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What sort of creative creature is comic Dominic Holland, father of Spider-man?

What is Dominic Holland? 

A writer of books? A stand-up comedian? The father of Spider-man?

Yes to all three.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, an anthology of original writing by comedians which I compiled and edited with Malcolm Hardee. That’s the self-promotion over.

I thought I would talk to Dominic about his latest novel without ever mentioning his son Tom Holland – the current Marvel (soon to be Sony) movies’ Spider-man.

I failed.



“You encounter a homeless person and…”

JOHN: So, you have written five novels… and the latest, I, Gabriel, published a month ago, is about what?

DOMINIC: I have always been very exercised by homelessness. I have lived in London all my life. I used to do the Comedy Store and walk down Charing Cross Road and down The Strand and see homeless people and would give them money.

But I have a thing about hygiene. If I shake a homeless person’s hand, I start to panic. I would rather not touch them. I’m not ashamed of that. That’s just how I am. If you have no washing facilities, you’ve probably got excrement and all sorts of detritus all over your hands.

I thought: What happens if you encounter a homeless person, you shake their hand and they insist on sharing a meal with you. You don’t want to eat their sandwich, but you have to and you contract a food poisoning and it keeps you off a doomed air flight. Wouldn’t that be a great starting point for a drama? That idea has been in my head for 20 years and that’s the kernel of the story. Then I designed a character who had everything and I wanted him to have an epiphany.

The epiphany for Gabriel is that he is a man of vast success and vast wealth but actually has nothing.

It’s a 3-act book. The First Act is fleshing out his character. He is an unpleasant man. He is a very highly-paid, successful surgeon. A very rarified man, very bright. But he is lost to greed. Then he has this epiphany. He realises his life has been a sham, really. And then something rather extraordinary happens in the Third Act.

Where I am most happy abiout is that nobody – but nobody – has seen the ending coming.

JOHN: You are a Christian.

DOMINIC: Habitually. All my life I’ve been a Catholic. Big Catholic family. I have four aunts who are nuns, two uncles who are priests. My whole tradition growing up was going to mass. My boys were brought up Catholic and I like belonging to a Church. I like a feeling of belonging. I belong to the comedy circuit; I belong to the Catholic Church. But my faith, I’m afraid, is not terribly… erm… vivid. I like the punctuation of mass. I go to mass two Sundays in four. I use it as a chance to just sit there and reflect on my good fortune and what I hope to do for the rest of my little time on this mortal coil.

JOHN: Your boys were brought up Catholic…

DOMINIC: Yes. Four boys.

JOHN: What does your wife do?

DOMINIC: She’s a photographer, but she’s now giving that up to run a charity we started: The Brothers Trust. 

It has been going about 18 months/two years. We didn’t want to call it The Tom Holland Foundation. He has the platform to attract money, but we thought it might seem a little bit narcissistic and narrow because Tom’s brothers are involved.

The Brothers Trust family – The brothers Holland (left-right) Sam, Tom, Paddy and Harry with parents Dominic & Nikki

Using Tom’s cachet, we put events on and all the money we get in – less the transactional costs and the charitable costs in America – you have to employ American firms to administer them – all the money WE get, we then distribute to various charities. Our own remit is to give money to charities that struggle to be heard. Not to the big charities. To small charities and charities without the big administrative costs. We don’t personally want to support charities that have got vast numbers of people flying all over the world.

For example, we have built a hostel in India through The John Foundation, who basically take off the streets girls who have been trafficked and this very virtuous doctor and his wife house the girls and train them to become beauticians or overlockers. They get security and a skill and they’re also now making our Brothers Trust T-shirts which we are planning to sell and money from that will go to other causes we want to support.

We also support a charity in Kibera, Kenya, called Lunchbowl – they feed kids every day; we have bought them two 40-seater buses to take kids from the slums to-and-from school.

We support a charity in Britain called Debra which looks after kids with EB (Epidermolysis Bullosa), a pernicious disease where your skin is effectively like tissue paper – there’s 5,000 people in the UK with it. It’s the same number of people with cystic fibrosis, but no-one’s ever heard of it

JOHN: You have also written a book about Tom: EclipsedWhat’s the elevator pitch for that?

