Tag Archives: Martha McBrier

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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A Rumble, women talking about their sex lives, Fringe awards and my big toe

Things are not as bad as they seem (Photo by MEUNF)

Yesterday someone – as people often do – asked me if it is difficult to find subjects for this daily blog. “No. Not at all,” I told them.

But, of course, the difficulty is often fitting in time to actually write the bleedin’ blogs, especially if (as is often the case) listening to, transcribing and editing 45-60 minutes of chat is involved even before I start writing the bleedin’ things.

Even when there are no lengthy chats to transcribe, time or too much stuff coming together can be a problem.

For the 16 days until I leave for the Edinburgh Fringe, I already have 9 recorded chats, I am seeing 11 upcoming shows, there are two podcasts to plug and I am meeting up with 5 other people for possibly bloggable chats. Plus whatever else turns up.

Ali Jones having a Rumble in Hemel tonight

Ali Jones having a Rumble in Hemel tonight

Tonight I went to Hemel Hempstead to present one of The Rumble Awards. They “celebrate the positive contribution people with learning disabilities and differences make to the world and recognise their unique skills and talents and personalities”.

Organiser Ali Jones says the awards are not about doing things for people but doing things with people. The recipients are the participants and her Pioneer Approaches organisation are complementary therapists who compliment people.

The prestigious two-hour Rumble Awards show tonight was basically a series of awards wrapped up in a variety of other interesting events.

More later in this blog, as you might expect, about another increasingly prestigious two-hour awards show.

Sofie Hagen has a memorable opening line

Sofie Hagen has a memorable opening line

The last couple of weeks have involved me seeing a lot of Edinburgh Fringe previews in London.

Some of the ones I have seen recently might seem to imply that a 2015 Fringe theme will be female comedians talking in extreme detail about their sexual experiences. So far I have had Sara Mason with tales of Burt Lancaster piercing her hymen and much more… Giada Garofalo linking her sex life, fairy tales and serial killers… and Sofie Hagen, whose very first line in a preview of her Bubblewrap show two nights ago (I might be paraphrasing, but only slightly) was:

“So, I was pissing on this man…”

This week has been awash with unexpected lines. I had Fringe preview organiser Dec Munro say to me, without any introductory explanation:

Dec Munro attempts to mount a horse

Dec Munro tries his best to mount a horse

“I wanted to be the king of gerbil sales at school. Michele was going to be Gary Lineker’s wife and so I played romantic music – Barry White, all that sort of stuff – into their little gerbil cage and actually sang Let’s Get It On a couple of times to them. Unfortunately, after six-and-a-half months, it transpired that both of them were male.”

“Explain,” I asked him, “the phrase ‘I was the king of gerbil sales’.”

“I said,” replied Dec, as if explaining it, “I WANTED to be the king of gerbil sales.”

“Ah,” I said.

That was on Monday.

Then, last night, after a preview of her show Punching Pigeons, Martha McBrier insisted I should give her a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award this year.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier after London show last night

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” she said, “Malcolm Hardee died on my birthday – the 31st of January – and that was very hard to organise in advance.”

“You were born in 2005?” I asked.

“I was ‘created’ in 2005,” she insisted.

“So you’re ten years old?” I asked.

“In many ways,” she replied, as if this explained something.

Either I am developing dementia or explanations are getting less clear.

Then the Edinburgh Fringe Office sent me a list of awards at the Fringe this year, which excluded any mention of the three increasingly prestigious annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. I suggested, they could just repeat last year’s listing, but a new one was written by them for me, which was very nice of them. It read:


THE MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS 2015

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

The three Malcolm Hardee Awards await their Fringe winners

The Awards are in memory of Malcolm Hardee, one of the most anarchic figures of his era, a great influence on British comedy over the last 25 years and the Godfather to a generation of comic talent.

The Comic Originality Award is for performers who, in the opinion of the judges, have not yet been given the attention they deserve and who have potential for continual development.

The winning act does not need to have the potential to become a major mainstream star. It is an award for people who deserve to succeed and who deserve to have their potential recognised and nurtured but who have not yet received their due recognition.

  • The Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality
  • The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe act or show
  • The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges and awards will be presented during a two-hour variety show Friday 28th August 2015 as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival.


