Tag Archives: Johnny Sorrow

Has British comedy stagnated since Monty Python, Hardee and Tiswas?

Beware. This is my blog. These are my very highly personal opinions. You can object. Please do.

People have said Alternative Comedy is not dead, it has just ceased to be Alternative. It has become the Mainstream. But they seldom talk about the next new wave of British comedians who will replace the now mainstream Alternative Comedians.

I desperately want to spot any new wave for the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards, which I organise. Our avowed intent is to try to find “comic originality”.

We do find admirably quirky individuals to award the main annual Comic Originality prize to – last year, the one-off Robert White; this year, the one-off Johnny Sorrow.

And their one-offness is as it should be. You cannot have comic originality if 37 other people are doing something similar.

But where are the new style comedians performing a recognisable new type of comedy genre? There has not been anything overwhelmingly new since so-called Alternative Comedy arrived in the mid-1980s – over 25 years ago.

As far as I can see, there have been four very rough waves of post-War British comedy, most of them comprising overlapping double strands.

The first double wave of ‘new’ comics in the 1950s were reacting partly to stuffy mainstream 1930s Reithian radio comedy, partly to the necessary order of the 1940s wartime years and partly they were rebelling against the dying music hall circuit epitomised by John Osborne‘s fictional but iconic Archie Rice in The Entertainer (1957).

The Goon Show (1951-1960) on BBC Radio, at the height of its popularity in the mid 1950s, was the antithesis of the ‘old school’ of pre-War comedy. The Goons were a surreal comic equivalent to John Osborne’s own rebellious Look Back in Anger (1956) and the kitchen sink realism which surfaced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Osborne was ultra-realistic; The Goons were ultra-surreal.

But Osborne’s plays and The Goons‘ radio comedy were both reactions to the rigidly ordered society in pre-War, wartime and immediately post-War Britain and The Goons‘ new anarchic style of comedy (although it owes some debt to the pre-War Crazy Gang and although the Wartime radio series ITMA was slightly surreal) really was like the new rock ‘n’ roll (which was not coincidentally happening simultaneously). It was startlingly new. They were consciously rebelling and revolting against a clear status quo which they saw as stuffy and restrictive.

Hot on the heels of The Goons came a different form of rebellion – the satirists of the 1960s – with Beyond the Fringe (1960) on stage and That Was The Week That Was (1962-1963) on TV. These two slightly overlapping Second Waves of new post-War British comedy were again reacting to a stuffy status quo.

The First Wave, the surrealist Goons wave, then reasserted that it was still rolling on when a Third Wave of influence – Monty Python’s Flying Circus – appeared on BBC TV 1969-1974 and – as satire declined in the 1970s – it was Monty Python‘s (and, ultimately, The Goons‘) comedic gene pool that held sway for a while – also epitomised, oddly, by the children’s TV show – Tiswas (1974-1982).

The Goons, Beyond The Fringe and That Was The Week That Was had been rebelling against something; Monty Python was surreal and Tiswas was anarchic just for the sheer sake of it. Monty Python and Tiswas were one-offs, but they have pale imitations trundling on even to today.

After Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in 1979, a Fourth Wave of new comics arose in the early and mid-1980s – a generation influenced by the satire gene not by the Goons/Python gene. These mostly-university-educated young left wing things rebelled against Thatcherism with their often political-based humour which became known as Alternative Comedy.

But again, just as there had been a second overlapping wave of comedy in the previous generation, this mostly ‘serious’ comedy was paralleled by a different wave possibly more low-key but epitomised by the decidedly fringe appeal of the hugely influential Malcolm Hardee, whose release from prison and subsequent comedy career coincided with the start of and overlapped with the future stars of Alternative Comedy.

Malcolm’s strand of mostly non-political comedy was spread by the clubs he ran and the acts he managed, agented, booked and/or nurtured: acts including the young Paul Merton (performing as Paul Martin when Malcolm first managed him), Jenny Eclair and later Keith Allen, Harry Enfield, Harry Hill, Vic Reeves, Jerry Sadowitz, Jim Tavaré and Johnny Vegas.

While London’s Comedy Store nurtured future mainstream acts (some progressing there from Malcolm’s clubs), the more bizarre and original new acts continued to flock to Malcolm’s gigs and clubs including his near-legendary Sunday Night at the Tunnel Palladium gigs and later his lower-key but just as influential Up The Creek club.

These two strands of 1980s comedy – the alternative political and the Hardee-esque – successfully came together in a Channel 4 programme – not, as is often cited, Saturday Live (1985-1987), a mostly failed hotch-potch with different presenters every week, but its long-remembered successor, Geoff Posner‘s Friday Night Live (1988) which supposedly firebrand political polemic comic Ben Elton presented every week in what was supposed to be an ironic sparkly showbiz jacket.