“For me, the story was perfectly-formed…”

DOMINIC: It’s the story of how a young boy is spotted inadvertently, finds himself dancing on the West End stage whilst his dad is doing comedy gigs in village halls… That kid goes on to become a movie star and his old man is still playing the same clubs he was 20 years ago.

JOHN: “Spotted inadvertently”? 

DOMINIC: Tom was spotted at a local YMCA disco dancing class and he ended up playing the lead in Billy Eliot in the West End… As I say in Eclipsed, it’s a fluke. The whole thing has been a fluke. A happy fluke.

JOHN: You say ‘village halls’, but you did play places like the Comedy Store in London.

DOMINIC: Yes but, John, you know and I know that, back in the day, I was mooted as one of the ‘Next Big Things’ – and it didn’t happen. And there’s no rancour on my part. I performed at the Comedy Store last weekend and I’m proud to be on that stage because a lot of my mates from my generation aren’t doing it any more. The fact that I’m still being booked to go on last at The Comedy Store means you’ve got chops. I would love to have made it. I didn’t. But, for the book, it’s a perfect juxtaposition. For me, the story was perfectly-formed.

My first novel Only in America was spawned from selling a screenplay. I did a gig in 1995 in Cleethorpes. Didn’t get paid. Long way. I was on the train coming home to London, cold. I had already won the Perrier Award as Best Newcomer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993, I had been on television, I was becoming well-known. So I thought: This is rubbish! I can’t keep going to Cleethorpes for no money. I’m going to write a film.

So I wrote a film and sold it to Norma Heyman, who is the mother of David Heyman – He produced all the Harry Potter films. Norma Heyman’s husband John was a big-shot producer. 

Norma Hayman said to me: “You are the new Frank Capra.”

JOHN: Wow!

DOMINIC: I didn’t even know who Frank Capra was. I had to look him up. But I had these very exciting meetings in Soho and, over the next two or two-and-a-half years, I sold that script two or three times and then it fell over. But that story inspired my first novel Only in America.

Dominic Holland in Soho, London, last week

I then sold Only in America to the BBC and to Hollywood film producers. I went to Los Angeles and had meetings with Big Time agents who said: “This is great! We’re gonna make your movie! Frank Oz was going to direct; Bette Midler was going to be in it… And then it fell over.

So, when Tom started on his journey in the West End, it was a funny story in my head… When he was cast in his first movie (The Impossible, 2012) and was long-listed for an Oscar… THAT for me was a perfect story, because I had tried and failed and Tom was succeeding.

So I end the story on a Los Angeles red carpet with Tom being long-listed for an Oscar and I thought: Well, that’s a hilarious story. I had been spending all this energy trying to make it as a writer and become a new Richard Curtis and, with no problem at all, my boy was going: Dad! Watch! Over here! and making it…!

I finished the book when he was 16 and, since then, he has become a proper movie star.

I didn’t get films made. It’s a small nut to crack and most people don’t crack it and I am one of that ‘most’. But, being one of the ‘most’ and having failed, I was then presented with a beautiful piece of storytelling. Here’s my failed efforts to make it in Hollywood and then here’s my bloody son, with no efforts, BOOM!… and I’m thrilled.

People say to me: “Are you jealous?” and I think: Well, if you think that, you don’t know who I am.”

JOHN: Fuck me, well I’m jealous but, then, he’s not my son…

(BELOW, TOM HOLLAND, PROMOTING SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME IN BALI, AS VIDEOED BY HIS BROTHER HARRY HOLLAND)

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My Comedy Taste. Part 4: There was a Scots woman, a Jew and a dead writer

Here is the final part of my conversation with comedy festival judge and linguist Louisette Stodel which took place in London’s Soho Theatre Bar one afternoon back in 2017.

I think Louisette was impressed by and appreciative of the insights I shared with her…


JOHN: Janey Godley is interesting… You know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

JOHN: The Perrier Award judges individually went to see her show and it was not until they sat down together to discuss possible nominees that they realised they had all seen her perform totally different shows because she was making it up every night. Stories from her life. Very very funny. But different hour-long shows every night.

