Tag Archives: Fringe

Delicious and dateless Nicole Harvey on taking a sex doll and whip to Brighton

Smiling Nicole Harvey with Gorgeous Gavin as yet un-inflated

Smiling Nicole Harvey + the Gorgeous Gavin

I met actress/writer/voice-over performer Nicole Harvey in the Soho Theatre Bar yesterday afternoon. She had a broad smile on her face and had just been to a sex shop in Goodge Street to buy an inflatable man.

“He’s called Gorgeous Gavin,” she told me.

Nicole’s show Delicious & Dateless is at the Brighton Fringe this weekend and next weekend.

“You did the same show at the Edinburgh Fringe last August,” I said. “At what point since then did you think: The one thing missing from this show is an inflatable doll with an inflatable penis?”

“I‘ve completely re-written the show,” Nicole told me. “In Edinburgh, the show was very much in development. It now has a very different beginning.”

“Gorgeous Gavin appears at the beginning of the show?” I asked. “How are you going to climax at the end?”

Nicole’s show, revised for Brighton Fringe

Nicole’s show, revised for Brighton Fringe

“Well, there are boots and whips that appear later,” she said.

“And you bought Gorgeous Gavin at a shop in Goodge Street?” I asked.

“There was also a Justin Bieber doll called Just-In Beaver,” said Nicole.

“Why did you go to that shop in particular?” I asked.

“Because I had to take back the female doll I had bought – Lollipop Lolita.“

“Why did you have to take back Lollipop Lolita?”

“Because I don’t want to fuck her mouth and that’s what she is designed for.”

“Didn’t this strike you at the point you originally bought her?”

“I had just wanted her legs for my show. But her boobs were so huge she wasn’t going to work as a comedy prop – there was no way I could scrunge the boobs down. So I decided to buy Gorgeous Gavin instead.”

“Do you have a discount at this shop for bulk buying?” I asked.

The show as it was at the Edinburgh Fringe last year

Since Edinburgh last year, Nicole has had “a real eye-opener”

Nicole ignored the question and said: “Since doing my show in Edinburgh last year, I have had a complete eye-opener and, in one part of my new show, I am commenting on this cultural shift that we’re in.”

“Cultural shift?” I asked.

“The reason I don’t have a love life,” explained Nicole, “is because I refuse to get on Tinder. That is what everyone is doing. But it’s purely pictures. It is about as superficial as it can get.

“Everyone is glued to their phone. I’ve seen pictures of guys’ hard-ons on Twitter that even 12-year-olds can see – and messages saying: Hi, I need someone to suck me off at lunchtime; I don’t mind if it’s male or female. Message me. It seems that, in this reality today, no-one will actually talk to you. Certainly no-one chats you up.”

“Which reality?” I asked.

“Actual reality,” said Nicole, “as opposed to virtual reality.”

“No-one chats you up?” I asked.

“No. Not in the real world. But they’re quite happy to be totally up-front asking for sex online with someone they’ve never met. so the world’s gone mad.”

“Well,” I said, “the whole Sex Positive thing does seem to be just an excuse for random sex with strangers.”

An irrelevant film poster for Fifty Shades of Grey

Was the film a sexual game-changer?

“With Fifty Shades of Grey,” said Nicole, “not only am I not up-to-date with fashion because I won’t go on Tinder, but I now need to be up for a spanking with a stranger – or get good at whipping – just to keep up with the trend.”

“What sort of man are you after?” I asked.

“Someone kind. Someone funny. Someone who’s emotionally mature, with not too much baggage, who’s got his shit together.”

“Well, that rules out most comedians off-stage,” I said. “Did you get any reaction from your show in Edinburgh? Your posters were really saying; I want a date!

“My audience was mainly women wanting to tell me their Tinder horror stories.”

“Tell me more about the man in the sex shop.”

“I said to him: Whatever’s kinky is not taboo. But what is taboo is loneliness.”

“Explain?” I said.

We are not really shocked by kinkiness any more. We’ve seen god knows how many politicians with sex scandals and 50 Shades of Grey became a mainstream movie. Anything that was kinky doesn’t really seem to be taboo any more. but to need a doll because you’re lonely… Yes, there is online dating and Tinder and it’s oh-so-easy to meet up, but what we don’t have easily any more is intimacy.”

Nicole Harvey - looking for emotional intimacy

Nicole Harvey – waiting for her right cup of tea

“What type of intimacy?” I asked.

“Emotional.”

“You should get together with the man in the shop,” I suggested.

“I think he makes sex videos and wears a pig’s face.”

“Generally?” I asked.

“He used to be a singer and has a book coming out.”

“I feel a blog coming on. You’ll have to take me into the shop – Pimp a blogger. How do you know he wears a pig face?”

“There’s a back room.”

“Why were you in the back room?”

“Because I need a whip for the show as well.”

“Gorgeous Gavin, the inflatable man, was not enough for you?”

“No.”

“Did you buy a whip?”

“No. They were all a bit wonky.”

Nicole Harvey grew up with her horse

Crop expert Nicole Harvey aesthetically dislikes wonky whips

“Define a wonky whip,” I asked her. “It sounds to me like an ice cream.”

“It was the way the leather was platted. It wasn’t nice and straight.”

“So for you,” I said, “it’s not to do with sex or pain but the aesthetics?”

“Oh yeah. I’m probably just going to get a horsey one, a riding crop. I ride horses.”

“I was thinking more of Zorro,” I said.

“That’s more of a lion tamer’s whip.”

“You’re smirking again.”

“I am allowed to.”

“What else does the shop have?”

“There are dolls you can get that cost thousands and thousands of pounds because they’re made of silicon and have real hair. There was a TV documentary about it and a play I saw called Companion Piece.”

“So, you’ve researched it in depth?”

“I’ve just come across things.”

After a long, thoughtful pause, I asked: “I wonder how large the demand for sex dolls is.”

