Tag Archives: Ian Fox

John’s Weekly Diary 21 – Bureaucracy, the NHS, a cough, a death, a long walk

… SORT-OF CONTINUED FROM DIARY No 20 …

I have been posting a diary supposedly about life in Britain during the coronavirus pandemic – focussing on the everyday amid the historic.

But it took a sidetrack when, instead of COVID-19, I developed some unknown kidney infection or damage or/and calcium imbalance and/or… well… something. No-one has yet found out what is wrong.

So this strand of the blog will now become a more general diary until I get bored with it or it meanders even more pointlessly than normal like a dildo lost in a jellyfish.


A typical 1888 cough syrup (courtesy of Stephen O’Donnell)

SUNDAY 14th JUNE

I had a bad, hacking cough: probably nothing to do with coronavirus.

I took a Tyrozet tablet.

Stephen O’Donnell in Glasgow reminded me of the type of cough linctus they had in 1888 with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia “skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”.

Presumably, if that didn’t cure your cough, at least you would be unaware you had one.

Forget the telephone consultation – It’s a face-to-face meet…

MONDAY 15th JUNE

As is now normal, overnight I woke up about six or eight times – basically, at least once every hour – with my throat parched dry, desperate to drink water.

When I left hospital just over a fortnight ago, the Kidney Man told me he would treat me as an outpatient. Then, a week later, I got a letter saying it would be a face-to-face consultation at the local hospital.

Forget the face-to-face consultation – It’s on the phone…

Then, another week later, I got a text saying that, because of the COVID-19 virus, they were changing the face-to-face appointment to a telephone consultation. I joked to a couple of people that, as the NHS is a vast bureaucracy and all vast bureaucracies are a mess, they were bound to phone me up today and ask why I was not at the hospital.

Today, after over an hour waiting for the call, I phoned to check that all was OK.

The appointments people told me: “He’s not actually ringing absolutely everybody. Some patients he’s looking up on the system and, unless he feels he absolutely has to speak to them, what he’s doing is dictating a clinic letter which will go to your GP and you will get a copy as well… It’s a little bit of a grey area.”

Fair enough.

About half an hour later, the Kidney Man phoned up because he had been expecting me to go in for a face-to-face consultation and wondered why I hadn’t turned up.

Fair enough.

He told me that the Petscan I had about two weeks ago showed nothing abnormal and they still didn’t know what was wrong with my kidneys. So a blood test would be arranged and I definitely had to come in for that, even if I got a letter or text saying I should not.

After that, I went out (perfectly legally) to South London to see my Eternally Un-Named Friend. It was the first day when face masks HAD to be worn on public transport in England. So I wore a face mask on the mostly empty trains.

We walked along the River Thames from Greenwich to the O2 Millennium Dome – a long walk on what (I had forgotten to check) was a Very High Pollen day. I felt hot and sweaty and slightly light-headed and, for my feet, the walk became a plod.

Nothing to do with the pollen or the company. Something to do with the kidneys, I think.

View of Canary Wharf from near The O2 Dome (Photograph by My Eternally UnNamed Friend)

The south (well, really east) bank of the Thames between Greenwich and the Dome has become mostly a post-industrial wasteland which is being flattened or is already flattened for high-rise flats, with some already built. My Eternally UnNamed Friend found some sort of Wordsworthian Romanticism in the open spaces and vistas. I thought it just looked more like a post-apocalyptic landscape.

At 11.15pm, back home in Borehamwood, as I was about to go to bed, sniffles, sneezes and an itchy right eye started to kick in. Over the last few years, I have tended to get hay fever fairly late at night and almost always after dark. What is that all about? What on earth are the flowers doing at 2315 at night?

Well, the news took me a bit by surprise…

TUESDAY 16th JUNE

The man whom I called ‘George’ in my hospital diaries died yesterday. I know this because my friend Lynn spotted his obituary in various newspapers today and – very impressively – guessed it was the person whose identity I had (I thought) disguised in my posts.

I then (perfectly legally) went to East London by train to see writer Ariane Sherine and her daughter in their back garden (well, back decking).

On the way there and back, I wore a face mask in the mostly empty train carriages. There were some other passengers. But we all seemed a bit half-hearted about it as we were all seated so far apart.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 41,969… Up 233 in the last 24 hours.

Me in my lost hat – Maybe not a great loss…

WEDNESDAY 17th JUNE

I went to Tesco’s in Borehamwood in the afternoon to buy a hat to protect my bald head from the sun. I lost my previous hat two days ago, somewhere by the post-apocalyptic River Thames.

I was hot and sweaty (despite having had a bath at lunchtime) and light-headed.

Ariane Sherine texted me:

“I’ve made a few jokes about you in my new book. I thought I should run them by you to check you’re OK with them.”

I replied: “I will be OK with them. You can say anything you like about me. I fancy being described as a dishevelled, shuffling, shambling mess. I would quite like to be described as a Dickensian character rotting slowly in my wrinkly skin as the dust gathers in my ears. I always think it is better to be laughed at rather than be laughed with… It is much more memorable. People forget jokes but remember OTT characters… Perhaps you could say something like: He was having a mid-life crisis at least 30 years too late, with fantasies of Baby Spice in a bikini rolling around in tiramisu.

Alas, the book is a serious – though populist – non-fiction work and the reply I got was:

“We are at the proofreading stage, so I can’t add anything, but thank you for being such a good sport.”

My heart sank. I quite fancy being a badly-dressed Dickensian character. But I have never aspired to be a sport.

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,153… Up 184 in the last 24 hours.

The ever-admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse

THURSDAY 18th JUNE

Last night, in bed, I had about an hour of feverish hot temperatured forehead and a hacking cough.

I think I may be turning into a paranoid hypochondriac. Or is that tautology? Who cares?

Meanwhile, admirable kick-ass vicar Maggy Whitehouse (I blogged about her in 2018) posted on her Facebook page:


Well that’s a first… I’m on the prayer line this morning and the first caller was a man who said he was in social isolation and lonely. He turned out to be calling from his bath… and was making somewhat too-enthusiastic noises during the prayers. He did say, “Thank you,” and that he was feeling a lot better now afterwards. Obviously, I have to report him to the boss… but I think I should have charged him a very large amount of money… and fortunately, I’m just trying not to giggle.


This seemed bizarre and unique to me but apparently not. Comments on Maggy’s post included:


– I had a fair few of them while on my Samaritans hotline 😉
– I used to work for a crisis helpline similar to the Samaritans and we had many a call along those lines…
– I used to be a Samaritans listener… we had similar calls…
– Sounds like the time I was a Samaritan on duty on Christmas Day. The tale was different – at the end he learnt it was seen through and it was good he had opened his ‘Christmas Present’ quickly!!


The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,288… Up 135 in the last 24 hours.

FRIDAY 19th JUNE

Original edition. Lots of good advice.

In 2012, Ian Fox published his excellent book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show which was edited by fellow comedy performer Ashley Frieze.

Now, with the coronavirus pandemic causing chaos in comedy and entertainment generally and the Edinburgh Fringe effectively cancelled this year, the dynamic duo have published a follow-up:

How to Write, Perform and Produce a Cancelled Edinburgh Fringe Show: A complete guide on how to not write, perform and produce a show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

A new book for the new COVID-19 era.

