Tag Archives: Gill Smith

Edinburgh Fringe Day 6: A terrifying smile and a lack of terrorism security

Yesterday’s blog ended with a mention of believable and unbelievable anecdotes.

Alexander Bennett’s bloody battle to perform

This morning, I had a long conversation with comedian Alexander Bennett – to whom all hail – in which we discussed the idea of simply making up some bizarre – completely false – event which allegedly happened during his Terrifying Smile show today… simply to promote the fact that he is performing at 2.00pm in the Dragonfly venue.

He, like Becky Fury, has been hit by the Curse of Cowgatehead, having previously been booked into the Opium venue, then Cowgatehead (re-named Bar Bados this year presumably to mask the Curse of Cowgatehead) and finally having to leave the Free Fringe venues altogether with no Fringe Programme listing and eventually, happily, ending up in the Heroes of Fringe Dragonfly venue.

We discussed making up a completely false event – well, OK, I tried to foist the idea on him – in order to publicise where he was actually now appearing… But how could we tell an untruth to this blog’s readers?

Alexander Bennett freshens his mouth today

Clearly we couldn’t.

A pity, as I was rather looking forward to writing about two members of his audience: one dressed as a dragon; the other dressed as a fly. Such a thing would not necessarily be unbelievable in Edinburgh during the Fringe. I remember years ago seeing the then-unknown Piff The Magic Dragon waiting at a pedestrian crossing on Nicholson Street. No-one gave any attention to a man dressed as a green dragon.

Truth and reality can vary depending on your viewpoint.

For example, in a Scotsman piece I read today, Kate Copstick describes me as “aged but still sentient”.

I would disagree with this very strongly indeed.

I certainly do not feel sentient.

Mike’s Frank Carson: If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry

‘Aged’… fair enough, because I am so old I remember life before the iPhone 6S and things like a Blackpool lunch in the 1980s with stars of Granada’s TV series The Comedians where Frank Carson just never switched off and Bernard Manning (with some justification) seemed to think he was a bit ‘above’ the others. And I remember Saturday mornings on Tiswas with Frank Carson at ATV Birmingham where, again, he was constantly being Frank Carson.

Spike Milligan famously said that the difference between Frank Carson and the M25 was that you could turn off the M25.

In this blog a couple of weeks ago, fellow comic Mike McCabe said: “For someone to go on and on and on like that, there had to be some problem deep down.”

Mike’s current show about Frank Carson If I Didn’t Laugh, I’d Cry, tries to figure out Frank’s mindset and benefits from the fact Mike actually worked with him.

Steve Best amid his photos at the Stills centre this afternoon

I also felt slightly old going to the current exhibition of Steve Best’s photos of comedians at the Stills Centre For Photography in Edinburgh, designed to promote Joker Face, his second book of photos, quotes and quirky facts – featuring over 450 comedians.

And then I bumped into Gill Smith, the inspiraton for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

She is in Edinburgh for a week, reviewing shows for one4review. She was with her daughter Pippa, now aged seven. I think the last time Pippa and I were in the same room together was when she was a bump in her mother’s tummy.

Gill Smith and her 7-year-old daughter Pippa

In 2008 Gill, as a stand-up comic, sent me an email telling me she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, by nominating herself, she could legitimately put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She added that she thought Malcolm would have approved of this.

I had to agree with her and created a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award before she could give herself one. Ooh missus. Since then, of course, all the Malcolm Hardee Awards have become increasingly prestigious.

Today it was confirmed that Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee is coming up to Edinburgh to sing on the final Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on 25th August.

Becky Fury’s Molotov Cocktail Party curse

Which brings us to terrorism and last year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner Becky Fury (her suitably real name).

In the High Street and elsewhere in Edinburgh, giant obstacles have sprouted to deter and prevent  random lorry attacks on the Fringe crowds, but none of the venues seem to make even cursory checks on bags going into shows.

Becky is another victim of the Curse of Cowgatehead and has been thinking of ways to promote the fact she is now in a different venue at a different time (10.00pm in the Black Market) to her billing in the Fringe Programme.

There was her appearance in a London riot the other night.

And she decided today that fire-blowing in the streets or wherever might attract attention. So she bought some paraffin.

..so she bought some paraffin…

It is relevant to point out here that her show is titled Molotov Cocktail Party.

