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The Malcolm Hardee Awards and after – President Obonjo to buy Greenland?

President Obonjo and his fearsome bodyguards attended the Malcolm Hardee Awards last night

I am in London.

The Edinburgh Fringe is, as tradition dictates, in Edinburgh.

Up in Edinburgh, the 2019 Malcolm Hardee Awards were announced and presented last night – well, this morning, because the anarchy started at midnight – in the Ballroom of The Counting House during the traditional 2-hour stage show.

The winners were – indeed still are –

Legs display their Malcolm Hardee Award to its best advantage

COMIC ORIGINALITY
Legs

CUNNING STUNT
West End Producer

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID
President Obonjo

The Awards were classier and glitzier than in previous years because, I hear, the judges were supplied with chips during their deliberations. That never happened in previous years when dry and occasionally stale biscuits were sometimes, but not always, provided.

For American readers: ‘chips’ are French fries. (Sometimes I think George III did us a favour by getting rid of the Colonies.)

President Obonjo, who was also compering the show, arrived with a group of threatening-looking bodyguards. They remained throughout the night and ushered him on-and-off stage in case the deeply-dodgy BBC Studios or E4/Channel 4 had any pickpockets or muggers working in the vicinity.

The mysterious West End Producer

Fellow Award-winner ‘West End Producer’ arrived in his mask, wore it throughout and left in it so Mysterious Mark – organiser of the Awards on behalf of the British Comedy Guide – tells me: “We still don’t actually know who he is.”

Some of the full-house audience apparently walked out after a time, reportedly confused by the bizarreness of the acts: Tom Crosbie, Lucy Hopkins, Legs, Dragos Montenescu, Mandy Muden, Charles Quarterman, Scratch & Sniff and Twonkey.

According to judge Claire Smith, the walkouts were by a few slightly dazed people with startled looks in their eyes.

Fellow judge Kate Copstick confirmed the problem was a new Fringe app which tells people what shows are about to start nearby with the result that people turn up not knowing what the show actually is, just that it’s free.

The result last night, says Copstick was that “we got some young, slightly drunk people who mostly walked out during Twonkey’s performance”.

2016 Malcolm Hardee Award winner Twonkey apparently displayed a jaw-dropping excess of surrealism and, at one point, got thoroughly entangled in the leads of three microphones. It is unclear why he actually needed to have three microphones.

Someone who was in the audience last night tells me, though, that Twonkey managed to ignore the drunks and “pulled it around again, finishing with a blistering performance of Goat Girl – his song about a girl on a skiing holiday on ecstasy…”

Audience members try to restrain Lewis Schaffer last night

The audience contained a large smattering of other comedians including Lewis Schaffer, who may or may not have diabetes (his Fringe show is called Mr Diabetes) and who has been living for months on a diet which excludes all fruit & vegetables but includes lots of meat, some of it raw.

Claire Smith tells me: “He looks great. He has lost a lot of weight, which is good, but his breath smells horrible.”

Apparently, he has been seen around Edinburgh recently wearing a badge saying: YES, I KNOW MY BREATH STINKS.

This is, she tells me, partly because he now believes that eating no fruit or vegetables means he no longer needs to brush his teeth.

“I keep stumbling on him in Edinburgh,” Claire told me today, “crying in underpasses because he has accidentally eaten an avocado.”

Claire today also attended the other, less increasingly prestigious, comedy awards – Dave’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards – where, she reports, significant numbers of half-starved young comedians were to be seen absconding with armfuls of the free croissants. (Dave’s sponsored Comedy Awards has a higher budget than the unsponsored Malcolm Hardee Awards).

President Obonjo salutes his Million Quid win

In later developments, President Obonjo announced he was thinking of putting in a bid to the Danish government to buy Greenland now that Donald Trump is out of the running…

And the BBC posted an online link to their World Service’s Focus on Africa which acknowledged that President Obonjo was “one of the few African comedy acts well known on the UK comedy circuit” (and, indeed, for the last ten years, the ONLY deposed African President/leader character on the UK comedy circuit)… which makes the self-proclaimed ignorance of the apparent Intellectual Property thieves at BBC Studios/E4/Channel 4 even more spectacularly jaw-dropping…

BBC Studios and E4/Channel 4 had originally been shortlisted for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character'”… but, on the night, they were trounced byWest End Producer –  a man in a rubber mask.

