Tag Archives: Jason Wood

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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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on what she likes and giving 1 & 2-star reviews

Copstickeither yawning or orgasming on a tow horse. It is difficult to be conclusive

Copstick in her Mama Biashara charity shop in London, either yawning or orgasming on a toy horse.

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reviving our Grouchy Club chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August and also doing it as a one-off in London on 22nd February during a Jewish Comedy Day. (Neither of us is Jewish, but we are both Scottish and they are paying a fee).

“Initially, I wanted to be an actress,” Copstick told me this week, “because then I would never need to be myself. But I have never wanted to be a stand-up comic.

“Why?”

“Because a good stand-up comic is about being yourself. In the very short time that I did try stand-up, the primary thing that was wrong with me was there was nobody there.”

“Well,” I told her: “You say you didn’t want to be yourself, but you are the most opinionated, apparently-self-confident big-mouth in town. Your reviews are full of your own character. You would admit your reviews can be acerbic?”

“Yes.”

“So isn’t that cowardly? You don’t want to be yourself as a stand-up comedian to say what you think to people’s faces; but you can acerbic behind a pen”

“Maybe it is cowardly,” replied Copstick, “but, if someone gave me the chance to do a live review show I would happily do that. I happily sit in The Grouchy Club and rip into shows and criticise people. But that’s not stand-up. Stand-up is self-motivating and, the older I get, the more I realise not everyone is remotely interested in what I want to chunter on about.”

“Why are they interested?” I asked. “You clearly are the most influential and feared critic at the Edinburgh Fringe. Is it because you’ve been around so long? – You started in 1999.”

“No,” said Copstick, “I’m a good critic because I’m honest – sometimes brutally. I know what I’m talking about. I can communicate my thoughts well.”

“You say you know what you’re talking about,” I argued, “but you’ve not done stand-up properly. “

“I know enough about stand-up as the audience and about comedy in general. I think it’s a good thing to be able to criticise with inside knowledge but, on the other hand, there is absolutely no point saying: This guy was absolutely dreadful, but I feel his pain and I know what it’s like and, frankly, the audience was dreadful. That is not a valid critique.”

“Are you open-minded?” I asked.

“Very open-minded. Much more than I used to be. I’m happy to give anything a chance.”

“What did you used to be closed-minded about?”

“I used to be much more likely to go folded-armed and pursed-lipped at some free-form craziness. I used to require ‘form’. I used to think: I want to see this is a show. I want to see you’ve thought about this. I want to see you have not just wandered on-stage and are burbling to me.”

“And now you like Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Yes. Quite possibly Lewis Schaffer in 1999 might have driven me absolutely crazy.”

“At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “I know you saw Njambi McGrath’s show Bongolicious, but decided not to review it. Why?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi McGrath -“Brilliant” Fringe show

“It was listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme and it wasn’t a comedy show. I thought it was a brilliant show, but not a comedy show. In the criminal areas of auto-theft, they call it a cut-and-shunt: you take the front half of one car and the back end of another car and slam them together. She had a strange little 10-minute warm-up at the start and then this EXTRAORDINARILY powerful piece of theatre about the atrocities perpetrated by white colonists in Kenya. I wrote little bits about it elsewhere, where I was not required to put a star-count on it… It was a brilliant show, but was not a 5-star comedy show. It was in the wrong section of the Fringe Programme and it would have been unfair to review it as Comedy.”

“You were telling me at the Fringe,” I said, “what you sometimes do when you write a 1-star or 2-star review of a comedy show.”

“I am hired as a critic,” said Copstick. “I have to say what I think and feel, otherwise I would just be a PR. But I think all performers deserve a fighting chance and I am, after all, only one person. If I really loathe the show, I try to make my review as entertaining as possible and as polemical as possible because I know a 1-star review will sell almost as many tickets as a 5-star review and, if you make your 1-star review polemical enough, people will go Oh my God! I have to see that! because everyone wants to see a car crash.”

“So,” I said, “in a way, a 2-star review could be worse than a 1-star review.”

“What I try to do in a 2-star review,” explained Copstick, “is seed it with combinations of words or even just one word which, if the performer is smart, they can ‘pull’ a quote from that I am happy for them to mis-use.

