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Comedy critic Copstick on cosy British feminists, sex and a Kenyan catastrophe

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick at a happier time in Kenya

Mama Biashara’s Kate Copstick

In the last two blogs, comedy critic Kate Copstick told me how she became disillusioned as a lawyer, discovered cocaine in children’s TV and met Jimmy Savile. Today’s blog, from a chat at The Grouchy Club, brings her story up to date.

“So you were a children’s TV presenter in London,” I said. “How did you end up writing for The Scotsman newspaper in Edinburgh?”

“I was rent-a-gob female for ages on TV,” she said.

“Rent-a-feminist?” I asked.

“Oh, you’re joking!” Copstick replied. “Good God no! Do I look that humorless? I’m not anti-feminist. I just find it very irritating… Not everything is the fault of men. There were women who used to have to fight for stuff in Britain but I work most of the time in Kenya now. Women there really, really have to fight and terrible things happen to them. Appalling things. I see the real fight women have to fight in Africa: the terrible way they are treated. Then I come back to Britain and find some twat of an actress has gone on Facebook saying Aw, we were hosting a serious play and someone said Nice tits! and I would really have thought blah blah blah blah… Hashtag EverydayMisogyny.

“If you really, really care about women and women’s rights, then in Britain we’re doing kind of relatively OK. Why not come with me to countries where women are really doing very badly? If you care so bloody much, come with me and help them. Don’t sit here and get outraged because in Britain some woman has five children, is adopting a third, can only work every third Monday and then only until 5 o’clock in the afternoon and is complaining because she’s not chairman of the bloody company board.”

“So,” I said, “you were a rent-a-gob female but not a feminist…”

“Yes. And I did loads of TV gameshows. I hosted a couple for the BBC. But, at the same time, I was doing lots of writing.”

“About what?” I asked.

“Sex,” said Copstick. “Mainly sex. Stick to what you know. They say that in comedy. In writing too. I could have written about Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law, but it just never had the sales potential that sex and alcohol did. I wrote for FHM magazine. I did a column called Stuff Your Face With Copstick. I used to take famous men out for lunch and we’d get reasonably drunk and then I’d write about what I remembered of it and it seemed to go down well.”

“I’m sure you did,” I said.

The Erotic Review led to comedy reviews

The Erotic Review led to comedy reviews

“Then,” said Copstick, “I interviewed Rowan Pelling, who was working for the Erotic Review. She was posh totty. The Arts Editor of The Scotsman – Robert Dawson Scott – sent me down to interview her. He liked what I wrote and (in 1999) he said What about coming and devastating young people’s dreams in August for a month (reviewing comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe) and I thought Weyhey! That sounds like fun! The Darth Vader effect seemed to suit me and I did more and more writing.”

Copstick now owns The Erotic Review and is the doyernne of comedy reviewers at the Edinburgh Fringe but, for around six months of each year, she works in Kenya.

“You have a charity in Kenya,” I said to her.

“Yes. Mama Biashara, which is Swahili for Business Mother. I get people who are really up to their nipples in horror and – I’m not a particularly touchy-feely person – I don’t do all that I feel your pain. Let’s go and talk thing. You can talk till the cows come home and it’s not going to do any good.

“No! You don’t empower people by talking. You empower people by giving them money and a skill so then they can tell the bad guys to fuck off. That’s how you empower people. Not by sitting and giving them ideas that are never going to come true.”

Mama Biashara gives people who previously had no hope small amounts of money and practical help to start their own self-sustaining small businesses.

Copstick (in blue) at Mama Biashara project

Copstick (in blue) at new Mama Biashara well

“For a lot of the commercial sex workers,” said Copstick, “we have a thing called Kucha Kool (kucha is the Swahili word for finger nail) where they become roving manicurists. You have to start a business that plays to your strengths and the girls who come off the street we try to set up in hairdresser businesses or sewing or as manicurists.

“With the Kucha Kool girls, I give them a dozen assorted nail varnishes, emery boards and buffers and whatever else in a nice case and then they hit the ground running, because they can make 1,500 bob a day (a ‘bob’ is a Kenyan Shilling) and when you consider they got 40 bob for a shag, then 1,500 bob a day is pretty good.

