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Good advice for performers going to the Edinburgh Fringe this – or any – year

Performers will expose themselves at the Edinburgh Fringe (Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph via unSplash)

After yesterday’s blog, I got an email from a comedy performer I know. It read:

I am finally getting on with the job of writing my show after making reams of notes for months. Hopefully two months gives me enough time to write and learn it, though I intend the thing to be shaped up in Edinburgh more than here in isolation.

The Edinburgh Fringe is in August.

This was my advice to him, her or them.

Who knows what the correct PC form of address is any more?

Not me.

Don’t repeat any of that to Kate Copstick, doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers.

She gets annoyed at PRs or managers asking her not to review an act in the first few days of the Fringe because the performance needs time to ‘bed in’.

She says if the show isn’t perfect on Day One, it shouldn’t be brought to Edinburgh. 

Edinburgh is not part of an ongoing process. It is the aim.

If you do one bad gig at the Fringe, the word may well get round and, if a reviewer is in that day, the review will be online for as long as your career survives (which may not be long if you perform half-prepared shows) and beyond. 

In two – five – seven years time – it will say in print that you are a half-cocked performer – unreliable – or shit. Doing one bad Work in Progress gig to thirty people in a pub in Scunthorpe is arguably throwaway. Doing one bad gig to five people in Edinburgh could be a disaster because they will go home and badmouth you in totally different, widespread parts of the country.

And one or two or three of those unknown five punters in Edinburgh may well be reviewers or TV researchers or comedy bookers who will remember your half-prepared act forever.

If they are just ordinary punters, you are still up shit creek because you have an audience who are such comedy fans they came to the Fringe and now they will be badmouthing you to other comedy fans in Norwich or Plymouth or London or wherever.

The other bad news is you must never ever cancel any show in Edinburgh. If there is only one person in the audience, play full-throttle to that one person because they may change your life. If you perform a half-ready show, it may damage your prospects; if you cancel, it may destroy your prospects.

Charlie Chuck, unknown, at his first Edinburgh Fringe run was not getting audiences and was thinking of going home in mid-run. I advised him not to.

He stayed.

One night after that, he had an audience of only three. 

Unknown to him, two of them were on the production team of a forthcoming, not-yet-made Reeves & Mortimer TV show. As a result, he became a regular on two of their series.

Once, when I was a TV researcher looking for acts, I turned up at a (free) show. I had seen the act before and it was interesting, but I had never seen them do a full show. I was the only punter to turn up. The act cancelled the show because, she said, “it won’t be worth you watching me with only you in the audience”. I would never ever risk using that act who has – inevitably – now faded away.


Edinburgh is not somewhere to hone an act. It is the real thing from Day One.

This morning, I checked with Copstick that it was OK to paraphrase her view in a blog. This is her reply and expanded view.

Ignore her opinion at your professional peril

I think if you are taking stand-up to Edinburgh you have no place mumbling about previews and looking for wriggle-room from audiences or critics on the basis that it is your first show of the run. You are a person in a space talking to other people in the same space. for money (either from ticket sales or from money in a bucket). 

It is not Phantom of the Fucking Opera on Ice. If the mic fails, you talk a little louder. Spot fails, turn on the overheads. Sound spill – be funnier than the sound spill.

If you purport to be a professional and are happy to take money from people then – SPOILER ALERT – you will have many ‘first nights’. 

It is up to you (as a professional which means you do it for money) that you learn to cope with the horror and terror of it all without making the audience feel that it is up to them to make sure it goes well.

First Night should just be a statement of fact, not a cover-all excuse.

And don’t get me started on ‘Work In Progress’ shows performed to 2,000 people at a time in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre for the same money for which you could see five comics who might do something that might surprise you. Even if it is not as polished as it might be on a first night.

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Advice on Edinburgh comedy shows?

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

What is the point of having a blog if you can’t use it for blatant self-publicity?

In this week’s Grouchy Club Podcastcomedy critic Kate Copstick and I talk about the end of the comedy section in Time Out. The end of my daily blog. The last live Grouchy Club meeting. Performer Nina Conti joining a porn film set. Will and/or Sarah Franken deciding to teach satire. My suggestion that Copstick should teach how to be aggressive in a Scottish accent. Free Fringe boss Peter Buckley Hill’s thoughts on an award. More chaos at the Edinburgh Fringe. The dead owners of Cowgatehead. Plus Lewis Schaffer, Juliette Burton, Bob Slayer, Mark Watson… and it all ends with an orgasm from Copstick. 

But there is also this brief section in the 32 minute podcast:

Now I heard a rumour…


…Mr Fleming… that you were thinking of offering your services as a director for people taking shows up to the Edinburgh Festival.

Except, as we both know, a director doesn’t really do anything. So I thought the word ‘consultant’  might be vague enough.

Oh. Consultant.

For tax reasons, ‘Consultant’ is probably good as well.

Consultant. Yes. With your how many years experience? Thousands of years of entertainment in London Weekend Television and elsewhere.

Well, to be wholly truthful, it covers two centuries, doesn’t it?

