Tag Archives: Matt Price

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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Comic Matt Price receives a threat and a stab vest and I suggest gangsters and stand-up comedians have similar needs

Matt has a chat with me at McDonald’s in Camden

Matt has a normal chat with me at McDonald’s

So I got an e-mail from comedian Matt Price. It read:

Last November, I received a stab vest through the post from a friend of mine with a “colourful past”. I was wondering if you have time to discuss this or if indeed it would be of interest to you in your blog.

So obviously we met up in Camden Town this week. Less obviously, we met in a McDonald’s. He had tea. I had ice cream. He brought along the stab vest in a suitcase.

“I don’t know what they’ll make of it in McDonald’s if I get it out,” Matt said.

“Better than getting it out in a bank,” I suggested.

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt show at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe had consequences

Last year, Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe show Turkeygate, Tinky Winky and The Mafia was about a dodgy UK promoter who booked him on a dodgy series of gigs in Turkey involving some dodgy Turks with alleged criminal associations.

There was a problem when Matt performed his show.

“During the Fringe last year,” Matt told me, “there wasn’t an altercation as such but there was an incident with another comedian every day. The guy who was on after me said I was not there to do an hour, I was there to do 45 minutes and so he would turn up after I had been doing my show for 40 minutes and I ended up getting kicked out on the street every night, performing my show to my audience out on the street.

“Then I got a threat from Turkey, saying: I hear you are out on the streets of Edinburgh talking about my family!”

“So this dodgy Turkish guy,” I asked, “thought that you were just generally standing in the middle of Princes Street in Edinburgh bitching to passers by and one-and-all about him and his family?”

“Yes,” said Matt, “and he was understandably upset. I think he was concerned I was going to start badmouthing him in London too. I was having nightmares. I was staying in a room in (Scotsman journalist) Claire Smith’s flat and quite often she told me: Matt, you were screaming in the middle of the night!”

“And then you got this threat?” I asked.

“Yes. On Facebook. I wasn’t thinking clearly. So I phoned up ‘Stab Vest’ Steve and said to him: Look, I’m actually quite frightened.”

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

Matt demonstrates in a Camden back street that the stab vest does not quite fit him

“’Stab Vest’ Steve?” I asked. “In London?”

“Hertfordshire,” said Matt.

“That’s where I live,” I said. “This is not re-assuring.”

“So ‘Stab Vest’ Steve sent me a stab vest recorded delivery through the post and my missus Martha signed for it, thinking it was something she had bought off eBay. She opened it up and, when I got back home again, she said: We’ve been together for nine years. I know we’ve had our ups and downs. But why have you got a stab vest?

“The thing is it doesn’t actually fit. My stomach’s exposed. So Steve either thinks I’m physically smaller or that I‘m a teenage girl. It’s of no practical use.

“I phoned up Steve and said The missus is being a bit funny about this and he explained the situation to her, then he told me the stab vest was worth £400 and got me to phone ‘The Boss’ (a well-known celebrity criminal mentioned under this nom-de-crime in Matt’s show last year) and, once ‘The Boss’ stopped laughing, he said:

Now, look, I’m really sorry, but you’ve been threatened on Facebook. Have a think about that for a second. If I threatened somebody on Facebook and that person ended up hurt and I was taken to court, people would turn up just to piss themselves laughing.”

“Had the Turkish guy,” I asked, “threatened you from a Facebook account with his real name on?”

“Yeah.”

“What had the threat been?” I asked.

Matt Price at his North London gig Natural Born Storytellers

Matt at his Natural Born Storytellers gig

“He said: I am going to send a North London crime family around to your storytelling night in Camden to beat you up.

“‘The Boss’ told me: You need to e-mail him back and say: Thankyou very much. Hope you and your family are well. Message understood completely. Tell the family to arrive early, because we are a very popular night.

“‘The Boss’ told me: You are a very easily frightened person. If you were going to get killed, they would have just killed you. There’s plenty of holes in the ground.

“But it was mindless panic I felt. The result was I spent several months this year being very angry with myself for being under-assertive. I thought: Why don’t you stand up for yourself? You get walked over all the time? And that led me to this year’s Fringe show.”

“Well promoted, if un-subtle,” I said. “What’s it called?”

Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur

Matt’s Edinburgh Fringe show this year…

The Maryhill Dinosaur.”

Maryhill is an area in Glasgow.

“Initially,” said Matt, “it was inspired by the true story of a local character called Arthur in his mid-fifties who believed he was a dinosaur. But the show has turned into being about my own lack of self-assertion. The basic premise is that I spent several months of last year feeling bad about myself for being a guy anybody can walk all over. But then I realised that, if I wasn’t that guy, I wouldn’t have met all these great people.”

“Who?”

“Gangsters,” replied Matt.

I said: “I think it’s wise not to be too assertive to certain gangsters.”

“Well,” said Matt, “I’ve sort of reached a point with the gangsters now where I can speak my mind with them. I know where the boundaries are and, actually, they quite like it. The only thing that gangsters seem to dislike is anybody who pretends to be one of them when they’re not.”