Tonight, she and I went to see the always brilliant Milton Jones perform in the giant main Assembly Hall on The Mound.

In her back pack she had paraffin in a bottle – in essence, a Molotov cocktail. And, low on battery, I had a fairly large re-charger in my inside jacket pocket with a wire to the iPhone in my shirt pocket.

Just as well we were not given any cursory search. Or was it?

I look old and far from sentient with Becky Fury at tonight’s Milton Jones show in the Assembly Hall

 

 

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How do you win an increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award?

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection near Edinburgh

Every August at the Edinburgh Fringe, I give away three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the godfather of British alternative comedy. One of these is a Cunning Stunt Award for the best stunt publicising a Fringe show or act.

And every year, around this time, people ask me for the definition of Cunning.

Well, non-cunning stunts are easy to think up. You can walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh wearing a read nose and handing out flyers.

That is a stunt but is in no way cunning.

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Last year, the Cunning Stunt Award went to comedian Christian Talbot and his 12 year-old daughter Kate.

Cute Kate would wander around the streets outside Christian’s venue looking sad and distraught, go up to strangers and say plaintively: “Have you seen my daddy?”

When they replied in the negative, she would tell them: “Well, you should, because Kate Copstick of The Scotsman says he’s an engaging performer” and give them a flyer.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer – a man not unused to cunning publicity stunts

In 2009 – a year when Perrier stopped sponsoring some other less increasingly prestigious awards – Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release which fooled several publications into printing stories (which they believed) saying he was taking over sponsorship of the awards for £99 and was re-naming them The Lewies. This resulted in a threat of legal action from the awards’ organiser and his agent sacked him. But he did win the Cunning Stunt Award, so it wasn’t all gloom and doom..

The Award started in 2008 when performer Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, if she nominated herself in the email, she could justifiably put on her posters: MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She thought Malcolm would have approved. I agreed and gave her the first Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

One of Malcolm’s own cunning stunts at the Fringe, of course, was the year when he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s own show and put it in a tray at The Scotsman under the name of that august publication’s own reviewer William Cook. The Scotsman printed it, thinking it was a legitimate review.

Bob Slayer & Kate Copstick exchange specs & tongues yesterday

Bob Slayer found another way to influence  Kate Copstick

Another legendary stunt was the year Scotsman critic Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge) gave comedian Jason Wood’s show a 1-star review. He immediately plastered his posters and flyers with the strapline: “A STAR” – THE SCOTSMAN.

These are definitive cunning stunts.

Last year (or it might have been two years ago – I have a shit memory) an act publicised his show by having lots of ginger haired people march through Glasgow.

I got a vitriolic letter later from a PR man berating me for not nominating this for the Cunning Stunt Award because the stunt had got worldwide press and TV coverage.

But it was not in any way a cunning stunt. It was just a stunt – and a little odd as it happened in Glasgow. It was no different to walking up and down the Royal Mile wearing a red nose. There was no con involved.

In 2013, Barry Ferns rightly won the Cunning Stunt Award for a series of stunts including publishing fake editions of Edinburgh Fringe review sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks publicising his own show, but we sort-of gave a second award (which we called the Pound of Flesh Award) to Ellis & Rose.

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising?

Comic Ellis was prepared to do anything for publicity…

Ellis had been beaten-up in the street by a punter angry about the duo’s Jimmy Savile comedy show.

Except it never happened. In fact, Ellis’ comedy partner Rose had repeatedly punched him in the face to give him a bruised cheek and genuine black eye… all to get a few inches of column space publicising themselves and their shows.

Like Lewis Schaffer doing a stunt in 2009 which lost him his agent, this seemed commendably OTT in stunt terms. And definitely cunning.

All this comes to mind because, a couple of weeks ago, Simon Caine invited me to be on his Ask The Industry podcast in the mistaken belief that I am increasingly prestigious in the comedy world and that he might get a Cunning Stunt Award for setting up a podcast solely so he could plug himself to allegedly influential people.

Previous interviewees had included Julian Hall (former comedy reviewer for the Independent and former Malcolm Hardee Awards judge), Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse comedy clubs and Edinburgh Free Festival) and Hils Jago (of the Amused Moose clubs and Comedy Awards).

