Tag Archives: Malcolm hardee

Comic Becky Fury, who married comic Arthur Smith, has won multiple Awards

Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe saw the last Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, but it is good to see former winners upholding Malcolm’s  penchant for creative inexactitude.

There is an admirable piece of not-altogether incorrect publicity on display in Edinburgh courtesy of Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury…

She won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016 for seeming to claim in her publicity she was a finalist for the main Last Minute Comedy Award in Edinburgh… In fact, she had been a finalist for a totally different award from a similarly-named but totally different Last Minute lot (a small club no-one had heard of). She also put her Fringe poster on the Tinder dating site on the basis that she would either get additional audience members or a steady supply of young men or both.

After the Fringe was over, a mate of Malcolm’s then saw her perform in a pub in South London and gave her something which he also called a Malcolm Hardee Award.

So, on her posters and flyers this, year, Becky is honestly, if misleadingly, claiming again (arguably truthfully) that she was a 2016 Last Minute Comedy Finalist while adding that she won two Malcolm Hardee Awards in 2016.

She also has, on her posters and flyers, laurels for winning – this year – the ‘Arthur Smiffy Award For Show That Is Probably Very Good But I Haven’t Seen Yet’.

This Arthur Smiffy (for which, read Arthur Smith) Award might or might not be true as she ‘married’ Arthur Smith in Cumbria this year as part of a comedy show. Note that she ‘married’ him not married him.

In publicity, punctuation can make all the difference.

It is good to see traditions being upheld.

I think Malcolm would have approved of all this.

After all, with Arthur Smith, he did once write a review of his own comedy show, submitted it to The Scotsman newspaper under the name of their esteemed comedy critic… and they published it.

Cunning Stunts are to be encouraged and cherished in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the show business.

Becky’s show is titled The Apocaloptimist.

And, strangely, Fury is her real name.

I think.

That’s what she says, anyway.

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Steve From Up North says: “It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy”

Steve Taylor reflects on his new poetry book

Steve Taylor – aka ‘Steve From Up North’ – was last mentioned in this blog in October 2011.

I think he was given his geographical nickname by the late comic Malcolm Hardee.

In fact, Steve is from the North West of England. 

From 1981 to 1989, Steve was landlord of the Royal Oak pub in Chorley, Lancashire.

In March this year, he told the Chorley Guardian:

“In the 1980s, no comedy clubs existed outside of London. In 1982 Chorley comedian Phil Cool came into our pub. Because I was into comedy I recognised him.

“He was about to make it big time and said he wanted somewhere to practise and work-in his routine. So I started a comedy club downstairs in our cellar called Laughingas Comedy.

“We had this idea that every other Monday night there would be a guest comedian and anyone else who wanted to try out their material.

“Then I went to London and brought some acts from there, such as Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy from Radio 4, Arnold Brown from The Comedy Store, Phil Cornwell from Stella Street, Felix Dexter, who was one of the first comedians on the circuit, and Jenny Eclair.”

Now Steve has written a poetry book – Reflections.

So I talked to him via Skype.

Steve Taylor with his then wife Kim at The Royal Oak, Chorley, in the 1980s


JOHN: You got into comedy back in the 1980s at the right time. Is this the right time to get into poetry?

STEVE: (LAUGHS) Well, I stopped promoting comedy just as it became popular and there was money to be made out of it. 

JOHN: And poetry?

STEVE: You can’t make money writing poetry, unless you write verses for Christmas cards and birthday cards. Who pays you for poems other than comedy nights? – If you’re lucky.

JOHN: So why the career change – writing poetry?

STEVE: I would never be arrogant enough to call myself a poet. Being ‘a poet’ is like you do it for a living. It would be nice to do it for a living, but it will never happen.

JOHN: Why?

STEVE: It just won’t.

JOHN: So why poetry now?

STEVE: I’ve always written stuff but never kept it. Then, about three years ago, I wrote something on holiday which I really liked and I thought: THIS could be performed! It was a poem about Magaluf. So I tried doing a few poems at a couple of open mic nights and they went really well. 

I thought: I’m going to save the poems. And, as time went on, I just felt myself in the frame of mind to write. When I started writing more and more and including them in stand-up gigs and putting some on Facebook, people started saying: Why don’t you put them in a book?

JOHN: Are they written as performance poems?

STEVE: In the book, perhaps about 30% are performance poems. There’s 100 poems in there.

JOHN: Is there a poetry circuit in the North West of England?

“Comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect poetry”

STEVE: I’m not keen on the poetry circuit. I feel more comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect to get poetry.

So I might play to an open mic night where it’s 90% musicians. Or a folk music club where it’s musicians and singers.