“Oddly,” I said, “I think the biggest thing proper criminals don’t like is dishonesty. The really dangerous people are the quiet ones. I’ve met about three allegedly-ex-SAS men and they were all very quiet and polite and wouldn’t say boo to a mouse.”

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

Matt’s 2009 Edinburgh Fringe poster

“Have you ever met people who pretend to be in the SAS?” asked Matt. “That’s a very popular thing in Cornwall. You get a certain breed of middle-aged man in his fifties… Mythology is something people can manipulate. Years ago, I mentioned to (the comedian) Ian Cognito: There’s a rumour going round you used to be an opera singer and he said: Oooh! Keep that one going, dahlin’ – I do like that one!

“‘The Boss’ likes to be talked about. He saw my show in Essex last year and, afterwards, he asked me Why didn’t you use my real name? and I told him I didn’t want to be another hanger-on. The world’s full of people who say Oh, I know ‘The Boss’ but I don’t want to be that sort of guy. And I like him. I don’t like the crime, I’m not drawn to the violence. What I’m drawn to is the humour and the psychology and who wouldn’t be? Because gangsters think differently and yet – as you know – they’re capable of compassion and they can be very nice and yet they may bite your nose off.”

“What’s interesting,” I said, “is there has always been a cross-over between showbiz and crime.”

“Yes,” agreed Matt.

Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Rosa, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor & actor Ronald Fraser

A photo from former criminal Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days – Reggie Kray, Micky Fawcett, singer Lita Roza, Ronnie Kray, actress Barbara Windsor and actor Ronald Fraser

“It’s partly the financing of the business,” I said, “but it’s not just that. There’s some sort of mentality link-up. Maybe a performer wants to be up on stage and hear the applause and be watched and that’s like being a ‘Face’ in your local community. You can stride round Bethnal Green or Lewisham or Tottenham and people will be frightened of you. Maybe it’s that Godfather thing of respect. Comedians want to get up on stage and boost their self-esteem by being laughed at and, when The Krays walked round the East End and people were frightened into showing them respect, they thought they had ‘made it’ in much the same way. Though maybe not so many people laughed at the Krays.”

“I see what you mean,” said Matt, “but I’ve always felt comedy and boxing are more linked.”

“Have you boxed?” I asked.

“Oh, I was terrible at boxing. I wasn’t very assertive, but I don’t like to give up easily. So that made it a nightmare. When you punch someone in the head and then apologise, they don’t take it very well. I found it makes them furious.”

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Comedians on other comedians – “He was alright. Nah, nah. OK. He was shit.”

Tiernan Douieb at the Malcolm screening this week

Tiernan after the screening

A couple of days ago, I mentioned going to see a screening of The Tunnel documentary about the late Malcolm Hardee’s legendary comedy club. The screening was followed by a comedy show which included the wonderful Tiernan Douieb who remembered, when he was (even) younger performing at Malcolm’s Wibbley Wobbley floating pub.

“I didn’t have any jokes,” Tiernan told the audience this week.

“I sort-of knew who Malcolm was and I was quite nervous. I turned up and he was very nice to me. He asked my name. I said Tiernan Douieb and he asked how to pronounce it and he wrote it down, made sure he got it all right and he explained how the evening was going to go. I was going to be on first and it all seemed lovely until the gig started.

“There were only about eight people there. Five of them were tattooed skinhead builders on a break and the others were teenagers who had snuck on the boat somehow. Malcolm walked on and went:

This is a new act night. It’s either gonna be good or it’s gonna be shit and, to be honest, it’ll probably all be shit. Anyway, now here’s some cunt whose name I can’t pronounce…

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in Up The Creek office

Malcolm Hardee at work in his Up The Creek office (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“And I walked on to that. I lasted two minutes, then all the builders started singing – it’s not even a song, but – When the fuck are you goin’ home? When the fuck are you singin’ the song? – They knew all the words and sang in unison, so I very quickly left and all I could hear behind me was Henning Wehn walk on and all of them Sieg Heil! at him because he’s a German.”

Yesterday, I chatted to comedian Matt Price about being threatened by gangsters and getting a stab vest through the post. The blog may well appear tomorrow. But, inevitably, Matt too had a Malcolm Hardee story.

“I met Malcolm years ago,” Matt told me, “when he was running Up The Creek in Greenwich. I was just starting and I didn’t really know what was going on but he said: You’ll be alright. I’ll sort you out.

“He decided to introduce the acts in order of size and he introduced me with the fairly standard He might be good. He might be shit. All the way from over there, that big bloke.

“I walked out, did my thing, got about two minutes in and a guy who used to be a street performer mime artist in Covent Garden shouted out: Why don’t you kill yourself! I thought it was a bit ironic I was getting heckled by a mime artist.

Matt Price in Camden Town yesterday (Photograph to be explained tomorrow)

Matt Price in Camden Town yesterday (Photograph might be explained tomorrow)

“It might have been 12 years ago and my West Country accent was quite thick then, so I’m stood on stage in Greenwich with a blinding light and I can only see the outline of the hostility and, in my thick Cornish brogue, I hear myself saying: You Cockney bastards!