“I guess,” replied Nicole, “some men don’t want a woman to answer back. But, on the other hand, plastic dolls can’t cook.”

“Swings and roundabouts,” I said.

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The Edinburgh Fringe’s free festivals as seen by The Free Festival’s Alex Petty

GrouchyClub_MalcolmHardeeAwards2014

Blatant self interest at Edinburgh Fringe

I have to declare an interest. At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show AND the daily Grouchy Club which I am hosting with critic Kate Copstick are both being staged at The Counting House – a Laughing Horse Free Festival venue. The Edinburgh Fringe is strangely complicated. Pay attention. This year, the Fringe officially starts on Friday but, as always, actually starts this Wednesday. The Laughing Horse Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe/Pay What You Want shows start on Thursday. The La Favorita Freestival starts on Friday. And the PBH Free Fringe starts on Saturday. There are two types of venues in Edinburgh. There are the traditional ‘pay’ venues. That means audiences pay in advance to see the shows and the performers pay large amounts to rent the rooms and facilities.

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

This year’s PBH Fringe logo

But there are now four organisations hosting ‘free’ shows. That means entry is free (though you are expected to donate money on the way out) and the performers pay nothing to perform in the venue. The original Free Fringe was started by Peter Buckley-Hill (known as PBH) in 1996. He was later joined by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse Comedy, but they split in 2004 and Alex started the (in Peter’s eyes) competing Free Festival. My understanding was that Peter did not agree with Alex’s view that they should charge the acts a small amount to cover the cost of appearing in the printed Free Fringe programme (although the PBH Free Fringe runs fund-raising pre-Fringe shows in London). Last year, Bob Slayer started his ‘Pay What You Want’ version of the free model which means you can either get in for free or guarantee a seat by buying a £5 ticket in advance. This year, there was another breakaway from PBH’s original Free Fringe organisation. The breakaway organisers – calling themselves The Freestival – have managed to get £25,000 sponsorship from local La Favorita pizza chain, matched by £25,000 sponsorship from Arts & Business Scotland.

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

Alex Petty talked to me at the Soho Theatre

“PBH seemed to feel threatened by your Free Festival,” I said to Alex Petty when we met at the Soho Theatre in London. “Do you feel threatened by the new Freestival this year?” “Not at all,” said Alex. “I think the more free organisations the better. And let’s not forget the Scottish Comedy Festival down at The Beehive, where they do a mixture of paid and free stuff.” “Would you take sponsorship like the Freestival?” I asked. “I think that’s given them a good foundation this year,” said Alex. “They’ve started as quite a large organisation with several venues and performance spaces, whereas we started with one venue and gradually grew and acquired equipment and things we needed over the course of eleven years. What they’ve managed to do is get the equipment and stuff in and pay for the set-up for their venues in one go.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo

The Laughing Horse Free Festival logo for this year

“The Free Festival gets sponsorship in little ways – Kopparberg sponsor various bits of The Counting House. The Three Sisters is sponsored. It tends to be the venues themselves in partnership with sponsors, not us. It pays for the stages. “And then a lot of the companies behind the venues put money in as well. Our three main venues – The Counting House, Three Sisters and Espionage – spend a lot of money on advertising themselves, supplying equipment and staff. “We’ve never got to the point of having a big headline sponsor for the Free Festival. A lot of companies who want to sponsor comedy are alcohol companies and they want to get their products into the venues, but we have 22 venues all tied to different breweries, different companies. Some are owned by bigger companies; some are independent; trying to get them all to sign up to the same thing is difficult.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from pizza sponsors La Favorita

“Now, with the Freestival,” I said, “there is even more competition.” “We’ve all got slightly different ideas,” said Alex. “It’s going to be a friendly rivalry.” “Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want shows are listed in your Free Festival brochure,” I said. “Can you see a joint Free brochure coming out?… Although presumably not with PBH Free Fringe shows in it.” “Peter can be very combative about stuff,” said Alex. “It’s his way or no way. He’s got a very set vision and sticking to that is good in many ways. You would think Peter would be happy and proud that there are so many people now doing free shows, but he’s not happy with other people doing similar things.” “The perceived problem with free shows,” I said, “is the quality.”

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of free and pay to book

Bob Slayer’s Pay What You Want hybrid of both free & book

“Well,” said Alex, “there are good and bad free shows. There are good and bad paid shows. There used to be a lot of Oh. It’s free. It must be rubbish. But now people are just treating them as normal shows. Every individual show, free or paid, rests on its own laurels. “The more people put on serious free shows and set up decent venues, the more people will come across to the free shows. In the last eleven years, it’s grown ridiculously and we have not seen a dip in audiences even though, every year, there are more shows – We have grown; PBH has grown; Bob Slayer has come along and expanded things. I think, with bigger and better acts and more venues running for free, that is going to pull audiences away from paid to free venues rather than taking any numbers away from the existing free audience.” “But the quality of the free shows,” I persisted, “must be lower, because you haven’t got the technical back-up. You can’t do a 10-person musical.”

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

The cast of Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel (Image by Idil Sukan of Draw HQ)

Austentatious was in The Counting House Ballroom last year,” Alex pointed out, “and this year we have Who Ya Gonna Call? (the Ghostbusters musical). In terms of putting on large, complex productions, it’s difficult. But the Ballroom at The Counting House means we can put on things which have 6-10 people on stage. It has programmable lights; we can do scene changes and lighting changes. The Three Sisters is getting there as well, with a couple of its bigger rooms.” “I understand,” I said, “that the Freestival have put soundproofing into the Cowgatehead. So things ARE looking up. But what do you get out of it? Not vast amounts of money.” “Sadly not,” said Alex. “Laughing Horse gets work and good PR. When performers go up to Edinburgh and then progress their career, we go on with them to other festivals where we do make money and we get a lot of good PR which pushes us up in the industry a bit for getting further work.