The book is a must-read. Handy tips include:

  • When and how to cancel things

  • How not to travel to Edinburgh

  • Writing a show that is cancelled

  • How not to get a review for a show that isn’t happening

And it’s all in aid of a good cause… The authors have suggested, for every copy purchased, a donation to the Trussell Trust which supports a nationwide network of food banks.

The book was free until yesterday and may be free from tomorrow in one form or another.

Ashley Frieze says: “The ongoing pricing seems to be some random mystery concocted by Amazon.”

Ian Fox: “Truthfully, we didn’t realise you couldn’t just do free Kindles anymore.”

The government’s figure for total coronavirus deaths in the UK is now 42,461… Up 173 in the last 24 hours.

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing in triplicate…

SATURDAY 20th JUNE

As of today, I now have three letters – all confirming my Monday face-to-face appointment at the hospital.

It is to have another blood test, so it is unlikely it will get changed to a telephone call.

But never say never…

Never underestimate bureaucracy…

An article in The Guardian yesterday suggested that, at the height of the current coronavirus pandemic, deaths in the UK may have been 64% higher than reported because, part of the way through the current run of the pandemic, the government changed or, at least, the bureaucracy was able to re-define the type of deaths included in the statistics.

But the worst news of the week is that today I discovered – who knew? – that Tyrozets have been discontinued following a challenge from the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) over whether the use of an antibiotic in throat lozenges is “clinically relevant”.

Who cares? They worked.

Does anybody know where I can get hold of some 1888 cough syrup “with alcohol, cannabis, chloroform and morphia skilfully combined with a number of other ingredients”?

… CONTINUED HERE

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An Edinburgh Fringe Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane – maybe

Paul Eccentric signing a boom last night

Strawberry Statement: Paul inscribes a book

Last night, Paul Eccentric was back in London for his book launch, having performed at the Glastonbury Festival, where he fell off the stage for a second time – I think the first time was three years ago, but the people in the medical tent still recognised him and, as someone said last night:

“It is not good when the people in the medical tent recognise you.”

Paul is a man of many festivals. He even has a catchy performance poem about it.

Last night, he was launching his new book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshell which is somewhat optimistically subtitled A Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane at the World’s Biggest Arts Festival.

The first part – staying solvent – might be possible after reading this book. The second – staying sane – might be a fantastical step too far.

Julie Mullen

Julie Mullen looked normal last night

Last night’s book launch also included performances from, among others, Rob Auton (who, at one Edinburgh Fringe, managed the impressive feat of getting a 5-star AND a 2-star review of the same performance of the same show), multi-award-winning poet Paul Lyalls (who one year tried to sell the exhaust from his car at his Fringe performances) and Julie Mullen (who looks sane and ‘normal’ but looks can be deceptive).

I should point out other Fringe books are available:

Critic Mark Fisher’s The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success (2012) which includes theatre as well as comedy shows… And performer Ian Fox’s How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show (2014, now in its second edition).

“So why did you write your book?” I asked Paul Eccentric last night.

“I have no idea, really,” he told me, “but someone during the Fringe said to me You seem to be very angry and I said I’m just a bit pissed-off with myself.”

“Why?” I asked

“For badly managing my day, for taking too many bookings in too short a time and forgetting to eat and drink. The guy said: You should write this down to stop other people making these mistakes. So I did.”

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

“Someone,” I said, “ told me they thought the book was fascinating to read even if you’re not a performer and not thinking of going up there.”

“Well, people have sai…” Paul started to reply.

I added: “…although it was your father who told me that.”

“He wants to know where his money went,” laughed Paul.

The book’s sections include:

  • How To Do It
  • The Show Itself
  • Travel and Accommodation
  • Publicising Your Show
  • Adventures on The Fringe

with advice from producers, performers, venue runners, publicists, reviewers and even me (I seem to have turned into a ‘Fringe commentator’ according to this book).

If nothing else, it is worth reading to see that even a wise participant like Paul Eccentric who has excellent and highly practical advice to give can be conned into thinking I know what I am talking about.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Poetry

Performers at ‘free’ Edinburgh Fringe venues could lose estimated £77,000

Cowgate_Edinburgh

Along these mean streets performers must go – including the Cowgate in  Edinburgh

My first blog about the ongoing ‘free’ venue chaos at the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe was posted over a week ago.

Now, NOT changing the subject…

I think, as a generalisation, most religions tend to be a good thing – most religions are amiable – but most organised religions are a bad thing. ‘Organisation’ inevitably means politicking and power corrupting originally admirable ideals.

As I say, I am remaining on-subject here.

The elevator explanation of the current chaos is that the PBH Free Fringe was created by Peter Buckley Hill (PBH) as an altruistic alternative to the increasingly commercialised and (for acts) expensive traditional Fringe where the acts pay to hire venues and audiences pay in advance of seeing the show.

The Free Fringe used the centuries-old model of busking and took it indoors. The acts do not pay to perform in a space. The audience sees their shows for free and decides, on exit, how much to pay, if anything.

PBH then joined forces with Laughing Horse promoter Alex Petty. There was soon a schism and Laughing Horse formed the Free Festival as either complementary or a rival, depending on your concept of the ‘ownership’ of the model of indoor busking.

Years trundled by and there was another schism. More of the PBH helpers – described by some as his “right hand men” – split off and last year formed The Freestival.

PBH had previously seen Alex Petty and the Free Festival as (my words) The Great Satan. Now Freestival became The Great Satan. It is a bit like the schisms in Christianity or Islam. I think calling PBH “the ISIS of free comedy” might be going a tiny bit too far, unless people start being beheaded in The Royal Mile. But at least ISIS take hostages and the Sunni/Shia aggro is not a bad analogy.

This year, as last year, there was a tussle over which organisation had rights to programme the Cowgatehead venue, owned and run in labyrinthine ways by three men from the same family, all called Kenny Waugh.

Last year, the Freestival ran shows in the bottom half of the Cowgatehead building; the Free Fringe ran shows in the top half.

This year (as far as anyone publicly knew until after the deadline to be listed in the main Fringe Programme was past – it is published tomorrow) the Freestival had rights from one or more of the Kenny Waughs to programme acts at Cowgatehead.

Then, out of nowhere, PBH suddenly announced (I think only on Facebook) that he owned rights to programme Cowgatehead although, as far as I know, no acts had, at that point, ever been approached or accepted to perform there.

The Freestival were (like almost everyone else, I think) surprised but eventually suggested a compromise which was that PBH should book acts into six rooms in the top half of the building, as they did last year. And Freestival would book acts into the bottom half of the building, as they did last year. Freestival would run nine rooms by building extra ones, as they did last year.

Freestival suggested a meeting to take place yesterday between them, PBH, a Kenny Waugh and (added into the equation later) the Fringe Office and Freestival’s sponsors.

This compromise would mean that PBH got the six rooms he proposed in the Cowgatehead venue. Freestival would get the nine venues they proposed there. And no acts would be adversely affected.

Any alternative would severely affect all acts who had – months ago with no squeak of any kind from PBH – booked into Cowgatehead with Freestival, paid the Fringe Office for a listing in the main Programme, written shows over the last six or more months and booked accommodation (with deposits) as well as having posters and flyers designed and, if they were abnormally efficient, printed.

