Tag Archives: Martha McBrier

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 20, Part 1: The Malcolm Hardee Awards nominations

The nominees for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards have been announced. And the nominations are…


THE MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY
(The award is for performers, not for shows although, obviously, that has some effect)

Terry Alderton
Rob Kemp
Elf Lyons
Mark Dean Quinn


THE MALCOLM HARDEE CUNNING STUNT AWARD
(for a cunning publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe)

Damian Kingsley
…for handing out flyers while wearing a security guard’s jacket at venues other than his own, on the basis that punters are more likely to take flyers from a security guard rather than a normal flyer.

Martha McBrier
…for a publicity stunt for her Balamory Doubtfire show so complicated that even an explanation by her with a timeline does not fully unravel the layers. I still have no idea where the truth begins or ends and the scam starts or finishes.

Mark Dean Quinn
…for sundry flyering scams on behalf of other people but, in particular, for attaching stars and quotes from other shows on his own flyers, thus potentially subverting the Fringe ‘star’ system.


THE MALCOLM HARDEE ‘ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD’
(Means what it says on the label)

Rob Kemp
His Elvis Dead show and subsequent similarly-formatted shows could end up worldwide (if the music copyright problems could be overcome) and/or could be franchised.

Al Porter
Already presenting his own Irish radio show and the Irish version of Blind Date, he has now been commissioned for a BBC Radio one-off, showing potential to make the leap to the UK and beyond.


You will no doubt have picked-up that, highly unusually, two performers are nominated for two awards each…

Rob Kemp for the Comic Originality and ‘Million Quid’ Awards.

And Mark Dean Quinn in the Comic Originality and Cunning Stunt categories.

This is the third consecutive year that Al Porter has been nominated for the ‘Million Quid’ Award.

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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 7: Three naked bottoms, tears and a cunning stunt

Today, I watched three performers talking out of their arses. Hardly a new thing at the Edinburgh Fringe, you might think.

I couldn’t possibly be cheap enough to use a pun

Except this was the much-touted Wild Bore comic theatrical piece at The Traverse in which Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez and Adrienne Truscott perform with their naked bottoms (and occasionally with the rest of their bodies).

It is a knowingly self-referential post-modernist labyrinth of analysing and criticising critics and the performance itself with some wonderful surreal images – the sight of them running around naked and erect with their heads inside their own bottoms made me glad I never remember my own dreams and nightmares.

The self-referencing reminded me inevitably of that 1969 movie I am always banging on about in this blog – Anthony Newley’s Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – You sit there thinking the movie is a self-indulgent mess and then, at one point, three ‘movie critics’ walk on the screen and start criticising it in detail for all the many faults you have just been thinking about. I sat through it twice when I first saw it, because I had no idea whether I liked it or not. I was still not sure after seeing it twice, but it was and is certainly addictive.

Nathan Willcock’s State of The Nathan at Moriarty’s also kept referring to itself and had a strangely straight, middle-of-the-road, middle-aged, non-Fringe audience happily sitting through and enjoying an hour of his (as he admitted to them) liberal Londoner comedy.

Daddy Kamali – indefatigably charismatic

The indefatigably charismatic Jody Kamali was pretending to run a hotel – Hotel Yes Please – in a room in the actual Apex Hotel/Sweet venue in Grassmarket where he played multiple characters, integrated the audience into the show and unusually-for-him added some genuine personal stuff into a character playing another character. Apparently last year’s Fringe show was such a happy experience that, on the final night, he celebrated with his wife and the result is that he now has a daughter.

I think he will make a good dad.

Which was something Lewis Schaffer’s dead mother told him (Lewis) in one of the 23 letters he is opening nightly in Unopened Letters From My Mother at the Counting House. As he said in this blog two days ago: “To me, the letters are full-on scary and sad. But funny for the audience.”

Lewis Schaffer reads his mother’s letter for the first time

He says he does not know why he did not open the 23 letters she sent him between 2000 and her death in 2011, some from a mental hospital.

