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25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

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Sex with comedian Giada Garofalo. Miss Behave tries to get money for dogging.

Giada Garofalo - not a woman to mess with

Giada Garofalo – maybe don’t mess with her

’Tis the season for jolly comedy performers to be previewing and thinking of ways to promote their Edinburgh Fringe shows next month.

Last night, I went to Soho in London to see Edinburgh preview shows by Giada Garofalo and Oli Bettesworth.

In his very funny show about depression – Sunshine and Lollipops (and a Creeping Sense of Existential Terror) – the very English Oli is seemingly making a fair bid for the loudest show on the Fringe. I cannot see his voice lasting out beyond the first week.

The very Sicilian Giada – with Live in the Staff Room! (Sex, Fairy Tales, Serial Killers & other Stuff) – is making a strong bid for the most autobiographically sexual show on the Fringe – the sex even permeates the fairy tale section which dumps Disney for Edgar Allan Poe.

Before the two previews, I had tea with Miss Behave, who is promoting her Edinburgh shows with the help of crowdfunding via a Kickstarter appeal.

“How much did you appeal for?” I asked.

“£397 – and I made it in six hours. So, I have decided to take it bigger and better.

Miss Behave’s successful appeal on Kickstarter

Miss Behave’s very successful first appeal on Kickstarter

“I did start off wanting camels, because I thought it would be a great way to launch my show(s) at the Fringe – to actually parade through a pedestrian area, flyering on camels.”

“And…?” I asked.

“Just try and get a fucking camel to Edinburgh,” said Miss Behave. “So then I thought: Donkeys.”

“You bet your ass,” I said.

Miss Behave ignored me.

“Or cows,” she continued. “But apparently cows have a tendency to charge at crowds of people, so that felt too dangerous. So then I was riffing with this person who is an animal wrangler. A Scottish animal wrangler.”

“For films?” I asked.

“Yeah. So I said: What about 50 chihuahuas? She thought about it overnight, called me back the next day and said: Right. I’ve sorted it. I’ve got a guy, who is also an animal wrangler, who has 20 chihuahua Jack Russell puppy mixes, so they’ll get on. If I just got 50 random dogs, there would be a dog fight.”

“These are,” I checked, “an interbreeding of chihuahuas and Jack Russells?”

“Yeah. Pretty cute. Chihuahuas are a bit too scary but, if you throw a bit of Jack Russell into the mix, that’s cute-tastic. It’s got a special name – a Jahuahua or JackChi or Jackhuahua or something.”

Jacksie?” I asked.

“JackChi,” said Miss Behave.

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday

Miss Behave under the weather in Soho yesterday afternoon

“You know,” I told her, “that there are dogs which are a cross between shih tzus and poodles?’

“What are they called?”

“Not what you’d think,” I said. “Which is a pity.”

“Anyway,” said Miss Behave, “the animal wrangler also found me a Newfoundland dog. The idea was that the Newfoundland would pull a cart with me sitting on it and all the chihuahua Jack Russell puppies would be around it and we would do a parade – again, flyering. Which was fine. But then the dude just went silent. Just dropped off the face of the earth. disappeared. I thought What am I going to do? I am not known for the ‘cute’ area, but I wanted it to be cute and silly.”

“Cute?” I asked. “You started with a herd of camels!”

“Yeah, but then I’d got into puppies. So I thought: Never work with children or animals. Well, alright, how about kids? I could get a lot of kid dancers. I could have six different children’s dance companies, all with the same music, but each doing different routines. Kids are cute. I am not – and I don’t really like children. So that’s funny.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

Cute or not? Miss Behave.

“I thought: I can co-ordinate it all but, with the cost of actually doing Edinburgh this year, I can’t also afford £300 worth of helium balloons and all the other stuff for the kids. So I costed it all up and I had been wanting to try a Kickstarter for a while. £397 is not a massive amount of money to ask for. Give it a go!

“And it’s been real fun. It took me six hours to raise £397 and now, at the point I’m talking to you,  it’s been just over 24 hours. I have 25 days left and I’ve got £708 already pledged. I thought: If I get more, let’s see how large a production number we can give ‘em. That could potentially mean more helium balloons, confetti cannons.”