Simon Caine Podcast

Simon Caine has another cunning idea – interviewing clothes

I told Simon that, if you set up a podcast simply to plug yourself to the people you invite on it, that is a commendable stunt but not a cunning stunt.

It would only be a cunning stunt if you invited people to the podcast recording, spoke to them for an hour and actually there was no podcast.

Sadly, he has scuppered his chances because there is a (very good) ongoing series of podcasts.

He has suggested he can get round this by never uploading the podcast with me or by not uploading it until September – after the Fringe has finished – but I am currently not convinced.

Watch this space.

This year, Ellis & Rose already have a cunning stunt up-and-running. I have told them, if they can keep it going successfully until August without anyone noticing, I will nominate them for a Cunning Stunt Award (provided they actually do use it in August to publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show).

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Untold comedy news: Malcolm Hardee links anarchic multi-national mis-prints

I know it is difficult to believe but, occasionally, interesting things happening which never quite make it into my blog.

Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom

Comic Phil Zimmerman’s hi-tech bedroom deep in suburbia

After about four years of not being available on the date, I managed last night to go along briefly to one of comedian Phil Zimmerman’s legendary annual parties. It was a cross between a mini-Glastonbury Festival and visiting a post-Apocalyptic version of GCHQ or the NSA, with CCTV all over the place.

During one previous year’s event – in 2011 – an irate neighbour started shooting at participants with an air rifle from a nearby window, causing mass panic in the back garden. When the police arrived, officers apparently spent some considerable time crawling around the garden looking for evidence in the form of pellets

This year, at the door of Phil’s ordinary (sic) suburban house in Ealing, one sign said (including mis-spellings):

Phil Zimmerman’s back garden last night

Phil Zimmerman’s back garden last night had screens & music

SMILE YOUR ON TELLY!

If you can see this sign you’ve been caught on camera & broadcast live on the internet as part of the TIME ON ACID street-interaction noise performance. More info; www.timeonacid.com

A second sign said:

You are also now part of the world’s longest music video which will be entered for the Guiness book of records and Wikipedia – you too are part of history!

I first saw Phil Zimmerman perform at the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs in, I guess, the 1990s. Phil used to walk across the stage imitating the way that a pigeon walks – with that odd head-jerking movement. As far as I remember, that was pretty much his entire act. It was very enjoyable. Now he runs a monthly comedy club in Faversham and has a series of strange videos on YouTube, including this one:

I caught up with Phil’s annual party this week. but, during this last week, I have NOT shared several things with you.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith sent me this from Vancouver:

Last night  a woman drove into four policemen who were dining at a window table at the Fatburger restaurant on Denman Street, three blocks from my apartment. I heard the commotion: sirens, traffic being redirected by plainclothes police, police supervisors speeding to the scene, ambulances driving slowly away… It was a good thing Matt Roper or Bob Slayer were not sleeping in the doorway. The police got broken bones… nobody died though.

Anna Smith at Car Crash

Anna Smith at this week’s Canadian car crash in Vancouver

Anna is currently working in a bookstore. So she added:

The CBC TV crews were there at the Fatburger restaurant this morning interviewing the locals. They asked me if I would dare to eat on Denman in the future.  I am writing this on my phone at the bookstore which is very um, no computer, no cash register… the owner told me last week LOOK I have gone high tech… I have Post It notes now !!!

Bob Slayer in Leicester last Friday

Bob Slayer as he likes to be seen – now in Sweden

The aforementioned Bob Slayer was also sending me text messages and e-mails this week. He is performing in Sweden and it is worth remembering that he became a comedian because, he says, he read the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

Here are some of Bob’s messages to me this week (including Swedish mis-spelling):

Tonight in Linköping, I have been billed as SON OF MALCOLM HARDER, THE FAMOUS BALLOON DANCER… by a man who was once The Honey Monster. He should know better.

There is a lady here who was once X-rayed by my mum. Crikey!

Last night’s near death experience involved accidentally cycling onto a Swedish motorway on an old bone shaker of a bike with no lights. Turning back looked fraught so I hopped over the barrier and crossed some wasteland onto another road which unfortunately turned out to be a slip road for a busier bit of motorway flyover. Only one thing for it, push on!

