Tag Archives: Pear Shaped

Going Pear Shaped: the last night of London’s second worst comedy club

(from left) Brian Damage, Vicky de Lacy & Anthony Miller last night

(L-R) Brian Damage, Vicky de Lacy, Anthony Miller last night

Last night, for the very last time, I went to Pear Shaped in Fitzrovia, the always fascinating (note the careful use of word there) weekly comedy club run, for the last 15 years by Brian Damage & Kryssstal (Vicky de Lacy) with Anthony Miller.

The club is closing because the Fitzroy Tavern pub and its basement are having a big refurbishment lasting, perhaps, a year. Well, OK, the story seems to be that, as part of the refurbishment, the club may be turned into a toilet. I pause while you make up your own joke.

“They’re closing down next month,” Brian Damage told me last night. “They do want us to come back, but that’s nine months away.”

“Have you got another venue?” I asked.

“We’ve found another one,” said Brian. “But nothing settled yet, so I’m saying nothing.”

“If you’re now free,” I said, “you can go to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”

“I’d love – we’d love – to go up to the Fringe,” said Brian. “I miss it. But not running a venue – That’s a whole year of Read the first fucking e-mail I sent you!”

For years, Brian and Vicky used to run the Holyrood Tavern up at the Fringe, including the extraordinary Pear Shaped at Midnight shows where, whenever I went, there was no ‘real’ audience, merely acts watching other acts perform after their own shows had ended. Shows can often be better without an audience of punters. These shows were.

“You met Vicky at the Fringe, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he told me, “I was asked to compere a show up there. We met and, one night, I was pissed and I said: We could run this fucking place, thinking it was easy. It wasn’t, of course. I didn’t know Vicky used to run theatres in Australia. I couldn’t run it, but she could.”

With Brian Damage & Vicky de Lacy in 2007

With Brian Damage and Vicky de Lacy in December 2007

“Where did you and I first meet?” I asked him. Memory is not my forte.

“On the Wibbley Wobbley,” he told me. “We ran the new act night there for Malcolm Hardee – we booked the acts.”

Look, it’s not my fault that conversation often turns to the late comic/ promoter/ club owner Malcolm Hardee. After running the infamous Tunnel club and the more respectable Up The Creek, he staged shows in Rotherhithe on a converted German barge, The Wibbley Wobbley.

“Malcolm was,” said Brian last night, “the opposite of all the bullshit and all the crap that enrages me. When I first started doing comedy, I loved a bit of bullshit.”

“And he didn’t?” I asked, surprised.

“Well now,” said Brian, “because of the fucking barrage of shit I have coming at me every single day on Facebook, all the arguing and the bollocks. I’ve got to the stage where I’m thinking I don’t care about any of it.”

“That’s age,” I suggested.

“Well, maybe it is,” said Brian. “But I just don’t care. The things that people are arguing about…  for fuck’s sake. They actually have discussions about Are women funny? Fuck off! I mean, Fuck off! It’s so rubbish.”

“Facebook somehow encourages it,” I said.

“I’m only on Facebook for business purposes,” said Brian. “Thank God I’m not on there as a human being. There’s so much shit coming at me, I’m fucked if I’m going to add to it. Fuck off!”

“The Queen,” I said, changing the subject, “may have to leave Buckingham Palace for six months while they refurbish it.”

“Yes, we could move in there for a few months,” Brian mused.

Last night, the Pear Shaped venue was full.

“Tonight is one of the few nights we’ve had an audience,” Brian told the audience. “I reckon what we should have done over the last 15 years was, every week, say CLOSING DOWN and I reckon that would’ve done the trick.”

Over the last 15 years, enormous numbers of starting-out comics have performed at Pear Shaped, which is billed as “London’s Second Worst Comedy Club”.

The worst one, Brian claims, was the one they ran before the current Pear Shaped. Well, current until last night.

Brian Damage & Anthony Miller read last rites

Brian Damage & Anthony Miller read last rites

One of the acts last night (I have tragically forgotten who) said that Brian & Krysstal’s next club will, by definition, be better because it will be London’s third worst comedy club.

Anthony Miller told the assembled throng: “You have to see it in perspective. The David Lean Cinema in Croydon has as many seats as this room and managed to lose half a million pounds in a year. So, compared to that, we’re slick.”

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Robert White apparently gave his first performance at Pear Shaped. He was there last night and gave Anthony Miller a farewell kiss. It seemed not to be appreciated.

