Tag Archives: Just The Greatest

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show gets thrown together – much like spaghetti – at the Edinburgh Fringe

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

The Awards Show poster at the 2012 Fringe

I always tell people that staging the annual two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe is a win-win situation.

If the show goes smoothly, that is good.

If the show turns a bit shambolic, then it is a true tribute to Malcolm and just as good.

The trick is really to book a good MC. Last year I struck gold with the excellent Miss Behave, who was and is on the right wavelength of Bizarre and knows all the best odd acts. This allowed the show to comprise even more speciality acts and less straight stand-ups. I hope she will present the Awards Show again this year but her availability is still uncertain – as is always the case with all acts at the Fringe.

I am not going to approach most acts until after the Fringe Programme is published on May 30th and I know who is actually in town, but I have some building blocks.

Last year, we had a very successful celebrity Russian Egg Roulette contest – instead of holding guns to the head, two people face each other across a table and smash hard-boiled eggs on their foreheads BUT one of the eggs is not hard-boiled – it is raw. The result is messy and that person loses.

Last year, contestants included comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith as well as eventual winner Lewis Schaffer.

This year, the World Egg Throwing Federation’s esteemed president Andy Dunlop will again be supervising a contest and has agreed our event will be the official Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship.

I feel honoured and humbled. And somewhat soiled.

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in 2011

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh in 2011

The two-hour Awards Show will also (I hope) include the return of uncooked spaghetti juggling.

Several Fringe performers and passers-by tried this a couple of years ago outside the Beehive Inn in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. The only one who managed it truly successfully was juggler supreme Mat Ricardo who (unless he gets a better offer) will recreate his triumph on the show.

It is also likely that the farter of Alternative Comedy, the world’s only performing professional flatulist Mr Methane (after a run of his own show earlier in the Fringe), will make a special trip back up to Edinburgh to perform on the Comedy Awards Show.

As for publicity, I will be hosting five daily chat shows in the week of the Awards Show, titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show. Book early to avoid disappointment – it’s only a fiver.

Malcolm Hardee pioneered the use of Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! in Fringe show titles as a way to get first listing in the Fringe Programme. One can but pray no-one else has added more letter ‘A’s this year. The Awards Show itself is titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! Free! It’s the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Details of who is appearing in the show will be posted on my website www.thejohnfleming.com and on the long-due-for-a-re-design Malcolm Hardee website www.malcolmhardee.co.uk/award

But also, in keeping with the title of the show, I have bought the domain name www.increasinglyprestigious.co.uk as well as www.fringecomedyawards.co.uk and, as the current newish sponsors of what used to be the Perrier Awards keep misleadingly implying that they have been sponsoring their awards for the last 30+ years, you can also find details of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk

This is in a general hope that they may try to sue me for misleading punters – something that is, I would argue strongly, at the heart of the Fringe experience. We do, after all, have an annual award for the best Cunning Stunt.

Our two hour charity variety show will, of course, include the presentation of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (even I would not be THAT misleading). These are:

– The Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality

– The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

and, hopefully self-explanatory…

– The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

The Malcolm Hardee Awards by the Forth Bridge

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection by Forth Bridge

Obviously, there are no rules, no forms and no application processes. The winners emerge, much like a new Pope, after obscure consultation in small rooms and modest tea-drinking by the judges who are more talent spotters than Simon Cowell type judges.

We hope to stumble on the winners. We do not particularly encourage people to suggest themselves.

The winner of the main Comic Originality award has to have a truly original act, show or persona. Anyone who thinks their show is “zany” is on the wrong wavelength. We have no idea what we are looking for – if we knew what to look for, it would not be truly original – but we recognise it when we see it.

If anyone has to tell us they have pulled a cunning publicity stunt, then they are not going to win by definition – If they have to tell us because we have not heard about it, then the stunt has failed to get publicity.

As for the ‘Million Quid’ award, the number of people likely to pretend to think they are going to make a million quid is too high to even begin to think about. Even if they do make a million quid, it will probably be squandered on drink, drugs, sex and agents they can’t afford, so it is usually a hollow success. But it sounds good as an Award title.