Bob Slayer’s great chocolate find in Sweden

Bob Slayer’s great chocolate find in Sweden

I eventually escaped down an unfinished slip road by climbing down a scaffolding tower (with the bike on my back) into a bus yard. The twenty minutes cycle home became a 2 hour adventure! I’m now in Linköping waiting for more adventures to happen…

I know you like chocolate, so here is the big discovery of my cultural mission to Sweden. (See picture)

Bob Slayer is a past winner of the highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

This week I noticed a new Twitter account in the name of Oliver Moore who bills himself as:

Comedy with a smile. 5 times Malcolm Hardee Award nominee. Yet to win.

As far as I know, Oliver Moore is an entirely fictitious stand-up comedian.

Totally untrue but slightly admirable aspiring comedy bullshit

Totally untrue but slightly admirable aspiring comedy bullshit

So I can only assume this Twitter account is some early-started attempt to win next year’s highly-coveted Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A reminder here that (real) comedian Gill Smith inspired the Cunning Stunt Award when she e-mailed me to say the purpose of her e-mail was to nominate herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, by doing so, she could legitimately put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE because she had nominated herself. She added that she thought the late, great Malcolm would have approved.

I agreed that he would and we decided to give Gill the first Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that, if she did not give her an award, she would only give herself an award anyway but we would not get as much publicity.

Life is strange.

Which is good.

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Filed under Africa, Anarchy, Canada, Comedy, Phil Zimmerman, Sweden, UK

Day One of Malcolm Hardee Week – and only one bit of genital exposure

The first ever Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe has started and yesterday was a strange old day.

For most of the day, things went well.

I saw the funniest show so far at the Fringe – Johnny Sorrow’s The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society, which made me laugh-out-loud – a rare thing (television production experience, luv).

Having lost two helpers who were no longer coming to Edinburgh as planned, I had offers of help from several sources.

Ever-enthusiastic science-comedy star Helen Keen of Radio 4‘s It Is Rocket Science!) may be able to help me Wednesday to Friday, as can my chum Dr Sophia Khan, formerly of NASA and Harvard and assistant professor of Astrophysics at Shanghai University (Helen’s co-star in last year’s Fringe science comedy show Starstruck!)

From Thursday, I will also have Sophia’s chum Dr Andrew Bunker, former Head of Astronomy at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Oz and now Reader in Astrophysics at Oxford University.

With help like this, surely there will be no problem keeping pasta in the air during Wednesday and Thursday’s spaghetti-juggle contests. Indeed, we should surely be able to get the cooked and aerodynamic strands into low Earth orbit.

On Friday, at the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show – really a two-hour anarchic variety show – I have also been offered help by comic Gill Smith who inspired the original Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award with a cracking Fringe publicity stunt in 2008 – she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award and saying that, by doing so, she would be justified in putting Malcolm Hardee Award Nominee on her posters.

OCD is a wonderful thing.

Last night’s first Malcolm Hardee Week event went well: it was allegedly a debate on the proposition that “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish”. I think it went well, anyway. It was due to run from 6.15 to 7.00pm but over-ran by an hour to 8.00pm with no walk-outs when panelist Bob Slayer (whose show followed ours) decided that everyone was enjoying themselves so much, we should just carry on and the continuation of our show would become his hour-long show for the night.

That is what large amounts of drinking can lead to.

As I said, I do not think there were any walk-outs; in fact, of course, the audience swelled.

There was, surprisingly, only one incident of genital exposure during the show – when Paul Provenza did a Malcolm Hardee impression – and there were some interesting, if unprintable stories told in the over-run.

Scotsman critic and ITV Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick told a story I can’t possibly repeat about the origin of the Mrs Merton character – and a story about one promoter’s reaction to Kunt and the Gang’s current ‘Cockgate’ stunt at the Edinburgh Fringe, which was more Godfather anecdote than comedy story.

And comedienne Janey Godley told a true tale about Jerry Sadowitz performing in her pub in the East End of Glasgow to an audience which included real-life (now dead) Glasgow godfather Arthur Thompson. The largely-English audience I think missed a detail about Arthur Thompson which Janey mentioned in passing and which I do not think is generally known. Though true, I am most certainly not going to repeat it.

Thompson died in 1993, but I think waking up to a severed horse’s head might still be a possibility.

So yesterday – apart from the distant possibilities of horses’ heads and crucifixion on a wooden tenement floor – was good.

