Tag Archives: Malcolm Hardee Awards

My Comedy Taste. Part 1: Improvisation good and bad but not Michael McIntyre

The late Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe

I started and used to run the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They started in 2005. They were due to (and did) end in August 2017. 

To coincide with their end, I thought I might post a blog about my taste in comedy. What is the point in having a blog if you can’t be self-indulgent? 

So, in June 2017, I persuaded my chum, oft-times comedy judge and linguistic expert Louisette Stodel to ‘interview’ me in London’s Soho Theatre Bar for that planned blog. But then I never got round to transcribing the interview and actually writing it. Unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it too.

Time passed, as time does, and I was going to run the interview/blog to coincide with the start of the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe. But again I never got round to transcribing the interview and writing that blog. Again, unpardonable lethargy may have had something to do with it.

But, with performers now preparing to start to book venues and think about getting round to writing or at least pretending to start to write shows for the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe, I miraculously got round to transcribing the interview at the weekend and here is Part 1 of that  June 2017 chat.


LOUISETTE: When did you first go to the Fringe?

JOHN: Well, I started going to the Edinburgh Film Festival in the mid-1970s when I was reviewing movies for magazines and, around the mid-1980s, I switched to the Edinburgh Fringe, which is around the time comedy started taking over from naff university theatre groups. I was looking for acts to appear on TV shows.

LOUISETTE: How long have you been blogging about comedy?

JOHN: It has never really been a 100% comedy blog. I started it in 2010 to plug a movie I had foolishly put money into and it became daily around April 2011 to plug comedy-related stuff I was helping to stage at the Edinburgh Fringe that August and I stopped doing it daily at the end of December 2016.

But it has never really been a comedy blog. I tend not to write reviews of comedy. They tend to be previews in advance of the actual performance of a show. In a sense, I don’t care so much about what the show is like but about how it got created by this particular person. It’s about interesting people doing interesting things, usually creative and/or in some way quirky. It’s always about people, rarely about things. People, people, people. And I do like a quirky anecdote.

LOUISETTE: What is it about quirkiness you like?

JOHN: The TV programme stuff I used to do was usually related to quirkiness. I would be finding ordinary people who did bizarre things… a man rollerskating wearing a bright yellow plastic sou’wester while simultaneously playing the harmonica and spoons, with a seagull on his shoulder. Ah! Mr Wickers, a Tiswas Talented Teacher!

LOUISETTE: You like eccentricity.

Surprise! Surprise! – A show and a clue to what I really like

JOHN: Admire it, for sure. But I remember having a conversation with another researcher on Surprise! Surprise! at LWT and we both agreed, if you want to find a real eccentric, you do not go for extroverts. You do NOT want the person who makes all his mates laugh in the pub. They are just superficial.

What you want is an introvert with eccentricity within. The extrovert just likes the sound of their own voice and just wants attention. The eccentric introvert has got odd quirkiness in depth within them. 

Comedians are odd because you would think they would have to be wild extroverts, getting up on stage wanting applause, but loads are deep-down shy and terrified inside. Maybe it’s the dichotomy that makes them. I like people who think differently.

People often contact me and say: “Come and see my show for your blog.” And I may do but it’s not the show – not the end result – that attracts me. I don’t really do reviews. I am interested in interviewing the person about why or how they did the show or what they feel like when they are performing it. I’m interested in the psychology of creative people not the end result itself, as such.

In a sense, I am not bothered whether the show is good or not good provided it is interesting. I would much rather watch an interesting failure than a dull success. You can very often learn more from what doesn’t work than from what works.

LOUISETTE: So what is ‘interesting’?

JOHN: Lateral thinking is interesting. Instead of going from A-B, you go from A to T to L to B or maybe you never get to B.

LOUISETTE: So you like the unexpected.

JOHN: I think Michael McIntyre is absolutely brilliant. 120% brilliant. But I would not pay to see his one of his shows, because I know what I am going to get. I can go see him in Manchester and the next day in Swansea and the next day in Plymouth and it will be the same show. Perfect. A work of art. Superb. But the same perfect thing.

LOUISETTE: So you are talking about wanting unpredictability?

JOHN: Yes. And people flying, going off at tangents, trying things out which even they didn’t know they were going to do.