As always, Brian Damage started the evening by singing the club’s theme song (to the tune of The Flintstones TV series):

Pear Shaped
This is Pear Shaped
Every Wednesday night at half past eight

Pear Shaped
This is Pear Shaped
Loads of comics you can love or hate

Pear Shaped
It’s just a fiver to come in
And we hope
You’ll both be coming back again
to
Pear Shaped
Up to Pear Shaped
Every Wednesday night at half past eight

At the end of the evening, he sang:

I don’t know where
I don’t know when
But it will
Happen again

Here’s hoping.

Brian Damage bids a fond farewell

Brian Damage bids a fond farewell

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Brian Damage & Krysstal are appealing but have some vile Fringe memories

This week, I went to Brian Damage and Krysstal’s legendary Pear Shaped venue in Fitzrovia, London.

Tomorrow, they start recording a music album in Cambridge.

“We miss the music.,” said Krysstal (real name Vicky de Lacy). “When we first got together, we used to play a lot.”

“You met at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.”

Brian Damage with Vicky as  Krysstal

Brian Damage with Vicky as Krysstal are getting back to basics

“Yes. In 2000,” said Vicky. “When we first got together, our main work was playing in pubs as a duo with a bit of comedy and then gradually the comedy took over. We hardly ever do any music gigs now, so we put this band called The Wrinklepickers together.”

“The Old Bastards was another option,” said Brian.

“But The Wrinklepickers wasn’t taken,” explained Vicky, “so we got the website wrinklepickers.com and we’ve had that for about three or four years now, though someone has recently started calling themselves Wrinkle Pickers – separate words.”

“Playing the same sort of music?” I asked.

“No,” said Brian. “They’re playing covers.”

“Who’s your target audience?” I asked.

“It’s mostly country-ish sounding,” replied Vicky. “Close harmonies. But they’re lively songs: you can dance to them.”

“In folk clubs?” I asked.

“We’re too lively for folk clubs,” said Vicky. “We’re pretty upbeat. Not political songs or anything like that.”

“If you listen to old bluegrass and country songs,” said Brian, “they’re miserable songs about death and killing your girlfriend, but they’re cheerfully performed. With us, it’s the harmonies and beat that does it. We’re lively. Our percussion man has got a snare drum, but he’s also got pots and pans and a washboard.”

“We have 30 or 40 original songs,”said Vicky, “about 20 of which we already play regularly at comedy gigs and people like the songs, so we figured: Let’s make an album. But we’ve got no money.”

“You’ve made albums before,” I said.

The Wrinklepickers

The Wrinklepickers – now they are aiming for a £1,000 target

“Yes,” said Vicky, “but they were silly songs. The music wasn’t the most important thing; it was the comedy bits. We could do those at home in our bedroom but this one – because there’s a band…”

“We’re going to do it in somebody else’s bedroom,” said Brian.

“On a farm in Cambridge,” said Vicky. “We’ve started a crowdfunding thing to make at least a demo album. There’s just under two weeks left to go – 19th November.

We have met our first target of £600, but we set the target deliberately low, so now we’re aiming for about £1,000 because that will help us make a proper 10 or 12 song album instead of a demo album with 5 or 6 songs and then 5% or 6% of the profit will go to a music charity for young people.”

“What’s the album called?” I asked.

The Wrinklepickers Album #1,” said Vicky.

“Very appropriate,” I said. “How is Pear Shaped going?”

“We don’t wanna get too big,” laughed Brian.

“You should give out awards,” I said.

“We did have an award winner,” said Brian. It was Seymour Mace.”

“We gave him The Golden Derriere,” said Vicky.

“As in Perrier,” said Brian.

Brian Damage and headstrong Vicky de Lacy this week

Brian & Vicky at Pear Shaped, London, this week

“It was a golden pear,” said Vicky, “with a cut in it so it looked like a little bottom – Pear Shaped – the Golden Derriere Award. I think we gave it the second or third year we were in Edinburgh.”

“You should go up again,” I said.

“The good thing about Edinburgh,” said Brian, “is you bump into people – promoters – accidentally and that means you don’t have to crawl up anybody’s arse. But we haven’t been up there now for a long while.”

“Someone’s arse?” I asked.

“Edinburgh,” said Brian.

“2008 was our last time,” said Vicky.

“Edinburgh?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Vicky.