The Fringe Office asked: “Could you clarify how the selection process is made?”

I suggested: “If you fancy, you could change:

“Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges and awards will be presented …”

to

“Acts will be shortlisted by a panel of judges more-or-less on a whim and awards will be presented …”

My damaged big toe

My toe – shortly after it got unexpectedly shelved

It seemed like a good idea at the time.

So it has been a fairly odd week.

And then the nail of my big toe started coming off.

Over a month ago, the sharp edge of a heavy wooden shelf fell on the big toe of my right foot

Cutting into the bottom of my big toenail.

Well, I think maybe it actually did cut the toenail under the skin.

The nail has now grown to a point where it is loose on the right and unconnected to anything at the bottom.

toenail

My toe this week – The left is just hanging on.

But it is stubbornly remaining attached on the left by, I suspect, clinging on to some congealed blood.

I suspect the nail will come off any day now.

Someone suggested, when it inevitably does, I should wear it round my neck.

Like a medallion.

I meet some strange people.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Comic Matt Price: hypnotherapy, sperm, Australia and marijuana

Matt Price in Camden Town last night

Matt Price, natural born storyteller, in Camden last night

Last Sunday’s increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was supposed to be recorded with Kate Copstick et moi talking to comic Matt Price before the second Best of Natural Born Storytellers shows at the Lost Theatre in Stockwell, London. Alas, Copstick was ill, so it was done from her flat.

Matt Price runs monthly Natural Born Storytellers shows with Michael Kossew in Camden Town and, last night, I went along to see this month’s show. As always, true stories told straight: extraordinary, revealing, cathartic, sometimes funny, sad, empathic. Matt had just returned from performing at the Perth and Adelaide comedy festivals.

“Was it was your first trip to Australia?” I asked.

“Yes,” Matt told me, “My friends were running a book on whether I would get deep vein thrombosis. But I wore the deep vein thrombosis socks and took an aspirin. The other problem was I used to have a phobia about flying. But Martha (his partner, comic Martha McBrier) is a qualified hypnotherapist. She tried to hypnotise me and it kind-of worked.”

“She’s a qualified hypnotherapist?” I asked, surprised.

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier encountered a major problem as a sperm

“Yes,” said Matt. “As part of her training, she had to be hypnotised herself and she did past-life regression. They regressed her and asked: Who are you? And she said: I’m a sperm.”

“That’s not strictly a past life,” I suggested. “That’s more the beginning of her current life.”

Ignoring this – I thought valid – point, Matt continued: “They asked her: Are you OK?”

“Was it,” I suggested, “a bit crowded in among all the other sperm?”

“No,” said Matt. She told them: Everybody wants to go swimming and I’m not really into swimming and they’re all so competitive – That’s a true story.

“She did encourage me to do hypnotherapy, though, so I got some tapes and listened to them. The first thing I did afterwards was fly over to Hungary and normally I would have been really frightened but I wasn’t. And then I flew to Australia and back again without any bother. I even really enjoyed it.”

“Australia,” I observed, “is just a big desert with bits round the edge.”

“But,” said Matt brightly, “I found that banter and taking-the-piss is a universal thing. And some of the heckles were very helpful. You would ask What’s a bogan? (the equivalent of a chav in England or Ned in Scotland) and they would explain it in depth because they really want you to know about their culture.”

“Their culture?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Matt. “One guy got up and left after I’d been doing my act for about 30 seconds and he came back in about two minutes later saying: Oh sorry, mate, I was thirsty. I got me and me missus a beer and I got one for you as well. Australia must be the only place in the world where you can be heckled with generosity.”

I asked Matt: “What was your show called?”

A British Bloke’s Guide to Being a Man.

“And,” I asked, “your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”

“I don’t want to tell you the title,” replied Matt. “Not until it is in the Programme. What I do have is story I’m finally able to tell, because the person involved in it is no longer involved in illegal activity. Basically, in December 2005, I received a package through the post and that package was illegal…”

“Not something wrapped in another stab vest?” I asked.