“The late, usually-great, Jason Wood did a show once which I thought was just appalling. It was lazy, using old stuff – ten years after people had died, he was doing half-baked impressions of them – I was really angry because Jason was a funny, funny, clever, talented guy. I ripped into the show and gave him a 1-star review but, by midnight that night, the Assembly Rooms where he was performing (under its previous owners) had big banners all over the place saying:

“A STAR!” (KATE COPSTICK, THE SCOTSMAN)

Copstick does not mind taking the piss - in this case to her doctor

Copstick likes taking the piss – in this case to her own doctor

“It was brilliant! Brilliant! Just wonderful. I am devastated to say that The Scotsman made him take the quote down. But I thought it was brilliant. If performers can be creative with their show and I can be creative with my review, then why can’t they be creative with my review of their show?

“The FringePig website – which popped up last year and which reviewed the Fringe reviewers – they did a review of me and it was surprisingly accurate. One of the things they picked up on was that now I absolutely love a maverick – Johnny Sorrow, Bob Slayer, for godsake.

“Again, we’re back to honesty and passion. I would rather see Bob Slayer – honesty, passion and drink – than some pointless, say-nothing, manufactured wannabe. Now that comedy has become an industry, one of the things that is wrong is a load of people coming in thinking Oh! I can be the next Jack Whitehall! and they stand up and are a kind of manufactured persona. There’s no real person there.

“Someone like Simon Munnery ought to get a bloody knighthood. He’s been nurturing his crazy since most of the people on stage now were foetuses.”

“You should get back on stage,” I suggested.

“I am peripherally involved in a comedy show at the Fringe this year… as well as The Grouchy Club and The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.”

“Are you?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s about assisted suicide.”

“Ah! The Exit guy!” I said.

“Yes. Philip Nitschke.”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke – ‘Dr Death’ does stand-up comedy

“Are you going to be killed every day?” I asked.

“No, I’m sort-of directing it. Philip is the most wonderful guy, though it’s very difficult to get him into the country because they ask: Have you come in to kill people? – No, I’m coming in to do a comedy show in Edinburgh.

“The show is Philip and female stand-up Mel Moon, who suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.

“I love the idea, because it’s a way of using comedy to get across an incredibly powerful message. I think you can ‘kick a lot of ass’ comedically or satirically that you can’t do when presenting it straight. So we’re doing satirical sketches. Hopefully I’m also filming a documentary, looking at previews, people’s reactions, the creative process. It’s part of a bigger idea.”

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Faking publicity quotes and why you don’t want to sit in a chair in Perth, Oz

In June last year, John Robertson and Jo Marsh got married in a chicken shed in Australia. I blogged about it at the time and there is a video on YouTube:

John Robertson is a comedian and originator of the extraordinary stage show The Dark Room.

Jo Marsh worked as Programming Director at the Wild West Comedy Festival in Australia for two years, then got head-hunted by a businessman who owned the title Perth International Comedy Festival. She started that from scratch and built it into a multi-million dollar business in two years.

Last August, they were at the Edinburgh Fringe. Then they moved to Britain. First Brighton. Now London.

Why?

John and Jo join Sir John Betjamin in London

John & Jo join Sir John Betjeman in London

“The opportunities here are so vast,” Jo told me at St Pancras station (don’t ask – I just like it). “When you get an Arts job in Australia,” she explained, “you literally sit in your chair at your job and you make a little bum-crease in it and you never leave. In Western Australia, the only way people get Arts jobs is if other people die, because there are so few in Australia. The opportunities are greater here in Britain. The pubs are nicer. And real culture is being made in London.”

“So you moved to Britain to…” I prompted.

“To mess up your culture,” suggested John.

“Perth is lovely,” said Jo. “It’s a great place if you want to retire or make babies and it’s well-lit.”

“It’s incredible what the sun can do,” agreed John.

“In Perth,” explained Jo, “I learned as much as I possibly could but, if I stayed there, I would just be doing the same thing over and over again and I wanted to come here and learn more and do more and experience more than I would in Perth, which is the most isolated city in the world.”

“You managed, though.” John said, “in that isolation to create a beautiful boutique festival that was a huge commercial success.”

“But, having done that,” explained Jo, “I would just be…”

At that point, a man with no legs glided past us on a skateboard.

“Hello,” he said as he passed our table and then he was gone. It somewhat threw the conversation.

“I’ve got a follower on Twitter,” I said rather distractedly to Jo, “who claims he has had five Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominations. I’ve never heard of him. I think he’s a fake person. But Malcolm would have approved.”

“In Australia,” Jo told me, “people just say they’ve won an award because no-one’s going to check up. They’ll win the Least Most Annoying Song award and suddenly they say they’ve won the Best Comedy Song in Western Australia award. There was a Best Local Act award which got put on posters as Best Comedian, Western Australia. There are quotes like Amazing… Entertaining and the original quote was actually It’s amazing how un-entertaining this show is.”