But I do remember the late Malcolm Hardee, going through a bout of depression the like of which people would not imagine Malcolm Hardee had, telling me that he was only opening one in three of the letters he received through the post. The other two he threw away without even checking who they were from.

After tonight’s performance – well, performance is the wrong word – experience – someone said to me: “I have never seen Lewis show that sort of real emotion on stage before”.

Lewis’ shows are always one-offs. These ones almost go beyond unique, if such a thing were possible.

Which could also be said of Becky Fury’s show tonight at the Black Market. Well, she did not actually perform her prepared show but improvised 55 minutes around the audience which included a Polish social worker who came to Edinburgh for the Fringe last year and just stayed. He said he was attracted to her show title Molotov Cocktail Party because of what happened at Polish football matches.

Becky Fury – not hosting a Christian show at all

Then there was the young Spanish couple who were there despite, it seemed, not actually being able to understand any English. Becky at first persuaded them it was a Christian show in which everyone had to bare themselves and managed to get the male half of the couple to strip off.

And then there was the American girl who arrived late. She said she played the violin and sewed.

“Simultaneously?” asked Becky.

Alas no, but she then took out her sewing and continued throughout the rest of the show while listening and participating. She said she was not a performer but did busk naked in Seattle, playing the violin.

I do believe this was and is true. But who knows?

In this blog four days ago, Martha McBrier mentioned that she had received a complaint about the fact that she plays a didgeridoo during her Balamory Doubtfire show – something that women are not allowed to do in Aboriginal culture. A white sociology professor in New York had accused her of racism, sexism and subjugating an entire culture.

The story was followed up, with more details, in Bruce Dessau’s Beyond The Joke site, on the Chortle comedy site and  in The Scotsman.

Chortle carried quotes from Janet McLeod, producer of the Melbourne Comedy Festival show Aborigi-LOL, and Dane Simpson, a comedian from the Kamilaroi/Gamilaraay culture.

Martha McBrier – cunning player of religious instruments

Tonight, I got a message from Martin Walker, who told me that, during the recording of his On The Mic podcast, Martha had admitted that the whole thing was a cunning stunt.

The didgeridoo appears on her flyer/poster and makes an admittedly brief appearance in her show so I do wonder if this is a stunt planned so far in advance that it is almost a work of art in its own right.

On the other hand, allegedly offending Aboriginal didgeridoo players might not have been a stunt at all but, on seeing the reaction, Martha decided to say it was a stunt to fan the flames of publicity and edge ever closer to a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nomination.

Only time will tell.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 3: Female comic accused of blowing a male instrument

Juliette Burton: one too many female comics?

Juliette Burton shared an interesting flyering experience with me.

“Hi there,” she said to a man in the street today, “would you like to see my show The Butterfly Effect?”

“Oh, hmm,” he replied apologetically, “the thing is I’ve already booked to see TWO female comedians.”

“So,” Juliette asked him, “you can’t see three? You know female comedians are the same as male comedians just with vaginas, right?!”

“He seemed,” Juliette told me, “to shut down when I vagina-ed him, so I walked away.”

The World’s Best MC Award posters – What is the real scam?

What I have been noticing is that there seem to be a lot of posters around town for Nathan Cassidy’s World’s Best MC Award Grand Final. This is the show where I am supposedly one of the judges.

As mentioned in this blog a couple of weeks ago, it seems to me likely to be an attempt to win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award and I was convinced I will turn up to an empty room. But with all these posters, there is no way Nathan can avoid real punters turning up. So I do not know what the scam (if scam it is) can be.

The Fringe thrives on uncertainties.

The Edinburgh Students’ Union Dome at Potterrow is doomed

I was told today that the Potterrow Dome building is definitely being closed and replaced later this year. Well, presumably it might take a couple of years to rebuild, as such things tend to. It will remain a Student Union afterwards but what this means to the Pleasance Dome venue at next year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I know not and – hey! – I can’t be bothered to ask.