There was a big discussion about whether she was eligible for the Award. Some people were keen to nominate her but the rules were that you were nominated for performing ‘a show’ and what she was doing was not the same, single show every night. She was, it could be and was argued, simply chatting to the audience.

She was making up a different hour-long show every night for maybe 28 nights on the trot. Utterly brilliant and much more impressive than doing the same show every night. But, because it was NOT the same basic show every night, eventually, it was decided she was ineligible and she was not nominated for the Perrier.

LOUISETTE:  That’s exactly what you were talking about earlier, in a sense.

Janey Godley in Glasgow at Children In Need Rocks Scotland

JOHN: Yes. And, as far as I know, to this day, years later, Janey has never scripted a Fringe comedy show in her life. You get roughly the same show each year now – a different show every year – but she plays it by ear.

I remember once in London walking up Dean Street with her to the Soho Theatre for a supposed ‘preview’ of her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show and she told me not only did she not know exactly which stories would be in the show; she did not know what her opening line would be.

She maybe had twelve or fifteen or eighteen basic unscripted stories and could fit maybe five or six into an hour-long show, but there was no script and no pre-decided running order. And the show was brilliantly funny. Now THAT is talent. THAT I admire.

LOUISETTE: How does she end her shows on time?

JOHN: Well, I know one year she did have one climactic prepared story and it lasted exactly nine minutes. It wasn’t scripted, but it was structured tightly. So she had the sound technician at the back of the audience flash a torch exactly ten minutes from the end of her scheduled time and, whatever she was saying at that point, she would get seamlessly into the start of the final story and, every night, she would finish to within about 30 seconds of her scheduled end-time – every night. Brilliant.

LOUISETTE: So what excites you is seeing unique shows.

JOHN: Well yes. I like Lewis Schaffer shows, of course. The ultimate in unpredictable rollercoaster shows.

LOUISETTE: You prefer the uneven acts.

JOHN: Yes. Well, sort of. Janey’s shows are not uneven – they are uniformly funny and smooth, but they are not tightly pre-planned. She’s just a great, great storyteller.

LOUISETTE: Slick?

JOHN: Smooth. She has great audience control. But, in general – Janey is an exception – I prefer rollercoaster acts. And maybe, for that reason, I prefer newer acts. 

LOUISETTE: Lewis Schaffer is not a new act.

JOHN: OK. I prefer newer acts OR wildly unpredictable acts.

LOUISETTE: And Lewis Schaffer is dependably unpredictable.

“He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could… become a TV success” (Photograph by Garry Platt)

JOHN: To say the least. Sometimes he will, from nowhere, just go off on a complete tangent and come up with wonderful original stuff.

I like seeing unexpected, brilliant stuff coming from nowhere.

Lewis Schaffer is never going to get success as a TV comic. Not as a stand-up. He doesn’t fit the mould. But he could, like and unlike Johnny Vegas, become a TV success through personality.

In his case, I think he would be a good presenter of documentaries because he has all these bizarre angles. He has a Wikipedia mind: he knows a little about a lot.

LOUISETTE: He’s also very funny on his Facebook page. But what is it about Lewis Schaffer specifically on stage? OK, he’s unpredictable; he’s up-and-down; he has great ideas…

JOHN: If you see him once, you might think it’s a shambles but, if you see him five times in a row, you get addicted.

LOUISETTE: The first time I saw him, his show was brilliant.

JOHN: Is this the My girlfriend had a penis show?

LOUISETTE: Yes.

JOHN: Now that WAS a show!

LOUISETTE: Friends of mine who recommended him told me: “See this guy. You never know what’s going to happen…”

JOHN: Yeah.

LOUISETTE: …and it wasn’t like that.

JOHN: Not that show. It actually had a structure. I nearly fell off my seat with shock because it was a ‘real’ structured show.

Certainly, with Lewis Schaffer, you see the real person. You can’t bloody avoid it. With him, the attraction is the unpredictability and the flashes of genuine left-field insight. He’s the definitive rollercoaster.

LOUISETTE: …which excites you because you don’t know what’s going to happen?

JOHN: Yes.