“I buy all that in bulk here in Britain, where it’s cheaper, and then we can hand somebody a business start-up in Kenya.”

“You used to live in the Nairobi slums in a storage container,” I said.

“I have to live in the slums, really,” said Copstick, “because I can’t afford anything else and because I’m kind of obsessive about the money from Mama Biashara going to the women – the people – who need it. I pay all my own expenses. And it’s fine. Who needs to have an inside toilet? My gran lived perfectly well without one.”

“And where do you live in Nairobi now?” I asked.

“Well, thereby hangs a tale,” said Copstick. “Just before I went into my first show at the Fringe (at the beginning of August), I got a text from Kenya saying: Call us! Call us! It is a disaster! 

“In the slums, we had set up a little house. The front of it was mbati (corrugated metal). The sides were stone. The back was bits of wood. And the roof was a patchwork of everything. I was describing it to a friend in Kenya and he said: Oh, that is a very random house. So we called it The Random House. It was the headquarters for Mama Biashara, with loads of stuff there, blankets, lots of hair dryers to start hairdressing businesses, three sewing machines which I had just bought, loads of medication and just everything to help people start up a business.

“You can hire men from the City Council. You pay them 200 bob and they will do any type of thuggery you want. Apparently at 4.00am on a Tuesday morning, about a dozen men from the City Council came to the compound where The Random House is, broke in, carted out on City Council handcarts everything that was inside and then brought a bulldozer and flattened it.”

Copstick returns to Nairobi on Sunday.

When I asked her last week where she was going to live, she told me: “The house has been knocked down, so I have absolutely no idea. I will just have to see when I get there.”

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Comic Arthur Smith and critic Copstick talk comedy & hard core pornography

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted on Monday

Moi, Arthur Smith and Kate Copstick chatted in Edinburgh

A couple of weeks ago, I staged five daily hour-long chat shows in the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe.

In the first show, the guests were comedian Arthur Smith and doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (who hates being called Kate). This is a short extract:

_____________________________________________________

ARTHUR: A naked man is funny whereas, with a naked woman, there are different things going on.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Why?

ARTHUR: Well… because of the evil that is Man.

COPSTICK: A round of applause, please. The feminist contingent has arrived.

ARTHUR: Well, I do consider myself a feminist. When I arrived at university in 1974, there was a woman setting up The Women’s Liberation Society. You only had to think about it. Men had been oppressing women for thousands of years and she was absolutely right.

I always thought that the feminist ethos would continue more. For example, the ‘Ms’ thing. Fair enough. Why does a woman have to announce her marital status on a form by being Miss or Mrs? Men don’t have to. So I just assumed Ms would become standard, but it didn’t.

I assumed that the Feminist revolution, for want of a better word, would continue, but then Lad Culture suddenly appeared, courtesy of Frank Skinner and David Baddiel amongst others. And porn was alright.

COPSTICK: Porn IS alright!

ARTHUR: Yeah, but… I’m not suggesting porn should be illegal, but it’s another area of controversy.

COPSTICK: Have you ever been on a porn set?

ARTHUR: I was asked… Victoria Coren

COPSTICK: Oh, that’s not a proper porn set. That’s middle-class girls playing at making porn.

JOHN: Copstick has proper porn sets.

ARTHUR: I’ve always had this joke about balancing a tray on the end of me knob. It’s an idea that perhaps I could learn to do.

COPSTICK: I was only asking because I have spent quite a long while within the porn industry.

ARTHUR: Have you?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

ARTHUR: I didn’t know that.

COPSTICK: Oh yes.

JOHN: She owns the Erotic Review.

COPSTICK: But I’m not talking about the Erotic Review. I’m talking about hard core porn. Proper hard core, you know? Every industry has its sleazy end. I know nothing about the illegal stuff. I’m talking about… The mainstream porn industry is where the one group of people who can turn up on a set with a list of what they will do and what they won’t do is the women. And that list is adhered to.

A very good friend of mine does everything. She does things probably none of the lovely people here could even imagine.

JOHN: Such as?

COPSTICK: Have you ever seen a cream pie?

ARTHUR: Oh, I’ve heard of that one. There’s a woman I know who’s actually quite well-known who said Ooh, I’ve seen this lovely profiterole. I’ve got me eye on it. I didn’t understand what she was talking about, but… she… she doesn’t eat it. Let’s put it like that.

