Tag Archives: Mat Ricardo

9 things I did not blog about this week

There are always stories and incidents which do not fit comfortably in my normal daily blogs and get lost like tears in rain, as Rutger Hauer might say.

This week, amongst other things:

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the man with a potential TV show

ONE

I went to the last ever Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties show at the Leicester Square Theatre which started with the unbilled Heather Holliday walking on stage with a stick and a plate. She used the stick to spin the plate.

Fair enough.

Then an assistant came on stage with a sword and a hula hoop.

Heather replaced the stick with the sword, spinning the plate on the sword’s hilt, then dropped the sword’s blade down her upturned throat – while still spinning the plate – and started hula hooping.

And THAT was just the start of an extraordinary show.

It should be a TV series.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

John Robertson & wife Jo wake in a dark garage

TWO

On the same night at Leicester Square Theatre, I saw John Robertson’s The Dark Room again – a preview for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run. An amazing show based on his 2012 YouTube hit.

John recently got married in a chicken shed in Australia – I blogged about it – and he and his lovely wife Jo have now re-located from Perth in Australia to Brighton in England. Until they go up to the Fringe, they are living in Jo’s sister’s garage in Brighton.

When they return from Edinburgh, more conventional accommodation has been arranged.

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

THREE

Meanwhile, in surprise news from the Czech Republic, Scots ex-pat Alexander Frackleton, who currently lives there, sent me an e-mail:

“A kangaroo is on the loose in northern Bohemia,” he told me. “It escaped from the backyard of its owner on Tuesday night near the north Bohemian town of Lovosice. The owner found a hole in the fence and realised his pet kangaroo was missing on Wednesday morning after being alerted by the police that a kangaroo had been spotted in nearby villages. Although a number of people are reported to have seen the kangaroo (named Joey), no-one has yet re-captured him and the owner has recruited a friend with a private helicopter to help him look for the marsupial.”

“Keep me up-to-date on this,” I begged him.

“The kangaroo is still on the loose,” he told me the next day, “But two weeks ago, there was a wild boar running around the 10th, 11th & 12th districts of Prague… It took police three hours to catch him and eight policemen to pin him down. There is never a dull moment in the Czech Republic.”

Alex tells me he is looking forward to meeting comedian and So it Goes blog regular Matt Roper in mid August, when he passes through Prague.

“I’m going to take him on an alternative sight-seeing trip,” Alex tells me, “by visiting places and things connected to the old regime – including The Tunnel of Intelligence, which was constructed by political prisoners of the communists during the 1950s. Stuff like that. There is also a museum of Totalitarianism which will probably be the first port of call.”

The same day, back in London:

John Park 3

This man knows too much about Hellfire Club

FOUR

I had tea with former Fringe Report editor John Park. We had an interesting discussion about the Bible, theology and Roman Catholicism and he told me about a gay whipping club just off Trafalgar Square, merely a short blood-stained crawl from Whitehall.

John has no interest in such things himself but he did know an unhealthy amount about Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th century Hellfire Club which was held in the caves near High Wycombe.

I was able to tell him about the defence bunker at High Wycombe and the fact that the adorably wonderful but sadly being fast forgotten entertainer Marti Caine used to live there.

In High Wycombe, not in the bunker.

She once told me – truthfully – that she was perfectly happy just being a housewife and Hoovering the living room, but people kept phoning her up offering ludicrous amounts of money to do showbiz things. She was one of the sanest entertainers I ever met. And was dying from cancer. She died in 1995. So it goes.

Which brings us inevitably to:

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm Hardee with prized sock

FIVE

Malcolm Hardee, who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Malcolm and fellow comedian Ricky Grover breaking into a zoo and encountering a silverback gorilla. Comedian John Moloney has now told me a story from many years ago when he was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with Malcolm.

“I was lying in my bed one afternoon with a lovely lady,” John told me, “when Malcolm knocks on the bedroom door and comes in – naked of course, apart from his socks.

“He’s got a tenner in his hand and says to my lady friend, as he waves the tenner in the air: Oy Oy – Show us your tits.

“She says (as she flashes her tits): You can have this one for free.

“Malcolm turns on his heels and says: Oy Oy I’m off for a wank. Sublime.”

“It’s the wearing of the socks that makes that story,” I told John.

“There were wooden floors,” he explained, “so Malcolm didn’t want to get cold – He was always very practical about his masturbation.”

