Tag Archives: Laura Levites

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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‘American’ comedian Lewis Schaffer revealed to be English character actor Brian Simpson

Mark Watson - Englishman with fake Welsh accent

Welsh comedian Mark Watson was not all he seemed

One night a few years ago, I went with comedy character act Charlie Chuck to The Cockpit Theatre in London. Also on the bill was comedian Mark Watson who had successfully performed for several years using a Welsh accent, despite the fact he came from Bristol and had an English accent. The problem Mark had, he told me, was how could he now drop the Welsh accent he had originally adopted to differentiate him from other comedians playing the circuit?

That night, about 28 minutes into his 30 minute set, he said in his Welsh accent (I paraphrase):

“…but, in fact, I don’t speak like this at all (then switching to his real English voice) I actually speak like this…”

There was (this is true) an audible gasp from the audience. It was an extraordinary coup de théâtre.

And Mark got away with it.

Similarly, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, a well-known English comedian performed as a fake Canadian comedian, disguising his face with a clever mask. Most critics never mentioned his real name though their reviews had knowing ‘winks’ for those in-the-know. He would have been nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award except that it was widely known by the media who he was (at least one publication named him) and, in fact, he admitted it in an interview.

To my mind, though, the best ‘fake’ comedian – revealed here for the first time – is ‘American’ comedian Lewis Schaffer, who has kept up the pretence for nigh on ten years without anyone realising.

‘Lewis Schaffer’ is actually English character actor Brian Simpson who hails from Brownhills in the West Midlands.

The real face of ‘Lewis Schaffer'

Real face of talented English actor Brian Simpson

“Frankly, it’s relief to admit it,” Simpson told me last night over a very English meal of seared fillet of sea bream with Devon crab and crushed new potatoes at Langan’s restaurant in London’s Mayfair.

“I thought I had gone as far as I could with the Lewis Schaffer character and it was beginning to become a parody of itself.”

“Why did you start it?” I asked.

“I was an actor in my mid-forties, struggling like most,” Simpson told me in his own soft English voice which has a slight twang of a Birmingham accent. “The comedy club circuit was still at its height and I thought I’d try that, but I needed a USP – a Unique Selling Proposition. So I thought of this character.

“The Lewis Schaffer character was a New York Jew set adrift in an alien environment – England – on which he could give insights as a supposed outsider. I remember as a kid watching the BBC TV series Adam Adamant Lives! which was about a Victorian James Bond type character frozen in ice who is revived in Swinging Sixties London. So he looked OK – his Victorian cape did not look out of place in the King’s Road – but ‘normal’ things like light bulbs, cars and TV were all new to him.

Crocodile Dundee inspired Lewis Schaffer

Inspirational Crocodile Dundee movie

“They used the same idea in the original Crocodile Dundee film – a figure set down in an alien environment. So, to be honest, I nicked that idea and I gave him a back story – He had married a British woman whom he calls English, but actually she’s Scottish because, as an American, he doesn’t know the difference. And I gave him two children because that widened the terms of reference for his stories. So he’s a divorced, neurotic Jewish New Yorker trapped in the UK by love of his children. In fact, I’m gay and have a partner who is not in showbusiness, which I think is what keeps me sane.”

“So why,” I asked, “have you decided to ‘come out’ now as Brian Simpson?”

“I guess,” said Simpson, “I was getting tired of the ‘Lewis Schaffer’ character. I’ve played him for over ten years now and, for an actor, that’s… well, it’s not what I want. It’s like performing in The Mousetrap every night. Not that The Mousetrap is not a very fine play. It is. But only playing Lewis Schaffer is very limiting for an actor. It’s not what I came into the business to do.

Comedy hero Andy Kaufman

American comedy hero Andy Kaufman

“Also meeting the American comedian Laura Levites at the Edinburgh Fringe last year had a big effect on me. I had always claimed that Lewis Schaffer was brought up in Great Neck, New York because that was where one of my great comedy heroes – Andy Kaufman – was born. But, by coincidence, Laura was from Great Neck too.

“It’s not a big place and she almost caught me out on details a couple of times, though I was able to bullshit my way through chatting with her. But it kind of made me feel like the fraud I was. It took the edge off the ‘game’ of playing Lewis Schaffer. I thought I have been doing this for ten years and still don’t have a TV series or vast amounts of money flowing in from the character, so why keep up the pretence?

“I do OK. I have always said Lewis Schaffer lives in Nunhead, Peckham, but actually my partner and I live in West Hampstead and we’ve got a couple of properties we rent out in Swiss Cottage. So we get by.

“But something happened to me this year; I don’t know what it was. I let my hair go grey and I got a bit tired of being Lewis Schaffer not Brian Simpson and I started feeling broody or something. I might move back to the West Midlands, to Brownhills.”

