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How to publicise a new comedy club & write an Edinburgh Fringe press release

Sybil Soan, in hat, plays ping pong with Edwardian animal impersonator Vincent Figgins

Sybil Soan, in hat, with Edwardian animal impersonator Vincent Figgins

At the weekend, I went to see Pull The Other One club owners Martin and Vivienne Soan. Their daughters appeared to be wearing lampshades. This sounds rather odd but actually looked rather trendy.

More to the point, there was a man who shall be nameless who is thinking of starting a new comedy magazine – in print, not online. This is interesting, if foolhardy. Comedy magazines in print have come and gone – Mustard, The Fix, Heckler.

At the weekend, Martin had a February 1992 edition of Heckler.

There was a piece about him inside.

At the slim risk of getting sued for copyright infringement by the long-dead magazine, this is what it says:


THE GHOST CLUB

The cover in 1992 - note Stephen Fry, top left

The cover in 1992 – note Stephen Fry, top left

From Thursday February 6th the planes will align in an Aspect and House that has never before been witnessed by Mankind. This is the reason that Time Out Award-Winner Martin Soan has decided to open a brand new club which will run for eight weeks on Thursday evenings. Mr Soan assures us that for this period the aforementioned cosmic alliance favours great spiritual and paranormal activity. The chosen venue for this venture is The Comedy Cafe which it just so happens is on the very site where two lay lines cross: one from Mecca to Glastonbury and the other from the Holy Isle to the Lost City of Atlantis.

The whole venue is to be given over to the power of the supernatural with no limit to the amount of ghostliness and weird occurrences that will take place. Soan’s previous ventures have always been highly innovative and genuinely original in concept and practice. This has the makings of continuing that tradition with features like ‘This Is Your Plant’ – a spoof of This Is Your Life where the life of the house plant is examined. Also to be included is the Mind Fantasies Machine, The Incredible Floating Head and The Worst Double Act In The World.

This is highly recommended before it has begun because Soan’s ingenuity is well worth an evening of anyone’s time.


They don’t write publicity like that any more…

…or do they?

Below are Lewis Schaffer’s (so far) two press releases for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe comedy show Success Is Not An Option.


PRESS RELEASE ONE

Lewis Schaffer’s poster for his Edinburgh Fringe show

The ever-optimistic British-based American

My Edinburgh Festival Fringe show for 2014 is called “Success Is Not An Option”. My show will not be a success because:

1. I’m using the same business model as last year, which didn’t work.

Under the Heroes of the Fringe “Pay What You Want” model, punters can pay £5 for tickets in advance or come in free at the door which makes absolutely no sense. As of today, I have sold nine tickets. Nine.

2. Most reviewers don’t like to go to free shows because they cannot be guaranteed a seat, and that can mess up their viewing schedule. And they don’t get something that regular people are paying for for nothing, which is the whole point of being a reviewer.

3. This is my seventh consecutive year at the Fringe and I have gained zero traction. 22 years in comedy and I am still doing these poncy shows in dingy subterranean bars.

4. There is always some American comic nobody has ever heard of riding into town, selling out every night and then leaving the country once the festival is over. Leaving is always sexy. My ex used to tell me “You used to chase me!” and I’d say, “You used to run.” I’ve stopped running. I’m not leaving the UK. I am stuck here with a knackered act, two kids, and nobody chasing me.

5. You could have seen me in London where I do a weekly show at the Leicester Square Theatre and two free shows a week at The Rancho Grill at any point over the past five years, but you haven’t, and I know you haven’t, so you’re not going to make me a success in Edinburgh either.

6. If my show is a success, I will have been a failure in predicting its failure. If my show is a failure, I will have just been a failure. So no matter what happens, I’ll have been a failure.

7. I have waited until three weeks before the festival to send out a press release, and have no promotional budget to pay a PR to tell me that this level of self-flagellation in a press release is a terrible idea.

Be prepared. Lewis Schaffer isn’t. 
An hour of your life you’ll never get back. A lifetime of his completely wasted.