“But I stood my ground and managed to walk off to shouts of Taxi! – Malcolm! – Please, please, Malcolm! – and then he walks out on stage and says: He was alright, wasn’t he? He was alright. Nah, nah. OK. He was shit.

“And that was it. That was the end of my Open Mic appearance at Up The Creek and my one-and-only Malcolm Hardee memory. It’s easy to get all dewy-eyed about it, but…”

“Jewy-eyed?” I asked. “I think that’s Lewis Schaffer’s new show.”

“I love Lewis Schaffer,” said Matt. “I was on his radio show recently.

“I remember when he came to Cardiff years ago. They’d seen him before and he was saying: Lewis Schaffer does this thing and Lewis Schaffer was walking down the street… and my friend said: Oh! It’s Lewis Schaffer! Let’s play the Lewis Schaffer drinking game!

“You’ve got to drink two fingers of your beer every time he says the words Lewis Schaffer. He did a 25-minute set and, halfway through, I was well on my way to being hammered because he had said Lewis Schaffer so many times.

“I said to him the other day: You know, you’re like a cross between Johnny Vegas and Jackie Mason.

Oh! I like that! he said. Ya gotta Tweet that, Matt! Ya gotta Tweet that about me! Ya think so? Am I more Vegas than Mason? Am I more Vegas? Is that good or bad? What an extraordinary man.

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London last night

Lewis Schaffer, the Arthur’s Seat of comedians

“The last time I saw him, there were 40 people in the room – There are only 40 of you! he said. The room’s too big! Have you got no friends?

“They were roaring with laughter for the first ten minutes – the funniest thing ever – then he offended someone and this couple got up and walked out, but he managed to talk them back into the room and then he sat down on this guy’s lap and said: Look, should I do the Holocaust material or not? and the couple got up and walked out again.

“It was brilliant.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe, Lewis Schaffer is like the comedy equivalent of Arthur’s Seat. You have to see it and do it and it hurts a bit but you go along anyway and you get a view of something spectacular. You think God! That’s how comedy should be!

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Lewis Schaffer turns down a review by Kate Copstick; Bob Slayer strips another reviewer

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

London Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner has been staying in my Edinburgh flat the last couple of days, on a quick trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, he tried standing in the street, offering £20 notes to people if they would see a particular show – just to find out if they would. No-one would.

“People weren’t interested,” he told me, “unless there were Dancing on Ice stars in the show. The Edinburgh Fringe is dead. Mediocrity reigns.”

The Fringe – perhaps as always – is certainly in a state of flux.

And – perhaps as always – it is to do with money.

Yesterday, this blog published comedian Bob Slayer’s piece about ticket prices at the Edinburgh Fringe which The Scotsman newspaper commissioned but refused to print.

The Big Four venues at the Fringe are often criticised (including in this blog) for making money out of performers and being responsible for inflated ticket prices.

But someone yesterday (not connected to the Big Four venues) pointed out to me that the Big Four venues are as much held to ransom financially as the performers. One un-publicised villain of the piece, it was put to me, is Edinburgh University.

The Edinburgh Fringe

There’s a lot of it at the Edinburgh Fringe – but who gets it?

I was told by someone with alleged access to the figures (which I cannot confirm) that over 75% of the tickets sold at all venues (excluding the Free Fringe and Free Festival) are sold in venues rented out by Edinburgh University at high rates. These “exhorbitant” (the word used to me) fixed overheads mean that ticket prices have to be higher than they would otherwise be. Not only that but, normally, the takings from bars on property ultimately owned by Edinburgh University go not to the Fringe venues but to Edinburgh University and its Students’ Association. An exception would be the Udderbelly in public Bristo Square.

So all that visible money-making ‘exploitation’ of Fringe punters’ pockets is coming not from the venue owners but the ultimate landlord of the properties which the venues rent.

If you are a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe, all you want is lots of bums on seats and a good review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman.

Unless you are Lewis Schaffer.

Yesterday, Copstick told me she had gone to see Matt Price’s much-talked-about unbilled show at The Hive: Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

“I loved it,” she told me last night. “Matt is wonderful, warm, but very, very needy and that just gives me an overwhelming urge to smack him in the face. But he’s wonderful with the audience and the show was tremendous.

“I came out of Matt’s show with a glow and a terrible bout of acid stomach, so I was heading up Niddry Street to get some emergency Gavescon, when I bumped into Lewis Schaffer – He was the next show at The Hive and I was there to review him. Matt’s show finishes as 7.30 and Lewis starts at 8.00.

Lewis Schaffer needs no reviews

Lewis Schaffer: a man with no shoes

“So Lewis Schaffer says: Oh! Kate Copstick! Kate Copstick!

“No tongues?” I asked.

“Thank goodness. No tongues,” said Copstick. “But I told him: I’m coming to review your show.

No, you’re not! he told me. Well I am, I said.

No, no, you shouldn’t come, he said. You know what it’s gonna be like.

“I said: Well, I like to think I’m open-minded as a critic and I don’t assume that I know what anybody’s show is going to be like. 

No! You know what it’ll be like, said Lewis. OK, you could give me 3 stars, you could give me 2 stars, but you’ll probably give me 4 stars.