“So where do you go now professionally?” I asked.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Simpson had grown tired of keeping the Lewis Schaffer secret

“Well,” said Simpson, “I’ll keep doing the Lewis Schaffer character in my current shows in London – Free Until Famous is every Tuesday and Wednesday at the Source Below in Soho and American in London is at the Leicester Square Theatre every Sunday. I might even do another mini-tour of arts centres with Lewis Schaffer. I tried that out earlier this year and it went OK.

“Next year, I’m thinking of staging an Edinburgh Fringe show called Lewis Schaffer Is Not Feeling Himself or possibly Lewis Schaffer Is Not Lewis Schaffer. And I have a new character I’m working on. She’s a schoolteacher character from Ulster and she was once a…”

“She?” I asked.

“Yes,” explained Brian Simpson. “I need a complete break from Lewis Schaffer.”

“Are you actually Jewish?” I asked.

“No,” Simpson laughed. “Catholic… non-practising but, once a Catholic, always a Catholic…”

“Did you think of killing off the Lewis Schaffer character?” I asked. “Giving him a Reichenbach Falls ending?”

“You mean like Malcolm Hardee?” Simpson asked me.

“Well, it worked for him,” I said. “Derek has put the Malcolm Hardee years behind him and has carved out quite a good career for himself in South Africa.”

“I prefer to leave it open-ended,” replied Simpson. “I can keep the Lewis Schaffer schtick going for a few more years yet. It’s like plate-spinning. You have to keep everything up in the air.”

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US comedian Lynn Ruth Miller replies to critics of that controversial ‘rape’ blog

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and  Kate Copstick

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick at Fringe chat show

Two Mondays ago, I posted a blog which transcribed part of one of my chat shows at the recent Edinburgh Fringe.

It was a conversation between Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick and American comedians Lynn Ruth Miller & Laura Levites. The section quoted in my blog referred to specific situations in which rape might occur.

Laura and Lynn had been booked by me for the chat show because I thought it would be interesting to hear a conversation between two female Jewish American comedians of different generations.

Laura arrived late (as pre-arranged) because her own show overlapped the start of my chat show.

So, by the time she arrived, a more general conversation had started about feminism, prompted by the critical and box office success at the Fringe of American performer Adrienne Truscott’s show Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!

My blog quoting an extract from the chat show was headlined Feminist female comedians agree there are different types of rape in Edinburgh – entirely my choice of headline and responsibility – and it caused a lot of comment online in the UK, including various blogs like this one headed Rape Is Rape, even in Edinburgh.

They attacked the perceived opinions expressed in my original blog – as did a piece written for The Skinny culture magazine by their comedy editor Vonny Moyes headlined It’s an Unfair Copstick, Guv.

I had followed up my original blog with one expressing the opinion of my eternally-un-named friend and one quoting three of the interesting online reactions including a Facebook comment from Adrienne Truscott who had, by this time, won the 2013 Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and the 2013 Fosters Comedy Awards panel award  for her Asking for It show.

I also posted an open response to Kate Copstick’s quoted comments sent to me by comedy critic Corry Shaw.

Until now, the three people quoted in the original blog have not reacted.

But this is American performer Lynn Ruth Miller’s reaction today to what has been said about that original blog extracted from the hour long conversation at my Edinburgh Fringe chat show:

_______________________________________________________

Lynn Ruth Miller - Grade A show; dodgy C venue

Lynn Ruth Miller replies to critics of the discussion

I really cannot believe how these people misconstrued what Kate Copstick and I actually meant… but the real problem was THEY WERE NOT THERE AT THE PANEL DISCUSSION.  Not one of us demeaned or criticized the innocent victims of rape who were doing nothing but being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We were talking about women who deliberately set out to provoke men and, when it works, are surprised at the consequences… and I for one think rape is violence not sex and has nothing to do with how you dress or swivel your hips. We didn’t even get into that aspect.

I certainly stand by my comment that more and more women are using their bodies to ‘get the job’, to ‘get the promotion’ even to ‘get the attention’ and I personally think that is a shame…There are better, more effective ways. I find flaunting your sexuality both immature and not very intelligent. However, we all have our own means of making life work for us and I for one will not criticize anyone else’s methods or motives.

I do not want to go on and on about this but I do believe that had one of those people been at the discussion they would have gotten the spirit of what we were saying. Not one of us condoned rape or hinted that men are uncontrollable animals…

Ah well… the beauty of the world is that we all have different opinions… and I think that is a very good thing.

I also wish they would take what we actually SAID in context and not extrapolate from a word or a phrase an opinion or an implication that was in their minds, not ours.

