Tag Archives: Max Bialystock

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 9: Good comedy shows and advice from Max Bialystock

My disappointment in this year’s Fringe continues apace. Today I again saw nothing but successful, well-crafted and perfectly-performed comedy shows.

WHERE IS THE SHIT???

I can’t take much more of this excellent entertainment!

Alexander Bennett’s Terrifying Smile (I went back a second time to see it properly) delivered exactly what you would expect from an experienced 37-year-old veteran of the Fringe with 20 years in the business. The fact that Alexander is actually still only 24 is extraordinary and makes it a near-certainty he has made a blood pact either with Satan or the Illuminati.

Sophisticated Thom Tuck: When you got it, flaunt it. Flaunt it!

Thom Tuck, following him at the Dragonfly, is also sickeningly skilled beyond his years.

His involvement with The Penny Dreadfuls and the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society must surely mean he is older than Alexander Bennett.

But, then, who could be younger than Alexander Bennett apart from the baby who won one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards last year?

Individual, unique, hand-crafted Tuck flyers

Rule No 1 in Edinburgh is Always plug your own event(s) even if you are talking about something else.

In the immortal words of the great Max Bialystock: “Baby, when you got it, flaunt it. Flaunt it!”

Thom Tuck’s shows are sophisticated, intellectually clever. And, this year, he stuck a cigarette in his belly button.

He is – as per the title of his show – An August Institution.

Another tradition in Edinburgh is that Thom will create individual flyers – well, pieces of paper in lieu of flyers – to hand out to promote his show.

Why both Alexander and Thom are not regularly on television in Python-style ensemble shows is beyond our ken.

Jollyboat with their rousing, mass-appeal piratical jollity

Likewise unlikely-looking but actual brothers Jollyboat, drawing large queues in the Cowgate with their Why Do Nerds Suddenly Appear? show and delivering crowd-pleasing OTT comic songs and disco/festival type entertainment for the masses of whooping Yoof.

And that is a genuine compliment. Their audience-appeal and audience-control is extraordinary.

Lovely and now loved-up Archie Maddocks

In the evening, I saw two other assured performers and audience manipulators in the best sense of the word.

I first blogged about Archie Maddocks in 2013 and now he has, he says in his IlluminArchie show, fallen in love for the first time – with his accidentally racist girlfriend.

Like several good performers in Edinburgh this year – the Siblings sisters,  Will Hislop of Giants and Ashley Storrie – Archie comes from a solid bit of showbiz breeding. His father Don Warrington became famous in the TV series Rising Damp and his mother, Mary Maddocks, was in The Rocky Horror Show in London’s West End.

Alex Martini – style maestro never knowingly underdressed

Meanwhile the (I’m sure equally well-bred) Italian comic Alex Martini – one of the pack of talented Italian comics based in London – shared his love of both Britain and (even more surprisingly) British food in an assured English language show Martini Dry – his solo Fringe debut show.

His show is entirely family-friendly and there was a lift in the building but I think the age-restriction on some Fringe shows should be linked not to sexual content and language but to the number of stairs and near-vertical cobbled streets you have to climb to get there. I can only hope the trek to some of these shows is strengthening rather than buggering-up my heart.

Tony Green out shopping in the Grassmarket

While leaping around betwixt venues in Edinburgh, I was having a welcome breather walking through the horizontal Grassmarket when I bumped into comedy font of anecdotes Tony Green, who spends half his year in Edinburgh, half in London and half in the 1980s.

Well, I thought, at least this means I won’t have to talk for the next half hour.

He told me that he would be performing in the Edinburgh Horror Festival later this year – 27th-31st October.

“Will you be performing as Sir Gideon McVein?” I asked.

“I’m to quite sure yet,” Tony told me..

Some might say, as they climb the stone stairs to some third storey venue atop a cobbled hill, that the horror festival is already in full swing.

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Nine more innocent questions posed by first-time Edinburgh Fringe comedians

A while ago, I blogged Answers to nine common questions asked by innocent first-time performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

As the Fringe is only a fortnight away – and as I could not bloody think of anything else to blog about today – I felt compelled to answer nine more mythical questions posed by comedians:

1. IF THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, SHOULD I CANCEL THE SHOW?

No. Even if there is only one person in the audience, perform the show. You do not know who is in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no comp tickets). I have blogged before about an Edinburgh Fringe show performed in the early 1990s by then-unknown comedian Charlie Chuck. There were only four people in the audience. He performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series.

2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, I AM A FAILURE, SURELY?

Very possibly, sunshine, but not necessarily. In reality, it means you are an average Edinburgh Fringe performer. Unless you are on TV, you will not get full audiences unless there is astonishing word-of-mouth about your show. Scots comedian Kevin Bridges could not fill a matchbox, even in Scotland. He appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1. After that, he was filling auditoriums the size of Bono’s ego. What is important at the Edinburgh Fringe is not the size of the audience but the quality of the audience. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. And don’t call me Shirley.