#JusticeForObonjo

BBC World Service – President Obonjo

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Thieves at BBC Studios nominated for a Malcolm Hardee Award in Edinburgh

President Obonjo – the original by ten years

As mentioned in my blog last week, BBC Studios have outrageously sold a stolen concept to Channel 4/E4 either by blatant amoral plagiarism or because of a breathtaking lack of interest in or knowledge of the current and recent UK comedy scene – a non-broadcast pilot that has clearly been based on the theft of the intellectual property of comedian Benjamin Bankole Bello – his comedy character President Obonjo.

In what could be read as a two-finger sign to BBC Studios, ‘President Obonjo’ has today made a clean sweep in nominations for the three annual Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The President Obonjo character has been nominated for Comic Originality (on the basis that the BBC have flagrantly ripped-off the basic idea)… and for the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award.

I am not so sure about the latter as BBC Studios’ actions potentially have the outcome of destroying Benjamin Bello’s so-far successful ten-year career… and the cynical BBC people involved must clearly know this – they are apparently amoral, not actually stupid.

Malcolm Hardee admired cunning stunts…

Ironically, E4 and BBC Studios have been nominated in the Cunning Stunt Award category “for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their ‘appalling theft of his character’.”

In an apparent further two-finger gesture to BBC Studios and E4, President Obonjo will be compering the traditional two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show in Edinburgh’s Counting House venue starting tomorrow at 2359 – that’s midnight.

As it is part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, entry is free. Whether you will exit with your soul unsullied is a matter for conjecture. 

The Award nominations are:


COMIC ORIGINALITY

Legs

Sean Morley

Joz Norris

– President Obonjo

– Charles Quarterman

Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield


CUNNING STUNT

– E4 & BBC Studios – for exponentially increasing the knowledge of, and sales for, President Obonjo with their “appalling theft of his character”.

– Jimmy Slim and Lewis Blomfield – for creating and distributing flyers which have scratch-card like elements on them.

– West End Producer – for releasing a poster featuring 5-star reviews appearing to be from well known critics and producers (M Billington, L Gardner, S Clapp, C Mack, Andy Webber). However, the names mentioned were actually members of the public he phoned up (eg Andy Webber is a man who lives in Bognor Regis), who gave permission for their names to be used.


ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID

– Catherine Cohen – for her force-of-nature take on millennials and their outwardly perfect, inwardly bleak lives.

– Tom Crosby – for creating a highly addictive video game and getting people hooked on it during the introduction to his show

– Sophie Duker – for being a self-aware, increasingly prominent voice of intersectionality as it changes Western culture

– Candy Gigi – for having a world class voice that could go global and showcasing it in a new musical genre

– President Obonjo – for, in future, either winning a legal battle over ownership of his character or becoming leader of the country


Malcolm Hardee’s children, Frank and Poppy Hardee, say: “One of our dad’s greatest qualities was finding and supporting new talent. This award in honour of our father will hopefully help to continue to promote new, exciting and slightly eccentric comedy acts at one of the world’s most famous comedy festivals.”

#JusticeForObonjo

 

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BBC Studios and Channel 4 risk court case by ripping-off President Obonjo…

#JusticeForObonjo !

BBC TV has a track record for simply stealing ideas.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of UK comedy critics agrees: “They do have a bit of a rep for being sticky-fingered.”

I mentioned one case in passing in a 2013 blog in which the Beeb tried to rip-off an idea the late Malcolm Hardee and I had. 

Which brings us to the current great rip-off scandal involving BBC Studios.

Monday 12th August sees a one-off event at the Edinburgh FringeAn Audience with President Obonjo: in effect, a fake press conference by the original African comedy dictator. This should be quite an event. Fur will fly.

Everyone on the UK comedy scene seems fairly gobsmacked at the utterly blatant rip-off of Benjamin Bankole Bello’s widely-known, much admired and increasingly prestigious character President Obonjo – an African military dictator adrift in the UK – which he has been building on the UK comedy circuit for the last ten years…  

The BBC have sold a non-broadcast pilot idea to E4 (part of Channel 4) featuring an African military dictator adrift in the UK but in what – on the basis of a trailer promoting it – appears to be a wildly racist lowest-common-denominator pile of steaming crap.

I am, perhaps, being too generous.

The general perception of the BBC (and, guilty by association) Channel 4 is that they are either 

  1. blatant thieves or 
  2. an amateurish shambles who don’t know anything about the live comedy industry…

When news of this rip-off first surfaced a few weeks ago, it seemed obvious that it was, indeed, a rip-off. But, as I blogged at the time, there was and is another – perhaps worse – possibility:

The (as it turned out) ironically-titled 2015 Fringe show

“If the BBC Studios Comedy team are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.”