Yes. And, to be fair, it looks like it’s taken its toll.

… on the industry.

So somebody could actually…

I did hear Time Out was closing its comedy section because it couldn’t actually compete with my increasingly prestigious blog.

Maybe they will open it again, now your increasingly prestigious blog is closing. But you could take anyone’s…

I can make them. I can break them.

…embryonic Edinburgh show and turn it into something very close to Lewis Schaffer, could you? that successful? Is that what you’re offering? I can make you Lewis Schaffer!

If I can make Lewis Schaffer successful, anything is possible.

Exactly. think what you could do for a talented person!… No! I don’t mean that!

Lewis Schaffer is still available at the Museum of Comedy until probably Monday. My influence is so great that I have actually made Lewis Schaffer a museum exhibit.

Yes… But, seriously, you’d consult on people’s shows and…

Well, the thing about me is that I’m not a performer, so you have to opt out of…

Well, I think you’re doing pretty well here, I have to say.

… but I am a keen observer of the scene…

And a seasoned producer.

A seasoned everything, yes – radio, TV, journalism, advertising. I’ve done them all. So I could give a… a… We haven’t thought this through as a marketing exercise, have we…

No, we haven’t.

I can give an objective view from years of experience of watching really awful acts. So, if anyone has a really awful act, I am very experienced in watching them.

Yes, that’s fantastic. You’re not going to judge. I think that’s what you’re saying.

I did, for a couple of years, do reviews for Chortle, the comedy website.

Did you?

I did. But I never liked it. You have to be honest if you’re reviewing and therefore you get hated by the comedians.

I know the feeling.

So my blog never actually criticised anyone, because I could pick and choose interesting people doing interesting things whom I admired and who were worthy of promotion and I could ignore any old trash. Although, admittedly, I have promoted Lewis Schaffer quite a lot.

Indeed… Now, I want you to answer completely honestly here, John. Would the fact that you are consulting on a show give it a better chance of winning the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards?

Ah. Now this is what’s worrying me. I haven’t actually thought this one through. One possibility is I say: If I consult for you, you can’t possibly win or be considered.

But all the kind of shows, surely, that would benefit from your particular and extensive expertise are exactly Malcolm Hardee type shows.

Exactly, yes.

I think we’d have to say that the Malcolm Hardee Award is just going to be my decision next year. Lovely. Job done.

The reality would be that, if I consulted on a show that was seriously considered for the Malcolm Hardee Award, I wouldn’t take part in the decision making.

The whole 32 minute podcast can he heard HERE.

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More advice to performers and other creative people and some plagiarism


I stole the title of this blog: SO IT GOES.

Someone sent me a Facebook message this morning asking: “Is the origin of So It Goes down to Kurt Vonnegut? Or is it a reference to something wider?”

I told him it is solely down to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and my inherent nihilism.

He told me: “I read Slaughterhouse-Five recently and it just looked like something plugging your blog.”

According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – the refrain So it goes appears 106 times in Slaughterhouse-Five.

In yesterday’s blog, I stole another idea.

I wrote: Realise that no-one KNOWS anything.

This is actually a variation on William Goldman’s refrain “Nobody knows anything” – a refrain which Wikipedia correctly says “is repeated throughout” Goldman’s iconic book Adventures in the Screen Trade.

I often rattled on about it in much earlier previous blogs. It is often mis-emphasised as meaning everyone is ignorant – Nobody knows ANYTHING. But, in fact, it means Nobody KNOWS anything for sure in the creative process.

However experienced, intelligent and brilliant someone is, nobody knows for sure what will be a commercial – or even an ultimately critical – success.

When Michael Cimino was making his movie Heaven’s Gate, everyone assumed it would be a box-office success. It had all the ingredients for mega-success. But it was a disaster. It pretty much financially destroyed United Artists.

According to Wikipedia – so it must be true – it cost $44 million to make and got back $3.5 million at the box office.

When Kevin Costner was making Dances With Wolves ten years later, it was nicknamed Kevin’s Gate in Hollywood, because it was clearly a vanity project with no hope of commercial success – it was, for godsake, mostly in the Native American Lakota language.

It was a big critical and box office success. It cost $22 million to create and took $424.2 million at the box office.

The Blair Witch Project was made on a shoestring with inexperienced actors, producers, writers and directors and was shot shoddily. It was a vast financial success. It cost $22,500 to make and took $248.6 million at the box office.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

It’s a Wonderful Life – now usually high up any Best Movie Ever Made list when voted for by the public – was pretty-much director Frank Capra’s only critical and box office failure.

J.K.Rowling hawked the idea for her Harry Potter books round every big-time publisher in London and was turned down by them all. Quite rightly. No modern teenage boy (and certainly no teenage girl) is ever going to buy one book – let alone seven – about some nerdy suburban boy going to a witches and wizards school. And, if you think any adult would buy even one copy, you are out of your mind.

My point being: Nobody KNOWS anything.

My point being: Creating a work of art is not a science. The clue is in the name. It is an art.

My point being: Nobody can know for sure what will be a success critically or commercially – Not now. Not in the future.