However I think this is one of the interesting downsides of web blogging.

All these people vented their outrage at something that was neither meant nor implied by any of us and it was to no real purpose other than making themselves heard. The writing was not particularly studied; the prose was more stream of consciousness than an edited piece with proof to substantiate their accusations… and I find that very shallow and meaningless.

What did they accomplish?  What kind of consensus did they achieve?

Perhaps their universal conclusion was that the three of us are shallow shits… and I for one can live with that. That is, after all, their opinion; not a fact. Anyone’s opinion is a direct reflection of who THEY  are, not the person they are criticizing.  All of them were forming a judgement about what our core philosophies were from a single phrase that was objectionable to them. This is their problem and their lack of perception, not ours.

And one more point.

It is very easy to vilify someone when you are writing an impersonal blog. I would truly love any one of these angry people to come to me directly, look at me and  discuss the basis of their accusations and the logic of the hysteria they want to fuel over a very innocent, lighthearted, casual discussion about women, who we are and want to be.

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Feminist female comedians agree there are different types of rape in Edinburgh

(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

In the final week of the recent Edinburgh Fringe, I chaired five daily hour-long chat shows. In the fourth show, the guests were Scots comedy critic Kate Copstick (always known simply as ‘Copstick’) and American comedians Laura Levites & Lynn Ruth Miller. There were several English comedians in the audience, including Janet Bettesworth and Bob Slayer. This is a brief extract:

______________________________________________________

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and  Kate Copstick

American performer Lynn Ruth Miller (left) & Kate Copstick

COPSTICK: As far as I’m concerned, the most strongly feminist comedian on the Fringe is Lynn Ruth – and Laura’s not doing too badly either. The amount of shit you’ve both taken and overcome without wearing the I’m A Feminist teeshirt and waving Boys Are Bad – Throw Stones At Them flags.

LAURA: To me, being a feminist is not about what you say, it’s about what you do. I’ve always believed that actions speak louder than words. You don’t say Look at me! Look at me! You just do things.

LYNN RUTH: I don’t think feminism is knocking down men. I love men. Why can’t we just be people? I don’t see any difference. I think men have the same insecurities as women.

LAURA: I think they have more insecurities.

JOHN: What sort of insecurities?

LYNN RUTH: Oh, they’re so worried about their bodies.

LAURA: Their bodies, their dicks. Every night I’ve had to lie in bed with a guy who’s drunk too much and blah blah blah you gotta listen to that shit. Oh my god! Shut up! But my biggest problem with feminists is they get mad when someone sexualises you. I like being sexualised. Objectify me! Talk about my tits and ass – Please!

LYNN RUTH: Nobody’s talked about mine in years.

LAURA: It’s like you can’t… If somebody says a woman’s pretty or…

LYNN RUTH: I like somebody saying that.

LAURA: Yeah. But, if somebody talks about a woman’s body, then all ‘the women’ get up in arms Arghh! You’re sexualising! But you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the way women look. They have things sticking out. Women have tits. Women have shapely bodies. How do you ignore that? I get so mad.

COPSTICK: I would give my right arm to be a sex object.

BOB SLAYER: There are some websites where giving your right arm would make you more sexy.

JANET BETTESWORTH: How do you feel about She was asking for it? You know, exposing bits, it’s late at night, she’s got a pussy pelmet, she was out on the street, so… She was asking for it.

COPSTICK: Well I genuinely believe – this won’‘t go down well, but – if you walk into Battersea Dogs Home with your legs covered in prime rump steak, you cannot complain if you get bitten.

LYNN RUTH: Yes.

LAURA: I agree.

COPSTICK: If you put it out there, someone’s going to pick it up.

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men

Lynn Ruth Miller (left) and Laura Levites agreed on men

LYNN RUTH: You gotta have the right look. In Redwood City, there were a lot of women who were constantly walking by a bowling alley and they were being attacked and they were being raped. And I had my two little dogs and walked by the bowling alley every day and I called up the police and said You know, I walk by there every day and I was waiting for them to say Well, YOU they’re not going to bother! But I mean I think I just don’t have the right look. It’s like, when you are afraid of a dog, it IS going to bite you.

COPSTICK: Exactly.

LAURA: But I think most women don’t understand the way most men view them. Whether or not you like it – it’s not about liking it or not – men do look at you like a sexual being. It doesn’t matter what you look like as a woman, there’s some dude that’s gonna want to fuck you. It’s absolutely true. If you’re walking down a street at night with parts of you exposed, it doesn’t mean you’re ‘asking for it’, but you have to be aware…

LYNN RUTH: It’s called good advertising.