Yesterday, Freestival issued a statement (I have not corrected the spelling):


Today’s meeting with PBH, the licensee (of Cowgatehead) and representatives of the Fringe office will now not take place. The Licencee agreed to travel to London and take part in compromise talks with PBH and ourselves. He, along with ourselves invited PBH to that meeting but despite multiple requests and invites from us, the licensee and the Fringe society and also our Sponsor flying to London to meet with Peter, Peter has refused to attend or to open a constructive dialogue. 

As a result the licensee will now not attend the planned meeting. We are very saddened by PBH’s complete intransigence and the subsequent devastation this will now cause to many peoples Edinburgh program. We will be releasing a full statement soon with any further details we can obtain and will be continuing to work with the Fringe office on a solution. 

While we haven’t given up on a solution if PBH can be persuaded to enter into discussions we must, for now, assume the Cowgatehead is no longer our primary venue. We also believe that PBH has taken control of St.Johns – Victoria Street and Probably the Tron Kirk although we have as yet had no official notification of this. 

We are so very sorry that after everyone’s hard work since the last Fringe all our efforts and energies regarding these venues have been wasted. We have secured a number of alternative spaces in order to accommodate those acts not moving over to PBH’s ethos, we hope to have the complete number of new spaces required signed up by the end of this week. We will be contacting all acts involved shortly and making a statement once that is done.


It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

In a posting on PBH’s Facebook page on 25th May, performer Ray Davis wrote:


Some 170 odd performers are booked into a performance space, with the considerable personal investment they would have made (these are “free spaces” yet accommodation for the month is typically £600-£1000 for a room in a shared house, almost £400 to be in the Fringe Programme, advertising, flyers, pre-booked transportation, etc.). 

The venue was offered by an organisation called “Freestival” and only after the festival programme deadline had passed (£400 remember?) did PBH claim that these bookings were null and void as he had right to the venue. 

PBH has held out what I believe he thinks is an olive branch in so much as he’ll consider acts transferring over “where he can” but they have to sign an exclusivity deal to do so, breaking links with any other organisation at the Fringe – so if they have another show elsewhere… can’t do it. If they’ve been invited to participate in a showcase… can’t do it. Bit like going into McDonalds and having to sign to agree not to buy (or eat) fast food from anywhere else for all of August.


To avoid accepting or even discussing the compromise in pursuit of personal revenge over people PBH regards as (my words) renegades from the true Free Fringe religion and a personal one-sided vendetta knowing for certain – for certain – that this will without any doubt at all result in mental anguish, financial damage and career damage to the performers you claim to champion is behaviour so self-centred and uncaring that is likely to mean that, even if PBH were to win this self-perceived battle, he would be likely to disastrously lose the self-declared war. Because all credibility and all past positive actions are likely to be wiped out by this act of sheer short-sighted selfish vindictiveness.

The PBH position is to refuse to even discuss a compromise where the Cowgatehead venue would accommodate a suggested 15 performance rooms. The PBH Free Fringe would prefer to accommodate 6 performance spaces featuring so-far un-booked acts simply to bugger-up the Freestival which had already booked acts into 9 rooms which a Kenny Waugh had told them they had the right to do.

PBH has said he might book some of the pre-booked acts into ‘his’ rooms but maybe at different times to those advertised (and paid for) in the main Fringe Programme. And all acts would have to sign his draconian 3,600 word contract which says the acts cannot appear elsewhere.

The Free Fringe is the only Fringe operator with this extraordinary restriction of trade preventing performers from performing.

Around 150-170 acts who have been writing, rehearsing and paying for their presumed hour-long, month-long Edinburgh shows for the last six or nine months now face cancellation of their shows, loss of earnings, loss of payments made, loss of deposits on accommodation and more. Even if they can find an alternative venue or are ‘given’ a room by PBH, their Programme listings will be wrong and paid-for posters/flyers will have to be changed.

It does not matter who is right and who is wrong here. There was a compromise on the table which would have meant no act lost any money, no act lost their advertised venue space and no act lost shows.

The reason acts are going to be damaged – and they definitely are; they already have been – is solely because that compromise was not even discussed by PBH.

There is a show at the Bloomsbury Theatre on Tuesday 30th June to raise money for the PBH Free Fringe. Tickets cost £15 or £12.50 concessions plus a £2.50 booking fee. The acts advertised include Alistair Barrie, Nick Helm, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee and Howard Read. It would be interesting to know if these same acts are going to organise any gig to raise money for their far less well-off fellow performers damaged by PBH’s scorched earth actions.

I asked various people for estimates of how much acts are likely to lose. One reply came from Ian Fox, performer and author of the book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show. He told me:


I am not a Freestival act, but I would estimate the £150 Freestival fee, and £295 for a discounted Fringe Programme entry. It is a bit early to have paid for posters and flyers, but there could be advertising fees if they had a quarter-page advert in the Fringe Programme (around £1,500 says John), or bought space on a Fringe type website for £50. 

If they get a new slot, they could still make use of accommodation and transport costs. Otherwise, the deposit on a flat could be anything from £300 to £500 and a rail ticket costs £75 approximately, unless they’re flying in from somewhere… So £1,000 is a feasible number, for worst case scenario.

Those shows in Cowgatehead 7,8,9 (the Freestival’s extra venues in addition to the Free Fringe’s six) which are automatically lost, based on 11 shows per room if they started at noon and went till midnight with a 15 minute turnaround between shows… £11,000 per room, £33,000 total. Add into that The Tron Kirk and St Johns and that’s another £22,000. 

Then factor in the 6 remaining rooms at Cowgatehead… Some of the shows will have been moved over (from Freestival to Free Fringe) but say a third of them were not – that is another £22,000… So £22,000 + £33,000 + £22,000, means potentially acts have forgone up to £77,000.

Bearing in mind the amount of money potentially lost from a last-minute decision to switch a provider and break a verbal agreement… which I think puts them in an actionable position, as their actions have directly caused others financial loss… Who in their right mind refuses to turn up to a meeting?


Ray Davis, in his posting on the PBH Facebook page on 25th May wrote:


PBH’s Free Fringe is promoted as a collective, a freely run not for profit organisation,  yet this smacks of the worst sort of bloody nosed business practice. Audiences of course won’t know nor give a shit.

Individual acts have only a small voice.

If PBH is a volunteer then this sort of who-hah won’t cost him financially. But in the longer term it could of course cost him the years of good will and hard work he’s put in to build a Free Fringe model.


Yesterday, to my knowledge, at least three performers cancelled the London previews for their Edinburgh shows. Presumably because they believe they will not be able to stage their prepared shows because of all the shenanigans.

Yesterday, too, an act who has performed on the Free Fringe for several years – and who has a show there this year – told me he had been thinking of cancelling his show because he felt uncomfortable being associated with the “stench” (his words) of the current Free Fringe. He said he had, however, decided not to cancel because of the cost.

It is a pity many acts will not be given this choice.

And still the saga continues because, this morning, I was told off-the-record of the existence of an e-mail which will further muddy the waters.

We live in interesting times.

And so the labyrinth stretches onwards.

