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Why Richard Gadd won a Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but justifiably failed to get a Cunning Stunt Award

Richard Gadd with his used-to-be Perrier Award

Richard Gadd with what used to be called the Perrier Award

Richard Gadd’s first words to me were: “You thought I would cancel this meeting, didn’t you, John? You thought I would be too big for you now. But I like you, John, even though everyone else doesn’t.”

He was joking.

I think.

After he was nominated for – but failed to win – this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award back in August, he texted me a message saying: “You. Are. Dead. To. Me.”

He was joking.

I think.

Yes, he was.

Yes.

We nominated him for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that he had caused a buzz at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe with his show Waiting For Gaddot – mostly because it was stunningly original but also because it was almost impossible to get in to see it because there were far more people wanting to see it than there was space in the small room he had booked at the Banshee Labyrinth venue.

So, this year, he booked his new show Monkey See, Monkey Do into an even smaller room at the Banshee Labyrinth, meaning the difficulty of getting in – and the consequent buzz – was even greater. We checked with him and he said, Yes, indeed he had booked himself into the smaller room as a cunning stunt to create more buzz.

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ award in Edinburgh

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ comedy award in Edinburgh

He failed to win our award, but he did go on to win the other main comedy prize at the Fringe – the one that is forever called the Perrier Award even though the sponsors have changed over the years.

“So,” I told him this week, “booking yourself into a smaller room was a very clever cunning stunt…”

“Well, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t a stunt.”

“You told us it was!” I said.

“No, it wasn’t a stunt,” Richard repeated. “When I visualised the show, there was only one room in the whole of Edinburgh I visualised – the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room. I needed a screen that was bigger than me. I needed a screen that would engulf me and engulf the audience.

“I thought: What do I do? Do I sacrifice audience numbers and money for artistic gain? And the answer was: Absolutely. I didn’t do it to create a buzz or as a cunning stunt or anything like that. It was a genuine artistic decision that I made.”

The poster image for Monkey See, Monkey Do

The poster image for award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do

“And Monkey See, Monkey Do went on to win the Perrier,” I said. “That can be life-changing.”

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve had a lot of interest since then, but I’m not a mainstream act. It used to be, back in the day, that someone would win it and get a TV series straight away. But those days are over.

“I think now, if you win the Perrier, there is a more logical route towards the Have I Got News For Yous and Mock The Weeks. But that’s not my route either because I’m a very alternative act.

“I’m very interested in the art performance and I’m very theatrical, so those sort of (panel show) offers did not come through the door, but a whole bunch of people did get in touch who do want to work with me. Television companies and theatre companies. Writing work, drama work, stage work. And better acting auditions.

“People seem to take you more seriously. They know who you are – you’re not just a sort of underground comedian this, cult comedian that. People now know who I am and I think that’s important – and they know I take myself seriously and I’m still young – I’m 26.

“People don’t really trust people in their mid-twenties but, if you win the Perrier, if they have whittled down 1,000-odd shows in Edinburgh, it’s no easy feat to win that award. So at least I’m not being patronised any more.”

“A lot of people,” I said, “thought you should have been nominated for the Perrier last year.”

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

“All my other comedies have been very -in-your-face romps”

“Well, I think my work until very recently has been very polarising, very in-your-face and some people don’t like their eardums blasted or their eyes tainted with images of this and that. I think this year it set out to make a difference and to change opinions on things and it did tackle some big subjects.

“All my other comedies have been joyful romps or very -in-your-face romps but this year it set out to say something. I’ve had a challenging and complicated life in a lot of ways and this year I was tackling a subject that not many people speak about.”

“There is,” I prompted, “an autobiographical revelation in the show.”

“Yes, I use an autobiographical account in the show to reveal this information about myself. It’s an incident I went through that no person should go through and it caused a lot of turmoil and upheaval in my life, especially as a man.”

“I don’t want to give too much away,” I said.

“You can say sexual assault,” Richard told me.

“So the type of show you did,” I said, “was different this year…”

“I think the difference,” replied Richard, “was that, this year, it had a lot of heart and a lot of soul. It was trying to challenge views on masculinity. That was quite important to me. I’ve always felt I was a man but, after the incident, my masculinity was taken away from me.”

“Can I include that?” I asked.

“You can put what you like but just put me in a bloody good light, for the love of fuckery.”

“Righto,” I said.