“The Holyrood Tavern,” said Brian, “was a great venue to run. But that other place we ran up the Cowgate was vile.”

“It was hard to run.” agreed Vicky.

“In 2008,” said Brian, “Edinburgh pissed rain for a whole month.”

“Not only that,” said Vicky. “We had torrents of water coming down inside our venue from The Green Room upstairs because they had a faulty washing machine. So we had all this dirty washing water coming down the back stairs into these enormous bins, so it sounded like a horse pissing when people were on stage.”

“And sewage outside,” said Brian. “It splashed on people as they came in.”

The Cowgate in Edinburgh

The Cowgate in Edinburgh – not really at its best when it rains

“There was a hole in the road,” explained Vicky. “You know how narrow that road is there and they had a little notice, but people kept knocking that over and all the cars kept going into this hole full of sewage water and spraying it up so people coming in to our venue were getting sprayed and you couldn’t put posters out the front because they got soggy. The staff used to go out the front to have cigarettes and get showered with dirty, smelly water. It was just horrible. And the toilets stank in there as well: the men’s toilets especially. The whole place was smelly and wet for the whole month.”

“It was the worst Edinburgh I’d ever had,” said Brian. “The previous year, we had set off from London and the sun was shining. I was in shorts and a flowery shirt and looked like I’d crept off a beach in Spain and we came up over that hill into Edinburgh and we just saw…”

“…all this mist and fog,” said Vicky.

“And we drove down into it,” said Brian.

“And the whole month was like that,” said Vicky. “And then, coming home, the reverse happened. We drove back over the hill and it was all sunny.”

“But it wasn’t as bad as 2008,” said Brian.

“It was great this year,” I said. “You had shit weather in London and I as basking in the sun in Edinburgh.”

“The year the two of us met – 2000,” said Brian, “I didn’t pay to go up. Neil Willis was an agent then. He said: Do you wanna go and compere a show in Edinburgh? And it was great.”

“What’s the point of Pear Shaped?” I asked. “What’s the unique selling proposition?”

“Anybody can do five minutes,” said Vicky. “and anybody watching can stand anybody doing five minutes. You can be as terrible as you like and you still get booked back. Basically, it’s mainly for comics; it’s not for an audience. It’s our night off; we just have a good time.”

Pear Shaped Comedy Club logo

Pear Shaped Comedy Club – the legendary UK comedy venue

“The Pear Shaped shows in Edinburgh were wonderful,” I said. “Comics just coming along to see other comics.”

“The midnight show was brilliant,” agreed Brian. “Any customers who wanted to see it, we charged ‘em and that kept the idiots out. And then the comedians would turn up in various forms of psychological meltdown and tear up on stage. They would either have had a fantastic day, in which case they were really on form. Or a terrible day and they were roaring at everybody and threatening to kill themselves.”

“There was that time,” Vicky reminded him, “when Danny Hurst showed up and he had just been mugged and had had a bad review. Well, someone tried to mug him, but Danny ended up punching the mugger because he was so fed up.”

“He got up on stage…” started Brian.

“…and said…” continued Vicky, “I had to go and report it to the police… And then the police actually turned up at our venue when he was midway telling the story on stage and they carried on the story.”

“The police did?” I asked.

“Well,” said Vicky, “They pulled him to the side and so it all became part of the show. He had punched out this guy, but he had to give himself up to the police for committing Grievous Bodily Harm.”

“I take it,” I said, “that the mugger did not press charges.”

“No,” said Vicky, “the police just said: Well, you shouldn’t go around punching people on the one hand. On the other hand, we understand… We used to get things like that happening. Or people just being completely pissed and getting on stage and trying to do another comedian’s act.”

“I’d like to go up again,” said Brian.

“But it’s the cost,” said Vicky.

“Maybe we should try to crowdfund it,” said Brian.

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The comedian and magician who used to tear his name off publicity photos

Mystery man of comedy Ray Presto on stage at Up The Arts

“The first time I met Ray was in 2004 at a Linda Trayers gig in Kilburn where Russell Brand headlined and only three people turned up,” Paul Ricketts told me yesterday.

“The gig was pulled but, Russell Brand still demanded his money (£100), leaving Linda Trayers in tears. Straightaway, Ray saw his opportunity to console Linda whilst at the same time continually asking for a gig.

“If he fancied and wanted to impress any lady or promoter he would do his ‘£5 of my own money’ trick which did have overtone of bribery when he paid over his ‘Bank Of Presto’ note with his own face printed on it.”

