First-timer Michael Livesley, Half The Man in a comedy show at The Free Sisters about how he lost half his body weight and much else, emailed me, saying:
“The first night went well. No idea what to expect but my hope is to emerge from the Fringe battle-hardened and ready for the next chapter next year.”
Doyenne of comedy critics Kate Copstick released the first of her Slaughtered podcasts at this year’s Fringe…
The original President Obonjo cast a pod
…In it, she interviewed controversial man-of-the-moment President Obonjo (Goodbye Mr President at the Voodoo Rooms) and she revealed that a BBC Studios executive – not unconnected with ripping-off President Obonjo – speaking in his official role as a BBC Studios producer – told her: “Live comedy isn’t as important as it thinks it is”.
More of this in a future blog.
Meanwhile, blonde bombshell (she will hate that) and social/sexual campaigner Samantha Pressdee – according to the aforementioned Kate Copstick, “almost certainly the most uninhibitedly entertaining proponent of female empowerment you will see” contacted me to say: “The recruitment campaign for the Barmy Army has started.”
Samantha’s dossier aims “to ignite potential”
When I saw the last of the London previews for Samantha’s Fringe show Covered (directed by award-winning Phil Nichol), she gave me a ‘Dossier’ aimed to “ignite potential in the 1 in 4 people who will experience mental health issues.”
Now, at the just-started Fringe, Samantha tells me: “On my second night, I am proud to say every audience member signed up and received their copy of Uncovered: The Dossier.
Tony Slattery and Samantha Pressdee bonding in Edinburgh
“I also met my hero Tony Slattery. He is so inspiring. I told him, “I’m bipolar too,” and he replied: Nice to meet you both.
“He was even more lovely in person than he is online which is VERY lovely. He gave me loads of cuddles and his email address. I hope to get him involved in my Pulling It Togetherproject. I am also adopting him as an uncle.”
The gaffer-taped Fringe shoes
She continued: “I brought 13 pairs of shoes to Edinburgh (none of them sensible). So it was not as big a tragedy as it might have been that I broke one shoe on arrival at my venue’s press launch (PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court).
“You cannot,” she says, “even tell that it is now secured thanks to the magic of gaffer tape.”
The preview of her show which I saw in London was preceded by a video which included – blink and you miss it – a clip of her yolk-covered appearance in the annual Russian Egg Roulette Championships at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show.
Until 2017, this show took place annually around midnight on the final Friday of the Fringe in the Ballroom of The Counting House (programmed by the Laughing Horse Free Festival).
Bizarrely – and surely a coincidence, given that the Malcolm Hardee Awards ended in 2017 – I hear that there has been a sudden change of schedule at midnight on the final Friday of this year’s Fringe with an un-named potentially two-hour show being shoe-horned into the Counting House Ballroom.
The Edinburgh Fringe is always full of surprises and there are another three weeks to go…
The invitation to and running order for Malcolm Hardee’s extraordinary funeral
Over the last four days, I have re-posted anecdotes told about legendary British comedian Malcolm Hardee by other comics in the days following his drowning in 2005.
Here, to round off, are some more memories re-posted from 2005 – from four more comics, plus Malcolm’s lifelong friend Wizo and Malcolm’s partner of 13 years, Pip – interspersed with some video tributes to him over the years (some require you to watch them online at YouTube).
After 3 months, Malcolm said to me: “Wizo, I fancy a sausage sandwich at Blackheath tea stall.”
So we escaped.
We broke into a church, I donned some gardener’s clothes and Malcolm put on the vicar’s robes. We split up and I found my way home and got over to Holland. Malcolm was arrested at 2am waiting at a bus stop outside Huntingdon by two coppers that pulled up and thought That’s funny: a shifty looking vicar with spectacles mended with Sellotape and nicked him again. His great escape lasted two hours. Love his old bollocks…….
KEITH ALLEN, comedian…
JOJO SMITH, comedian – March 9th 2005
Gosh, so many memories. My seventh ever gig was a Sunday night open spot at Up the Creek and, of course, Channel 4 News were filming it cos that week comedy was “the new rock’n’roll”.
I knew sod all about actually doing comedy but, as I died royally on that stage, I began to learn.
Lesson number one was to give up comedy for 6 months! Bad enough dying on my hole without hearing Malcolm say I looked like Pat Butcher!