When this scandal – for scandal it is – blew up, the BBC producer associated with the apparent rip-off, Ben Caudell, contacted Benjamin Bello for a meeting on 22nd July… presumably to try to smother criticism. 

He was apparently a tad surprised when Benjamin turned up with the aforementioned Kate Copstick, the most revered and arguably most fearsome comedy critic in the UK. It is not irrelevant that Copstick trained as a lawyer.

So let us be generous and presume that the BBC did not wantonly steal the idea from Benjamin. Let us assume that they are simply incompetent.

At the meeting with Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name) and Copstick – speaking in his capacity as a member of the BBC Studios Comedy team – Ben Caudell claimed never to have known about the widely-known President Obonjo character before the scandal blew up – although ‘President Obonjo’ had been performing on the live circuit over the last ten years, had staged two well-reviewed Edinburgh Fringe shows and had had multiple contacts with the BBC over a period of years. 

Ben Caudell also detailed how the BBC’s character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK had been developed separately from any knowledge of the existence of ‘President Obonjo’, an African military dictator adrift in the UK.

Interestingly, Copstick was later told by another BBC production person an entirely different story of how the BBC ‘innocently’ developed the entirely original character of an African military dictator adrift in the UK. 

A load of bull (Photo by Christian Wiediger via UnSplash)

The cynical might observe that, if you are going to tell potential porkies, at least agree beforehand on the same story. At least one (or more) of these conflicting stories has to be bollocks.

Anyway… Ben Caudell said, in his own defence, at the meeting with Copstick and Benjamin Bello (ie in front of witnesses), that “I don’t have much to do with live comedy… They’re not nearly as important as they think they are”.

This might go some way to explain how a BBC producer or a bunch of BBC producers (I believe the collective noun is ‘a bullshit’ of BBC producers) could be totally and utterly ignorant of an act which had been playing the London and UK circuit for ten years – widely known – AND had staged two well-reviewed (4-star) Edinburgh Fringe shows AND had multiple contacts with BBC TV over several years specifically about the President Obonjo character (the BBC response at that time had been: “We like what you do”).

Let us be clear that the BBC rip-off character was (allegedly) thought-up by BBC producers, progressed after discussion and development with others to the top of BBC Studios Comedy tree without anyone realising there was a President Obonjo act. Allegedly.

President Obonjo had been twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition with videos submitted in 2012 and 2014. The character was considered for the BBC’s own Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme in 2018 and President Obonjo sketches were submitted to BBC3 earlier this year.

Bear in mind that the BBC’s ‘Colonel Banjoko’ character was (allegedly) created by people who had never heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s original character President Obonjo. There is a striking similarity in names going on there.

I had thought Ben Caudell might have gone for the My Sweet Lord defence in which George Harrison copied I think note-for-note Ronnie Mack’s country & western song He’s So Fine but said he had not consciously copied the song: it must have got into his subconscious after hearing it.

The increasingly prestigious President at the 2017 Fringe

But, no, Ben Caudell, speaking on behalf of BBC Studios, was not saying he or anyone else had seen or heard of Benjamin Bankolo Bello’s President Obonjo character when creating their Colonel Banjoko character.

They could have said they didn’t like ‘President Obonjo’ and had been inspired to create a ‘better’ and different character.

But no. The claim was that no-one at all at any point in the development and commissioning process had ever heard of or seen the President Obonjo character… (Reminder: the previous BBC response to viewing the President Obonjo character: “We like what you do”)

So Ben Caudell suggested:

“As a gesture of goodwill, we will use best endeavours to feature President Obonjo in some way in an episode of a potential future series. This would of course be subject to broadcaster and commissioner approval.”

So no real offer of anything.

As Copstick wisely says: “As soon as they say best endeavours, they’re really not interested.”

When pushed further, Ben Caudell suggested: “How about this: to demonstrate that we really do want to acknowledge President Obonjo, why don’t we – with your permission – do a video version of your poster idea in our pilot? We’re thinking of doing a VT explaining Colonel Banjoko’s rise and fall. A photo of President Obonjo could feature in that, as the Colonel’s predecessor. How does that sound?”

Worth remembering here that it is a non-broadcast pilot which would not be screened on-air.

Last week, Kate Copstick got in touch with Karl Warner, Controller of E4, pointing out that the proposed BBC/E4 series “with its curiously, closely similar spoof African dictator will destroy (Benjamin Bello’s) act, his career and his livelihood. We met with Ben Caudell, who is producing the pilot. He gave one version of how the character came to be, since when we have been assured by someone else of another version (completely different) of how the character came to be. He (Benjamin Bello) is looking at a ten year career disappearing. Should this show be allowed to go ahead he will have nowhere to go with his character… his career… his creation.”