As well as being an excellent comedian, Paul Ricketts runs the Up The Arts comedy club in London (with Verity Welch) and booked Ray Presto regularly. I asked Paul about Ray Presto because, when he died aged 74 last week, Ray was said in an obituary to be a “stalwart of the London open mic circuit” and “a regular at clubs including Pear Shaped and, most notably, the Comedy Store‘s King Gong show, where he would receive decidedly mixed reactions from audiences… He returned time after time to the show – until 2009, when he was asked to stop, after a new booker took over.”

This intrigued me, because I had never seen his act and the phrasehe would receive decidedly mixed reactions from audiences” sounded interesting. Especially when Fix comedy entrepreneur Harry Deansway wrote in the obituary: “Famed for his strange but smart appearance, unique delivery of out-of-date jokes and magic tricks, Ray Presto often left audiences baffled. Was this a well thought-out character act, or a delusional Seventies throwback? Was he in on the joke? ”

Paul Ricketts told me:

“Ray was the last of the line of strange acts that I saw during the mid to late naughties – which included Phil Zimmerman, Joel Elnaugh, Linda Trayers, Persephone Lewin and Bry Nylon. Some of these acts were knowingly playing with the conventions of stand-up, while others could be seen as deluded in their ambitions.”

“Ray,” Paul told me, “stood apart because he did take himself very seriously. Because of his previous incarnation as a magician he felt he had the experience and stagecraft to make it as a comic. Right from the start he aggressively sold himself as a comedy performer.

“He became a monthly fixture at the Comedy Store Gong Show, cleverly realising that his Happy Days Are Here Again intro music took up at least one minute of the five minutes he needed to survive. His material was made up of inoffensive old jokes – the sort you’d find in Christmas crackers – delivered at a pace that would make Stewart Lee sound like fast-talking Adam Bloom. It was this slow, deliberate delivery which made him distinctive and generated much of the laughter.

“But his self-belief meant that he didn’t like to take advice from anyone. Don Ward of the Comedy Store liked Ray, gave him several 10 minutes spots and wanted him to develop his act from old jokes mixed with magic tricks to include more observations about his life and age. Ray, however, was wary of moving in this direction as he didn’t want to reveal too much about himself. Instead he tried to add more ‘racy’ material – notably a joke about underage sex – which led to him being immediately ‘gonged off’ at the Comedy Store.”

Anthony Miller of Pear Shaped remembers that Ray “became so successful at the Comedy Store that they had to ban him from the gong as he was undermining the object of the Gong Show – to be cold, intimidating and unwelcoming. He told me he didn’t understand why they stopped him doing the gong and seemed a bit put out by it and so I suggested to him that probably someone like him making it ‘human’ was undermining it a bit and that he shouldn’t let that undermine any relationship he had built up with them if they still gave him gigs. To which he replied That is very deep.”

Paul Ricketts tells me Ray was very ambitious, but would hand out publicity photos of himself with the corner torn off, presumably because they were old photographs and had his real name printed on them.

“He was as impatient as any younger comic about his progression in stand-up,” Paul says, “He would badger people for gigs and hand out leaflets and photos to any and everyone. Once he’d been on or turned up at a gig hoping to get on, Ray would heckle some acts by falling asleep in the front two rows. Not only would this disconcert those on stage, it would disconcert the audience who would be scared to wake him up as they weren’t sure if Ray was dead or alive. In any event ‘falling asleep’ would ensure that Ray became the centre of attention.

“Despite me asking Ray many times,” Paul told me, “he wasn’t forthcoming about his past – all he ever said was that he was a magician from Hull.”

Harry Deansway reveals that Ray moved from Hull to London in 2002 “with the aim of getting more work as a writer, but struggled to get published. Off stage, he was a committed atheist and hedonist, having published a book in 1972 called Choose Your Pleasurea collection of essays on the pros and cons of hedonism and self-indulgence. Off the back of this he got regular writing work as a columnist in Penthouse magazine, which he contributed to under his real name David Shaw… Although he will be remembered by many on the circuit, it will not be for what he wanted to be remembered for – as a serious writer.”

Paul Ricketts adds: “I had some political conversations with him and he was a libertarian in the way that he instinctively distrusted Government, especially the tax authorities. This could explain the occasion when he asked to perform his magic act at a children’s centre but changed his mind when he was asked to give his bank account details and undergo a Criminal Records Bureau check.