Not relevant: L’Ange du Foyer ou le Triomphe du Surréalisme by Max Ernst, 1937;

LOUISETTE: You like amazing stuff coming from nowhere. I had been going to ask you if it is the writing, the performance or the delivery that gets you excited, but it’s actually none of those things.

JOHN: Well, ‘writing’ is maybe not the right word. It can be. But it’s something coming from the laterally-thinking recesses of the brain.

LOUISETTE: So with someone like Ross Noble, where you know it’s going to be a little bit unpredictable but you also know that he’s probably going to make it all come good, does that make it less interesting because it’s less dangerous?

JOHN: No. You can make something become good through talent.

LOUISETTE: So it’s the creation ‘in the moment’. You like seeing things happen ‘in the moment;’.

JOHN: Probably, yes. I like to be surprised by where something goes. It’s like a good twist in a film.

LOUISETTE: The unexpected. We are back to that. Tales of the Unexpected.

JOHN: Yes. The unexpected. Someone said the other day that I look like Roald Dahl. I don’t think this is a compliment. Do I look like Roald Dahl?

I sign some random books for a few of my appreciative blog readers in Amsterdam, in October 1988.
(Photograph by Rob Bogaerts / Anefo)

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Juggling countries with music and comedy globetrotter Paul Morocco

Paul Morocco on Skype from Australia

Paul Morocco, possibly jet-lagged  on Skype from Australia

Paul Morocco can be quite difficult to get hold of.

We almost talked when he was in Dubai. This morning, I got hold of him on Skype when he had just arrived in Fremantle, Australia. Soon he is off to Thailand.

‘Thailand would just be a holiday,” he told me, “but, in the last few weeks, we have a new US agent who is more of a Variety agent and he has a friend in Thailand who has a TV station and radio station. Then there’s another friend who’s a magician who has been telling me about Thailand. They are starting a community there and want to attract other performers. They’re farming, fishing, getting water from under the ground and have a bigger plan of mixing scientists, artists. So I’m going to see that. Then I go to Moscow – I’ve got a gig on the 20th. Then we do a run in Berlin.”

How do I know Paul? I booked him on the Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV show on Channel 4 in 1987. At least, I think I did. I’m fairly sure I booked him for two different series on different channels, but I can’t quite remember – Look, I have always had a notoriously eccentric memory and it was last century sometime.

‘If you did get me the Jonathan Ross,’ Paul told me, “that was like a career-changing gig for me. I remember I had an octopad where I spit the ping-pong balls onto it and I had a guy with a keyboard and… Yeah… Those are the days I really relish, because I was solo. I do some solo gigs still, but I can’t imagine how I did it – going out there alone.”

Paul started as a solo juggler, then formed a musical variety trio called Olé with which he still tours.

There are clips of Olé videos on YouTube.

“How did you transform from being a solo act?” I asked.

“I went from solo to duo to Olé. We started after the first London Mime Festival in 1990.”

He appeared at the London Mime Festival in a show he had created called Paul Morocco and the EC Big Band – with Bill Bailey and Alessandro Bernardi, the latter known to comedy cognoscenti as the opera singer who used to sing Nessun Dorma, nude except for his Davy Crocket hat, at the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday parties.

“Showbiz is in your family background?” I asked Paul.

“No. I’m from Virginia. My mum was from Morocco – Moroccan Jewish – and my dad’s from New Orleans – a country Southerner. Divorced. I thought it was a normal middle class family but, as I got older, I realised we were a bit quirky. My mother was definitely really ‘out there’, like a gypsy lady.

Ole! Paul’s family life was not like this

Olé! – Paul’s ‘straight’ family life was not like this in Virginia?

“My dad was a US Navy boy. He looked a bit like Harry Connick Jr.

“They fell in love. And, back then, my mum was Miss Casablanca and, as she used to tell us, she was going with the richest Jewish man in Casablanca and then I met your son-of-a-bitch father.”

“An interesting family background,” I said. “And now you are eternally touring and eternally on jet-lag and making lots of money…”

“It should be like that,” Paul told me. “It should be comfortable. But, to be honest… Do you want the full story or soundbites?”

“I like fulls,” I said.

“My brothers were in business,” Paul started, “and didn’t speak for five or six years. They’re both dead now. I have one other brother still alive.”