LOUISETTE: How do you know they didn’t know?

Boothby Graffoe – always the unexpected

JOHN: I think you can tell… Boothby Graffoe had a very very good 20 or 30 minute act he would do in clubs. (His 60-minute shows were good too.) Fine. It was all very good. Audiences loved it. But, in a way, he was better with a bad audience. The good audience would listen to his very well put-together material. But, if he got hecklers or distractions, he would fly off on wild flights of fantasy, even funnier than the prepared show, almost soar round the room then eventually get seamlessly back to the prepared show. Brilliant.

There was another act, now established, whom I won’t name. When he was starting off, maybe 50% of his stuff was OK, 45% was not very good and 5% was absolute genius. I would go watch him for that 5% genius. And I would still rather go see a show like that which is 5% genius than a solid mainstream show that is 100% perfect entertainment.

If someone creates something truly original in front of your eyes, it is like magic.

LOUISETTE:  Michael McIntyre get laughs from saying unexpected things.

JOHN: If I see Michael McIntyre, I do not know what is going to happen, but it is pre-ordained what is going to happen. It is slick in the best way. If people are on TV and ‘famous’, I am not that interested because they have reached a level of professional capability. I prefer to see reasonably new acts or lower middle-rung acts. And people untarnished by TV.

If you see someone who is REALLY starting off, they are crap, because they can’t adjust their act to the specific audience. When performers reach a certain level of experience, they can cope with any type of audience and that is interesting to see how they can turn an audience but, if they are TV ‘stars’ they may well automatically have easy audiences because the audience has come to see “that bloke” or “that girl off the telly” and they are expecting to have a good time.

If it’s Fred NoName, the audience have no expectations.

I prefer to see Fred NoName with a rollercoaster of an act and I am interested in seeing the structure of an act. I am interested in the mechanics of it.

LOUISETTE: And you like the element of danger? It could all go wrong, all go pear-shaped?

JOHN: Yes. On the other hand (LAUGHS) most improvisation is shit because the performers are often not very good.

LOUISETTE: Don’t you have to be very skilled to improvise?

“Most improvisation is shit: the performers are not very good.”

JOHN: In my erstwhile youth, I used to go every week to Pentameters club at The Freemasons Arms pub in Hampstead and watch the Theatre Machine improvisation show supervised by Keith Johnstone.

Very good. Very interesting.

But, for some reason, I don’t like most improvisation today.

Partly that’s because, a lot of the time, you can see it’s NOT fully improvised. You can see the…

LOUISETTE: …formats?

JOHN: Templates. Yeah. Certain routines they can just adjust. Give me the name of an animal… Give me a performance style… It sounds like they are widening possibilities, but they are narrowing them so they can be slotted into pre-existing storylines and routines they can adjust. 

Also, a lot of improvisation groups seem to comprise actors trying to be comedians… I have an allergy to actors trying to be comedians. They’re just attempting and usually failing to be comedic until a ‘real’ job comes along.

LOUISETTE: Surely an actor can be funny in character, though.

JOHN: Often I think: What I am watching here is like a showreel of their theatre school training. It’s like an audition show. They go through 20 characters just to show their breadth of ability – to impress themselves as much as the audience. But the audience has not come there to appreciate their versatility. The audience wants to be entertained not to be impressed. The audience wants to enjoy their material, not give the act marks out of ten for technique. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 25: Comedy reviews, surrealism, nudity and politics

The Edinburgh Fringe splintered from the Edinburgh Festival 70 years ago and, like Christianity, has been splintering ever since.

The official International Festival and the official Fringe end on Monday; the Free Fringe ended today (Saturday); and the Free Festival and Bob Slayer’s Heroes venues close tomorrow (Sunday).

So today I saw shows for which mentions in this blog will, alas, not get any extra bums-on-seats. But, then, I think mentions in this blog only add to ‘profile’ not to bums. So apologies to them, but just think of the increasing prestige.

I always try not to ‘review’ shows or acts. I think I may have failed today. When I do this, it never ends well for me.