PRESS RELEASE TWO

The frolic-filled functor that is Lewis Schaffer

The frolic-filled funster success factory that is Lewis Schaffer

My last press release was “nothing short of genius” according to Simmy Richman in the Independent on Sunday. Read his piece here.

Here are four more reasons why my show “Success Is Not An Option” will not be a success.

9. Most people, upon having a piece of publicity material described as “genius” by a national newspaper, would then try to follow it up with something bigger, better and totally fresh.

I’m just rehashing the same thing and hoping that those of you that ignored me last time will pay attention to me. Einstein supposedly said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I’m not insane, because I know that this is going to fail; you people never pay attention to me. I’m just desperate. Please pay attention to me.

10. My poster doesn’t have any quotes or stars from reviewers.

You, from the The Times, The Guardian, and The Telegraph, have never reviewed any of my shows.

My biggest supporter in the press, Kate Copstick of The Scotsman, has only ever given me four stars even though we had the closest thing to a sexual interaction that I, as a crumbling 57-year-old man, am capable of having with another human being. You can read about that on John Fleming’s blog here and then give me five stars to save yourself from the same fate.

11. I decided against using Stewart Lee’s quote about me – “Naked hostility and self-loathing” – or Daniel Kitson’s – “The logical conclusion of all stand-up comedy” – or Marc Maron’s – “Very bitter and weird” and “Not that good” – because name-dropping is the lowest form of self-promotion and I value my integrity.

12. The Relatives wrote a song about my going to Edinburgh and said the Number One reason I would fall at the Fringe was that I was “jerk”. They performed the song on my radio show Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer, broadcast on Resonance 104.4FM. Watch here – it is brilliant.

Here are the lyrics to sing along with:

Success is not an option.

Lewis was writing his Edinburgh show
Knew in his heart no one would go
Hasn’t got a bob for publicity, no
Only got five quid to blow
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

He’s written a list why it won’t work
But he missed the number one
“He’s a jerk”
The other comedians are going to smirk
Looks like he’s going to have to learn to twerk
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Well, what’s gonna happen to his radio show?
Its been five years but nobody knows
The team of five are ready to go
But does he ever listen?
The answer’s “no”
Success is not an option

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Success is not an option
Success is not an option
He’s gonna bomb at the Edinburgh Fringe

Thank you for reading this far.  If you tell me you have read to the end I will buy you drink up in Edinburgh. If you are alcoholic, I will spend five minutes commiserating with you over how long the Ramadan fast is this year.

Let the love flow,

Lewis Schaffer

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UK Comedy: the death of a magazine, a website and a forgotten comedian

No more mustard after this year

No more Mustard magazine after this year

Last week, it was reported that Mustard comedy magazine is to cease publication; the final issue will be out in a few months.

I think I have a temperature. Last night, I kept waking up every half hour in bed and my pillow was wet with sweat. Things are a bit swirly this morning.

I am staging two shows at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and I am a multi-award-winner. I think, perhaps, I should have mentioned that on my posters.

When I was 11, I won an award at school for handwriting. As a prize, I was given an abridged version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Why I was given that book and why it was the abridged version, I do not know.

My award as Best Awards Founder

My no doubt increasingly prestigious award as Best Awards Founder

A century later, in 2010, I was given a Fringe Report award as ‘Best Awards Founder’ for awarding the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. It was even better that that, as the actual physical awards for which I was given an award for awarding awards were actually designed by a Ward – mad inventor John Ward.

Fringe Report was a quirky online publication covering the Edinburgh Fringe and the London theatre Fringe. It closed in July 2012 after ten years of sterling reviews, features, parties and occasionally eccentric awards.

Yesterday afternoon, I supped tea with its erstwhile editor John Park, who told me that all the Fringe Report material is going to be archived by the British Library “so that, in future years, people can read without payment some of the flavour of what happened in this great area of the experimental arts at the start of the 21st Century.”

All the online text will be transferred into a series of physical books.

“We’re planning about 14 volumes,” John Park told me. “One for each of its 10 years.”

“Eh?” I said.

“There will be 11 volumes, as it started and ended mid-year,” he explained.

“Eh?” I said.