LAURA: … people are going to respond to you. You can’t ignore the fact that you’re a woman. You can’t ignore the fact you shouldn’t drink too much with a man by yourself. you shouldn’t take strange men home with you. You gotta be careful and it’s up to you to own that responsibility and keep yourself in safe situations.

COPSTICK: I think we’ve only got one word for it, which is rape.

LAURA: Yes, we should have more words.

COPSTICK: At the moment, it’s ludicrous, but that one word covers both someone who is wandering along a road and some person completely unknown to her leaps out – which must be horrendous and terrifying and it’s not about sex, it’s about violence. It’s a very specific form of assault… That is one thing… That is horrendous… But then there’s some twat of a 19-year-old who dolls herself up, covers herself in make-up, goes out, gets shit-faced, gets a guy, gets more shit-faced, takes him back to her place or goes back to his place, takes some items of clothing off, starts playing tonsil hockey, has her nipples twiddled, starts playing the horizontal tango … It’s too fucking late to start complaining. It’s not his fault any more. You can’t go Yes-yes-yes-yes-yes-yes – Oh! – No! – It’s not fair.

LYNN RUTH: I think the thing I’m feminist about is I don’t want women to use their bodies for currency. They can use their minds.

COPSTICK: Nobody wants your mind. I know this.

LAURA: What do you mean ‘currency’?

LYNN RUTH: They dress to get attention. I won’t say who, but there’s a comedian here in Edinburgh who slept with this guy because she wanted him to put her in the show. There are better ways to get in a show than to get fucked. Women can accomplish what they want in other ways.

COPSTICK: But can they?

LYNN RUTH: I have.

COPSTICK: You’ve never used your body to get what you want?”

LYNN RUTH: Never. Because I had anorexia and I was a mess. It’s really true. Nobody’s come on to me for 50 years.

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Comedians, ‘madness’ and psychiatrists

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites

(From left) Juliette Burton, Jorrick Mol, Laura Levites (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the second show, I talked to comedians Juliette Burton, Laura Levites and Jorick Mol.

All of us had experience of being in mental homes.

This is a short extract from the chat:

____________________________________________

JOHN: Laura, you were telling me last night that you had been really happy at the Fringe this year. Surely that’s bad creatively? Performers need to be troubled to be creative.

LAURA: No! I’ve spent my entire life being troubled. Why would I continue wanting to be troubled?

JOHN: You won’t have a show next year if you’re not troubled.

LAURA: That’s not true! That’s not true at all. I’ll find trouble anyway but if I’m not troubled, it doesn’t mean I have to have a life without experiences. You don’t have to be miserable to be creative.

JORICK: I’d like to pick up that idea that performers and mental illness are, in some form, related. I think that’s complete nonsense. It’s only when people actually do have mental health problems and are performers that that conversation will very quickly start. Although performers and writers and creative people are maybe more willing to play with the spaces in their mind and go places people wouldn’t normally go. They won’t go for the easy answers.

JOHN: Isn’t there a point that creative people, in order to create something new and different, are thinking laterally and, in order to think differently from other people, you have to be different?

JULIETTE: The experiences I’ve had – the psychoses and stuff – forced my brain outside a certain box and I feel like it’s a gift in a way, although it fucked up my education. But I have had experiences that were outside the normal way of thinking. And to try and make any sense of that… I kind of think that the world’s crazy anyway, but… to not laugh at it all… The fact that I heard voices and I saw weird things that weren’t there…

LAURA: Oh my god! I’m so jealous!

JULIETTE: Yeah?

LAURA: You did?

JULIETTE: Yeah, totally. I saw God and the Devil and…

LAURA: You saw God?

JULIETTE: I time-travelled.

LAURA: You time-travelled? I don’t have that. I’m so upset. What’s your diagnosis?

JULIETTE: It was a while ago. It was 11 years ago I had a psychosis as a result of anorexia. I don’t have that now.

LAURA: You stopped eating?

JULIETTE: No, I… I have been told not to take any drugs because it might happen again. If you have those weird experiences and try to make sense of those experiences… For me it just means that anyone who’s doing a normal job in a normal office, it’s like…

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m a psychiatric social worker. My work is to sit talking to people like you with two medical doctors and to argue your case. And it’s really hard.

JOHN: Why is it hard?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: They say That person is completely off-the-wall. They have to be hospitalised. The last sectioning I had to take part in – luckily I didn’t sign the paper – the patient was saying I feel this love for this person and the psychiatrists wanted to section them because they were having this wonderful overwhelming feeling of love. They couldn’t understand…

What you are talking about is really interesting, because you’re talking about being in a certain world and having certain ‘mystical’ experiences that a lot of mystics and spiritual people have had. But, because ‘spiritual stuff’ is so alien to the medical model…

I’m interested in the spiritual emergency that comes from these experiences, that pushes people through into something else – the medical model isn’t looking at that. They’re saying This person needs medication in order to be ‘managed’ either by a family unit or by society in general, because they’re ‘dangerous’.