Political alternative stand-ups mixed with strange variety and character acts, oddball comics and cross-over acts like Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Harry Enfield and many others nurtured by Malcolm Hardee.

This was both the highpoint and the start of the decline of Alternative Comedy because serious money was spent on the relatively low-rating Saturday Live and Friday Night Live on Channel 4, both ultimately shepherded by Alan Boyd’s resolutely mainstream but highly influential Entertainment Department at LWT.

Since then, where has the next giant New Wave of British comedy been? There are random outbreaks of originality, but mostly there has been a barren mediocrity of pale imitations of previous waves – and the desolate, mostly laugh-free zone that is BBC3.

At this point, allow me an even more personal view.

I thought I spotted a change in Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows around 2003 when Janey Godley was barred from consideration for the Perrier Award (despite a very lively verbal fight among the judging the panel) because it was decided that her seminal show Caught in the Act of Being Myself did not fall within the remit of the Awards because it was not a single ‘show’ repeated every night: she was basically ad-libbing a different hour of comedy every performance for 28 consecutive nights.

That same year, Mike Gunn performed his confessional heroin-addict show Mike Gunn: Uncut at the Fringe although, unlike Janey, he lightened and held back some of the more serious details of his life story.

It seemed to me that, certainly after 2004, when Janey performed her confessional show Good Godley!,  Fringe shows started an increasing tendency towards often confessional autobiographical storytelling. Good Godley! was one of the first hour-long comedy shows at the Fringe (though not the only one) to use material that was not in any way funny – in that case, child abuse, rape, murder and extreme emotional damage. Janey did not tell funny stories; she told stories funny. Viewed objectively, almost nothing she actually talked about was funny but audiences fell about laughing because it truly was “the way she told ’em”.

Since then, too, there seems to have been a tendency towards improvisation, probably spurred by the financial success of Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard. The traditional 1980s Alternative Comics still mostly stay to a script. The 21st Century comics influenced by Janey Godley, Eddie Izzard and Ross Noble often do not (to varying degrees).

So it could be argued there has been a tendency in this decade away from gag-telling (apart from the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine) towards storytelling… and a tendency towards improvisational gigs (bastardised by the almost entirely scripted and prepared ad-libs on TV panel shows).

But long-form storytelling does not fit comfortably into TV formats which tend to require short-form, gag-based, almost sound-bite material – you cannot tell long involved stories on panel shows and on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow type programmes. So a tendency in live gigs and certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – a tendency away from gag-based comedy to storytelling comedy – has been unable to transfer to television and has therefore not fully developed.

Occasionally, a Fifth Wave of British comedy is sighted on the horizon but, so far, all sightings have turned out to be tantalising mirages.

One possibility are the Kent Comics who all studied Stand Up Comedy as an academic subject in the University of Kent at Canterbury. They include Pappy’s aka Pappy’s Fun Club, Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, Laura Lexx and The Noise Next Door. But they share an origin, not a style.

Whither British comedy?

Who knows?

Not me.

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Day Three of Malcolm Hardee Week – pasta chaos and a finger up the bottom

Malcolm Hardee Week continues apace.

After Monday’s Malcolm Hardee Debate finished a whole hour late (it merged into the next show), Scots comic Nob Stewart grabbed Kate Copstick when she came off stage and chatted to her on camera for 45 minutes.

I guess the adrenaline (and possibly the two pints she had had on-stage) pumped away. In the first two minutes, she named a comedy company whose flyerers had physically threatened her and she was laying into the big promoters at the Edinburgh Fringe. If you think she is sharp-tongued on ITV1’s Show Me The Funny, you have only heard the half of it…

Later today, Copstick is travelling down to the O2 arena in London as a judge for the live final of Show Me The Funny (although the winner is decided by viewer voting). Then tomorrow she is on a train back up to Edinburgh when we decide the Malcolm Hardee Award winners at noon and she will take an active part through the wonders of 21st century technology. As I said in my blog yesterday, what’s this thing with the Prime Minister having to be dragged back from holiday every time something happens?

If we had Copstick as Prime Minister, things would be easier.

Me? I have to be at the Blue Moon cafe-restaurant-bar in Barony Street just off Broughton Street in the New Town at noon today to collect more spaghetti for the second day of the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest. The Blue Moon is generously sponsoring us with free spaghetti.

The spaghetti-juggling happens outside the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket.

Yesterday the first spaghetti-juggling contest, partially in the rain, became less of a solo juggling event, more a three-a-side sideways-throwing contest with the participants constantly changing. This came about when Scots comedian Bruce Fummey valiantly tried to bring some order into the proceedings; it must be his background as a teacher.