Van Gogh never sold a painting in his lifetime, because everyone thought his paintings were crap.

Of course, in his case, they were and are crap.

But that’s only my opinion.

Which, as you may have noticed, is my point.

Nobody KNOWS anything.

Because there are no rules. Only taste. Which is personal. And which can and does change from generation to generation.

My point being… exactly the same as it was in yesterday’s blog.

Do what you think is right.

And tell everyone else to fuck off.

If you take my advice, though, remember…

Nobody KNOWS anything.

That might include me.

It might include you.

You can’t be sure.

You just have to go with your gut instinct and keep calm and carry on.


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Edinburgh Fringe: The trauma of a 5-star review & why I don’t like fauning

Extreme absurdism reaches The Times

Extreme 4-star absurdism has now reached even The Times

Maybe absurdism and ‘outa left field’ comedians are starting to make inroads into mainstream media consciousness. Even if I have no idea what ‘outa left field’ actually specifically means.

This week, definitively absurd Mr Twonkey got a 4-star review and near double-page spread in The Times, which (like Martha McBrier’s 5-star review in The Scotsman) had an immediate effect on audience numbers.

Then, yesterday, Lewis Schaffer got a 5-star review in The Scotsman. This too had an immediate effect. He sent me a text saying: “Feeling bad about it.”

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judge Claire Smith, who wrote the review, told me: “Lewis is upset. He told me not to review him. I did it without telling him. So I said: Lewis, you’d better buy the paper. Now he’s in bits.”

Lewis Schaffer’s 5-star anguish

5-star anguish for coffee-stealing Lewis Schaffer

I told her: “He is bound to be upset. Five stars! His reputation is in shreds!”

Critic Kate Copstick told me: “Lewis Schaffer stole my coffee today. I was sitting at the Community Centre. He came out of his show with an entourage and I told him: I’m terrible sorry. I’ve heard all about it. I don’t know what Claire Smith was thinking of. If it had been me, I would have been kinder and not have given you more than 3 stars.

“Although he was obviously emotionally devastated by the review, he managed to quickly get it up… on his mobile phone, I mean… and let everyone around him read the review. It’s a lovely review, but he was so upset he started sipping my coffee – Oh! This is delicious! Just like American coffee! – and, because he was so distraught, I let him drink it all. He was chuntering on about the star-chasers who just go and see anything that has 5-stars.”

The star system for reviews also came up as a subject at yesterday’s Grouchy Club. Co-host Kate Copstick was scathingly against it. Two members of the audience staunchly defend it, on the basis that it was just quicker than reading the reviews.

Peter Michael Marino - six stars

Not a compilation show – a compilation review

Abigoliah Schamaun (as mentioned in a blog last week) has taken to putting stars on her posters from fictional publications. And Peter Michael Marino, whose show precedes The Grouchy Club, yesterday started putting ‘compilation’ stars on his flyers. He proclaims a 6-star review from Fringe Guru/Broadway Baby – on the basis that Fringe Guru gave him 3 stars and Broadway Baby gave him 3 stars. The combined quote of the 6-star review is Outrageous! Hitler!

He told me Fringe Guru had used the word Outrageous! in its review. So presumably Broadway Baby reviewed him as Hitler! I thought it better not to ask for details of the full quote.

After The Grouchy Club, I bumped into my comedy chum Janey Godley on the pavement outside The Counting House. She started raving to me about the joys of Comics and Graphic Novels: the shop next to the venue.

“In the very first week of the Fringe,” she told me, “I got really sick. I went in there, didn’t know them, but they let me lie on their couch and they had a random dog called Bonnie who jumped on the couch with me – Why wouldn’t he? – Then they all went away to get drunk – they’re a wee bit hippie – and forgot I was there and locked me in.

Janey points out her favourite shop

Where do you find a comedian in Edinburgh? In a comic shop

“So I was locked in the comic shop with ten minutes to go before my show – at the window screaming – with a dog barking and folk passing by who thought it was a show – Why would it not be? It’s the Fringe. Eventually, I got out in time and did my show with Bonnie the Dog at my heels. So now I can go in to the shop whenever I want and have a nap and I have coffee and tea in the back, sandwiches in the fridge and I have a dog to stroke. Now piss off. I have people to see.”

And with that, as Kevin Spacey said in The Usual Suspects, she was gone.

So I went to see Pat Cahill’s show Panjandrum, a bizarrely endearing mix of something, something and something. Not quite sure what. I think it was probably echoes of English Music Hall, a bit of absurdism and something indefinably original. There was a metal hat and a large bomb involved along the way. He had built the bomb himself.

Then came my worst nightmare.

I had been invited to see the well-reviewed and much-touted Follow The Faun but I think, somewhere along the way, I had failed to read the small print.

Faun and games for everyone except me

Faun & games for everyone except maybe me

I cannot even begin to tell you how much I hate being part of anything where people do things in unison. I abhor community singing. I would have hated the Second World War. All that bleeding singing jaunty songs together. Anything where ‘bonding’ en masse is involved I loathe.

I hate dancing.