“It could,” I suggested, “mean the return of the camels and the chihuahuas.”

“Or a drone camera,” mused Miss Behave. “With £708, I’ve got enough to buy a cheap little remote controlled helicopter, strap a GoPro camera onto it and that could be a drone. I think it’s going to be a laugh and there’s no ‘wrong’ in it. If the worst thing that happens is a bunch of kids show up dressed in cardboard boxes with a load of helium balloons, that’s fine. At the moment, I have four different dance schools and one majorette school.”

“What,” I asked, “are they actually promoting?”

 Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

Miss Behave and her lovely Gameshow assistant Harriet

“I’m taking my gameshow up to the Fringe – the large version I did in a Spiegeltent in London.”

“Are you appearing in any major Edinburgh comedy awards shows?” I asked.

“Well, I’m going to run in late and make a spectacular entrance into the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show, but don’t tell the organiser, because he thinks I’m actually hosting it with Janey Godley.”

“Chaos is always welcome,” I said. “It is good to live in interesting times.”

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The illegal Silk Road linking BBC TV’s EastEnders to the Edinburgh Fringe

It was Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning performer Gareth Ellis – one of those people who seems to know everyone – who told me that writer Alex Oates was going to be on The Keiser Report last week.

I had tea with Alex at Soho Theatre yesterday.

“Being on Max Keiser’s show must have been an interesting experience, I said.

“I had thought,” replied Alex, “it was an online version of some Bloomberg type thing. I had no idea it was on Russia Today. I just agreed to it.”

“When did Max start shouting?” I asked.

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left)and Max Keiser

Alex Oates (centre) with Dominic Shaw (left) and Max Keiser

“Quite soon,” said Alex.

Alex appeared on The Keiser Report with director Dominic Shaw, to plug Alex’s upcoming Edinburgh Fringe play Silk Road.

“Max wanted us on cos of the Bitcoin thing,” Alex told me. “He’s a Bitcoin evangelist.”

“And your play,” I prompted, “is about…?”

“We were going to call it SILK ROAD – OR HOW TO BUY DRUGS ONLINE but everyone said that was too gimmicky, so we just called it SILK ROAD. It’s a dark comedy about Silk Road, the illegal marketplace that uses Bitcoins, so we thought we would try and get funding through Bitcoin. It would be the first play financed through Bitcoins.”

“The guy who allegedly started Silk Road has been arrested,” I said.

“But,” said Alex, “three weeks after he was arrested, it came back and Silk Road 2 is very much alive.”

“So why,” I asked, “did you decide to do a play about an online site where you can buy heroin and AK-47s?”

“You can’t buy AK-47s any more,” said Alex, “they’ve got a conscience.”

“But heroin is OK?” I asked.

One drug-selling page on the Silk Road hidden website, 2012

One drug-selling page on the illegal Silk Road website, 2012

“Yeah,” said Alex. “Strange, their moral compass. A bit wonky. Why did I want to do it? Because it’s really fascinating: the idea you can buy drugs on the internet and have them posted to your door by Royal Mail. And there’s a feedback system so you know what you’re buying is good drugs. There have been lots of plays and films about drug dealers, but this is the next generation of drug dealers.”

Silk Road is a one-man play starring James Baxter.

“How do you make it interesting?” I asked. “Because no-one ever meets anyone. It’s all online.”

Silk Road - The Play

Silk Road – a play about drugs, nans and tea cosies

“The guy in the play lives with his nan,” Alex explained. “She has an eBay business selling tea-cosies. He is trying to bring drugs to your average user. It’s quite hard to use Silk Road, so what he does is buy the drugs in bulk from Silk Road and then start slipping them into his nan’s tea-cosies. He lets people know that, if you buy his nan’s tea-cosies, then you’ll get a gram of cocaine with each one. So his nan’s eBay business goes from selling them for £5 to £60 and she virtually becomes a millionaire overnight.”

“How did Silk Road react?” I asked.