16 months later I went back. I knew a bit more by this time, tho’ was questioning my own sanity as I sat in the audience watching the other comics, waiting to go on. Thank God the DLR wasn’t built then or I might have bolted back to Notting Hill, but the thought of 2 tubes and 3 buses for nowt made me stay.
I went on and stormed it and felt like the Queen of the World. Afterwards, I told Malcolm I’d given up for 6 months and he said: “Did you a favour then, didn’t I?”
You did, Malcolm, you did me loads of favours: gigs in South Africa, Glastonbury, that mad Uni gig in Scotland with the male and female strippers, Dublin (where I managed to get myself banned for having breasts and talking dirty), interviewing you in the Tartan Taxi for Funny Business, too many drunken, Peruvian nights in Greenwich, so many memories. I am blessed to have known you.
BRENDON BURNS, comedian…
JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet – 12th March 2005
Song for Malcolm
The first time ever I saw you
was in a marquee, circa 1980,
you were shaking up some William Shakespeare stuff.
I remember thinking, who’s this man?
I cannot remember, if you wore a ruff.
Certainly not just a ruff.
Funny man from London, south.
Ringmaster and river mouth,
and no trousers, sometimes.
Going down your tunnel,
where the heckling could halt
the process of performance,
your shrug suggested a pinch of salt
is what it should be taken with,
though generally you were more fresh-water.
Funny man and river man,
Oy oy was your shout.
Oy oy’s yo yo backwards,
and you swung it all about.
You didn’t tend
to follow the trend
and you were light
at the tunnel’s end.
JOHN HEGLEY, comedian/poet…
SIMON DAY, comedian/poet – 9th May 2005
i had just stepped off the stage at up the creek, malcom was sitting at the back in that strange bit near the cloakroom. he offered to be my agent then sat down again twitching, his head moving left to right in that strange bird like manner twirling his fag. i of course i said yes.
there followed a terrible, wonderful, extraordinary voyage of discovery underpinned by a lack of new jokes.
no matter what he did people adored him, at the end of the day if you didn’t know him then you missed out if you did know him then inside you there is a little grubby bird which will never stop singing.
HARRY ENFIELD, comedian…
SIMON DAY, comedian – 10th May 2005
i was supporting vic reeves in newcastle, we were staying at the copthorne hotel, a brand new flagship megaplinth, part of the quayside revitalisation which is now in full swing. we were in the bar after the show, malcolm arrived having missed it (he did not care much for jim and bob, thought they were overrated).
earlier in the day malcom had won 8 grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. he was half cut and mistakenly assumed i had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier, he decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl. who didn’t exist!
wearing just a dressing gown he climbed out of the window. the icy waters of the tyne swirling 100 foot below, he struggled along for ages finally reaching my room. no doubt he shouted oy! oy! and pressed his balls to the glass. i don’t know.
it was the wrong room. i was fast asleep on the floor above.
on returning to his junior suite he was hurled to the ground by 2 special branch (there was a tory party conference on!)
they wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge naked except for a dressing gown. they searched his room and found five thousand seven hundred and sixty quid in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards
he was taken to a portokabin nearby where he gave his address as fingal street in greenwich.
all sorts of alarms went off.
it was the former home of a leading member of the i.r.a.
after intensive questioning they decided that he was not a threat to national security – only social security – and off he tottered.
i miss him.
STEWART LEE, comedian…
PIP HAZELTON, Malcolm’s partner of 13 years – 8th November 2005
Giving birth to our first child.
Labour was long and Malcolm needed a fag. On returning he entered the delivery suite to find a group of worried medical staff clustered round the bed. A doctor noticed him hovering by the door and made space for him down at the business end of the bed. Just then the baby appeared to cries of encouragement from the midwife: “Well done, Julie! It’s a lovely little girl!”
Only then did Malcolm realise he had returned to the wrong delivery suite and I was still in labour next door!
I spent the rest of my stay in Greenwich Hospital avoiding chat about our respective deliveries with the girl, Julie, in the bed next to me on the ward.
When our daughter Poppy arrived three years later, I wasn’t well at all and Malcolm astonished everyone – except me of course – by how dedicated a father he was both with young Frank and our new baby.
When we split up after 13 years together, it broke my heart and, with his death, my heart was broken all over again. I never stopped loving him just couldn’t put up with his lifestyle any longer.
I have the best legacy of all – Frank and Poppy.
You loved them so much, Malcolm, and you meant the world to them too.