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Punchlines: comics getting beaten up

Comedy critics face fragile egos and non-comedic reaction

Yesterday, someone drew my attention to a copy of The Stage dated 26th April 1990. One article was headlined:

ARTISTS FEAR HECKLERS’ REVENGE

and started:

“Alarmed entertainers fear violence from rowdy club audiences may be on the increase after a series of ugly scenes which have put artists at risk on stage.”

Apparently comedian Paul Ramone had got a black eye and swollen nose after being head-butted by a member of his audience during a gig in Twickenham.

Manchester hypnotist Paul Nyles claimed he had had to abandon his act after 15 minutes when an audience member bit through his microphone cable. There were no details of what happened to the heckler when he did this.

Comedians getting beaten-up seems to be a non-uncommon phenomenon although biting through the microphone cable to stop an act is uncommon.

Off the top of my head, I remember three Edinburgh Fringe stories. One is told in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:


Ian Cognito - nothing is unexpected

Cognito maybe forgot Ricky Grover is an ex-boxer

An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. Part of his Italian upbringing, I think. 

Ricky Grover had worked with him before, so said hello to him and Cognito grabbed him by his collar and said: 

“You’re a fat cunt!” 

Ricky doesn’t mind that sort of thing at all. He’s used to it.

So, not getting a reaction, Cognito continued: 

“You’re a fat cunt and you’re not funny!” 

Ricky still didn’t react, so Cognito added: 

“And your wife’s a fat cunt as well!”

This upset Ricky, because he’s one of those traditional people.

“Did you mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ian Cognito said.

“Can you repeat it?” Ricky asked.

Cognito said: “Your wife’s a fat cunt”. 

And, with one blow, Ricky just knocked him out. Unconscious. Displaced his jaw a bit. The lot. Ricky’s a professional, so he knows exactly where to hit someone.

Standing three or four yards away was Jon Thoday, who runs the Avalon agency. I looked over at Jon and said: 

“Oh, have you go that £500 you owe me?”

Funnily enough, the cheque arrived in the post about two days later.


Police said Ian Fox suffered “a small cut to his nose”

In 2012, comedian Ian Fox was randomly attacked in the street during the Edinburgh Fringe. The local police, who allegedly knew quite a lot about beating people up, told the Edinburgh Evening News: “The victim suffered a small cut to his nose during the incident,” but Ian’s face looked more like he had had an argument with a rhinoceros.

And, of course, most infamously, in 2013, comedy performer Ellis got beaten up in an Edinburgh street by an irate member of the public who was annoyed by Ellis & Rose’s appearance in Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

Gareth Ellis suffers for his art (photo by Lewis Schaffer)

Comic Ellis claimed he suffered for his art (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

Except it never happened. In fact, Ellis had repeatedly hit himself in the face with the blunt end of a milk whisk so he could tell the being-beaten-up story to get publicity for Ellis & Rose’s Fringe show. When the blunt end of a milk whisk did not have the required effect, his comedy partner Rose punched him four times in the face to give him the required black eye. For this, they won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

To me, the most bizarre part of the 1990 Stage article, though, was a paragraph towards the end which said:

“Alternative comedian Malcolm Hardee, who was knocked unconscious by a heckler at a Glasgow club, claims attacks are on the increase because comedy has become more aggressive.”

That this had happened to Malcolm seemed very unlikely – although admittedly Malcolm’s Tunnel Club had to become membership only after beer glasses were thrown at Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton) during their act.

Throwing beer glasses at acts was not uncommon at the Tunnel but, on this occasion (when Malcolm was NOT the compere) a glass hit Babs Sutton in the face and drew blood, after which several acts refused to play the Tunnel unless Malcolm reined-in his audience a bit.

MalcolmHardee_Diners

Malcolm Hardee – a comedian not unacquainted with alcohol

Anyway… Malcolm Hardee being knocked unconscious by a heckler at a Glasgow club sounded unlikely, so, yesterday, I asked Malcolm’s chum Martin Soan.

“This sounds unlikely,” I said. “Have you heard this story? Did he make it up?”

Malcolm making-up stories was not unheard-of, but Martin said surprisingly:

“Yes I do remember this. It is true after a fashion. The heckler sort-of pushed Malcolm in a friendly sort of way. Malcolm had drunk 13 pints of beer and some buckets of rum-and-coke and sort-of fell asleep for a bit… Talking of which, I had a knife pulled on me… twice. Once at the Old Tiger’s Head in Lee and once on the Glastonbury stage.”

Comedy can be a dangerous business.

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Edinburgh Fringe: an audience member urinates on a bag – & other extreme acts

Thoughts on performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

Thoughts of horses and fish tails perplex me

I woke at 6.10am this morning, dreaming of a horse with a fish tail.

My brain had not yet worked how the fish tail was physically connected to the horse.

It was not where the horse’s tail should be. And it was not where the horse’s legs should be.

I have no idea how this connects to events at the Edinburgh Fringe. Perhaps in its lack of any context or normal concepts of common sense. Odd things seem normal in August in Edinburgh.

Ian Fox and Spring Day in Edinburgh

Ian Fox & Spring Day shared Unsearchable laughs yesterday

Yesterday afternoon, I went to see Ian Fox’s show The Unsearchables – a ridiculously enjoyable hotch potch of bizarre photos and facts which you CANNOT find by searching on Google… in the format of an audience involvement gameshow.

It did not seem strange that someone in the audience said they knew a couple who had named all of their five sons Mark. No other forenames. All five were called Mark. And American comedian Spring Day (her real name), who lives in Japan, said that one line she wished she had never heard was when she was having an operation in a Tokyo hospital where they did not realise she understood Japanese. As the anaesthetist injected Spring just before she was about to be cut open, he said: I wonder if this will be enough?

Harriet & Miss Behave last night

Harriet & Miss Behave were game last night

Yesterday evening, I saw the Miss Behave Gameshow which involves a lovely male assistant called Harriet and which climaxed with the audience winner going into the street outside Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop and smashing a mobile phone to bits with a mallet.

This is a perfectly acceptable and normal thing to see on an Edinburgh street in August.

But are there any limits to what anyone can say or do at the Fringe?

At yesterday afternoon’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club, doyenne of comedy reviewers Kate Copstick told Billy Watson (the former Nob Stewart) and surreal act Mr Twonkey:

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Townkey (right) (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

Billy Watson (left) & Mr Twonkey (right) at The Grouchy Club (Photograph by Kate Copstick, courtesy of Billy Watson)

“My boundaries for what is unacceptable in comedy are pretty low. I didn’t even know I had any. The only time I have ever felt like walking out when someone told a joke that I felt was totally unacceptable was maybe 20 years ago, when I was working with Bobby Davro and I was trapped in a studio with him. One of his jokes was What turns fruit into vegetables?… AIDs.”

“That’s a great joke,” I said.

“I think it was because,” Copstick replied, “at the time, I had quite a lot of friends who were nearing the vegetative state. But, since then, I’ve not seen anything at all where I thought: Mmm. That’s not really on.

Rumour has it some thought a line was crossed at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop a couple of nights ago when, during the late night (00.20am) show, a member of the public came in with a Just For Laughs bag and (the details I have heard are a bit hazy, depending on who tells me) somehow this eventually ended (after encouragement from Bob Slayer) with the lady urinating on her own bag on the floor.