COPSTICK: My friend does double-anal, she does double-pussy, she does cream pie, she does everything.

ARTHUR: With profiteroles?

COPSTICK: Well, there’s somebody there balancing them on a tray on his dick.

JOHN: And then?

ARTHUR: Is this comedy or porn?

COPSTICK: Oh, it’s porn.

ARTHUR: It sounds quite funny, doesn’t it?

COPSTICK: She’ll do all these things, but she doesn’t like anyone playing with her nipples. So, on her list of things the guys are not allowed to do, none of them are allowed to go anywhere near her nipples, no matter what else they are doing… And, if they do, she can stop the scene. The women are not downtrodden in porn… I haven’t convinced you, Arthur?

JOHN: Few people know you’re in the erotic industry.

COPSTICK: I thought we were talking about Arthur.

JOHN: Few people know you were in the erotic industry, Arthur.

ARTHUR: Mr Knobbo? He never really caught on.

JOHN: There was a lot of nudity surrounding Malcolm Hardee in the 1980s for no reason I could figure out except The Roman In Britain was getting publicity.

ARTHUR: Well, like I said, naked men are funny.

JOHN: Why?

ARTHUR: Kate will tell you.

COPSTICK: It is the danglies. Little squishy things that dangle are quite funny.

ARTHUR: Well, the testicles and penis are slightly silly things. The rest of your body doesn’t have things hanging off. You look at them and you think What the hell are…

COPSTICK: One wonders what Mother Nature was thinking… And there are an increasing number of chaps in really quite middle-of-the-road comedy shows who, at the end of the show, just randomly get their knobs out.

If I was male and I was going to get my knob out, I would want to know that people were going to have to gasp Whoaaah! but none of them are. Maybe it’s just a comedian thing. They’re all…

ARTHUR: All comedians have small knobs?

COPSTICK: Yeah.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Jimmy Savile show actor beaten up in the street after being named in Chortle website review

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Juliette Burton (right) and her flash mob yesterday in the High Street

Juliette Burton (right) and her flash mob in the High Street

But, before that…

Juliette Burton led a flash mob in a choreographed dance down the High Street to publicise her show When I Grow Up

And, on my way to see Irish comic Christian Talbot’s late night comedy compilation show at the Phoenix venue, I heard one of those lines that only seems reasonable during the Edinburgh Fringe.

I bumped into Frank Sanazi in the street and, as we walked along, he told me: “She only does the gimp act on my show when Jesus Christ is not available.”

This is both bizarre and true: I myself have seen Jesus climax Frank Sanazi’s Dax Vegas Night II.

Other things which seemed perfectly normal yesterday were:

Andy Zapp introducing his gorilla (who had flown in from London) at Christian Talbot’s show…

Stompie - The Half-Naked Chef - cooks up mischief last night

Stompie – The Half-Naked Chef – cooks up mischief last night

Stompie performing his unbilled nightly Half-Naked Chef show at Bob’s Bookshop partially in the venue and partially in the street…

And Bob Slayer of Bob’s Bookshop explaining where he got his new chairs from. Bob is known for his high-profile criticisms of the Big Four venues in Edinburgh, including the Underbelly.

“I was in the Udderbelly’s Abbatoir last night,” Bob told me, “and Ed (co-owner of the Underbelly/Udderbelly) came up and said: So you’re Bob Slayer, who writes things about us!

“I said: We don’t have a problem here, do we?

Bob Slayer (left_ thanks Ed of the Underbelly (photograph by Claire Smith)

Bob Slayer (left) makes up with Ed Bartlam of the Underbelly (photograph by Claire Smith)

“He said: Well, it does annoy me when you get your facts wrong.

“I gave him my card and said: Well, do correct me, because I would like to criticise you with the correct facts.

“We had a bit of a smile, a bit of a laugh and he said, as an aside, Well, if there’s anything I can help you with, just let me know.

Well, funny enough,” I said, “I’d love some new chairs for my audience. And – first thing this morning – Ed had 40 brand new chairs delivered to Bob’s Bookshop.”

And so to the beating…

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, I blogged about performer Ian Fox being randomly attacked in the street.

