Everything at the Edinburgh Fringe is inter-linked.
Do I look Jewish?
American Jewish comedian Lewis Schaffer had a bit of schtick in his Edinburgh Fringe show last year which he is not using this year – well, he won’t after reading it here.
He would ask a man in the front row of his audience: “Are you Jewish?”
Depending on the reply, he then said either “That’s great,” or “That’s terrible,” and added, “It must be terrible to LOOK Jewish and not to BE Jewish.”
Yesterday I was crossing the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and a still small voice asked: “Are you Jewish?”
Two bearded men were standing at a table dressed in black and wearing skull caps.
“No. Sorry,” I replied.
Three steps further on, I reconsidered my reply and turned back.
“But what would you have said if I were Jewish?” I asked. “What are you selling?”
“Nothing, But are you Jewish?”
“No, but I know someone who is a Jewish American comedian.”
The young man on the left was smiling. The older man on the right was not smiling; he never smiled. I think he was probably Israeli rather than Jewish.
“You know someone who is Jewish?” the man on the right said suspiciously.
“Do I know someone who is Jewish?” I asked. “Yes. He’s a New York Jewish comedian.”
“Give him this, then” the jollier Jew said, handing me a leaflet.
“He can come on Friday,” the unsmiling presumed Israeli said reluctantly.
The leaflet said:
Come join Chabad for your Shabbat live experience!
All in one Shabbat Dinner, Fun, Laughter, Friends, Great food. Lots of L’chaims and much more.
I was tempted to convert.
There was a Jewish thread running through the day.
A little later, I got chatting to highly charismatic part-Iranian actor-comedian Jody Kamali from Bristol who told me he had to get an Iranian passport and change his passport name to Sam (well, that’s what it sounded like) when he visited Iran otherwise they would not have let him in; there was a drawback to this because they might then have forced him to do three years military service in the Iranian Army.
That is not part of the Jewish thread to the day, but I also got chatting to Jody’s director. I have no idea what his name is. That is one of the quirks of the Fringe – you can have terribly interesting conversations with fascinating people but forget to ask their names. Anyway, he had a moustache, was tall and was not part-Iranian…
We are back now to being Jewish… well, Jew…ish.
What he was – indeed, is – is Jewish-Scottish-Portuguese; he speaks Portuguese to his mother and is living in dream accommodation while in Edinburgh – the Austrian Consulate.
I forgot to mention he is also part German/Austrian. His grandparents were Jews in Germany before the War. They managed to get out when Hitler was on the rise and moved to Austria. The words ‘frying pan’ and ‘fire’ spring to my mind, but, throughout the War, they pretended to be Catholic and went to a Catholic Church.
“So I’m Jewish and I’m a Catholic,” the director said to me, shrugging. “The guilt, my dear! the guilt!”
You do meet extraordinary people with extraordinary stories at the Fringe and Edinburgh can be a very small place, throwing up one degree of separation.
I spent last night with Charlie Chuck.
I will re-phrase that.
I spent yesterday evening with Charlie Chuck, starting at a launch for the SpaceUK venues at Surgeon’s Hall and I had a fascinating chat with their sound supremo Wayne. I forgot to ask his surname. This is the Fringe. He had vivid stories of growing up as a Forces child – his father started in the Forces on the Borneo campaign and ended with the Falklands. As a child, Wayne wanted to be a Queen’s Messenger because it was well-paid and meant travelling the world with a briefcase handcuffed to your wrist.
He has an extraordinary knowledge of the ethnic ebbs and flows of history. You would think he was a history teacher in ‘real’ non-Fringe life. In fact, he owns a record label in Manchester. He says there are 13 record labels in Manchester and he vaguely knew 24-Hour Party Person Tony Wilson – now there was an extraordinary person if ever there were one; I encountered him very peripherally at Granada TV in the 1980s.
Wayne also knew late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s brother Alex, a music executive… as did SpaceUK boss Charlie Pamment who, in one of his former professional incarnations as an agent, remembered putting Malcolm Hardee on at the Raymond Revuebar in London’s Soho. Now that must involve anecdotes worth dining out on!
One can but hope against hope that Malcolm turns up as a character in Michael Winderbottom’s planned movie Paul Raymond’s Wonderful World of Erotica.
Charlie Pamment told me that his SpaceUK venues are staging the largest number of shows at this year’s Fringe – 229 separate productions. Other operators have more venues, but SpaceUK has more shows.
Never underestimate the power of a random blatant plug.
The Laughing Horse Free Festival launch party seemed to be less a party than a full-scale rehearsal for the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony staged in a pub complex on a hot night. The throngs were so large that I never did find comedian Eric, whom I was supposed to meet. A regular audience member at Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek club in Greenwich, he was persuaded by Malcolm to become a stand-up and used to be a submariner.
But I did bump into singing Hitler comic Frank Sanazi and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award inspiration Gill Smith and Scots comic Keara Murphy who, like Janey Godley, is not playing a full Fringe show this year but has picked up seemingly endless one-off gigs in town.
The Free Festival launch party was some crowded sweatathon which seemed to merge together an extraordinarily large family birthday party, the Black Hole of Calcutta and a Swedish sauna. I stuck my head into the performance area – the Ballroom – looking for Eric, and you could have grilled a sausage by simply holding it in mid-air over the audience.
Comedian, blogger and sometime professional photographer Ian Fox was taking photos for Laughing Horse at the event and, for a time, had to abandon taking photos in the Ballroom because his lens steamed up. He showed me three photos which he said had been taken within three seconds.
The first showed the audience but with a cream discolouration area rising from the bottom.
The second was starting to be blobbily out-of-focus all-over with the condensation.
The third was an abstract of giant blobs – taken at a point at which the water particles had overwhelmed the lens.
I felt very much like the lens.
It is easy to be overwhelmed at the Fringe.
Then my phone rang.
It was Malcolm Hardee’s son Frank.
“I thought you were in South Korea,” I shouted.
“I’m back for a few days,” he told me. “Then, next week, I am off to see Poppy in Palestine.”
Poppy is Malcolm Hardee’s daughter.
The late great would have been chuffed his kids are globetrotting.
Let us not get into any discussion of whether or not a passing reference to Palestine continued the day’s Jewish thread. To quote Malcolm:
“Fuck it! It don’t matter. There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Because, round the edge… fish.”