As a result, there was a philosophical falling-out between a couple of the other hosts and Bob Slayer about what was acceptable and unacceptable.

I bumped into comedian Alexander Bennett in the street yesterday. He knew someone who was there during the incident.

“I think pretty much anything is acceptable,” I said.

Alexander faces up to old age as a young man

Alexander Bennett: the face of a self fire starter…

“I remember,” said Alexander, “seeing Adam Riches‘ show years ago and one of the best bits was when he got an audience member to spit in his mouth. The thing about that is it’s all on the performer. Nobody is risking any harm apart from the performer. Venue staff don’t have to worry about it; the audience doesn’t have to worry about it. It’s all down to the performer. The audience reaction when that happened was priceless.

“I’m all for gross-out stuff. I like the reaction. The Euuaaaghhh! reaction is very close to Ha-ha-ha… But pissing on the floor at the Bookshop… Who is suffering there? It’s kind of the venue.”

“It is Bob’s venue, though,” I said. “His gaff; his rules. He’s the one who has to clean up afterwards.”

Alexander replied: “I remember Sean Lock telling a story years ago about Johnny Vegas vomiting while he was doing his pottery and making a vase out of the vomit and puke. I think you can make anything work if the circumstances are right. The only thing to consider is Who is the victim?

“You could get a lot of money now for a Johnny Vegas puke vase,” I suggested. “Last night comedy harpist Ursula Burns told me her local church was trying to sell her scrapings from St Someone’s bones.”

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Could grains of the Real Malcolm inspire young comedians?

“Well,” said Alexander, “there’s a massive relic industry all over the world selling shavings of the saints.”

“The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee was cremated,” I said. “Perhaps we should start selling Grains of Malcolm Hardee to up-and-coming comedians.”

“Malcolm Hardee was burned?” asked Alexander. “I bet he went up fucking quickly. All that alcohol. I have always wanted to set myself on fire on stage. I want to sing Sweet Caroline and set myself on fire. There’s a bit in the lyrics about getting warm.”

“What about singing The Doors’ Light My Fire?” I asked.

“There is no art,” said Alexander, “in setting yourself on fire to a song that contains fire in the lyrics. There’s no art to that. I want to build up some romantic thing with an audience member and then have them set me on fire. I would then sing Sweet Caroline and fall backwards into a swimming pool. I like the idea of stunts being part of comedy shows. It’s that improv thing. I could set myself on fire, then get Bob Slayer to piss on me to put out the flames.”

“Too much alcohol in his blood, too,” I said. “It would be like a reverse flame thrower.”

Later, in the basement of Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop, I heard why the audience member had been encouraged to piss on her Just For Laughs bag a couple of nights ago.

One of the wonderful acts at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop is Stompy aka The Half Naked Chef aka Richard Stamp. (There is a video of him on YouTube)

Last night, Stompy told me:

The entrance to Stompy’s maze

The entrance to Stompy’s amazing maze

“Two years ago, my company DotComedy took our maze Get Lost! to Montreal (where the Just For Laughs Comedy Festival is held). It’s an outdoor show with a 20 metre square maze with 13 performers in it. Interactive. Comedy. Fairy tale like. We did well – there were 2,000 people a day coming through the show.

“We talked about bringing the show back the next year. Just For Laughs said they couldn’t afford it. Fair enough. But then they said: We’re going to make our own one.

“I said: Well…That’s not really on, is it?

“They said: It’s not going to be anything like your maze. In fact, its just going to be an App on a phone. It won’t be a physical thing you go into.

“So I said: OK. That sounds fair enough.

“Last year, I didn’t have any friends who went to Just For Laughs, so I heard nothing more.

A pensive Stompy by the Bookshop toilets

A pensive Stompy by the Bookshop’s toilets

“This year, friends of mine started sending me pictures of this maze that’s been made. The copy is very similar. Obviously, I haven’t got the copyright on mazes. That was probably a feller in Crete. But the thing is the content of their maze is really similar to mine.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Well,” said Stumpy, “they use a sort of card game to go round the maze. They have this spider web area. So I got in touch with them about it. I was pretty upset. I put stuff on Facebook and it got around and lots of people joined in.

“I was very annoyed with them. So then Just For Laughs got very annoyed with me and they have lots and lots of lawyers. So, a couple of weeks ago, they sent a letter to me saying they are going to sue me for Defamation of Character.”

“Can a company have a character?” I asked. “Maybe in Canada.”

“In Quebec,” said Stumpy. “Montreal. I just don’t want to go through the legal… About ten years ago, they ripped-off one of my other shows called The Misinformation Tent. They should call themselves Just For Lawyers.””

“I suggested: “The publicity you get and the bad publicity they would get… They would be damaging their own reputation far more than you ever could.”

Of such things, are Edinburgh Fringe incidents made. Like a woman pissing on a Just For Laughs bag in Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop in a late-night show.

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Filed under Anarchy, Bad taste, Comedy

Comedians’ crowdfunding, books and ‘missing’ Edinburgh Fringe free shows

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

Enterprising early example of crowdfunding

This year, several performers crowdfunded their shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, I was in Brighton for the launch of registrations for the Brighton Fringe festival.

The crowdfunding site Zequs are saying that they will give £500 each to the first ten people who raise £1,000 for their shows via the Zequs site.

And, in a reassuring marketing wheeze, they cleverly point out that crowdfunding is not new – the plinth for the Statue of Liberty was financed by crowdfunding.

Crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

The crowdfunded anarchic autobiography

It certainly seems to be on the rise.

Last Saturday, I was at the launch of comedian Phil Kay’s crowdfunded book The Wholly Viable at the Soho Theatre, despite the fact I seem to remember there were two launch gigs for it at the Edinburgh Fringe back in August.

Still, it is being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob is also crowdfunding a new “children’s book for adults” with illustrations by Malcolm Hardee Pound of Flesh Award winner Rich Rose. The online Kickstarter appeal seems suitably non-sober.

Bob Slayer appeals - not very soberly - in a Kickstarter videoStill, it was being promoted by publicity maelstrom Bob Slayer.

Bob Slayer appeals – not very soberly – in a Kickstarter video

His book is called The Happy Drunk and he aims to raise £666 (I wonder where that number came from?) and, at the time of writing, he has already raised £481 with 12 days still to go.

The Happy Drunk is sub-titled Bob Slayer: The Baby Years and Bob’s pitch is: “Got kids? Here’s how to start them on the booze!”… “I don’t know why this was rejected by my publisher,” he says. “You can receive rewards of exclusive artwork, a caricature, a show in your own home, a magical mystery tour… even your very own baby… all of which will help make this project happen…”

CalPolIsEvil

The original title of Bob’s book

The book was originally titled Calpol Is Evil, but Bob surprisingly changed the title.

Meanwhile, fellow comedy performer and Edinburgh Fringe regular Ian Fox has updated his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show.

Now updated both online & as print book

Now updated both online & as print book

The book, says Ian, “shares eleven years experience of producing shows at the Fringe for the price of a café latte, without the social awkwardness of having to sit with the author in a coffee shop – highlighting the author’s personal experiences of half-full houses, flatmates gone bad, hostel horror stories, campsite calamities, and general comedy cock-ups.”

“Why update it?” I asked Ian yesterday. “Surely advice about putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago is much the same as today?”