“What business were your two other brothers in?” I asked.

“One brother,” explained Paul, “had a security company and a limousine company. He bought real estate and he eventually even set up a gay club called Offshore Drilling in Myrtle Beach. I went to Myrtle Beach for two years, trying street performing, going to university and the performing thing was a big step for someone coming from my background because there was nobody in the arts in my family.

“When I became a street performer, I got really really happy. I’d got in touch with my bohemian roots and it’s insecure but I felt I was alive. Every day there were little pockets of people you would meet. I travelled. I lived out of a van.

“In New Orleans, I met José, a street performer and painter who had become a bit of a prolific writer – he’s gone the more university way since. He told me about Europe and we went straight to Covent Garden in London. Three months. Then we travelled Europe. Did Copenhagen, Munich, Paris, Lucerne. That was my exciting new life, my new frontier. And then I went back to America, got depressed, ran out of money. So I went back to Europe.

Paul Morocco: Sophistication in entertainment.

Paul Morocco is now wanted worldwide

“Everything was moving along quite nicely, then my brother got colon cancer in 1993. We had done the Edinburgh Fringe twice – this is Olé. The first time, everyone expected it to be good, but the show wasn’t quite ready, though it got better near the end.

“The second year, the show was better but they’d already seen us.

“Then the third year, for some reason, everything was going brilliantly. The press was more interested; the show was better; the Perrier Award Panel were having a look at the show as a potential for the Award. I never thought I was in that kind of league – they tend not to like ‘skill’ stuff – but it was about 8 or 9 days in, going very well.

“And then I got the call that my brother was going to pass away at any time. I felt like this was a pinnacle moment and it wasn’t a difficult decision but it was a dramatic one. I had to go back. So I did this crazy dash from Edinburgh to Glasgow to New York to Virginia and I was writing a diary and I remember my handwriting getting scribblier and scribblier as I got closer and I was getting more panicky because there was this edge that, at any minute, he could die.

“He was like my dad in a way because, when our parents had divorced, he had taken over the role of the father, which was difficult for him because I think he was repressing a lot of stuff – he liked men but, in those days especially, he had to keep it right under cover and here he was playing a macho father role. He looked a bit like Tom Selleck in Magnum PI.

“When I got there, at the airport, someone was waiting for me and they drove me at 100 mph to the hospital and, when I got there, there were about 50 people just sitting outside it – he was a dynamic, positive-thinking person who connected lots of people.

“It took eight days for him to pass away and he left me as heir to all his assets.

“I inherited a global security company and all these properties, but his soulmate – a girlfriend, an angel who looked after him in his last year – turned into a Cruella de Vil and I didn’t fight it, I didn’t get a lawyer. She got a lawyer. I was back in Europe performing. I was being this clown in Europe, making 25 Deutschmarks and I had like $1½ million in America. but I saw it like blood diamond money. There was something negative about the whole thing.

Paul with his daughter Rosie in Australia

Paul and film-making daughter Rosie in Australia this month

“I did get a chunk of the money eventually, but it was mostly spent going back and forth and, actually, I spent it on art. I tried some new ideas and bought bigger props and did some tours and stuff. I got established, encouraged my daughter: she went to private school. I did all those things and, funnily enough, she’s just arriving now. My daughter. She’s filming the festival here. At university, she got an award for her documentary about street performing and about the right for public access to self-expression and how they’re clamping down on performers.”

“So, are you going to just circle the world forever?” I asked.

“Basically,” Paul told me, “I’m not sitting on a wealthy situation. I’ve come back to my true spirit. I’m a natural bohemian. It was never about the money because I had the money and it didn’t make me happier.

“At one time, I had these two lives… living an earthed life in Chertsey, near London, and this other crazy life where you put the mask on, you’re flying, you have the ego… then you come back and you’re earthed. That has kinda gone away and I am essentially homeless now. I got divorced – well, we got separated five years ago – and I don’t have a base any more – I have some bases – mainly Barcelona and London.

“But I’ve got used to this motion – always travelling. It becomes its own culture. Literally like physics, metaphysics. Things are flashing past you all the time. That crazy part I used to have has become the normal part. it’s become a way of life. But I’m not really satisfied with what I’ve done yet.”