All my love,
PHIL NICHOL, comedian…
WIZO, lifelong friend – 15th November
It was a hot summers Saturday in June 1968. Malcolm came around my house and said: “Let’s go to the seaside today.”
We had a stolen Mk 2 Jaguar stashed away in Lewisham.
“Let’s go to Margate,” we said.
So off we went, siphoning petrol from a Post Office depot and reeking of petrol.
Later on we found ourselves in The Dreamland amusement park, a most unedifying place full of mods and rockers eying one another off for a punch up. Soon a fight started and the stallholder on the hot dog stall was distracted by the sight of 60 guys bashing one another.
Ever the opportunist, Malcolm jumped over the counter, opened the till and pinched all the money and we shot off to the car that had been parked in an overflow grass car park.
Just as we were leaving in the car, Malcolm set fire to a large box of matches and threw it under another car. The grass was tinder dry and, within a couple of minutes, the whole of the car park was alight. We sat up on the Esplanade watching all this mayhem going on with petrol tanks exploding and fire engines racing to the scene.
We abandoned the car and stole a motor launch from Margate harbour and made our way home up the River, until we broke down at Gravesend – ironically with no fuel.
It’s all a bit quiet without him.
Just as well really. I can only run for 10 metres now.
JOOLS HOLLAND, musician and friend…
FRANK SANAZI, comedian – 25th April 2006
I suggested to Malcolm one evening at his Wibbley Wobbley comedy nights that he should get the worst comedian of the evening and make him/her ‘walk the plank’ off the side of his boat .
“Fucking brilliant,” said Malcolm. “Let’s do it.”
At the end of the night he was a bit too drunk to remember this show finale… Who knows? He may have been worried about having to do it himself..
Ironically, he ended up doing something similar that final day.
I will always remember Malcolm as a genuine top guy and a man who was to comedy what John Peel was to music – discovering new comedians and encouraging them no matter how weird or wacky.
Malcolm also was the conduit (Sorry! I always wanted to be an electrician) between these new comedians and established ones.
One thing’s for certain: we are missing him and his unique style of fun.
He has probably already stolen a couple of halos and re-sold them by now!!
WIZO, lifelong friend – 27th April
It was 1970. I was 19 and had just moved in with a new girlfriend.
Malcolm phoned me up: “Oy! Oy! Fancy a trip to Cornwall, Wizo? Bit of surfing, knob out with posh crumpet and general jigging about?”
“Yes,” I naively said.
Three years later, I came back to London after a whirlwind of stolen cars, bouncing cheques, Dutch drug dealers, Lord Elliot, syphoning petrol, Amanda’s and Felicity’s dose of crabs, cabinet minister’s porn collection, Exeter prison, Borstal, escapes to the continent dressed as a scout, more prison and an English degree. Finally, to round the trip off, a £10 note and a rail warrant home courtesy of H.M. Prisons.
I must say you did get good value when you went on one of Malcolm’s safaris.
He should have started an Alternative Thomas Cook‘s for South East London rascals,. He would have made a fortune rather than giving it all to the bookies. Bless his old cotton socks. He is up there in the eternal Terminus café eating something unhealthy, fiddling with a packet of Benson & Hedges cigarettes, a betting slip and a sure-fire scheme to make money.
Priscilla Adade, Tom Stade and Lewis Schaffer of Giant Leap (Photograph by Trudy Brambrough)
Yesterday, I was talking to critic Kate Copstick and I think we came to the conclusion that, this year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there is no one ‘hot’ act whom everyone is talking about. Although Phil Nichol seems to be everywhere either as a performer or as a producer – the ten shows to promote the tenth anniversary of his Comedians’ Theatre Company is only the tip of an iceberg.
I saw one of his shows yesterday – Giant Leap, about the alleged writing of Neil Armstrong’s first words during the allegedly faked Moon landing in 1969.
This is the one which has Lewis Schaffer in his first on-stage acting role since his schooldays. And he is very good. But, talking to him afterwards, it was all about the review he got for his stand-up comedy show from critic Bruce Dessau. It was only a 3-star review and Lewis Schaffer seems to think Bruce told him it could have been a 4-star review but he (Lewis Schaffer) was not bad enough. If you build an entire career on being a failure as a comic, you rather screw yourself if you are rather too good. Sure enough, when I looked up the review, it ends with the words: “Go along and you won’t be disappointed. It’s a good gig. But if you are lucky maybe you will catch him have a bad gig”
Mr Twonkey and his close friend yesterday
Also in the audience at Giant Leap was Mr Twonkey who, the previous day, had supplied cheese at the surprisingly busy Grouchy Club show. He told me he had run out of cheese and was not coming to our second show.