JULIETTE: With me, I was sectioned for anorexia and then I had this experience – seeing all this stuff – and then they got me on all the pills and got me away from seeing all these things and hearing all these things and then they carried on treating the anorexia. But they didn’t treat what I saw and all the theological implications of that.

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Cunning stunts at the Edinburgh Fringe & US comic Laura Levites left destitute by crowd funding site Indiegogo

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

Broadway Baby in Edinburgh yesterday - or is it?

Broadway Baby in Edinburgh yesterday – is it?

Cunning stunts seem to have escalated at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Yesterday was to see the announcement of the shortlist for the Perrier Awards, now re-named the Fosters Awards, presumably because their parentage has been very variable.

Shortly before the announcement Barry Ferns, already nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award, distributed a second edition of his fake Broadway Baby review sheet – this one headlined FOSTERS AWARD NOMINATIONS ANNOUNCED.

After an apparently self-publicising puff for Broadway Baby, the Fosters five Best Newcomer nominations included Barry Ferns and the six Main Prize nominees also included Barry Ferns.

At the Pleasance Dome, I watched as people picked up sheets of the fake edition to study what they thought were the real nominees.

edinburghcomedyawards_fakepage

Edinburgh Comedy Awards maybe?

Meanwhile, an Edinburgh Comedy Awards website appeared online at the address  www.edinburghcomedyaward.com in the same colours as the Fosters Awards and with a logo sporting an E instead of an F. I think the Edinburgh Comedy Awards was a previous name for the Perrier/Fosters Awards, but there have been so many it is difficult to remember.

The nominees for this years Edinburgh Comedy Awards included Nathan Cassidy (a Malcolm Hardee Award nominee last year) and it was said: “The Winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award 2013 will be announced at 7pm on Thursday 22nd August at Finnegan’s Wake on the stage at the end of Nathan Cassidy’s show (starting at 6.15).  This in no way reflects a bias towards Nathan.”

The site includes a clip of “the ‘great’ comedian (Broadway Baby) Nathan Cassidy in action.”

In a further confusing twist, explicably, it also turns out that the web address www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk takes you to the Malcolm Hardee Awards page.

Andrew J Lederer in Edinburgh - not

Andrew J Lederer now in Edinburgh – not

To confuse matters even more, esteemed New York based comedian Andrew J Lederer sent me an e-mail saying: “I think I should have been nominated for the Cunning Stunt Award by figuring out the cheapest, laziest way to do Edinburgh yet devised – by simply not going.”

Instead of coming to perform at the Fringe this year, he has been posting a daily Fringe blog that makes no mention of the fact that he is not actually in Edinburgh.

“More people read the posts every day than typically came to see my Edinburgh shows,” he tells me. “And I have been receiving e-mails from people who think I am in Edinburgh saying Where are you? and We can’t find you listed.

Where all this leads next year, I barely dare to think. Life is anarchic enough at the Fringe.

For example, the final two days of my Fringe chat shows had their line-up thrown into turmoil yesterday.

Yesterday’s chat: Tim Fitzhigham (left) and Patrick Monahan (photograph by Garry Platt)

Yesterday’s chat: Tim Fitzhigham (left) and Patrick Monahan (photograph by Garry Platt)

Today’s show was to have featured Perrier/Fosters boss Nica Burns with iconic 80-year-old American performer Lynn Ruth Miller. Nica will no longer be appearing and has been replaced by flame-haired young comedy temptress Laura Levites. So we will be having two feisty American Jewish female comics from different generations.

And tomorrow (Friday) – adding to the anarchy – Martin Soan of the Greatest Show On Legs will no longer be coming up to Edinburgh from London after being kidnapped by a group of Bosnian gangsters when he was walking along a street in Peckham and held for a ransom which his wife Vivienne is unable or unwilling to pay.

At least, that is what I am going to tell people.

Anyway, he is not coming up.

So the billed Friday afternoon chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and Martin Soan will now instead be a chat with multi-award-nominated Adrienne Truscott and ultimate Scots comic Janey Godley, author of the bestselling and excellently-edited autobiography Handstands in the Dark, still in print after eight years. (I allegedly edited it.)

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Increasingly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Awards

Martin Soan’s enforced non-appearance on Friday also has an interesting knock-on effect in that he was due to perform with the Greatest Show On Legs in the Naked Balloon Dance as the climax to tomorrow night’s increasingly prestigious and increasingly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

No… At the moment, I have no idea what will happen either. But at least I have some money in my pocket.

