Tag Archives: Groucho Club

A daily club for comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe in August this year

Yesterday’s quickly-made logo

Yesterday’s quickly-cobbled-together maybe temporary logo

Next Thursday, the Edinburgh Fringe Programme is published.

I have talked to several people in the last few months who said they are not going to list their shows in the Programme this year (largely because of the cost). I have told them they are barking mad.

If you stage a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, it HAS to be in the Programme to get noticed amidst the hundreds of other shows and thousands of other performers.

So imagine my surprise, dear reader, when – yesterday – I arranged to put on a daily show at the Fringe which will NOT be listed in the published Programme.

Back in July 2011, I blogged about the vague idea of setting up a club for comedians at the Edinburgh Fringe catering (as I possibly unwisely phrased it) “not for the VIP top-of-the-billers but for the ordinary riff-raff of comedy”.

Although I did not name him in the blog, I had talked with New York promoter Calvin Wynter about setting up this club and calling it The Gaucho Club or The Grouchy Club – a club for ordinary scum whom London’s Groucho Club would never want to have as members.

It came to nothing because there seemed to be too much work involved in setting it up and running it throughout the Fringe.

But, at the weekend just past, Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival had some shows fall through, so some spots became available.

Last year, I hosted five chat shows at the Fringe and I had thought of doing another week of chat shows this year but with no guests as such. The guests – the ‘stars’ – would be the audience.

I strongly believe that, if you go up at random to any person in any bus queue anywhere in the country and start talking to them, they will have the most extraordinarily fascinating tales of things which have happened to them.

Everyone is interesting.

So I thought of having a chat show this year where I simply interviewed the audience.

When the Free Festival said they had some drop-outs, though, I suggested that we could revive the idea of The Grouchy Club – somewhere that comedians could come to drink and gossip. The big venues tend to have their own VIP rooms for performers and press. But there is no general venue where comedians can come in general and bitch about what an awful time they are having at the Fringe.

So, every day, from 2nd to 24th August, at 3.45pm-4.45pm in the Lounge of The Counting House in Edinburgh, doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick and I will host an hour long event called The Grouchy Club.

There is even a quickly-cobbled-together-yesterday one-page website plugging it – www.grouchyclub.co.uk

The pitch is:


Kate Copstick (doyenne of Fringe comedy critics) and blogger John Fleming (“The Boswell of the Alternative Comedy scene” – Chortle) host an hour-long chatty club to which all Fringe comedians are invited with any and all bitchy, bizarre and odd anecdotes about the Fringe.

The object is to get even the shortest of publicity mentions in either Copstick’s iconic Sunday newspaper column or John’s increasingly-prestigious daily blog. If members of the public come along with Fringe stories too, fine. Everyone is a star if they have a good story.

Basically, it’s a true storytellers’ schmoozathon with comedians trying to out-do each other to publicise themselves and their shows.

We would have called it The Harpo Club, except no-one would have spoken.

It is The Grouchy Club – you don’t have to be a member to join.


Whether anyone will come along, I do not know. It is the Edinburgh Fringe. Who knows anything about anything?

But it will be a place where performers – mostly comedians, I guess – can come along in a desperate bid to get noticed by Copstick or to get mentioned in my increasingly prestigious daily blog. They can chat, bitch, self-publicise to their hearts’ content and – staying this side of libel – anything they say may be quoted. It is part one-hour social, part schmooze, part (I suspect) one-hour piss-up.

If random members of the public come along, we may revert to my original idea of a chat show in which the audience are the stars.

If no-one at all comes along, then I know Copstick is capable of bitching to me in an entertaining way for a full hour every day for 23 days.

As I mentioned, I have told several people in the last few months that they are barking mad if they stage an event at the Edinburgh Fringe without putting it in the Programme.

We will see if I was right.

The moral, of course, is:

ALWAYS TAKE MY EXCELLENT ADVICE – AND DO WHAT I TELL YOU TO DO, NOT WHAT I DO.

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Charlie Chuck, comic and cook + Janey Godley, comic and football manager

Charlie Chuck in Leicester last night

Yesterday, I drove up with a friend to see the first of Charlie Chuck’s two shows at the Leicester Comedy Festival. The Looking Glass venue was a bit like the Black Hole of Calcutta with laughs. The venue was filled to the brim.

Charlie Chuck is one of those comedians with a fan base that just goes on and on. I think it is because his first TV fame with James Whale and Reeves & Mortimer was among impoverished students who have grown up and now have the money to go out and see him live on stage.