I feel better there because I don’t feel I’m competing against people who are doing the same thing.

I have a very low opinion of my ability and I worry that I won’t be good enough.

I’ve not done anything outside Lancashire yet.

JOHN: Could some of them be turned into songs?

STEVE: Maybe 20%-25% of the ones in the book were written with a tune in mind.

JOHN: An original tune?

STEVE: Yeah. But, as I can’t sing or play an instrument…

JOHN: You mention Bob Williamson in the book.

STEVE: Very, very funny bloke, Bob. He was a good friend. A great friend. I carried his coffin, sadly. He and I set up a comedy club in 2000. It was called Laughingas. The same name I had used before. Peter Kay did the opening night. He had done That Peter Kay Thing and was just writing and filming Phoenix Nights at the time. He packed the place; he did an hour and a half for his 20-minute set.

The trouble was, when we set that club up in 2000 and I phoned up all the Names I used to know, they said: “Oh sorry, we can’t do it now. We’re tied-up with Jongleurs.” Or “We’re tied-up with the Comedy Store. They won’t let us do other gigs…” Well, at least, they said they had to be available for them. If I booked them and, say, the Comedy Store had a drop-out and phoned them, they had to do it.

JOHN: Why are you not running clubs now?

STEVE: I keep losing money on them  Too many people are doing them now.

JOHN: Have you been influenced by anyone in poetry?

The inspirational Northerner John Cooper Clarke

STEVE: Not particularly, but I love John Cooper Clarke. When I was into punk music in the 1970s, I thought: He’s a poet… But he is cool and trendy and listenable… It made me feel it was more acceptable to write poetry and it didn’t have to be arty-farty. My very first performance poem – it’s in the book – was I Want To Be a Ranting Poet. It was a put-down of ranting poets and now I am one at times. He is mentioned in it. I think John Cooper Clarke made poetry accessible to anyone.

JOHN: I suppose Wordsworth was a Northern poet.

STEVE: I’m not particularly interested in poets. I know very little about poets. There was a great poet on the circuit, sadly currently dead – Hovis Presley. There’s a lot of good Northern poets – like Tony Walsh.

JOHN: So you are writing poetry for ‘ordinary folk’ – but ‘ordinary folk’ get embarrassed by poetry, don’t they? They think it’s a bit arty-farty and ‘not for me’. Is there a problem about finding the audience?

STEVE: Yeah, but I run a pub, as I have done for 30-odd years. I did a launch party for the book in my pub – full of football fans, builders, rough ’n’ ready and I can’t believe how many of them bought it and liked it.

JOHN: Well, once people give themselves permission to read ‘poetry’ with an open mind…

STEVE: I sold out the first print run of the book quite quickly – I covered my costs and made a small profit – and I’m now in the process of seeing if I can get it in Waterstones bookshops. 

JOHN: Is it available on Amazon?

STEVE: No, you can only get it through me at the moment.

JOHN: Is there a website?

STEVE: There’s a list of contacts in the book – My phone number, my Facebook page, my email.

JOHN: Isn’t that a problem? If you want to find out where to buy the book, you have to buy the book. This might slow sales.

STEVE: I also have a Facebook Poetry Page: Steven P Taylor Poetry.

JOHN: If you get on Amazon, you might find you become a cult in somewhere like Western Australia or Guatemala.

STEVE: The book is quite parochial to Lancashire.

JOHN: You think? I think it has got general appeal.

The Brook pub in Ramsbottom, near Bury, in Lancashire

STEVE: Well, the back section has poems about my home town of Bury, my time at college in Bolton, my love of Manchester and the village of Ramsbottom, where I am now.

JOHN: I don’t think The Beatles’ Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields only appeal to people from Liverpool, though.

You didn’t tailor it to a specific audience?

STEVE: I have written stuff to order. Someone asked me to write something for a wedding, to put on a plaque. And someone else wanted something about Bonfire Night. (It’s in the book.) It took me 45 minutes all in one go to write this quite long poem about childhood and Bonfire Night, which I was really pleased with.

Sometimes I can do that; other times I think over them forever. Most of my best poems come out in one go. I think the hardest thing about poetry is not the writing of it. It’s the coming up with the idea of what to write about. When I’m telling myself I have to write ‘some stuff’, it doesn’t really flow the same. It’s when I get an actual idea and a theme: that’s when it flows. It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy. It’s about what you see and how you interpret it.