Cassie Atkinson (centre), a real character

I have a tendency not to like character comedy if the characters are too close to reality; I don’t mind more cartoon-caricature-like or wildly OTT character comedy. Which makes it odd that I like  Cassie Atkinson. I think it must be that the character comedy I hate is the stuff that feels like acting students doing an end-of term performance to their drama school mates. And I guess Cassie is a better actress than most! Or maybe she adds a tiny pinch of herself into even the characters least like her, so I buy into them more. I have no idea.

She does occasionally show a taste for the genuinely surreal – never a bad thing in my eyes though, alas, TV producers have no taste for the actual genuinely surreal. But now she seems to have linked up, more often than not in a blonde wig, with Kat Butterfield and Charlotte Pearson to perform sketches as Northern Power Blouse who, with luck, should be more attention-grabbing for TV producers – not that she really needs them with National Theatre work in her CV.

Lovely Lucy Hopkins – part light-fantastic

The genuinely lovely Lucy Hopkins is probably too good for British TV as her show Powerful Women Are About is said to be inspired by Mohammed Taleb’s Witches, Eco-Feminists, The Adventurers of the Soul of the World and is correctly described on the flyer as “part  electro-ritual, part theremin-experiment, part light-fantastic. Ultra-conscious comedy by award-winning, internationally-touring, terribly present clown.” In other words, it is totally un-categorisable – awkward for commissioners scared about the security of their jobs who think in terms of safe elevator pitches.

No great loss, though, as Lucy’s work is very specifically for live theatre.

Becky Brunning is interesting because she can bill herself as being an actor in the popular Broadchurch TV series – which will certainly help her in elevator pitches and may be why her room was literally full to overflowing with punters – some people couldn’t get in. Beaming is/was her debut solo show at the Fringe and, I have to say, was/is weird.

Becky Brunning suddenly pulled out a twist with a call-back

In Beaming, she establishes herself as a likeable, ordinary, modest girl-next-door then progresses to fairly standard, well-structured, low-key observational comedy – driving tests, shopping, crisps (I think she may have lost the audience on the long crisps section of the show) and she even, unless my ears had an audio hallucination, actually delivered the straight non-post-modernist line: “Does anybody in the room like food?”…

But then, in the last 10 minutes or so, she suddenly brings in a totally different and fascinating autobiographical strand about sexuality which would and perhaps should have been an entire show in itself. This strand did not come out of nowhere – it was a call-back to a tiny fact which had been mentioned in passing earlier in the show, but she suddenly pulled out a twist on this earlier comment.

Most of her show was standard and very general observational comedy. When she suddenly switched to very specific, unique personal stuff, something happened. I hate to say she is “one to watch” – far be it from me to be cliché. But I am certainly going to see her next show.

Luca Cupani even appeals to Hungarians

Then I went to see the wonderful Luca Cupani who, at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards last night added to his glittering collection of awards the title Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion 2017.

I thought I had seen his show – It’s Me! – at a preview in London, which is why I went to see it so late in its run here, but he has developed it beyond recognition and, of course, was superb. I can never quite get my head round why he is so good.

In theory, his Italian accent and what objectively is a rather dithery, broken-up delivery should interfere with the flow of the comedy but, for some reason – perhaps because it requires a slight bit of extra attention from the listener (but not too much), he is consistently fascinating. And he knows how to structure a story.

Interestingly, the room today contained Scottish, English, Siberian punters and a  lady sporting a T-shirt saying: I SPEAK HUNGARIAN. She was Hungarian. They all enjoyed it. I was watching the Hungarian lady a lot – her English was not too strong and she loved the show.

Becky backstage at Malcolm Hardee Awards

Next stop was Becky Fury, who had hosted the wildly chaotic Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show last night. The chaos was not of her making – acts not turning up, acts turning up late, acts not saying in advance what they were going to do. And she handled it all masterfully, if that’s the right word, making up most of it on the spot – including swallowing a 3ft long balloon and doing a gameshow based on the health warnings on cigarette packets. Literally honking her breasts, of course, is always a crowd pleaser. And so it was tonight in her Molotov Cocktail show, ending with her successful rollercoaster of a Calais Jungle story. She dropped the political sections of the show and it still worked.

I am still waiting for the autobiographical street anarchist show which she has in her: if she ever does it, that will be a unique, perhaps literally fiery Fringe show.

If she does not get arrested.

Or even if she does.