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

“I wanted,” Richard continued, “to challenge the mainstream media definition of masculinity, cos masculinity needs to shift now, in this day and age of feminism and emotion on your sleeve. I feel masculinity needs to become synonymous with openness, But there is still this keeping-it-all-bottled-up masculinity; being ‘the man’.

“I bottled it up for so long because I felt it was a dent in my masculinity. That was the difficult part. But then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realise: Jesus Christ! It’s just a word. It doesn’t exist.

“Your masculinity is as fickle as sexuality. These words that just cause people so much pain and don’t mean anything in the end, because boundaries are blurred. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is concrete. They’re just words, but they can cause so much misery.”

“It must,” I suggested, “have been scary to decide to talk about it openly.”

“I hinted about it in every single thing I did. Every single show I did, there were big overtones of it.”

“You seem,” I said, “very commendably serious about what you do as being art.”

“Yes, I am. I care. I kick myself if things aren’t good enough. I always try my best. If I’ve made mistakes, I will try to learn from them. I’m interested in the process of art and what it can achieve. And I’m interested in always doing things differently. You just have to keep staying one step ahead of what people expect you to do and expect you to be.”

“So what is your next step ahead?” I asked.

“I’m going to chop my cock off on stage and then eat it and regurgitate it and use it as a flute.”

“And,” I asked, “in reality?”

“I have ideas about what next, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to you, Mr Fleming.”

“Would these new things,” I asked, “be like writing a different type of comedy drama or coming out of a totally unexpected trap like writing a musical?”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd: “I wasn’t doing anything different”

“I did Cheese and Crack Whores. Then Breaking Gadd the year after… and Breaking Gadd was Cheese and Crack Whores in a different setting with a different group of characters but sort of the same. Despite the fact it did well and got well-reviewed, I realised that the buzz was elsewhere because I wasn’t doing anything different. So the next year Waiting For Gaddot was a big shift in a different direction and that got the buzz.”

“Some people,” I said, “equate arty success with low audiences.”

“Yes,” said Richard, “Some people think: I like being cult. I like being not for everyone. I’m too cool for mainstream. But it’s ridiculous to think I would write a piece of work so only the cool people can enjoy it. I would like to be as mainstream as possible. But I still like to bring these off-kilter themes into the mainstream and still be challenging. You can be challenging in the mainstream: you just need to figure out how to do it. To rebel against it is wrong. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone who manages to be quite challenging in the mainstream.

“I don’t care about money. I was brought up better than that. I don’t care about that. I would like to expand my audience size but, at the same time, get my message over and do a piece of work in the best possible way it can be done.”

“We are having a chat,” I reminded him, “to plug your Monkey See, Monkey Do show at the Soho Theatre in London, so when is it on?”

richardgadd_sohotheatre_cut

Richard trying to keep one step ahead outside Soho Theatre

“We are doing a live recording for the DVD this Saturday at 5.30pm. Then the show runs 18th October to the 12th November. That run is completely sold out already, so it will probably be back in the New Year.”

“So this blog is completely pointless,” I said. “You don’t need the publicity.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Richard. “But I like talking to you, so that’s fine.”

I do not think he was joking.

But who can tell with comedians and actors?

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

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Malcolm Hardee Award nominee James Hamilton aims to prove comedy critic Kate Copstick wrong by writing weirder

James Hamilton, yesterday, drinking it all in

At the Edinburgh Fringe last year, writer/performer/producer James Hamilton was nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality. One of the judges for the Malcolm Hardee Awards is doyenne of Fringe comedy critics Kate Copstick.

James runs a comedy sketch group called Casual Violence and, last year, their show was called Choose Death. At the time, I blogged that “I had absolutely no idea what was going on… Casual Violence could have created a new genre of ‘realistic surrealism’… Choose Death was so strange it is beyond any sane description. The show was written by James Hamilton. I think he may need psychiatric help. Though not creative help. He is doing something right. There is something very original in there. I just don’t know what the fuck it is.

“At the Edinburgh Fringe the previous year,” James told me yesterday afternoon in Soho, “Kate Copstick gave us a one-star review for our show Dildon’t. At the time, it was quite… eh… demoralising. It was our first time at the Fringe. It was a play more than a sketch show and, after her one-star review, people were turning down our flyers in the street. They’d say: No thanks, mate. I read the review in The Scotsman… Which was really tough to deal with at the time.