With Miss Behave now very sadly unable to compere Friday night’s two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at The Counting House because of her meningitis, Scott Capurro and New Comedy Act of the Year 2011 winner David Mills have stepped in to the breach by agreeing to be co-comperes. Scott even cancelled a party on Friday night so he could do the gig.

He told me that, after the first gig he played for Malcolm Hardee, as an American new to the London circuit, he was given his money in a brown envelope. When he got home, he found there was £20 less in the envelope than Malcolm had promised.

“Well, of course there was,” his comedian friends told him. “It’s Malcolm.”

It is extraordinary but true that Malcolm was always – and remains – held in such high esteem by his fellow comedians.

How often was the sentence uttered, “Well, it’s just Malcolm being Malcolm, isn’t it…” ?

But the one bad bit of news yesterday late afternoon was that Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison cannot be on the panel of tonight’s 6.15pm Malcolm Hardee comedy debate at The Hive – allegedly on the proposition “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – because Ian has injured his back in Glasgow and cannot get to Edinburgh.

So, at the moment, the panel are Viz magazine creator Simon Donald, BBC TV One Show presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli and Laughing Cows‘ international compere Maureen Younger plus A.N.Other.

It was a bit of a downer when I heard that Ian cannot join us.

But yesterday ended well when I was told that the wonderful Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds has had a son called Oscar… the first Malcolm Hardee Award winner to have an Oscar…

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You meet the most extraordinary people at the Edinburgh Fringe

Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.

Do I look Jewish?

American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.

He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”

Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”

Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”

Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.

“No. Sorry,” I replied.

Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.

“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”

“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”

“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”

The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.

“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.

“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”

“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.

“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.

The leaflet said:

Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!

All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.

I was tempted to convert.

There was a Jewish thread running through the day.

A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.

That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…

We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.

What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.

I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.

“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”

You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.

I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.

I will re-phrase that.

I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.

He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.

Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former  professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!

One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.

Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.

After that, Charlie Chuck and I we were off to the Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party at the Counting House, future scene of the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on 26th August.

Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.

The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.

But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.

The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.

Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.

The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.

The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.

The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.

I felt very much like the lens.

It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.

Then my phone rang.

It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.

“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.

“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”

Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.

The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.

Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”

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A stand-up comic struck down with amusia before the Edinburgh Fringe

As anyone wise enough to read this blog regularly will know, I love the very funny US TV detective series Monk which has a central character with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. So I am now a sucker for any OCD stories.

Which brings me to British stand-up comedian and writer Gill Smith, who (as I explained in recent a blog) inspired the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award – now there’s something for her to put on her gravestone.

Last week, she asked me to wantonly plug her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show in this blog.

I am a man of principle. It is not something I would normally do except for wads of used £50 notes or, at the very least, a free meal. But, perhaps foolishly lured by the carrot of OCD, I told her:

“I will give you a blatant plug if you give me a quirky anecdote.”

So…

The lovely Gill Smith is returning to the Fringe this year with her new show OCD: the Singing Obsessive – at The Three Sisters as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. The hour-long show is 6:05pm from 4th to 28th August daily… except every Tuesday.

Only someone with OCD, of course, could even conceive of performing a full run of Edinburgh Fringe shows daily – but not do them every Tuesday.

That was not the quirky detail Gill told me, though – she probably doesn’t even think that IS quirky…

The billing for her show reads: “For years Gill Smith resisted her biggest obsession – breaking into song… Now she’s accepted her own obsessive toe-tapping and is sharing her inner soundtrack.”

There proved to be a slight problem about this concept, though, which she discovered in her pre-production preparations.

“In the course of planning the show,” Gill tells me, “I discovered that I can’t actually sing! Of course, I’ll be doing so anyway. But my singing tutor and I found that I do actually suffer from a little-known condition called ‘amusia‘, which is the musical equivalent of dyslexia… It doesn’t stop me enjoying singing… but I can’t promise others, especially those with good pitch, will find it as enjoyable!”

When Gill told me that her condition is actually called ‘amusia’ I began to think she was taking the piss – she is, after all, an esteemed former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner.

But, no, it’s all true, She actually does have this condition and, incredibly, it is actually called ‘amusia’ – surely that name must be like striking gold for a comedian.

“The even better word for the condition,” say Gill, “is the Japanese one – ‘onchi’ – which translates most closely as ‘tone idiot’… I love it!”

I disagree.

Amusia.

Who would have thought?

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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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