A man conducts himself well

Rounding off the evening for me was a show called Brain Rinse – Puppetry of The Audience which threatened in its publicity to be “immersive” (almost always a horrifying idea).

In fact, it was superbly entertaining for the same reason that Herbie Treehead worked so well at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show. Both Herbie and Brain Rinse’s Mike Raffone (say it out loud) have long experience in street performance, so their audience control is second-to-none. A well-structured show; the ability to ad-lib on the hoof; top notch audience psychology. All hail!

That was my day.

Meanwhile, elsewhere…

Last night, at the repeatedly aforementioned Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, Russian Egg Roulette competitor Samantha Pressdee could not stop herself taking her top off. She has a lot of ‘previous’ in this.

Samantha Pressdee – a woman never knowingly overdressed

And, while I was roaming round the hot and sticky comedy rooms of Edinburgh today, she was out in the fresh air and I do mean ‘out’.

Apparently this was the 10th International ‘Go Topless’ Day and there was a rally in Edinburgh. The stated rules included:

NO-ONE IS IN CHARGE.

AS ALWAYS THE RALLY IS ESSENTIALLY ANARCHIC AS NO-ONE HAS AUTHORITY OVER ANOTHER PERSON’S BODY OR VOICE.

Samantha sent me a ‘report’ on what had happened:


The annual Edinburgh Free The Nipple rally for International Go Topless Day and Women’s Equality Day has been a success.

Members of the public joined in with regular campaigners and an open mic was held as a platform to oppose the censorship of opinion as well as nipples.

Only one member of the public got offended, shouting at protesters: “Shame on you! You’re flaunting yourselves! I can’t bring my daughter in to this space!” 

I chased the lady whilst shimming my tits shouting: “Breasts feed children!”

The hysterical woman responded: “I know! My daughter has seen my tits loads of times!” before telling a photographer to “Fuck off!”

I wrote FREE LOVE on my chest in protest of the threatened extradition of alleged hacker Lauri Love.

He is appealing in the High Courts this November on the grounds that, because of his Aspergers and severe depression, he would be unable to cope in the US prison system and would commit suicide.

For more information see freelauri.com


So there you are.

Comedy reviews, naked tits and political activism.

For what more could one ask?

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 24: The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winners 2017

The late, out-standing comic Malcolm Hardee.

The final increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show took place in the ballroom of Edinburgh’s Counting House.

The winners chosen by the five judges earlier in the day, with awards presented by critic Kate Copstick and Malcolm’s sister Clare Hardee during the show, were:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY
Terry Alderton for his successful self-reinvention and, well, for originality

MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
Mark Dean Quinn for his simple yet successful subversion of the star system of comedy reviews by putting other people’s quotes and stars on his own flyers.

THE ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD
Rob Kemp, currently performing in the Elvis Dead.

The Awards Show, compered by Molotov Cocktail street anarchist and comic Becky Fury, concluded with the increasingly prestigious annual Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship supervised by Andy Dunlop, President of the World Egg Throwing Federation and John Deptford, Vice President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Italian comic Luca Cupani is now officially the 2017 Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Champion, having previously represented British comedy in Canada.

I have to add, with some humility, that I was also the recipient of a surprise prize for my work on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards over the last ten years: 16 cans of Red Bull, bought by the three female members of the judging panel for supervisory services rendered.

Earlier in the day, World Egg Throwing President Andy Dunlop revealed to me that there has been a recent outbreak of exploding intestines across the UK.

“There is methane produced inside the human body,” former-fireman Andy explained, “and when you have surgery using laser scalpels, that is enough to ignite it and there have been a number of fatalities in operating theatres in which intestines exploded into the room.”

Vice President John Deptford, who (this is true) left for Peru four hours after the Awards Show finished, took 7 seconds of video footage of the two hour show.

Brevity can be a virtue.

Context is King.

The ballroom of The Counting House was left with some unfortunate egg stains, indelible memories and an inexplicable smell of paraffin.

You had to be there.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 23: A takeover bid for the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Arranging the increasingly prestigious two hour annual Malcolm Hardee Awards Show is forever like juggling spaghetti with people dropping in and out of availability and not quite saying what they might be doing.

The good news is that I can never fail… so far.