Karl Warner replied: “We’re satisfied that there’s been no infringement of intellectual property by BBC Studios in this case.”

Note that Channel 4’s statutory public service remit includes that it should “be innovative and distinctive.” 

I think a hollow laugh might be in order at this point.

Obviously, Copstick, I and Benjamin Bello have discussed the problem. This part of our discussion might be interesting, remembering that Copstick and I have a TV production background and Copstick trained as a lawyer:


President Obonjo and Copstick in Edinburgh

COPSTICK: Ben Caudell talked vaguely about the people upstairs. But, basically, anyone who has any power at the BBC doesn’t want to have anything to do with this and they’re just going to carry on. He can do nothing. 

The men in suits will not react, because they are so sure they are more powerful than anybody and can just wait until it all goes away. Or they will mumble something about “best endeavours”. 

There was a chance when we met him that he was actually vaguely decent and was thinking Well, maybe there’s something we can do that will keep everybody happy. But I don’t think that’s the case. I think he was just sent in there like a canary in the mine. They think it’s all going to go away.

I contacted a very prominent QC who specialises in Intellectual Property who says we have a reasonable case on several fronts. I asked to what extent could sections of the Universal Declaration of  Human Rights, as taken on by the EU’s Human Rights legislation, be used in an Intellectual Property case where the victim has kind-of shot himself in the foot because he has previously sent off ideas to a company. And, as we know, ideas are not copyrightable. 

JOHN: That’s the massive get-out clause for all broadcasters ripping-off people’s ideas.

COPSTICK: Yes. The fucker is that Benjamin sent the BBC ideas and one of them was not a chat show but, from what I’ve read of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, your rights in your own Intellectual Property are your human rights, because your Intellectual Property is seen as an extension of yourself – especially where it’s something like a character. So, even though you are fucked under UK statute law, because you sent them ideas, there is the Human Rights angle.

JOHN: What did the QC say?

COPSTICK: He said: “That’s interesting”… Given than Benjamin has been doing this character and only this character for ten years, you could argue that it is his business… It is a business he has created and a business in which there is a lot of goodwill. It is a ‘brand’ and there is a lot of goodwill. So, by doing what BBC Studios and Channel 4 are doing, they are infringing the goodwill of the brand. Which is (a) true and (b) very monetisable.

JOHN: Well, I’m not worried about a court case. I would welcome the publicity!

COPSTICK: We will fight if necessary and the embarrassment factor for them would be at absolute maximum.

JOHN: And the QC would work pro bono…

COPSTICK: Yes.

JOHN: My angle is that, even if they didn’t rip it off intentionally – which stretches credulity a bit – the only alternative explanation is that they are incompetent idiots.

COPSTICK: They are worse than incompetent idiots. They are dangerous and damaging. 

JOHN: …because they are knowingly going to destroy a career built-up over ten years…

COPSTICK: Yes. They are going to destroy a career AND… they don’t care!

JOHN: And, given that Ben Caudell is married to an actress, Diane Morgan, it’s shocking that he doesn’t care more about performers’ careers.

COPSTICK: They really don’t care and also, even if everything they say is true, then what does that say about the attitude of BBC Television Comedy to live comedy? Live comedy is only important to them as a place where they go to steal ideas.

Although Benjamin did not send them a format with the President in a talk show format, by putting AN Other President in the talk show, they have more or less stolen the character as long as there’s enough similarity between the two presidents. What they will do is change his back story.

BENJAMIN: I talked to an Intellectual Property lawyer too and one of the things that President Obonjo does is he is very prominent on social media including YouTube videos and he is talking in character. 

JOHN: You are so prominent all over the place that it is inconceivable – unless the producers at the BBC are utterly incompetent and simply not even remotely doing their job properly – that they didn’t know you existed. The only way in which they could not know you existed was if they were totally inept.

If they claim that nobody developing or commissioning comedy at BBC TV or at Channel 4 had ever heard of you, it implies nobody at BBC TV Comedy or at Channel 4 Comedy knows or cares anything about live comedy over the last couple of years, let alone the last ten years.


#JusticeForObonjo !

President Obonjo’s 2019 Edinburgh Fringe show

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Edinburgh Fringe 3 – a rail accident, Malcolm Hardee, #JusticeForObonjo

Some insights into the lives of three comedy performers at the Edinburgh Fringe…


(1) GERRY CARROLL is performing at the City Cafe, part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. He describes his show Crock or Gold as “the story of the first 66 years of my life told in jokes, clown numbers and songs.” He came up to Edinburgh from London on the Caledonian Sleeper. He tells me:


Gerry Carroll – famous for rolling not laughing stock

When the train arrived in Edinburgh, it passed quite fast through Haymarket station and Waverley station and then stopped in a tunnel. We waited for an hour, as train staff walked through the carriages saying that the train had lost power. 