Matt Price demonstrates in a Camden street that the stab vest does not fit

Last year, Matt Price demonstrated in a Camden street that his stab vest did not fit

“No. It was 10 oz of marijuana sent to me by someone very close to me as a present and, because that person had not given me many presents before and because I’m not really involved in that world, I did not really want to… I didn’t know what to do… I didn’t want to give it away. Giving away weed when you’re not involved in that world is very hard. And I didn’t want to throw it away. And I didn’t want to sell it, because that would make me a drug dealer. So it’s all about what I did in order to get rid of this weed and find it a good home. I am going to promote the show as Cornish Breaking Bad meets Only Fools and Horses. It is as ridiculous as it sounds.”

“You have met some dodgy people,” I observed. “I know you know dodgy people in three countries – Scotland, England and Turkey.”

“Yes. Someone I know bought a car at an auction and pretended it was a police car.”

Pretended it was a police car?” I asked.

“Yeah. He wrote POLITE on the side of the car and he and his friend were driving around with a radio, listening to what the police were saying and then following cars. They ended up stopping a police car just for a bet.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“They got arrested,” said Matt.

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Edinburgh Fringe: A 5-star review may be a BAD thing + vomiting over critics

Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur

Matt Price’s show – The Maryhill Dinosaur

So far at the Edinburgh Fringe, the show I have seen with more laughs per square minute is Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur and that was despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he did not start the show for about 15 minutes. He just interacted with the audience, who were encouraged to participate with what was, on paper, a narrative monologue not an ad-libbed jazz-like free-form hour of comedy. But Matt brilliantly interwove his (mostly) planned story with ad-libs and diversions which actually added to the show’s theme which was, basically, about his insecurities over the past year.

I saw The Maryhill Dinosaur yesterday.

Earlier in the day, Matt and his partner Martha McBrier had come along to the daily Grouchy Club.

Other people in the audience included British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey, comic teller of horrific true stories Njambi McGrath, podcaster Ewan Spence and docu-comedy writer-performer Juliette Burton with her musical director Frankie Lowe.

The Grouchy Club is hosted by me and by The Scotsman’s most feared comedy critic Kate Copstick.

The aforementioned British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey does not like people to know who he is and does not like to have his photograph taken so, obviously, I immediately took a photo of him. If he does not give me chocolate, I will post it online.

Why does Mark not like his photo taken?

He said to Copstick: “I don’t suppose there’s an act out there who doesn’t know who you are so, if they spot you in the audience, it will change their performance.”

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

At The Grouchy Club: the odious Fleming and bitch Copstick

“There was a PR,” admitted Copstick, “who told me You’ve got to come and see (a particular comedy act)… I said: I saw them last year. They were absolute shite. I went to see them because you persuaded me and I was wrong to be persuaded. She told me Oh, yes, yes, but there was a reason. When (the main performer) knew you were in the audience, he spent the show vomiting backstage. She said that (the performer) forgot half his lines and the other performers were so worried about the guy vomiting that they were put off their stride and, basically, their bad performance was all my fault.”

“What are they going to be like if they play the London Palladium?” I mused. “They’ll be puking up all over the place.”

“I was on Pop Bitch once,” said Copstick, “and somebody wrote: Fuck! Why doesn’t someone just stab the bitch in the eye?

Martha McBrier and Matt Price were sitting in the front row.

Matt Price & Martha McBrier

Matt Price and Martha McBrier yesterday

“This is a woman,” Copstick said, pointing at Martha, “who I went to see in 2006 when she was doing a Fringe show in Leith in one of the skankiest basements I’ve ever been in – and I have been in quite a few skanky basements at various times for various reasons.

“I went to see her show because I thought I was going to hate it and I was gearing myself up for a vicious, typically-Copstickian attack on some blonde woman who thought she was a sex kitten.

“Among my many bugbears,” ranted Copstick, “are people who do shows that say Gosh! I’m really rude! when they are as rude as the Salvation Army… And women who do shows saying This is really full-frontal stuff all about sex! when it is actually a lot of girlish giggling and shite…”

“My show,” said Martha, “was called Sex Kitten/Corpse. I was teetering. I felt I was teetering between the two.”

“By the end of the show…” said Copstick. “Well, I say show…”

“Fair do’s,” said Martha.

“Quite a lot of it,” said Copstick, “was Martha showing every individual member of the audience to their seat, getting their life story, chatting… So before the show even started… Well, to be fair, the show never started.”

“I hadn’t time,” said Martha.