“Then one for all the awards certificates,” he explained. “And one for articles still in notebooks which were never written up for the site – our editing backlog. And one as a cumulative index of all the other volumes.”

“Ah!” I said.

I used to attend the Fringe Report social events

Fringe Report monthly social (photo by Catherine Balavage)

“The books will probably be A4, hardback bound,” said John. “All of the photographs of awards ceremonies, Fringe Report ‘First Mondays’ meetings and other social events are being donated as several hundred digital images. The films and soundtracks of about 4 to 5 years of Fringe Report Awards are being donated as digital files. The books will be compiled by us and designed into books by Richard Dragun who designed all our awards certificates. Compiling the books and indexing who is in all the photos is likely to take a year, so it will probably be completed around the middle to end of 2014.

“The main Fringe Report site will go offline during 2013, at the latest by November but probably before.  We’ll probably keep the WordPress site online after that, at least into 2014.”

So some memories of people passing through the transient world of live performance will be preserved. Something I try to do – slightly – in this blog.

Yesterday, I also got an e-mail from my occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith, who has memories of the live UK comedy scene as long or longer than mine.

“Did you ever see The Brixton Bank Manager perform?” she asked me. “He was very personable, great to work with and grew fine tomatoes on his window ledge. He was also known as Richard Elkin and Norby West. He was possibly the most elderly of the comics on the circuit in 1986. A very funny man.”

He started performing at festivals and in the streets in the 1970s with a pornographic Punch and Judy act and as The Amazing Percy Main.

The Brixton Bank Manager - “Cheques should be made payable to Richard Elkan  * Bollocks baffle madness - the old family motto

Photo of Norby West in the 1980s – autographed  “Cheques should be made payable to Richard Elkan [aka the BBM*] *Bollocks baffle madness – the old family motto”

“In the 1980s,” Anna told me yesterday, “he telephoned the Open Heart Cabaret which Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green) was running. I answered the phone and a cheery voice at the other end said: Hello – This is the Brixton bank manager. I thought it must be a wrong number as we were far too impoverished to have any reason for a bank manager to call, but he quickly explained: I’m not really a bank manager – that’s my stage name….

“Who knows, he may have worked in a bank once. He had an ageless quality. He was going to newcomer comedy nights when he was in his seventies. He had an infectious childlike enthusiasm, combined with a professional sort of manner.”

His Norby West character was billed as “the granddad from hell” and described as “geriatric filth disguised as satire”. When he died in 2009, the Chortle comedy website quoted comedian Paul Foot as saying:

“Richard retired about six years ago because the smoke in the clubs affected his ancient lungs and we remained friends. I would pop round to his flat, he’d give me a stale biscuit and we would laugh at amusing moments from our comedy careers. Richard was an entertainer for most of his life. He continued writing plays and other things after his retirement. He never lost his creativity or sense of fun and will be massively missed by me and other comedians.”

Now Richard is forgotten by new generations of comedy club goers. He died of pneumonia at the age of 80.

So it goes.

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So It Goes – a blog, a chat show, a song and now a magazine – but not mine

Never knowingly under-promoted: my upcoming Fringe show

Never to be under-promoted: my Edinburgh Fringe chat show

I started this So It Goes blog in an occasional way in May 2010.

In August this year, a daily chat show version of the blog will be staged during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

Someone Tweeted me yesterday, saying: “Dude. You need to sue them…” because he had seen copies of a new magazine called So It Goes billing itself as “A biannual arts and culture journal”.

Nothing to do with me.

So It Goes is simply a common phrase and I imagined they, like I, just nicked the phrase from Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

I will re-phrase that, I imagined we both used the title in homage to the greater glory of Kurt Vonnegut.

The cover of the new So It Goes magazine

The cover of the new So It Goes magazine

And that is, indeed, the case. In an interview about the new magazine, editor James Wright says: “The phrase comes from one of my and my co-editor’s favourite books Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The author uses the phrase to illustrate the passage of time, death and the inexplicable. To us, the words speak to life’s inherent unpredictability. Vonnegut often used the phrase for comic relief, and considering the obstacles involved in publishing this issue, it seemed rather apposite!”