“The principles are the same,” he told me. “but some of the information has changed. Things like the price of ads in the Fringe Programme and the PBH Free Fringe have a voluntary contribution for their shows.”

“Ah, that’” I said, is one of the advantages of eBooks and publishing on demand: you can update facts immediately for new purchasers of the book.”

“And,” said Ian, “everything new which I’ve added, I have put online. Both the Kindle and the on-demand printed version have an address in them which tells you where you can find the updates on-line. It would be a bit unfair if you had to pay for small updates.”

“What’s the main difference,” I asked, “between 2003, when you first produced a show, and 2013?”

Michael McIntyre beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award

Oddly, Michael McIntyre was beaten for Perrier Best Newcomer Award in 2003 by Gary Le Strange

“The number of free shows,” replied Ian. “There weren’t any in 2003 and there were 814 last year… Well, 814 official ones, because a lot of the PBH Free Fringe ones aren’t actually listed in the Fringe Programme. The Laughing Horse Free Festival insists all its shows are listed in the official Fringe Programme, but the Free Fringe doesn’t.

“I got the 814 figure by searching the official Fringe site for free comedy shows, but the Chortle and the British Comedy Guide websites actually listed over 1,000 shows: so those extra ones obviously listed themselves on those websites but didn’t pay to list themselves in the Fringe Programme.”

“So,” I asked Ian, “if I ‘m a performer thinking of going to the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time next year, why should I buy your book?”

“It will probably save you £300 or £400,” replied Ian. “The secret to making money at the Fringe is knowing how to not spend money unnecessarily. One Fringe publication was offering – for £100 – to put your ad on a webpage that got 10,000 impressions. But I remember from 2011 – the year of ‘Cockgate’ – when I took all those photographs and put them on my blog site… I thought I’d put an advert for my show down the side of the page…. I did… I got 14,000 hits on that page on the first day and I got two clicks on the ad… and one of them turned out to be Ashley Frieze, who I was sharing a flat with.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s say I’m going to perform at the Fringe for the third time next year. Why should I buy your book?”

Ian Fox in Edinburgh during the Fringe

Ian Fox – now over a decade at the Edinburgh Fringe

“I probably can teach you some stuff, but there’s also loads of stories in there and some of the history you might not know, people’s failures. It’s not just a technical guide; there’s loads of anecdotes. There was one year when me and Ashley were putting free tickets for our shows in the Half Price Hut and people were getting them, even though the tickets were free. It’s just an extra outlet, another way of advertising a show – our show came up on the LED board outside the Half Price Hut – Shows starting in the next hour… There’s loads of tips like that in the book.”

“Do you know what show you’re doing yourself next year?”

“Sort of. I read that blog of yours about the more interesting shows being less straight-stand-up. I’m definitely going in that direction: that it’s not totally straight stand-up.”

“You could do burlesque,” I suggested. “Stripping in a sequin dress. I’d pay to see it.”

“I’m definitely not doing that,” laughed Ian, “though I once did a video with Mick Ferry. He used to do a show in Manchester called Mick Ferry’s Space Cadets and, every month, the audience used to set him a challenge and, because they’d had a burlesque dancer on in a particular show, they said he had to be a male burlesque dancer. I used to make videos of his challenges – shoot them on the Monday for the gig on the Tuesday. They’re on YouTube and on the videos page of my website.”

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Crowdfunding, Publishing

The bad review of the unauthorised Father Ted stage show at the Edinburgh Fringe and the threatened legal action

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

The Father Ted logo from the original Channel 4 TV series

If you are a performer, reviewers are like Americans. It is difficult to live with them, but it is difficult to live without them.

Getting a bad review can be very upsetting, though.

Yesterday morning Garry Platt, photographer, occasional Edinburgh Fringe reviewer and one of the So It Goes blog’s increasing number of men-in-the-street with his finger-on-the-pulse, drew my attention to an amazing Fringe story.

The previous day, reviewer Amy Taylor had blogged about a theatre/comedy review she had written at the recent Edinburgh Fringe. It was her fourth year there as reviewer and, in her blog, she did not name the show she reviewed. She described it as “a two-hour long interactive comedy show, that involved actors impersonating characters from a famous TV comedy”.

She had booked her Fringe tickets via the show’s PR lady.

Amy says in her blog: “I wrote what was I felt was a negative, yet honest and fair review, which was published on The Public Reviews website shortly after. In my review, I stated that the show was ‘unauthorised’ as when I researched the show, I found a number of articles and quotes from the makers of the TV show saying that the show had not been authorised by them.”

Amy Taylor’s blog about the controversial Fringe review

It is well worth reading Amy’s full blog here but the potted story is this…

… A few days after the review was published, a barrage of e-mails started from the show’s PR lady, culminating in a threat of legal action for libel. Even this escalated with, Amy says in her blog, accusations of conspiracy.

Amy’s view is that “the intimidation, bullying and harassment of journalists simply because someone disagrees with what they have written, is immoral, unethical and odious. My advice to any company that is disappointed with a review is to see what they can take from it. If the review is constructive, then there will be something positive in there that you can learn from.”

She also points out that “journalists communicate with one another. This means that if you threaten a writer or a publication with legal proceedings, other writers will hear about it. Once others learn about your treatment of journalists, it damages your reputation more than any negative review ever could. Some might say that’s ironic, but to me, that’s poetic justice.”

Amy’s review is still online here at The Public Reviews.

The stage show logo, as published with the review

The show she reviewed was Ted & Co: The Dinner Show, staged by the British company Laughlines Comedy Entertainment who also have Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show in their repertoire (not to be confused with a rival Australian company’s show Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience).

Laughlines claims to be “the UK’s leading comedy entertainment company” – something which I think might be disputed by the BBC etc.

I asked PR guru Mark Borkowski what he thought about the handling of this affair. He has vast Edinburgh Fringe experience – he legendarily got acres of coverage for Archaos in two separate years by simply claiming they were going to juggle chainsaws during their show (they were not) and then having people ring up and complain to the Council and to the press.

He told me yesterday: “In PR, legal action is a threat of the very  last resort. Jaw-jaw before war-war. It reminds me of the Private Eye reply to a letter they received threatening legal action. The letter said:

Our attitude to damages will be influenced by the speed and sincerity of your apology.

Private Eye’s reply was:

“Tell your client to fuck off – Sincere enough for you?

“Frankly,” Borkowski told me, “every bad review is an opportunity.

“According to Claire Smith at The Scotsman,” he told me, “2012 was a high bullshit mark on the old Festival’s Plimsoll line. There were more PR people running around the Fringe than performers.”

So, obviously, I asked Claire Smith what she thought.

“I think there was definitely more paranoia around this year,” she told me, “and a lot of misunderstanding about the way PR people and journalists work together. PR people helped me get interviews – get comments on things – check information. But I heard a lot of spurious theories about the way PR people influence reviews which I would not agree with…

“Reviews are not as powerful as they once were because of the influence of social media and I would say that is a good thing. Social media has amplified the word of mouth effect – which has always been one of the great things about the Fringe. But the numbers of people getting paid to write reviews is shrinking. Are we losing something? I think we are… Though I would still argue reviewers can add something to the mix.

