Tag Archives: Fringe Society

Day Two of Malcolm Hardee Week – physical threats and censorship

I pity the poor Prime Minister.

Well, maybe “poor” is not the correct word.

But David Cameron was off abroad having a holiday and got dragged back to London because riots were going on.

Then he’s having a holiday in Cornwall and he gets dragged back to London because the Libyan rebels have taken Tripoli.

Totally unnecessary. This is the 21st century. You don’t need to be in any particular place to sort things out. Yesterday, when we were supposed to draw up a shortlist for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – just as important as Libya, I would argue – one of the judges had been dragged back to London to interview someone-or-other; and another was stuck in the wrong part of Edinburgh. But it was simple enough to communicate with each other. And we all half-had ideas from e-mails and accidental meetings in the previous two weeks anyway.

It is all a bit vague. It is the fourth week of the Fringe – or Week Three as it is officially called to maintain the spirit of the Fringe.

Fringeitis has kicked in – a long recognised and largely unavoidable ailment that affects the throats of performers and the brains of hangers-on like me.

Last night, at the second Malcolm Hardee Debate (“Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!”) we only had three instead of four participants.

Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison had buggered his back in Glasgow and could not make it to Edinburgh.

Viz magazine creator Simon Donald had ‘Fringe throat’, that long-recognised Edinburgh ailment. As did Hardeep Singh Kohli, who had a spoon and a bottle of medicine in his top pocket to ease the throat.

Topping them both, Maureen Younger had been bitten twice by some dodgy Scots beastie (clearly neither cow’rin nor tim’rouson the back of her left leg, behind the knee, so she was filled with anti-histamines and feeling woozy.

None of this was visible on stage, of course. They bubbled and entertained and appeared on top form. Ah! the joys of performance!

I am not in any way a performer, so two nights on the trot on a stage did not fill me with the post-show adrenaline that performers sometimes have. I just felt shagged-out and my brain switched off immediately afterwards.

This could explain why, when two people approached me separately after the shows – one saying he liked this blog and one saying we had been Facebook friends twice (no, I don’t know either) I did not chat at length. Indeed, not at all. I got distracted by other things happening at the end of the show. Oh lord. I do apologise to them.

Fringeitis affects performers’ throats but my brain.

As for the Malcolm Hardee Awards, we nominated thus:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Doctor Brown for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason

James Hamilton as the odd writer, producer, director, actor and creator of Casual Violence

Bob Slayer for going beyond OTT into uncharted areas of comedy excess

Johnny Sorrow for simply being a bizarre act Malcolm Hardee would have loved

CUNNING STUNT AWARD (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

Tim FitzHigham for breaking multiple bones and damaging bone marrow to pursue comedy

Kunt and the Gang for pushing his sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible

Sanderson Jones for selling all his show tickets only to people he himself has met

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

Benet Brandtreth – if he doesn’t make a million on stage, he’ll make it as a lawyer

Josh Widdicombe – possibly the new Michael McIntyre

The shortlist was reported in various media, possibly helped by the fact I put in brief quotes after the acts. Doing that means the press can lift the quotes without having to think anything up. The phrase “for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason” proved particularly attractive.

The media reporting the Malcolm Hardee Awards shortlist yesterday included BBC News online, which referred to one of the performers as “The act, which we will call KATG”

Kunt and the Gang is going to have problems with that name. The Fringe Society apparently told him that they would only print the name of the act and the show in the Fringe Programme if he put an umlaut over the ‘u’ in Kunt.

That is the least of Kunt’s problems. A press release from his promoters this morning was headed:

AWARD NOMINATION COULD COST COMEDIAN (KATG) THOUSANDS OF £££

It is not really my/our fault…!

Edinburgh Council is still threatening him with a £3,000 fine if any more ‘cock stickers’ appear on other shows’ posters.

One agent sent him an invoice for a four-figure sum for damage to one Scottish act’s posters with the mild threat: “I would also recommend this invoice is paid immediately and discreetly as if it is not I will make my actions known to all the other producers affected and you can then expect a lot more of these and some from people who will be far more forceful that I will be thru the law in order to recoup.”

In reply, Kunt’s admirable PR people say he will “happily reveal the name of the Comedy Agent and send you a copy of the Comedy Invoice in return for a donation to the Cock Aid appeal. Details on request.”

There is also the unreported fact that one prominent London-based promoter has made physical threats of “sending the boys in” to sort out Kunt. And it is not even the one promoter you might assume would say this.

Various acts are now, to show support to Kunt, wearing cock stickers. I am particularly impressed by the one sported by Frank Sanazi.

At the time of writing this, the Third Reich’s favourite crooner is in London performing pre-booked gigs but he will be returning to Edinburgh on Friday, solely to appear in the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards Show is 10.00pm to midnight in the ballroom of The Counting House as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – no tickets, free admission – Friday 26th August.

The Edinburgh Fringe is about shameless promotion.