And no-one else did either. The allotted time – 3.45pm at The Counting House Lounge – arrived and no-one turned up to participate, something that hadn’t happened in the two Fringes we have been doing it.
Today’s Grouchy Club will be interesting as Copstick is off at some dodgy venue doing a panel discussion with Janey Godley and others for online magazine Spiked on the subject of That’s Not Funny! Are Offence-Seekers Killing Comedy?
So, tomorrow, there may be a podcast posted of an extract from me talking to myself.
Anyway, after today’s threesome, I went off to see Nathan Cassidy pulling another publicity stunt in the Cowgate for his Back To The Future shows featuring the DeLorean car he has managed to half-inch from someone (possibly in the past).
Jo Burke was mildly amused by Nathan Cassidy yesterday
I seem to spend most of my days figuratively bumping into people in the street but yesterday, by the DeLorean, I was literally bumped-into by Jo Burke.
She appeared to be having a fit of the giggles and, on leaving (she was rushing to Waverley station to put a friend on a train) got stopped by a fan who wanted her to sign a copy of her iScream book for him.
Thought to self afterwards:Was that impromptu book-signing a set-up?
Decision by self:No, I don’t think it was. I think it was actually real. It was bizarre. This is Edinburgh. Bizarre things happen all the time.
When I too left the DeLorean, 30 seconds later, I bumped into Alexander Bennett, but only figuratively.
Alexander Bennett in Edinburgh street scene
“All hail Alexander Bennett!” I shouted out. “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my blog?”
“John,” he replied, “you are the bottom-feeder of comedy. You are scraping around. Have you got any anecdotes? Have you got any anecdotes so I can sort-of write down what you’ve said.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” I said. “I hailed you – and this is what I get.”
“The trouble is,” said Alexander, “my catchphrase (All hail Alexander Bennett!) is only working with you. Maybe it will take off and…”
At this point, I saw John Robertson walking fast on the other side of the road holding a placard advertising his Dark Room show.
I shouted loudly across the street: “Have you any hilarious anecdotes for my increasingly prestigious blog?”
He half raised his hand in what looked like a slightly tired acknowledgement and hurried on his way.
When I too hurried on my way, I got a message from Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Claire Smith: Lewis Schaffer was ASTONISHING yesterday.
Matt Price looking for a bargain in Edinburgh yesterday
Ever since Martha got a 5-star review in The Scotsman, their venue has been swamped by ‘star-chasers’ – people who only go to shows because they have stars in The Scotsman and elsewhere, not because they are interested in the show as such.
“You are turning into Lewis Schaffer,” I said. “If good things happen, you get worried.”
“He has re-defined failure and it’s amazing,” said Matt. “We saw him yesterday and Martha had never seen him perform before. It was just unbelievable. Amazing. Martha said: Oh. Is this what he does, then?”
Then my evening was spent watching three superb comedy shows.
Lynn Ruth Miller: Get a Grip
Arguably the warmest and cuddliest autobiographical storyteller on the Fringe. Well, I got a cuddle, so I’m happy.
Janey Godley: Honest To Godley
I think I have said in this blog before that she is he most all-round creative person I have ever met and these two quotes from elsewhere still remain true:
“The most outspoken female stand-up in Britain” (Daily Telegraph)
“Some of the sharpest-elbowed comedy in the world” (New York Times)
President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello
President Obonjo: The Man Who Stole My Identity
President Obonjo, African dictator, is actually comedian Benjamin Bello and he lives in St Albans – on the same railway line as me. So I have had about three rail journey chats with him – one of which I think involved the basic idea of this show – but only seen him perform one 10-minute spot in London. This hour-long show was a revelation.
He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by a mostly male audience. And then he takes the uniform off, becomes Benjamin Bello and analyses the nature of character comedy, wonders why the character he writes and performs is funnier than he himself is on stage… and then puts the uniform back on and becomes the character again.
Loud, loud laughter in the first and third sections; total silence in the middle broken by occasional laughter when he bungs in a joke. But it is not silence because they don’t like the performance. It is the silence of wrapt attention and – I think – fascination.
Nothing at all like what I expected.