Which brings us back to young flame-haired American comedian Laure Levites.

She crowd-funded her utterly brilliant current Edinburgh Fringe show Self Helpless through what seemed to be a trustworthy online site Indiegogo.com

Indiegogo may or may not actually be a competent crowd-funding site in the same way that Saddam Hussein was a humanitarian.

“I didn’t have the money,” Laura told me yesterday, “so I thought What a great way to fund my Fringe show. I wanted to raise $7,500 and the fundraising finished on July 15th. I was supposed to get the money I raised 7-15 days afterwards – the end of July – just before the Edinburgh Fringe started.”

“And has the money appeared?” I asked.

“As of today – 21st August – no,” Laura told me yesterday. “On July 22nd, I received an e-mail saying that Indiegogo didn’t have my bank account information which I’d previously set up.

Laura’s crowd-funded show was not

Laura’s crowd-funded show was not funded

“So I went in and put in my bank’s routing number. I put it in three times and their system declined it. So I got in touch with my bank and they gave me a different number. I put in that number and Indiegogo accepted it. By now I was in the UK.

“On August 1st, I received this message: We noticed your campaign Help Send Laura Levites To The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2013 contains content that is prohibited by our Terms of Use. Our Terms of Use states that campaigners may not use Indiegogo to raise funds for ‘obscene or pornographic items, sexually oriented or explicit materials or services.’ Because the minimum age for using Indiegogo is 13, campaign pages may not include any explicit language or depictions, or offers of sexual services. Typically, we put campaigns and disbursements on hold.

“Did you have anything dodgy in your appeal?” I asked.

“No,” Laura told me. “I was very careful not to curse or anything. The next day, I got another message: Congratulations on raising funds. Today, on August 1st, we triggered a disbursement to your Bank. They said it would be in my account by August 8th.

“On August 9th, they said that the bank information I had put in on July 22nd and which their computers had accepted was incomplete or inaccurate, so they couldn’t disperse my funds.”

“I was in the UK by now so, on the 9th, my brother in the US sent a message to Indiegogo and, on the 10th, I sent them a message. My brother tried to get a phone number, but they don’t have a phone number. By the 12th, they hadn’t replied.”

Indiegogo, by this point had stopped claiming Laura’s appeal had been obscene and had started claiming her bank routing number (which their computer had accepted) was incorrect. It was the same bank routing number she used and uses on her PayPal account and it worked and works perfectly OK with PayPal.

She, nonetheless, got another routing number from her bank and gave it to Indiegogo on August 13th, adding: “I have already started my project and I don’t have money to eat.”

She then got an e-mail from a Brittany of Indiegogo: “Hi Laura, I spoke to your brother a couple of times today and we have done everything we can to get you your funds as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the routing number provided was incorrect, so I did a little research and had your brother update it with the correct number. You should be good to go. We expedited the process as much as we could so you will see your funds next week.”

Laura wrote back pointing out it was the third time she had updated her number.

Brittany replied: “The routing number you provided was in fact not correct. You provided a ‘Wire Transfer’ routing number as opposed to an ‘ACH/Direct Deposit’ routing number… I understand how this information may be misleading, so I would be happy to bring this up to our product team for further review… I spoke to your brother and we were able to input the correct routing number and we expedited your disbursement to occur next week.”

Laura wrote back: “I’m not happy with this as the routing number I originally provided for you was correct and you told me it wasn’t.  I can’t get my money next week, I have no money to eat. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I HAVE NO MONEY TO EAT. YOU GUYS HAVE SCREWED THIS UP NOT ME. I NEED MONEY TO EAT, IT CAN’T WAIT TILL NEXT WEEK.”

Laura Levites yesterday, reduced to borrowed Coca Colas

Laura Levites yesterday, reduced to borrowing Coca Colas

Yesterday, Laura told me: “Their customer help team is called the Customer Happiness Team so, at the end of every fucking message you get from them, it says Cheers, Brittany, Customer Happiness. Are they fucking kidding me?”

“What happened next?” I asked.

“On the 14th August,” Laura told me, “I get a message from Pam of Customer Happiness. It said: Please update your bank account information.

“So I write back to Pam and tell her the whole story again, because no-one at Indiegogo reads their e-mails. I said: I’m very upset with Indiegogo. You have put me in a horrible position. I have used this platform because I needed help. Now I’m in the UK with no money to eat, in debt, and the people that have donated to me are furious. They want to cancel their donations and just give me or wire me money. Everybody has emailed me saying they want to do this. So I urge you, to please get my funds released to me.