I am a fat slaphead of an unspeakable age. I am well past my prancing prime. But, even when I was in my teens and twenties, I hated dancing. I am not and never have been filled with any hint of an inkling of any desire to be joyful through moving in unison with other people and waving my arms and legs about. I would rather kneel in an orange jumpsuit for ISIS.

What I am saying is that, for me, Follow The Faun was an hour of torture. It involves going into a darkened basement room and following the dance moves of a satyr with large horns. It is a combination of 1960s/1970s hippie, trippy Glastonbury-type Acid-fuelled love-in, 1980s/1990s Ecstasy-fuelled Rave dancing and The Wicker Man with a lot of sexual miming and a bit of wannabe human sacrifice. You may think I am joking about that last bit. I am not.

I hated it. Though I am not averse to a bit of human sacrifice.


I am not the target audience.

Everyone else – young, lively, outgoing people (mostly girls) in their twenties – LOVED it… They L-O-V-E-D it. Beaming faces, pogo-ing bodies, sweat pouring, occasional screams of joy.

London’s theatrical mask falls

This is not the figure of a graceful satyr used to joyful prancing

If you are an optimistic, outgoing, life-loving, youngish, Rave culture dance-loving lively person, go and take part in it.

If you are a grouchy fat male slaphead well over 35 who likes cynical endings to films and looks a bit like a bald, lightly-bearded Hattie Jacques… avoid.

More to my taste was the show I saw after that – the ever-dependable Frank Sanazi with his Iraq Pack – Saddami Davis Junior, Osama Bing Crosby and Dean Stalin. The full house at the Voodoo Rooms was packed tighter than a cattle truck and the audience was well-up for an hour of bad taste songs about mass murder and dictators in hiding – so much so that, when the subject of people on the run and in hiding came up, an audience member threw Madeleine McCann’s name into the mix.

You can’t beat a bit of continually-updated bad taste for a good Saturday night out in Edinburgh. And it is good to see ISIS and Tony Blair added in there among the Biggies of Badassness.

There is a Follow The Faun video on YouTube

… and one of Frank Sanazi, solo, singing his signature tune.

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Edinburgh Fringe. Too late for a review? When is a cunning stunt not cunning?

Sultry temptress Lynn Ruth Miller

The fascinating yet still unquoted Lynn Ruth Miller

Getting publicity and reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe can be just a case of happenstance and luck.

Just to get mentioned in this little blog… Well, lots of conversations at the Fringe are too long or complicated to put in this blog because of the time it takes to transcribe them.

This morning, I had a fascinating chat with Lynn Ruth Miller about the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp – she knew people who were sent to the camp and it is all linked up to why she became a comedian – but it will probably never see the light of blog.

What you read here – or anywhere – does not even superficially skim the surface of what is happening at the Fringe.

At the Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon, there was a discussion about the abnormally high number of performers with – and shows about – physical medical problems this year. Of course, performers with psychological problems is just taken as normal.

Yesterday, I was talking to a performer whose show I had seen and which had a full house of people adoring him/her and he/she was going on about what a terrible show it had been. “I was awful,” he/she said. He/she had not been.

The Edinburgh Fringe: you may have to make your own rainbow

In Edinburgh, you may well have to make your own rainbow

I chatted to another performer who was having full houses every day but who had not yet been reviewed. Unless there is massive word-of-mouth, it is now probably too late to set reviewers’ imaginations alight to the extent that they will completely re-arrange their schedules. To be really effective, the press releases had to be sent out at the point the Fringe Programme was published and just before the Fringe started.

I am seeing around seven shows each day and, as far as I know,  publications like The Scotsman worked out which shows would be reviewed before the Fringe started (with gaps to add-in shows which unexpectedly developed strong word-of-mouth).

A third performer was complaining on Facebook that his audiences were not laughing at his material and blaming the audiences specifically and Edinburgh in general.

Once the Fringe is in full flow (and it is over the halfway point now) there is not much performers can do to change the ongoing flow. Just keep plodding on and build the word-of-mouth and pray.

Meanwhile, one agent/promoter was telling me he had a stunt to publicise one of his acts which he reckoned was going to put all the traffic in Edinburgh into gridlock and he was trying to persuade me this would be worthy of an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nomination.

But this would be more likely to get the act thrown out of their venue, him prosecuted and the show loathed by locals rather than an award nomination. For another, if you were to bring Edinburgh traffic to a stop, with a Sky News helicopter filming it all from above, it IS a stunt, but the word ‘cunning’ might not be appropriate.

Possibly a cunning stunt in the streets?

Possibly a cunning stunt in the streets? Depends who did it.

A definitive Cunning Stunt would be Malcolm Hardee writing a rave review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into publishing it because they thought it was written by their own critic….

A stunt but not a cunning stunt would be getting loads of ginger-haired people marching through Glasgow to plug a named show. It is not cunning. It is a photocall.

An interesting publicity stunt this year is the fact lots of cardboard sheets with odd slogans and the hashtag #MBGS have appeared among the general Fringe show posters.