The downside of the Edinburgh Fringe is that, although he got in a good audience last night, he is unlikely to get reviewed because he is unknown, hidden away in the labyrinth of the impenetrably badly-signed Cowgatehead venue and does not have a big-bucks promoter behind him.
The River Thames, seen from Blackfriars station yesterday
With my co-host Kate Copstick un-Skypeable in Kenya, I persuaded comedian Lewis Schaffer to join me on The Grouchy Club Podcast this week. We met on Platform 2 at Blackfriars station, which straddles the River Thames in London.
I thought it would be quirky recording it in the middle of the Thames with the sound of trains and tannoy announcements in the background. This may or may not have been a good idea. It lasted 19 minutes.
Lewis Schaffer talked about Lewis Schaffer, about the Edinburgh Fringe, about a new play project and about Lewis Schaffer. Here is a short extract:
Lewis Schaffer talked to me amid the trains at Blackfriars
So you’re doing a play at the Edinburgh Fringe.
I am. How amazing is that? Well, I’m not doing a play. I’m rehearsing for a play.
They still have a chance to fire me. The last play I was in they fired me.
What was the last play you were in?
Well, I say I was in The Odd Couple, but I was in another play. I’m trying to remember what play it was. You Can’t Take It With You? No. I can’t remember, but I had a musical – singing – role and they auditioned me for a regular speaking part and then, when I met the guy who was doing the music, he fired me. I remember that walk home at night from Great Neck North Senior High School back to my house – in Great Neck, when I was living in Great Neck – and I was crying.
Aaaah. Bless. Why do you say you were in The Odd Couple?
Because I… I… I think that was the last one that I did. I’m not sure. I was only seventeen years old and I haven’t done a play since.
Which part did you play? Because all the men in The Odd Couple are actually quite old, aren’t they?
We were high school people. Of course you gotta play… You can’t just play young people.
It was a school play?
It was a school play. It wasn’t like a regular play. It was a high school play. I was Roy. If you’re a nerd out there and you know plays…
So basically the school you were in decided to have a play called The Odd Couple about a homosexual relationship in America?
At the time, I don’t think people knew that it was about a gay relationship. Maybe it’s not even about people being gay in The Odd Couple. It could be, now, looking back on it. Maybe that’s why I’m divorced: because I was in that play. Maybe it traumatised me for life about marriage.
You call this life?… So now you’re doing another play. What’s this play that’s going to be at the Fringe?
LEWIS SCHAFFER Giant Leap. It’s a new play by guys named Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, directed by Alexander Lass – young kids.
Who is Alexander Lass?
I dunno who he is. He calls me up and says I have a part for you and I accepted it.
This is Phil Nichol’s company doing this, isn’t it?
I think it is.
Basically, you’re in a play by people you don’t know and you’ve no idea who’s producing it.
I didn’t even know what the play was when I said Yes. I just said Yes. I’m gonna do it. I don’t wanna do it, but I’m gonna do it. If they’re crazy enough to hire me, I’m gonna do it.
And they’re paying you to do it…
They are actually paying me to do it. They’re paying my way up there and they are…
… paying your way back.
Putting me up. They got a room, yeah.
Putting you up what?
Putting me up in a room. They’re gonna hoist me by my own petard… I don’t even know what that means.
No-one does. Like most English phrases, no-one knows what they actually mean, when you get down to it.
Exactly. It just sounds so good. Just assume it’s a cricket phrase…
It has to be French, surely – Petard…
If it’s not French or Shakespeare, it’s cricket.
Or Oscar Wilde.
If you laugh, it’s Oscar Wilde.
So you’ve been doing rehearsals for this play in Crouch End or somewhere?
My eternally-un-named friend suggested I should post one about the origins of Shia and Sunni Islam.
Instead of that, here is an old diary entry about a visit to Malcolm Hardee’s Up The Creek comedy club in South East London – on Sunday 4th October 1998.
A very small audience of about 50. Terrible start with a non-comedian and would-be surrealist who might go down well at retro-Sixties rock festivals to an audience of heavily-stoned revellers but who went down to total silence at Up The Creek.
In the second half, the show perked up with an extraordinary Open Spot from a man who strode the stage talking about Jesus, revealed a picture of a white stallion on an easel and a picture of a hedgehog which he said was “the people of Kosovo” – in the largely Albanian-populated Serbian province currently being attacked by Serbian forces. The act was screamed-at and yelled-at but not forced off the stage.