“Well, I advertised the play in the forums on Silk Road. Originally, a bunch of dealers were quite angry about it, saying: We don’t need any more press! We’re trying to keep this quiet! Then some dealers said: Look, we’re gonna get press regardless. So we might as well have someone in our corner. 

“Then one dealer said: I’ll give you some Bitcoins. And two Bitcoins were deposited in our account which, at the time we sold them, were worth £600 (together) – now, two weeks later, they’re worth around £850. The producer had thought Bitcoins might crash but, really, they’re not gonna crash any time soon, so we should have kept them. It was a mistake.

“I tried really hard to sell tickets for the play on Silk Road itself, but they’re not accepting any new venders at the moment. There’s a very strict authentication process and they’re being cautious since the fall of the first Silk Road.”

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre yesterday afternoon

Alex Oates at the Soho Theatre in London yesterday afternoon

“How did you get involved in Silk Road?” I asked.

“I’m friends with a lot of tech guys and I know some people who use the website.”

“For what?”

“Buying drugs. They were telling me about Silk Road and how amazing it was.”

“You can see pictures of what you are going to buy,” I said.

“Yes. And the actual chemical breakdown of the drug and how pure it is. And that is guaranteed. And then there are people who write reviews and say: Yes, I’ve tested this. It is actually what it says it is.

“Is there a money-back guarantee if not satisfied?” I asked.

“There’s an escrow system,” explained Alex.

“I’m not sure if this is a good development of capitalism or a bad development of capitalism,” I said.

“It fascinating, though, isn’t it?” said Alex.

“So,” I asked, “Your Silk Road play. Does it have a message?”

Alex Oates laughs on The Keiser Report

Alex, a man with little political agenda, on The Keiser Report

“I think if I have a political agenda,” replied Alex, “it’s about drug reform and how the War on Drugs does not really work.

“It has demonised a generation of potheads and, really, if you regulated it and taxed it, then it would be a lot safer. In the play, we go into local gangsters who cut cocaine with urinal cakes.”

“Urinal cakes?” I asked.

“The little yellow cakes that are there to make the urinals fresh.”

“Oh,” I said, “I thought for a moment you meant cakes made out of urine. After all, we are sitting in Soho. There is probably a niche market for people who want to eat things like that.”

“There is a market for everything,” said Alex. “If I’m making a political point it is about drug reform, but Silk Road is a very light and whimsical play.”

“So you wrote it because…?”

“I’ve always been obsessed with theatre.”

“There’s no money in writing plays is there?” I asked.

“They say you can’t make a living, but you can make a killing. So I’m going for the killing.”

“No theatrical background?” I asked.

“My dad’s a policeman; my mum’s a nurse.”

“Your dad was in the drug squad?”

“No. He’s a retired inspector.”

“What did you study at university?”

“Theatre Arts at the University of Middlesex.”

“And then…?”

“I started writing on an EastEnders spin-off for the BBC.”

“Jesus Christ,” I said. “I should do research in advance.”

A BBC publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20

BBC TV publicity shot of Alex for EastEnders:E20 series

“I was very lucky,” said Alex. “I got into a BBC Young Writers’ Summer School thing. It turned out the idea was for ten of us to create this thing called EastEnders: E20. I became the lead writer for that and wrote for three series of it.

“Then I applied for the Old Vic New Voices scheme and got onto that. They used to do a thing where you’re given 24-hour to write a play and you put it on in the Old Vic as a way to showcase yourself to the industry.”

“Jesus Christ 2,” I said. “I really should do research in advance. But I do know you are trying to finance Silk Road by crowdfunding it on Kickstarter and Max Keiser’s StartJOIN.

“Yes,” said Alex, “it finishes next Tuesday on Kickstarter. We need to raise £2,500 by next Tuesday or we get nothing.”

The play has already received £1000 from the Kevin Spacey Foundation.

“Next?” I asked.

“My next play is about an autistic boy,” said Alex, “because that’s my day job. I work with people with special needs.”

Rain Man?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Alex. “The thing that annoys me about the autism stereotype is the Rain Man thing. I wanted to show the other side. The really hard work. It can potentially ruin your life if you have an autistic child. It’s the sort of thing nobody really says, so the play is about a couple struggling to deal with having an autistic kid.”