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last year (Photo by Stephen O’Donnell)

Janey Godley at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of The Counting House (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

“We don’t run quite so many comedy clubs any more. We have 10 or 15 places where we do regular monthly gigs or on-and-off. But we do a lot of corporate bookings and one-offs. We have 22 venues in Edinburgh during the Fringe – about 35 performance spaces. We have four venues during the Brighton Fringe. This year we did the Perth Fringe in Australia for the first time. Our main one in Australia is still the Adelaide Fringe; we manage some spaces out there. And we’ve done the Melbourne Fringe for the last couple of years. The Singapore Comedy Festival we started doing this year: we actually run that festival with guys out in Singapore – we pay acts to come out and do the festival. So we run venues and promote and produce shows and make money throughout the year.” “So how can you expand in Edinburgh?” I asked. “We’re comfortable with where we are at the moment. We’re at a size which is manageable. We want to do better what we are doing now.” “Have you ever wanted to perform yourself?” I asked. “No,” said Alex,. “I see all the stresses and strains the acts go through. I like being in the back room, enjoying it and putting stuff together.” “How did you get into the business?”

Laughing Horse came out of the Black Horse

Laughing Horse Comedy originally came from a Black Horse

“I used to go to a comedy club in Richmond with a mate of mine, Rob Lee. He wanted to get into comedy. It ended up not being the thing for him. “But I had sat down with him and his brother and we wrote a bit of material for him and he did do a few gigs and one of the local pubs we drank in – The Black Horse – said You should run a comedy club. That’s where the name Laughing Horse comes from. A couple of the guys he’d done open spots for – Kevin McCarron and Fenton McCoot…” “Fenton McCoot?” I asked. “He was an ex-hairdresser who, about a year-and-a-half in, just vanished completely. I’ve not heard from him since. He moved back to Ireland, apparently. But he just vanished at one point and him vanishing was when I started booking the acts because no other bugger would do it. So we started running a comedy club and we fucked everything up as we went along but gradually got our thing together and we got a second comedy club and, over the course of two or three years, learnt what we were doing and started to go up to the Edinburgh Fringe. We just learnt as we went. Now I can book all the acts I want to see myself.” “I like comedy,” I said, “ because it gives me a chance to meet bizarre, mentally-deranged people.” “There’s certainly a few of those around,” said Alex, “But I think the one thing that’s lacking on the comedy circuit these days is there are not the good entertaining nutters around that there used to be. People who would go on and do bizarre acts and be great at what they did for five minutes. I miss that element of the comedy circuit. It has got blander.”

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A revolution at the Edinburgh Fringe. New Freestival organisers explain what to expect from them and their sponsors

The Festival Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

The Edinburgh Fringe is a thing of Byzantine beauty organised by no-one and, within that non-organisation are lots of people organising things. 

I organise the annual highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Fringe. Last year they were the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. This year, they are the highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and my blog has taken over the mantle of being increasingly prestigious. Say it often enough and, with luck, people will start believing it.

If I were to attempt to simplify the organisation of the Edinburgh Fringe’s non-organisation, there are venues where you pay in advance (pay venues) and there are ‘free’ venues where you pay nothing to enter but, if you want, you can donate money on the way out (a bit like indoor busking).

There were, until this year, three free organisers:

PBH’s Free Fringe started it all, organised by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee Peter Buckley Hill.

Around ten years ago, there was then a split in the Free Fringe ranks and the Free Festival began, organised by Alex Petty of Laughing Horse, in one of whose venues I stage the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Emerging from the Free Festival in the last couple of years has been the Heroes of Fringe Pay What You Want venues run by highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Bob Slayer. At his venues, you can either walk in for free or pay for a ticket in advance to guarantee a seat.

Then, back in December, I blogged about another rift in the Free Fringe which has now spawned the Freestival, organised by a hydra-headed committee of performers all of whom, I imagine, aspire to win a highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

If you need any more background, I suggest you either take counselling or settle down, take Valium and read the blog I wrote last December about the genesis of the new Freestival group.

On the Freestival website (soon to be re-designed) there are eleven members of “the current committee and helpers” listed.

Last night, four of them – Dan Adams, Sean Brightman, Al Cowie and Alex Marion – explained more to me.

Last night (from left): Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion, Al Cowie

Last night in London (from left) four elevenths of Freestival: Sean Brightman, Dan Adams, Alex Marion and Al Cowie

As they are part of a hydra-headed collective speaking collectively – and, frankly, because I can’t be bothered to differentiate between the four voices on my sound recording – I shall quote what the four of them individually said as coming from a mythical single beast called The Freestival.

“You had a big bust-up with Peter Buckley Hill,” I started. “You suggested ways in which you thought the Free Fringe could be improved.”

“An innocent mistake,” said the Freestival. “In hindsight, we should probably not have done that but, then, we would have ended up doing shows somewhere else.”

“So you would have broken away anyway?”

“We might have gone with Laughing Horse,” said the Freestival, “or Heroes of the Fringe without the hassle.

“With the Free Fringe, it’s PBH’s name on it and however much he’s set up committees in the past, it’s pretty well established it’s always him. With Laughing Horse, it’s Alex and he gets other people on board to help, but it’s him and he works very very hard. Bob Slayer, same thing: he’s keeping it very small – very wise – and he’s going great guns with it but, again, it’s just him.

“We set the Freestival up as a committee and the thing that differentiates us from any of the other free groups is we have an accountant. Plus, should any issues happen, we’ve got some flexibility in the system, because what we’ve done is looked round at who has the expertise in various different areas, so that we can call on them and genuinely use them. None of us knew about accountancy, so we’ve got in a fantastic accountant performer – Gemma Beagley.

“Essentially, we want to bring in the money from outside that will allow us to put on really good free Fringe sh…”

“You can’t use those two words together,” said the Freestival, interrupting itself.

“Free Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied the Freestival, “apparently it’s illegal for us to use the two words together.

“It’s difficult to describe without using those words,” continued the Freestival. “But essentially what we want a festival full of acts we believe in so we can promote them to the public with genuine honesty. With all due respect, all of the other free organisations are pretty much open to anyone.”