Three days ago, I mentioned in a blog that Scotsman journalist Claire Smith had been randomly attacked in Leith.

Yesterday, Ellis of comedy duo Ellis & Rose told me about being attacked in the street – but not randomly. He was with his comedy partner Richard Rose.

They are performing in two Fringe shows this year – their own show Ellis & Rose: Big in Denmark and (as actors) in Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

Richard Rose (left) wit Gareth Ellis and his eye yesterday

Richard Rose (left) with Ellis and his eye yesterday

“We went out for a few drinks last night,” told me. “We were walking down to Cowgate, near Bob’s Bookshop, at about two or three in the morning, a little bit drunk, and this guy walked past and asked us: Are you Ellis and Rose?

“We were quite chuffed that someone had recognised us,” said Richard.

“He told us,” continued Ellis. “You’re sick! You’re sick in the head! and we reacted like What?? and he said You do that Jimmy Savile show, don’t you? We said Yeah and he said You’re fucking sick!

Rose explained: “Ellis tried to engage in dialogue.”

Ellis continued: “I was saying to him But you haven’t seen it, have you? You haven’t seen the show. He was quite a big guy, Scottish accent, in his late-twenties.

“And then he just punched me in the face. I stumbled back a bit and then just ran.”

“To look on the bright side,” I said, “the good thing is that you were recognised in the street. That’s all most Fringe performers want.”

“This stuff wasn’t happening before we were named in the review,” said Ellis.

Gareth Ellis suffers for his art (photo by Lewis Schaffer)

Ellis – how he he suffered for his art (photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

As I mentioned in my blog three days ago, Ellis and Rose (who did not write the Jimmy Savile show) had specifically asked reviewers not to name them but the Chortle review did.

“We initially didn’t want to be named,” explained Rose, “because we just didn’t want it to be confused with our own show.”

“I imagine if he’d see the actual Jimmy Savile show,” continued Ellis, “he would not have punched me.”

“Maybe we should sue Steve Bennett of Chortle,” mused Rose.

“Yeah,” said Ellis, “maybe Steve Bennett (editor of Chortle who personally reviewed the Jimmy Savile show) actually is culpable.”

“This wasn’t happening before that Chortle review came out,” said Rose.

“Though it may increase our audiences,” said Ellis. “We are doing the Fringe properly… One star reviews; audiences love it; and I got punched in the street.”

“A couple of days ago, at the end of the Jimmy Savile show,” said Richard, “it had gone really well so we asked the audience: Would you like to hear a review of the show? And we read out Steve Bennett’s review to rapturous applause. They particularly liked the opening line This show is an insult…

“Did you see stars when you were punched?” I asked Ellis.

“I only saw five stars,” he replied.

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The bad review of the unauthorised Father Ted stage show at the Edinburgh Fringe and the threatened legal action

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

The Father Ted logo from the original Channel 4 TV series

If you are a performer, reviewers are like Americans. It is difficult to live with them, but it is difficult to live without them.

Getting a bad review can be very upsetting, though.

Yesterday morning Garry Platt, photographer, occasional Edinburgh Fringe reviewer and one of the So It Goes blog’s increasing number of men-in-the-street with his finger-on-the-pulse, drew my attention to an amazing Fringe story.

The previous day, reviewer Amy Taylor had blogged about a theatre/comedy review she had written at the recent Edinburgh Fringe. It was her fourth year there as reviewer and, in her blog, she did not name the show she reviewed. She described it as “a two-hour long interactive comedy show, that involved actors impersonating characters from a famous TV comedy”.

She had booked her Fringe tickets via the show’s PR lady.

Amy says in her blog: “I wrote what was I felt was a negative, yet honest and fair review, which was published on The Public Reviews website shortly after. In my review, I stated that the show was ‘unauthorised’ as when I researched the show, I found a number of articles and quotes from the makers of the TV show saying that the show had not been authorised by them.”

Amy Taylor’s blog about the controversial Fringe review

It is well worth reading Amy’s full blog here but the potted story is this…

… A few days after the review was published, a barrage of e-mails started from the show’s PR lady, culminating in a threat of legal action for libel. Even this escalated with, Amy says in her blog, accusations of conspiracy.