In its latter stages, to be honest, with spaghetti stocks dwindling, the thing degenerated more into a custard-pie type spaghetti fight than juggling. The arrival of Malcolm Award nominated Johnny Sorrow on the scene in a macintosh and flat cap did little to quell the degeneration of this fine potential Olympic sport – and he seemed to encourage the rain.

At the end, Laughing Horse Free Festival supremo Alex Petty mucked-in with a stiff broom, helping to clear up the scattered spaghetti in the cobbles outside the Beehive Inn. If his flirtation with big-time comedy promoting ever falls through, he has a future as a street sweeper.

Today’s spaghetti-juggling will include on-the-spot advice on the aerodynamics of pasta from Dr Sophia Khan, formerly of NASA , Harvard, the Japanese Space Agency and Shanghai University. She will be joined by Dr Andrew Bunker, former Head of Astronomy at the Anglo-Australian Observatory in Oz and now Reader in Astrophysics at Oxford University.

Who said spaghetti-juggling was trivial?

Brainiac eat your heart out.

While waiting for the spaghetti-juggling to start yesterday, I got dragged into Lancelot Adams’ show outside the Beehive Inn – The Magic Drawabout – an enticingly odd concept in which he gets passing members of the public to take part in a one hour show which involves drawing each other in various parts of the Grassmarket while he chats to the ‘sitter’.

He told me he had thought I looked like a weirdo when he first saw me in the street, but soon realised I was not. I was genuinely offended this.

Have the last several decades of my life, cultivating weirdness, all been in vain?

The Magic Drawabout and Lancelot Adams’ other show at the Beehive Inn – Ze Hoff Und Friends – about David Hasselhoff – are decidedly quirky, but the ‘sleeper’ of the Fringe has arguably been Paul Provenza’s Set List: Standup Without a Net which started in Just The Tonic at the Tron, then moved to one of Just The Tonic’s bigger venues at The Caves and now has moved to a bigger Cave, such has been its increasing popularity. It has gathered even more word-of-mouth with Paul Provenza flying in from LA last week.

Set List: Standup Without a Net has also been getting a lot of word-of-mouth buzz among comedians, because its format of the stand-up comic being shown a list of six words or phrases as subjects – the set list – one-at-a-time without pre-warning only when they are on stage is an utter nightmare. The best comics can weave a thread through the disparate subjects rather than just perform six unconnected routines. The risk of getting lost is high. The likelihood of a comedian eventually shitting on stage must be equally high.

Last night, among those trying their luck were Frank Skinner, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Richard Herring and Phill Jupitus. Big names for a concept that seems likely to get bigger.

One tiny aside…

While waiting to get into Set List last night, a comic came up to me and said she had just been to Malcolm Hardee Award nominee Bob Slayer’s show at The Hive where, on stage, she had stuck her finger up his bottom. A rubber glove had been provided by the ever-amenable Bob.

As far as I know, it is the second time this has happened in Bob’s show.

Call me old-fashioned but I think, as a format, Set List: Standup Without a Net has more likelihood of being commissioned as a TV series.

I would be happy to be proved wrong, though I am not sure I would be watching on a regular basis.

Bob Slayer was nominated for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Award “for going beyond OTT into uncharted areas of comedy excess”.

I think it would be difficult to fault our nomination.

When I mentioned this story to Bob Slayer, he said, “Well, I do want to point out that it did not happen a second time – The lady who did it the first time was in the audience last night and so another lady tried to emulate her (who wouldn’t?) – She tried to do a fist but failed .

“I obviously don’t want people to think that any Tom, Dick or Harry can finger my entrails.”

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Day Two of Malcolm Hardee Week – physical threats and censorship

I pity the poor Prime Minister.

Well, maybe “poor” is not the correct word.

But David Cameron was off abroad having a holiday and got dragged back to London because riots were going on.

Then he’s having a holiday in Cornwall and he gets dragged back to London because the Libyan rebels have taken Tripoli.

Totally unnecessary. This is the 21st century. You don’t need to be in any particular place to sort things out. Yesterday, when we were supposed to draw up a shortlist for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – just as important as Libya, I would argue – one of the judges had been dragged back to London to interview someone-or-other; and another was stuck in the wrong part of Edinburgh. But it was simple enough to communicate with each other. And we all half-had ideas from e-mails and accidental meetings in the previous two weeks anyway.

It is all a bit vague. It is the fourth week of the Fringe – or Week Three as it is officially called to maintain the spirit of the Fringe.

Fringeitis has kicked in – a long recognised and largely unavoidable ailment that affects the throats of performers and the brains of hangers-on like me.

Last night, at the second Malcolm Hardee Debate (“Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!”) we only had three instead of four participants.

Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison had buggered his back in Glasgow and could not make it to Edinburgh.

Viz magazine creator Simon Donald had ‘Fringe throat’, that long-recognised Edinburgh ailment. As did Hardeep Singh Kohli, who had a spoon and a bottle of medicine in his top pocket to ease the throat.