“I said: Well, it’s rather unseemly for you, as a performer, to assume you are confident enough in my work as a critic to know what the star count will be. 

Well, you know, you shouldn’t come, he said.

I’ll be there, I told him. But, as I walked up and back – and it may have been the shock of having to pay £5 for a tiny bottle of Gavescon – I thought Fuck this! I absolutely adore Lewis, love his work. I gave him great reviews when no-one else even knew he was there.

“But I mean, you never know when he is being tongue-in-cheek. Well, you do. His tongue is massive, but his cheek is bigger. And I thought Fuck this! I’ll go and see someone else. And I did.”

Copstick is the one reviewer everyone (apart from, it seems, Lewis Schaffer) wants to come and see their shows.

But one massive pet hate of most performers is the use by some (not all) of the seemingly expanding number of Edinburgh Fringe publications of young, amateur reviewers.

bobslayer_bawbags_10aug2013

Bob Slayer – unusually over-dressed last night

Last week, I was at one of Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem shows at Bob’s Bookshop. Among the crowd in the main room was a reviewer for one of the Fringe publications. He looked very young and inexperienced.

“I spotted him all fresh-faced with his press pass around his neck,” Bob Slayer told me yesterday, “and I told him: You can only be reviewing for one of two publications.

“So that’s why I took his press pass off him,” Bob told me. “After you left, the gig turned down to about a dozen people. Adam Larter took acts and they went and had a party in the back room while I told stories to punters in the front room.

“I asked the young guy how many shows he’d seen and he started talking about the ones he’d reviewed and I said No, no, no. Before you reviewed a show, how many shows had you seen? and he said None… And that’s a reviewer for one of the Fringe papers!

“But I got to like this guy, cos he was honest. And he said: Well, we’re perfectly entitled to review… and actually maybe a review from an ordinary person is better than a review from a bitter and jaded old hack. Except Copstick. She’s fine. An opinion is an opinion.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose ignorant reviewers are the ‘real’ audience. People who know who Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies or Arthur Askey was are not the comedy-going audience who read reviews to find out which shows they may like.”

“We made the gig all about teaching him about comedy,” Bob said. “He didn’t even know who Morecambe and Wise were, let alone Malcolm Hardee. He’s like an ‘open mic’ reviewer. He told me they don’t get paid anything. They offer them some training and a reference and that’s it.

“The long and short of it is, the little lad came in at midnight to review the show and left at 5:30am in only his underpants carrying his clothes and shoes. He had also stamped all over his hairless chest with my Bob Slayer ink stamp. As he stumbled into the street he asked where his press pass was. I told him that he would have to come back for it the next day – and settle his bar tab. The little lamb came in very hung-over the next day. I think he will become the greatest reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe, because I have trained him up to send him out into the world to go out and review properly. He has had a Fringe experience.”

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When Edinburgh Fringe comedy shows go wrong – a lesson in audience control

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

David tells The Gospel Truth at the Fringe

Yesterday, I was talking to multi-talented American stand-up David Mills about gigs that go wrong at the Edinburgh Fringe.

“If you have a gig you don’t want to have,” David told me, “the great thing about Edinburgh is there’s another gig coming tomorrow and the next day and the next day. So you can always redeem yourself. I’m always looking to try to redeem myself.

“It’s like that thing they say about New York: Don’t worry if you fall on your face and everyone sees, ‘cause tomorrow someone else is going to fall on their face and everyone’s going to see that and your failure is going to disappear. And the same thing with any success you get. I say you’re nobody until you’ve got a one star review.”

“You’ll never get a one star review,” I said.

“I’m hoping to get a one star review,” said David. “Some of the greats have had one star reviews.”

“Anyway,” I said. “It’s bad if you get a two star review. But if you actually only get one star, then…”

“…then you’re onto something!” laughed David. “The performers I identify with are the performers who are never satisfied.”

Shows going wrong – or at least diverging from what you thought they were going to be – are not necessarily a bad thing. As evidence…

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt Price’s show yesterday turned into three shows in one

At the Edinburgh Fringe three days ago, I saw Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia – a very interesting and very funny show unbilled in the Edinburgh Fringe programme. In that, at least, it delivers what you expect from the title.

Yesterday morning, I got a Facebook message from comedian/promoter Nig Lovell saying:

“You should speak to Matt Price about this Machete Hettie gig for your blog. If I hadn’t been there I’m not sure I’d have believed it happened. Part of me is still wondering if I was hallucinating.”

Machete Hettie gig?? I thought. So I e-mailed Matt Price. He told me:

Machete Hetty and Matt Price at The Hive yesterday

Machete Hettie and Matt Price after the show

“Hettie says she will be back today with her balaclava this time. It was one of the best contributions I have ever witnessed at a show, but almost impossible to describe in an email. I’m hoping that the drunk people who took the group photo get in touch because we all need photographic evidence. Basically, a couple of audience members did their first gig last night and to be fair to them they stormed it.”

I then bumped into Charmian Hughes, who is performing at a totally different venue – the Banshee Labyrinth – a couple of doors away from Matt Price at The Hive. She, too, had heard of the Machete Hettie gig.

Hettie was from Ethiopia.