Random visual plug for my Fringe show

A random plug for Bob Slayer

(Before I get a complaint from Big Bob Slayer, I should point out that, keeping things small, he is very choosy about the acts he allows to perform in his venues.)

“What we have,” continued the hydra-headed Freestival, “is the manpower to select the acts we really want to put on. It’s like running a comedy club where we put on the best acts available to us on the night. So, when people go to a Freestival show, they will know it’s going to be a good show in a good venue. We want all of our venues to be a pleasure to go to. In Edinburgh, for performers and audiences, that’s not always the case. There was one in a toilet last year.”

“There seemed to be some doubt,” I said, “that you had The Tron as one of your venues.”

“We do have The Tron,” said the Freestival. “And The Cowgatehead, which is opposite the Underbelly. Last year it was called The Cowshed.”

“They were both PBH venues last year,” I said.

“Yes. The reason they’re coming with us this year,” said the Freestival, “is that they are directly linked to our sponsor. We do have a sponsor – La Favorita, a chain of Pizza restaurants, a local Edinburgh business. They’re a restaurant group (the Vittoria Group) with a small chain of pizza delivery restaurants. They had a concession outside the Tron Church at last year’s Fringe.”

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

The new Freestival 2014 logo from sponsors La Favorita

“How many venues have you got,” I asked, “and how many rooms within those venues?”

“We’re currently working on getting around twelve venues,” replied the Freestival.

“Each with multiple rooms?” I asked.

“There might be more spaces, but we’re working towards a 12-venue plan. We’ve got the Cowgatehead, the Tron, St James, which is a brand new venue near the Grassmarket. Inside that, we’ve got two floors with a main room for about 150 people and we’re going to put two rooms on the top floor, each of which will be 60-80. It’s going to be built to our spec.”

“Why are you different from the other free venue organisers?” I asked.

“We want people,” said the Freestival, “to be astounded by how good our venues are. And we want to publicise all of our shows. It’s not enough to just say They’re in our brochure, so that’s our responsibility to them discharged. If both the acts AND we publicise those shows, then all of us benefit.”

“Is that where the sponsor’s money is going?” I asked.

“The sponsor,” said the Freestival, “is paying for the brochures, the publicity costs, the new website and the setting-up of the venues. The acts are spending six months preparing the best show they can create and we don’t think they should have to set up the venue themselves.”

“So,” I asked, “will each of your venues have a venue manager and a sound person?”

“Yes,” said the Freestival, “though there might be a couple of venues that share sound people.”

“Are the sound people free?” I asked.

“There is a small up-front sub,” said the Freestival, “which is on our website. It is £80.”

“What was PBH charging last year?” I asked.

“£3 per each individual day’s performance,” said the Freestival, “and/or you had to organise as many benefits shows as you could for the Free Fringe. If anyone thinks they can find a venue in Edinburgh in August, fully set-up with publicity and technical support as part of the package, for less than £80 over three weeks, they’re welcome to go and take it. What the sponsor’s money allows us to provide is quality venues. And soundproofing wherever possible.”

“Perhaps,” I said, “the sponsor could soundproof the walls with pizzas. You could have the first edible Fringe venues.”

“How we have approached sponsorship,” explained the Freestival, “is How will it benefit what we want to do? NOT How will it benefit the sponsor? The sponsor gets concession stands selling pizzas at a couple of the venues and outside The Tron, exactly as they had last year. They want to get their name seen everywhere because they want to grow as a business and this does that for them.

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of ingredients

A random pizza, like the Fringe, full of different ingredients

“Having an accountant and sponsor on board informs the decision-making process, but we have control over any artistic decision. There will be nothing about this does or does not fit the sponsor’s brand. None of that at all. What the sponsor wants is to be part of something which will be good. They have no control over the creative side of things. They are just a conduit to provide us with the ability to stage some really good shows.”

“What about the antagonism from PBH over the split?” I said.

“He wants to shout, he wants to scream at us,” said the Freestival, “but really we’re not here to undermine him. We’re just here because we think there’s another way of doing things that can achieve a better set of results.

“Every year, the Free Fringe grows, every year there’s more venues, more shows and inevitably what that means is that there’s less control over the quality of the venues. What we want to do is keep small, keep to a limited number of venues, keep to acts we believe in, that we can publicise with our whole heart, that we can inter-act with and put them in venues they are happy to play in and the public want to spend time in.

“We have made a conscious effort to make relationships with other parts of the Fringe and the comedy industry in general. Hils Jago of Amused Moose will be running Logan Murray’s comedy courses in our venues.

“Whilst we are another free entity up in Edinburgh,” said the Freestival, “I truly believe there’s room for many more free entities up there and many more different models. All of us really believe in our model but, if other people want to go with different models or to perform in our venues AND in other people’s venues, fantastic for them.”

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Has the Edinburgh Free Fringe split apart again? Is it comedy Christianity?

I once had to write an encyclopaedia entry on Christianity in (as far as I remember) 23 lines. This was a nightmare. Almost as soon as it started, Christianity started to splinter apart into sects, sub-sects and competing sub-sub-sects.

Peter Buckley Hill started it all in Edinburgh

Peter Buckley Hill  started it all in Edinburgh

It is becoming a bit that way with the ‘free’ shows at the annual Edinburgh Fringe – which was, itself, an offshoot of the continuing Edinburgh International Festival.

In Fringe terms, a ‘free’ show is one at which the audience pays nothing to go in but can, if they like, donate money on the way out.

As far as organising free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe is concerned, first there was the Free Fringe conceived by Peter Buckley Hill (affectionately called PBH).

Then, splitting from that, was the Free Festival. So, for several years now, we have had the rival or complementary (depending on your viewpoint) PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

This year, Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe operation started promoting the idea of Pay What You Want shows where you can get free entry to shows or – to guarantee a seat – you can buy a £5 ticket in advance. Bob’s Heroes venues, though separate, amicably co-existed with the Free Festival and were listed in their programme.