I WANT TO BE A RANTING POET

I want to be a ranting poet,
I’ve got the accent right, I know it,
Aggressive delivery of my own,
And talking in a monotone,
I’ve got no talent and want to show it,
By being,
A ranting poet.
It’s easy when you get the hang,
You don’t use big words just slang,
You don’t have worries trying to fit,
All the things you want to say on one line because in ranting poetry it doesn’t matter anyway and no one gives a shit.
No one laughs and no one smiles,
At poems that go on for miles,
So how can I make my name,
With poems that all sound the same,
Johnny Clarke did it, he showed the way,
A living legend still today.
I have to think of something new,
And give it my political left wing view,
Talk about things that have happened to me,
Nostalgia’s not what it used to be,
Or wars and crime and unemployment,
Dole queues, bus queues
Snooker cues ? Disappointment .
Walking the streets up and down all day,
Depressing everyone going my way,
No this ranting poetry’s not for me,
I thing I’ll have to leave it be,
I had a go I had my try,
I think I’ll sod off home now
Bye.


(SINCE THIS BLOG WAS POSTED, STEVE HAS BUILT A WEBSITE WHICH IS… HERE)

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Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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How to think up a title for your very first Edinburgh Fringe comedy show

First of all, think of it not from your viewpoint but from the viewpoint of the punters and the reviewers.

In my opinion, you should have a title which starts in the first half of the alphabet.

ZEBRA JOKES FOR FOLKS may seem like a good title, but punters looking through the Fringe Programme start at the front and work through looking for attractive shows. So they go A-B-C-D-E etc etc.

By the time they get to M or N, after literally hundreds of shows, they are starting to skim the listings, their eyes are glazing over and the time slots they want to fill-up already have multiple shows vying for their attention. By the time they get to Z, they probably wish they had never had the idea of going to the Edinburgh Fringe in the first place..

For this reason, the late Malcolm Hardee used to start his titles with Aaaaargh!… increasing the length of the Aaaaaaaarghs year-by-year to out-manoeuvre copycats.

He was almost always first in the Fringe Programme’s comedy section listings.

In Edinburgh in August, you are not the only show in town…

Don’t go for Aaaaaaargghh! The market for it is already full. But I suggest you have a first word which starts with a letter between A and M.

Using the title A ZEBRA SHOW probably will not work because A and THE tend to be ignored by the Programme’s alphabetical listers.

Also, in my opinion, you should have your name in the title because, ultimately, the reason you are performing at the Edinburgh Fringe is to sell yourself and awareness of yourself to punters and to the media – NOT primarily the show.

Jonathan Ross first became famous on the Channel 4 show THE LAST RESORT WITH JONATHAN ROSS.

No-one knew who the fuck Jonathan Ross was when it started (not the punters; not TV industry people) but, because the show was good, they inevitably got to know his name. Every time the show was mentioned or printed, his name was publicised because it was in the title.

Another important thing is DO NOT BE TOO CLEVER with a title. Achieving impact is more important than being seen to be clever-clever. The more clever a title is, very often the more confusing, obscure and – when glimpsed for 1½ seconds on a flyer or in the very cluttered listings page in the Programme – possibly the more incomprehensible it is – especially to people from the US, Oz, Europe etc. The dividing line between being intriguing and confusing & annoying is narrow.

Your self-explanatory title has to stand out without an image

You only have 1 to 1½ seconds at very most for the title to register in people’s brains as they skim through listings, see your flyer among many or see your poster among many 15 feet away across a street.

KISS – Keep It Simple, Sucker.

The other thing to remember is that, in lists of “Today’s Shows” – either in The Scotsman newspaper or on a board at the venue or elsewhere – the punters only see the title in isolation – they may well NOT have read your 40 carefully-crafted words in the Fringe Programme. So your sole sales pitch to the punters who have never heard of you and who have no idea what your show is about is the title.

My inclination would be to figure out what TYPE of comedy show it is going to be.

Then figure out three words which make that obvious.

Then make them jolly and attractive (no easy feat).

And mix your name in there somehow.

I know that, when the Fringe Programme deadline comes, you will almost certainly have very little idea what is actually going to be in your show. But is it satire? Quick fire gags? Stories? Autobiographical? Physical comedy? Gay? Variety? Sketch? Surreal? Rude? Clean? Cutting-edge? Clowny? Family?

As a punter, if I see a general show title from a performer I have not seen, I have no idea what the show is like. It could be any of the above categories. If it is in a simple Daily Listing in a paper, in a magazine or on a board, there is not even a flyer or poster image. Just the title.

So the title on its own has to tell the punters – or at least hint – what TYPE of comedy show it will be.

Someone like Jimmy Carr does not need to do this. Because people know what to expect. They know who Jimmy Carr is and they know he is not a comedy magician or a juggler or a drag act.