Amy’s view is that “the intimidation, bullying and harassment of journalists simply because someone disagrees with what they have written, is immoral, unethical and odious. My advice to any company that is disappointed with a review is to see what they can take from it. If the review is constructive, then there will be something positive in there that you can learn from.”

She also points out that “journalists communicate with one another. This means that if you threaten a writer or a publication with legal proceedings, other writers will hear about it. Once others learn about your treatment of journalists, it damages your reputation more than any negative review ever could. Some might say that’s ironic, but to me, that’s poetic justice.”

Amy’s review is still online here at The Public Reviews.

The stage show logo, as published with the review

The show she reviewed was Ted & Co: The Dinner Show, staged by the British company Laughlines Comedy Entertainment who also have Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show in their repertoire (not to be confused with a rival Australian company’s show Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience).

Laughlines claims to be “the UK’s leading comedy entertainment company” – something which I think might be disputed by the BBC etc.

I asked PR guru Mark Borkowski what he thought about the handling of this affair. He has vast Edinburgh Fringe experience – he legendarily got acres of coverage for Archaos in two separate years by simply claiming they were going to juggle chainsaws during their show (they were not) and then having people ring up and complain to the Council and to the press.

He told me yesterday: “In PR, legal action is a threat of the very  last resort. Jaw-jaw before war-war. It reminds me of the Private Eye reply to a letter they received threatening legal action. The letter said:

Our attitude to damages will be influenced by the speed and sincerity of your apology.

Private Eye’s reply was:

“Tell your client to fuck off – Sincere enough for you?

“Frankly,” Borkowski told me, “every bad review is an opportunity.

“According to Claire Smith at The Scotsman,” he told me, “2012 was a high bullshit mark on the old Festival’s Plimsoll line. There were more PR people running around the Fringe than performers.”

So, obviously, I asked Claire Smith what she thought.

“I think there was definitely more paranoia around this year,” she told me, “and a lot of misunderstanding about the way PR people and journalists work together. PR people helped me get interviews – get comments on things – check information. But I heard a lot of spurious theories about the way PR people influence reviews which I would not agree with…

“Reviews are not as powerful as they once were because of the influence of social media and I would say that is a good thing. Social media has amplified the word of mouth effect – which has always been one of the great things about the Fringe. But the numbers of people getting paid to write reviews is shrinking. Are we losing something? I think we are… Though I would still argue reviewers can add something to the mix.

“I’m glad Amy blogged about her experience. I’ve had similar experiences myself in the past and it is very upsetting.”

(Claire refers to a recent report she wrote for The Scotsman on the financing of the Edinburgh Fringe and being threatened, during her research,  by a prominent venue owner and a prominent British comedian.)

Australian John Robertson, who had two shows at this year’s festival tells me: “The only PR people I saw at the Fringe drank with me in various bars, danced with each other, knew each other and when gathered in a group, all began to look and sound exactly the same. My PR was lovely, but I can’t speak to a deluge. Though I did see the high watermark of bullshit (fake stars, stars from odd places, reviews with plenty… of… this) but that begat its own backlash from punters, which is lovely.”

There is another angle to this story, though. That the Ted & Co stage show at the Fringe this year had no authorisation from the copyright owners of Father Ted.

Mark Borkowski told me: “Clearly there is a rights issue. If I was a corporate TV rottweiler legal, I would take a good look at the company’s output. Do BBC Worldwide know they are staging Fawlty Towers or Father Ted?” (BBC Worldwide distribute Channel 4’s Father Ted series)

Comedian Ian Fox pointed out to me that the Chortle comedy website had posted an article raising worries about Father Ted: The Dinner Show when it was performed at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe.

In a posting on my Facebook page yesterday, comedian Richard Herring put into words what I myself had been thinking: “I simply don’t understand (and never have) how they are allowed to do this without the consent of the people who created the characters.”

Ian Fox suggests: “The Fringe Society does question whether or not you’ll be using music in a show and you pay relevant PRS fees at the end of your run. I don’t see why they can’t ask when you fill in your Programme registration If you’re using characters and material created by others do you have the rights to perform the material? and simply not allow anyone who doesn’t have rights into the main Programme.”

As regular readers of this blog will know, Ian was randomly attacked in the street during this year’s Fringe. I can report he is slowly mending.