Then, a couple of months ago, I blogged about what seemed to be a split within the Free Fringe. PBH’s reaction to his critics from within and what he perceived to be their ‘ultimatum’ was:

Rather than have people trying to take over and change the principles, I will cancel the whole event and wind up the Free Fringe Ltd… I presume the people behind this ultimatum will now want to form their own organisation and start charging for membership so they can pay themselves for their own work, just as they propose in the ultimatum. And in order to do that they’ll capture as many Free Fringe venues as they can. If I consider it worthwhile, I may decide to continue the Free Fringe with the venues that are left to us.  But I do not have to… I’ll carry on if there’s support for the real principles of the Free Fringe. Venues may be difficult, as I already said they would be.  If there is insufficient support, then I shall wind the Company up.

On Tuesday this week, unknown to me, Ian Fox – author of the book How To Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show – asked on the Facebook Comedy Forum:

What was the outcome of all the disagreement that John Fleming was writing about in October?

Peter Buckley Hill replied:

The important thing is that the Free Fringe has been accepting applications since November 1st and is going ahead at full strength, as if anybody would seriously doubt that, especially after the success of 2013. The ethos and conditions have not changed in principle.

and staunch Free Fringe supporter Kate Smurthwaite replied:

I don’t think there was an outcome. I don’t even know if anyone’s actually left (though of course many people leave and join the Free Fringe every year). And I’d hardly call it a disagreement. Free Fringe members are welcome to come and go and express opinions as they like. I don’t know why anyone bothers to write about it.

The Free Festival (not to be confused with the Freestival) broke away from the Free Fringe

The Laughing Horse Free Festival (not to be confused with the new Freestival) broke away from the original PBH Free Fringe

As of yesterday, though, the non-disagreement appears to have given birth to yet another free show operation currently possibly called the Freestival (not to be confused with the FreeFestival).

A single page website headed Project Free has appeared, following an e-mail yesterday which was not sent to me but which I have seen. It said:

You may have heard that there has been a problem within the ranks of PBH’s Free Fringe. It is true and we have been forced to start a new organisation and we would like you to be a part of it.

Briefly, PBH’s executive board, of which I was a member, collectively wrote a private email to him suggesting changes to improve the organisation. His response was to go public and call us all cunts and black list us. The Free Fringe is a collective where everyone is expected to chip in. In reality, it has been like a building site where there are 20 people standing around drinking tea watching one guy with a shovel. We are the people with the shovels. Our group includes the man who gets all the venues, the fund raisers, the brochure designer, the venue programmers etc. 

Having been forced out of the organisation we loved we decided to start a new one. We would like you to join us. We have most of the best central venues on Cowgate, Nidry St, Blair St and will have the Tron Kirk, the big church at the corner of the Royal Mile and North/South Bridge, as our main hub.

When I saw this e-mail, I asked Peter Buckley Hill if he would like to comment in a response which would be unedited by me.

He replied:

There can be no “rival Free Fringe organisation”; the name Free Fringe belongs to The Free Fringe Ltd.  Whatever any other organisations may wish to call themselves, they are not The Free Fringe.

Someone loyal to (but not a spokesperson for) the PBH Free Fringe (and NB not PBH himself) suggested to me that the breakaway group from the Free Fringe did not actually have agreement to use the venues.

The new Freestival or Project Free’s ‘Mission Statement’ includes these words:

The possible

New breakaway group’s ‘Mission Statement’

We operate an open door policy to all groups and performers. We are happy to have our performers appearing on other Fringe platforms… A non-refundable show registration fee of approximately £80 may be necessary, depending on sponsorship, to pay for equipment and professional services, such as advertising and marketing. Shows will be free to enter using a bucket and/or Paypal for donations with other possible advanced paid reservation options still under review…

Sponsorship and support from local companies will pay for a quality brochure print which is distributed to every house in Edinburgh and handed out at train stations and bus stations during the fringe. Acts will be able to advertise their own shows in the brochure. A dedicated communications officer and an efficiently managed, regularly updated social media presence will both be on hand to publicise your shows and further the brand. The brand will be extensively marketed around Edinburgh and in the press before and during the Festival. We are also investigating potential partnerships with external PR companies to get performers discounts on PR management and production.

The Festival Fringe is not part of the Edinburgh International Festival

Festival Fringe – not part of Edinburgh International Festival

Some of this seems a little ambitious for a free shows promoter but it does seem likely there will now be four organisations offering free shows at the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe.

This morning, I woke up to a message from PBH – sent at 3.43am – saying:

Thank you for bringing this to my attention. We have responded to our members and applicants via our Facebook page.

This message was posted on the Free Fringe’s Facebook page overnight:

The Free Fringe, popularly known as PBH’s Free Fringe, remains the largest single entity at The Edinburgh Fringe and has so far had over 200 applications from performers for 2014. We have already secured our key venues for next year, including – despite what their email states – the Tron Kirk. Our committee and programming team are looking forward to 2014 and we are looking forward to some brilliant new venues, and performers joining

As should be expected with an organisation of our size, there are those within it who think it should be run differently. They are welcome to that view, and no-one has been barred from the organisation following the ultimatum sent to us by the breakaway group, despite what they claim. If people wish to leave and start their own organisation that again is not a problem, although of course we would expect them to find new venues of their own.

We live in interesting times.

That could either be a good thing, offering more choice to punters keen to see a wide variety of shows – or it could be a Chinese curse on already confused Fringe-goers.

* * * * *

Since posting this blog, someone has asked me if I have any connection with the PBH Free Fringe.

In the past I have staged other people’s shows under the PBH Free Fringe banner. The last was in 2010.

My own annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Shows were initially staged at the Gilded Balloon pay venue but, for the last few years, have been part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

My 2011 chat shows were part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

My 2013 chat shows came under Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe outfit.