There is a teaser for Silk Road on YouTube.

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Filed under Crime, Crowdfunding, Drugs, Theatre

Two Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winners plan Magikal Mystery Tours

So yesterday I met comedian Gareth Ellis in the basement bar of The Toucan pub off Soho Square in London. He did not have a black eye.

Gareth says he does not want to be forever remembered as the man who got his stage partner Richard ‘Rich’ Rose to punch him in the face so Ellis & Rose could claim Gareth had got beaten up by an irate objector to their Edinburgh Fringe show last year (Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show), get some publicity in the press and win a highly coveted Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

The video excerpt of him being repeatedly punched in the face is still on YouTube. He should be proud of how he suffered for his art. But, for some reason, he seems unwilling to milk it.

Now Ellis & Rose have come up with another new idea.

Over the summer, they intend to run monthly Magikal Mystery Tours.

Potential mystery and mayhem coach masters Ellis (left) & Rose

Potential mystery & mayhem coachmasters Ellis (left) & Rose

“We will get a luxury coach,” Gareth told me, “fill it with people and a few acts and drive out of London to weird, random towns and do bizarre town tours and scavenger hunts for weird items and the audience will be split into two teams. It will be like me and Rich taking a bunch of people on a school trip gone wrong.

“Before the people get to the bus, they will have filled out an online survey and we will split them into Red and Blue teams and they will have to come wearing predominantly one colour.

“We’ll stop off at weird museums and things and end up in the evening at a weird small venue where the headline act will do a show.

“Essentially, it’s going to be a very strange but fun full-day comedy show. We’ll stop off at a few places, acts will do bits and pieces but, if they’ve got a stage persona, the acts won’t necessarily be in that persona the whole day; they’ll be themselves, just part of the group. There will be about 45 people – the number we can get on the coach.”

“How are you going to sell tickets?” I asked.

The Kickstarter page through which tickets are bought

Magikal Kickstarter page

“Through a Kickstarter page,” said Gareth. “People will pledge money to get a ticket, so we will know how many people want to come and we will hire the right-sized coach for that number of people. It also means our audience knows exactly what they are letting themselves in for and they are invested in the whole experience. We need to get the right audience for the trip: a comedy-savvy audience, the Soho Theatre audience.

“I think this is the perfect antidote to our Jimmy Savile show – another string to our bow – showing that we can do something big and organised.

“We’re thinking of doing it monthly over the summer. We could do it at the Edinburgh Fringe as a one-off.”

Their Kickstarter campaign has just gone online. It ends on 25th April, with the first coach trip exactly one month later, on Sunday 25th May. Tickets cost £40, leaving London at 10.00am and arriving back no later than 10.00pm.

Gareth Ellis, coach master, at the Toucan bar yesterday

Gareth Ellis, at the Toucan bar yesterday, has a Speedy idea

For the first Magikal Mystery Tour, Phil Kay will be ‘Chief Tour Guide Extraordinaire’ and Miles Lloyd, billed as ‘the most accident-prone Welsh comedian ever’ will be the coach’s ‘House Band’.

“How are you going to publicise this?” I asked. “Apart, obviously, from having it mentioned in my increasing-prestigious blog?”

“Maybe,” mused Gareth, “me and Rich should go on a bus and say we’ve put a bomb on there so the driver can’t slow down below 31 miles an hour otherwise the bomb will go off unless 45 people buy tickets for our own coach trip.”

“It’s a thought.” I said. “A good thought.”

Ellis & Rose’s appeal is on Kickstarter and on YouTube:

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Comic Devvo needs money to publish a book for a toilet to save his nan’s house

Devvo in a ‘selfie' taken yesterday

Devvo – a ‘selfie’ taken in Doncaster yesterday

“So you’re going to publish a book,” I said to Devvo yesterday via Skype. “How come? Surely you can’t read or write?”

“It’s a picture book, John,” he told me. “That’s the beauty of it. It’s a picture book.”

“For children?” I asked.

“Definitely NOT for children,” he confirmed.