So It Goes sounds and looks like a good magazine. I have not seen a printed copy yet, but I wish it well.

So It Goes was also the title of a weekly Granada TV music show 1976-1977; I first worked for Granada in 1978. The show was presented by Tony Wilson and included the first ever TV appearance of The Sex Pistols. It was taken off air after what was considered “an expletive-strewn appearance by Iggy Pop”. As far as I am aware, the ever-literate Tony also named his show after the Slaughterhouse-Five phrase.

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel

Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about Dresden

In Slaughterhouse-Five, which centres on the destruction of Dresden in the Second World War, the novel’s hero Billy Pilgrim spends time on the planet Tralfamadore and he writes:

“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

“When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is So it goes.”

In 1976, Nick Lowe released a song called So it Goes, but the refrain…

So it goes…but where it’s going, no-one knows

… does not sound like the Kurt Vonnegut use of the phrase… more like the general everyday use… but it will do. It will do.

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We may have mis-nominated an act for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards

So, eleven hours after starting the seven-hour drive from Edinburgh to London, I got home.

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

But I came down the M6 and went through Leicester.

Think about it, but don’t ask.

It was an English Bank Holiday Monday on the roads.

So this is the blog I wrote yesterday but did not post… I was too busy crying into my steering wheel.

________

Whenever Scots singer Andi Neate performs during the Edinburgh Fringe, I always try to see her show; a wonderful voice.

This year, in Edinburgh’s Jazz Bar, at least six people were recording the show on their mobile phones.

Welcome to the 21st century.

The relevance will become clear later.

This year, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best stunt publicising an act or  show at the Edinburgh Fringe was jointly won by Kunt and the Gang and his publicist Bob Slayer.

I saw Kunt’s penultimate Fringe show in Edinburgh last week and afterwards I thought maybe, as well as the Cunning Stunt Award, we should have nominated him for the Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award.

Bob Slayer was very keen on Kunt last year.

He harassed me into seeing the act upstairs at the small and cramped Meadow Bar as part of the Free Festival. I remember I was very impressed by Kunt’s talent, but thought there was an inevitable potential professional cul-de-sac ahead.

If you are called Kunt and you sing very explicitly about sex – however amusingly – you just ain’t going (at this moment in time) to get on BBC Radio, let alone TV; and you are not going to get signed by any major record label in the current economic climate, if at all.

I suggested to Kunt last year that, parallel to his Kunt and the Gang act, he could start to develop a second songwriting career not involving explicitly sexual lyrics; I thought he could make a fortune writing equally clever lyrics to equally compulsive pop tunes – whereas, with Kunt and the Gang’s songs, he would only make a decent, if steady, living playing to Chav and Torremolinos type audiences and he would be limited forever to that niche market.

He was not convinced.

And now, well…

I think I was wrong.

Watching his penultimate show in Edinburgh this year changed my mind.

I remembered Kunt had genuinely clever lyrics but they really are wonderfully clever. Not just the lyrics, but the vast use of populist names. And the songs have wonderfully bopalong tunes. He tells me the tunes are highly-influenced by 1980s TV ads. Whatever their origin, I sat through an hour of songs and every one was a can’t-get-it-out-of-your-head top pop tune.

His show as part of the Free Festival this year, at The Hive, had no weak spots – the songs were fascinating, the presentation he managed to vary – and he unleashed some kitsch 80s pop video choreography which last year’s Meadow Bar show had been too physically restricted to show off.

It was a 5-star show; a 100% Heat magazine crowd pleaser.

And it was the audience which changed my mind about Kunt.

For one thing, the venue was overflowing; it was an amazingly over-full house.

Then there were the smatterings of people in the audience who were singing along with the lyrics. They knew the songs well and not just the choruses – they knew every word of the verses too. This was a real pop music gig. Kunt has a solid fan base.

They had clearly watched the videos (which oddly have less energy and impact than his live performances) and/or downloaded the albums (which equally oddly are on iTunes – a particular shock to me as iTunes surreally removed the Killer Bitch DVD within three days for being distastefully OTT).

A few years ago, Kunt and the Gang would have had very limited potential but now everything is changing fast.