“On another occasion, he asked me how he could open a bank account under his stage name so he could avoid paying tax.

“All I really knew about Ray was that he had an eye for the ladies, he was ambitious to do well in stand-up and he seemed to have enough money to annually spend the winter months in Thailand and showed me pictures of himself strolling through Thai food markets wearing Bermuda shorts.”

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A very Irish police officer encounters and gives advice to Tofu Love Frogs

Al Mandolino, resident musician at the always-quirky weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London, read my blog yesterday about Ireland and e-mailed me:

It’s jogged a fond memory from when I toured Ireland in a punk folk band called Tofu Love Frogs.

One summer’s night after a particularly riotous gig in Dublin I was driving an old VW camper full of ‘colourful characters’ through the city centre. Our drummer in the passenger seat was being very loud and animated with bongos, hanging out of his window and shouting stuff.

We stopped at a red light.

A motorbike drew up along my side.

The Garda officer stood up on it and his helmeted head filled my open window, inching into the van, sniffing.

“Have you been drinking?” he inquired.

“No,” was all I could manage.

“Good,” he said. “If you do, don’t let him sit in the front. He draws attention to you.”

Then he left.

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The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005

I wrote this article for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s magazine UK Writer in 2005.

With this year’s Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, it might be of interest.

Though plus ça change.

_________________________________________________________________________________

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.

In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.

The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.

I run his website – www.malcolmhardee.co.uk – and I am currently available for work via my website – www.thejohnfleming.com.

This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.

Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.

It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?

I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”

Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.

This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.

Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.

Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.

They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.

The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.

Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.

Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.

Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.

So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.

It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.

One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.

She handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture – the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the Fringe.

As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.

“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.

At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”

A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.

“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”

“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.

She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.

“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”

Janey Godley’s website is www.janeygodley.com

My website is www.thejohnfleming.com

We are both available.

This is the Fringe.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Well, that was the Fringe in 2005.

The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.

The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.

Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.

At the Fringe, publicity is all-important.

Remember the wise advice of Max Bialystock.

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

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In praise of the Daily Telegraph and Pear Shaped Comedy Club’s quirkiness

To start at the end of this blog and to reply to your reaction…

Look.

It’s my blog. I am allowed to witter.

So, for fans of Tristram Shandy

Brian Damage and Krysstal’s weekly Pear Shaped comedy club has been running in London’s West End for eleven years. Brian and Krysstal promote it as “the second worst comedy club in London”. I prefer to call Pear Shaped the Daily Telegraph of British open spot comedy clubs.

Let me explain.

When I blogged about last weekend’s six-hour event celebrating the anarchic life of Ian Hinchliffe, I did not mention that I told ex-ICA Director of Live Arts Lois Keidan about my admiration for Bernard Manning as a comic, Margaret Thatcher as a Parliamentary debater and the Daily Telegraph as a newspaper. I do not think she was impressed with this triple whammy.

But – in addition to my love of quirky Daily Telegraph obituaries in their golden era under Hugh Massingberd and their sadly now-dropped legendary Page Three oddities – I think the Daily Telegraph is the only actual national NEWSpaper left. All the others are, in effect, magazines with ‘think’ pieces and additional background to yesterday’s TV news.

But the Daily Telegraph prints a high quantity of short news reports and (outside of election times) maintains an old-fashioned Fleet Street demarcation between News and Comment. The news reporting is, mostly, unbiased straight reportage; the comment is what non-Telegraph readers might expect.

They have also consistently displayed an admiration for rebels.

The Daily Telegraph – perhaps moreso the Sunday Telegraph – always showed an interest in and admiration for comedian Malcolm Hardee. They loved quirky MP Alan Clark, though they disapproved of his sexual amorality. The Daily Telegraph even surprisingly championed early Eminem. When the red-top tabloids were claiming his music and his act were the end of Western Civilization, the Daily Telegraph reviewed his first UK tour as being in the great tradition of British pantomime.

I once met a Daily Telegraph sub-editor at a party who hated working at the paper for exactly the same reason I loved reading it. People would yell across the room at him: “Give me a three-inch story!” not caring what the actual story was.

So the Daily Telegraph ended up with an amazing quantity of news stories, often not fully explained because they had been cut short.