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Cereal offender Candy Gigi – last night’s Pull The Other One

SIX

At last night’s Pull The Other One comedy club show in South East London, Martin Soan said to me: “I must tell you the story about Malcolm and the kangaroo.”

“Not another one,” I said.

“You haven’t heard this one,” said Martin.

“I meant Not another kangaroo,” I said.

Martin looked at me, ignored the comment, then told me The Greatest Show On Legs will be performing in Switzerland in December.

“Have you been there before?” I asked, as I know Martin hates flying.

“Yes,” he told me. “I drove there and, at the border, we were stopped and questioned by a very serious-looking Swiss Border Guard. I thought Oh Jesus, we’re in for trouble here! But what he told us was: You will have to wash the car before you can come into the country. They are very clean, the Swiss.

SEVEN

Clean but with an occasional taste for filthy things, Kate Copstick, legendary comedy reviewer for The Scotsman newspaper and a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge since they started, this week got an e-mail from comedy group Late Night Gimp Fight, drawing her attention to their scantily-clad video attempt on YouTube to curry favour with her. See it HERE

I can only dream of such honey traps and not involving other men.

Jon on the final Friday of the Emporium, Greenwich

Jon on final Friday at the Emporium, Greenwich

EIGHT

Yesterday was a sad day in South East London. The Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich – which supplied Malcolm Hardee with many of his clothes – is closing tomorrow, though it will continue online.

Co-owner Jonathan Hale was arranging everything – the shop has been there for 27 years.

But Greenwich’s loss may be Hollywood’s gain, as Jon and partner Jacki Cook can now turn their attention more to their successful movie costume business.

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover was originally to be on BBC TV’s Secret Killers

NINE

Good news, though, came in the form of a section of that chat I had with Ricky Grover a couple of days ago. It was in a section which I did not include in my previous blog.

I had read that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.

“There’s a two-hour BBC TV show coming on called Long Live Britain,” he told me. “It was originally called Secret Killers but they changed the title.

“They had three of us so-called celebrities.

“We done a couple of tests and it showed up that I had Type 2 diabetes and I had a bit of scarring (fibrosis) on me liver. But they’re reversible things. I’m not on any medication.”

“You don’t need injections for the diabetes?” I asked.

“No, that’s more Type One,” Ricky told me. “If you get anyone who’s middle-aged and overweight like me and you do tests… I’m only a little borderline over.”

“I had a BUPA test two years ago,” I told Ricky, “and they found I had the lungs of a 38-year-old. I had another BUPA test a couple of months ago and they said I had the lungs of a 39-year-old. The bad news is he wants them back. But enough about me.”

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Filed under Australia, Cabaret, Comedy, Czech Republic, Edinburgh, Switzerland, UK

Jewish comic Sol Bernstein soars while Lewis Schaffer frets about good news

“Ah! You’re John Fleming. You don’t like character comedy,” said character comic Sol Bernstein when he saw me leaving Vivienne and Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One comedy club in SE London last night.

“I generally don’t,” I replied. “But you were brilliant tonight. Utterly brilliant.”

And he was.

In fact, there was not an even remotely duff act on the show.

PTOO's Silver Peevil last night

PTOO’s Silver Peevil last night

Character act Barbara Nice had the entire audience on its feet singing and dancing along. Oram & Meeten were as crowd-pleasing as always (that’s a compliment); Danish comedian Sofie Hagen, in only a three-minute spot, appeared to successfully go way off script in highly-confident and highly-successful audience interaction; and there was what was claimed to be the world premiere of extraordinary character act The Silver Peevil – very funny – a scantily-clad retro visitor from Venus circa 1935.

All this plus the Greatest Show on Legs in a pre-show-start act which involved Martin Soan  with a Campbell’s soup can round his neck a la The Producers and a post-show event in which he literally carried his wife Vivienne off stage.

I think the word “variety” springs to mind.

That has been the word of the week.

The previous night I saw the penultimate Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties at the Leicester Square Theatre (last show this year and possibly forever is next month). That managed to smoothly blend admirably foul-mouthed Jenny Eclair, an extraordinary ping-pong act by Rod Laver (not the tennis champion), a So and So Circus dance acrobat duo and veteran comic Jimmy Cricket.