Martha McBrier in 2007

Martha McBrier at Edinburgh Fringe, 2007

“She’s a very ‘giving’ performer,” said Copstick, “and she spent so much time ‘giving’ at the beginning of what, eventually, was not the show, that there was no time for the show… However, there was not a dry pair of pants in the house, male or female. It was the most genuinely funny thing I have ever seen in my life. At which point, I did what turned out to be a not-very-helpful thing… I gave her a 5-star review.

“It was brilliant. Brilliant. Genuinely from-the-bone hysterically funny. But I didn’t think it through. I just rushed home and wrote the 5-star review. So, from then on, the basement was jam-packed not with the kind of people who go out to find great, unusual, weird comedy, but with the kind of people who see 5 stars in The Scotsman and take their sorry, sad, lazy, not-really-comedy-fan asses along to see it simply because it is a 5-star show. And they are not Martha’s target audience. So I think I probably made life a lot harder for her.”

“We,” said Matt Price, “just didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t understand the comedy industry stuff. All I heard was that this Copstick woman was really angry because the show started ten minutes late and Martha had a double brandy…”

“Because,” Martha interrupted. “Because the show in front of me over-ran a wee bit. They said: It doesn’t matter, because you’re the last show, so it doesn’t matter if you finish late. Then one of the bar staff said: Oh my God, Kate Copstick’s here! Do you know her? I said: No. He said: You’re fucked. You might as well take the blind cord and wrap it round your neck. Do you want a brandy?

“I thought to myself: If I’m fucked, que sera sera.But actually I wasn’t fucked. ScotsGay gave me 5 stars too. It was a very eventful year; it was very interesting.”

“Your venue was absolutely jam-packed after that,” said Copstick. “You put on extra shows. And then Marshall Cordell, multi-millionaire of this parish, went down and saw you and produced you for the next year, didn’t he?”

“He did,” said Martha.

Copstick continued: “With people who are not very experienced and have not done loads of stuff before, 5-stars is what they think they want. But be careful what you wish for. You go back the next year and expectations are massively high. If you don’t get 5-star reviews again, then you have failed somehow, because people in the comedy section are terrible star-watchers.”

“And,” said Martha, “the other kids won’t play with you. When you get 5 stars, they think: Who the fuck is she? She came from nowhere. She’s nothing. She’s got this yadda-yadda. There was a bit of that.

“The next year, my show was in The Caves. That was great. I really enjoyed that. But that’s when I started going deaf because of the brain tumour. One of the things I did a lot was interactive banter. That’s kind of my thing. But then I couldn’t hear people and then I went What? and people thought I was playing for time. And I wasn’t. I just couldn’t hear.

“So the next year I was performing in the Gilded Balloon and, at the last minute, my room was changed. I was going to be in a wee room but they put me on a raised stage and the audience were miles away, so I couldn’t hear them. I went from getting 5 and 4 stars to 1 star from The List.”

“How is your tumour?” asked Copstick.

“We’ll find out in December if it has shrunk,” said Martha. “but so far so good. Their microwaving seems to have done the job.”

Next year, Martha McBrier will be back performing an adult comedy show on the Fringe. She is currently in the middle of a 13-day run of a children’s show: The Very Scariesome Tooth Fairy.

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Being a comedian inside Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane…

Matt Price in London last week

Matt Price at Soho Theatre in London last week

Yesterday’s blog told the story of how comic Martha McBrier was attacked in Glasgow, left partially deaf… and how her family and partner, comedian Matt Price, tried to get justice by contacting violent Glasgow gangsters.

In 2008, Matt told the story to a comedy promoter and ended up going to Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane.

When I met him last week, I asked: “What did the promoter say?”

It will give you an insight into the criminal mind, is what she told me. And it did, but not in the way I anticipated. At the end of it – it was horrible but – at the end of it, I had another gig and, as I was waiting to go on stage, I was on the phone to her crying my eyes out and she asked Why are you crying? and I said I don’t know. I think I’ve been in the presence of evil.

“She said Are you sure it’s not just that they didn’t laugh at any of your funny jokes? and I thought Yeah, dry your eyes.”

I prompted Matt: “You said that it had an effect on you but not the type of effect you’d thought it would…”

Matt told me: “I had been quite proud of myself – and I think ‘proud’ is the right word – to be able to go and see Glaswegian criminals. That kinda made me proud in the sense I had faced a fear. It had been quite a big deal when I realised I didn’t have to take violent revenge on somebody.