I only live in the Edinburgh bubble of Fringe shows which, at this early point, are having a slight problem of over-running. I was told that, earlier in the week, one of the Big Four venues had consecutive shows over-running to such an extent that they ended up an hour late and simply cancelled one performer’s entire show to catch up.

Kieron Nicholson – clever writer about dinosaur academia war

This morning, I saw Bone Wars, a cleverly-written show about dinosaur academia by Kieron Nicholson and Nicholas Cooke, with Michelle Wormleighton playing all the other parts, male, female and arguably other (i.e. God).

Am I the only person who never realised the logic – mentioned in Bone Wars – that, if God made Man in his own image, then God must share all Man’s many flaws?

Weird.

Which is a terrible link to the fact I had a double-dose of Weirdos at the Hive today.

Head Weirdo Adam Larter un-knowingly chose PR legend Mark Borkowski as a punter to get up onto the stage in his L’Art Nouveau show – something that could have severely damaged his future prospects if it had gone wrong. But, luckily, it may have the opposite effect.

Fellow Weirdo Ali Brice had a good audience for his Never-Ending Pencil show and was superb – pacing, audience control, improv, surrealism, serious sections, everything worked wonderfully.

Ali Brice (right) chats with Mark Dean Quinn

Ali told me before the show that, a couple of weeks ago, he had seen me in a street in Wood Green, London. But I have not been there for years; possibly not this century. A couple of hours later, Claire Smith (Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge) phoned me to say Come back and have a tea with me! as I had just walked past her in Bristo Square… Except I had been sitting in Finnegan’s Wake pub in a different part of town for the last 15 minutes or so.

So there must be someone roaming round London and Edinburgh looking like me.

He has my sympathy.

Belly Dancing in the Old Anatomy Theatre of the University of Edinburgh launched Death on The Fringe

Later I went to the launch of the annual Death on the Fringe, organised by Robert James Peacock, which showcases a range of Fringe shows to promote more open and supportive attitudes and behaviours to death, dying and bereavement in Scotland.

Always eclectic, it included belly-dancer Shantisha aka Miroslava Bronnikova, Scottish Comedian of the Year Rosco McClelland, chanteuse Woodstock Taylor and Pauline Goldsmith with a coffin.

Late night, I saw Andy Barr in Tropic of Admin on a desert island where the audience was involved in a place crash. I may have been hallucinating by this point.

Accusations against a woman blowing a didgeridoo

And, before that, I saw the ever-amiable and ever funny Martha McBrier’s show Balamory Doubtfire, in which the diminutive but plucky Glaswegian eventually plays a didgeridoo. Beforehand, she told me she was “a wee bit upset” because of an email she had received.

“This woman, “Martha explained, “emailed me on my website. She said I have subjugated an entire culture. She told me I am ignorant and that I should research culture and apparently women are not allowed to play the didgeridoo. It’s a men’s instrument.”

“So you are being racist AND sexist?” I asked.

“Apparently I’m being sexist and reverse racist.”

“What does ‘reverse racist’ mean?” I asked.

“I don’t know. But she quoted a rapper called Nas. As Nas said, she said, Respect.”

“Nas,” I admitted, “is a bit of a philosopher, isn’t he?”

“Women have been blowing on men’s objects”

“The thing is,” Martha told me, “women have been blowing on men’s objects for some time and no-one has complained before this.”

“Who is the offended woman?” I asked.

“It turns out she is a white sociology professor.”

“How,” I asked, “did you find that out? Did she tell you?”

“Well,” Martha told me, “I have people in the know and, by that, I mean people whose internet works in their flat in Edinburgh and they Googled her.”

“So she’s a highly-knowledgable professor?” I asked.

“Well,” Martha replied, “a didgeridoo is apparently called a yidaki and I’m a musician, so I’ll know that, obviously. But she spelled it wrong. She’s probably using the white reverse racist spelling. The thing is, I took up the didgeridoo on medical advice.”

“For your lungs?” I asked.

“Yes, to increase my peak flow and to reduce stress.”

“To increase your what?” I asked.

“My peak flow,” replied Martha.

