure agreement that he would never tell anyone the performance had taken place in that location to those people…

However, yesterday he reminded me about one publishable non-appearance he made.

Mr Methane is the Farter of Alternative Comedy, a phrase I will repeat until someone else copies it.

Comedian Frank Skinner used to have a chat show on BBC TV.

One week, Frank had actor Gene Wilder on his show and the subject of Blazing Saddles came up: a movie with a famous farting scene.

Frank mentioned Mr Methane’s performances to Gene and, in Mr Methane’s words, “slagged me off in a comic fashion, said I had played a few ‘bum notes’ and then did a bad impression.”

Mr Methane, a self-publicist experienced in blowing his own trumpet, took Frank to task about slagging him off and the result was he ended up on Frank’s TV show the next week, doing a duet of Da Doo Ron Ron, the 1963 Crystals song originally produced by Phil Spector.

Mr Methane appeared with Frank Skinner, but the BBC got windy

Frank appeared with Mr Methane, but the BBC got windy

“Frank was genuinely sorry about what he’d said the previous week and meant no offence,” Mr Methane tells me. “It was just a comedy slag off.”

According to Frank Skinner’s autobiography Phil Spector was not happy about the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron. Neither was the BBC who got windy – not because of the song but because of the references to farting in the previous week’s show and the amount of complaints it had generated.

The BBC insisted that Frank edited out the Da Doo Ron Ron performance from his show before it was transmitted.

The act was unseen on the Unseen video

Act still unseen on the Unseen video

Later, the farted version of Da Doo Ron Ron was included on a video titled The Unseen Frank Skinner TV Show, but, Mr Methane tells me, “Phil Spector’s music publishers had an injunction put in place and all the videos had to be withdrawn just before Christmas. My section was edited out and a sticker put on sleeve saying This Video Does Not Contain Mr Methane… because most of sleeve artwork was basically press cuttings about our duet being axed from the original show: Beeb Blow Out Musical Bum, etc. All the re-editing delayed the video’s release and Frank missed the Christmas sales boom. No-one was happy.”

In his highly-recommended autobiography, Frank Skinner also talks about the occasion when Phil Spector, while receiving a lifetime music award, went into a rant live on Australian TV about the farted duet of Da Do Ron Ron, saying that Mr Methane and Frank Skinner had taken his work of art and desecrated it.

In 2009, Phil Spector was convicted of murder – shooting actress Lana Clarkson in 2003. He is serving a prison sentence of 19 years to life.

There is a YouTube video of the banned BBC footage which also features Ronnie Verrel (who did the drumming for Animal on The Muppet Show) on drums.

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Day Three of Malcolm Hardee Week – pasta chaos and a finger up the bottom

Malcolm Hardee Week continues apace.

After Monday’s Malcolm Hardee Debate finished a whole hour late (it merged into the next show), Scots comic Nob Stewart grabbed Kate Copstick when she came off stage and chatted to her on camera for 45 minutes.

I guess the adrenaline (and possibly the two pints she had had on-stage) pumped away. In the first two minutes, she named a comedy company whose flyerers had physically threatened her and she was laying into the big promoters at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you think she is sharp-tongued on ITV1’s Show Me The Funny, you have only heard the half of it…

Later today, Copstick is travelling down to the O2 arena in London as a judge for the live final of Show Me The Funny (although the winner is decided by viewer voting). Then tomorrow she is on a train back up to Edinburgh when we decide the Malcolm Hardee Award winners at noon and she will take an active part through the wonders of 21st century technology. As I said in my blog yesterday, what’s this thing with the Prime Minister having to be dragged back from holiday every time something happens?

If we had Copstick as Prime Minister, things would be easier.

Me? I have to be at the Blue Moon cafe-restaurant-bar in Barony Street just off Broughton Street in the New Town at noon today to collect more spaghetti for the second day of the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest. The Blue Moon is generously sponsoring us with free spaghetti.

The spaghetti-juggling happens outside the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket.

Yesterday the first spaghetti-juggling contest, partially in the rain, became less of a solo juggling event, more a three-a-side sideways-throwing contest with the participants constantly changing. This came about when Scots comedian Bruce Fummey valiantly tried to bring some order into the proceedings; it must be his background as a teacher.

In its latter stages, to be honest, with spaghetti stocks dwindling, the thing degenerated more into a custard-pie type spaghetti fight than juggling. The arrival of Malcolm Award nominated Johnny Sorrow on the scene in a macintosh and flat cap did little to quell the degeneration of this fine potential Olympic sport – and he seemed to encourage the rain.

At the end, Laughing Horse Free Festival supremo Alex Petty mucked-in with a stiff broom, helping to clear up the scattered spaghetti in the cobbles outside the Beehive Inn. If his flirtation with big-time comedy promoting ever falls through, he has a future as a street sweeper.