Eventually, the train moved back to the platform and I got off.

I had Tweeted that I was on the Sleeper and a journalist from the BBC contacted me. 

The incident had potentially been much more serious. The train’s brakes had failed and it had to be stopped by an emergency brake. The journalist arranged to interview me on camera outside my venue, the City Cafe, and I told the story as I’ve written it here. Basically…

“What happened?” 

“Well, nothing much.” 

The piece was shown on the BBC Scottish News that night. 

Since then, I have been recognised twice in the street, once by a woman who asked to have a photo with me.

I am more famous for having been on a runaway train than for my show.


(2) BECKY FURY is performing her show One Hour to Save the World (in 55 Minutes) Upstairs at the Waverley Bar, as part of PBH’s Free Fringe. Her Diary (first part posted here 3 days ago) continues…


Becky Fury: she goes for the cute, autistic type

SATURDAY

My first show goes well. I tell an audience member he’s cute in that autistic way I like and add the caveat that he looks like he’s that far down the spectrum he might not be able to give consent. Legally. Or might need to get a signed letter from his carer giving permission if he wants to come home with me. 

After the show, I’m informed he’s someone important. Luckily he’s not so autistic or important that he doesn’t have the capacity to appreciate humour. I am also told afterwards that the Malcolm Hardee Awards are still running and the man I flirted with/insulted/diagnosed is involved.

I tell him, “They’re not,” and somehow agree to have Malcolm Hardee’s face tattooed on my arm if they are.

It seems I am being pranked by the Godfather of alternative comedy from beyond the grave as the next day I am anonymously messaged with a list of tattooists in Edinburgh.

SUNDAY

My hippy friend comes over for breakfast. He has brought me an offering of a chorizo sausage he found “dumpster diving”. I look at it, tell him I don’t eat meat and I especially don’t eat mouldy meat from the bin and I throw it away. 

He redeems himself after Chorizogate by unlocking some features on Photoshop so I can design a new flyer. 

I get engrossed in the design process and forget to flyer.

I end up performing to a small but lovely audience. Two of the girls are university students. They are studying journalism and have come to the show because they want to save the world. I ask them if they know what capitalism is. They say they have no idea.

It is great being able to tell an audience: “If you haven’t laughed, at least you’ve learnt… You need to get an analysis of capitalism.” 

Life goals achieved. 

Lovely kids but are they meant to be our future? Seriously? 

We are so fucked.

Fate is taking a big post-coital toke of her vape and lying back in a euphoric haze of fruit-flavoured carcinogens as I type.

I meet the Spirit of the Fringe again when I return to the flat where I’m staying.

He is sitting outside. 

He tells me he is called George and shakes my hand.


(3) Man of the moment Benjamin Bankole Bello aka President Obonjo, is performing his show Goodbye Mr President at the Voodoo Rooms on PBH’s Free Fringe. He writes:


Richard Blackwood, actor and playwright, meets Obonjo

Yesterday, was the best day ever so far at the Fringe and these are the reasons why:

A 4 star review for Goodbye Mr President. 

– Met Tim Vine, Tony Slattery, Stephen K Amos, Omid Djalili and so many top stakeholders in the comedy industry. Tim Vine knows about #JusticeForObonjo. So unreal chatting with Omid and Tim about the case. 

– A prominent comedy club in Edinburgh, that we have been trying to get into for years, finally offers spots whilst the President is in Edinburgh.

– Met Tommy Sheppard, SNP MP. Someone introduced me to him, saying: “I am happy to introduce two of my favourite politicians”. Tommy burst out laughing.

– Confirmation that #JusticeForObonjo is having a positive impact on sales for the Triple AAA compilation shows.

– Audience members shouting out “Justice for Obonjo!” at the end of show last night 

– Finally, finally, top agents in the country are interested.

#JusticeForObonjo !

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Edinburgh Fringe latest – BBC Studios slag-off live comedy + a secret new gig

Up at the Edinburgh Fringe, anything and everything is possible…

Michael Livesley – after and before

I am not up at the Edinburgh Fringe, but feedback is starting to trickle in.

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.”

At that point, she had already signed-up comedy performers Juliette Burton, Dave Chawner, Laura Lexx, nutritionist Michelle Aucutt and life coach Andrea Bradley.