Ian Fox experienced one of the dangers of the Fringe

“I’m free from noticeable bruising,” he tells me. “Still not got the feeling in two teeth at the front. I believe it’s the infraorbital nerve that is damaged/injured and, once the areas that are under the skin have healed, the feeling should come back. I have more feeling in the teeth than last week. However lots of movement appears to make my face ache.

“What’s more annoying though is the fact that I appear to be showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in that I’m very jumpy in busy places and still don’t like being out at night. Which is making gigging a bit difficult.”

He is still gigging widely.

But, with threats of legal action over bad reviews and physical attacks on comedians in the street, the Edinburgh Fringe seems like it is getting to be an increasingly dangerous place to be in August.

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Comic going to hell at Edinburgh Fringe offers hug for £5, tongue kiss for £20

Craig Shaynak. He’s amiable and now he’s Google

I woke up this morning to an e-mail from amiable American actor, comic, raconteur and fat, bald, loud American guy Craig Shaynak. (Look, gimme a break – it’s the name of his website – fatbaldloud … )

I can vouch for the fact that he is amiable because, several years ago I wrote a review of one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows which I thought was constructive. But, of course, being a sensitive performer on the receiving end, he took it as being critically critical…. Nonetheless, he is still friendly when we bump into each other in the street in Edinburgh every August.

I highly recommend his show this year I Am Google, which has picked up 5-stars. Either I was wrong all those years ago or he has got much better. Almost certainly both.

His e-mail this morning, though, was a general e-mail to Free Festival performers. At the risk of him suing my ass off for breach of copyright and my past failings, this is what it said:

________

We’re past the halfway point now and things are crazy in Edinburgh as usual…

While the Festival has been fun, a few of our own have had some setbacks. There have been some missing props and performers left without a place to stay. (Someone get in touch with Lewis Schaffer if you know of a place to stay!!!!) 

________

At this point, I can reveal exclusively that Lewis Schaffer has a couple of days respite from homelessness on the streets of Edinburgh.

Because comedian Janey Godley rushed back to Glasgow when her daughter collapsed in the street, my spare room became suddenly empty and Lewis is now staying there until Sunday, when Janey returns for her Monday night, one-performance-only play #timandfreya at the Pleasance.

But enough of this blatant though worthy plug.

Craig Shaynack’s e-mail continues…

________

Recently, one of my personal favorite acts, Abigoliah Schamaun has endured a burglary. I thought it would be nice of us to pitch in and try to help her recuperate some of what she lost… Please read the message from Abigoliah below and see if you can’t pitch in and help. We’re all in this together!

********

The burgled performer Abigoliah Schamaun

Hello all,

So after having one of those great nights at the Fringe where my show sold out and meeting my favorite comedian ever, I got home to my flat to find it was broken into. Someone had crawled through my window (which LOOKED locked but apparently DIDN’T lock) and stole £300, my MacBook Pro, my digital camera and my camcorder battery, but not my camcorder (weird right?)

The police were called, the room was dusted for finger prints and it was concluded that someone did come through the window. However, he or she was wearing gloves so we can’t identify them based on finger prints. The Fringe community and others have been really helpful, finding me new accommodation, offering couches for me to crash on and what not. The only people who were not helpful were the landlord and the letting agency. They are taking no responsibility for the un-lockable window and refuse to give me back part of my money.  But, like I said, the Fringe community has been really sweet. So thank you for that! On the upside, I have new jokes for my hour long show!!

Craig suggested we do a fundraiser online so I might be able to recuperate my losses.  I know we all have spent a lot of money to be here so if it’s out of your budget, I understand. Unfortunately, I did not have insurance and any amount you can give will go a long way. If you do donate to my cause, I’ve arranged prizes:

£2 a big bear hug

£5 a big bear hug and a kiss on the cheek

£10 a big bear hug and a kiss on the lips

£20 I will give tongue

£100 prize will be privately negotiated (I have no shame as well as no laptop)

Thanks, guys, for taking the time to read this and if you can help at all you can make a donation to my PayPal account.

See you around the Fringe!

Abigoliah Schamaun

________

I have removed Abigoliah’s contact address in case she gets the wrong type of response, but will happily pass on the details of anyone who wants to genuinely get in touch.

