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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 18: The real spirit of the Fringe returns for one day

Stoic Mark Dean Quinn sits  by the Blundabus

Today turned into very much a Spirit of The Fringe day: a spirit far too often submerged by giant posters and promoters/managers/agents/venues screwing their performers. As is often muttered, SOMEONE is making money, but it is rarely the performers.

Yesterday’s blog included Mark Dean Quinn attaching other people’s stars and quotes to his own flyers… and enticing Narin Oz into this moral jungle.

Narin today told me: “The fake stars don’t work. It’s useless without people knowing what the real show is about!”

But Mark Dean Quinn is sticking to his figurative guns and actual stars.

Meanwhile, the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club shows chaired by feared comedy critic Kate Copstick and my loveable self continue. Today on Twitter, someone calling themselves TheAntiCrit Tweeted:

5 STARS The Grouchy Club – After the usual dodgy 1 STAR start, legendary fest talkfest is firing on all cylinders.

Today, the conversation in this alleged comedy chat show turned to the upcoming one-off Malcolm Hardee show (in which I am not involved) staged by former squatters on his Wibbley Wobbley boat, the rapist tendencies of the Kenyan police and an adopted lady in the audience who was meeting her birth mother for only the second time (mum is staging a Fringe show), who had had a brain operation recently and had gone blind in one eye while losing peripheral vision in the other. All human life is, indeed, mulled-over at The Grouchy Club.

Rowdy Peter Michael Marino rousing just part of his audience

I stayed on in the Lounge of the Counting House to see the lovely Peter Michael Marino’s show titled Show Up which was full-to-overflowing and which, much like The Grouchy Club, happily varies in content from day-to-day because it is highly audience-based.

Michael is American and, in their quaint Colonial lingo, a ‘hyphenate’ – a stage performer-producer-director force of Nature who can (again in their quaint Colonial tongue) ‘own’ a room. Wonderful audience control and charisma. He is occasionally called ‘Blackout Pete’ because he was conceived during an electrical blackout in New York.

Possibly too much information.

The most interesting part of the show for me, though, was when performer Jane Hill, who was in the packed audience, revealed that she used to “make tampons”. I could have asked her for more details after the show but decided that some things are better left to the imagination. In this case, the vision of her knitting tampons in an armchair in her quaintly thatched home as part of some little-known cottage industry.

My next trip was to the small wooden garden shed next to Bob Slayer’s Blundabus where Michael Brunström had promised an unadvertised one-off event of an undefined – and, as it turned out, indefinable – type.

Michael Brunström in fetching fruity shorts

Unusually, he did not turn up in a lady’s dress or Greek toga but in some very fetching white shorts with a pineapple motif.

The shed had a notice on it which was, loosely, also the show’s title and format – UP TO YOU.

“When I conceived it,” Michael explained, “I knew this would be a very stressful Saturday, especially for performers: it’s busy and the whole machinery, the whole ‘game’ of Edinburgh seems to be building up to this big crescendo next week of awards and wotnot. Winners and losers starting to be announced. Today is quite a frantic, busy day and what I wanted to do was just have a little space where we weren’t bothering about any of that. We’re just doing whatever we want to do. Just to leave Edinburgh aside for a little bit and just have a bit of fun. That’s all.”

Shed Art – the audience’s impression of Michael Bruström

The audience was me and a very amiable couple who were up for any new Fringe experiences. The event included trying to play rummy with a pack of playing cards, Michael reading from E. W. Hornung’s stories of Raffles, the gentleman thief, the female half of the couple – unbidden – drawing a sketch of Michael, the male half of the couple whipping eggs, Andy Barr chopping some edible green vegetables, Mark Dean Quinn cooking an omelette and everyone eating said. The couple gave him a definite genuine 5-stars for his omelette-making skills.

Mark Dean Quinn holds up a vegetable while Michael Brunström reads from Raffles aloud

The show was due to last 20 minutes. I left after half an hour.

I was later told that it continued for another hour after I left.

It was, like The Grouchy Club, entirely free.

Later, I went off to join Arthur Smith’s annual hour-long alternative tour of the Royal Mile – again, totally free, totally unpredictable.

This is the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

People doing things for no reason except enjoyment.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 13: The Elvis Dead, compost and comedy in a shed

I ended today soaked through with Irn Bru and rain.