Before he set off for the show, he cooked us one of his speciality spaghetti Bologneses. After the show, my friend and I scoured late night shops for a doughnut, a cream bun and a sliceable cake to share with him. Eventually, we got a cake and doughnuts filled with custard. Close enough.

He should be in the Celebrity Big Brother house. He can cook, he can hit annoying twats with his plank of wood and he could nurture ducks in the jacuzzi.

By the time I got home to Borehamwood, it was almost 4.00 am – just enough time to sleep, get up and listen to Janey Godley on Al Murray’s BBC Radio 5 Live show 7 Day Sunday where he introduced her as a “stand-up comedy actress and Groucho Club barfly”. Hardly a barfly, as she does not drink. They talked, among other things, about who should be the new England football manager.

Not mentioned on the programme was that, back in November 2009, when Scotland was looking for a manager and the press were semi-seriously touting Sean Connery for the post, Janey phoned up the Scottish Football Association and applied for the job

According to her blog at the time, she told them that she scored over Sean Connery “because I actually live in Scotland”. But her main qualifications, she argued to Scottish FA boss Gordon Smith, were that “I can order men about, I can actually play football and I am great at strategy – What’s not to like?”

“Do you have a valid coaching licence?” Gordon Smith asked her.

“No, but I do know ’Hologram’ Tam and he is the world’s best forger and he can get me one,” she told him.

The much-admired ‘Hologram’ Tam (I have a T-shirt) used to produce Janey’s Edinburgh Fringe posters before he was caught red-handed in his small Glasgow printshop which reportedly “had the ability to churn out £1 billion a year in fake cash”

Sadly, Janey’s football managing ambitions were dashed to much the same extent as ‘Hologram’ Tam’s hopes of grabbing as much money as the UK’s top bankers.

Ironically, Tam got a six year prison sentence for making money; but top bankers now get bonuses for losing money; and, with ‘quantitive easing’, the Bank of England is now in the business of printing funny money.

The Scottish FA accepted Janey’s application but foolishly never called her for interview.

I feel it was their loss.

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Give me The Daily Mail not the cultural snobbery of The Guardian and The Independent

I was at the Tate Britain art gallery this afternoon, which is obviously replacing the Groucho Club as the in-place to meet media types. On the steps outside, a BBC News crew was interviewing someone. Inside, a film crew was shooting footage for some Channel 4 arts programme. And, when my friend and I were looking at a Damien Hirst painting of spots, we got asked our opinions on modern art in general and Damien Hirst in particular by a reporter for the Mail on Sunday.

He told me that, usually, he had to apologise for being a Mail reporter which doesn’t surprise me as the very name Daily Mail is like a blue rag to a left wing bull.

And why?

Perverse, pseudo-intellectual liberal airheads with superiority complexes, that’s why.

It’s not reverse snobbery.

It’s simple, straight, uncomplicated and very nasty snobbery.

In January this year, the Daily Mail’s average net daily circulation was 2,136,568.

The Guardian’s circulation in the same period was 279,308.

The Independent’s was 185,035.

The Mail on Sunday’s average circulation? – 1,958,083.

The Observer? – 314,164.

The Independent on Sunday? – 152,561

So why deride the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday?

Because ordinary people read them. People who did not go to Oxbridge and do not live in Islington. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers look down on. The sort of ordinary people the Oxbridge Islington wankers make increasingly crass TV shows for. They wouldn’t be caught dead watching the TV programmes they make because they think they are better than that.

And the ratings are falling for these entertainment shows.

Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor are made by people who understand popular culture. Increasingly, though, TV entertainment shows are made by people who don’t; they are made by people with superiority complexes and a contempt for their audiences.

They are made by people who look down on Daily Mail readers as mental and cultural inferiors.

But who is out of step with reality? Who is out of step with what the majority of people in this country think?

From the circulation figures, people who write for and read the Guardian and the Independent.

(More on this topic HERE.)

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Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London

It was 22nd December 1998 and the comedian Malcolm Hardee (who drowned in 2005) was still living with his wife Jane. The record label Beggar’s Banquet were just about to release a CD single by his stepson’s rock group The Llama Farmers. It was two years before the turn of the century, with the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Dome) still a new structure. This is an extract from my diary…

***

I spent the afternoon with Malcolm, who has developed a habit of making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva.

At the end of Malcolm’s road, a house-owner has put a new tiled name on their house: Dome Vista.

“But all you can see from the back windows of his house,” Malcolm told me, “is the bloody great flyover from the Blackwall Tunnel standing at the end of his garden. You can’t see the Millennium Dome. Fucking Dome Vista!”