The comedy show put on  inside Broadmoor Hospital

The comedy show put on inside Broadmoor

“So, when Broadmoor was mentioned to me, I almost didn’t hear the ‘criminally insane’ bit.

“The comedy promoter told me: You’ve got a great personality. You’re gonna be brilliant.  It’s the first and last day they’re going to do comedy in Broadmoor. You should go along and there’s murderers and rapists and paedophiles there. It will give you an insight into the criminal mind.

“I almost didn’t hear the murderers and rapists and paedophiles bit either. I just thought: Oh, I’ve got personality. I’m a people person. It’ll be great.

“But what I realised as a result of going into Broadmoor is that comedically you have to have something in common with the people you’re in front of – or you need to give them the ability to relate to you at some level. You can’t do that when the person in the audience has sawn off someone’s feet or beaten them to death with a hammer. Empathy goes out the window. It’s very difficult to do observational comedy in front of people who are criminally insane, because what do you observe?

“We were told in advance: You can’t talk about sex or violence. Try not to swear. Don’t say anything that will remind them of the outside world. 

“Because of the emotion behind it, because I was essentially there because of what happened to Martha, I was very emotional and believed that in some way I could get some closure from performing in Broadmoor.

“But the inmates were coming up to me and touching my fists. Some of them were very childlike. I was told Don’t let this freak you out. Well of course I’m going to be freaked out because it’s the worst thing to say to anybody Don’t let this freak you out! – You’re automatically frightened.

“One of the nurses had told me: When they walk in, you’ll be able to tell what crime they’ve committed. And, because she put that into my head, I was fine until they came in. Then suddenly I thought Yes. I can see. You’re a rapist. You’re a murderer. You’re a paedophile. Suddenly the room’s spinning around.

Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane

Broadmoor high security hospital for the criminally insane

“I asked if I could just go outside for a little while and I was told No, because it will remind them they’re incarcerated. And secondly, I was told, you’ll probably notice the patients are physically very big. This is because they eat a lot of junk food. The junk food that they don’t eat, they feed to the squirrels. So the squirrels living outside Broadmoor are massive – several times the size of normal squirrels. You think you’re scared now? If you see squirrels four times their original size, they will frighten the life out of you.

“So I wanna go outside, but I can’t go outside because of the squirrels.

“And so then I started wondering Am I the one who is mad?

“The patients were coming up and touching my fist and shaking my hand and getting physically close to me. One of them actually said In prison we do it like this and made me touch fists with him. Part of me was thinking, as I was feeling quite sick and afraid, Are you telling me I have the same qualities as you? Am I the same as you? And it was going through my head: I’ve never raped anybody. I’ve never murdered anybody. Maybe I’m the one who’s criminally insane. 

“Couple this with the fact that, when I was on stage, a big guy was shouting out: Well, WHO’S institutionalised NOW? He shouted: Your SANITY means NOTHING to me! Do you UNDERSTAND me? It means NOTHING to me!

“What do you say to that?

The Sun newspaper reports the 2008 Broadmoor comedy event

The UK’s Sun newspaper reports the 2008 Broadmoor event

“The stage was high, but one guy stood in front of the stage and his head was sticking over the top and I remember thinking: I could kick your head off the top of your shoulders now and I’d end up in here for the rest of my life.

“Everything just made it frightening. The fear of being around these people, coupled with the squirrels. It made it the most surreal experience. And part of me thought: Did I make that up? Did she really tell me that? Maybe I made up the whole squirrel thing? Maybe I am temporarily psychotic? But, no, it’s true.

“Then I thought: Well maybe she just said the bit about the squirrels to stop me going outside. 

“After the show had finished, we had to wait in the foyer and all the patients were walking past and allowed to go to their bedrooms. We were told Once they’ve gone, you can leave. We wanted to leave anyway because we were both afraid. I was with Ray Peacock, a brilliant comic, and someone walked by and looked at me and said Oh I thought you were brilliant and let out a cackle – Heh! heh! heh! heh! heh! – and I jumped up out of my chair to square up to him.