Susan Harrison’s  Cabarera audience

Susan Harrison’s Cabarera audience might be new alternative

The previous day, I had chatted to Susan Harrison about her Cabarera Club (more on that in a future blog) and been interviewed by Si Hawkins for an upcoming piece in Fest magazine about what may or may not follow ‘alternative comedy’.

It feels as if Variety/Cabaret may be the answer, though who knows? Not me.

‘Alternative Comedy’ at the late Malcolm Hardee’s clubs – and many others in the days when it really was alternative – meant shows where you saw some stand-up comedians and perhaps a music act, a juggler, a possibly psychotic indescribable act and perhaps a man torturing teddy bears (bring back that act!)

Possibly the most bizarre two things in a very odd evening last night, though, happened outside the venue after Pull The Other One had finished.

Vivienne Soan told me she had stumbled on what was, to both of us, an unknown sub-culture of Laughter Clubs scattered around the country.

“I’ve never heard of them,” I said.

“Neither had I,” said Vivienne. “They’re all over the country.”

“Maybe they are like Fight Clubs,” I suggested. “You must never talk about them.”

“They have £175 lessons,” Vivienne told me, “where they teach you how to laugh. And they give you a certificate afterwards. I think they really ARE having a laugh.”

Shortly afterwards, I had a chat with comedian Lewis Schaffer, who does not normally go to other people’s shows but had been bullied into going to Pull The Other One by his tenant. (He has tenants; he’s Jewish; what can I say?)

“I’m depressed,” he told me.

“Great,” I said. “You’re at your best when you’re depressed. What has happened?”

“My Leicester Square show has been extended again,” he said, glumly.

Lewis Schaffer, shoeless man

Lewis Schaffer, with no shoes

His weekly show Lewis Schaffer’s American Guide To England started in March this year, for an 8-week run. It was then extended for a few weeks. Then extended to the end of July. And now it has been extended again until next March (with a break for the Edinburgh Fringe in August).

“It’s a disaster,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You mean it sounds too successful and Lewis Schaffer does not ‘do’ success?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It will all end in tears.”

“You could always start torturing teddy bears on stage,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer looked at me. There was a pause.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” he said. “It’s going to be a disaster.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I’m Lewis Schaffer,” he said.

“You have a point there,” I agreed. “But don’t worry. Look on the bright side. Maybe it will never happen. Success.”

Despite my attempt at reassurance, Lewis Schaffer walked into the night, his brow furrowed, fretting about the unwelcome possibility of success.

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Tablecloth maestro Mat Ricardo on comedy club barriers & juggling dogs

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo in March 2012

My eternally-un-named friend with Mat Ricardo, March 2012

I first blogged about Mat Ricardo in February 2011 after I saw him do the impossible at Pull The Other One comedy club.

He performed the standard routine of pulling a tablecloth out from under real crockery…

But then, after a pause, he whipped the tablecloth back ONto the table UNDER the crockery. Since then, I have been a fan. His act is faultless; his patter is perfect.

Since February this year, he has been performing monthly shows – Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties with a full bill of genuinely top acts at the Leicester Square Theatre. He later uploads the full shows onto Vimeo.

“The viewing public have always enjoyed Variety,” said Mat. “It’s just that it’s seen as unfashionable by people who make TV shows and fund big theatre shows. It just got taken away from them. When Variety died – when the music halls closed – Variety performers didn’t stop doing what they do. They just did it in other places – Butlins Holiday Camps or the end-of-the-pier or working men’s clubs or cruise ships or on the streets like me. I earned a living for 20-odd years before the supposed cabaret resurgence happened. For a good 15 years, the majority of my income came from street performing. I’ve worked Butlins, shopping centres, festivals, cruise ships, everywhere.”

“I’m always surprised you were a street performer,” I said. “I always think of you as more classy Monte Carlo and Paul Daniels Show…”

“When I was a street performer, that was my gimmick,” said Mat. “I wore a smart suit.

“I’m not a real street performer any more in that I don’t need to do it for money in the hat, but I do love it and, if you don’t have to do it, then it becomes more enjoyable. Occasionally, I’m lucky enough to be invited to street performing festivals. Over the last couple of years, I’ve done Christchurch, New Zealand; Fremantle, Australia; the Landshut Festival in Austria – also on that gig was The Boy With Tape On His Face…”

“Was he street?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mat. “Not doing that character. He did a stunt show. There was also the great Portuguese clown Pedro Tochas who mainly works theatres now.”