Phil Nichol (left) in Corky & The Juice Pigs in the 1990s
This was followed by Canadian (in fact, he was born in Scotland) comic Phil Nichol (of Corky & The Juice Pigs), whose act soared from good to brilliant as he ad-libbed and played off members of the audience. In particular, he spotted a drunken man who had tried a slight, amiable heckle and whom he decided to call Boris the Russian.
Phil Nichol in a more recent performance
He kept playing off this guy who eventually moved in embarrassment to another seat. Further into the act, Boris, drunkenly got up on stage without invitation and Nichol very bravely and – as it turned out – very sensibly kept him on, getting him to perform Elvis impressions while still retaining control of the act.
Boris could barely stand and was wobbling on his feet. On a yell from someone in the audience of “Do the Full Monty!” – taken up enthusiastically by the rest of the audience – he did a drunken attempt at a seductive lowering of the trousers, mooned, turned and then pulled them up again. Immensely funny.
Nichols eventually encored, had Malcolm up on stage playing his Blues harmonica and was able to ad-lib apparently genuinely made-up songs when Malcolm unexpectedly stopped and held the microphone to Nichols. An extraordinary example of someone at the peak of their abilities.
There are 17 levels of pledges running from £5 (for which you get an eBook of the opus) through £25 (you get a signed, numbered and personalised hardback copy with a doodle and note from Phil in the front and your name printed in the book itself) up to £1,001 (for which you can get pretty much whatever you want to get).
The Kickstarter campaign aims to raise £3,333 and will run until 7.00pm UK time on 7th July – that is, 7 on the 7th of the 7th.
The book will be published on 1st August and be on sale in Bob’s Bookshop in Edinburgh and elsewhere
“So,” I said to Bob when I met him, “Phil Kay’s never written a book and you know nothing about publishing.”
“So Phil Kay’s book will be published by…?” I asked.
Bob Slayer – He aims to get a head in publishing
“We will do it as a Heroes imprint because our stage shows are promoted as Heroes of Comedy/Heroes of Fringe,” Bob told me. “Part of the inspiration for doing the Heroes shows was that, in 2009, I saw Phil Kay’s show at the Fringe.”
“When last heard of,” I pointed out, “you were writing your own book about your exploits in Australia last year with Gary The Goat.”
“I was trying to finish my books,” said Bob, “but I got very busy doing other things and happened to mention to Phil Kay that I was chatting to Nick Awde about putting out books by comedians and he said Funny you should say that; I’ve just sacked my literary agent because they looked at what I’d done and asked if I could make it more coherent. What the agent was really saying was could Phil follow the agent’s idea of coherence.”
In the Kickstarter pitch, Phil Kay says: “Books are expressions of newness, of self. I am doing what I consider coherent.”
Book is not normal. Nor is its author. Wholly Viable Phil Kay
“This is not a normal biography,” Bob told me. “It’s a collection of wonderful stories with Phil’s life philosophy in it. Like he says: “Imagine what you’d get up to if your job was telling tales of what you’d been getting up to… What would a man do with the blessing to do anything and be paid to retell it..?
“In the book, he talks about how, if he’s on the way to any gig, it has the potential to be the best gig in the world.
“If you stick to a script, you can only be as good as that script is. You are saving yourself from being worse than that script is; you will give an adequate performance. But, if you have a fluidity in what you are performing, you have got the potential for that gig to be the best gig in the world, because there’s no upper limit.”
A Phil Kay show – blink and you’ll very likely miss something
“Well, Phil’s gigs are never less than unique and very interesting,” I said.
“Everyone has a story about Phil,” enthused Bob. “The follow-up book might be a compilation of all the people who have wonderful Phil Kay stories. Quite a bit of the book was written when Phil Kay was sharing accommodation with Phil Nichol.”
“Bloody hell!” I said. “That must have been an interesting slice of life.”
“Doing books this way – independently,” explained Bob, “is like my Heroes venue at the Edinburgh Fringe. We cut out the middle man and put out things which are truly creative and original. It’s more like a collective.
“I used to work in the music industry and saw it go through a massive change – and change was an opportunity for different people to come along and do things differently.
“A friend of mine was a roadie for Marillion, a then long-forgotten band who were still touring, still putting out albums and selling maybe 100,000 copies and they, really, were the first band to do crowdfunding. Their record sales were going down, but they still had this hardcore fanbase who would organise themselves on a messageboard.