If it is a triumph, then it is a triumph.

(L-R) Brian, Cheekykita and John Deptford

If it falls apart, then it is a fitting tribute to Malcolm’s anarchic ways.

As I arrived for the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club at the Counting House Lounge this afternoon, manager Brian – whom Kate Copstick has decided to call ‘The Comedy Concierge’ – was sitting at his barrel, talking to Cheekykita who was, of course, dressed in an impressionistic lobster costume…

…just as World Egg Throwing Federation Vice President John Deptford arrived for his Russian Egg Roulette duties at tomorrow’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in the ballroom of the Counting House.

Inside, Phil Chippendale and his stitches arrived again, this time hidden under a plaster, which he raised for photographic effect. Later, Malcolm Hardee Award Show host Becky Fury practised her mind control technique on Phil.

The revelation of the Chippendale stitches


Becky practises mind control on Chippendale

 

Complicated rhythms and tsunamis of words

After that, I had time to see Jon Long’s show Jon Long Winded.

I know him as a strong comic song performer on the London comedy circuit, but he turned out to be even better at length (45 minutes) in a totally crammed upstairs room at Cabaret Voltaire.

Very very warm audience spiel… very complicated musical rhythms and tsunamis of words… and a glimpse of a sad Fringe-style confessional-type story in there hidden by the warm spiel. Well worth seeing anywhere.

After leaving Cabaret Voltaire, in Cowgate I bumped into Nathan Cassidy, a man who could easily have been broken by his tragic Malcolm Hardee non-nomination this year.

But he instead suggested he could take over the Awards from next year and might, he implied, change his name to Nathan CassHardee to facilitate this process.

The jury is out on that one.

(L-R) Helen Wallace, John Deptford, Luca Cupani, Tony Green, Mr Balaclave, Louisette Stodel – Part of the comedy industry audience at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club in Edinburgh.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 22: Psychopath viciousness v Malcolm Hardee Awards

In the morning, I got queries because some prat had put comments on multiple performers’ listings on the Edinburgh Fringe website congratulating them for winning the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. The messages were signed ‘Malcolm Hardee’.

None of them had won.

Malcolm drowned in 2005.

Performers with experience of the Fringe thought the messages were odd but dismissed them as fake. Many newer performers took them at face value, thought they had won an Award and were then disappointed.

In at least two cases, performers new to the Fringe were in tears.

I contacted the squatters who are staging a comedy play Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink tonight, the central conceit of which is that Malcolm faked his own drowning and has returned to the Fringe. Yesterday, they were keen to promote it.

They claimed it was not them.

I posted on social media a carefully measured and restrained message:


Someone is posting on the EdFringe site entries for random performers telling them that they have won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

They have not.

The shortlist was announced on Monday

The winners are not decided until Friday. No-one has yet won any Malcolm Hardee Award and only those on the short list could win.

This has so far resulted in several people being disappointed and at least two people being reduced to tears.

If anyone knows the psychopathic cunt who is trying to hurt other performers, let me know. And if anyone would like to break the fucking legs and arms of the person doing it, I would be obliged.


Picture of a Chippendale comedian in stitches

In a physical injury totally unconnected with this, comic Phil Chippendale turned up at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club a couple of days ago after a visit to hospital.

He told us then that he had had four stitches in his head but, today, he revised that to say it was only a three stitch wound, “but it read like a four”.

Ian Dunn of the British Comedy Guide, a regular at the Grouchy Club, told us he had managed to get a question included on BBC Radio’s Round Britain Quiz about Edinburgh Fringe comedy awards, including a cryptic reference to the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which no-one, including a professional comic on the team, managed to decode.

Malcolm used to listen to Round Britain Quiz in prison and dazzle his fellow prisoners with the number of questions he got right. They never twigged that he listened to the repeat transmission with them, but had already heard the first transmission alone.

In the evening, on the way to see the former Wibbley Wobbley squatters’ one-off performance of Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink, I met submariner comic Eric who said that he had received a “weird” message this morning about winning a Malcolm Hardee Award. He had dismissed it as fake because, as he has been very successfully performing his Tales From The Sea show here for the last ten years, it was unlikely he would suddenly win an award for Originality.

Which. alas, brings us to Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink.