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome in London

Mat Ricardo yesterday outside the Hippodrome

“And, after you finish talking to me,” I prompted, “you’re playing the Hippodrome casino in the West End.”

“Yes, the Hippodrome’s great,” enthused Mat, “because it’s got such history. It was The Talk of The Town, it was Judy Garland’s last show. You go backstage and there’s all these old programmes framed on the wall. Everyone has worked there and you feel it when you go on stage. I’m lucky enough to have played a few of the key Variety venues in this country. I’ve played the London Palladium and Leeds City Varieties and all these places you walk on and you can feel it.

“I played Leeds City Varieties a couple of months ago and you walk on that stage, you look into the spotlight and you’re seeing the exact same thing that Harry Houdini saw. That’s amazing. These venues have been refurbished, but they haven’t changed: the shape you see from the stage is still the same; the only thing that’s different is I’ve got a slightly more modern suit on.”

“The gentleman juggler,” I said.

“I consider myself as much a comedian as a juggler,” Mat told me. “And being a juggler is still seen as unfashionable. If you call a comedy club and say you’re a juggler, there’s a little pause while they giggle.

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the gentleman juggler of comedy

“I’ve got a few goals left. I’d like to get booked consistently at a high level in comedy clubs. They don’t book jugglers. The people who book the good big comedy clubs where there’s some prestige and some money think their audiences will only watch straight stand-up. They’ll occasionally book a magician who is basically a stand-up with a few tricks or occasionally a stand-up who might do a ukelele song. But it’s still quite a challenge for someone like me to get booked into those clubs. I’d like to crack that just out of sheer bloodymindedness.”

“Club owner Malcolm Hardee,” I ventured, “used to say he didn’t respect jugglers as much as comics because juggling was a skill not a talent: with enough practice, anyone could be a juggler.”

“Well,” replied Mat, “I have to tell you Malcolm Hardee saw me perform on the street in Greenwich in the early 1990s and he gave me money. So he was lying. He did like my show at least.”

“For Malcolm to give anyone money,” I said, “was a miracle and, indeed, a massive sign of deep respect,”

“He gave me a quid,” said Mat. “I remember thinking I know who you are… But that’s what you get. People say Oh, I don’t want to go see a juggler. But then, if you take them to see an act like mine – and I’m not the only one – they’ll love it.”

“You did the tablecloth act in a TV ad for Unum Insurance,” I said. “that must have given you good exposure.”

“It got me an appearance on the Jonathan Ross TV show,” Mat said, “because Jonathan saw the ad and apparently put my name into YouTube, spent an afternoon watching all my stuff and said We gotta book this guy! That’s the great thing about the internet. I didn’t need a manager to leverage me onto TV: I just had to do interesting work and upload it.

“And also Unum Insurance booked me for a bunch of their annual meetings and parties and funded the current London Varieties shows – so they’re paying everyone’s wages including mine. I couldn’t put this show on without their support. Everyone’s getting paid and getting paid well. If I book Paul Daniels, as I did last month, who is a legitimate legend, I wanna make sure he gets paid well. I pay my acts well because I expect to get paid well myself. This is a childhood dream: to have my own variety show in the West End.”

This week’s London Varieties show billing

This week’s billing for Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties

“And you set yourself a new juggling challenge each month,” I said. “Last month, I saw you juggle three cordless electric carving knives when they were switched on.”

“That was genuinely very dangerous to learn,” said Mat. “My wife Lesley did not like it.”

“And you are juggling spaghetti at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh this August?” I reassured myself.

“Indeed,” said Mat. “And for the last London Varieties show this year on 24th July, I think I might invite the audience to… it’s an old Variety gag – The Flying Karamazov Brothers revived it in the 1970s but it was an old routine before that – You get the audience to bring objects to your show – anything bigger than a grape and smaller than a breadbox. The audience then selects three of the objects and you have to juggle them. I can make two adjustments, then I have to juggle the three objects for ten throws or I get a pie in the face. There is one thing you can bring along which could screw it up – a water-filled balloon. That’s just impossible and I might disallow it.”

“I’m going to bring along a hedgehog,” I said.

“Well, on the London Varieties show this Thursday,” said Mat, I will be doing a juggling trick with a live dog.”

“What breed?” I asked.