As I understand it, under PBH Free Fringe rules, because I have staged shows in the Laughing Horse Free Festival (and will do so again in 2014) I am banned from staging shows at the PBH Free Fringe.

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Big Comedy Conference in London plus a woman in balaclava + cat o’ nine tails

Machete Hettie (left) and Sarah Higgins in a street in Clerkenwell, London last night

Machete Hettie (left) and Sarah Higgins after Big Comedy Conference in London last night

A week ago, I mentioned in a blog that I had got a message from “a starting-out stand-up comedian” whom I did not identify asking if it was worth her while going to the British Comedy Guide’s Big Comedy Conference in London.

I went to the Big Comedy Conference yesterday and, indeed, she had come too. She performed three minutes of material at the end of the day – perhaps rather foolishly using her own name. It is quite some time since I cried with laughter watching a comedian perform. I did watching her.

I say she perhaps rather foolishly used her real name because regular readers of this blog with a taste for the bizarre may remember I blogged about her as Machete Hettie in August this year – She was an unforgettable audience member at comedian Matt Price’s Edinburgh Fringe show. She claimed she came from Leithiopia – her name for the docks area of Leith in Edinburgh.

In my opinion, she should appear on stage under the name ‘Machete Hettie’ because it is more commercial and gives more of a hint of what audiences would be letting themselves in for.

After yesterday’s Big Comedy Conference finished and we had left, she was chatting to me and Matt Price’s agent Sarah Higgins of Mirth Control Comedy. We had both seen her in Edinburgh.

Below is what Machete Hettie said. I have no explanation for parts of what follows and I suspect I do not want to know for my own safety. At the point at which this starts, Machete Hettie was standing in a street in Clerkenwell wearing a black balaclava and holding a whip, both of which she had produced after leaving the Big Comedy Conference building. Don’t ask. Just do not ask.

“You want me to tell people aboot my life of crime,” Machete Hettie was saying. “That’s what you want me to do. But that’ll come later once maybe I get noticed. Then youse’ll hear aboot my life of crime for 17 years. But really I cannae tell you that noo.”

“You’re a shrewd woman” I said. “People will have to pay to go see a show.”

“I dinnae jump aboot wi’ balaclavas for fuck all, John,” she said. “D’ye think I could afford to just come doon here for this just like that? No. Not if it wasn’t for my life of crime, ye know?”

“Why the whip?” I asked.”Or the cat o’ nine tails or whatever it is.”

“The cat o’ nine tails answers a lot o’ questions,” explained Machete Hettie. “That’s for me to know.”

“And why no machete?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I cannae really go aboot wi’ knives and blades an’ that, cos I’ll get myself arrested. So the whip’s fine, but I really did evict my neighbour and I really did choke her to fuck. The whip was better than a blade.”

This was a reference back to part of her three minute routine on stage at the Big Comedy Conference.

“You did what?” I asked. “You choked her?”

Machete Hettie celebrates in a Clerkenwell street last night

Machete Hettie celebrates with whip last night

“I choked her to fuck like a horse, yes,” said Machete Hettie, slowing down and speaking slowly to me as if she were explaining something to a rather dumb school kid:

“I put the whip in her mouth, gagged her with the whip, held her and told the funky monkey junkie fuck that she was evicted cos Machete Hettie’s taking the law into her own hands and I’m no going through any Council situation.

“I told her: That’s it! You’ve got two minutes to get yer goods and chattels together! And she says to us: I don’t know why you’re wearing a balaclava because I recognise you with your tattoos and I said I couldn’t give a fuck if you recognise me. You’re fucking evicted. Ten cats?

“Ten cats?” I asked.

“Ten cats,” repeated Machete Hettie. “My eyes were stinging with the stench o’ cat piss an’ everything. And she says: Well nine cats now. One committed suicide. Threw itself oot of the window. Which it really did – because I thought it was a jacket comin’ oot the window.

“Between me holding anti-social parties doon the stairs and her holding her fucking prostitute parties up the stairs…I mean, she was lucky she got paid £5 for prostituting herself! She had eyes that popped oot like ET. She used to tell people she had cancer to get money. She would shave off half her hair and leave the other half a Mohawk.”

“Is she still in the area?” asked Sarah Higgins.

“No,” said Machete Hettie. “Neither am I, cos I got evicted too. Basically I told the Council, if I didn’t get the fuck oot o’ there, I’d be throwing myself oot the window too, like the cat. By the end of it there were 12 cats which got her arrested for the PDSA. The woman was a fat disaster. She was worse than camel toes and me… And she’s getting £5 for that?”

“Camel toes and you?” I asked.

“Aye,” said Machete Hettie. “Well I’m fat. And fat develops camel toes, John. Maybe if I got more confident, I could tell you more about camel toes than you’ll ever know.”

“She’s a lady,” said Sarah Higgins.

“It’s just a no-go area, you know?” said Machete Hettie. “It’s no a lady garden.”

“Neither of us,” I told her, “are going to argue with you, because you’re too dangerous.”

“I have to be dangerous living in the city I do,” said Machete Hettie. “If I didn’t be dangerous, man, people’d walk all over me.”

“You live in Edinburgh,” I said.

“They’ll take advantage of your nice personality and accuse it of being a weakness,” explained Machete Hettie. “That’s why you have to be tough, right? You have to be fucking tough and nae cunt will mess with you. So I rule the roost. That’s the way it is.

“Now I’m in a new build: a penthouse and all that. Still in Leith, but right beside the boats.”

“By the Royal Yacht Britannia?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied. “That’s exactly where I am. So she’s done me a favour, Rita The Meter – I got the fuck oot of nightmare on Duke Street.”

“You should do an Edinburgh Fringe show,” I told her, “next year or the year after.”