The day started off like a normal Fringe day.

“Michael Brunström wants to borrow some of my compost,” performer Narin Oz told me, as I walked into Fringe Central. This made perfect sense at the time – a sign of how your brain soon gets affected by the Fringe.

I was on my way to the first Grouchy Club of the Fringe, supposedly chaired by Kate Copstick and me – but she had been dragged off by The Scotsman to review former First Minister Alex Salmond’s chat show at the Assembly Rooms on other side of town.

Becky Fury stood in for Copstick. Same hair; no white streak. The front row of our overwhelming audience (it’s all comparative) included two women who had seen Lewis Schaffer’s show last night and had not liked it.

Martha McBrier – castigated by some for playing a didgeridoo – arrived with a small brown box.

Copstick arrived when the show was almost over, telling chilling tales of Alex Salmond singing.

Cultural appropriation for Martha McBrier to play the box?

Martha McBrier played the small brown box by blowing into it. She claimed it was a ‘box didgeridoo’.

It was unclear to both her and us if women were banned from playing it, as they are with linear didgeridoos.

We started discussing Lewis Schaffer again.

At this point, Lewis Schaffer phoned asking me to send him a picture of himself.

Then I was off to see Michael Brunström, Phil Jarvis and  Alwin Solanky perform the legendary 20-minute routine Dinner For One in a small garden shed beside Bob Slayer’s Blundabus.

Dinner For One, recorded in English for German audiences in 1963 is extraordinarily famous in Germany, Austria, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Faroe Islands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, South Africa and Australia. In fact, loads of places except the UK.

(Left-Right) Alwin Solanky, Phil Jarvis and Michael Brunström

Phil Jarvis introduced this shed-based production in German, then Dinner For One was performed in English with Phil as the butler, Michael Brunström in drag as the lady and Alwin Solanky as the tiger skin rug. The shed miraculously contained an audience of (I think) eight people, with more peering in through the open door.

Dinner For One: a cast over the top; an audience under threat

The spilling, throwing and spewing of Irn Bru – standing in for the original show’s alcoholic drinks – was extensive.

The result was that I was (with some pride) the only audience member left in the shed by the end.

I had taken the precaution of wearing a coat which I bought in Nuremberg and which, fortunately, has a liquid-proof hood.

This production of Dinner For One epitomised the spirit of the Fringe – people performing something for no logical reason whatsoever, ignoring financial recompense, audience numbers and any common sense.

You did, indeed, have to be there.

As did I at Nathan Cassidy’s one-off event The World’s Best MC Award Grand Final because I was booked to be one of the judges – well, THE judge, as it turned out.

I did not know what to expect from this.

I blogged about its clear Cunning Stunt Award intentions in a blog almost three weeks ago.

At the Awards (L-R) Nick Helm, Rich Wilson, Nathan Cassidy and Sarah Callaghan (Photograph by Rat Pack Productions)

As it turned out, it was pretty much what it said on the label – six good comics doing 5-minute MC-style intros – each introducing the next – in an attempt to win an alleged £5,000 prize.

The comedians/MCs were Sarah Callaghan, Nick Helm, Joey Page, Mark Silcox, Chris Turner and Rich Wilson.

Unsurprisingly, in a shock twist, Nathan Cassidy won his own £5,000.

Very enjoyable, a real audience-pleaser, but I’m not convinced it’s a Cunning Stunt. The door money DID go to charity, though.

That is not up to me, though.

Fellow Malcolm Hardee judges Marissa Burgess, Bruce Dessau, Kate Copstick, Jay Richardson and Claire Smith all have equal says to me.

Talking of Malcolm Hardee – and who isn’t at the Fringe? – the wonderful 2011 Award winner Johnny Sorrow and Bob Blackman’s Tray have arrived in Edinburgh. I saw them tonight at The Newsroom, the small venue at the top of Leith Walk. From their energy, he/they could have been playing Radio City Music Hall.

THAT is how to play to an audience of one.

No audience problem for The Elvis Dead, though.

The Elvis Dead – Cultural event or niche pastiche?

It is probably the hottest and most talked-about show in Edinburgh.

In fact, the buzz around it started at the Leicester Comedy Festival back in February and has built to dizzying heights since. It is superbly well put together together and performed.