“What happens? I get a message from Brittany: My apologies that you’re unhappy with the current situation… We do not currently have a banking information verification for our system.

“They don’t have a verification system for checking anything?? We’re talking about money here! Money! No bank verification system? PayPal has bank verification. How are Indiegogo taking money from banks and credit cards without a bank verification system? They have a bank verification system for the money coming in but they don’t have a bank verification system for the money going out?

“Then I get a message from Jordan of the Customer Happiness Team. It says: I help manage disbursements here at Indiegogo and Brittany shared your note with me. I’m happy to help clarify the status of your current disbursement… Unfortunately, Indiegogo does not currently have the ability to verify bank account routing numbers. Our system can recognize when a routing number is the correct format, but our system cannot recognize when a routing number is correct… I completely understand your frustration thus far, and I do agree that it would be extremely helpful to have built in verification systems on Indiegogo… I’m reaching out to our payments team to see if there is anything we can do to help you receive your funds.

“Then, on August 15th, I get an e-mail from Sandy. It says: We have expedited your disbursement to be included in the current cycle and you should expect to see your funds in the next 3-5 business days. I got this on the 15th. It is now the 21st!”

Laura wrote back to Sandy on the 16th: “I find this totally unacceptable. You haven’t kept up your end of the deal. My campaign finished on the 15th of July it’s now the 16th of August. This is a breach of your contract. I’ve had to borrow money… My show is suffering as I don’t have the funds needed for essential promotional activity.  Now, I’m going to lose money as a result.”

Laura then got a message: “Today, August 15, we triggered a disbursement to your bank account… We estimate that you will receive your new disbursement by Thursday August 22.”

Today is Thursday August 22nd. No money has arrived. Laura’s fundraising finished on July 15th. Her money was due 7-15 days afterwards, at the start of August, to fund her Fringe show.

“People have asked how crowd funding has worked for me,” Laura told me today, “and the truth is it hasn’t worked for me at all. Extreme unhappiness doesn’t even begin to cut it. I don’t have my money.”

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Edinburgh Fringe act reveals he was beaten up by his partner to get publicity and wins early Malcolm Hardee Award

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

John Ward with some Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy

John Ward, designer of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

The shortlist has been announced at the Edinburgh Fringe for the increasingly prestigious annual  Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the late ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ who drowned in London in 2005. As normal, there are three awards, but the third is more than a bit of a surprise.

The shortlisted nominees are:

THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

– Red Bastard

– Ursula Burns (unbilled in the main Fringe Programme)

– Adrienne Truscott

THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD

(for best publicity stunt promoting a Fringe performer or show)

– Barry Ferns – for printing 2,000 fake Broadway Baby and Three Weeks review sheets and distributing them round Edinburgh. They gave his own show a 6-star review.

– Richard Herring – for deciding that expensive Fringe posters are pointless and, instead, giving members of his current show’s audience free DVDs of his past performances.

– Lewis Schaffer – for (having heard about Richard’s stunt) also giving away allegedly free DVDs at his shows – but free Richard Herring DVDs because Richard is more famous than Lewis (and you have to donate £5 to Lewis).

– Gareth Morinan – for listing his show 11 times in the Fringe Programme because this gave him more space (and was cheaper) than buying a quarter page ad in the Programme.

THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID’ AWARD

This will not be awarded this year because, frankly, we do not think anyone is worth it.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

However, the £-sign trophy has already been made and (in the spirit of Malcolm Hardee) we are not about to waste it.

So we are awarding it as a special one-off MALCOLM HARDEE ‘POUND OF FLESH’ AWARD to Ellis of the Ellis & Rose comedy duo for “the kind of publicity money can’t buy”.

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

Ellis displays his vividly genuine black eye (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

On August 14th, Ellis was attacked in the street by an unknown, irate member of the public who was annoyed by Ellis & Rose’s appearance in Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show. Ellis received a very bad black eye. This followed a Chortle comedy website review which revealed Ellis & Rose’s names as the show’s performers – They had asked not to be named. I blogged about the incident at the time.

EXCEPT – it was revealed to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee judges late last night that the attack never happened. It was a publicity stunt.

In their Edinburgh flat, Ellis repeatedly hit himself in the face with the blunt end of a milk whisk. When this did not have the required effect, his comedy partner Rose punched him four times in the face to give him a black eye.

They videoed the creation of the black eye.

The video (only now uploaded to YouTube) shows Ellis being punched in the face. If you watch it, be sure to have the sound turned up high.

Last night (from left) Mills, Ellis, Rose, Levites, Copstick

Late last night (from left) Mills, Ellis, Rose, Levites, Copstick

Ellis showed the full video to me (including the preliminary milk whisk hits) – and to fellow increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Kate Copstick – in the cafe of the Gilded Balloon venue late last night. Also there in the cafe were his comedy partner Rose, their cohort in the stunt Paul Preston Mills and American comedian Laura Levites.