Jo and John remembered publicity scams

Jo and John – Would you trust this man in a Dark Room?

“Just like the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Do you know the Jason Wood story? He got a one-star review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman and the next day Copstick is walking round Edinburgh and, on all his posters, Jason has put A STAR! (The Scotsman).”

“Someone we know,” said John, “uses the press quote A natural comedian… which is actually from a slightly longer quote which said Not a natural comedian. That’s a work of publicity genius.”

“There’s a story about Alan Carr,” I said, “which I think is true but might be apocryphal. In his early days, he is supposed to have put on his Edinburgh Fringe posters: Carr is the future of British comedy – which was an absolutely correct quote. It was not mis-quoting anything in any way. Except the quote was from a review of a show by Jimmy Carr not Alan Carr. Even if it’s not true, it’s an admirable example of lateral publicity thinking.”

“I was on BBC Radio Scotland,” said John. “I rocked up to do their Comedy Cafe. It was me, a little American woman ventriloquist and a really grumpy huge Irish guy who hated both of us. It began with the presenter saying: So, John, you’ve been named as one of Australia’s top comics and I think I’m not going to correct him. – The quote was actually One of Austrialia’s Top Ten young comedians and it’s from Zoo magazine and I’m on the list because the guy who wrote the list is a friend of mine and it came after an article – which he also wrote – that say’s he is the best comedian in Australia.”

“Should I plug The Dark Room?” I asked.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

The Dark Room – some time in time in Holland

“Probably,” said John.

“You could say it’s won a Tony Award,” I suggested.

“Perhaps an Antonio Antonioni Award as best non-Spanish Spanish play by a non-Spaniard?” suggested John.

So?” I asked.

“It looks like we’re going to do The Dark Room weekly in a pub in London,” John told me, “and there’s a place in the Netherlands – Harlingen where we might do it sometime between this year and 2016.”

“At any point between those two dates?” I asked.

“Yes?”

“Why such a wide window of possibility?”

“No idea. I’m also doing The Dark Room at the Edinburgh Fringe again this year and possibly at a London theatre after that.”

“And probably,” I checked, “in Holland, but it could be any time between 2014 and 2016?”

“Yes.”

“But the exact date or dates is or are unknown.”

“Yes.”

“I feel I am in a dark room,” I said.

The Dark Room is also on YouTube:

On the subject of fakery, the bit about the legless man on a skateboard did not actually happen at St Pancras while I was talking to Jo and John.

It actually DID happen when I was talking to Gareth Morinan outside Bar Italia in Soho last week. It did not fit comfortably into that blog, but I felt it deserved to appear somewhere and it seemed to fit here. I needed a ‘bridge’ between unconnected quotes and the legless man seemed to fit. So it is true and yet untrue simultaneously.

Which seems apt here.

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Nine more innocent questions posed by first-time Edinburgh Fringe comedians

A while ago, I blogged Answers to nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As the Fringe is only a fortnight away – and as I could not bloody think of anything else to blog about today – I felt compelled to answer nine more mythical questions posed by comedians:

1. IF THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, SHOULD I CANCEL THE SHOW?

No. Even if there is only one person in the audience, perform the show. You do not know who is in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no comp tickets). I have blogged before about an Edinburgh Fringe show performed in the early 1990s by then-unknown comedian Charlie Chuck. There were only four people in the audience. He performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series.

2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, I AM A FAILURE, SURELY?

Very possibly, sunshine, but not necessarily. In reality, it means you are an average Edinburgh Fringe performer. Unless you are on TV, you will not get full audiences unless there is astonishing word-of-mouth about your show. Scots comedian Kevin Bridges could not fill a matchbox, even in Scotland. He appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1. After that, he was filling auditoriums the size of Bono’s ego. What is important at the Edinburgh Fringe is not the size of the audience but the quality of the audience. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. And don’t call me Shirley.

3. BUT I AM GOING TO THE FRINGE TO GET SEEN BY AUDIENCES, AREN’T I?

No you are not. You are going to the Edinburgh Fringe to lose money. A comic whose name I have tragically forgotten, so cannot credit, likened it to standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. You may have sold your grandmother into sexual slavery to afford this trip to the Fringe, but you are not in Edinburgh to perform shows to ordinary people. If you wanted to do that, you could have gone to the Camden Fringe or down the local pub on a Friday night. You are going to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world, to get seen by critics and, with luck, by radio and TV people, all of whom can boost your career. If you can create good word-of-mouth among the small audiences who do see your shows at the Fringe, then that may attract a few of the influential people.