I had been going to take Malcolm out to lunch but, on the way, as is often the case, he had “a better idea” and we went to the warehouse office of the three brothers who co-own Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club to pick up Malcolm’s weekly cheque. Two of the brothers plus wives and five or six staff were having a Christmas buffet meal with lots of seafood and champagne. On the walls of the room in which we sat were drawings of various property developments, including a new Greenwich shopping centre: they already own two existing Greenwich markets.

“He used to live in a mansion next to Rod Stewart in Hollywood,” Malcolm had told me about one of the brothers. When Malcolm tells you a wildly unlikely story, it usually turns out to be true. The more unbelievable the facts, the more likely they are to be true.

“That’s a bit severe,” this brother said of Malcolm’s ultra-close-cropped hair.

“Just had it cut,” Malcolm explained.

“Malcolm,” another brother explained to me, “only has his cut his hair every six months. He lets it grow over six months, so he only pays for a haircut twice a year.”

“No I don’t,” said Malcolm aggrieved and blinking. “I set it on fire at Beggar’s Banquet, in the offices.”

“Why was that?”

Malcolm thought briefly, shrugged and ignored the question. The truth is that he occasionally sets his hair on fire just to have an effect. He set fire to two cinemas in his youth. There has been a lot of arson around in his life.

“It doesn’t catch fire easily but it doesn’t cause any pain,” he mumbled defensively, by way of an explanation about his hair.

“What did Beggar’s Banquet say?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged and blinked.

“You should make a record like Keith Allen,” I suggested. “You’d get lots of money. Form a group called The Old Lags.”

“I don’t hang round the Groucho Club enough,” he mumbled.

Malcolm recently came back from Australia, where he met his friend Wizo. “Typical,” Malcolm told the brothers, wives and staff over champagne and seafood, “Wizo lost his job the day I arrived and I had to pay for everything. He’d been selling advertising space in the Melbourne Age newspaper. They told him he had to wear a suit, but he got bored and came in one morning wearing a chef’s outfit. They weren’t happy. The good thing about Australia, though, Wizo told me, is that you can be poor quite comfortably.”

Malcolm’s brother, formerly a comedy promoter in Manchester, is now working in Wizo’s old London job – for music mogul Miles Copeland.

“My brother’s throwing a Christmas party for friends and relations,” Malcolm told us. “He tried to charge his guests £70-a-head to come but no-one’s agreed yet, so he’s probably going to invite them for free but have a whip-round for a new washing machine while they’re there.”

The brothers, their wives and staff looked impressed.

After the meal, we drove off to a bank where Malcolm deposited his cheque from the brothers and various other cheques including one for £29 from BBC TV to cover sales to Croatia of a Blackadder episode he appeared in. He was much impressed by the sale to Croatia. He banked about £900 then withdrew £700 and went to a betting shop, allegedly to check if ‘his’ greyhound was running at Catford. Instead, after realising a dog called ‘Oi Oi’ (Malcolm’s catchphrase) had won the previous race and he’d missed it, he bet £50 on a dog at random in the next race… and it won!

“I always win bets on dogs at Christmas,” he told me. “The rest of the year, I lose everything, but I always win just coming up to Christmas.” Then he added unexpectedly: “I part-own a greyhound.”

“You do?” I asked dubiously.

“It’s handled by a bloke who got ‘done’ in the 1970s for greyhound ‘ringing’. He got arrested after he had a very good black dog and disguised it by dying it brown. But, as luck would have it, when the dogs paraded round before the Off, it started to rain and the dye came out.”

This sounded like an urban myth to me.

“Ricky Grover,” I said, “told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Malcolm, never to be out-anecdoted, “I was once in prison with a bloke nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. His job was to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the country and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track;. The dogs stopped racing, went crazy and tore it apart. His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he’d thrown the teddy bear.”

After picking up answerphone messages at Up The Creek, collecting mail from a new tenant in his old house in Glenluce Road, attempting to buy his own £7.99 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in a Greenwich remainder shop for £1 (they had sold out), visiting the kitsch Emporium shop which sells lava lamps and 1960s memorabilia and buying a Christmas tree from a dodgy-looking man in a car park, we went back to Malcolm’s current home in Fingal Street via Jools Holland’s railway station (to see the top of the mini castle tower he has built) and up a suburban back street to drive past Shangri-La – a corner house the outside of which the owner has decorated.

On the side wall of the house, there are embossed metal horses heads and three large garage doors.

“The anvil’s gone,” Malcolm told me, slightly peeved.

“Has he got three cars?” I asked.

“No, he’s got green astroturf behind them,” Malcolm replied as if that explained it all.

“It’s a strange world,” I said.

“Nah,” said Malcolm, making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva. “This is South East London.”

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