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 Together project. 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…

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BBC TV stole this character comic’s identity, making Channel 4 complicit

The one, the original – President Obonjo – cajoles, intimidates and for sure entertains his audience

In the last four days, within the cyber bubble of the UK comedy industry, there has been a shitstorm on Twitter and Facebook about BBC Studios apparently ripping off a character comedian’s long-running on-stage persona and selling a series pilot based on it to E4 (part of Channel 4).

So obviously, yesterday, I had a chat with the wronged ‘President Obonjo aka comedian Benjamin Bankole Bello (remember that exact name).

There is a certain element in this rip-off by the BBC of life imitating art.

President Obonjo Stole My Identity – at Edinburgh in 2015

In 2015, at the Edinburgh Fringe, Benjamin performed a show: President Obonjo Stole My Identity. 

“Remind me what it was about?” I asked him yesterday.

“It was about the fact I had created this character – President Obonjo – and people had forgotten about me, Benjamin Bello. Everybody just wanted President Obonjo. Even when people saw me without the uniform, they always called me President Obonjo. So the whole idea was that President Obonjo had stolen my identity.”

“And you performed that around the London circuit…”

“Yes. And around the country. And for two weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got a 5-star review from Fringe Guru and 4-stars from The Wee Review.”

In an August 2015 blog from the Edinburgh Fringe, I wrote about Benjamin performing President Obonjo Stole My Identity: “He has great audience control. The character was immediately taken-to-heart by the 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.”

I myself had first blogged about the President Obonjo character when I met Benjamin at a radio show recording in Streatham in September 2014.

In November 2016, I interviewed him about his appearance in the final of the Leicester Square Theatre New Comedian of the Year competition.

In that year, he had reached the finals of seven comedy competitions and won two of them. It “has helped my profile” he told me then. 

Obonjo’s 2017 Fringe show – The Rise of a Comedy Dictator

In August 2017 I blogged, again from the Edinburgh Fringe, that his “African dictator character dominates any room and he had a “full-to-the-brim audience eating out of his hand… a tribute to his skill.”

Bear all this in mind, dear reader, in what follows. Remember almost ten years on the comedy circuit, the Edinburgh Fringe shows, the 5-star-reviews.

Last Wednesday (17th July) the Chortle comedy website reported that E4 had announced  that “Famalam and Sliced star Samson Kayo is to play a fictional African dictator” called Colonel Banjoko in a new spoof talk show.

By the next day, Chortle had contacted Benjamin Bankole Bello about the rip-off fake Africal military dictator Colonel Banjoko character (note, too, the similarity in names) because the President Obonjo character is so widely known by people in the comedy industry and is the only fake African military dictator on the comedy circuit. When reviewing President Obonjo over the years, Chortle had previously written: “It’s a great comic construct.”

The Londonist had reviewed Obonjo as having “the potential of that high-status, comedy bomb-proof kind of character.”

Fringe Guru, giving President Obonjo Stole My Identity a 5-star review, wrote: “On the face of it, it works as a well-crafted political comedy… But it’s the layers of context that really make this a fascinating, bewildering and painfully funny experience.”

When Chortle talked to Benjamin Bello last week, he told them: “E4 and BBC Studios have stolen my act… I have been developing the character President Obonjo on the comedy circuit for nearly ten years. I have carefully crafted the comedic personality of an African military dictator adrift in the UK and the similarities to the E4 pilot announced yesterday are deeply worrying… This is stealing 10 years of work.”

BBC Studios claimed their character (an African military dictator adrift in the UK) was the idea of “the BBC Studios Comedy team”.

But this is not what people in the comedy industry thought. 

President Obonjo in Streatham back in 2014

Comedian Dane Baptiste, a personal friend of actor Samson Kayo, said: “This is clearly a rip off of @realObonjo, a character that we on the circuit know and love. And we know nobody there came up with it because, well, you know…”

Comic Ignacio Lopez posted: “I saw a story about @E4Tweets’s new ‘African Dictator’ show & was about to congratulate @realObonjo, then I read it & realised it’s someone else. I find it hard to believe nobody flagged up the blatant similarities at any point during the development.”

The Wee Review website wrote of the announced E4 show: “A mad African dictator terrorising his audience for laughs? Count us in. Sounds like a great concept. In fact, we know it’s a great concept because someone’s successfully been entertaining Fringe audiences with it for years. And his name is President Obonjo… Comedy is a small world and it defies credibility that someone in a position to make or commission a TV comedy was not aware that a circuit act had been performing a very similar act for a decade. The assumption has to be they knew. And they knew they could get away with it.”