People are recording Andi Neate gigs on their smartphones.

Sales of books, newspapers, magazines, CDs and DVDs appear to be in unstoppable free-fall because of internet viewing and downloads.

Most of Kunt’s songs may still be currently utterly untransmittable on radio or TV and he may never get a recording contract from a major record label, but who buys CDs any more? Increasingly fewer people. They go to iTunes instead.

Kunt is potentially a major cult internet download target for the World of Warcraft and iPod generation and word of mouth could turn Kunt and the Gang into a high-grossing name.

Maybe.

Who knows?

In the current maelstrom of rapidly-changing media, who really knows what is going on and what may happen? Not me.

In Kunt’s recent fake Edinburgh Fringe press release, he and Bob Slayer wrote:

I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers.”

There is a lot of truth in that and what is being described is a mass-market British audience.

There is the Daily Mail audience and there is the Chav audience.

Both are massive.

Guardian-readers? A tiny if vocal minority.

Forget them.

Never underestimate the Daily Mail readership.

Never underestimate Essex man and woman.

Kunt and the Gang is potentially massive with one of those two audiences.

Meanwhile, on a more domestic front, my MacBook Pro laptop does not work, my Hoover does not work and the kitchen has partially flooded one drip at a time during the four weeks I have been away in Edinburgh, despite the fact the water supply was turned off…

Don’t ask. Don’t intrude on private grief.

Real life? Don’t talk to me about real life.

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Why I am pictured in Mensa Magazine (twice) holding a man with an erection

How did a man sporting an erect penis with a dog on the end of it get published (twice) in the current issue of Mensa Magazine, the glossy monthly publication for members of British Mensa?

And why am I holding the man?

Well, that’s an interesting question. Thankyou for asking.

Sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and pay close attention.

Preparing for Edinburgh Fringe shows in August tends to start way back in December or January each year.

I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week in the final week of the Fringe – basically two debates, two spaghetti-juggling contests (anything to get noticed at the over-crowded Fringe!) and a two-hour variety show during which the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented.

I am normally a shrinking wallflower where self-publicity is concerned but, because I am chairing the two Malcolm Hardee Debates and there are precious few other photo opportunities, I had some pictures taken, courtesy of lecturer Peter Cattrell, by photography students at St Martin’s College of Art (where, it turned out, no girl came from Greece, though they did have a thirst for knowledge).

I had brought along a giant dice box for no reason other than the fact it looked interesting. Student Cody Cai had brought along a pair of comedy spectacles and student Kerstin Diegel took a photo of me wearing the glasses and holding the box.

I remember thinking, “Oy! Oy! Malcolm Hardee could be Photoshopped into this, popping up out of the box!”

So now, dear reader, we have to take a time trip with wobbly special effects transitions back into the mists of last century – probably to the late 1990s, when the world was young and the Twin Towers still stood in New York…

London photographer David Tuck took some photos of comedian and club owner Malcolm Hardee, including an iconic one of Malcolm apparently doing shadow puppetry with his hands – you know the routine – you link your open hands together, flap them and it allegedly looks like a bird – except that the shadow on the wall behind Malcolm looks like a dog and, with the shadow of his arm included, it also looks like he has a giant penis rising out of his groin in the foreground… with a dog on the end of it.

David Tuck cannot remember exactly when the picture was taken, but it was a couple of weeks before Malcolm opened a short-lived comedy club in Harlesden, which would make it the late 1990s. Memories of Malcolm seldom come with exact dates.

David tells me: “The image Malcolm originally had in mind was that he would be doing a simple bird shape with his hands and a magnificent eagle would be the shadow image. This was before the days of Photoshop so, to get the image onto a piece of black and white photographic paper, I had to cut the image out of card and physically lay it on top of the picture during the darkroom process.

“My abilities with the scalpel weren’t exactly up to creating a photo-accurate eagle in full flight, so we talked about other possibilities and, when he mentioned a dog, I thought: Yeah, a dog I can do!

“I remember afterwards someone saying that it was funny because it appears to be coming out of Malcolm’s flies, like some sort of shadow penis. Just to set the record straight, that wasn’t the joke. I didn’t even notice until someone said it.”