“Normally, I don’t square up to anyone. It’s not my thing. But I did. And I remember saying to this inmate: Yeah! Go on! Facebook me! and Ray Peacock had his head in his hands laughing. I thought he was going to die laughing. Facebook me!

“And then the woman who was in charge came over and said to me: Well, that wasn’t very professional, was it? And I said I’m scared! You need to understand I’m genuinely scared! And then we left. Quickly.

“I thought I could make sense of it, but some things you just can’t understand or some things, at least, are beyond my comprehension.

“It did change how I felt about people. It took my naivety away a little bit, because I always thought I could get on well with anyone. In ordinary life, I always thought it was possible to find something of common interest with someone. But with the criminally insane? It’s just not possible.”

“So,” I suggested to Matt, “meeting gangsters in Glasgow didn’t change you because, in a sense, they were normal people. But people in Broadmoor are not ordinary people. They’re mad.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I think gangsters do things that are on the madness scale.”

“Like the guy who screwed people’s hands to the floor,” I conceded.

“Yes,” said Matt, “But it’s so weird, because he cried when his grandchild was born.”

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Asking a Glasgow gangster for revenge after an attack on a female comedian

Matt Price in London last week

Comedian Matt Price at Soho Theatre in London last week

When I met comic Matt Price for tea last week in London, I did not know his partner is Glasgow comedian Martha McBrier.

“Martha got attacked,” he told me, “and then, about a year later, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and, between those times, a member of her family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her.

“When was that?” I asked.

“This was in 2008,” Matt told me.

“Martha was attacked in Glasgow in 2007. The guy who lived above her attacked her. He was a small-time drug dealer.

“Martha and I were in a long-distance relationship. I was living in Cardiff, struggling as a comedian, but just about holding it together, getting to see her once a month or so. She was doing well in comedy, but she got attacked and it all ended. She has taught me more than anyone about comedy and I felt guilty for quite a long time that I could do it and she wasn’t physically able to.

“She lost not the ability to do it, but the… the… She went from being truly hailed to being in a room that was too big and everything went wrong.

“The guy kicked her in the side of the head. After the attack, she went downstairs. She phoned the police. Half an hour later, there was a knock on the door. Four or five of them from upstairs came in. One of them hit her. He was wearing a ring and it bruised her face. The hearing in one ear had already gone. The other ear was about 75%. She said it was like being underwater.

“When the policeman came, he was very very upset. He said he’d been in the business for thirty years. He was really distressed. He had to shout. The guy had, essentially, smashed her face in. So she went to hospital and a few weeks later was diagnosed with a brain tumour… It might have been a few months later… You know what time is like.”

“The brain tumour also affected her hearing?” I asked.

“It’s a thing called an acoustic neuroma,” said Matt. “It’s a non-malignant brain tumour. One of the side-effects is you lose your hearing.

“She went to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2008 and had a nightmare. The room was too big. She used to like to interact with the audience but, because she couldn’t hear and her balance was bad, she wasn’t able to do it any more. The venue told her she couldn’t get off the stage. I’m not saying she won’t come back. She did a kids’ show last year and got two 4-star reviews.”

“But,” I said, “before this, after she was attacked, people wanted revenge…”

“No-one did anything,” Matt explained. “So it made it very hard. And the guy lived above her for another 18 months. He boasted one day about how he’d been boxing with his neighbours. He also beat up a teenage boy in the close and nobody did anything.

“So someone in Martha’s family went to see somebody about buying a gun to get it dealt with. The guy was an old-fashioned debt collector who used to screw people’s hands into tables to get their undivided attention. Like all violent criminals, he was quite blasé about the whole process. He still sells cigarettes, but his wife doesn’t know – because she disapproves of cigarettes.”

“But,” I asked, “she doesn’t mind him screwing people’s hands into tables?”

“No,” said Matt. “They’re unusual people…

Martha McBrier

Martha McBrier was attacked in Moodiesburn, near Glasgow

“This is how the justice system works in Moodiesburn, where Martha lives. I went there on New Year’s Eve and went to bed just after ‘the bells’ – at about a quarter past midnight. It was my birthday on New Year’s Day and I was awoken at about 2 o’clock in the morning by the sound of fireworks. I thought Oh great! The Scots! This is typical Hogmanay!