“You have to paint your ceiling,” I told him. We were video Skyping. I could see a large crack in his ceiling.

“It’s the spare room,” he said. “We got a lotta work to do on our house.”

“It looks like the House of Usher,” I told him.

“Well, it’s me nan’s house,” he said. “I live in me nan’s house. It’s on the outskirts of Doncaster. It’s all falling apart.”

“Doncaster?” I asked.

“The house,” said Devvo. “She burns coal, me nan does. She burns coal. What the previous owners did was to re-arrange the walls but they did it really badly, so we need lots of money to fix all the things. It’s me nan’s falling-down house that eats all the money.”

“So what sort of book is it?” I asked.

“It’s kind of like a David ShrigleyChris (Simpsons’ artist) type of silly book with loads of like Devvo-type stories in. There’s life tips, dating tips, there’s…”

“Filter tips?” I suggested.

“No filter tips,” said Devvo, “but I’ve made little stories with me and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I’ve called him Arnold Shuitzman, because I thought that sounded more fun.”

The book every fine toilet should have

A book that may save Devvo’s nan’s house

“OK,” I said. “Look. You’re a chav from Doncaster. Writing a book is a bit above your station, isn’t it?”

“I’ve done it,” said Devvo, “because I like pictures and drawing and I want to make some money and people make money selling things. So I thought Let’s make a book to sell.”

“So it’s got photographs?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“And drawings?”

“Yeah. I’ve drawn stuff and I’ve learned how to use PhotoShop a bit and I’ve written stuff and drawn bits and found pictures and put them in PhotoShop and made really cool pictures so people will go Ah, they’re dead funny, aren’t they? Yeah, they’re dead funny!

“Can you send me a copy of the book?” I asked.

“I can send it to you as an eBook,” said Devvo, “but you have to keep it to yourself because, if you allow these things to be freely available, it would be jeopardising everything and I know what you’re like, giving away things.”

“No, I understand,” I said. “Some of us have been trying to turn our blogs into eBooks for the last two years and I’m two months away from proofreading the first one but, my god, it’s like wading through treacle.”

“That’s why I’ve just done pictures,” explained Devvo. “It just took two weeks to do and it was really fun.”

“So you’re artistic?” I asked. “Or autistic?”

“Bit of both,” said Devvo. “No, I’m not artistic at all. That’s the thing. I’m probably the least artistic out of all the people that exist. But that’s alright. Maybe I’ve found a little talent. Maybe it’s another thing to add to my bow.”

“Your bow?” I asked.

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

Devvo’s Kickstarter appeal page

“My bow,” said Devvo. “When it’s done, it’s going to be a printed book as well as an eBook. The Kickstarter appeal has done really well. It’s got close to £900. We met our Kickstarter target in 24 hours and it closes on 15th March.”

The book’s estimated delivery is the end of March. If you pledge £10, you get a physical and a digital copy of the book. If you pledge £250, Devvo will perform “at your house, in your house, on your roof, in your car, at your local church. Whatever.” And you also get ten copies of the book.

“So you reached your target in one day,” I said. “What are you going to do with the extra money?”

“Well, this is it,” said Devvo. “It’s clever business with crowdfunding. You put the target at an achievable level and you really want to make more anyway. So it’s all just clever business. I really need to get about £1,000 to make good quality books.”

“So,” I said, “if you get more money than you expected, you’ll make an even better quality product?”

“Well, that’s it,” said Devvo. “That’s it. And it means I get the books cheaper in print which means I can make more of a profit, which is what everyone’s after really, innit?”

“You’re going to sell the physical copies at gigs?” I asked.

“I’m going to sell ‘em at gigs, sell ‘em online. People like to buy stuff, John. I’ve done three gigs in the past two weeks and I’ve sold about sixty T-shirts. I did one gig in Barrow-in-Furness and I got bored of selling T-shirts I was selling that many.”

“There’s nothing else to do in Barrow-in-Furness,” I pointed out. “When I was a TV researcher, I went to Barrow-in-Furness to talk to a man who was blind and wanted to parachute jump. It took forever to get there and, when I did, the weather was overcast, the houses were roughcast and the people were downcast. I think suicide may be an option people in Barrow-in-Furness take to improve their lives.”