But I am not the target audience.

It reminded me of my experience over a week ago when I saw Mother’s Ruin – about gin – with an audience fully into the subject. The Elvis Dead is a musical re-telling of the movie Evil Dead II through pastiches of Elvis Presley songs.

My problem is that I have not seen Evil Dead II; I am not a particular fan of Elvis Presley; and singalong, clapalong-stompalong-whoopalong, crowd-bonding events are not my thing. Mea culpa.

The audience LOVED it. The only-begetter of this crowd-pleasing triumph, Rob Kemp, is getting full houses every night. But for me, the elevator pitch is that it is Jollyboat rabble-rousing (I like Jollyboat) meets Harriet Braine niche pastiche (I admire Harriet Braine).

Braine and brawn vie for niche pastiche attention

Harriet Braine performs superb pastiche songs about fine art and artists – very very clever songs about Magritte, Cezanne, Van Gogh, whatever whoever. But I don’t know the subject well enough to fully appreciate them. So the full effect floats or zooms over my head, as with The Elvis Dead.

Rob Kemp says he is returning to Edinburgh next year with a Beetlejuice show.

I HAVE seen Beetlejuice.

But I am not a massive fan.

On the other hand… if we were talking about a musical version of The Wild Bunch… I would be queuing-up like the Dead Elvis fans are.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 11: The gamut of comedy and the Grouchy Club’s origins

Today, in three shows, I saw  the whole gamut of Fringe comedy.

There was the gloriously fluent Richard Todd at The Counting House.

He was letting rip at full volume with waving hands, bouncing hair and waterfalls and tsunamis of sentences overflowing with his love of the English language while talking about Monsters within himself and people in general.

There was Narin Oz stripping off as a Dirty Woman in a basement room at The Cuckoo’s Nest.

She was having garden soil thrown at her, splashing water on herself and performing with a video of waterfalls behind her while getting (in a good theatrical way) hysterical.

And there was Samantha Pressdee going Back 2 Basics at 48 Below.

She was telling a very personal autobiographical story which turned into someone’s death and a political point.

That is a pretty good Fringe format – laughs, tears, emotional problems and occasional politics.

I was also a guest on the penultimate day of Vladimir McTavish’s chat show in the Lounge of The Counting House.

On Monday, feared Scotsman comedy critic & Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge Kate Copstick and I take over Vlad’s 1415-1515 slot for The Grouchy Club from 14th to 27th August.

As previously mentioned in this blog, if you got it, flaunt it.

The Grouchy Club is free to say anything you like, free to enter, free to leave. Unlike most ‘free’ shows, there is no bucket for money at the end. It a genuinely free Free show.

The original idea came from a chat with the late US promoter Calvin Wynter. He and I thought it might be good to have a Fringe space unconnected with any one venue, where performers could come and relax and gossip and bitch without fear of punters. A sort of Groucho Club for the less exalted echelons of creatives. I suggested calling it The Grouchy Club.

Calvin Wynter had talked of a Fringe club

That idea came to nought.

But I have chaired two or three chat shows at the Fringe over the years and an idea I had was to do a show where I did nothing, not even research the background of guests.

I am not a performer.

Most stand-ups begin their acts with a little bit of audience interaction, a little bit of banter with the audience.

I believe that almost every person is fascinating. If you choose the third person in a bus queue in Northampton or chat to the first person wearing brown shoes – in other words, any totally random person – and talk to them, they will have outrageously unlikely anecdotes from their unique life.

So I thought: Have a chat show where the guests are the audience. Just chat to the audience. But then I thought: This needs a performer sidekick. Who?

Lewis Schaffer did not bestow his blessings

Until last year, almost all Lewis Schaffer shows extended the traditional opening banter with the audience to 100% of the show.

So I asked Lewis Schaffer to co-present The Grouchy Club with me.

But Lewis Schaffer is nothing if not occasionally indecisive.

So, in lieu of him actually saying Yes, I went for opinionated Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick. But, with her on board, I thought it would be more interesting to talk to comedy industry (and other creative) people. To have somewhere creative people could have a chat. It would still be a chat show where the audience were the guests, but the guests would mostly be performers and their ilk (club owners, promoters etc).