From such random accidents do iconic photos come!

For anyone who knew Malcolm, it will come as no surprise that he never actually got round to paying David Tuck for the publicity photos he took and that this shadow puppet photo was used widely for years afterwards without David ever getting any money or even any credit for taking the photo.

When I used the photo on Malcolm’s website after he drowned in 2005, I found out David had taken it and have always tried to give him credit for it.

Around 2006, comic Brian Damage, at heart an arty sort, was playing around with images. Brian says:

“I was in the middle of my second or possibly third mid-life crisis. (You lose count after a while) It could have been age-related or something to do with giving up smoking or both.”

He played around with the David Tuck photo of Malcolm and basically ‘cartoonised’ it.

I thought it was excellent and got Vinny Lewis to design a poster using this image for all subsequent Malcolm Hardee shows at the Fringe.

Vinny had designed occasional artwork for Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club and had created the printed programme for both Malcolm’s funeral and the first Hackney Empire memorial show in 2006.

He added a coloured background to the cartoon and played with details.

So, when I got the St Martin’s photo back from Kerstin Diegel, I got Vinny to Photoshop the Malcolm shadow puppet image into the photo and the result is now available for The Scotsman or anyone else to publish to plug Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe.

‘Anybody else’ turned out to be Mensa Magazine who printed the image on the contents page of their July issue and, inside, to illustrate a piece on Malcolm Hardee Week.

I suspect it may be the first time Mensa Magazine has published a photo of a man displaying an apparent cartoon erection with a dog on the end of it. Their defence is clear – that even David Tuck and (possibly not even) Malcolm noticed that the shadow was of an erect penis.

It’s a funny old world.

You can see the photo here.

It was created by Kerstin Diegel, Cody Cai, David Tuck, Brian Damage and Vinny Lewis.

Nothing is ever simple.

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Comedy, burlesque and going OTT at PTOO with a naked Irish Riverdance in Peckham, London

There seem to be two separate ‘circuits’ in London at the moment: the amorphous alternative comedy circuit and the burlesque circuit. The latter seems to meander from stripper-type-tease to glimpses of old-style variety to fetish-style stuff with more than a nod to Berlin cabaret between-the-Wars.

Most of the straight comedy shows nowadays are a just a string of stand-ups with maybe, occasionally, an odd act thrown in. Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One club in Nunhead (that’s Peckham to me and you) is clearly not burlesque; but it is not one of the amorphous straight comedy nights either.

It is old-style variety mingled with comic performance art plus usually one big-name straight stand up. It is never short of the unexpected and bizarre, so it’s no surprise that Pull The Other One regulars Bob Slayer and Holly Burn both appear in the April issue of Bizarre magazine as New Alternative Comedy Heroes.

The average Pull The Other One show does not exist and it is a sign of how unusual it is that it has always attracted comedians to its audience. Last month Boothby Graffoe was there in the audience just to enjoy it; this month it was Stephen Frost.

The Big Name stand up on the bill last night was multi-talented Omid Djalili, a man who can move with nary a blink from appearing in Gladiator, The MummyPirates of the Caribbean and James Bond movies to club gigs on the London comedy circuit to playing Fagin in Oliver! at the London Palladium and having his own TV series on BBC1. His career is almost as variety-filled as a Pull The Other One show.

I missed most of last night’s show because main speciality act Paul Morocco had got cut down earlier in the day with a very serious stomach bug and couldn’t appear – well, it’s a tribute to his professionalism that he would have appeared if Vivienne Soan had not been able to find a fill-in sharpish. But Paul’s amazing act includes juggling, a lot of bopping around and blowing/juggling multiple ping pong balls from his mouth. This is not ideal if you have a serious stomach bug and just want to lie in bed and die with the pain.

So I missed most of last night’s show because I was picking up and driving my chum Melbourne-based Irish fiddle-playing comic vagabond Aindrias de Staic from the West End to Nunhead after he appeared in two performances of Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. Aindrias is not so much jet-lagged as show-lagged. He is over in London to appear in Woody Sez until 2nd April – another two shows today – and tomorrow he performs his one-man show Around The World on 80 Quid at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

So last night, at 9.35, we were legging it to my car to get to Pull The Other One in time – parking mid-evening on a Friday in the West End had not been fun.