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles

Piff The Magic Dragon with Piffles, soon to be ‘tableclothed’

“Chihuahua… Piff The Magic Dragon is on the show on Thursday and has this dog, Mr Piffles, which is a chihuahua in a dragon suit. I might or might not juggle him, but I’m certainly going to put him on the table, pull the tablecloth from under him and put the tablecloth back on.”

“What if a prominent American act thought of stealing your tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“Well,” said Mat. “you can copyright an act of choreography which, technically, is what it is and all you have to do is say I copyright it, which I’ve just said. But you can waste your life trying to sue somebody and you don’t want to sue a millionaire. I did create both the effect and the technique and people know that.”

“And people have seen it and it’s on YouTube with dates,” I said.

“It’s not like writing a gag,” said Mat. “A comedian can sit down and write some jokes and just do them. I have to sit down, write something, then go off and practice it for a year.”

“How long did it take you to perfect the tablecloth routine?” I asked.

“It took me a couple of years before it pretty much worked every single time. I smashed a lot of crockery.”

“Difficult to top,” I said.

“I have a way to top it,” said Mat.

“No!” I said.

And then he told me what it was.

“Fuck me,” I said. “Jesus Christ…. Now THAT would be AMAZING…”

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Filed under Comedy, Juggling, Television, Theatre

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show gets thrown together – much like spaghetti – at the Edinburgh Fringe

Like Malcolm, a unique one-off

The Awards Show poster at the 2012 Fringe

I always tell people that staging the annual two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe is a win-win situation.

If the show goes smoothly, that is good.

If the show turns a bit shambolic, then it is a true tribute to Malcolm and just as good.

The trick is really to book a good MC. Last year I struck gold with the excellent Miss Behave, who was and is on the right wavelength of Bizarre and knows all the best odd acts. This allowed the show to comprise even more speciality acts and less straight stand-ups. I hope she will present the Awards Show again this year but her availability is still uncertain – as is always the case with all acts at the Fringe.

I am not going to approach most acts until after the Fringe Programme is published on May 30th and I know who is actually in town, but I have some building blocks.

Last year, we had a very successful celebrity Russian Egg Roulette contest – instead of holding guns to the head, two people face each other across a table and smash hard-boiled eggs on their foreheads BUT one of the eggs is not hard-boiled – it is raw. The result is messy and that person loses.

Last year, contestants included comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith as well as eventual winner Lewis Schaffer.

This year, the World Egg Throwing Federation’s esteemed president Andy Dunlop will again be supervising a contest and has agreed our event will be the official Scottish Russian Egg Roulette Championship.

I feel honoured and humbled. And somewhat soiled.

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in 2011

Even British Mensa member Noel Burger had trouble juggling spaghetti in Edinburgh in 2011

The two-hour Awards Show will also (I hope) include the return of uncooked spaghetti juggling.

Several Fringe performers and passers-by tried this a couple of years ago outside the Beehive Inn in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket. The only one who managed it truly successfully was juggler supreme Mat Ricardo who (unless he gets a better offer) will recreate his triumph on the show.

It is also likely that the farter of Alternative Comedy, the world’s only performing professional flatulist Mr Methane (after a run of his own show earlier in the Fringe), will make a special trip back up to Edinburgh to perform on the Comedy Awards Show.

As for publicity, I will be hosting five daily chat shows in the week of the Awards Show, titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show. Book early to avoid disappointment – it’s only a fiver.

Malcolm Hardee pioneered the use of Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! in Fringe show titles as a way to get first listing in the Fringe Programme. One can but pray no-one else has added more letter ‘A’s this year. The Awards Show itself is titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! Free! It’s the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Details of who is appearing in the show will be posted on my website www.thejohnfleming.com and on the long-due-for-a-re-design Malcolm Hardee website www.malcolmhardee.co.uk/award

But also, in keeping with the title of the show, I have bought the domain name www.increasinglyprestigious.co.uk as well as www.fringecomedyawards.co.uk and, as the current newish sponsors of what used to be the Perrier Awards keep misleadingly implying that they have been sponsoring their awards for the last 30+ years, you can also find details of the Malcolm Hardee Awards at www.fosterscomedyawards.co.uk

This is in a general hope that they may try to sue me for misleading punters – something that is, I would argue strongly, at the heart of the Fringe experience. We do, after all, have an annual award for the best Cunning Stunt.