“I’m glad Amy blogged about her experience. I’ve had similar experiences myself in the past and it is very upsetting.”

(Claire refers to a recent report she wrote for The Scotsman on the financing of the Edinburgh Fringe and being threatened, during her research,  by a prominent venue owner and a prominent British comedian.)

Australian John Robertson, who had two shows at this year’s festival tells me: “The only PR people I saw at the Fringe drank with me in various bars, danced with each other, knew each other and when gathered in a group, all began to look and sound exactly the same. My PR was lovely, but I can’t speak to a deluge. Though I did see the high watermark of bullshit (fake stars, stars from odd places, reviews with plenty… of… this) but that begat its own backlash from punters, which is lovely.”

There is another angle to this story, though. That the Ted & Co stage show at the Fringe this year had no authorisation from the copyright owners of Father Ted.

Mark Borkowski told me: “Clearly there is a rights issue. If I was a corporate TV rottweiler legal, I would take a good look at the company’s output. Do BBC Worldwide know they are staging Fawlty Towers or Father Ted?” (BBC Worldwide distribute Channel 4’s Father Ted series)

Comedian Ian Fox pointed out to me that the Chortle comedy website had posted an article raising worries about Father Ted: The Dinner Show when it was performed at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe.

In a posting on my Facebook page yesterday, comedian Richard Herring put into words what I myself had been thinking: “I simply don’t understand (and never have) how they are allowed to do this without the consent of the people who created the characters.”

Ian Fox suggests: “The Fringe Society does question whether or not you’ll be using music in a show and you pay relevant PRS fees at the end of your run. I don’t see why they can’t ask when you fill in your Programme registration If you’re using characters and material created by others do you have the rights to perform the material? and simply not allow anyone who doesn’t have rights into the main Programme.”

As regular readers of this blog will know, Ian was randomly attacked in the street during this year’s Fringe. I can report he is slowly mending.

Ian Fox experienced one of the dangers of the Fringe

“I’m free from noticeable bruising,” he tells me. “Still not got the feeling in two teeth at the front. I believe it’s the infraorbital nerve that is damaged/injured and, once the areas that are under the skin have healed, the feeling should come back. I have more feeling in the teeth than last week. However lots of movement appears to make my face ache.

“What’s more annoying though is the fact that I appear to be showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in that I’m very jumpy in busy places and still don’t like being out at night. Which is making gigging a bit difficult.”

He is still gigging widely.

But, with threats of legal action over bad reviews and physical attacks on comedians in the street, the Edinburgh Fringe seems like it is getting to be an increasingly dangerous place to be in August.

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Filed under Comedy, Copyright, Journalism, Newspapers, PR, Television, Theatre

Edinburgh Fringe’s Stuart Goldsmith £700 down; Ian Fox suffers “small cut”

Comedian Stuart Goldsmith won this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting an Edinburgh Fringe show. It was a multi-part stunt, but part of it (mentioned in my blog back in July) involved a YouTube video

in which he said that he would donate £1,000 of his own money to the Waverley Care HIV charity…

“…unless I see a single instance of the title of my show being used in a pun… If any puns at all based on the title of my show being Prick are used in any piece of comedy review or criticism, either in a magazine, in a paper or online then for every instance I will remove £100 from my charitable donation.”

Now that the Fringe is over, he told me today…

“I’m not parting with any cash until I get the final info back, as reviews occasionally come out after the Festival has finished, so I’m clinging on but…  at the moment, it’s looking like I’m going to lose £700 in total, thanks to the words ‘spunky’, ‘wider and deeper’ and ‘tackles the issues’.  I am very happy however that my loss will be Waverley Care’s gain!

“I thought it was too funny an idea not to try, even if quite expensive in the long run!”

Police say Ian Fox suffered “a small cut to his nose”

Meanwhile, the Edinburgh Evening News has reported the street attack on comedian Ian Fox last week. According to the police, the suspect is “male, white, in his 30s, between 5ft 9in and 6ft tall with a medium build and short blond hair. He was wearing a black T-shirt with green stripes on the sleeves and blue jeans.”

I might be dubious about police descriptions, though, as the same police source says of Ian Fox: “The victim suffered a small cut to his nose during the incident.”

Looking at the above photo of Ian, taken three days after the attack, that seems more than a little under-stated.

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Filed under Charity, Comedy, Crime, Police

Women pray for God to strike down feared UK comedy critic Kate Copstick

Ian Fox yesterday, at the Pleasance Dome in Edinburgh

Last night, after I posted my blog chat with Ian Fox about how he got attacked in the streets of Edinburgh, I got a Tweet from Ian Hawkins saying: “I’ve felt very unsafe flyering in Grassmarket sometimes.”

It’s good to know someone reads my blog.

I drove down from Edinburgh to London overnight last night with a couple of sleeps in service station car parks and, when I was somewhere around Milton Keynes, I got a phone call from Alan McEwen at the Edinburgh Evening News.

He had just read my blog about the attack on Ian.

The Edinburgh Evening News should be running an article about the assault tomorrow, in an attempt to find the attackers.

And, indeed, the Huffington Post this afternoon carried my blog piece about the attack.

So, with luck, the psycho yobbo duo of Edinburgh may get their comeuppance.

Meanwhile, I have asked Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival to pencil in Friday 23rd August 2013 for next year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe and (I hope) have booked Miss Behave to compere, Andy Dunlop of the World Egg Throwing Federation to supervise another Russian Egg Roulette competition and Kate Copstick to hand out the prizes.

Although she does much more than that.

She has been a judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards since they started.

Although she does much more than that.

I ran a blog back in February this year headlined Top comedy critic Kate Copstick spends $2,500 on prostitutes in Nairobi, Kenya.

All the money donated by audience members after the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards goes to Copstick’s charity Mama Biashara. No money is deducted for any show costs nor for any expenses of any kind; 100% is passed on to the charity.

The Mama Biashara charity works in the slums of Kenya, setting mainly women up in small businesses to help them pull themselves out of the absolute poverty in which they are living. Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya, mostly in the slums of Nairobi. Below is a diary extract from one of her visits this year. It may give an insight into Copstick beyond her being the feared doyenne of British comedy critics:

______________________________________________________________________

Kate Copstick spends four months of every year in Kenya

Wednesday

I meet up with Doris in Kawangware and we head for the next workshop. This time out in a place called Wangiki, about an hour from Nairobi.

Doris is looking uncharacteristically nervous and asks the women who meet us at the matatu stage if we should get piki pikis to the meeting place. The women say “No, no, we are meeting ‘hapa tu’ (just here)”. They point at a building just down the hill.

Turns out it wasn’t really that one they were pointing at. It was one about half a mile further on. Kenyan distances are very much like Kenyan time – having the elasticity of a bungee rope over the Grand Canyon.

As we walk down the muddy lanes, I am increasingly fascinated by Doris’ bottom. It is an extraordinary thing which moves entirely independently of her skeleton. With each step forward it sways from side to side with a very attractive fluidity. But I digress.

The room is packed with women and the occasional spluttering child. We kick off with the ground rules of Mama Biashara:

– The money is only for business

– Know your status

– Respect for all

It is this last that causes consternation.

I explain that Mama Biashara has respect for all races, colours, religions and sexuality. I do not believe in God but I am fine if you do. You simply cannot refuse to help someone on the grounds that their beliefs/colour/sexuality etc are not yours.