Janey Godley is unusual in that her name will bring in punters

Someone like Janey Godley can get away with titles using puns on her name because she has a big existing audience in Edinburgh. So For Godley’s Sake! will work for her. The word GODLEY will get in her dependable audience.

But, the punters probably have no idea who you are – it is your first Fringe show. Remember that, defying expectations, a large percentage of your audience is likely to be local NOT from London. All the Fringe Office research I have ever seen seems to confirm this.

Another bonus to a clearly-defined title is that the title – as well as helping the punters know roughly what your show is about – will actually concentrate your own mind on exactly what the show is about and will stop you whizzing off in all sorts of irrelevant directions. Everything in the show should relate directly to the title.

And don’t use meaningless words – every word has to actually mean something. This is more important in the text rather than the title, but…

“Hilarious” and “rib-tickling” mean bugger-all.

Your show is in the Comedy section fer feck’s sake. Every show can say it is “hilarious”. What is your show’s Unique Selling Proposition? Why is it better and more interesting that the other zillions of comedy shows yelling for attention?

Do not even THINK about being zany!

Meaningless words like “wacky” and “zany” are actually suicidal. If any experienced reviewer sees those words in the description, it screams “18-year-old University student wankers who think they are funny and want to be famous and fêted”. It is like people putting up signs saying: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.

These “wacky” and “zany” shows are almost guaranteed to be laughter disasters. I would personally avoid like the plague seeing any show describing itself as “wacky” or “zany” and I would be more likely to go see a comedy show calling itself “Satanic” than one claiming it is “hilarious”.

In my opinion.

But that don’t mean a thing.

The other vitally important factor to bear in mind is the oft-repeated refrain from William Goldman’s book Adventures in The Screen Trade – “Nobody KNOWS anything”.

However experienced or knowledgable anyone is, they don’t KNOW what will work.

You have to ultimately go on your gut instinct, have self-confidence and ignore any advice you think is wrong.

Don’t forget you can probably change the name of your show either until you submit it or until the final deadline for the Fringe Programme (both have been the case in past years) or until some arbitrary date that the Fringe Office may conjure up.

Because, just as this may be your first year at the Fringe, so it is for a lot of the people working for the Fringe Office, many of whom change from year to year.

Richard Herring had to splurge out his ‘O’

There was one inglorious year – 2012 – when a completely barking mad person was in charge of the printed Programme. I blogged about it at the time – here and here and elsewhere.

2012 was the year poor Richard Herring had his show asterisked TALKING C*CK despite the fact that the origin of the word ‘cock’ in that phrase is not sexual (it comes from ‘cock & bull story’) and despite the fact that his original show TALKING COCK had been printed in the Fringe Programme with impunity ten years before, in 2002.

In 2009, I staged a show which the Fringe Programme had happily printed as  AAAAAAAAAARRGHHH! IT’S BOLLOCK RELIEF! – THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD SHOW. They would never have allowed that in 2012 and that had nothing to do with changing public taste but with individual stupidity in the Fringe Office.

Never assume anyone anywhere in Edinburgh in August is sensible.

2012 was the year the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was UNacceptable by the Fringe Office but the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK was totally acceptable (with an exclamation mark replacing the I)… and Australian comedian Jon Bennett intended to perform his first Edinburgh Fringe show: PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK.

The show’s title had been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. But the Edinburgh Fringe Office that year insisted the word COCK had to be changed to C*CK.

Mindless Fringe Office censored the word but not the image

To make matters even more ludicrous, the word had to be printed C*CK in the Programme listings, but the image for the show (also printed in the Programme) had the word COCK rising erect from a man’s groin.

The same Programme happily printed the show title MOLLY WOBBLY’S TIT FACTORY, a show by KUNT AND THE GANG and Reginald D Hunter’s show WORK IN PROGRESS…AND NIGGA while banning another comedian’s show title because it included three dollar signs in a row –  $$$ – which, it was claimed, did not fit ‘the Fringe’s house style’.

Always assume that everyone in Edinburgh in August is on some hallucinogenic drug or has a severe personality disorder. This assumption has served me well.

Never assume anything at the Fringe is easy or anyone is sane.

Most importantly, do remember that the title of your show is all about self-promotion, not necessarily about the show itself.

One template which I do recommend for any Edinburgh Fringe show title is:

AAAAAAARGH! I LISTENED TO JOHN FLEMING AND THAT IS WHY I, (INSERT YOUR NAME HERE), HAVE THIS CRAP TITLE FOR MY (INSERT YOUR GENRE HERE) COMEDY SHOW.