Today’s spaghetti-juggling will include on-the-spot advice on the aerodynamics of pasta from Dr Sophia Khan, formerly of NASA , Harvard, the Japanese Space Agency and Shanghai University. She will be joined by Dr Andrew Bunker, former Head of Astronomy at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Oz and now Reader in Astrophysics at Oxford University.

Who said spaghetti-juggling was trivial?

Brainiac eat your heart out.

While waiting for the spaghetti-juggling to start yesterday, I got dragged into Lancelot Adams’ show outside the Beehive Inn – The Magic Drawabout – an enticingly odd concept in which he gets passing members of the public to take part in a one hour show which involves drawing each other in various parts of the Grassmarket while he chats to the ‘sitter’.

He told me he had thought I looked like a weirdo when he first saw me in the street, but soon realised I was not. I was genuinely offended this.

Have the last several decades of my life, cultivating weirdness, all been in vain?

The Magic Drawabout and Lancelot Adams’ other show at the Beehive Inn – Ze Hoff Und Friends – about David Hasselhoff – are decidedly quirky, but the ‘sleeper’ of the Fringe has arguably been Paul Provenza’s Set List: Standup Without a Net which started in Just The Tonic at the Tron, then moved to one of Just The Tonic’s bigger venues at The Caves and now has moved to a bigger Cave, such has been its increasing popularity. It has gathered even more word-of-mouth with Paul Provenza flying in from LA last week.

Set List: Standup Without a Net has also been getting a lot of word-of-mouth buzz among comedians, because its format of the stand-up comic being shown a list of six words or phrases as subjects – the set list – one-at-a-time without pre-warning only when they are on stage is an utter nightmare. The best comics can weave a thread through the disparate subjects rather than just perform six unconnected routines. The risk of getting lost is high. The likelihood of a comedian eventually shitting on stage must be equally high.

Last night, among those trying their luck were Frank Skinner, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Richard Herring and Phill Jupitus. Big names for a concept that seems likely to get bigger.

One tiny aside…

While waiting to get into Set List last night, a comic came up to me and said she had just been to Malcolm Hardee Award nominee Bob Slayer’s show at The Hive where, on stage, she had stuck her finger up his bottom. A rubber glove had been provided by the ever-amenable Bob.

As far as I know, it is the second time this has happened in Bob’s show.

Call me old-fashioned but I think, as a format, Set List: Standup Without a Net has more likelihood of being commissioned as a TV series.

I would be happy to be proved wrong, though I am not sure I would be watching on a regular basis.

Bob Slayer was nominated for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Award “for going beyond OTT into uncharted areas of comedy excess”.

I think it would be difficult to fault our nomination.

When I mentioned this story to Bob Slayer, he said, “Well, I do want to point out that it did not happen a second time – The lady who did it the first time was in the audience last night and so another lady tried to emulate her (who wouldn’t?) – She tried to do a fist but failed .

“I obviously don’t want people to think that any Tom, Dick or Harry can finger my entrails.”

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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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Is there life after stand-up comedy? There is huge potential, it seems.

Next Monday, the movie Huge premieres in London, with a general release on 8th July. It is directed by comedy actor Ben Miller and co-scripted by Simon Godley.

Simon Godley is interesting because he used to play the stand-up comedy circuit but is now a dentist to many top British comedians. Well, he was always a dentist when he himself was a comedian, but now he has a trendy Notting Hill surgery, also runs an art gallery at the same address and acts occasionally.

Huge first premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival in June. It is about a struggling comedy double act and their ambitions to be the new Morecambe and Wise. Written (in alphabetical order) by Jez Butterworth, Simon Godley and Ben Miller, it was originally a stage play at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993 and seen as an in-joke about the Fringe but it has also been called “a more universal meditation on the dark heart of comedy”,

The stage play was set in a squat and had only two characters, played by Ben Miller and Simon Godley.

“The most appealing thing about it first of all,” says Ben Miller, “was that it had two characters and one setting. It seemed a cheap film to make. But, of course, by the time we started filming it had fifty actors and umpteen locations and wasn’t cheap at all.”

In the movie, the roles that Ben Miller and Simon Godley played on stage are now taken by Johnny Harris and Noel Clarke.

Simon Godley suggested that every other comic in the film should be played by a real one.  So, for one scene set at a comedy awards (surprisingly not the Malcolm Hardee Awards), Jo Brand, Alan Davies, Harry Hill, Eddie Izzard and Frank Skinner play themselves.

“If your dentist asked a favour, would you dare turn him down?” Ben Miller says.