These obviously but obliquely promote Miss Behave’s Game Show and would possibly be eligible for a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis they promote the show without, as such, saying the title of the show or where/when it is. It is a good cunning stunt to get people’s attention.

However, Miss Behave swears blind neither she nor her cohorts are putting these up – that it must be an unknown fan. If this is true (and who am I to gainsay her?) then it is not eligible for a Cunning Stunt Award because it is not a cunning publicity stunt, merely graffiti by someone who gains nothing from the show.

If someone unknown to me does a brilliant cunning stunt which promotes The Grouchy Club shows, I cannot be nominated for doing the stunt. It is nothing to do with me.

My three show highlights yesterday were:

Matt Price: The Boy With Cake On His Face
Matt reckons he will not get onto television regularly because he does not have the right look. I am not so sure. His personality and charisma scream pure TV ‘natural’.

Joey Page: Catastrophe Party
Former Malcolm Hardee Award nominee Joey has the cliché looks for TV and has been on Never Mind the Buzzcocks et al and there is no reason why he is not on more often except the whims of producers.

Wilfredo at the Gala

Stu Turner’s Big Charity Gala
…for Autism Initiatives Scotland. This pulled-off that rare Fringe trick of not just attracting Fringe-goers but also getting-in ordinary Edinburgh residents – I suspect readers of the Daily Record rather than the Guardian.

The fact it took place in the 400-seater New Empire Bingo Hall may have helped.

Oh, by the way, this blog has now managed to get over 1 million hits.

It means nothing, but it is worth a mention because the Edinburgh Fringe mantra is: It’s all about self-publicity. You have to build your own luck, build your own rainbows.

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“This is one of the best shows I have seen in 30 years of going to the Fringe”

Performing at the Edinburgh Fringe

So what did I see at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday?

Alice Fraser: Savage
Everything you expect a confessional Fringe comedy show to be. Laughs and tears and death and sincerity.

Cheekykita & Mr Dinner: Dead Ghost Star
Everything you expect a surreal Fringe show to be. Laughs and large white spheroid heads and things you crack open to wave about.

Richard Gadd: Waiting For Gaddot
Everything you expect a Richard Gadd Fringe show to be. Funny, surreal and he uses a baseball bat to smash things. I will be interested to see how ‘proper’ reviewers attempt to describe this show, as it cannot be described without ruining the basic premise. But the clue is in the title. It is a solo show with Richard Gadd, Ed Aczel, Ricky Grover, Ian Smith and Ben Target. I have seen this idea done before but never written with such detail. And Samuel Beckett was not angling for a TV comedy series. The audience was very happy. I was with the audience.

Al Porter strikes camp in Edinburgh

The son of Max Headroom & Leslie Crowther

Al Porter: Al Porter Is Yours
The only people standing between (amazingly only 22-year-old) Al Porter and massive mainstream TV success are Alan Carr and Graham Norton. Camp and camp Irishmen are seen as a one-per-TV-channel niche. But calling Al Porter gay and Irish is a bit like calling the bombing of Hiroshima a slight popping sound. He is like the bastard son of Max Headroom and Leslie Crowther on speed spewing out what, in the past, would have been called filth to an adoring audience. Strangely old-fashioned and thoroughly modern. There must have been 4-5 laughs per minute for a whole hour with shrieks and belly-laughs from women, men, young, old, straight and gay. He appealed to them all.

Lindsay Sharman: The Madame Magenta Big Live Podcast Show Extravaganza
(Not in the Fringe Programme and not a podcast.) This charisma-fuelled show allegedly tells the true story of Christianity and is hosted in character as OTT-turbaned Madame Magenta. But just sit back and enjoy a comedy character romp from a lover of the English language who I suspect may end up a successful novelist (she has already written two). The audience yesterday afternoon included five Norwegians only two of whom, by the look of it, could speak English. The two who understood English laughed like Norwegian maelstroms (ie more actively than drains). The other three looked stunned, as well they might. I loved it.

It might be a Silly Musical but is not a Cinnamon one

This man was married in Disney World

Laurence Owen: Cinemusical
This show directly precedes Lindsay Sharman’s at the Voodoo Rooms. Laurence Owen is Lindsay’s husband. They married this year in Disney World.

Cinemusical is one man singing comic songs about the movies. But the phrase ‘comic songs’ is nowhere near a realistic description of these brilliantly composed and lyriced multi-layered showstoppers.

He had a room full to overflowing yesterday – his first show. So the word-of-mouth must have got around about his songs and his performance before he even arrived. As much as anything is certain (which nothing is) Laurence Owen is a sure-fire cert for success in the show business. Either writing musicals for London’s West End or Broadway or (with less personal fame but more money) Hollywood. Cinemusical, as performed by Laurence Owen, is one of the best shows I have seen in 30 years of going to the Fringe.

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Paying publications to review your show is like having paid-sex with a famous wit

The Chortle piece on pay-to-review

Chortle piece on pay-to-be-reviewed

Someone told me about this yesterday.

I said: “Are you sure it’s not an April Fool prank?”

“If it is, it’s a day late,” the person told me.

And this is no surreal joke.