“Ah,” I said.

“My flow has peaked,” Martha informed me, “but they want it even better. They told me the didgeridoo is commonly used to help sleep apnea, snoring, asthma.”

“But, if you play the didgeridoo in bed to help sleep apnea,” I suggested, “it’s not going to increase your partner’s happiness in bed.”

“Well,” said Martha, “I’ve had no complaints so far.”

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The Grouchy Club Live – What is killing comedy. Why men wash. £1,000 a week.

Ada Campe performed at the Grouchy Club Live tonight

Ada Campe – magical at the Grouchy Club Live

Tonight, I went to the Grouchy Club monthly live meet-up for people in the comedy business and anybody else who is interested. Well, I would do, I chair it with comedy critic Kate Copstick.

Often, comics come along and perform ten minutes of material – tonight it was the extraordinarily charismatic Ada Campe – but mostly it is just a case of the audience chatting about the business.

It can last two or three hours – as long as feels natural – with people arriving and leaving when they want, although arrive late and you’ll probably miss something outrageous.

Matt Price reacts to an approach by Kate Copstick tonight

Matt Price reacted to a comment by Kate Copstick tonight

On this occasion, we kept mostly to the subject of comedy and this brief conversation ensued between Copstick, storytelling comic Matt Price and Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner.

Noel had arrived late, so Copstick explained to him what had just happened.


COPSTICK
Matt evinced the opinion – which was met with a distinct murmur on the floor here – that ‘new material’ nights are killing comedy.

NOEL
No, they’re not.

MATT
What I meant was that I believe incorrectly billed ones are.

NOEL
I would agree with you 100%. Shit venues are ruining comedy. Bad set-ups. Look, you’re a young guy, you’ve got a date, you think: Oh! I’ll take her to comedy. She’ll be happy. she’ll laugh. That’s why, when you have a lot of couples in the audience, the room is stoic – because the guys are thinking: Well, I can’t laugh at that, because she’ll think that I’m this kind of person if I laugh at that joke, because that joke sounds homophobic, racist or whatever other PC shite.

Bad venues are killing comedy. There are venues that are horribly, badly run with dirty, smelly promoters who wash once a year.

COPSTICK
Comedy now is getting a television audience. It’s not really getting a comedy audience. The comedy audience that used to be there is still there, but it’s not big enough for the massive tsunami of quite shit comics that just keeps coming and coming and coming and coming. So the audiences they’re getting on all these nights are television audiences – I want to see him or her off the telly – They’re not really interested enough or have any feeling enough for comedy to sit and watch real newbies or new material.

NOEL
Most people want to go to work on Monday morning and say: Oh we were at the O2 Arena and saw ‘im off the telly! Oh, it was great! We was this close to the screen, we saw everything!… And they’ve paid £80. I mean, for fuck’s sake. Seriously. What? £60? £80? Jesus Christ! you could do things with that kind of money, besides sit and watch (the equivalent of) a DVD. What’s that I see way down there? Oh, great!

Also, things change. The whole comedy scene is changing. Young people, they wanna go and watch movies outdoors – that’s a great fucking idea. An uncomfortable chair, some shit movie from 20 years ago. I mean, OK if you’re gonna cop a feel off the girl beside you OK but, otherwise, who would have ever thought outdoor movies on rooftops is a great idea?

Guys will go anywhere where the girls are. If it wasn’t for women, we wouldn’t wash. Guaranteed. What would the point be?

The whole thing has changed and we can’t get used to the idea. We came through the era when comedy was like The Beatles – the new rock ’n’ roll. It was taking off; it was great; you opened a club above a room and people were getting paid £300 for a gig.

COPSTICK
Really?

NOEL
From Eugene Cheese. He always did a door split. Comics were making more money 15 years ago than they are now. A mate of mine who was in the mainstream in 1973 was taking home £300 a night. Working men’s clubs. Milo McCabe’s father. He was a mainstream comic. He would stand in the middle of the floor at a working men’s club – a stag do or whatever – and he would do the jokes, take the piss out of the guys – bang, bang, bang, bang, bang – I’d say Let’s have a beer and he’d say No, let’s get out of here. There’s a stripper coming on in a minute and the place is probably going to get busted and I can’t have that happen to me. Because he was doing a little telly at the time.