Edinburgh and Machete Hetty - very Trainspotting

Edinburgh and Machete Hettie – both are very Trainspotting

“I done a monologue of my life,” she told me, “in a theatre in Fife, which was very interesting and very Trainspotting. That’s been my life. It’s been very Trainspotting. I’ve got a hard neck to slag Rita. Well, I may have led a Trainspotting life, but at least I’ve got OCD: I didn’t have a minging house like her. Fucking dirtiest toilet in Leith. Ten cats and mice running aboot that wore overcoats.

“There’s hardly any Edinburgh people performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. Do you hear anybody talking about Edinburgh or Leith? I’d want to open up the dark side. I’d tell ‘em what Edinburgh’s all aboot – Shifty characters, watch yer wallet – the whole shebang. “

“And now the police are closing the saunas,” I said. “What is the place coming to?”

“Scotland’s all run by the Glasgow force now,” said Machete Hettie, “which is all corrupt. It used to be Lothian & Borders and Strathclyde Police and all but now they’ve merged them all into the one Scottish Police Force. Now Glasgow rules the whole of Scotland and they’re just fucking corrupt,”

“Why DO you have a balaclava?” I asked.

“They came from my son,” explained Machete Hettie. “He’s Army and he got me a range of colours – pink, orange, glow-in-the-dark, everything. But I like the black one because black goes with anything and it makes you look slim. He gave me the balaclava. The whip I’ve always had, just for daft parties. Never used for any kinky things; just used at parties that lasted from Fridays through to Mondays where you ended up with no eyebrows and a lot of things that stayed within the four walls that you just wouldn’t repeat.

“I play the part of being normal quite well, so they say,” she added

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh, Scotland

Free Fringe in Edinburgh to be ended?

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

Peter Buckley Hill started it all in Edinburgh

Could this have been a last Edinburgh Free Fringe?

It is a current cliché that British comedy is under threat at a grass roots level.

Comedy clubs are closing across the country.

One cause seems to be that (as started happening at the Edinburgh Fringe several years ago) people are spending their money in large amounts on recognisable Big Name acts in bigger venues and not seeing unknown acts in smaller venues.

There are, however, two balancing factors.

One is that – in my opinion –  in the last two years at the Fringe, the most interesting comedy has been in shows not listed in the Comedy section of the programme but in the Cabaret section. Or shows listed in the Comedy section but which are not straight stand-up shows.

Possibly more about this in tomorrow’s blog.

The other interesting factor is the rise of ‘free’ shows which are, in effect, indoor busking: you do not pay in advance; you pay whatever you want (or nothing) having seen the show.

The Free Fringe was started in Edinburgh by Peter Buckley Hill and spawned the Free Festival (which, depending on your viewpoint, is either a competitor of or complementary to the Free Fringe)… Then, this year, Bob Slayer’s ‘Pay What You Want’ shows started within the Free Festival. These followed the same ‘pay-on-exit’ model, but also allowed you to buy tickets in advance which guarantee a seat. I understand other promoters are looking at using the same model at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

Peter Buckley Hill’s ‘free’ model has also spread to London and elsewhere.

Lewis Schaffer has been performing regular twice-a-week (sometimes even more) comedy shows in London since 2009 and has, this year, also been performing a successful weekly ‘pay’ show in London. – well, it keeps getting extended, so it must be successful although Lewis Schaffer eschews success. He has also successfully toured his Free Until Famous show around several English arts centres as a free-to-enter show. And, last night, I went to Nelly Scott/Zuma Puma’s weekly Lost Cabaret club in Stockwell, which is one of several venues running the free model.

Again, possibly more about this in tomorrow’s blog.

This week, though, there has been some trouble in paradise and aggro in the ‘free comedy’ movement.

Five of the PBH Free Fringe’s regular performers wrote a letter to PBH – Peter Buckley Hill – saying, among other things:

We wanted to express our increasing concern about the workload that an expanding free fringe is placing on your shoulders.  Many times you have expressed the desire to step aside and allow the team to take over more responsibility leaving you more time to perform and enjoy the fringe.  Plus, it is no longer feasible to continue without a contingency plan in place should you for any reason be unable to take your customary leading role in the Fringe. Crucially, so much knowledge and information resides with you alone that a failure to disseminate this more widely and plan for your potential absence would in all likelihood lead to the whole organisation fragmenting.

Peter Buckley Hill’s reaction in an open letter (well, e-mail) to Free Fringe participants was:

I am not going to be pushed aside to become a figurehead.  There will be no committee except of people who have proven themselves by undertaking a major responsibility and seeing it through to the end, such as the section Artistic Directors.  There was a proto-committee in 2012/13.  It collapsed and I had to pick up the work myself.  You don’t get to set policy until you have proved your worthiness by doing a job.

Rather than have people trying to take over and change the principles, I will cancel the whole event and wind up the Free Fringe Ltd.  Anybody attempting to start their own organisation will do so from scratch, with their own money, as I had to all those years ago.  You can’t use my name or initials without my consent. The logo belongs to The Free Fringe Ltd, as does all the PA and all the money in the bank.

I presume the people behind this ultimatum will now want to form their own organisation and start charging for membership so they can pay themselves for their own work, just as they propose in the ultimatum.  And in order to do that they’ll capture as many Free Fringe venues as they can.

If I consider it worthwhile, I may decide to continue the Free Fringe with the venues that are left to us.  But I do not have to.  I have put in more money, time and stress than the signatories of this ultimatum can imagine. They’ve never organised the Free Fringe and don’t know the details, and yet they already think they can do it better.  I’ll carry on if there’s support for the real principles of the Free Fringe. Venues may be difficult, as I already said they would be.  If there is insufficient support, then I shall wind the Company up.

I have written a brief paper detailing the things that must not happen to the Free Fringe, and attach it.  If any of these things happen, they would change the whole principle of the Free Fringe. Therefore they will not, no matter how many people think otherwise.

Some things about the Free Fringe ethos are negotiable; some are not.

What are the things that must not happen?

– No payments to venues

– No sponsorship

– No charges to performers

– No performers to be paid for the services they give to the Free Fringe

– No performer to be a customer and demand rights in that capacity

– All performers to contribute to the collective according to their abilities.