Just like my Frank Sanazi blog yesterday – which included Jesus Christ flying in from Glasgow for Hitler’s birthday – this is true.

I was more than a little surprised to see on the Chortle comedy industry website these words:

“This year we make explicit what we’ve always tried to do anyway, and promise to review any show that spends at least £250 on advertising on Chortle. To avoid any Daily Telegraph-style conflicts of editorial interests, we won’t make any promises as to which reviewer will see a show, when it’ll appear – or most crucially whether we’ll like it! And you’ll have had to have settled your bill before the Fringe, so you can’t back out if you don’t like what we’ve written.”

Each to his own, but I think once you allow people outside the publication (the performers themselves) to dictate which shows will receive reviews (by, in effect, paying to be reviewed) you have lost editorial control.

There is a story which is told about George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill or a variety of other fairly witty people in various versions…

There is a dinner party. The conversation turns to the concept that ‘Everyone has their price’ and the famous man turns to a lady sitting at the table and says – purely as a matter of intellectual theory, in order to spur the debate along – “If I offered you £10 million to sleep with me for one night, would you accept?”

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

“I suppose,” the lady says, laughing, “for £10 million, I would.”

“In that case,” says the great man, “here’s ten shillings. Sleep with me tonight.”

“What kind of woman do you think I am?” the outraged lady replies.

“We have already established,” the great man says, “what type of woman you are. We are now merely haggling over the price.”

There is no actual moral or logical difference between saying: “If you pay me £250, I will guarantee to review you rather than another show which I could have chosen to review” and “If you pay me £500 I will allow you to veto what I say in my review” or “If you pay me £1,000 I will let you write your own review as a press release which I will print word-for-word.”

By receiving payment to get reviewed, we have already established what type of editorial judgment a publication has. We have established the principle. We are merely haggling over how much it might cost to influence the content.

If an act pays £250 (for whatever reason) to guarantee a review, the publication has relinquished editorial responsibility by letting an outsider decide which shows (among so many others) will be reviewed. If a publication had time and space to print 500 reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and 500 acts were happy to pay £250 to get reviewed, then that publication would not be deciding to review any shows on the basis of merit or perceived interest. It would be merely selling space to acts to advertise their wares via reviews. Even if the act has no control over the content of the review, it has still turned an objective review into a paid-for advert.

Over the years, as reported in Chortle, some comedy venues have attempted to charge performers a fee to perform in their clubs or to have the act guarantee that a certain number of their friends will pay for tickets to their show – this has rather sniffily been described as ‘pay-to-play’.

There is no difference that I can see between ‘pay-to-play’ and ‘pay-to-get-reviewed’. In both cases, the result may backfire – the audience may hate the act or the reviewer may hate the act. But the principle of payment-to get-exposure is the same.

On Facebook, performer Richard Vranch has pointed out that the Chortle idea of being paid by acts to review their show is not new. In June 2012, Chortle ran a news item headlined:

Caimh McDonnell’s PR stunt became true

Caimh McDonnell’s jokey PR stunt has became true

£100-a-Time ‘Bribe’ to Win Fringe Coverage

Comedian Caimh McDonnell was pulling a publicity stunt but interestingly called his scheme ‘undoubtedly a new low for British journalistic integrity’. In fact, to avoid actual bribery, Caimh said he would not pay the £100 to publications but – up to a maximum of £3,000 – he would pay the money to the Macmillan Cancer Support charity. Fair enough.

In May last year, Chortle ran this report:

He has been vehemently opposed to competitions in comedy, calling them a ‘malignant and destructive influence’ on the artform. Yet last night, The Stand comedy club owner Tommy Sheppard welcomed the Deuchars Beermat Fringe competition to his venue in Edinburgh, with heats in Glasgow and Newcastle to follow next week. And, unlike most competitions that keep the commercial side separate, this one insists that all acts must ‘weave’ the name of the sponsor into their set. But Sheppard told Chortle he saw no conflict as the Deuchars competition was across all performance genres: ‘We’re convinced it’s not a comedy competition,’ he said. ‘The majority of people taking part last year – and so far this year – are musicians.’ And the winner of last night’s heat? A comedian, Ross Leslie.

Paying £100 for a review… or paying £250 for the publicity of a review even though you don’t control content… or saying you don’t believe in competitions then hosting competitions which force acts to include brand names in their performances…

It all seems much of a muchness to me.

But, then, who am I to quibble? On my Facebook pages yesterday, I posted:

I am physically harassed yesterday

I am not one to take base bribes for publicity in my blog

If anyone would like to give me £251 in cash, I promise to print the name of your 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show in my increasingly prestigious daily blog.

For a further £251 in cash I will print the name of your venue.

And for a further £251 in cash I will print the days and time of the show. Only cash. Only sterling. Only current notes.

In the spirit of Kickstarter enticements, if you give me a further £53.96p in cash, I will also give you a free Mars Bar on the final day of the Fringe. And, as an extra gift from me to you, if you pay me an additional £2,373 in cash, you can also appear (naked) in the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 28th August in Edinburgh.

I am awaiting offers.