Topping them both, Maureen Younger had been bitten twice by some dodgy Scots beastie (clearly neither cow’rin nor tim’rouson the back of her left leg, behind the knee, so she was filled with anti-histamines and feeling woozy.

None of this was visible on stage, of course. They bubbled and entertained and appeared on top form. Ah! the joys of performance!

I am not in any way a performer, so two nights on the trot on a stage did not fill me with the post-show adrenaline that performers sometimes have. I just felt shagged-out and my brain switched off immediately afterwards.

This could explain why, when two people approached me separately after the shows – one saying he liked this blog and one saying we had been Facebook friends twice (no, I don’t know either) I did not chat at length. Indeed, not at all. I got distracted by other things happening at the end of the show. Oh lord. I do apologise to them.

Fringeitis affects performers’ throats but my brain.

As for the Malcolm Hardee Awards, we nominated thus:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Doctor Brown for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason

James Hamilton as the odd writer, producer, director, actor and creator of Casual Violence

Bob Slayer for going beyond OTT into uncharted areas of comedy excess

Johnny Sorrow for simply being a bizarre act Malcolm Hardee would have loved

CUNNING STUNT AWARD (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

Tim FitzHigham for breaking multiple bones and damaging bone marrow to pursue comedy

Kunt and the Gang for pushing his sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible

Sanderson Jones for selling all his show tickets only to people he himself has met

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

Benet Brandtreth – if he doesn’t make a million on stage, he’ll make it as a lawyer

Josh Widdicombe – possibly the new Michael McIntyre

The shortlist was reported in various media, possibly helped by the fact I put in brief quotes after the acts. Doing that means the press can lift the quotes without having to think anything up. The phrase “for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason” proved particularly attractive.

The media reporting the Malcolm Hardee Awards shortlist yesterday included BBC News online, which referred to one of the performers as “The act, which we will call KATG”

Kunt and the Gang is going to have problems with that name. The Fringe Society apparently told him that they would only print the name of the act and the show in the Fringe Programme if he put an umlaut over the ‘u’ in Kunt.

That is the least of Kunt’s problems. A press release from his promoters this morning was headed:

AWARD NOMINATION COULD COST COMEDIAN (KATG) THOUSANDS OF £££

It is not really my/our fault…!

Edinburgh Council is still threatening him with a £3,000 fine if any more ‘cock stickers’ appear on other shows’ posters.

One agent sent him an invoice for a four-figure sum for damage to one Scottish act’s posters with the mild threat: “I would also recommend this invoice is paid immediately and discreetly as if it is not I will make my actions known to all the other producers affected and you can then expect a lot more of these and some from people who will be far more forceful that I will be thru the law in order to recoup.”

In reply, Kunt’s admirable PR people say he will “happily reveal the name of the Comedy Agent and send you a copy of the Comedy Invoice in return for a donation to the Cock Aid appeal. Details on request.”

There is also the unreported fact that one prominent London-based promoter has made physical threats of “sending the boys in” to sort out Kunt. And it is not even the one promoter you might assume would say this.

Various acts are now, to show support to Kunt, wearing cock stickers. I am particularly impressed by the one sported by Frank Sanazi.

At the time of writing this, the Third Reich’s favourite crooner is in London performing pre-booked gigs but he will be returning to Edinburgh on Friday, solely to appear in the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards Show is 10.00pm to midnight in the ballroom of The Counting House as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – no tickets, free admission – Friday 26th August.

The Edinburgh Fringe is about shameless promotion.

Now I had better prepare for the two days of spaghetti-juggling events I perhaps foolishly decided to put on outdoors Outside the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket… 6.15-7.00pm tonight and tomorrow…

It is looking like it might rain…

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

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

For most of the day, things went well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

OCD is a wonderful thing.

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

That is what large amounts of drinking can lead to.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005

I wrote this article for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s magazine UK Writer in 2005.

With this year’s Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, it might be of interest.

Though plus ça change.

_________________________________________________________________________________

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.

In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.

The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.

I run his website – www.malcolmhardee.co.uk – and I am currently available for work via my website – www.thejohnfleming.com.

This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.

Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.

It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?

I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”

Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.

This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.

Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.

Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.

They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.

The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.

Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.

Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.

Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.

So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.

It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.

One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.

She handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture – the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the Fringe.

As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.

“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.

At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”

A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.

“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”

“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.

She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.

“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”

Janey Godley’s website is www.janeygodley.com

My website is www.thejohnfleming.com

We are both available.

This is the Fringe.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Well, that was the Fringe in 2005.

The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.

The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.

Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.

At the Fringe, publicity is all-important.

Remember the wise advice of Max Bialystock.

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

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Filed under Comedy, PR, Scotland, Television, Theatre