Our two hour charity variety show will, of course, include the presentation of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (even I would not be THAT misleading). These are:

– The Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality

– The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

and, hopefully self-explanatory…

– The Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award

The Malcolm Hardee Awards by the Forth Bridge

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection by Forth Bridge

Obviously, there are no rules, no forms and no application processes. The winners emerge, much like a new Pope, after obscure consultation in small rooms and modest tea-drinking by the judges who are more talent spotters than Simon Cowell type judges.

We hope to stumble on the winners. We do not particularly encourage people to suggest themselves.

The winner of the main Comic Originality award has to have a truly original act, show or persona. Anyone who thinks their show is “zany” is on the wrong wavelength. We have no idea what we are looking for – if we knew what to look for, it would not be truly original – but we recognise it when we see it.

If anyone has to tell us they have pulled a cunning publicity stunt, then they are not going to win by definition – If they have to tell us because we have not heard about it, then the stunt has failed to get publicity.

As for the ‘Million Quid’ award, the number of people likely to pretend to think they are going to make a million quid is too high to even begin to think about. Even if they do make a million quid, it will probably be squandered on drink, drugs, sex and agents they can’t afford, so it is usually a hollow success. But it sounds good as an Award title.

Last year, Ireland’s Rubberbandits won the Award For Comic Originality… England’s Stuart Goldsmith won the Cunning Stunt Award… and South Africa’s Trevor Noah won the ‘Act Most Likely To Make a Million Quid’ Award.

As usual, the three Awards this year will be presented by The Scotsman’s legendary comedy reviewer Kate Copstick and the evening will end, I hope, with The Greatest Show On Legs performing their traditional naked balloon dance. I certainly hope this is going to happen, because central ‘Leg’ Martin Soan is coming up to Edinburgh solely for this show and is stealing my bed in my Edinburgh flat on the basis he will get his kit off and wave some inflated rubber spheres around in a balletic manner.

Other performers will be announced nearer the date. Previous Malcolm Hardee tribute shows have included Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee, Johnny Vegas et al. Do not expect Justin Bieber.

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – free entry, but with the audience encouraged to donate money as they leave. A full 100% of all money collected (with no deductions of any kind) goes to the Mama Biashara charity run by Kate Copstick.

As Malcolm Hardee’s reputation on money was not angelic, I feel obliged to spell out the exact details.

Especially as this year, for the first time, the Awards Show will be sponsored.

Just The Greatest sponsors

Just The Greatest sponsors the 2013 Comedy Awards

The new Just The Greatest comedy audio label is kindly donating a lump sum to cover the cost of designing, printing and distributing flyers and posters… and the cost of the Fringe Programme fee, the sound teching of the show and the cost of engraving the trophies. A full 100% of any money left over from this lump sum will be donated to the Mama Biashara charity.

I have always been a bit wary of sponsorship for the Awards because of the risk of anything too corporate being connected with an anarchic-imaged set of awards. Also, I do not want to make or to be misinterpreted as making money out of giving awards in memory of dead Malcolm. And I would have trouble getting top acts to perform for free if the few pennies donated were not going to charity or if I were making anything out of it. So I have never covered any of my costs before.

Because of Malcolm’s rather dodgy reputation, just to be clear… None of my personal costs are being covered. No transport; no accommodation costs; no personal costs. Nowt is being covered except show costs – the Fringe Programme entry, flyers, posters, engraving and sound teching. To save money, the flyers and posters will probably advertise both the Awards Show and the five days of my chat shows. In that case, only 50% of their costs will be taken from the sponsorship money (to cover the Awards Show element) and I will pay for the other 50% (to cover the chat shows’ advertising) out of my own pocket.

100% of any sponsorship money not spent on specific show costs will go to the Mama Biashara charity. As will 100% of all money given by the audience on the night of the Awards Show – Friday 23rd August, the final Friday of the Fringe.

Jesus! The hoops I have to make sure I am seen to jump through just because Malcolm might have been a bit creative with money. And I will still be losing money on the show. All this for some dead bloke with big bollocks!

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How to become famous overnight on TV, according to magician Paul Daniels

An extraordinarily good variety show every month

An extraordinarily good London Varieties show every month

I went to see multi-talented Mat Ricardo’s monthly London Varieties at the Leicester Square Theatre last night – a show so good it could transfer straight to TV.