Trust me.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 21: Tampons and how obscenity can be subjective

WARNING: USE OF EXTREME LANGUAGE IN THIS BLOG

Helen, sitting in a room with a Periscope and 1,200 visitors

In the afternoon, I took the plunge and went to Helen Wallace’s Up Periscope at Southside Social.

She claims it is the only Fringe show which can (and has) had one member in the audience and 1,200 people watching.

She livestreams it on Periscope, interacting with the live audience in the room (today, well into double figures) and with the online audience. More complicated than it sounds. Very well handled by her. And ripe for development in future years.

Being a woman of taste, she then packs up every day, leaps out and races to get to the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club round the corner to The Counting House.

Today, the audience there included five of the people involved in Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink… a comic play to be put on by ex-squatters who were evicted from the late Malcolm’s Wibbley Wobbley floating pub. Nothing to do with me.

Kate Copstick (left) and Jane Hill in the lively Grouchy Club

Also there, was performer Jane Hill whose show is titled Cow.  I learned a lot in the ensuing discussion between Kate Copstick and Jane in that – something I had not known – calling someone a “cow” is, it seems, much more offensive in Glasgow than elsewhere in the UK – more severe, even, than in Edinburgh.

It seems – and I can only pass this on as discussed – that the word “cow” is a far more offensive word in Glasgow than the word “cunt”.

In Glasgow, as has oft been noted, the word “cunt” can be used almost affectionately just as, in Australia, the word “bastard” can be affectionate.

The Australian sentence “Ah, yah bastard, I love yah! Yer ma best friend!” can be almost directly translated into Glaswegian as “Ah, ye wee cunt, yer a lovely wee cunt, so y’are…”

But the use of the phrase “Yer a cow” in Glasgow is liable to lead to the use of cut-throat razors and the infliction of Glasgow Smiles.

These are the sort of useful life tips you can only hear amid the comedy industry chat at the Grouchy Club.

Jane Hill had actually arrived to clarify exactly how she had once made tampons, as I had mentioned it in a blog two days ago.

She was keen to point out that, rather than knitting condoms as part of a cottage industry, as I had fantasised, she had been employed in the “tampon hand assemblage” business in Portsmouth.

After that, I should point out, she pursued a highly prestigious career in independent radio and the BBC.

Sarah Morgan-Paul with a local body guard

Coincidentally, in the evening, though, I saw Tales From a Tampon, in which Sarah Morgan-Paul does straight old-school stand-up (that’s not in any way a criticism) about the history of the tampon while dressed as a tampon. As it is straight stand-up in a costume, it neither counts as Malcolm Hardee Award Comic Originality nor a Cunning Stunt… I vaguely remember someone wandering round the streets of Edinburgh a few years ago dressed as a tampon. Or it might have been a dildo. The memory plays visual tricks after too many years at the Fringe.

Suggestions for Cunning Stunts are, strangely, now coming out of the woodwork despite the fact the Malcolm Hardee Awards shortlist was announced on Monday.

Later tonight, I got a call from the director of the aforementioned squatters’ play Malcolm Hardee – Back From The Drink – with unlikely cunning stunt possibilities to publicise it… Alas, simultaneously too late for the Malcolm Hardee Award nominations AND too late to get any media publicity before tomorrow night’s performance.

Despite allegedly having done a lot of research on types of cunning stunt, said director had not realised I was involved in the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. But he said they had been discussing a (non-destructive) stunt at the Awards Show (two days after his show, so hardly going to help publicise it.)

I am not sure which of us was more confused at this point.

I then opened my email and there was a message from the US highlighting, once again, the importance of advance research. It said:


Hi John,

I’d like to invite MALCOLM HARDEE to be featured on our TALK BUSINESS 360 “Industry Innovators” TV program which airs on American Airlines during the entire month of December 2017.

Our in-flight TV show is available to millions of business and leisure travelers, presenting one-on-one interviews with profiles of business leaders.  Recent guests include P&G, Dell, PwC, LG Electronics, Verizon, Bayer, Hilton Hotels, Stanford University, Suzuki and more.

The good news is we’re extending a remnant rate this week of only $3,995 (normally 11K) for production, distribution, and re-usage rights for a 2-minute video, making this an affordable vehicle to communicate your message and grow your brand.  Please contact me as soon as possible for more details as space is limited.

Sincerely,

Michael Smith
Producer
TALK BUSINESS 360 TV
TV That Means Business


I replied:


Wow, Michael,

Great rate and a real honour to have Malcolm recognised as one of the “Industry Innovators”!

Where would the recording take place and what date? I will then arrange to have Malcolm’s ashes shipped to wherever is best for you.

He drowned in 2005, so there will be a lot to catch up on in the recording. Will there be an interviewer?

Best wishes,

John


So far, no reply.

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