There is much chatter. I start the workshop.

There is the usual litany of disaster, illness, abandonment etc but a lot of these women have good business heads. And good ideas. We are getting along well up to about number 12, when the increasing din outside reaches a crescendo. I get up and look out.

There is a… let us call it a group… outside the house. Animated to say the least. They are not happy that I do not believe in God. They say my money is corrupt and they have been off to the church opposite to pray to God to strike me down.

Doris wades in and emphasises that no-one needs to take my money, I am here only to help and just because I do not believe in God, I do not care if they do. She asks if I want to stop the workshop and leave. I say, “No”. We continue. With some terrific women. Good business plans.

At around number 28, there is another commotion at the gate.

This time, the women have brought the heads of the local Mungiki.

They are (to be fair) the most feared gang/sect in Kenya.

They are (or were originally) very strict Christians. And many Kenyans wish they were running the country now. They are real… errrr… disciplinarians.

We go out and Doris explains again what we are about. I shake hands and nod along with what she says. The Mungiki ask if we are forcing the money on the women. I laugh. We explain. The Mungiki say that is absolutely fine with them and shoo the women away. The remaining women relax visibly.

The rest of the afternoon passes in financing, medication, back rubs, demonstrations of stretching exercises, nutritional advice and the usual whole nine yards.

I get an escort of about fifteen women back to the matatu stage. Doris suggests we leave ASAP. It turns out that Wangiki is not really the safest of areas. Doris says she was shocked by what happened today. She has been working with this group for three months and had not imagined they would pull a stunt like that.

I end the day munching delicious mutura (a sort of barbecued sausage made from goat intestine) washed down with a can of Tusker. With jelly babies for pudding.

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Filed under Charity, Comedy, Crime, Edinburgh, Kenya

Comedians punched and headbutted in the street at the Edinburgh Fringe

Ian Fox in Edinburgh earlier today

Before I left Edinburgh this evening, I had a drink with comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  who was attacked in the street on Wednesday night.

When I was with him today, he got a phone call from the police.

“It was around 11.30 at night and I was coming up that curved street Candlemakers Row, just before you get to the statue of Greyfriars Bobby,” he told me. “There were loads of people walking about, because the Tattoo had just finished.”

Throughout the Edinburgh Fringe, Ian has been taking nighttime photos of Edinburgh between around 10.00pm and midnight.

“I’d taken a photo in the Cowgate,” he told me, “ but put my camera away because there isn’t anything else to take photos of until you get to Bristo Square. The camera was round my neck, but underneath my top, so they didn’t see it. But it wasn’t a mugging.

“Some students were arsing about on the left hand side of the road, kicking a traffic cone about, so I crossed over the road to avoid them. I was in the road and only vaguely aware there were people walking down the other footpath then, as soon as the guy got level with me, he just hit me. He was wearing a ring, which is what cut me.

“I hit the ground, mainly out of surprise, then I heard another guy say: He’s gone down. I think the first guy had passed me, the second guy then hit me and I think the first guy had turned  to watch, because he knew what was about to happen and then he was celebrating the fact I’d gone down.

“When I heard him say He’s gone down! I thought to myself This probably isn’t the best place to be because I’ll get a kicking when I’m down on the ground. I’d quite like it if this was over now. So I stood up and turned around and walked to Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar.

“There was a chef outside. I thought he must have seen the whole thing, but he later told the police he hadn’t seen anything. I asked him if he could help me. He took about three seconds to make a decision on that. He obviously just thought it was drunks fighting but then I think he could tell from the way I was dressed and the way I was speaking that I wasn’t drunk.

“So I went into Bobby’s Bar and the waitress in there took over; she started handing me all the blue papery stuff to soak up the blood.  They phoned the police and the paramedics, because they were worried about how much blood was coming out of me. My cheek was bleeding; my nose was bleeding; so there was a lot of blood.

“The woman in there told me they’d just refused service to two blokes because they were very loud and very aggressive so the chances are it was these two blokes who had just got refused who walked outside and clocked the first person they saw.

“From the way they had been moving, I think they were on speed or something. They were on something, they’d had a skinful and the adrenaline buzz of hitting someone was the next thing they were after.

“The police said they hoped the cameras inside Bobby’s Bar had got a clear shot of them coming through the door, but that phone call I just got was the police saying it turned out the CCTV inside Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar has not been working since the 12th of August. The police said they’re now going to look at the Council’s CCTV in the street. But I’ve had a look three times and I can’t see a camera around there. I’m guessing somebody who behaves like that has probably done it before so would not do it near cameras.”

“You had another check-up today, didn’t you?” I asked.

Ian Fox with his mending eye in Edinburgh earlier today

“Yes, at the specialist Facial Injury unit in Livingston at 9 o’clock this morning,” said Ian. “It turned out everyone was given a 9 o’clock appointment, so it was first come, first served.”

“Livingston?” I said. “That’s miles away! That’s about 15 miles away!”

“It still counts as Edinburgh,” Ian said, “because it’s got an EH postcode.”

“Good job you brought your car up here,” I said. “You might easily not have done.”

“They told me I don’t need any further treatment,” said Ian, “but I may have a permanent scar beside my nose and the nurse advised me to avoid being punched in the face for a few months.”

“She didn’t,” I said.

“She did,” said Ian. “and I’m sure that’s very good advice.”

“I imagine the police won’t do anything about it,” I told him. “Did you read that blog of mine a couple of days ago, where a comedian had his computer stolen and he told the police where it was from the Apple GPS positioning and they wouldn’t do anything about it?”

“Well,” Ian said, “a deli I go into every day here… The guy there told me he had an incident a while back where one of his fridges wasn’t working and he called a repair man from an advert in the paper. The guy came and gave him a ridiculously high quote, so he said No.

“A couple of hours later, the cafe owner goes to the bank. Whilst he’s away, the repair man comes back, tells the girls behind the counter he’s there to fix the fridge, moves the fridges, hacks all the wiring at the back, tells the girls the griddle’s broken and says he needs to take it away for repair and leaves with the griddle.

“The cafe owner comes back, finds all the fridges are knackered and the griddle’s missing. So it’s criminal damage and theft. He rings the police, gives them the phone number of the advert and tells them this is the bloke who has done it – the girls have given a description of the guy… That was five months ago and he hasn’t heard anything since.

“He says he opens at 7.00am in the morning and has trouble with drunks coming in and, in the past, he’s tried to get the police to come and shift them and they won’t do it.”

“I love Edinburgh,” I said, “and it’s physically beautiful, but it’s a tough town under the surface. I’m surprised more comedians don’t have problems.”

Seymour Mace got head-butted outside the ScotMid in Nicolson Street in 2009,” Ian told me.

“Was that unmotivated as well?” I asked.

“Exactly the same thing as me,” Ian said. “Except he got headbutted instead of punched. Never even saw them. Though headbutting seems a lot more personal, somehow.”

“More Glaswegian,” I suggested.

“Seymour had a black eye for a week,” Ian said, “and he was doing a children’s show, so he had to explain to the children that he’d hit his head on a door. You can’t tell children there are random nutters out there in Edinburgh who will just headbutt you for no reason.”

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Violence