I phoned up Matt Price. He told me Machete Hettie was likely to turn up again – at yesterday’s show.

I was already scheduled to see the lovely David Mills at The Hive in a slot immediately before Matt Price’s show, but I then had a ticket to see the unmissable Tim FitzHigham’s show Challenger at the Pleasance venue soon afterwards and I was not going to miss that.

So I arranged to see the first half of Matt’s show again just on the off-chance that Machete Hettie would turn up.

David Mills’ show was, as always, a mystery.

The mystery is why such an audience-pleasing, sophisticated act has not been snapped-up by BBC2 or Channel 4.

The ways of British television at the moment are passing strange.

After David’s show, as we waited for Matt’s show to start, my heart sank. No Ethiopians were in the audience.

The gig started but where was Machete Hetty?

The gig started but which one was the elusive Machete Hettie?

But, it turned out Machete Hettie WAS there – I had mis-heard. She calls herself a ‘Leithiopian’ – someone from Leith in north Edinburgh.

She had bright eyes, a lively personality and I wished I had been at the previous day’s show.

Matt yesterday started with the words:

“First impressions are kind of weird because, if you don’t mind me saying, you seem a very nice, very respectful audience, very normal. But then I thought that about Hettie yesterday and, by the end of it, I knew more about her vagina than I knew about comedy… Is that a different friend sitting next to you today, Hettie?”

“Ye mind the half a brick? The half a brick?” said Hettie.

“You had a friend yesterday who was a nurse,” said Matt.

“This time, she’s a dental nurse,” said Hettie. “She just fixes yer teeth in the middle of the night.”

About three people started speaking at once, from different parts of the audience.

“Oh God, there’s more of you,” said Matt gently. “Hello, I’m Matt. I was going to do a show, but Hettie came in yesterday and interjected with things about her vagina and we haven’t looked back since. She had a Brazilian.” Then he turned to a friend of Hettie’s in the front row: “Do you have the footage safely?”

“Yes,” the woman in the front row replied. “We’ll put it on YouTube tonight.”

“Would you like a photo for John Fleming’s blog?” Matt asked.

“Oh brilliant,” replied Hettie. “Aye. Oh aye.”

Machete Hetty poses for my porn blog picture

Machete Hettie – keen to be in my porn blog picture with Matt

“It’s a porn blog, but don’t worry,” said Matt. “You told me yesterday about your vagina and today you’re straight in with Half a brick, big boy. I love it. Would you,” he said to the audience, “consider this as not so much a show – more a respite from the rain? Is that OK?”

“Smoked sausage!” said Hettie in dramatic showbiz style.

She had about ten friends and neighbours in different parts of the audience who laughed uproariously.

“Biscuits!” she added.

Matt then brilliantly, under trying circumstances, managed to simultaneously perform his show, interact with Hettie as part of an almost separate show and have an occasional running commentary with two fellow comedians in the audience. It was three shows in one simultaneously, all blending together seemingly naturally.

“Earlier this year,” Matt started, “I was asked if I would ghost-write the autobiography of a criminal and I said Yes. What do you know about crime, Hettie?”

“A lot,” she replied.

The whole audience laughed.

“Now, you might think,” continued Matt, “He has nothing to say, which is why I dipped into the audience just then. But I knew if I said that to Hettie, she would say A lot and it would get a cheap laugh, so I just couldn’t resist doing it.”

“I led a life of crime for 17 years,” said Hettie.

I am now hooked on Hettie and a vast admirer of Matt Price’s ability to tell a good story, control a difficult audience, improvise with control during a show and… well… I am going back to see what happens tonight. Hettie will be back.

Soon to be a doubly act? - Machete Hetty and Matt

Soon to be a double act? – Machete Hettie and Matt The Man

Matt tells me he has given her ten minutes on stage at the start of his show.

“John,” he told me, “I am now performing a two-hander against my will. She has turned me from a comedian into a talent scout.”

So I am going back for more tonight – not least because I forgot to ask why she is called Machete Hettie…

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Odd inventions at the Edinburgh Fringe plus gangsters and a bit of name-calling

I got woken by heartburn this morning around 4.00am and started mini-puking around 6.20am. I think it must have been from the chicken curry I had with Janey Godley and her daughter Ashley Storrie last night at a restaurant in Edinburgh.

‘Janey Godley’ might or might not be her real name, depending on your viewpoint, as anyone who has read her autobiography Handstands In the Dark will know.

Perception is everything at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

Bob scarred himself by falling down his own trapdoor

As I was walking along Chambers Street yesterday, on my way to comedian Bob Slayer’s solo comedy show Bob Slayer: Worldwide Bawbag, a middle-aged couple passed me. The woman asked the man:

“Who are we going to see?”

“I can’t remember his name,” replied the man. “He’s on one of those Never Mind The Buzzcocks type shows.”

“Oh,” the woman said, “so he’s not a proper comedian.”

Whoever they were talking about, I suspect he is a ‘proper’ comedian, but I see their point.

Is Bob Slayer a proper comedian? It depends on your perception. He likes to take risks, which is always a good start. People tend not to twig that ‘Bob Slayer’ is not his real name. It is a sporting pun.