Paul’s daughter Rosie Baker-Williams’ video, Beggars With a Gimmick is on Vimeo.

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How do you win an increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award?

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection near Edinburgh

Every August at the Edinburgh Fringe, I give away three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the godfather of British alternative comedy. One of these is a Cunning Stunt Award for the best stunt publicising a Fringe show or act.

And every year, around this time, people ask me for the definition of Cunning.

Well, non-cunning stunts are easy to think up. You can walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh wearing a read nose and handing out flyers.

That is a stunt but is in no way cunning.

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Last year, the Cunning Stunt Award went to comedian Christian Talbot and his 12 year-old daughter Kate.

Cute Kate would wander around the streets outside Christian’s venue looking sad and distraught, go up to strangers and say plaintively: “Have you seen my daddy?”

When they replied in the negative, she would tell them: “Well, you should, because Kate Copstick of The Scotsman says he’s an engaging performer” and give them a flyer.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer – a man not unused to cunning publicity stunts

In 2009 – a year when Perrier stopped sponsoring some other less increasingly prestigious awards – Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release which fooled several publications into printing stories (which they believed) saying he was taking over sponsorship of the awards for £99 and was re-naming them The Lewies. This resulted in a threat of legal action from the awards’ organiser and his agent sacked him. But he did win the Cunning Stunt Award, so it wasn’t all gloom and doom..

The Award started in 2008 when performer Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, if she nominated herself in the email, she could justifiably put on her posters: MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She thought Malcolm would have approved. I agreed and gave her the first Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

One of Malcolm’s own cunning stunts at the Fringe, of course, was the year when he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s own show and put it in a tray at The Scotsman under the name of that august publication’s own reviewer William Cook. The Scotsman printed it, thinking it was a legitimate review.

Bob Slayer & Kate Copstick exchange specs & tongues yesterday

Bob Slayer found another way to influence  Kate Copstick

Another legendary stunt was the year Scotsman critic Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge) gave comedian Jason Wood’s show a 1-star review. He immediately plastered his posters and flyers with the strapline: “A STAR” – THE SCOTSMAN.

These are definitive cunning stunts.

Last year (or it might have been two years ago – I have a shit memory) an act publicised his show by having lots of ginger haired people march through Glasgow.

I got a vitriolic letter later from a PR man berating me for not nominating this for the Cunning Stunt Award because the stunt had got worldwide press and TV coverage.

But it was not in any way a cunning stunt. It was just a stunt – and a little odd as it happened in Glasgow. It was no different to walking up and down the Royal Mile wearing a red nose. There was no con involved.

In 2013, Barry Ferns rightly won the Cunning Stunt Award for a series of stunts including publishing fake editions of Edinburgh Fringe review sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks publicising his own show, but we sort-of gave a second award (which we called the Pound of Flesh Award) to Ellis & Rose.

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising?

Comic Ellis was prepared to do anything for publicity…

Ellis had been beaten-up in the street by a punter angry about the duo’s Jimmy Savile comedy show.

Except it never happened. In fact, Ellis’ comedy partner Rose had repeatedly punched him in the face to give him a bruised cheek and genuine black eye… all to get a few inches of column space publicising themselves and their shows.

Like Lewis Schaffer doing a stunt in 2009 which lost him his agent, this seemed commendably OTT in stunt terms. And definitely cunning.

All this comes to mind because, a couple of weeks ago, Simon Caine invited me to be on his Ask The Industry podcast in the mistaken belief that I am increasingly prestigious in the comedy world and that he might get a Cunning Stunt Award for setting up a podcast solely so he could plug himself to allegedly influential people.

Previous interviewees had included Julian Hall (former comedy reviewer for the Independent and former Malcolm Hardee Awards judge), Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse comedy clubs and Edinburgh Free Festival) and Hils Jago (of the Amused Moose clubs and Comedy Awards).

Simon Caine Podcast

Simon Caine has another cunning idea – interviewing clothes

I told Simon that, if you set up a podcast simply to plug yourself to the people you invite on it, that is a commendable stunt but not a cunning stunt.

It would only be a cunning stunt if you invited people to the podcast recording, spoke to them for an hour and actually there was no podcast.