Malcolm used to introduce new acts with: “Could be good; could be shit.”

Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink was previewed in New Cross last Friday. Someone who saw it emailed me:


Last night I saw a play called Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink… I think it was probably one of the worst I have ever seen on so many levels – Oh dear. I think it’s heading for Edinburgh. Definitely SHIT… with capitals. Only potential redeeming feature they tried to put the Balloon Dance in at the end. Two of them got naked with a balloon – I have seen car crash things before which are amusing because how shit they are. This is not one of those. One of the cast at the end tried to show some spirit of the balloon dance, got naked and then said “Sorry, no choreography” and then another cast member got naked so was stupid.


The problem with the new, improved version tonight was that it was incoherent.

Being a shambles is forgivable. Being incoherent is not.

After asking who in the audience had heard of Malcolm Hardee (it was about half-and-half), a lady appeared on stage who (I think) gave some background but in such a thick somewhere-in-Europe accent that I have no real idea what she said. And I knew the subject. What the less clued-up people in the audience made of it I can’t begin to imagine.

There were two funny things in the one hour duration.

A piece of wooden scenery fell over three times (unintentionally) and there was a giant silver fish about 18 inches long which a cast member attempted to put in his mouth (nothing to do with Malcolm).

The real Malcolm Hardee (top) and the re-enacted version

The plot seemed to be confused about whether it centred on the police looking for Freddie Mercury’s stolen birthday cake or looking for Malcolm who had returned from his fake death or looking for multiple people pretending to be Malcolm.

Along the way, there were bizarre miscalculations like lighting a firework which was not stuck up a bum (what was the point?)… having an un-choreographed shambling around balloon dance with three naked men and a half-naked woman (why bother and why insert a woman wearing panties?)… and an admittedly funny gag involving a teabag (except it is actually a famous, allegedly-true, story about Tommy Cooper, totally unconnected to Malcolm).

There were also bizarre basic errors like saying Malcolm was aged 31 in 1985 (he was born in 1950) and that, when the police lifted his body out of the dock, he was holding a glass (it was a beer bottle, according to the police report at the Coroner’s Court).

A shambles might have been a fitting tribute.

Incoherence and pointlessness is not.

It was a disappointing evening.

When an irrelevant fish and falling scenery get the biggest laughs, you know you have problems.

And, on the way back to my flat, a cash machine swallowed my bank card.

Life.

Tell me about life.

Publicity for Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 13: The Elvis Dead, compost and comedy in a shed

I ended today soaked through with Irn Bru and rain.

The day started off like a normal Fringe day.

“Michael Brunström wants to borrow some of my compost,” performer Narin Oz told me, as I walked into Fringe Central. This made perfect sense at the time – a sign of how your brain soon gets affected by the Fringe.

I was on my way to the first Grouchy Club of the Fringe, supposedly chaired by Kate Copstick and me – but she had been dragged off by The Scotsman to review former First Minister Alex Salmond’s chat show at the Assembly Rooms on other side of town.

Becky Fury stood in for Copstick. Same hair; no white streak. The front row of our overwhelming audience (it’s all comparative) included two women who had seen Lewis Schaffer’s show last night and had not liked it.

Martha McBrier – castigated by some for playing a didgeridoo – arrived with a small brown box.

Copstick arrived when the show was almost over, telling chilling tales of Alex Salmond singing.

Cultural appropriation for Martha McBrier to play the box?

Martha McBrier played the small brown box by blowing into it. She claimed it was a ‘box didgeridoo’.

It was unclear to both her and us if women were banned from playing it, as they are with linear didgeridoos.

We started discussing Lewis Schaffer again.

At this point, Lewis Schaffer phoned asking me to send him a picture of himself.

Then I was off to see Michael Brunström, Phil Jarvis and  Alwin Solanky perform the legendary 20-minute routine Dinner For One in a small garden shed beside Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

Dinner For One, recorded in English for German audiences in 1963 is extraordinarily famous in Germany, Austria, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, South Africa and Australia. In fact, loads of places except the UK.

(Left-Right) Alwin Solanky, Phil Jarvis and Michael Brunström

Phil Jarvis introduced this shed-based production in German, then Dinner For One was performed in English with Phil as the butler, Michael Brunström in drag as the lady and Alwin Solanky as the tiger skin rug. The shed miraculously contained an audience of (I think) eight people, with more peering in through the open door.