I agree. Either “the BBC Studios Comedy team” blatantly and intentionally stole the President Obonjo character thinking that they could wantonly and without consequence fuck-over a hard-working comic who does not (yet) have an agent… or “the BBC Studios Comedy team” had never heard of a widely-admired, widely-known, well-reviewed, award-winning comedy act which had been successfully playing the circuit for ten years and had appeared multiple times in full-length shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.

If “the BBC Studios Comedy team” are not thieves, they are so utterly ignorant of their own area of entertainment that they should be sacked for utter laziness and for being incompetent wankers.

It is not as if the President Obonjo act was unknown to the BBC.

He was twice in the BBC New Comedy Awards competition – “I submitted my videos to them: I think it was 2012 and 2014,” Benjamin told me yesterday.

President welcomed me in London yesterday

“So they saw you in uniform in character in the videos?” I asked.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “And they acknowledged. They said: Yes, we like what you do. I also applied for the Caroline Aherne Bursary Scheme at the BBC in 2018 and I submitted sketches to BBC3 this year.”

(BBC3 is the channel which produced and transmitted Famalam, the series in which Samson Kayo starred – the same Samson Kayo who was announced as starring in the BBC Studios Obanjo rip-off series for E4.)

“The sketches you suggested to BBC3 specifically featured the President Obonjo character?” I asked.

“Yes. They just said: Come up with ideas. If you’ve got any sketch ideas, submit them to us. So I submitted ideas for the President Obonjo character.”

Given that E4 has commissioned a potentially career-destroying rip-off copy of President Obonjo’s 10-year-running character, it is worth remembering that parent company Channel 4’s statutory remit is “to deliver high-quality, innovative, alternative content”… Call me pedantic, but I do not see this statutory – I repeat statutory – remit to deliver innovative content as being the same thing as ripping-off existing, hard-working performers.

To look on the bright side of this utter shitstorm, we are one week away from the start of the Edinburgh Fringe, at which ‘President Obonjo’ unveils a new hour-long show: Goodbye Mr President… You could pay thousands to a PR guru to get publicity like this. 

I saw a work-in-progress preview of the new show two months ago and posted that the preview of Goodbye Mr President “was extraordinary and should be even more astonishing by the time it reaches Edinburgh. A tragic, true, single story which elicits natural laughs. It feels like the ideal Fringe show. Serious points being made about comedy, comedians, friendship and life. Laughs, tears, a gripping narrative and serious thoughts to take away from the venue.”

To continue looking for a twinkle of daylight among the BBC bullshit, this story of the BBC stealing President Obonjo’s identity and selling it to E4 could form the basis of a fascinating Edinburgh Fringe show by Benjamin Bello in 2020.

… MORE DETAILS OF THIS STORY IN A LATER BLOG HERE

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 19: How to perform comedy to a tough audience

Yesterday’s blog ended (because of the interruption of midnight) just before Arthur Smith’s annual alternative tour of the Royal Mile started (at 2.00am).

Telephone box claiming on the Royal Mile

This tour used to be a near Bacchanalian trip with occasional appearances by the boys in blue (usually the police; seldom the Smurfs).

Now it is a comparatively more civilised trip down the cobbles from the Castle to St Giles Cathedral – if you can call it ‘civilised’ with 60 people following Arthur down the street as he declaims poetry, misrepresents statues, accosts passers-by, encourages people to perform cartwheels, climb atop telephone kiosks and get into holes in the road, become living statues in the night-time street, and introduces a man loudly singing Frank Sinatra songs from a second-storey window at the top of his voice at around 02.30 in the morning.

Arthur approached one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges (not me) this afternoon to run naked down the Royal Mile but, alas, they felt the possibility of arrest and getting a criminal record was even riskier to their future reputation and job prospects than being an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge.

By the time Arthur had finished his shenanigans and I got home to my flat and into bed, it was around 04.00am. Which is fairly average for Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Later in the day, I bumped into former sailor Eric, who tried to persuade me again that he should get a Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality because he has now been performing the same show – Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn – at the Fringe for 10 years. He was eating a chip.

Could be good. Could be shit. Don’t matter.

The former squatters on the late Malcolm Hardee’s boat, the Wibbley Wobbley, are staging a one-off comedy play about him – Malcolm Hardee: Back From the Drink, on Wednesday at The Hive, not to be confused with my own Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday at the Counting House.

Their comic play should be interesting, as they never met him. And though I say it is a one-off. In fact, they tested it out on Friday in London… They are performing it this Wednesday in Edinburgh… And are hoping more London performances may happen.

They – five of them – came to the Grouchy Club this afternoon to discuss the show but I am told I have to keep schtum about it to avoid plot spoilers.