Every month, amid the hula-hoop acts, the cabaret singers, the juggling and the indescribably odd acts, Mat does a sit-down interview.

On previous shows, he talked in depth to Omid Djalili and Al Murray.

Last night it was magician Paul Daniels who told, among other things, how he got his first big break on British TV. People remember his Paul Daniels Magic Show which ran for 16 years on BBC TV, but his big break actually came on ITV.

Legendary Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp followed the success of his series The Comedians (which intercut Northern club comics doing straight stand-up) with The Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club – a series which recreated in the studio a Northern working men’s club with its whole gamut of variety acts.

The rule-of-thumb for acts on this show (and on television in general) was/is that they should run three minutes, but more was often recorded so that the producer/director could edit the best bits fast and tight.

Paul Daniels performed three magic tricks for the cameras but…

– During the first trick, he mentioned what would be in the second and third tricks.

– During the second trick, he referred back to the first trick and referred forward to the next trick.

– During the third trick, he mentioned the first two tricks.

Afterwards, Johnny Hamp came up to him and said: “I don’t know if you’re stupid or lucky… but I can’t edit that.”

As a result, instead of a 3-minute spot, Paul Daniels got a full 12 minutes on the networked peak time show.

The way Paul Daniels told it last night, he was invited back on the show and did fifteen minutes, becoming an overnight star.

Johnnie Hamp realised Paul was neither stupid nor lucky: he was very shrewd.

The extraordinarily good show I saw last night – the third of Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties’ monthly shows – will be on Vimeo in a couple of weeks. The two previous shows are already online HERE and HERE.

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Could spaghetti-juggling have a future?

There are going to be two spaghetti-juggling events held as part of Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe in August and, last week, Alan from Johnstone got in touch with Tom Morton’s afternoon show on BBC Radio Scotland to say “Many years ago I discovered a unique talent while seated at the kitchen dining table…”

Yup.

It was spaghetti-juggling.

So the momentum is building, something that is always useful in the art – or possibly it is the science – of spaghetti-juggling

The two Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contests on 24th/25th August also now have a sponsor. The far-sighted Blue Moon cafe/bar in trendy Broughton Street, Edinburgh, has offered to supply spaghetti for the event.

Juggler Mat Ricardo’s enterprising chum Julie-ann Laidlaw also suggested to me the bright idea (which I will, of course, pretend was mine) that, in the spirit of turning food wastage into art, I should donate the remnants of the contest to someone who can craft a piece of sculpture out of the mess left behind.

I did contact Edinburgh College of Art about this but, apparently, they feel spaghetti-juggling is a wee bit beneath them.

So I am now open to offers – an e-mail to john@thejohnfleming will get me – food sculpting with the late Malcolm Hardee freely providing the pasta-based raw materials – remnants of 45 minutes of spaghetti-juggling on 24th/25th August at the Edinburgh Fringe.

If Tracey Emin can make her name with an unmade bed and Damien Hirst can become a millionaire on the back of a shark in formaldehyde, then spaghetti-sculpting could be the next big trend in Art.

Quite what we would do with the resultant piece of high art I don’t know, but my tendency would be to try to auction it off in aid of Scots critic and polymath Kate Copstick’s Mama Bashiara charity which is already set to receive any profits from the delights that are Malcolm Hardee Week.

The two debates, the two spaghetti-juggling contests and the two-hour variety show are being staged in Edinburgh as part of  the too-too wonderful Free Festival, so there’s no charge for participants or punters but, if they like what they see, an appreciative audience can bung money – coins or preferably notes – into a bucket.

So long as one does not lose one’s dignity.

I think that’s so important.

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Variety is not dead in Britain – not with the Royal wedding of William and Kate AND Pull The Other One

I saw a repeat of The Story of Variety with Michael Grade on BBC TV recently. The argument was that variety is dead. Michael Grade (unusually) was wrong. Two things yesterday proved this to me: the Royal Wedding and a monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, home of Only Fools and Horses – no connection with the Royal Wedding.

At school, I took British Constitution for ‘A’ Level so i am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. If left to my own devices yesterday, I might have switched on BBC1 to see the RAF fly-past at the Royal Wedding and perhaps I would have watched the drive back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in case anyone got assassinated.