Sadly, he has scuppered his chances because there is a (very good) ongoing series of podcasts.

He has suggested he can get round this by never uploading the podcast with me or by not uploading it until September – after the Fringe has finished – but I am currently not convinced.

Watch this space.

This year, Ellis & Rose already have a cunning stunt up-and-running. I have told them, if they can keep it going successfully until August without anyone noticing, I will nominate them for a Cunning Stunt Award (provided they actually do use it in August to publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show).

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Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – Why? How?

The bad news is that, every year around this time, I fear nobody will do any publicity stunt that is award-worthy by the end of August. The good news is that every year so far, somebody has.

The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting an act or a show at the Edinburgh Fringe was created in 2008 specifically because comedian Gill Smith sent me an e-mail halfway through the Fringe nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

She said she was writing to me nominating herself because then she could then legitimately put on her flyers and posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE even though we had not nominated her.

She said she thought Malcolm would have approved.

I had to agree that he would have.

So I started the annual Cunning Stunt Award and Gill won it. We felt we had to give it to her before she awarded it to herself.

In 2009, the award-winner was fairly obvious even before the Fringe started.

The Perrier Awards had lost their Perrier sponsorship in 2006, then got sponsored by Intelligent Finance who, for one year, called them the unwieldily-named if.comeddies then, for two years, called them the if.comedy Awards and then Intelligent Finance removed their sponsorship possibly because of utter confusion over the name, possibly because of world financial meltdown or possibly because everyone still called them “the former Perrier Awards” anyway, so the publicity value to Intelligent Finance was zero. Personally, I had always called the new awards The Iffies.

So, in 2009, the awards were looking around for new sponsors.

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer – always an original thinker – issued a press release to the media saying he was now sponsoring the awards for £99, they would be called “The Lewies” in his honour and his mother and agent would be on the judging panel but this would not mean he had any undue likelihood of winning. He issued this spoof press release under the name Nika Burns (the former Perrier Awards were/are run by Nica Burns).

A couple of publications actually fell for this stunt and printed the spoof as fact and, even more ridiculously, Nica Burns’ lawyers threatened to sue Lewis for defamation because his ‘Nika Burns’ press release had made slighting reference to the French and Nica did not dislike the French. Lewis also got ‘sacked’ by his own agent for the spoof.

Nica’s lawyers demanded an apology, which Lewis duly gave them in writing. It included the sentences:

“Lewis Schaffer wants to make it clear that Nica Burns had absolutely nothing to do with the press release sent on June 6th, 2009 from ‘Nika Burns’, it was entirely created by Lewis Schaffer. Nica Burns did not say she ‘gladly accepted his offer of £99 a year for sponsorship’ of what had previously been called the ‘Perrier Awards’. Anyone knowing Lewis Schaffer knows he couldn’t come up with that kind of cash… Lewis Schaffer’s only defence was that his ‘press release’ was created to publicise his Edinburgh Fringe show -‘Lewis Schaffer – Bigger and Blacker’ – running August 6 to 30 in the Ballroom of The Counting House, behind the Pleasance Dome.”

This apology, written under legal threat, was also issued as a press release and admirably managed to include (for a second time) his Fringe show’s name, dates, venue name and location. A neat trick, even if he did lose his agent.

So there was really no serious doubt about who would win the 2009 Cunning Stunt Award, which Lewis eventually did.

Last year, again, the award was almost in the bag before the Fringe began – again through the misdirected actions of the former Perrier Awards.

By now, those eternally-named “former Perrier Awards” had managed to get Fosters lager as a sponsor. The Perrier Awards had started in 1981, so 2010 was their 30th anniversary. Fosters had the bright idea of pretending they had been associated with the awards for somewhat longer than they had by mounting a campaign “Fosters Edinburgh Comedy Awards – Celebrating 30 years as the unofficial Oscars of Comedy”.

I thought this was a dodgy strategy because it seemed to risk them getting sued by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, who are usually very protective of their ownership of the name ‘Oscar’.

But they got away with it, though people still called the things “the former Perrier” Awards.