3. BUT I AM GOING TO THE FRINGE TO GET SEEN BY AUDIENCES, AREN’T I?

No you are not. You are going to the Edinburgh Fringe to lose money. A comic whose name I have tragically forgotten, so cannot credit, likened it to standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. You may have sold your grandmother into sexual slavery to afford this trip to the Fringe, but you are not in Edinburgh to perform shows to ordinary people. If you wanted to do that, you could have gone to the Camden Fringe or down the local pub on a Friday night. You are going to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world, to get seen by critics and, with luck, by radio and TV people, all of whom can boost your career. If you can create good word-of-mouth among the small audiences who do see your shows at the Fringe, then that may attract a few of the influential people.

4. I AM A COMEDIAN. AUDIENCES ARE NOT LAUGHING ALL THE WAY THROUGH MY SHOW. WHY?

Well, probably because you have a shit show, so tweak it or consider a career working at a call centre in Glasgow. There are some comics who should reconsider their lifestyle and bank balances. On the other hand, most comics are insanely insecure for very little reason. I have sat through many a show where the comedian thinks the audience did not like part of the show because it did not get enough laughs but I know for sure, because I was in the audience, that the punters enjoyed the show tremendously. They were just mesmerised in rapt attention during the quiet but important bits.

5. BUT WHY DON’T AUDIENCES LAUGH AT EVERY LINE?

Possibly because a good comedy script is not 100% laugh-at-every-line. Not over a whole hour. If you think your show is that funny you are either deluded, on cocaine or have a serious psychological problem (not that the last is any drawback in comedy). Watching a man take 10 seconds to jump off a cliff 66 times in a row is not exciting; it exhausts and bores the viewer after a while. What is exciting is a rollercoaster. A build-up followed by an adrenaline rush. Excitement followed by relief followed by excitement followed by relief followed by a climax. Note I never mentioned sex. An hour-long show is about pacing. If you remove the build-up before the punch-line, you will lose the laughter on the punch-line. And I still did not mention sex. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh on the punch-line. Even (billed in alphabetical order) the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine, who mostly deal in one-liners, have pacing where their audiences can relax amid the laughs. Just like sex, in my experience.

6. SHOULD I WORRY IF I DO NOT GET REVIEWS?

Yes, but it is largely a matter of luck. I always tell people they have to play the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years. The first year, no-one will notice you are there. The second year, you have some idea of how the Fringe works. The third year, people will think you are an Edinburgh institution and the media will pay some attention to you. You have to go for three consecutive years. If you miss a year, when you return, you are, in effect, re-starting at Year One. It is not just audiences but critics who change year-by-year. Critics reviewing shows at the Fringe may not have been doing it two years ago.

7. I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES OF GOOD MATERIAL. WAS I WRONG TO ATTEMPT TO DO A 60-MINUTE SHOW?

Yes. You are an idiot. You should have delayed your trip to the Fringe and gone next year. Going before you are fully ready is never a good idea. Yes, go up and play a few gigs on other people’s shows. Yes, go up as part of a three or four person show. But, if you are doing your first solo 60-minute show and you have anything less than 80 minutes of good material, you risk rapid ego-destruction.

8. IF I GET REVIEWS, ARE THE NUMBER OF STARS IMPORTANT?

In Edinburgh, absolutely. The stars are everything – provided you get above three stars. Put four or five stars on your posters and flyers – with short quotes – immediately. All your competitors – and, in Edinburgh ALL other performers, however seemingly friendly, are your deadly competitors – will be using the number of stars on a review to boost their own ego or to try and deflate yours. After the Fringe is over, the stars mean bugger all. They are unlikely to bring in crowds on a wet Thursday in Taunton. But their real value lies next year at the Fringe when you can quote them and they will have some effect. And always remember the admirable enterprise of the late comic Jason Wood. Highly influential Scotsman critic Kate Copstick gave his Fringe show a one star review. The next morning, all his posters in Edinburgh proudly displayed a pasted-on strip saying “A STAR” (The Scotsman)

9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?

No. Partly because it no longer exists; they seem to call it something different every year. But mostly because you just won’t. Don’t be silly. Fantasy is a valuable part of the performer’s art, but never fully believe your own fantasy. You stand a better chance of winning one of the increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017. I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Don’t bother to apply to me because there is no application process, plus it interferes with my chocolate-eating. Your show format is probably neither that original nor, frankly, that good and we will almost certainly hear about anything which actually IS that original. In Edinburgh, word-of-mouth is the strongest thing after a deep-fried Mars Bar soaked in whisky for 20 minutes. The Malcolm Hardee Award judges this year are (in alphabetical order) famed Scotsman critic and Show Me The Funny judge Kate Copstick, inconsequential little old me,  The Times’ esteemed comedy critic Dominic Maxwell and the wildly prolific freelance Jay Richardson. Please feel free to wave £50 notes in our faces and offers of two-week holidays in Barbados with lovely 20-year-old nymphets (that holds for all four of us).

Look, in Edinburgh, the most important thing of all is self-publicity. Thus Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.

To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

Here endeth the lesson and – only temporarily – the self-publicity.

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