Dinner For One: a cast over the top; an audience under threat

The spilling, throwing and spewing of Irn Bru – standing in for the original show’s alcoholic drinks – was extensive.

The result was that I was (with some pride) the only audience member left in the shed by the end.

I had taken the precaution of wearing a coat which I bought in Nuremberg and which, fortunately, has a liquid-proof hood.

This production of Dinner For One epitomised the spirit of the Fringe – people performing something for no logical reason whatsoever, ignoring financial recompense, audience numbers and any common sense.

You did, indeed, have to be there.

As did I at Nathan Cassidy’s one-off event The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final because I was booked to be one of the judges – well, THE judge, as it turned out.

I did not know what to expect from this.

I blogged about its clear Cunning Stunt Award intentions in a blog almost three weeks ago.

At the Awards (L-R) Nick Helm, Rich Wilson, Nathan Cassidy and Sarah Callaghan (Photograph by Rat Pack Productions)

As it turned out, it was pretty much what it said on the label – six good comics doing 5-minute MC-style intros – each introducing the next – in an attempt to win an alleged £5,000 prize.

The comedians/MCs were Sarah Callaghan, Nick Helm, Joey Page, Mark Silcox, Chris Turner and Rich Wilson.

Unsurprisingly, in a shock twist, Nathan Cassidy won his own £5,000.

Very enjoyable, a real audience-pleaser, but I’m not convinced it’s a Cunning Stunt. The door money DID go to charity, though.

That is not up to me, though.

Fellow Malcolm Hardee judges Marissa Burgess, Bruce Dessau, Kate Copstick, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith all have equal says to me.

Talking of Malcolm Hardee – and who isn’t at the Fringe? – the wonderful 2011 Award winner Johnny Sorrow and Bob Blackman’s Tray have arrived in Edinburgh. I saw them tonight at The Newsroom, the small venue at the top of Leith Walk. From their energy, he/they could have been playing Radio City Music Hall.

THAT is how to play to an audience of one.

No audience problem for The Elvis Dead, though.

The Elvis Dead – Cultural event or niche pastiche?

It is probably the hottest and most talked-about show in Edinburgh.

In fact, the buzz around it started at the Leicester Comedy Festival back in February and has built to dizzying heights since. It is superbly well put together together and performed.

But I am not the target audience.

It reminded me of my experience over a week ago when I saw Mother’s Ruin – about gin – with an audience fully into the subject. The Elvis Dead is a musical re-telling of the movie Evil Dead II through pastiches of Elvis Presley songs.

My problem is that I have not seen Evil Dead II; I am not a particular fan of Elvis Presley; and singalong, clapalong-stompalong-whoopalong, crowd-bonding events are not my thing. Mea culpa.

The audience LOVED it. The only-begetter of this crowd-pleasing triumph, Rob Kemp, is getting full houses every night. But for me, the elevator pitch is that it is Jollyboat rabble-rousing (I like Jollyboat) meets Harriet Braine niche pastiche (I admire Harriet Braine).

Braine and brawn vie for niche pastiche attention

Harriet Braine performs superb pastiche songs about fine art and artists – very very clever songs about Magritte, Cezanne, Van Gogh, whatever whoever. But I don’t know the subject well enough to fully appreciate them. So the full effect floats or zooms over my head, as with The Elvis Dead.

Rob Kemp says he is returning to Edinburgh next year with a Beetlejuice show.

I HAVE seen Beetlejuice.

But I am not a massive fan.

On the other hand… if we were talking about a musical version of The Wild Bunch… I would be queuing-up like the Dead Elvis fans are.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 5: How to win a Fringe comedy award – make ‘em cry

Humdinger of a black eye caused by falling while sober…

Shows I saw today included the always wildly inventive and surreal Cheekykita with Somewhere in The Ether which opens with her inside a duvet.