If any genuine members of the public wander in, that’s OK. But, because we are not really aiming it at members of the public, we can dispense with a Fringe Programme listing (saving £300-£400) and flyers/posters. Just use social media and word of mouth.

So here we are.

And we are happy for performers to do BRIEF extracts from their shows to get constructive or destructive criticism from the audience and suck up to Copstick (the most influential comedy critic on the Fringe) and me (“The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle) – eat shit.)

There is a Grouchy Club website but, technology being technology, it is being temporarily temperamental during the Fringe. So you can access it but I can’t change anything!

Chaos and anarchy.

That’s the true spirit of the Fringe.

It is much to be encouraged.

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Why no-one should ever get in or be near a car driven by comic Narin Oz

At lunchtime today, I was sitting in Fringe Central, Edinburgh, doing no-one any harm…

…when Narin Oz came up to me and said:

“My mother says she is learning the secrets of life by watching budgies. She is sending me five videos of budgerigars every day. I am going to put my budgerigar in my car.”

“Where is your car?” I asked.

“In London. Mark Dean Quinn told me it was better to come up to Edinburgh by coach, so I did, but then I found out he came up by train. I love my car. I want to buy a Dodge Challenger 1969.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it makes a sexy sound,” explained Narin. “You can hear it coming down the road. I hate quiet cars because you don’t know where they are and you could get hit. If you can hear the car coming, you don’t have to cross the road; it makes sense. I have three car stories.”

“Go on, then,” I said.

“I was really depressed one day,” she started, “so I went to Epping Forest in Essex. Loads of trees.”

“That’s true,” I said. “I have been there. I have seen them.”

“I drove into a bit where everyone does dogging,” Narin continued.

“I have not been there,” I said.

“I didn’t know that was where everyone does dogging,” said Narin, “but someone told me. Anyway, after I sulked for a bit, I reversed the car and smashed into something. I was scared to get out because I thought I had hit a person.”

“Or persons,” I said.

“Exactly,” said Narin. “But it was a tree.”

“So,” I said, “basically, the dogging part of this story is irrelevant. You drove into a forest and hit a tree.”

“Exactly.” said Narin. “I hit a tree.”

“That is not,” I suggested, “a particularly surprising story.”

Narin Oz may have been in Wonder Woman

“The other one,” Narin continued “was when I… I think God saved me. I am not a Jesus-follower, but I swear there was something odd going on… After driving from the movie set, I…”

“The movie set?” I asked.

“Just extra work.”

“What movie?”

“I don’t know. I think it was Wonder Woman.”

“Did it,” I asked, “have a woman with short pants and a thing round her head?”

“I don’t know. I was a Turkish slave bomb maker.”

“Bomb maker?” I asked.

“Yes. I was making bombs.”

“In the First World War?”

“Yes. In the film.”

“Ah.”

“Anyway,” said Narin, “I was driving home and I heard a Phwooaaffph! and then the ABS came on and my thing was shaking. The car.”

“ABS?”

“Yes, the ABS light.”

“What is ABS?”

“I think it controls the steering.”

“What does ABS stand for?”

“I have no idea. But it frightened me because it never did that before. I should look into engines and stuff. I was driving home and it was rattling and I was on the motorway at 80 mph and I thought: I have to slow down.”

“Because of the speed limit?”

“No. Because my car felt weird and was making loud noises. So I went into the slow lane and did 40 mph and went home. When I came out the next day, I had a look at my car and a whole tyre was missing. I drove home with no tyre. I only had three tyres left.”

“Had you not noticed the car was lopsided?” I asked.

“No. I dunno how I got home. I should’ve died that day.”

Narin is performing a Fringe show with mud

“The third story?” I asked.

“That was even worse.”

“A fate worse than death?” I asked.

“It was in the middle of the night. It always happens at night time. I was trying to do a U-turn and turn back in the lane and didn’t realise I was going into on-coming traffic.”

“Did you not spot there were white headlights coming at you?”

“I had never been on that road. It was around Ilford in Essex. I panicked and did a little spin… Eeeeeeeeeeee!!! It was underneath a flyover around Ilford. It was horrible.”

“Yes, I know Ilford,” I told her.

“Obviously,” said Narin, “there was a lot of bibbing and stuff.”

“Bibbing?” I asked.

Beep-beep from cars. Then I kind of swerved and then I hit a pavement and then the tyre went Phwooaaffph!