Perception is everything.

When I arrived at the corner of South College Street yesterday afternoon, I perceived Bob Slayer chasing a girl in a red dress down Nicolson Street. She had, perhaps rather foolishly, refused to take one of the flyers for his show.

Bob Slayer failing to attract women in Edinburgh yesterday

Bob Slayer failing to attract women in Edinburgh yesterday

A few minutes later, as I sat in Bob’s Bookshop, waiting for him to come back and start his show, I chatted with one of the other members of the audience.

“Where do you come from?” I asked.

“Edinburgh.” he said in an English accent.

“How long have you lived here?”

“About a year.”

“Why did you move up here?”

“Because my friend got a job as an anaesthetist – teaching anaesthesia at the vet school here.”

“So you moved up here to do what?”

“I’m training as a cyclist,” he told me. “And I’m an inventor.”

“What do you invent?”

Greg Dickens in Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

Extraordinary inventor Greg Dickens in Bob’s Bookshop…

“In the last year,” he told me, “I’ve been working on prosthetic joints, pieces for an engine – hopefully for Jaguar – a driving tool for the AA and make-up and hopefully chocolate for the Third World.”

“What’s your name?”

“Greg Dickens.”

“You have a website?”

“I do. gregdickens.org.uk.”

“Org?” I said, “That implies you don’t make any money.”

“It means I don’t make any money through the website,” laughed Greg.

When Bob Slayer arrived in the room, he had a scar on his arm.

“How did you get that?” I asked.

“I fell down my own trapdoor,” Bob replied.

Bob’s Bookshop has a trapdoor in the floor, as if it were all part of a pantomime.

Bob Slayer yesterday demonstrated how the Bloodhound Gang urinated on each other

Bob Slayer yesterday demonstrated how the Bloodhound Gang urinated on each other

I told Bob: “This man designs chocolate.”

“What sort of chocolate do you design?” Bob asked Greg.

“Chocolate for hot countries, so it doesn’t melt,” Greg told him.

“So,” suggested Bob, “you looked at the Malteser and said They want it to melt in the mouth not in the hand in Africa.”

“Yeah,” said Greg Dickens. “Testing finishes in a few months time.”

Bob (of course) did not have any script for his show, but managed to stumble onto a rounded show starting with how, as a rock music manager, he had turned down the Arctic Monkeys.

This then developed into extensive, increasingly OTT and surreal tales of touring with the Bloodhound Gang, who are currently stranded in a Russian hotel for pissing on a Russian flag in the Ukraine. When they arrived on Russian soil, they were reportedly pelted with eggs at the airport, thrown by Cossacks.

After Bob’s show, I rushed to The Hive venue to see Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

Matt Price with his agent, who appears in his show’s story

Matt Price & agent Sarah Higgins, who appears in his story

Matt Price only had ten days to prepare his show – because the performance slot only became available after Chris Dangerfield cancelled his show at the last moment due to alleged threats (see my blog of a week ago).

Matt was worried that he had not had enough time to prepare the show. But, because it is all true – about his encounters with the Turkish Mafia on a very recent, abandoned series of gigs of Turkey – I told him there was no problem forgetting the stories and he did not need a script.

He still had to decide, though, whether to name some of the men in the story on stage. He did. (The main name had already been reported in a Chortle news story on Matt’s problems.)

I thought I already knew what had happened, but he has rounded it into a slick (in the best meaning of the word), entertaining and funny show. He was worried it was too serious a subject for comedy. But he is not telling a funny story; he is telling a story funny.

Unexpectedly (for me) it all started with him being persuaded to ghost write the autobiography of a well-known London gangster (whom he did not name, though I have been in the chap’s sex dungeon) and it ended with Matt saying he was going to write a book about the psychology of gangsters.

As I left the gig and walked up to the Royal Mile to get a taxi, someone said to his friend as he passed me: “The trouble is there are too many old people alive right now.”

I was not sure if I should take this personally.

I needed the taxi to get to Hearts FC’s Tynecastle Stadium, where their manager Gary Locke was facing a comedy This Is Your Trial show with comedians Norman Lovett as judge, Janey Godley as prosecutor and Bob Slayer as defence. The charge seemed mostly to be about Gary Locke’s hairstyle.

Janey Godley, Norman Lovett & Bob Slayer at Hearts FC yesterday

Janey Godley, Norman Lovett and Bob Slayer at Hearts FC

Despite having Bob Slayer as his defence counsel, Gary was found Not Guilty. Even more bizarre, I thought, was the fact that Janey – a woman not without experience in matters of crime, the court system and let’s not even mention gangsters – was cast as the Prosecution. But I guess she has taken the saying Know Your Enemy to heart. As a prosecutor, she was both aggressive and highly, highly funny (mostly ad-libbed).

Which brings us back to the Indian meal and its after-effects.

When I was up with heartburn and would-be vomiting early this morning, I looked up the website www.gregdickens.org.uk

It does not exist.

Then I remembered that Greg Dickens, the man in Bob Slayer’s show, had said he had just come from an improvisation show.

I should have realised what he meant when he said he was “an inventor”.