This list is not exhaustive. It merely represents the difference between slight negotiable changes and fundamental changes. The Free Fringe may evolve, but if it violates these principles it might as well die.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, UK

Yesterday in Edinburgh, the post-Fringe world was getting increasingly odder with nudity, hedgehogs & flying saucers

Bob’s Bookshop Bar - a penis bottle opener, a bottle of gin & a fridge

Bob’s Bookshop has a basic minimalist Bar – a penis bottle opener, a bottle of gin & a fridge

Last night at what was the Edinburgh Fringe and is now just Edinburgh, Stompie the Half-Naked Chef played his last show at Bob’s Bookshop.

It was, for him, a normal show.

The room (a former shop) was full, so I sat outside on the cobbled street where venue runner Bob Slayer had thoughtfully placed three chairs for just such an eventuality – and because Stompie had always intended to perform his show both inside and outside the venue at the same time.

As always, Stompie – naked except for a kitchen apron and a pair of underpants (occasionally removed) – tended to run out onto the pavement to accost passers-by or into the middle of the street to stop passing cars, hail a cab or, on one occasion, to give a melon to a bemused and smiling middle-aged lady driver who appeared to speak no English.

I can only imagine she thought it was a local custom like men wearing kilts or people blowing bagpipes where the mouth movements bear no relation to the sounds being emitted.

The show occasionally strayed into the street

Car drivers were waved down by a half-naked man on cobbles

I was joined after a time by a passing lady who sat down. We watched couples and groups of mostly very respectable, ordinary (in a good way) people pass by, as the Festival Theatre round the corner had just finished its performance.

They – and other passing pedestrians who just looked in the window – and the accosted car drivers and taxi drivers who stopped because a mad-looking man was standing in the road in front of them – took in their stride the sight of a semi-naked man occasionally waving a cucumber at them.

A foreign lady driver accepted a melon of friendship

A foreign lady driver amiably accepted a melon of friendship

“Only in Edinburgh,” I said to the lady sitting beside me. “If this happened in Nottingham or Plymouth or London or Cardiff, people would be calling the police or running away.”

“I think I have seen too many shows,” the lady said to me. “It’s starting to seem normal. It has been a mad night.”

It turned out she, too, had been to the Festival Theatre show.

“What was it called?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she told me. “It was mad and wonderful and involved men and donkeys.”

Don Quixote?” I asked.

“It must have been,” she replied. “There were windmills.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

Artist Gay Halley watched the show from the street

Artist Gay Halley sat watching from the street

“My name is Gay,” she replied. “I always say that, rather than say I’m Gay. It avoids misunderstandings.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Just south of Aberdeen,” she replied.

“Stonehaven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, surprised.

“I was partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I said. “We lived in Mastrick, a council estate on a hill. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds in the morning wearing her overcoat.”

Perfectly true. These were days of linoleum and coal fires, before fitted carpets and central heating.

“Where do you live?” she asked me.

“Borehamwood,” I replied.

“You’re joking,” she said. “My sister lives in Borehamwood.”

The lady sitting next to me on the cobbles turned out to be artist Gay Halley and she had just had a picture hung (and sold) at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

After the show, in Bob’s Bookshop, I asked Stompie/Richard Stamp, the Half-Naked Chef what he was doing next.

“I have an Arts Council grant to build a flying saucer,” he told me truthfully.

stompie_cut

He has a grant to build a flying saucer but not to buy clothes

He is also going to London’s Wonderground, to perform with Miss Behave whose broken heel has now partially mended, though she is still performing on crutches.

If you have no idea what this is about, the only solution is to read my blogs regularly.

After that, I went back to my rented flat where two e-mails were waiting for me.

The first was from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It commented on my blog of yesterday:

“You can find the odd hedgehog wandering the streets of Plashet Grove,” it said.

It did not define the exact meaning of the word ‘odd’.

Along the mean streets of Plashet Grove a hedgehog must go

Along these mean streets of Plashet Grove walked a hedgehog

Plashet Grove is in the East End of London, in the Upton Park/East Ham area.

“I once found a hedgehog there,” continued Anna. “Just once. I was with a comedian, very late at night. We almost released it into the custody of the local parkies, but they suggested we bake it in clay so we fled and set it free on Wanstead Flats (a nearby open area). It was odd, finding a hedgehog in Plashet Grove.”

Odd was the word last night.

The second e-mail waiting for me was from comedy critic Kate Copstick, who returned to London from Edinburgh at the beginning of this week.

In my blog yesterday, I mentioned that, now the Fringe was over, the paper strips stuck on posters giving review quotes and showing the 4 or 5 star reviews are coming unstuck in the wind.

Copstick told me that, when she was leaving Edinburgh, she had bumped into a well-known comedian at Waverley station. She wrote:

There is nothing as worthless as yesterday’s stars

Edinburgh: fading and sometimes unwanted review stars

“He had told both his venue and his PRs (at a major management company) that he did not want any strips of stars to be stuck on his posters. NONE. AT ALL. He saw some of his posters in Bristo Square with a Broadway Baby and another star strip stuck across them, so he called his PR people.

“They said they had not put any strips of stars up as per his instructions. So he called up the venue PR. They said the same and told him (which he has had confirmed) that it is the publications THEMSELVES who go around and put their own strips of stars up on posters sometimes!!… If the acts’ PRs do not stick the stars up, then Broadway Baby does!”

Copstick and I both found this odd.

But, to me, even stranger was the fact that the act did not want to have his stars and review quotes publicised on his posters.

Either I am or the world is getting increasingly odd. Perhaps both.

_________

P.S. The folks at Broadway Baby tell me: “Broadway Baby does NOT stick up flashes or stars on posters… Bizarre indeed. As if any publication would have the time, resources or inclination to stick pull quotes on posters.”

Yup. That’s the word for this story.

Bizarre.

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Filed under Comedy, Edinburgh, Humor, Humour