Aindrias decided in the car on the way to the venue what he was going to do: mostly stand-up stories with an inkling of fiddling… but, when he actually got there and realised the measure of the audience, changed it all.

He gave them a bit of a foot-stomping fiddle, then a bizarre story and a couple more musical items.

Well, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

He had had a 20-second chat with Martin Soan before he went on and they ad-libbed what then happened.

Aindrias was interrupted during his second diddly-aye foot-stomping Irish fiddly piece by Martin Soan – totally naked, of course – Riverdancing in from the wings behind him and, trust me, Irish dancing in the nude is a particularly visual entertainment.

There’s a lot of flopping up and down going on.

When this went down very well with the audience, Aindrias called Martin back on stage to do a reprise “bollock dance” to the Jew’s Harp accompanied by a rather dubious song which Aindrias improvised.

Aindrias called what was happening “gyp-hop” – a musical combination of gypsy and hip-hop.

Watching this, Stephen Frost said to me: “If only Malcolm (Hardee) were here to see this.”

Indeed.

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The Daily Mail has its finger on the pulse of Britain – just like Margaret Thatcher did

I’ve had a good few reactions to yesterday’s blog about the Daily Mail – mostly in e-mails, a lot of them knee-jerk reactions, some vitriolic – which is good because, frankly, I had got bored with people occasionally agreeing with me. Admittedly, I did dash the blog off when I was overly-sleepy and a wee bit tetchy.

But I do think there’s an appalling knee-jerk reaction to the Daily Mail in which liberals hate – literally hate – what they perceive the paper says often without reading it or, in some cases, they do read what is written but then translate it into what they think is being said rather than what is actually being said.

One person pointed me to a particularly offensive Daily Mail headline about Muslims.

The complaint was specifically about the headline, which reads:

MUSLIM FANATIC PRISONERS TO BE ‘DE-PROGRAMMED’ USING CONTROVERSIAL TECHNIQUES TO ‘CURE’ THEM OF BELIEFS

Now – I could be wrong here but, to me – it seems impeccable straight reportage as a headline because the words ‘de-programmed’ and ‘cure’ are both in quotation marks. In Fleet Street Speak, this means a newspaper does not necessarily share or even believe what is quoted. The word ‘controversial’ is not in quotation marks. The news item which is being reported within the article might be questionable but the facts are well worth reporting.

Of course, the Daily Mail can also spout bollocks.

But I think knee-jerk liberal reaction to the Daily Mail is a bit like Gordon Brown’s reaction to Gillian Duffy, the 65 year-old Labour supporter whom he called “bigotted” during the 2010 General Election campaign when she brought up a widely-held worry about the level of Eastern European immigration into the UK. She was reflecting a widely-held concern about a genuine potential and sometimes actual problem.

Whether any newspaper is creating or reflecting a public view is a nice argument but it can certainly be argued that the Daily Mail reflects widespread public opinion on a variety of topics.

Whenever I read the Daily Mail, I’m amazed by how downmarket it is. Basically, it is as much of a tacky red-top as the Sun or the Daily Star. It’s designed to look like a quality newspaper, but it’s full of OK magazine style stories.

However, it does have and keeps its finger on the pulse of what ordinary people think to an extraordinary extent.

I remember years ago, the ‘Madam Cyn’ case in which Cynthia Payne was being prosecuted for running a brothel. I was working at Anglia TV in Norwich at the time  and, every morning, all the national papers would arrive in our office.

The other tabloids totally missed the point of the Madam Cyn case. They covered the court case as a sex story.

But the Daily Mail covered it as a quirky, near-comic tale of retired majors with gammy legs, people using luncheon vouchers to buy sex and sheer British eccentricity. And that was what, at heart, the story was. It was not a sex case, it was a Victoria Wood / Alan Bennett / Michael Palin style British comedy.