As it was, I was with a friend who is a feminist republican. (Note, if you are an American reader, a republican is almost the opposite of what you might think: more left wing than right wing).

Of course, like almost all British republicans, she is obsessed with reading about and watching the Royals and following the soap opera and I had to sit through the whole thing on TV.

We had recently sat through Lindsay Anderson’s surreal movie If…. together and yesterday, when it got to the marriage bit where camp-looking churchmen in kitsch golden dresses were intoning sleep-inducing words and the congregation was awash with politicians, Royals, the upper classes and Elton John, I half expected Malcolm McDowell to appear high up in the Abbey among the gargoyles desperately firing an AK-47 at the congregation who would flood out the doors of the Abbey into Parliament Square where mortar bombs would explode.

Perhaps my mind wandered a little.

But men intoning the word of God in funny costumes always stimulates the surreal nodes in my brain.

My friend did make the interesting point that, apart from Kate Middleton, the colourful service was an entirely male affair apart from two nuns sitting to one side dressed in drab grey among the men in bright colours and the presumably-repeatedly-buggered choirboys in white surplices. It looked to me like the two nuns had been hired from Central Casting. One was unnecessarily tall and the other was unnecessarily small. It was like watching that classic comedy sketch where John Cleese is upper class and Ronnie Corbett is working class.

I am Sister Superior; I am taller than her and nearer to God… and I am Sister Inferior; I know my place.

Even when they sat down, the tall one was twice the height as the small one – that never normally happens. I began to fantasise about special effects and trapdoors in the pews.

The real pisser for me, though, was that the BBC TV director managed to miss the shot of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flying down the length of The Mall. That was the only reason I was watching the thing – other than the possibility of visually interesting assassinations – and it was almost as bad as ITN missing the Royal Kiss on the balcony when Charles married Di.

Everything else was so impeccably stage-managed, I couldn’t understand why they missed the shot. I particularly loved the trees and random greenery inside Westminster Abbey though I found the chandeliers distracting. I don’t remember chandeliers inside the Abbey. Did they come with the trees as part of a special offer from B&Q?

The Royal Wedding guests included Elton John, an invisible Posh & Becks and the distractingly visible two nuns.

In the evening, I went to the monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, which similarly attracts performers who come along to see the show but not to participate. This month it was writer Mark Kelly, actor Stephen Frost and surreal performer Chris Lynam. As I have said before, you know it is a good venue if other performers come to see the shows.

Pull The Other One is not a normal comedy show in that its performers are almost entirely speciality acts not stand-up comedians. If you need a break from reality, I recommend Pull The Other One as a good place to go. And the compering is usually as odd as the acts.

With Vivienne Soan on tour in Holland, the always energetic Holly Burn – the Miss Marmite of Comedy as I like to think of her – compered with Charmian Hughes and the latter performed an Egyptian sand dance in honour of the Royal wedding. Don’t ask, I don’t know, but it was very funny.

Martin Soan, Holly Burn and massed wind-up puppets performed Riverdance.

The extraordinarily larger-than-life Bob Slayer surprisingly did balloon modelling and unsurprisingly drank a pint of beer in one gulp.

Juggler Mat Ricardo (to be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this August in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show) still has some of the best spesh act patter around.

Magician David Don’t – who had variable success last month when he used blind-folded members of the audience throwing darts at each other – unusually succeeded in an escapology act involving a giant Royal Mail bag, although it’s the last time I want to see a banker with no clothes on and a Union flag coming out of his groin.

Earl Okin did wonderful musical things with his mouth.

And, to round off the evening Matthew Robins, with ukulele and accordion accompaniment, performed a shadow puppet story about murder and mutilation and a visit to the zoo. It is rare to see a shadow puppet show about someone getting his fingers cut off with pliers, his sister hanging from a rope and the audience spontaneously singing along to “I wanted you to love me, but a snake bit my hand…”

But it is more interesting than watching the Archbishop of Canterbury with his grey wild-man-of-the-desert hair wearing a gold dress and a funny pointy party hat in Westminster Abbey.

Pull the Other One – on the last Friday of every month – is never ever predictable and Stephen Frost, keen to appear, lamented to me the fact it is fully booked with performers until November.

Most interesting line of the evening – of the whole day, in fact – came from Earl Okin, who pointed out what a historic Wedding Day this was…

Because it was exactly 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun.

“It doesn’t bode well,” Earl said.

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