“When did you first decide to do this?” I asked Ellis.

“After Steve Bennett’s 1-star review of the Jimmy Savile show came out in Chortle,” Ellis told me. “We thought How can we turn this around?

“And did the reported attack increase the size of audiences for your Jimmy Savile and Ellis & Rose shows?” I asked.

“Probably by about 50% on average,” said Ellis. “It went up and down, but it was more consistently full. People love to see and read about people getting hurt.”

“It could,” said Kate Copstick, “become a new marketing tool for comedy shows: grievous bodily harm.”

“Why did you start out by hitting yourself in the face with a milk whisk?” I asked.

“I looked on the internet to find out how to get a black eye – how to give yourself a black eye – and it said Get yourself a blunt object like a broom handle, so you can control the amount of force yourself. We looked in the kitchen and a milk whisk was the best thing we could find. It had a blunt, plastic end.”

“But that didn’t do enough harm to your face?” I asked.

“Well, it did pretty well,” admitted Ellis.

“But you’re a perfectionist?” I asked.

“Well, Rose said That’s not enough,” explained Ellis. “ he said You’ve got to let me punch you.

Ellis (left) recovering last night from Rose’s punch

Ellis last night, his left eye recovering from Rose’s punch

“How many times did he punch you in the face?”

“Four times,” replied Ellis. “He punched me twice, but we forgot to record it, because we were quite drunk – So he had to do it twice again for the video.”

“What did you have to do with all this?” I asked Paul Preston Mills.

“Well,” he said, “I arrived on the Tuesday – all this happened on the Tuesday night – and we were talking about it. But we decided they weren’t quite drunk enough before I left them and went to bed and, at that point, they were still deciding whether Rose was going to hit him or they were going to prod him in the eye with a broom handle. I thought hitting him had to be the correct thing to do.”

“Did your venue manager Bob Slayer have anything to do with the stunt?” I asked.

“Well,” said Ellis. “before the Fringe started, we had ideas of getting publicity and, when Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show first came out in the Programme, the media jumped on it and it was in the national press and we were going to ramp it up by saying we had death threats and performers had dropped out  and Nick Awde, who wrote the original script, had been getting death threats and things like that. So it kind of stemmed from that idea. We found that being named in the Chortle review allowed us to play off that.”

“Any other result from the stunt?” I asked.

“The black eye has made me more appealing to the opposite sex,” replied Ellis.

“Is he,” I asked Laura Levites, “more appealing with or without his black eye?”

“Oh, I like him with,” said Laura. “It means he can take a punch. You want a man who can take a punch.”

“So,” I said, “when his skin recovers and the black eye disappears, he should do it again to be more appealing to the opposite sex?”

“Oh,” said Laura, “he should do the other eye. You’ve got to let one heal and then hit the other one.”

“You were hit by Rose,” I said to Ellis, “your comedy partner. Do you think there might be a homo-erotic element in this?”

“No,” said Ellis.

“Yeah,” laughed Rose. “It’s been a long Fringe and I’ve been quite frustrated a lot of the time.”

“He’s got a girlfriend who isn’t here,” said Ellis.

“So I had to release some tension,” enthused Rose, “and Ellis’ face is small and squishy, much like a breast.”

“We thought,” Kate Copstick interrupted, “that the milk whisk was doing rather a good job of damaging Ellis’ face. Why punch him?”

“Well,” said Paul Preston Mills, “FIST or MILK FROTHER? Which would you choose if you were putting a headline out for publicity?”

“I wanted to keep my ring on my finger,” said Rose, but Ellis wouldn’t let me. I got him really, really drunk. The only reason we decided it would be him not me was because he owed me quite a lot of money.”

“Only 40 quid for groceries!” said Ellis.

“What would have happened if he’d owed £90?” I asked.

“Anal rape,” said Copstick.

“At one point,” said Rose, “I was concerned he was bleeding and I almost felt bad… My hand was sore.”

“Do you expect to get more stars for revealing all this?” I asked.

“Well, we just want more bloody reviews,” said Ellis.

“Bloody is the word,” I said.

“You could say,” suggested Ellis, “that Ellis & Rose are not into punchlines, but we will take a hit for comedy.”

“I could,” I agreed.

______________________________________________________

MHAflyerA6flyer

The increasingly prestigious show 2013

THE OTHER WINNERS OF THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARDS… 

will be announced around midnight this Friday night (23rd August), during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

For more details of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, see:

http://www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk

(and read that web address again carefully).

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