“Martha’s sister came in about 11.30 the following morning, when I was looking forward to my birthday breakfast, and said a local drug dealer had sold some heroin to a young boy who died and the fireworks had been the sound of petrol bombs being thrown at the drug dealer’s house. That’s how the justice system works there.

“It’s a very close-knit community. In the case of Martha being attacked, everybody knew. It became a question of Well, if everyone knows about it, who’s going to deal with it and how will it go? Bear in mind that the person who attacked her… everybody knows his family as well and they all know that he deals drugs – albeit at a very small level, because he wouldn’t be on that estate, surrounded by poverty, if he made a lot of money. He made enough money for a couple of sports cars.

“So this member of Martha’s family went to buy a gun to shoot the man who attacked her and the guy who could have provided her with a gun said No. I’m a criminal. I’m a professional. You’re not. Take your money. Buy Martha something nice.

“I met a few people and eventually someone phoned me and said: Look, I know what’s happened and I will take you in my car to meet someone who can genuinely help you. We ended up in a hotel. I’m a big man and the person with me was a very big man. We went down into the gym and there’s this old guy in his mid-70s, white hair, pounding on a treadmill like I’ve never seen before.

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

“The old guy had a history, a reputation. His sports car was outside with a designer number plate on it. He told me to go upstairs and sit at a table. The reason, I found out later, was that there were cameras everywhere – kinda for my protection and for his. If anything kicked-off, the cameras would pick it up.

“I was told to wait for half an hour. An hour and a half later, he turns up, comes over and says, Very nice to meet you. What do you want? And I said, Well, I don’t know.

He said: I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and give you ten minutes.

Eight hours later, we were still together. He drove me around, took me to his house, showed me all over Glasgow, He explained how he’d got into crime. He said he’d gone to school with ten other people who were later convicted of murder and told me: This is not an excuse for what I’ve done. But I needed a way out, so I stole a raincoat and then I started to steal other things in the raincoat and then I wanted some credibility so I stole another raincoat and got a friend and then we stole to order. Then, about five years later, I did my first warehouse. Then I realised the psychology of criminality is what really counts. If you tell someone you can do something and you tell them with enough conviction, then they will believe you.

“He asked me about Martha and then said: You see that young lad over there? He’s got a slash down the side of his face. Someone cut his face. His dad shot the guy who did it. That’s how you get revenge. He didn’t kill him; he shot him…. to teach him a lesson.

“I sit here all day and watch people after my work-out. I’m no longer in business. I speak to people who are. I watch people. I’m an expert. I’m a psychologist. I can tell by the look in your eye that the sort of hurt you want to inflict on this man is the type of hurt that will change you both forever. You need to ask yourself do you want to make the change? It may sound like something from the movies, but do you love Martha more than you hate the guy who attacked her?

“I said, Of course I do.

“He told me that the life of a drug dealer… The cruel irony is that drug dealers usually end up with children who’re addicted to drugs and/or die of them.

They make millions of pounds, he said. They have no friends, they’re looking over their shoulder all the time, they’ve got nowhere to spend it and someone’s always trying to knock them off the top of the perch because they want that ‘respect’. But it’s not respect. 

“Then he said: Nobody would blame you if you beat the guy’s door down in the middle of the night. That’s down to you. I know what I would do. But I’m not you, so you have to make your own decision. 

I walked away from that quite comfortable with it. I was upset. I was emotional. But it was a real release. There’s no way in the world I’m going to get a golf club and beat someone to death with it. I’m just not that guy. I’m not from that world. I needed to know that it was OK for me as ‘a man’ not to have to take violent revenge. And also, if I’d done that, Martha would have killed me anyway.

“About a year later, I went to the old man’s funeral. A beautiful church. It’s snowing outside. There’s about 500 people there and I’m sat on the back row with these dodgy-looking guys, some of whom are wearing sunglasses.

“I got the Megabus up to his funeral and the criminals thought that was hilarious. They all have money and can drive around in flash cars. The fact that not only was I prepared, as a non-criminal, to go and meet him but to go to his funeral and pay my respects to him and to come up on the Megabus for twelve hours from Cardiff – they thought it was the funniest thing ever. I was told I got huge kudos, but a lot of laughter.

“I told a comedy promoter that story and ended up going to Broadmoor, meeting these really bad guys…”

CONTINUED HERE

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