Last year, Ireland’s Rubberbandits won the Award For Comic Originality… England’s Stuart Goldsmith won the Cunning Stunt Award… and South Africa’s Trevor Noah won the ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award.

As usual, the three Awards this year will be presented by The Scotsman’s legendary comedy reviewer Kate Copstick and the evening will end, I hope, with The Greatest Show On Legs performing their traditional naked balloon dance. I certainly hope this is going to happen, because central ‘Leg’ Martin Soan is coming up to Edinburgh solely for this show and is stealing my bed in my Edinburgh flat on the basis he will get his kit off and wave some inflated rubber spheres around in a balletic manner.

Other performers will be announced nearer the date. Previous Malcolm Hardee tribute shows have included Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee, Johnny Vegas et al. Do not expect Justin Bieber.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – free entry, but with the audience encouraged to donate money as they leave. A full 100% of all money collected (with no deductions of any kind) goes to the Mama Biashara charity run by Kate Copstick.

As Malcolm Hardee’s reputation on money was not angelic, I feel obliged to spell out the exact details.

Especially as this year, for the first time, the Awards Show will be sponsored.

Just The Greatest sponsors

Just The Greatest sponsors the 2013 Comedy Awards

The new Just The Greatest comedy audio label is kindly donating a lump sum to cover the cost of designing, printing and distributing flyers and posters… and the cost of the Fringe Programme fee, the sound teching of the show and the cost of engraving the trophies. A full 100% of any money left over from this lump sum will be donated to the Mama Biashara charity.

I have always been a bit wary of sponsorship for the Awards because of the risk of anything too corporate being connected with an anarchic-imaged set of awards. Also, I do not want to make or to be misinterpreted as making money out of giving awards in memory of dead Malcolm. And I would have trouble getting top acts to perform for free if the few pennies donated were not going to charity or if I were making anything out of it. So I have never covered any of my costs before.

Because of Malcolm’s rather dodgy reputation, just to be clear… None of my personal costs are being covered. No transport; no accommodation costs; no personal costs. Nowt is being covered except show costs – the Fringe Programme entry, flyers, posters, engraving and sound teching. To save money, the flyers and posters will probably advertise both the Awards Show and the five days of my chat shows. In that case, only 50% of their costs will be taken from the sponsorship money (to cover the Awards Show element) and I will pay for the other 50% (to cover the chat shows’ advertising) out of my own pocket.

100% of any sponsorship money not spent on specific show costs will go to the Mama Biashara charity. As will 100% of all money given by the audience on the night of the Awards Show – Friday 23rd August, the final Friday of the Fringe.

Jesus! The hoops I have to make sure I am seen to jump through just because Malcolm might have been a bit creative with money. And I will still be losing money on the show. All this for some dead bloke with big bollocks!

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New UK audio comedy label launches and initially gets 100% of its sales in US

(A version of this piece was published on the Indian news site WSN)

Neale Welch: in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch – building something new in Shoreditch last week

Neale Welch is a busy chap.

This year, he took over-all charge of programming at the Comedy Cafe Theatre in London, a full-time job which continues.

But, in July last year, he also started his own independent comedy label Just The Greatest and, this month, it released its first three audio albums – by Anil Desai, Steve N Allen and Erich McElroy (all recorded live at the Comedy Cafe Theatre).

When I talked to him in London’s Shoreditch last week, he told me something very odd:

“All of the sales so far,” he told me, “have been in the United States.”

“Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I think there’s an element of If you build it, they will come. The sales are there. Sales started as a trickle and they are starting to increase.”

“The blurbs must be bloody good,” I said.

Anil Desai: Hey, Impressions Guy!

Anil Desai – the first album released by Just The Greatest

“Well,” Neale told me, “there’s only a very brief description of what’s on the albums – there’s no real space on iTunes for any promo copy or quotes. They’re just really good products. Very funny.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “They’re very good comedians but the Americans, presumably, don’t know them – To the Yanks, they’re Fred Hippity-Hoppity from Guatemala.”