“But, last year, we quoted her review on the back of our flyer for Choose Death and it genuinely sold us more tickets than it had cost us the year before, because people would look at it and go Oh! That’s honest of you! which they don’t quite expect in Edinburgh in August. The word we quoted on our flyers from Copstick’s review was just the word Irritating….”

IRRITATING – ONE STAR (THE SCOTSMAN)

“A one-star review,” I said, “can be quite effective. The worst thing to get is a 2-star review. But a one-star review means there’s something odd going on. And if you can get a one-star review AND a 5-star review for the same show, it means it’s definitely worth seeing!”

“Well,” said James, “we got that in 2010. We got one 5-star review, three 4-stars and a 3 and a 1. So we almost had the full set.”

“If you get a one star review AND 5-star review,” I said, “there’s maybe something wrong with the critic who may have got out the wrong side of the bed that morning – Copstick will kill me  – or it’s the audience or the performance that particular night. Or it’s some unknowable factor. And, as you found out, a one-star review can be useable in publicity – if you are careful – especially if you get 4 and 5 star reviews too. It signals it may be a ‘Marmite’ show – people either love it or hate it with no in-between – and, certainly in Edinburgh, that’s good.

“Whatever it was,” said James, “it got that one-star review in 2010 and, when we quoted it in 2011, people seemed to think it was weirdly honest of us. A couple of people asked us if it was a requirement to put the bad reviews on the flyers!

“So, this year, we’re doing it again, but we’re using the word STUPID from Copstick’s 2010 review. On the front of the poster, we’re going to have One Star (The Scotsman) and, on the back, we’re having the one star with the words: Stupid. A waste of rather a lot of perfectly serviceable latex (The Scotsman)”

“And your show this year is…?” I asked.

A Kick in The Teeth,” James said. “We’re trying it out next Friday and Saturday – the 25th and 26th – at the Brighton Fringe.”

“It’s a sketch show?”

“I think of it more as character than sketch,” said James. “It’s the same sort of format as last year’s Choose Death show. But it’s a weirder show in some ways. There’s less Siamese Twins. There’s a character called The Poppyman who’s horrendously sinister with some really weird, quite dark, quite bizarre stuff in there. We’ve got a clockwork man character that we’re quite looking forward to trying out.

“Actually, I say there’s less Siamese Twins, but they do have a sort-of cameo in the show. It’s the only throw-back to last year’s show that we’re including.”

“And do you know what show you’ll be doing in 2013?” I asked.

“I know roughly,” James replied, “but it’s only a vague thing. I want to do a more theatrical show with more narrative. It would be based on the Roger and Charlie Nostril characters from Choose Death last year. They were the characters who lived in the mansion full of taxidermied people. Roger Nostril was the old, dying man who ordered his death bed and got a death lilo instead and Charlie’s his son who just got abuse hurled at him for most of the show.

“This year, with Kick in The Teeth, we’ve kept that structure of having five sets of characters and having them hurtle towards their fate through their own doings. But I couldn’t kill them all this year, because we did that last year and it would have felt like a re-hash. Basically, worse things happen to them than death this year.”

“So some of it’s sad again?” I asked.

“Yes. One of the big worries last year was finding the balance. Making it funny while also being quite tragic and quite unpleasant.”

“Do you,” I ask, “write comedy shows with dramatic bits or theatrical shows with funny bits?”

“They’re comedy shows with theatrical bits,” James answered. “They’re comedy shows ultimately. A lot of comedy can feel a bit throwaway. Getting a laugh out of an audience is a bit of a quick fix. It’s a great feeling for a moment, but then it passes. The thing we really wanna go for is making comedy that ekes other feelings out of people.

“My favourite stuff in Choose Death last year were the bits that made people go Oooaaa….

“Over the course of the run, we had a couple of people who said the Clown bit made them cry. It’s a silent bit where the Clown has a picture of his dead girlfriend and he takes a real girl out of the audience, puts a wig on her and makes her up and poses her to look like the dead girlfriend in the picture just so he can give her a hug.

“When I wrote it, I thought it was going to be quite creepy but, when Greg performed it, it was adorable and, from the audience during that sketch, you got as many sympathetic noises as you did laughs. And I liked that. I like the sort of comedy that makes you feel sorry for characters and worried for and by characters and has that sort of tension there as well.”

“And is weird,” I said.

“And is weird,” James Hamilton said.

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