“But they were the best people I ever met!” enthused Devvo. “It felt like I were doing a gig to loads of mates I’d just met. It were real good.”

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

It’s one of them Devvo books that fits in the gap in the toilet

“So who is the audience for your book?” I asked. “Where is the gap in the market?”

“It’s one of them books,” replied Devvo, “that fits in the gap where you think Ah, we don’t need a book there. Like in your toilet. You’re sat on the loo and you need a little toilet read. You’re there for five minutes and you think, Oh, I’ll have a little read of that! It’s just a dead good, dead funny book that people need to have. The main thing I’m excited about is having a copy for myself. I can have a copy of my book in my toilet and have a look at it and laugh at it. Anything else is a bonus, really.”

“Is this book,” I asked, “connected in any way to Bob Slayer’s increasing empire of books, comedy venues and drunken revels?”

“It’s published through the Heroes name,” said Devvo, “and I’m absolutely delighted to be part of Bob’s growing empire and just general, exciting stuff in life, really.

Devvo’s self-designed poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

Devvo self-made poster for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival

“This Friday, I’m playing the Leicester Comedy Festival with Bob – We’re doing Devvo’s Deal or No Dealer gameshow and Bob’s my glamorous assistant and then I think we’re doing the same show at the Bath Comedy Festival together.”

“So Devvo’s on the rise?” I asked. “What can you do after being an internet sensation, a stage sensation and potentially a publishing sensation?”

“I’m starting to become a businessman,” he replied. “When people talk of Devvo in his early years, he’s just stupid, swearing and this, that and other. People don’t allow me to get older, but Devvo’s got better at business. So my plan is to start an empire selling T-shirts and books and all the things people don’t need but need. Filling those gaps.”

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The Santa Claus comedian, mad crowd funding and a crime wave in Greenwich

My car last night - without its numberplate

My car in Greenwich last night – without its number plate

The London Borough of Greenwich which rather grandly markets itself as Royal Greenwich has a good image… unless you live in their council flats.

The Up The Creek comedy club is less than a 30 second walk from the centre of Greenwich and less than a 30 second walk from a shambolic crime-ridden area where the ever-uncaring Council shits on tenants, ignores anti-social behaviour, where gangs have had running gun battles and where, apparently, it’s unsafe to park your car at night.

I had my car window smashed in December 2010 and blogged about it.

Nothing was stolen because of my (cheap but wonderful) Toyota’s excellent double-locking system.

The same thing happened in February 2012 further along the same street. This time, whoever did it actually climbed in through the smashed window of the double-locked door, went through the interior, lowered the back seats and got access from the inside to the boot. A SatNav was stolen from a not-immediately-obvious cavity.

After that, I never parked in that road at night and, if I had to park my car at night at all in Greenwich, I parked it a 10-minute walk away near the police station.

Last night, my eternally-un-named friend and I had dinner with performers Vivienne and Martin Soan at their home in Nunhead, Peckham, where they were preparing this Friday’s Pull The Other One show starring the oft-name-checked (especially by himself) Lewis Schaffer. Then I drove to Greenwich to pick up some belongings from my eternally-un-named friend’s flat. I parked in a nearby well-lit road under a lamp post at a T-junction overlooked by flats, where anyone trying to do anything to my car could be visible. When we came out, 50 minutes later, both the number plates had been stolen off my car.

Don’t talk to me about Greenwich. There is a video on YouTube of what the area was like in March 2011.

Slightly cheerier, were two reactions to my blog yesterday about crowdfunding.

Los Angeles based comedian Nikki Lynn Katt contacted me because she reckons I am a “comedy ninja”.

I have no idea what this means and sometimes I think the loss of the American Colonies was not necessarily a negative factor for our Sceptred Isle.

Still, enthusiasm – though clearly un-British – can have its plus points.

Nikki Lynn sent me a message saying: “I intend to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award from you at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. Unless, of course, you decide to fund my Edinburgh show and then it becomes a conflict of interest for me to win the award 🙂 In the meantime, I’m wondering if you’d be interested in covering my Kickstarter campaign.”