They would have a stag show, the comic would get up, then a stripper would come – big, big money. The average comic was making £1,000 a week, no problem, in the early 1990s.

COPSTICK
We are now going to hand out tissues to all the working comics in the room. I didn’t do stand-up, but I did comedy cabaret and you’re right: there were go-go dancers on before, then comedy, funny songs and a bit of chat and then a stripper – and that was in Edinburgh!

So… (TO MATT) what you were saying about new comedy nights today…

MATT
This is no offence to anybody, because we’re all part of the same circuit, but I think you sometimes now get nights that are billed, for example, as “eight professional comics trying out new material” – It’s free entry and you go in and you think: Hold on! None of you are pro comics. What are you talking about? You’re all moaning about your day job. First thing they say (off stage) is: Who’s your agent? How do you get an agent? Who do I speak to?

And I think: Why are you doing that? Don’t put that on the poster! Because it’s killing everything long-term.

15 years ago, I went to the Comedy Cafe and saw Geoff Boyz. He is, to me, the consumate pro. He said to me: It takes you ten years to be a professional. That’s before you start to get good at it; and then probably another ten to master it.

Yes, you can make it in three years if your dad works for the BBC. But you’ve still got to deliver the middle-aged men’s material they’re writing for you. This is an art form and people are fucking it up by lying about what they can do. I know people who can’t do 10 minutes who are doing a one-hour show at the Edinburgh Festival – the most prestigious arts festival in the world – and they can’t even stand on stage at a proper comedy club and deliver 10 minutes of jokes to an audience who are there to be entertained.

NOEL
It’s become a social life for some very sad people. They go up to Edinburgh and they do their hour and their hour is not ready. I had somebody ask me: Come and see my show. And I said: There’s no way I’m spending an hour of my fucking life in Edinburgh when I can be watching Chinese acrobats swinging from the ceiling with large breasts. Forget it! You’re not ready for an hour! I was very rude and very blunt and it was just water off a duck’s back. I had to be that blunt with this person, because they really were thick-skinned.

That’s ruining the business. TV has saturated the business. And we need to find a new road for live comedy.


After-show chat at the grouchy Club earlier tonight

Some after-show chat at the live Grouchy Club earlier tonight

In 2016, there will be live Grouchy Club comedy industry meet-ups held in the performance space at the back of Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity shop in Shepherd’s Bush, London, at 6.30pm on the following dates. Anyone can come. Entry is free. Exit is free.

Tuesday 12th January
Tuesday 9th February
Tuesday 8th March
Tuesday 12th April
Tuesday 10th May
Tuesday 14th June
Tuesday 12th July

Details on http://www.grouchyclub.co.uk

After tonight’s show, for some incomprehensible reason, I mentioned to London-based Glasgow comic Martha McBrier that, as I am originally Scots, I tend to pronounce the grocery store chain as the Co-per-aytive rather than the Co-opp-rative. This triggered a 20-second duet between Martha McBrier and Kate Copstick…

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Edinburgh Fringe: The unavoidable Lewis Schaffer & the African President

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap(Photo by Trudy Brambrough)

Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap (Photograph by Trudy Brambrough)

Yesterday, I was talking to critic Kate Copstick and I think we came to the conclusion that, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there is no one ‘hot’ act whom everyone is talking about. Although Phil Nichol seems to be everywhere either as a performer or as a producer – the ten shows to promote the tenth anniversary of his Comedians’ Theatre Company is only the tip of an iceberg.

I saw one of his shows yesterday – Giant Leap, about the alleged writing of Neil Armstrong’s first words during the allegedly faked Moon landing in 1969.