Noel Faulkner: man with a calm persona

Noel Faulkner truly does not give a shit

Meanwhile, also on Facebook, iconic Noel Faulkner, the ever-outspoken owner of London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre, says:

There are a lot of talentless fucks worming their way into the business. When a comic sends me a list of credits and reviews and they list Broadway Baby, The List and all the other rags that send 20-year-old reviewers out to review, my first thought is You’re probably shit. I would pay these reviewers not to review my show.

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100% successful comedy shows can get standing ovations but then fail as blogs

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

A statue of Charles Aznavour in Gyumri, Armenia (Well, he was really Shahnour Varinag Aznavourian)

I thought I was onto a winner for today’s blog. Seeing a show AND comedy news from Germany.

It was not to be.

I once heard French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour being interviewed and asked why his songs were almost always about sad things not happy things and he explained it was because everyone is sad in different ways for different reasons but what can you say about being happy? Being happy is fairly uniform and therefore there is nothing to analyse and dissect.

In a sense, the same goes for successful stage shows. Awful stage shows are interesting to dissect and write and read about. Totally successful shows? What can you say about them? Not much. There are about ten enthusiastic adjectives of exultation you can use and that’s it without giving too much of the show away.

In this blog, I keep rattling on about how pure, straight stand-up comedy is getting a bit dull and there should be more Variety in comedy shows.

A fortnight ago, I saw the first night of Slightly Fat FeaturesVariety Soup show at the Leicester Square Theatre. It was wonderful and I did not write a blog about it…

–  partly because this is not a review blog – straight reviews are transient and of very little interest if you read them five years later (which blogs or potential e-books can be) or if you live in a different country or continent

–  partly because I had a built-up blog-jam of interviews at the time

–  partly because I had no ‘angle’ and had no idea what to say about it

A successful show is a successful show. You can only roll out adjectives.

Last night, with comedy couple Martin & Vivienne Soan, I saw Variety Soup for a second time. It was just as perfect as the first time.

An utterly brilliant script and flawless performances from seven men (only men) at the top of their performing game.

Variety Soup - Leicester Square Theatre flyer

Variety Soup – 100% successful show even with the fake dwarf

A great opening, then juggling, cling-film escapology, a pantomime horse, a classic quick-change sketch, a cup-and-ball routine, a Rolf Harris painting routine, a song-and-dance routine, ‘Find The Lady’ with a real person’s head, a diabolo routine spanning the auditorium, a cute dog, occasional things going wrong (all scripted, I think), an audience participation song and a sawing-in-half magic routine… all with presentational twists, superb attention to detail and knowing post-modern nods and glances to the audience.

Each short routine would have been a featured speciality act in the original Sunday Night at The London Palladium (before ITV ballsed-it-up in their recent re-make).

In other words, Variety Soup is a show so 100% successful I have nothing to say about it.

Well, it is 99.5% successful. There is one highly dubious routine involving a supposed dwarf cowboy. I abhor over-PC zealots and this routine was all done with such charm and originality that the audience loved it – in fact, the packed audience loved the entire show and gave it a standing ovation at the end – but, at this point, we were being suckered-by-professionalism into to laughing AT the antics of the fake dwarf, not WITH his antics.

I still feel the show was a 100% triumph, though.

Just not a blog.

Comedy news from Germany? There wasn’t enough time to ask Martin and Vivienne about their recent visit to Leipzig.

Tomorrow, I have high hopes of a proper blog.

Perhaps I will see a less-brilliant show.

Perhaps I will have tea in Mayfair with a man who did not once firebomb a house.

Life is full of surprises.

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Comedy competitions, awards and reviews – it’s mostly a matter of luck

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I try not to review shows. That just leads to people unleashing verbal abuse on me in later months and years. So I really do not know why I agree to be a judge on award shows. I think I have been on two – it might have been three – this year.

That excludes the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards which I organise every year at the Edinburgh Fringe. All three of those awards – for Comic Originality, best Cunning Stunt and ‘the Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ are so quirky that people do not seem to take too much offence at being nominated but not winning.

Last night, I was a judge at the Laughing Horse New Act of the Year Competition – twelve acts, eight judges. The winner got £1,000 and a booking in (I think it was) Hong Kong. Next year, rather than be a judge, I might enter as a Lewis Schaffer tribute act to try and get the money and the free trip. How hard can it be?

I mean being a Lewis Schaffer tribute act.

(From left) Nick Coppin presented the Award to winner Jenny Collier; with runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

Last night (from left) presenter Nick Coppin with winner Jenny Collier and runners-up Olaf Falafel and Ed Caruana

For the record, comic Jenny Collier won last night.

She was a very worthy winner. Well-constructed gags; excellent delivery; attractive stage persona; would appeal to a mainstream audience but, as I wrote on my non-PC sheet of paper “can do dirty sweetly”, so she will also be able to appeal to less mainstream audiences. And she looked, sounded and performed as television friendly.