Who knows if it will be an audience-pleaser? I have not yet seen it. “Could be good. Could be shit,” as Malcolm used to say when introducing as-yet unseen acts.

To be really honest, it is not the shows I enjoy most about the Edinburgh Fringe, it is the city and the people. The shows come third.

The aforementioned Grouchy Club is open daily, totally free to all at the Counting House 1415-1515. If you got it, flaunt it.

The manager of the Counting House and the adjoining Pear Tree is Brian.

During the Fringe, all day long, weather allowing, he sits at a barrel on the pavement outside the Counting House, helping and supervising and helping and advising.

Brian is a big man. I did not realise how big he actually until today. He is normally seated at his barrel.

One of his lovely Counting House assistants told me Brian was officially the tallest teenager in Scotland in 1985.

Big Brian by his barrel with one of his lovely assistants on a surprisingly sunny day outside the lovely Counting House

“I was 6 feet 5 inches tall as a teenager,” he confirmed to me outside, sitting by his barrel. “I’m 6 feet 11¾ now – a quarter of an inch shorter than a giant. Imagine that. If I had just spent a little bit more time growing, I could have made it to giant status. I could have had it on my passport and my CVs. Occupation: Giant. There is a Tall Person’s Club, but I’ve never joined. It’s supposed to get you good flights with extra legroom and stuff.”

“Do you,” I asked, “get charged extra for having a sideways…”

“For having long legs?” Brian asked. “Yes. That or the drinks trolley goes over your feet. You are crucified either way.”

People. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about people.

I got an inevitable text message and two pictures from Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (left) with what he calls ‘candies’ and Eric

“Eric the Submariner,” it said, “has been going around town today handing out candies to brighten performers’ moods on what he calls ‘Shit Sunday’ – the third Sunday of the festival. He has picked the right person. I’m a mess.”

Eric the submariner used to be a regular in the audience at Malcolm’s Up The Creek Club and it was Malcolm who encouraged Eric to perform. His Tales of The Sea is a real audience-pleaser of a show with Eric in total control of the audience. Well, he should be, after ten years!

President Obonjo harangues his full audience of 350

The same could be said of President Obonjo – Benjamin Bello – whose African dictator character dominates any room – which is more difficult than he makes it seem because it could be fraught with all sorts of racial stereotype problems. The fact it sails smoothly through and he had his audience of 350 (he insists all his audiences anywhere at any time are and forever will be 350 but, in fact, today he did have a full-to-the-brim audience) eating out of his comedic hand is a tribute to his skill.

Matt Price was in charge of the Royal Marines

A talent that Matt Price (partner of cunning stunt vixen Martha McBrier) had to have in spades tonight.

His show The Weed Fairy is about his father – so-called because of his dad’s predilection for growing marijuana plants at the family home in Cornwall and consequent visits from those boys in blue again.

But that was not why Matt needed all his audience-controlling cleverness and amiability tonight.

Matt and men from 42 Commando, K Company, including Corpsey in the striped shirt, second from the right

He had eight Royal Marine Commandos in the audience, one of whom – Corpsey – was almost paralytically drunk. Matt managed to be relentlessly insulting to Corpsey (which is what his Marine mates wanted) without in any way offending either Corpsey or his mates.

It was an extraordinary feat of professionalism intermingling the scripted show, drunk-wrangling, physical improvisation, ad-libbing and street psychology.

Matt played very literally passive aggressive. He would be insulting to Corpsey and the other Marines (which they loved), then back-off into amiable self-effacement and amiability, then swing back into put-downs, then be your-best-chum, then land a slight insult, all-the-while keeping the pace of the narrative of his story on-course and on-pace.

Brilliant.

Plus there was film of him, as a slim teenager, skateboarding… and an online instruction video about didgeridoo-playing from a man claiming to run ‘The Didge Project’.

It might have been a Cunning Stunt.

Anything could be.

Fantasy and reality are beginning to merge in my mind. That is not uncommon at the Fringe, which may be the best thing since slice bread.

Meanwhile, the world outside the Edinburgh bubble still turns.

In non-Fringe-related news, my eternally un-named friend points out to me that entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who died three days ago, and Jerry Lewis, who died today, were older than sliced bread.

Sliced bread was born on 7th July 1928.

Bruce Forsyth was born on 22nd February 1928.

Jerry Lewis was born on 16th March 1926.

There are sequences from Jerry Lewis’ unseen movie The Day The Clown Cried in a documentary extract on YouTube. It has a commentary in Flemish…

Welcome to my reality.

 

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