This is the one which has Lewis Schaffer in his first on-stage acting role since his schooldays. And he is very good. But, talking to him afterwards, it was all about the review he got for his stand-up comedy show from critic Bruce Dessau. It was only a 3-star review and Lewis Schaffer seems to think Bruce told him it could have been a 4-star review but he (Lewis Schaffer) was not bad enough. If you build an entire career on being a failure as a comic, you rather screw yourself if you are rather too good. Sure enough, when I looked up the review, it ends with the words: “Go along and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good gig. But if you are lucky maybe you will catch him have a bad gig”

Mr Twonkey and friend yesterday

Mr Twonkey and his close friend yesterday

Also in the audience at Giant Leap was Mr Twonkey who, the previous day, had supplied cheese at the surprisingly busy Grouchy Club show. He told me he had run out of cheese and was not coming to our second show.

And no-one else did either. The allotted time – 3.45pm at The Counting House Lounge – arrived and no-one turned up to participate, something that hadn’t happened in the two Fringes we have been doing it.

But then, three minutes later, Italian Luca Cupani turned up. So the three of us – Kate Copstick, Luca and I talked about his forthcoming appearance in the final of So You Think You’re Funny, comedy in general, Italy and toilets. I have posted a 26 minute extract online in what I presume will be a daily podcast extract from the show.

Today’s Grouchy Club will be interesting as Copstick is off at some dodgy venue doing a panel discussion with Janey Godley and others for online magazine Spiked on the subject of That’s Not Funny! Are Offence-Seekers Killing Comedy?

So, tomorrow, there may be a podcast posted of an extract from me talking to myself.

Anyway, after today’s threesome, I went off to see Nathan Cassidy pulling another publicity stunt in the Cowgate for his Back To The Future shows featuring the DeLorean car he has managed to half-inch from someone (possibly in the past).

Jo Burke, mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

Jo Burke was mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday

I seem to spend most of my days figuratively bumping into people in the street but yesterday, by the DeLorean, I was literally bumped-into by Jo Burke.

She appeared to be having a fit of the giggles and, on leaving (she was rushing to Waverley station to put a friend on a train) got stopped by a fan who wanted her to sign a copy of her iScream book for him.

Thought to self afterwards: Was that impromptu book-signing a set-up?

Decision by self: No, I don’t think it was. I think it was actually real. It was bizarre. This is Edinburgh. Bizarre things happen all the time.

When I too left the DeLorean, 30 seconds later, I bumped into Alexander Bennett, but only figuratively.

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene

“All hail Alexander Bennett!” I shouted out. “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my blog?”

“John,” he replied, “you are the bottom-feeder of comedy. You are scraping around. Have you got any anecdotes? Have you got any anecdotes so I can sort-of write down what you’ve said.

“That’s a bit harsh,” I said. “I hailed you – and this is what I get.”

“The trouble is,” said Alexander, “my catchphrase (All hail Alexander Bennett!) is only working with you. Maybe it will take off and…”

At this point, I saw John Robertson walking fast on the other side of the road holding a placard advertising his Dark Room show.

I shouted loudly across the street: “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my increasingly prestigious blog?”

He half raised his hand in what looked like a slightly tired acknowledgement and hurried on his way.

When I too hurried on my way, I got a message from Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Claire Smith: Lewis Schaffer was ASTONISHING yesterday.

Matt Price looking for a bargain yesterday

Matt Price looking for a bargain in Edinburgh yesterday

I turned a corner and bumped into Matt Price. He and his partner Martha McBrier are turning into Lewis Schaffer.

Ever since Martha got a 5-star review in The Scotsman, their venue has been swamped by ‘star-chasers’ – people who only go to shows because they have stars in The Scotsman and elsewhere, not because they are interested in the show as such.

“You are turning into Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “If good things happen, you get worried.”

“He has re-defined failure and it’s amazing,” said Matt. “We saw him yesterday and Martha had never seen him perform before. It was just unbelievable. Amazing. Martha said: Oh. Is this what he does, then?”

Then my evening was spent watching three superb comedy shows.

Lynn Ruth Miller: Get a Grip
Arguably the warmest and cuddliest autobiographical storyteller on the Fringe. Well, I got a cuddle, so I’m happy.