I remember reading on a classic Page Three of the old Daily Telegraph, a brief court report about a man accused of scaring lady horse-riders by leaping out of hedges in country lanes dressed in a full frogman’s outfit, including flippers, goggles and breathing tube. That was, pretty much, the whole news item. If ever a story needed more background printed, this was it.

The Pear Shaped Comedy club is a bit like the Daily Telegraph in that it is an extraordinary hodge-podge of fascinating items apparently thrown together randomly but somehow holding together as a recognisable whole with its own personality. Quirky, eccentric and barely under control. Last night, in addition to the consistently good and massively under-praised Brian Damage & Krysstal themselves, the show included increasingly-highly-thought-of Stephen Carlin, rising new comics Laurence Tuck and Phillip Wragg and very new but intriguing Samantha Hannah.

And then there was long-time comic, club owner, compere, comedy craftsman and humour guru Ivor Dembina. He had come down to try out some new material as he is performing in four shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, including the fascinatingly unformatted Ivor’s Other Show. He told me:

“I might just invite on people I’ve met in the street. Anything that takes my fancy.” Then he added, “Do you want to come on it one afternoon, John? Can you do anything?”

“No,” Pear Shaped co-owner Vicky de Lacey correctly interrupted, “he can write but he can’t actually do anything.”

But that never stopped Little and Large, so I may yet appear on Ivor’s Other Show, perhaps as a human statue. There is, inevitably, a ‘living statue’ resource page on the internet.

We live in wonderful times.

I refer you to the start of this blog.

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A classic comedy venue + extraordinary news of an unknown comedy legend

It is very sad that, the last couple of years, Brian Damage and Krysstal have not been running their Pear Shaped venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. It was always a heady mix of the talented and the eccentric with their own late-night Pear Shaped shows reserved for occasionally gobsmackingly odd acts.

Last night, Brian Damage told me they had stopped “because it had become a job. It wasn’t fun any more.”

They – or, rather, Pear Shaped’s glamorous éminence auburn Vicky de Lacey – had an extraordinary track record of talent spotting good acts for the Pear Shaped venue in Edinburgh, climaxing with Wil Hodgson winning the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 2004 and Laura Solon winning the main Perrier comedy award in 2005.

I was at the weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London’s Fitzrovia last night – the grand daddy of Open Mic nights – and it was, as ever, eclectic.

Co-host Anthony Miller managed to define a typical Pear Shaped evening by explaining: “It’s like the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme – sometimes people die, but that’s not the intention.”

Anthony Miller can do no wrong in my eyes because of his enthusiasm for the brilliant US OCD detective series Monk which I make no apologies for having blogged in January was “the most consistently funny situation comedy currently screening on British television”. Last night, Anthony was beaming with happiness when he asked me if I had seen the final episode of Monk which, indeed, I had: a triumph of quirky humour. Which is something that can also be said of Pear Shaped though without the hand wipes and obsessive cleanliness.

The attraction of Brian Damage & Krysstal’s weekly club is that there is no visible quality control. It is a true open spot evening. Two or three may die; others may be brilliant.

Intermingled in last night’s line-up of thirteen (unlucky for some, lucky for others) were a couple of extremely dodgy acts plus a couple of surprisingly strong acts which had only been performing for two months and for one year. But also on the bill were the strongly up-and-coming Sanderson Jones and – amazing – the overwhelmingly original and always brightly-attired Robert White, winner of the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality. He was trying out new material and there is almost nowhere better to do that than Pear Shaped with its heady mix of ‘real’ audience and comedians watching other comedians.

The most extraordinary thing last night, though, was kept until the end, when Anthony Miller and plucky Al Mandolino told me that eternal open spot legend and anti-comic Jimbo has a new character called Tony Bournemouth and is going to unleash it/himself on an unsuspecting and entirely innocent Edinburgh Fringe audience in a 30-minute show this August.

Al and Anthony told me they thought Jimbo’s Tony Bournemouth incarnation might turn out to be the dark horse at this year’s Fringe.

Mmmmmm…….

Jimbo has been on the London comedy circuit for around twenty years and remains triumphantly unknown except by aficionados of seriously bizarre comedy.

But he is appearing as Tony Bournemouth at Pear Shaped in Fitzrovia either in a fortnight or possibly next week. Pear Shaped is ever unpredictable.

And THIS I have to see.

It could be another triumph for Brian Damage and Krysstal, eternal purveyors of unexpected and occasionally under-appreciated acts to the comedy world.

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