You must never believe anything anyone says during the Edinburgh Fringe. It is all smoke and mirrors. It is all perception.

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Chris Dangerfield cancels his Edinburgh Fringe shows after death threats… Matt Price replaces him with show about his own death threats from Turkish mafia

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Matt Price’s new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Matt Price: suddenly-scheduled show at the Edinburgh Fringe

The last time comedian Matt Price was mentioned in this blog, it was about the time he asked a Glasgow gangster for a gun and about performing comedy inside Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. He meets interesting people and interesting things happen to him.

Yesterday afternoon, I heard from comedian Daphna Baram – the woman with her finger on the pulse of rising comics – that comedian Chris Dangerfield had pulled out of his show at the Edinburgh Fringe. His show had been billed as Chris Dangerfield: How I Spent £150,000 on Chinese Prostitutes.

Chris Dangerfield’s slot at The Hive, Daphna told me, had been taken up by Matt Price with his interestingly-titled show Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

I looked up Matt’s website and it said he was in Turkey throughout August. No mention of the Edinburgh Fringe.

So I asked him what was up.

“I was supposed to be in Turkey for four and a half months,” he explained, “but it went horribly wrong after six weeks. Chris Dangerfield dropped out because of death threats from some very bad people and so I’m taking his time slot in Edinburgh – 6.30pm at the Hive from August 1st to 26th.

“I have only had a week in which to prepare my show, so it should be interesting… It’s been a very strange few months, but it’s quite a story. I could tell you more, but I don’t really know quite where to begin and I don’t want to give away what’s in my show.

“My concern at the moment is for Chris Dangerfield. I was dealing with some bad people myself, hence why I’m going to Edinburgh. The difference is they are in Turkey. The bad people Chris knows are in Britain.”

The billing for Matt’s new show says it “features fake Ralph Lauren polo shirts, holiday reps, the Turkish Mafia, Jason Manford’s brother and the bloke who played Tinky Winky (yes, the Teletubbies).”

Unexplained photo of Colin Manford in Turkey

Colin Manford: unexplained important photo

Yesterday, Matt told me: “The photo that stands out most for me from the trip is one of Colin Manford. It was in the stage area at one of the gigs. We did the last show there and were planning our escape via Rhodes. A plan that didn’t quite work out…”

As Tinky Winky from Teletubbies was involved – the ever creative Dave Thompson – I asked him what on earth had happened out in Turkey.

“The situation,” Dave told me, “was that an Englishman who spends a lot of time in Turkey saw what he thought was a gap in the market for stand-up comedy in the Turkish resorts around Ölüdeniz. This was a year ago last June.

“He decided to go full steam ahead with promoting comedy out there this year, with no experience of it whatsoever.

“Instead of trying out a few shows last year to see if there really was a demand for them, he went into full-scale production. He booked nine comedians to work in three packages, all of which would be doing twelve shows per week for the entire summer of this year… His preparations were highly inadequate.

“We were booked for the Englishman’s shows through a British promoter and the British promoter was superb in every aspect. They were completely open with us, giving us the contact details of the Englishman so we could meet him and judge for ourselves if he was worth dealing with.

“I met him in Leeds, when I arranged for him to come to see me in Harry Hill’s show Sausage Time (which was being recorded for the live DVD).

Harry Hill’s Sausage Time became involved

Harry Hill’s Sausage Time DVD became involved in the saga

“I noticed he didn’t buy one drink, allowing me to buy them all in the pub afterwards or drinking the beers from the rider in the dressing room. I got the feeling he didn’t have any money and that the entire project depended on the shows in Turkey being nearly sold out from the start. But, as I love travel and he paid for my plane ticket out there and arranged for us to be accommodated in a villa with a shared pool, I went out there just in case the project was a success.

“I was with Matt in the first group booked and I went out there anticipating the whole thing might collapse fairly soon, but prepared for it not to.

“The first show we did was in front of tour reps and their managers, for no money. The venue had been refurbished at the expense of the Turkish club owner, but there had been no consultation with anyone who had ever promoted comedy.

“Consequently, lots of money had been spent to build a dedicated comedy room that was totally inappropriate for comedy. The sound desk was in a separate room and had no communication with or view of the comedy room. There was no microphone stand. The sight-lines were appalling. The stage was too high and at the end of a long narrow room.  There were no seat backs on the seats, which had been specially made and installed, even though he expected the shows to last for over two hours.

Dave Thompson - no room for comedy

Dave Thompson – no room for comedy

“The room could have been superb for comedy – if the English guy who initiated all this had bothered to consult someone who had run comedy shows before – or even consulted comedians.

“As a result, the large amount of money spent on the room was totally wasted.

“I don’t normally swear onstage, but the show was such a fiasco – with a few fat, thick tour reps who hadn’t paid to see the show – that I did swear on this occasion.

“After the show, the English promoter was euphoric about it, saying it was going to be a huge success. The next day, though, it turned out the tour rep managers were not keen on the show and I was singled out as having sworn. I was sacked a few days later, having only done one unpaid show.

“As I always knew it was a strong possibility the whole project would collapse, I had continued booking work elsewhere for the summer. So I stayed in a different resort in Turkey for a few days and returned to Britain after having had a pleasant week swimming in the sea and the pool every day.