Part of their strategy last year, however, was to invite a public vote for a ‘Comedy God’ to be chosen from all 173 (mostly Perrier) nominees of the previous 30 (well 29, actually) years. Their idea, I presume, was to get some iconic populist name like Al Murray or Frank Skinner associated with their branded awards.

This incurred the always fearsomely impressive wrath of comedian Stewart Lee who sent what he called a “grumpy” e-mail to the organisers and who wrote about his objections in the Guardian and elsewhere. His valid point was that it was ludicrous to compare past nominees – some were entire shows, some were artists and most were performances never seen by the people voting. How could you compare or choose between Catherine Tate and The Arthur Dung Show? He suggested people might as well vote 1984 nominees, the excellent though little-seen and (he thought) disbanded Japanese performance art group Frank Chickens.

This people did in droves, presumably as a protest vote, and, as a result, the Frank Chickens art collective won the contest as ‘Comedy Gods’ – announced in a rather low-key way by the award organisers. Frank Chickens, it turned out, had not disbanded and, though they had not played the Fringe for years, they came up for a special performance with Stewart Lee.

As a result, Stewart Lee almost inevitably won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award because, although totally unintentional, his e-mail to the former Perrier Award organisers and his later articles and interviews resulted in media publicity and a viral campaign which resulted in successful promotion for a Frank Chickens Fringe show which did not exist at the time but which, as a result of the publicity then did exist.

You can see Stewart talking to Malcolm Hardee Award judge Kate Copstick about his prestigious win here.

The fact that a publicity stunt is unintentional is no bar to winning a Cunning Stunt Award. There are no rules (Malcolm Hardee would turn in his urn if there were) and you don’t have to apply for the Cunning Stunt Award (though Gill Smith did).

Indeed, applying for the prize makes a win less likely.

If you have to make the Malcolm Hardee Award judges aware that you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed because they were not aware of the publicity.

Having said that, I now fear nobody will do any publicity stunt that is award-worthy by the end of August.

Oh Lord.

Another year. Another Fringe.

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Walking the plank, ten years of comedy awards and cataract operations

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin’s annual get-together for former hecklers at the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. There was talk of legendary heckler The Pirate and questions about where he was now. I vaguely remember Malcolm telling me The Pirate had, in his ‘real’ life, been a City of London stockbroker and that, once he made his mint, he retired early and went to live in Spain.

I could be corrected.

Also at the get-together, I got chatting with that wondrous act Frank Sanazi (he sings like Frank Sinatra, looks like Adolf Hitler). He told me a prominent comedy critic had come up to him after a show and said: “You know, secretly, I like your act!”

SECRETLY?

He’s a comedy critic!! Why secretly??

Frank Sanazi – real name Pete – also told me a tale of chatting on the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub with Malcolm (who drowned a few feet away in 2005). Malcolm was lamenting the poor standard of some of the Open Spot acts who appeared there.

“What can I do?” he asked Pete. “They’re shit.”

“You could make the worst ones walk the plank,” Pete suggested jokily.

“That’s a thought!” Malcolm said, seriously.

When we met yesterday afternoon, Pete said that, as was often the case with Malcolm, he possibly took this idea too far by drowning.

With luck, though, Malcolm’s memory will be kept alive by the Malcolm Hardee Awards which I started in 2005 or 2007 (depending on how you calculate it).

Another reason for starting the Awards was that I realised they meant I could get free tickets for any comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe for at least ten years. (I know Malcolm would have approved of this scam.)

I decided in 2007 to get a decade’s worth of trophies made in advance in case I encountered some serious financial embarrassment in the future so the Malcolm Hardee Awards (unlike some other lesser awards at the Edinburgh Fringe which rely on sponsorship) will certainly be awarded until 2017.

Coincidentally, last night, I went to the annual Fringe Report Awards masterminded by the remarkable John Park. He announced on stage that next year – 2012 – after ten years – both Fringe Report and the Fringe Report Awards would stop. A great pity, as Fringe Report encourages theatrical talent on the way up (as the Malcolm Hardee Awards try to do with comedians) rather than awarding trophies to people who are already vastly successful.

Now, I am off to have what I hope is a routine follow-up check-up on my eyes.

Last year, I had two cataract operations.

I hope I’ll be seeing you soon.

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