Marillion in 2007 owed some of their renewed success to fans
“There were a bunch of American fans saying: Why don’t you come to America? Marillion told them: We can’t get the tour support. We can’t afford to. And the fans said: Well, if we can cover the cost, would you come? And Marillion went: Well, yes, of course, but…
“So these fans emailed round their usergroup – remember this is back around 1999 or 2000 – and they raised enough money to fly the band over. The tour got put together and the band decided to record a live album during the tour to give to all the people who had paid in advance. That was the start of Marillion crowdfunding and the fans said: What can we do to help you next?
“So Marillion said: Right. Instead of haggling with a record label over budgets, will you help to fund our next album?
“I certainly know that, with their second crowdfunded album, they raised half a million pounds and a single from the album went Top Ten in the UK charts.
“They now run Marillion weekenders at Pontins Holiday Camps. They take them over completely and it becomes Marillion’s holiday camp for the weekend. They play entire albums live and do requests.
“All Tomorrow’s Parties were the first people to do that: to realise what a great place to do a festival a holiday camp is, with everybody totally into the same thing.
“With Marillion, it wasn’t just about getting money. It was about finding people who went: Wow! We’ve given ourselves the chance to see Marillion live!
“I suggested crowdfunding to a Japanese band I was managing – Electric Eel Shock – and they said: Oh, it’s OK for Marillion: they’ve already got a fanbase. But then their record label started to really mess us about and I needed to raise £10,000 in two weeks to get us out of this record deal and I just emailed the fans, told them why we needed the money and I said: I need 100 fans to give £100 and you’ll be on the Electric Eel Shock guestlist for life. And we got the money straight away.
“After that, I did other crowdfunding and advised on Public Enemy’s crowdfunding.
“He’s doing his Secret Gigs, which is wonderful for just connecting with his audience, because you can only go to the gigs if you’ve already been to a previous Paul Foot gig. He says: We don’t want people in here unless they are confirmed Paul Foot fans. It takes half an hour to get into the venue because Paul chats to everybody and processes them for five minutes and then seats them and asks them what they’ve been up to. And fans get to know each other: Oh. How many times have you seen him? Those things are three hours of Paul Foot: they are the equivalent of the Marillion weekender.
“When we put Electric Eel Shock fans on the guestlist for life, the motivation was just to get immediate money, but the result was much more than that. Instead of coming to see them once, when they did a ten-day gig of the UK, people would say to each other: How many gigs have you been to? How many COUNTRIES have you been to to see them?
“Their Ichiban Fan – Number One Fan – was the first fan to see them on four continents and he eventually became their tour manager.”
“And the title of Phil Kay’s book?” I asked.
“TheWholly Viable,” said Bob. “And I know from experience that it is.”
I hate to be bitchy, but those other Edinburgh Fringe comedy awards – the ones that used to be called the Perrier Awards, which seem to have had almost annual name changes since then and are now, it seems, forever to be called “the former Perrier Awards” – well, Perrier must be laughing all the way to the bar… they no longer have to fork out any money but they still get their name splattered all over the media every August, associated with youth-attractive comedy…
I am a bit behind in the Twittersphere, but recently I saw a tweet from those other awards – the corporate Voldemort whose name we should not speak – and it said:
“Team enjoying traditional opening night supper before it all starts with annual lunch tmrw….”
They toil in the vineyard of comedy talent, searching for strange and wonderful new saplings (sometimes freakishly deformed ones) and they get nothing, nowt, zilch – not even a name-check unless you look carefully on some obscure page of the Malcolm Hardee website.
I think there is a danger – much as with charities – of getting too much sponsorship. There is a danger of the mechanics of the search for talent becoming as important as the search.
Of course, if some company wanted to throw money at the Malcolm Hardee Awards, I would probably be delighted. Where is Bill Gates when you need him? He may make shit computer software (I’m an Apple man myself) but he has user-friendly money that does not crash and who cares about children in Africa?** As Malcolm used to say:
“Fuck it! It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Round the edge – fish.”
I would be a little uncomfortable with sponsorship money to run the Malcolm Hardee Awards; it would feel like it was somehow against the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.
The whole spirit of the Fringe is to come up to Edinburgh every August and tear up your own hard-earned £50 notes while standing in the pouring rain.