Janey Godley: Honest To Godley
I think I have said in this blog before that she is he most all-round creative person I have ever met and these two quotes from elsewhere still remain true:

“The most outspoken female stand-up in Britain” (Daily Telegraph)

 “Some of the sharpest-elbowed comedy in the world” (New York Times)

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: The Man Who Stole My Identity
President Obonjo, African dictator, is actually comedian Benjamin Bello and he lives in St Albans – on the same railway line as me. So I have had about three rail journey chats with him – one of which I think involved the basic idea of this show – but only seen him perform one 10-minute spot in London. This hour-long show was a revelation.

He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by a mostly male audience. And then he takes the uniform off, becomes Benjamin Bello and analyses the nature of character comedy, wonders why the character he writes and performs is funnier than he himself is on stage… and then puts the uniform back on and becomes the character again.

Loud, loud laughter in the first and third sections; total silence in the middle broken by occasional laughter when he bungs in a joke. But it is not silence because they don’t like the performance. It is the silence of wrapt attention and – I think – fascination.

Nothing at all like what I expected.

The downside of the Edinburgh Fringe is that, although he got in a good audience last night, he is unlikely to get reviewed because he is unknown, hidden away in the labyrinth of the impenetrably badly-signed Cowgatehead venue and does not have a big-bucks promoter behind him.

So it goes.

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Edinburgh Fringe: some shows, a man dangling from a bridge and a romance

Passing performer Richard Gadd prepares to punch comic Joz Norris yesterday

Performer Richard Gadd (right) appeared to be preparing to punch comic Joz Norris in an Edinburgh street yesterday

My yesterday at the Edinburgh Fringe started with a Danish man playing the bagpipes and ended with a policeman.

There were stunts along the way, but none of them cunning stunts.

I saw seven shows yesterday. Five of them were:

Claus Reis: Return of the Danish Bagpipe Comedian
The show works, but there’s a presentation problem. If your USP is confounding expectations by being a Danish bagpiper and you dress up in a kilt and traditional Scots piper costume and you look fairly Scottish, then there is no real visual USP. Naff as it may sound, you should be wearing Viking horns or some equally stock cliché Danish costume while playing the pipes.

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Award-winner with a new face this year

Candy Gigi: Chicken Soup
Last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award winner for comic originality. This year, she has developed the madness, adding in more glimpses of her acting and great singing voice and, yesterday, picked a perfect punter to unleash her insanity on. She handled him so well, I thought he might be a plant. He wasn’t. It was like watching a mescaline-crazed Cilla Black. Her shows tread a narrow line between sunshine and darkness.

Joz Norris: Hey Guys!
Always talented and charismatic, Joz’s new show now holds together as an entity. Tremendously enjoyable, with hints of a genuinely interesting autobiographical back story. If he has the nerve to increase the true stories while retaining the surrealism, he could break through massively. Perfect TV face.

Martha McBrier: Pigeon Puncher
It is easy to think she is ‘just’ a naturally very, very funny storyteller, but there is a lot of preparation and an enormous talent in audience control behind this show and her performance. Very very very funny indeed.

Bob Slayer conducting business on his BlundaBus

Bob Slayer conducting his BlundaBus show

Bob Slayer’s BlundaBus: Never Mind the BusStops
With anyone else, this unplanned rambling shambles of comic chattery in a double decker bus would be a car crash. With Bob (nominally) in charge, it still is – but that is the point of it. It’s a success! Not so much as a show but as an event.

Nathan (right, in red) with his de Lorean

Nathan (right, in red) with DeLorean before the wind came


In among all the above, I also went to the Three Sisters pub in the Cowgate, where Nathan Cassidy had managed to get hold of and park a DeLorean car to plug his Back To The Future trilogy of shows.

People could wear the hero’s red jacket and get photographed in the car and the bonnet was covered in flyers for Nathan’s shows: a good stunt undercut by the fact this is eternally-windy Edinburgh and occasional gusts blew the flyers off the bonnet into the street.