“You are not,” I said, “a lucky woman with tyres.”

“You know what I found out?” she told me. “It was because I had bought cheap tyres. The garage man said: These are really shit tyres. You need better ones. So he gave me like Louis Vuitton tyres.”

“With the logo on them?” I asked.

“The equivalent of Louis Vuitton.”

“So,” I asked, “ever since then you have not died?”

“No. I have been alive. I have been alive for about three years now.”

And then, like Keyser Söze – Phwooaaffph! – she was gone, leaving nothing behind but a silent peach.

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Edinburgh Fringe Day 1: Good shows, a questionable director and a late disaster

Mark Borkowski is looking for originality

In the afternoon, with Kate Copstick, I recorded the first in a revived series of Grouchy Club Podcasts with stunt-loving PR guru Mark Borkowski who is up here partly to find right-wing comedians who may appear in a series of TV shows on RT (Russia Today). Well, that is my spin on it. Really he is looking for anyone who is so original and different that they are unlikely to get onto the currently bland and unoriginal British TV channels. Mark, in performance terms, has a taste for the bizarre and the original. He is well worth a listen.

After that, I went to see Robert White’s show billed as a comedy opera InstraMENTAL which was – rather dauntingly for the first Fringe show I have seen this year – utterly brilliant. Robert won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality in 2010 so can he be nominated again? Who knows? This unified show is so different it is not what he won for before and, unexpectedly, Kate Copstick’s voice turns up about ¾ of the way through. When I texted her about being in his show, it was news to her.

Narin Oz, budgerigar & Brunström belly paint

I had forgotten to take a photo of Mark Borkowski during the podcast recording, something I did not fail to do at Fringe Central when I was accosted by Narin Oz, who showed me a photo on her phone of her blue budgerigar in front of a blue painting created by Malcolm Hardee Award winning Michael Brunström’s belly.

Anyone present at the relevant Brunström shows will be aware this is not a joke.

Narin also showed me a photo of herself covered in mud and pointed out that her show #DirtyWoman includes copious amounts of real mud. She told me all her #DirtyWoman shows are being billed as ‘work-in-progress’ shows and, after the Edinburgh shows are finished, she will do previews in London of the already-performed shows. She said she reckons she may end up performing back in her mother’s womb. You maybe had to be there.

Elf Lyons – colourful Swan

Later, I saw that infinitely-rare thing, an act that has arguably been made even better by going to see that Gaulier man in France. Admittedly, we are talking about the already-highly-talented Elf Lyons. In her show Swan, she is telling and acting out the story of Swan Lake in eccentric costumes with dancing and mime and ongoing spiel in a form of Franglais. It is difficult to do justice to it all in a written description but, in parts, it is a sort-of disguised stand-up show with a Gaulier veneer, a lot of movement and her personality making it sparkle. She was justifiably playing to a full room.

In the audience watching her was Juliette Burton, whose Butterfly Effect show was today and will in future be (it is getting heavily booked-up ahead) playing to full houses.

All of the above titbits are part of the joy of the Fringe.

But I also received an email today from an act telling me about their show’s director:

The cobbles of Edinburgh have seen some blood flow in the last 70 years of the Fringe.

“I have paid (the named person) more than £2,000 over the last year to be director for my show and (the person) just told me TODAY that they won’t be coming up to the Fringe this year as if that’s the norm. They say their other clients who have shows here don’t mind. And I am even expected to pay an invoice for August because (the person) says they can direct my performance from London. It has really knocked me for six. This same person was here for my first few shows last year. I thought a director’s job was to sit in the audience early on to take notes. I worked really really hard doing various jobs to pay the director’s fees.”

Then, as I was about to post this blog online, Kate Copstick turned up at 1.00am (we are sharing a flat) saying she is due to review highly-esteemed musical act Die Roten Punkte for the Scotsman tomorrow night (well, tonight, in fact) – their opening night – but British Airways have lost all their musical equipment collected over many years and a very, very specifically-designed drum kit.

“British Airways,” Copstick told me, “don’t seem very concerned”.

Meanwhile, Die Roten Punkte are trying to borrow equipment and have arranged an emergency technical run-through at 07.00am.

The Edinburgh Fringe. Home of dreams and nightmares.

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