And getting sponsored by some large conglomerate would not seem to be keeping alive the spirit of Malcolm – ironically. Because, if BP, Rupert Murdoch or Microsoft had thrown money at him when he was alive, he would have taken it and screwed them for everything he could.
In a recent interview in The Scotsman, the immensely talented comedian and actor Phil Nichol said:
“I want to be like Malcolm Hardee… He was inspirational. I went to his funeral and there must have been 800 people there, who had all been inspired by him.”
I joke that, when organising anything in Malcolm’s memory (he drowned in 2005), I am in a win-win situation. If everything goes smoothly, it will reflect well on me as a slick and efficient professional. If it all falls apart into a desperate, shambolic mess, it will seem I have upheld the true Heath Robinson spirit of Malcolm’s shows – and it will reflect equally well on me as a master of mayhem.
I think, of the two options, I prefer the second.
I organised full-blown variety shows in Malcolm’s memory at the Hackney Empire, London, in 2006 (five hours), 2007 (five hours), at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh in 2009 (90 minutes) and now, this Friday, in the ballroom of the Counting House in Edinburgh (2 hours)… to be preceded by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debates on Monday/Tuesday and spaghetti-juggling on Wednesday/Thursday. It is the first ever Malcolm Hardee Week and is part of the Free Festival – all the shows are free. I hope Malcolm would have approved.
All the acts will perform without any payment; they do it purely to honour Malcolm’s memory; and I take no fee of any kind; I do not cover any of my costs.
That is not really pure altruism. I feel I could not ask top acts to perform for free if there were any suspicion that I was dodgily making any money in any way from the stuff… as Malcolm might have done!
Originally, in 2007, I was going to buy the other Malcolm Hardee judges a good slap-up meal to thank them for their work. The practicalities of getting them all together at any given time was too much to cope with, so I just gave up. Now, if they are lucky, they might get a cheap drink each during the Fringe.
It is not a well-honed, efficient machine which sees every show and sifts everything scientifically. I specifically chose as judges critics whose normal jobs at the Fringe involves seeing lots of shows anyway. And I chose a quality spread – The Scotsman, The Times, The Independent, The List, Time Out.
This year, the judges are me, Kate Copstick of The Scotsman and ITV1’s Show Me The Funny; Dominic Maxwell of The Times and freelance Jay Richardson of The Scotsman, The List, Chortle etc. Next year, another quality paper’s comedy critic will be joining this merry throng to choose the Malcolm Hardee Awards.
It’s a ramshackle old way to choose awards, but it seems to have worked so far. We aim to spot and encourage new talent, outrageous publicity stunts and generally make the Fringe a less sombre, corporate entity. More anarchic.
That is why the Malcolm Hardee Awards are the real Edinburgh Fringe Comedy awards…
** OK, I was joking about not caring about children in Africa. In fact, 100% of any money given at the Malcolm Hardee Week shows goes to Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. I apologise for this outbreak of morality. I will try to curb it in future.
At the University of Kent, you can study Stand-Up Comedy. My natural tendency would be to think this is a right load of old wank if it were not for the fact they seem to have produced some rather good rising comedy performers.
And then, out of alphabetical order, there is elfin Laura Lexx. I call her ‘elfin’ because she actually did for a period literally work as an elf in Lapland as part of the Father Christmas industry. I have seen the photos. She is low on height but high on energy. Which is just as well – not just for elfing around in Lapland.
Then she takes off her promoter hat and she’s off to Edinburgh for the Fringe where she’s in both the Comedy and the Theatre sections – performing, producing, writing and directing.
She’s performing daily as part of the improvised comedy game show Quiz in My Pants at the Opium venue
She’s performing and directing the cast in her own straight play Ink (about the 7/7 London terrorist bombings and the media) at the Kiwi Bar.
And she has also done the very neat trick of spotting a new way to finance Edinburgh Fringe shows via wedidthis.org where people who want to support the Arts in a positive way can donate money to the month’s chosen projects. If you reach your target within the month, you get the money donated. If you don’t reach your target, the promised donations made so far are not collected.
At the time of writing this blog, she has another fortnight to raise £175 to cover some of her Edinburgh costs. The donations page is here.
I wonder if anyone would fork out money to cover my modest and artistically-vital publicity costs for Malcolm Hardee Week at the Fringe.
Or maybe I should get work after the Fringe as a Father Christmas clone in Lapland. I would need a wig, I could grow the beard, but I would need no padding.