And then there’s also Stephen K Amos, Ronni Ancona, David Baddiel, Ninia Benjamin, Kevin Bishop, Jack Dee, Hattie Hayridge, Mark Lamarr, Rory McGrath, Sean Mayo, Alistair McGowan, Sally Phillips and Nick Revell all playing themselves plus Simon Day playing a character strangely called Noel Faulkner.

Simon Godley’s celebrity dentist status brought to my mind what happened to Jonathan Meres after he left stand-up comedy.

He used to play the comedy circuit under the name Johnny Immaterial. His opening line was:

“Hello. The name’s immaterial,.. Johnny Immaterial.”

He used to make me laugh mightily though, it has to be said, often more from his charisma and delivery than from the material. It was an act without its own catchphrase but, when Johnny Immaterial intoned “Ooooh, nooo, matron!” in Kenneth Williams‘ unmistakable nasal twang, you could forgive him anything.

He disappeared from the circuit, as I heard it at the time, when he found a good woman in Edinburgh. Anything is possible in Edinburgh.

He was Perrier Award-nominated in 1993 for a show called My Booze Hell By Little Johnny Cartilage, the same year Simon Godley and Ben Miller performed Huge at the Edinburgh Fringe but he played his last stand-up gig in 1994 after, as I understand it, he became disenchanted with the business.

Johnny Immaterial reverted to being Jonathan Meres and became a very highly successful children’s author, publishing his first book in 1998; he has also written extensively for children’s television and, like Simon Godley, kept his performing skills up-to-scratch with various acting roles.

So, yes, there is life after stand-up comedy – it generally pays better and it may lead on to even better things.

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Cabinet minister Chris Huhne and the convent-raised comedian

I mentioned in a recent blog that comedian Charmian Hughes was one of the first small intake of six girls at Westminster Boys’ School. The person who suggested she go there was her childhood chum Chris Huhne now (well, at the time of writing he still is) a Government Cabinet Minister. He is currently having a spot of bother over claims by his furious estranged-wife that he got her to accept penalty points for speeding when, in fact, it was (reportedly) he who was driving the car.

“I was driven in a car by him,” Charmian tells me. “He used to have a London taxi in his gap year before university. He must have been 18 and drove it to Turkey. But, alas, he didn’t take me to Turkey… Alas.”

He did give Charmian her first snog though and, back when Charmian first knew him, his preferred mode of transport was pedal-powered. She was about 10 when the two of them used to ride their bikes through a South Kensington mews. “It was such a genteel area,” she tells me. “The neighbours shouted at us because they found it a bit threatening and noisy.”

“His family were always extremely kind to me,” she says. “His mother – an actress – was the first person ever to take me to the theatre. It was The Mermaid Theatre. I think Marcel Marceau was miming something or other. Chris’ family were nice to me when I was persecuted by my own family. His mother said I was very artistic and special whereas my own family said I was twisted and strange because I wrote poems.

“When he was in the Sixth Form, he started a school paper called The Free Press for London-wide free distribution and didn’t have enough paid adverts for the first one, so the first edition was in danger of looking very bare and amateur. His friends were all making up ads he could stick in. I was about 14 or 15 and I wanted to impress him like mad and I remember we were sitting in a tube train on the Circle line when I suggested: How about an advert for Madame Hughes, Maison de Plaisir with my mother’s phone number? That would be good!

“I didn’t really think he would do it, but he did. I forgot all about it until one day the phone rang. I picked it up and a husky male voice said: Is that Madame Hughes? My blood ran cold, my stomach sank. I was terrified my mother would hear me talking to the man on the phone and I whispered: It’s all a ghastly mistake. A joke. I’m a school girl. The man was very understanding and rang off. My mother was and is a terrifying person with a terrible raging temper.

“The next phone call was from a tabloid newspaper reporter investigating ‘the schoolgirl brothel’. My mother answered. I heard her Medusa-like voice shrieking and threatening and the reporter scampered away never to ring again. When I told her what we’d done, she summoned Chris round.

Are you going to sue me? he asked in his most sophisticated timbre. Sue you? my mother sneered, A silly stupid little arrogant schoolboy like you? You must be joking, but I’m going to speak to your parents…”

Charmian’s first snog was with Chris Huhne when she was around 15 and he was around 17.

“I was at a convent boarding school,” Charmian tells me, “so it was hard to cop off.

“Later it was Chris who suggested I went to Westminster Boys’ School, but,” she adds dolefully, “by the time I’d got there, he’d left. Once he was at Oxford I hardly saw him. He was a very glamorous and sexy figure. We all adored him. He was brainy and cool and sophisticated. I think he only snogged me to put me out of my misery.”

Then she adds mysteriously:

“I also gave Frank Skinner his first avocado.”

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