“What I think you’re witnessing here, John,” suggested Neale, “is the power of the distribution channels – iTunes and Amazon. Who are we to know why Americans are buying the albums? It’s comedy, it’s spoken word, it’s British and it’s out there available to buy.”

“How much do they cost?” I asked.

“The distributors set the prices themselves,” explained Neale. “iTunes set the price by category and genre. The albums are $9.99.”

“So Yanks are forking out $10 for unknown-to-them comedians!” I said in amazement.

“But they’re getting to know them slowly,” said Neale. “And you can also buy cheaper individual tracks.”

“I guess, when it all develops,” I said, “your market is going to be Britain and the English-speaking pink bits on the map – plus the US?”

“And parts of Europe,” added Neale.

“This is like one of those rock star things,” I said, “where someone from Manchester is a major star in Botswana for no discernible reason. Or Right Said Fred  being massive in Germany, which they are. Massive.”

“…and David Hasselhoff,” added Neale.

“And David Hasselhoff,” I had to agree. “Did you expect to get foreign sales?”

“Not this early, no,” said Neale.

“So why did you start the label?” I asked.

Steve N Allen - one of the acts Yanks seem keen on

Steve N Allen is one of the acts Yanks seem very keen on

“Because,” explained Neale, “a few years ago, I was travelling alone around Asia and Australia and needed something to listen to when I was in planes, on beaches, in hostels. Videos are fine, but videos require your attention whereas, with a sound album, you can do other things when you’re in another environment.

“I came across a great podcast called Stop Podcasting Yourself by Graham Clark. So I brought him over to do a special gig at the Comedy Cafe in London, which was great, sold out, fantastic.

“Graham is signed to a podcast network in the States called MaximumFun.org, run by a guy called Jesse Thorn – a great inspirational guy who started this network with lots of free content, a little bit of paid content, lots of different shows, mostly run on donations.

“And I thought I could do something like that. I thought I want to do something that’s good and I want to work with original artists that are going somewhere and have got something to say.”

“Hold on though,” I interrupted, “You said, with a sound album, you can do other things while you’re listening. But doesn’t comedy require you pay attention? The build-ups and the punchlines?”

“Yes,” agreed Neale. “But not as much as visuals. I think there’s an opportunity for the re-birth of comedy albums in digital form.”

“And physical CDs?” I asked.

“It’s all digital,” said Neale. “At Just The Greatest, we’re not interested in physical products, though some of the artists are going to produce physical products – CDs – to sell themselves after their gigs. It doesn’t make any sense any other way. I don’t have a warehouse to store a load of stuff.”

“And CDs are dead anyway,” I suggested.

“Yeah,” agreed Neale, “CDs, DVDs… but downloads have made up for the decline in over-all sales. If you pay attention to who’s listening to podcasts – graphic designers, knowledge workers if you will – it’s people who are at their desk working a flexible, autonomous working day who can also enjoy audio entertainment. That’s the kind of demographic who are going to buy it.”

“Did you do market research in advance?” I asked.

Erich McElroy - North American but with Brit Identity

Erich McElroy – a North American but with Brit Identity

“The sales ARE the market research,” Neale explained. “I’m finding out now what kind of market I’m going into and it’s clear that there are opportunities. I knew in advance, obviously, that there were similar projects out there already. It’s not like I was wondering if people would buy a digital file; of course they will.”

“How do you think the market will it develop?” I asked. “Will iTunes’ dominance diminish?”

“In the digital market, I just do not know,” said Neale. “If you look at the barriers to entry and the coverage that they get… it would be a difficult market for anyone to attack. If you think that a company the size of Amazon aren’t even getting close, then…”

“And beyond that,” I asked, “you’ll develop radio shows, TV shows and major movies with lots of special effects?”

“No,” laughed Neale. “As you know, I’ve shot some small videos, but try and find someone in Shoreditch who hasn’t!”

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