“But it had become clear while we were out there that the owner of the hotel and nightclub where the performances were happening was connected to the Turkish mafia.

“Mafia is maybe rather an umbrella term. But it was obvious that, in certain ways, they were not concerned about the law or the police. We did not have work permits and we were told that, if the police came to the show to enforce the law, as soon as they saw a certain person who would be in the audience, they would leave without interfering.”

I asked Matt Price yesterday what happened after Dave Thompson left.

Matt Price in London last week

Matt Price, armed, waiting for the Mafia to arrive

“For the five weeks that followed Dave’s departure,” he told me, “things really went downhill. Every day was more and more tense. The Englishman was, shall we say, ‘a fantasist’. He was drink driving every day and there were daily talks of ‘killing Tinky Winky’.

“I took the gigs in good faith thinking that it was the trip of a lifetime – and in so many ways it was, but not the way I expected!

“When I said goodbye to Dave Thompson, I never expected to end up on the last night sleeping in my clothes, holding a kitchen knife and wondering if was capable of killing anyone. Cole Parker and me locked ourselves into a luxury villa with weapons waiting for the Mafia to arrive.”

“Weapons?” I asked Matt. “Was that just the kitchen knife or something more substantial?”

“I would prefer not tell you?” said Matt. “The weapons will be explained in my Fringe show. It’s a huge part of the story, as is our escape.

“I’d like to create as much intrigue as possible really, John. You’d laugh if you heard some of the rumours going around about how we had to be rescued in the middle of the night by helicopter, we stole a car and drove to Istanbul, came home via Europe on the train, the SAS were sent in. The list goes on.

“I’ve had to get my show together at such short notice – one week – I’m hoping the mystery behind the story will get people in. All I want to say is that Chris Dangerfield and I have both been involved with some bad people. I just hope that none of the bad people confuse me for him.”

At this point, obviously, I asked Chris Dangerfield why he had cancelled his Edinburgh shows just one week before the Fringe began.

The logo for Chris Dangerfield’s cancelled show

The logo for Chris Dangerfield’s cancelled show

“Due to the sensitive nature of my situation,” he told me with unusual care, “I have decided to explain the situation myself on a podcast which will be aired this week. I apologise to anyone negatively affected by my cancellation, I wouldn’t have done it if I had any other options. Have a good festival and see you next year!”

“What about your sponsors?” I persisted.

“I’ve already had more press than I had last year,” said Chris, “and last year was a great success in this area. My Edinburgh sponsors this year sorted me out with 100 syringes, 100 x 27 gauge 25mm spikes, 100 2ml bottle ampoules of sterile water and 100 alcohol swabs. They are over the moon because of the coverage I’ve already had.

“They are wonderful people – Exchange Supplies. They were set up by drug workers to improve the harm reduction response to drug use. They developed the nevershare syringe – the world’s first syringe designed specifically for injecting drug users – and they also supply injecting paraphernalia. They are involved in harm reduction on the front line of a society that usually prefers to turn its back on its less palatable creations – usually causing a cultural sciatica we all have the pleasure of feeling.

Chris Dangerfield: addicted to strong stories

Chris Dangerfield not surprisingly gets enquiries daily

“I’m also getting enquiries daily,” he continued. “The British Comedy Guide just contacted me, asking about my cancellation and about hosting a podcast about the announcement. I’ll be using such platforms to raise the entire censorship debate as well as the ugly negative gender politics that seem to be doing their best to strangle the last breath from the weary lung of stand-up.”

I presumed this meant Chris did not want to talk to me about the alleged death threats and why he cancelled the show.

“So where are you going to perform it now, if not at the Fringe?” I asked. “It was a good title: How I Spent £150,000 on Chinese Prostitutes.

“This show will not be performed now – ever,” said Chris. “Mainly because it didn’t exist in the first place and it seems pointless to bother making the effort now. Much like last year’s show Sex Tourist, I was just going to wing it and cross my fingers.”

That doesn’t quite explain everyone’s reference to death threats and Chris clearly did not want to tell me any more details, but I look forward with interest to the explanatory podcast.

In the meantime, the whole sorry saga does have some good resulting from it.

Matt Price will be performing his show Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia throughout the Edinburgh Fringe, even if I do not approve of the spelling of ‘Program’. And Dave Thompson tells me:

Dave Thompson (centre) the fake vicar

Dave Thompson (centre) was a fake vicar at a real wedding

“Shortly after returning from Turkey, I was offered a role in Harry Hill’s forthcoming feature film and did five days work on it. I have also had a lucky streak of work since, including being a fake vicar at a TV executive’s wedding and I will be relaxing on a beach in Croatia during August, a long way from Edinburgh and the Scottish weather. Be sure to mention I will also be handling the almost overwhelming surge in orders for my book The Sex Life of a Comedian.”

Roll up! Roll up! Promotion! Promotion!

Everyone even remotely connected to the Edinburgh Fringe in August is promoting their product(s).

See you at my chat show.

THERE IS A PROMO FOR MATT’S SHOW ON YOUTUBE:

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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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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Health, Psychology

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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