Nai Bowen is Brave! (she is one half of comedy duo TittyBarHaHa) includes a stunningly good song about suicide and she performed it with a humdinger of a black eye caused by falling onto the cobbles of Edinburgh when she was sober…

The secret of many successful comedy shows

In Jane Hill’s show Cow, about middle age, the audience was encouraged to call her either ‘a cow’ or ‘lovely’. She was lovely. Though, like a magician revealing secrets of the Magician’s Code, she revealed the secret format of many successful comedy shows at the Fringe – which is that you include a ‘dead dad’ section at about 40 minutes into the show. Laughter + tears goes a good way to getting you a Fringe comedy nomination.

This does not have to be a story about an actual specific dead dad, but requires the revelation of some true, traumatic and unexpected autobiographical anecdote to pull the emotional carpet from under the audience’s metaphorical feet. Having done that, you then uplift them for the climax.

Tonight, I also saw Mother’s Ruin, a bizarrely potential cult-like cabaret celebration of gin at the Gilded Balloon’s smart new Rose Theatre venue in Edinburgh’s New Town.

“as if I had entered some secret society of which I was not a member"

I had entered a secret society of which I was not a member

With Mother’s Ruin, it felt as if I had entered some secret society of which I was not a member. Admittedly, I don’t drink, which is a drawback. But three talented Australians sang songs about and told the history of gin to a large, jam-packed audience who seemed to know all the more obscure songs and whooped, cheered and clapped. It was like being in an Evangelical church.

The Edinburgh Fringe, too, has its devout pseudo-religious aspect and it is a truth universally acknowledged that religion has started more wars than comedians have had self-doubts.

This morning, I picked up a wee blue book listing the Free Fringe Festival shows.

The cover says it is the ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE FREE FRINGE FESTIVAL.

About ten minutes later, I was handed the wee blue book listing shows in PBH’s Free Fringe.

Free-for-all? Light the blue touch paper and stand well back.

As Edinburgh Fringe regulars will know, there is PBH’s Free Fringe… and there is the Laughing Horse Free Festival which split off from the Free Fringe and woe betide anyone who mentions the words ‘Free Fringe’ when they actually mean Free Festival. The two words are guarded by PBH with almost religious zeal.

So I can only imagine the wrath which may descend on the upstarts who have risked printing a new blue booklet with the words ‘Free Fringe’ on it.

Light the blue touch paper and stand well back. Blood may flow among the dangerous cobbles of Auld Reekie.

Though not in the final week.

Would it be too late to nominate a comedy tampon?

Sarah Morgan-Paul contacted me asking if a show which started on Monday 21st August and only ran for a week could be eligible for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nomination. She said that, in the show, she performs in a 5’4” tall giant tampon costume. The show is called Tales From a Tampon.

The short-list for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards is decided at noon on 21st August and the opening the tampon show is not until 2045 that night but, as the Malcolm Hardee Award winning baby last year was nominated AFTER we had announced the short-list, I guess we have to accept that Tales From a Tampon can be nominated.

The high-cost back of Lewis Schaffer’s flyer

Dreams of award nominations are also swirling round inside the head of Lewis Schaffer who, I was honoured to see, has used a photo I took of him last year on the back of his flyer.

An invoice and a letter from my lawyer will be winging its way to him after the Fringe ends.

He has visions of (the Prize formerly known as) Perrier success because his show this year – Unopened Letters From My Mother – has the Jane Hill defined potential for laughter and tears.

As mentioned in this blog a month ago, the concept is that, each day, he will genuinely open-up a different letter from his mother. She sent him 23 letters from the US to his new home in the UK between 2000 and her death in 2011 and he never opened them. He does not know why.

“You’re doing your third show tonight,” I said. “I heard you cried in your first two.”

The genuinely unopened letters from Lewis Schaffer’s mother

“I cried a little bit in my first one,” Lewis admitted. “She wrote in the letter that she thought I was probably going to be a good father. That was in 2001. One of my sons was about a couple of months old. To me, the letters are full-on scary and sad. But funny for the audience. I am trying my best to open them in order. The next one was written in November 2001. That’s after the World Trade Centre attacks. But people don’t believe the letters are real.”

“Well,” I said, “you’re a comic. Comics lie for a living. The more likely what a comic says, the more likely he (or she) has made it up. If what is said is so ridiculous it can’t possibly be true, the more likely it is to be totally true.”

“Exactly,” said Lewis Schaffer.

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