Indeed, the two 1987 movies loosely based on Cynthia Payne’s life Wish You Were Here and Personal Services were both light British social comedies and the second was directed by Terry Jones of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Cynthia Payne’s is the perfect Daily Mail story. It is more saucy than sexy and is decidedly tabloid but with a veneer that makes it seem almost genteel to Middle England. It titillated without being, in Mail terms, dirty.

Around 2004, someone I know had to have her photo taken for an interview to be published in the Daily Mail. She was told not to wear trousers for the photo-shoot as the Daily Mail “doesn’t take photos of women wearing trousers because its readers didn’t like it.”

This mightily impressed me then and it mightily impresses me now. It shows an absolutely brilliant understanding of the Daily Mail’s readership at the time (and perhaps today too).

Female Daily Mail readers probably wore trousers a lot of the time for practical reasons, but their image of womanhood was probably that ‘feminine’ women did not wear trousers and they wanted to see in the Daily Mail what they perceived as feminine women.

It would never have entered my head to be wary of photographing women in trousers (largely because the thought is politically incorrect) but it is a superb piece of commercial psychology.

In the mid-1980s, I worked on two top-rating peak-time Saturday evening ITV series: Game For a Laugh and Surprise! Surprise! There was a rule of thumb on those show. It was not a 100% rule. But it was a strong rule-of-thumb.

It was that we should not have appearing on the shows people with tattoos.

Remember this was the mid-1980s before tattoos were common.

The reason for this non-tattoo rule (as I say, it was not a ban, just a rule-of-thumb to bear in mind) was that viewers felt threatened by people who had tattoos. The mainstream, mass of peak-time viewers felt people with tattoos were down-market, aggressive and ‘different’. A tattoo said ‘prison’ and ‘crime’ to the viewers. And, though it felt a bit odd, it was I think absolutely spot-on in understanding the mass market audience for the ‘real people’ shows we were screening in which ordinary people were the stars.

Ordinary people were watching themselves on TV and they did not (at that time) see themselves as being the sort of people who would wear tattoos.

I should maybe point out that we were encouraged to actively seek out non-white participants to try to prevent the shows being filled with totally white faces.

If you want to hit the mass market, you have to know your audience.

Associated Newspapers – owners of the Daily Mail – have a near-perfect touch – they have pitched not just the Mail but Metro at exactly the right mass readership in exactly the right way. They know exactly what the people who comprise mainstream Middle England want and think. The fact that the Mail does not have big sales in Scotland is interesting.

In both those respects – they have massive appeal in Middle England but none in Scotland – they are like Margaret Thatcher. Her ‘audience appreciation index’ in England always interested me.

The backward-looking view of her is that, somehow, she was disliked by the vast majority of people at the time. That is both true and completely false.

Whenever personal popularity was measured in opinion polls, she usually came out badly. But, when she went to the electorate in a General Election, the Conservative Party got in with large majorities. I think the reason was that people felt, “Ye Gods! She is scary but, if WE feel she’s scary and is bullying us, then she’s going to scare the bejesus shit out of the French and tear the throats out of them and anyone else who might be anti-British.”

People didn’t like her. But, in large numbers, they liked her policies.

Maggie Thatcher initially won power because she read the Daily Mail and Sun and understood what their readers wanted – what Essex Man wanted – like buying their own council houses and buying shares. In later years, she lost her touch because – as she admitted in interviews – she stopped reading the tabloids in case they ‘swayed’ her from what she knew was ‘right’. So she went for the Poll Tax which (though perfectly correct logically) was not something Essex Man wanted. Even then, though, another War win and I reckon she would have romped home.

Her downfall, at the end, was that the Conservative Party got spooked and ousted her because of Poll Tax riots and bad opinion poll results. They ousted her during the first Gulf War. The irony is that, if they had not ousted her, she would probably have bullied George Bush into finishing the first Gulf War decisively by taking Baghdad and ousting Saddam Hussein. An inevitable consequence, I reckon, would have been another massive General Election win for the Conservative Party, changing the next 20+ years of British and world history.

Margaret Thatcher had and the Daily Mail – or, more correctly, its owners Associated Newspapers – have their fingers on the pulse of Britain.

Some, of course, might say “the throat”.

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