Now I had better prepare for the two days of spaghetti-juggling events I perhaps foolishly decided to put on outdoors Outside the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket… 6.15-7.00pm tonight and tomorrow…

It is looking like it might rain…

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Myths, dangers and curses of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

(This blog appeared on Chortlethe UK comedy industry website)

I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Roadshow in London on Saturday and a couple of people asked my advice because they have decided to perform on the Fringe for the first time this year. Then, on Monday morning, a non-performer who appeared briefly as a guest at last year’s Fringe e-mailed me about the possibility of staging a full show throughout this year’s Fringe in August. On Tuesday morning, an established comedy act phoned me about returning to the Fringe after a gap of several years. And, yesterday afternoon, I got Skyped by someone who lives in mainland Europe about coming to the UK and playing the Fringe for the first time.

On Saturday, I asked about the long-and-widely-quoted statistics that the average Fringe show audience comprises six people and the average Fringe-goer is only in the city for three days. The Fringe Office told me both were urban myths.

Fringe Chief Executive Kath Mainland, in fact, told me that 50% of Fringe audiences come from Edinburgh (ie the EH postcodes). And that does not include the large numbers of Glaswegians who commute to Edinburgh Fringe shows. If true, it would mean that over half the audience is coming from lowland Scotland and performers should perhaps tailor their shows more towards Scots audiences if they want to get bums on seats.

Like all Fringe statistics, of course, even that one should be treated with a pinch of salt. The only way of knowing who goes to the Fringe is if punters buy tickets in advance and give their postcodes. The vast numbers who buy tickets with cash at the venue on the day don’t do that. And all Fringe statistics are mightily skewed by the fact no-one does nor can know how many punters attend the increasing number of free shows – let alone where they come from.

So, as always, performing at the Fringe is like juggling spaghetti in the dark and, when you get there, like standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. This year, the uncertainties are even greater – not because of the recession but because of the rapidly changing nature of the Fringe – especially the crumbling of the box office for middle-ranking comedy shows. It happened last year and is likely to happen even moreso this year.

There are two types of show at the Fringe.

There are the traditional shows where audiences pay for tickets. And the free shows put on by the original PBH Free Fringe and the separate Laughing Horse Free Festival.

On Saturday, the gloriously entertaining Peter Buckley Hill of the PBH Free Fringe (a notable former Malcolm Hardee Award nominee) said he has had an 85% increase in applications for the PBH Free Fringe this year.

This is not surprising.

Paid-for show tickets are usually around £10 each – that means £20 if you are a couple and, if you see three shows in one day (which is not uncommon), that is going to set you back £60. For that amount of money and with limited time and vast numbers of shows on offer, you want to make sure you are not throwing your money away. So you pay to see ‘safe’ acts you have seen on TV or, at least, very long-established Biggish Name acts with a known track record.

People used to go to the Fringe and ‘take a punt’ on a show which sounded like it might be good… though it might be shit. That was what the Fringe was about. The excitement of the unexpected and the chance of stumbling on future stars.

What is increasingly happening now is that audiences are prepared to pay for the TV names they know. And they are prepared to take a risk by visiting several free shows. But excellent, experienced comedy acts playing paid-for venues who have not had TV exposure are seeing their audiences fall year-on-year. I know of at least three top-notch comedians who are not going to the Fringe this year because the potential on the paid-for Fringe in major venues is increasingly risky – they will still make a profit but the profit-to-hassle ratio has changed – and they cannot be seen to play free shows because it would lower their professional reputation with reviewers and the media.

It can cost £7,500+ to stage a good comedy show in a major venue at the Fringe.

The Fringe is alive and well for Fringe-goers who want to take a free punt with a high risk of seeing shit… and for Fringe-goers who want to pay to see re-heated TV acts of known quality. But the Fringe is increasingly difficult to financially justify for excellent, experienced live comedians with no TV exposure.

Another factor this year will be the death of the Fringe in the new town.

Edinburgh is two cities – the ‘new town’ (Georgian) and the ‘old town’ (medieval).

With the move this year (for at least three years) of the major Assembly venue from George Street in the new town to George Square in the old town, all the Big Four venues will now be clustered around Bristo Square, George Square and the Cowgate.

People may decide to go to a specific show in the new town, but the four places where punters will come to vaguely sit down and only then decide which show to see will be the Pleasance Courtyard, the Udderbelly Pasture in Bristo Square, the Pleasance Dome in Bristo Square and the George Square gardens which will have, I understand, two new Assembly venues in them. So street flyerers will get more passing trade and bums-on-seats potential in or near Bristo Square/George Square/Cowgate (as well as in the traditional maelstrom of the High Street on the Royal Mile). If someone flyers in the new town near a venue, they will be flyering in isolation and not picking up other shows’ punters.

This August will be particularly interesting to see and particularly uncertain for performers, yet the lure of the Fringe is still almost irresistible. There is that 85% increase in people applying to perform at PBH Free Fringe venues.

Uncertainty is almost an aphrodisiac for performers, but the financial repercussions are incalculable and go on and on.

What will happen next year when the end of the London Olympics overlaps with the beginning of the Edinburgh Fringe? Who knows?

For years, I have tried to find someone who can juggle cooked spaghetti for one minute and have always been unable to find anyone. But I have blind faith success may be possible. In that respect, I suppose I am much like Fringe performers going to Edinburgh.

The Fringe is an ongoing Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

(NOTE TO READERS IN THE USA: The British English phrase “bums-on-seats” means something more financially sustainable than it does in American English)

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