4. I AM A COMEDIAN. AUDIENCES ARE NOT LAUGHING ALL THE WAY THROUGH MY SHOW. WHY?

Well, probably because you have a shit show, so tweak it or consider a career working at a call centre in Glasgow. There are some comics who should reconsider their lifestyle and bank balances. On the other hand, most comics are insanely insecure for very little reason. I have sat through many a show where the comedian thinks the audience did not like part of the show because it did not get enough laughs but I know for sure, because I was in the audience, that the punters enjoyed the show tremendously. They were just mesmerised in rapt attention during the quiet but important bits.

5. BUT WHY DON’T AUDIENCES LAUGH AT EVERY LINE?

Possibly because a good comedy script is not 100% laugh-at-every-line. Not over a whole hour. If you think your show is that funny you are either deluded, on cocaine or have a serious psychological problem (not that the last is any drawback in comedy). Watching a man take 10 seconds to jump off a cliff 66 times in a row is not exciting; it exhausts and bores the viewer after a while. What is exciting is a rollercoaster. A build-up followed by an adrenaline rush. Excitement followed by relief followed by excitement followed by relief followed by a climax. Note I never mentioned sex. An hour-long show is about pacing. If you remove the build-up before the punch-line, you will lose the laughter on the punch-line. And I still did not mention sex. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh on the punch-line. Even (billed in alphabetical order) the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine, who mostly deal in one-liners, have pacing where their audiences can relax amid the laughs. Just like sex, in my experience.

6. SHOULD I WORRY IF I DO NOT GET REVIEWS?

Yes, but it is largely a matter of luck. I always tell people they have to play the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years. The first year, no-one will notice you are there. The second year, you have some idea of how the Fringe works. The third year, people will think you are an Edinburgh institution and the media will pay some attention to you. You have to go for three consecutive years. If you miss a year, when you return, you are, in effect, re-starting at Year One. It is not just audiences but critics who change year-by-year. Critics reviewing shows at the Fringe may not have been doing it two years ago.

7. I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES OF GOOD MATERIAL. WAS I WRONG TO ATTEMPT TO DO A 60-MINUTE SHOW?

Yes. You are an idiot. You should have delayed your trip to the Fringe and gone next year. Going before you are fully ready is never a good idea. Yes, go up and play a few gigs on other people’s shows. Yes, go up as part of a three or four person show. But, if you are doing your first solo 60-minute show and you have anything less than 80 minutes of good material, you risk rapid ego-destruction.

8. IF I GET REVIEWS, ARE THE NUMBER OF STARS IMPORTANT?

In Edinburgh, absolutely. The stars are everything – provided you get above three stars. Put four or five stars on your posters and flyers – with short quotes – immediately. All your competitors – and, in Edinburgh ALL other performers, however seemingly friendly, are your deadly competitors – will be using the number of stars on a review to boost their own ego or to try and deflate yours. After the Fringe is over, the stars mean bugger all. They are unlikely to bring in crowds on a wet Thursday in Taunton. But their real value lies next year at the Fringe when you can quote them and they will have some effect. And always remember the admirable enterprise of the late comic Jason Wood. Highly influential Scotsman critic Kate Copstick gave his Fringe show a one star review. The next morning, all his posters in Edinburgh proudly displayed a pasted-on strip saying “A STAR” (The Scotsman)

9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?

No. Partly because it no longer exists; they seem to call it something different every year. But mostly because you just won’t. Don’t be silly. Fantasy is a valuable part of the performer’s art, but never fully believe your own fantasy. You stand a better chance of winning one of the increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017. I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Don’t bother to apply to me because there is no application process, plus it interferes with my chocolate-eating. Your show format is probably neither that original nor, frankly, that good and we will almost certainly hear about anything which actually IS that original. In Edinburgh, word-of-mouth is the strongest thing after a deep-fried Mars Bar soaked in whisky for 20 minutes. The Malcolm Hardee Award judges this year are (in alphabetical order) famed Scotsman critic and Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick, inconsequential little old me,  The Times’ esteemed comedy critic Dominic Maxwell and the wildly prolific freelance Jay Richardson. Please feel free to wave £50 notes in our faces and offers of two-week holidays in Barbados with lovely 20-year-old nymphets (that holds for all four of us).

Look, in Edinburgh, the most important thing of all is self-publicity. Thus Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

Here endeth the lesson and – only temporarily – the self-publicity.

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