On second thoughts, though, perhaps that was not a negative factor. That was publicity. This is the Fringe.

John Robertson: The Dark Room in the underbelly

John Robertson: very Dark in The Underbelly

Walking away from that, I bumped into John Robertson in a rubber suit (no change there, then) plugging his Dark Room show… and then photographer Garry Platt, who has been wandering round photographing shows and events.

As Garry and I wandered off, I looked up. The Old Town of Edinburgh is built on two levels. Above out heads was the George IV Bridge from which a giant trapeze was dangling and a young gent was climbing down a rope towards it.

I said to a girl standing on the pavement: “He has eleven minutes to kill himself.”

“What?” she said, slightly surprised.

“I have to leave in ten minutes,” I explained, “so he only has eleven minutes to fall onto the road and plug whatever show it is by killing himself.”

It turned out she was doing the PR for the show.

The dangling Dolls duo above the Cowgate (Photograph  by Garry Platt)

Dolls duo dangling dangerously above the Cowgate yesterday (Photographs by Garry Platt)

The young man dangled and was followed by a young woman who dangled. They both dangled. By the time I left, a fair crowd had gathered on the bridge above and on both the pavements below to watch them dangle.

The traffic slowed as drivers looked up and small flyers were handed out to publicise the show Dolls.

But I think, to be truly effective, it needed a banner dangling from the bridge itself, above the two dangling trapeze people risking their lives for a line in The Scotsman.

Semi-ironically, the next event I went to was a 90-minute event publicising Death on the Fringe, an umbrella organisation which I blogged about last month.

It aims to stimulate discussion of death, end-of-life issues, bereavement and grief.

It was held in the Old Anatomy Lecture Theatre in the Medical School building of Edinburgh Universally.

All the talk was of death, terminal illnesses and mortality, but it seemed strangely refreshing amid the incestuous atmosphere of egos swirling around in the streets outside.

There have been sadly few cunning stunts so far this year.

Mark Dean Quinn - King of Fringe Flyerers

Mark Dean Quinn – King of Fringe Flyerers

But I bumped into Mark Dean Quinn yesterday. Last year, he got a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt nomination for his flyering techniques.

This year, he is mostly plugging his own show More Observation Without Comedy Is Not On Today about which he was strangely quiet, perhaps because it does not start until ten days time and is only on for two days. But he is also plugging Ben Target’s show Imagine There’s No Ben Target (It’s Easy If You Try) by handing out imaginary flyers and paper bags which say:

A BAG IN WHICH TO PLACE
YOUR IMAGINARY FLYER FOR
IMAGINE THERE’S NO BEN
TARGET (IT’S EASY IF YOU TRY)

3pm
THE HIVE
WEAR SENSIBLE SHOES

“How does Ben Target pronounce Ben Target?” I asked.

“Well,” explained Mark, “he pronounces Target as target and Tarjay as tarjay

“Each day,” Mark told me, Ben has given me a precise number of people he wants me to get into his show by flyering.”

“A different number each day?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Mark.

“What,” I asked, “happens if you miss the target for Ben Target?”

“Well, I don’t intend to fail on any particular day, because I’m sure there will be serious ramifications and I have seen what he carries in his suitcase.”

Janey Godley in suitcase

Janey Godley in a suitcase. There is no Ben Target on view

“What does he carry in his suitcase?” I asked.

“I have signed an actual written document to say I can’t say what’s in it, but it’s quite special.”

“Is the penalty different,” I asked if you are over or under on the audience numbers?”

“If you want to find out what the penalty is – and see what’s in the suitcase – come to the show at 3.00pm at The Hive daily, you’ll actually see the inside.”

Now THAT is effective promotion with a hint of cunning stunt.

As I walked back to my flat at around 2.00am last night/this morning, I turned down a side street. On the other side, walking in the opposite direction, back into the centre of Edinburgh, were a ballerina and a policeman hand-in-hand. They were not publicising anything. Just happy to be with each other.

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