She is raising crowdfunding to make a comedy electronic dance music EP record titled Dance Your Hate Away. One of the songs on the proposed album starts:

When I’m with you I want to die
I want to slit my wrist and I don’t know why
When I’m with you I want to bash in your head
But I don’t and then we fuck instead

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

Nikki Lynn Katt’s dancing technique still needs a little work

She is also learning to burlesque dance and hardly needs my help either with that or with the fundraising.

So far she has raised 130% of the funds needed for her $5,000 EP – with $6,510 pledged and 11 days to go. Ever-enterprising and with commendable Colonial enthusiasm, she has now added to her Kickstarter page the words: “We can record 10 songs instead of 5 if we raise $10,000!”

The incentives to contribute, of course, vary.

For $1 you get a digital download, she says, of “my entire existing catalog of music! You will immediately receive everything I’ve ever professionally released!”

“For $55, she says: “I will give you a private burlesque dance performance in your living room for you and your friends (provided you live in Los Angeles). I’m going to bring a friend as well to keep it safe and, to make it super clear, you can’t touch me! I set the delivery to March of next year but this could happen sooner if you have a compelling reason, like you want me to dance at a house party you’re throwing, for example.”

For $85 you get a hand-crocheted scarf. She explains: “Sorry for the high cost, these take a long time to make!”

For $150, you get dinner with Nikki in Melbourne, Australia, between November 18 and November 20, 2013. You have to pay for the dinner.

For $200, you get a date with Nikki in Los Angeles. She says: “The differentiating factor between this reward and the Dinner With Nikki reward is that on a Date With Nikki she will actually consider you as a potential romantic prospect. She is single, after all. All genders are welcome (this is when bi-sexuality really comes in handy!) A chaperone will be provided… Nikki is a lady, no funny business on a first date!”

All this Colonial enterprise and enthusiasm is no doubt admirable, but I rather tend towards the other response I had to my blog on crowdfunding.

It came from British comedian Ray Davis. He hopes to raise £750.

Totally unexplained image on Ray Davis’ appeal page

Unexplained image on Ray’s Indiegogo page

On his page on the more dubious Indiegogo website (regular readers of this blog may remember comic Laura Levites getting financially messed-around by Indiegogo) Ray says:

“The purpose of this project is to raise funds for no real purpose – I plan to do absolutely nothing with any monies raised except perhaps waste it on frivolity.”

He adds:

“I have of course not formatted this pitch, provided a video despite advice that it increases contributions by 114%, a web site and even started sentences in lower case and with a connective – in essence I’ve done all I can to provide an empty petri dish.”

If you contribute to Ray’s appeal, some of the temptations on offer are…

If you donate £1, you get  “An Original Thought” – If you have a Twitter account, Ray will “tweet you an original thought (no guarantee it’ll be witty or inspiring though). Estimated delivery: December 2013.”

For £25, you get “My Tweeted autograph – possibly worthless…but you never know, one day, eh?”

And – the biggie – If you donate £100 or more, you get Broken Christmas Tree Decorations (delivery date in January 2014)”

Ray explains (without resorting to capital letters):

“you know what it’s like – you always lose some tree dangler over the festive period (and we have a cat so odds are high) – any damaged or broken will be boxed and shipped at my expense – plus a genuine on paper autograph.”

So far, Ray has raised zero of his hoped-for £750 funding with 56 days left.

But he makes me feel proud to be British and I wish him well.

Bob Slayer AKA unexplained Rachel

Is this the face of Santa for 2013?

In late news… This morning, I received an e-mail from comedian and indefatigable self-publicist Bob Slayer. It reads:

“I have just been asked to be a Christmas Santa at a shopping centre – and I think I am going to take it. I have offered to dye my beard white which I think might be the clincher… Santas seem to get quite well paid.”

Reading this, I realised that I myself have Santa potential. If I re-grew my beard, it would by now be white and I already have a Santa stomach already in place.

Alas, I think I may be missing the required Ho-Ho-Ho factor… Bloody Greenwich!

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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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