Fringe Abigoliah: Going To Hell

I think her £20 and £100 prizes represent the true Spirit of the Fringe and almost count as a Cunning Stunt in Malcolm Hardee Award terms – a Cunning Stunt does not always have to be a conscious publicity stunt, as Stewart Lee proved in 2010.

But Abigoliah did, perhaps foolishly, fall at the first hurdle of publicity: she forget to plug her show in the e-mail.

Her show, perhaps appropriately enough, is titled Girl Going to Hell.

Now, £100? That’s almost the price of two cappuccinos in Edinburgh in August.

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Unmasked: the man who stood in Leicester Square with no message

Last week, I wrote a blog about a man who “stood in Leicester Square with a placard saying he had absolutely no message for the world

His name was Phil Klein.

It was not his first time in Leicester Square and here, indeed, is a YouTube clip which appears to have been shot in 2007, before he became a man who held a nihilistic placard:

In retrospect, I have to say, when I stopped and talked to him on a whim last week, he did look vaguely familiar, as did the name. But I thought that was because Phil Klein is not that uncommon a name and comedy maverick Phil ‘Pigeon Man’ Zimmerman is a British alternative comedian while Alan Klein was the American who managed The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

After my blog was posted, though, UK comedy cognoscente Ian Fox told me: “Phil Klein used to be a comic.”

When he was working as a comic, one description of his act (I think penned by Phil himself) was: “His humour incorporates themes on being Jewish, coming from Hampstead, George Dubya, how the Aussies love the English really. Though, if all else fails, he is liable to down a pint (or more) on stage.”

Ian Fox told me that “Phil performed in the Canon’s Gait venue at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe. Every day when he finished his show – he never used a microphone, just shouted at the audience – he’d be quite sweaty and in the change-over period between shows I’d ask him how it went. He always answered the same way: I think I need to work on my material.”

That 2005 Fringe show was called A1A Phil Klein and the Fringe Programme description read: “An honest, warts-and-all exploration of being messed up and Jewish or a blatant attempt to be first in the programme? Take a seat for half an hour on the rollercoaster that is Phil’s life.”

He appears to have got no review for the show, but he was less lucky in 2006, when his show on the PBH Free Fringe was titled The Growing Pains of Amos Phineas Klein Age 33 And A Third and the Chortle comedy website’s one-star review said:

“When a comedy show is free, you have to expect an audience that isn’t 100 per cent focused on the show. But you don’t normally expect it of the comedian. Amos Phileas Klein spends almost the whole of the second half of his show playing with his phone. At first I thought he had some notes on the set stored on there that he was looking up: unprofessional but forgivable. But it soon becomes clear that this isn’t the case ­ it seems he is involved in a text conversation with someone, while delivering in an increasingly distracted fashion. It’s a truly shocking degree of contempt for his audience.”

Future Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Jay Richardson, writing in The Scotsman, suggested: ”It’s less a comedy gig than a hostage taking.”

After reading my blog last week, Brian Damage, who runs the Pear Shaped Comedy Clubs told me: “Last time Phil did Pear Shaped he borrowed £10 off me and fell asleep,” and, on the Pear Shaped website, Brian writes that Phil “was for many years our chief competitor. However he has now retired to spend more time with his personality.”

Around 2005, Phil used to be co-promoter and co-compere of The Funny Bone comedy club in Finchley Road, near his home in Hampstead, as well as running another comedy night in North London at The Culdesac. In May 2005, Chortle wrote:

“Regular compering at the small empire of open-spot gigs he runs in central London has given him a level of comfort at being on stage, but even with that near-daily experience of performing, he still doesn’t appear naturally funny… He comes across relatively effortlessly as a nice enough bloke, but there’s a yawning gap between that and the X-factor that will elevate him from the open mic circuit. On current form, it’s a gulf Klein cannot bridge.”

This is a YouTube clip of him performing in London, it seems likely, in 2006:

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

James Hamilton, yesterday, drinking it all in

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

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

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

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

IRRITATING – ONE STAR (THE SCOTSMAN)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a sketch show?”

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

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

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

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

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

“So some of it’s sad again?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And is weird,” I said.

“And is weird,” James Hamilton said.

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