She was one of two Welsh acts with English accents. Perhaps this is a new genre of comedy. She deserved to win but, to be honest, she was one of four acts I would have been equally pretty much content with winning. And, of the other eleven acts, all were arguably good in different ways. As the fifteen acts had been whittled down from over 800 entrants, there were never going to be any bad acts on the bill.

What I am trying to say is:

  1. it is almost a matter of luck who wins competitions although
  2. there must be some reason why eight judges settled on one act although
  3. it is still almost a matter of luck who wins competitions because
  4. judges are just people and different people have differing tastes

It is a bit like the star system in reviews.

If you get 3 stars, there is nothing at all wrong with your act. It is a good, entertaining act.

If you get 4 stars, you were exceptional on the night.

If you get 2 stars, there is a structural or presentation problem with your act.

If you get 1 star, you have an interesting act or show. At the Edinburgh Fringe, I once talked to a performer who had had a show which got a 5-star and a 1-star review FOR THE SAME PERFORMANCE. The two critics went on the same night and saw the same performance.

Coins of the realm - you could almost just as well throw one

Coins of the realm – you might almost just as well toss one

If you get more than one 1-star review, your show is either irredeemable buffalo dung or you are so wildly original you split critics and audiences which is probably a good thing.

The bad news is that true comic geniuses seldom make money. To be popular, you have to tread some sort of acceptable middle ground which means you are never shit but you also never hit the peaks of unexpected, original uniqueness. Abject failures can take solace from this.

Which brings us to 5-star shows.

Frankly, in my experience, whether you get 4 or 5 stars is a matter of luck because – certainly at the Edinburgh Fringe – critics do not want to give out too many 5-star reviews because it demeans their credibility. If 174 movies all got Best Film Oscar one year, you would not think much of the credibility of the Oscars.

And, in a festival like the Edinburgh Fringe (which runs three-and-a-half weeks) I think it is extremely difficult to get a 5-star review in the first week. It certainly is with any critic who is doing his or her job properly. Because, at the start, the critic has no benchmark to measure this year’s standards by until he or she has seen quite a few shows.

If he or she gives a 5-star review to a show they see on the first or second day, what happens if most of the other shows they subsequently see in other days and weeks are equally good or better? They can’t give 5-star reviews to everyone.

So the moral for today is…

Awards, prizes and star ratings mean something.

They can be used in publicity, which is useful. But, if you don’t get ‘em, it ain’t the end of the world and, in that horrible but true American phrase, today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Today is your starting point.

As in comedy clubs, so in life.

I think I may start to submit pseudo-meaningful sayings to calendar and diary manufacturers.

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

Next year’s increasingly prestigious  Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards await collection in Edinburgh

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Edinburgh Fringe: A 5-star review may be a BAD thing + vomiting over critics

Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur

Matt Price’s show – The Maryhill Dinosaur

So far at the Edinburgh Fringe, the show I have seen with more laughs per square minute is Matt Price’s The Maryhill Dinosaur and that was despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that he did not start the show for about 15 minutes. He just interacted with the audience, who were encouraged to participate with what was, on paper, a narrative monologue not an ad-libbed jazz-like free-form hour of comedy. But Matt brilliantly interwove his (mostly) planned story with ad-libs and diversions which actually added to the show’s theme which was, basically, about his insecurities over the past year.

I saw The Maryhill Dinosaur yesterday.

Earlier in the day, Matt and his partner Martha McBrier had come along to the daily Grouchy Club.

Other people in the audience included British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey, comic teller of horrific true stories Njambi McGrath, podcaster Ewan Spence and docu-comedy writer-performer Juliette Burton with her musical director Frankie Lowe.

The Grouchy Club is hosted by me and by The Scotsman’s most feared comedy critic Kate Copstick.

The aforementioned British Comedy Guide boss Mark Boosey does not like people to know who he is and does not like to have his photograph taken so, obviously, I immediately took a photo of him. If he does not give me chocolate, I will post it online.

Why does Mark not like his photo taken?

He said to Copstick: “I don’t suppose there’s an act out there who doesn’t know who you are so, if they spot you in the audience, it will change their performance.”

At The Grouchy Club yesterday: a bad selfie of Coptick and me

At The Grouchy Club: the odious Fleming and bitch Copstick

“There was a PR,” admitted Copstick, “who told me You’ve got to come and see (a particular comedy act)… I said: I saw them last year. They were absolute shite. I went to see them because you persuaded me and I was wrong to be persuaded. She told me Oh, yes, yes, but there was a reason. When (the main performer) knew you were in the audience, he spent the show vomiting backstage. She said that (the performer) forgot half his lines and the other performers were so worried about the guy vomiting that they were put off their stride and, basically, their bad performance was all my fault.”

“What are they going to be like if they play the London Palladium?” I mused. “They’ll be puking up all over the place.”

“I was on Pop Bitch once,” said Copstick, “and somebody wrote: Fuck! Why doesn’t someone just stab the bitch in the eye?

Martha McBrier and Matt Price were sitting in the front row.

Matt Price & Martha McBrier

Matt Price and Martha McBrier yesterday

“This is a woman,” Copstick said, pointing at Martha, “who I went to see in 2006 when she was doing a Fringe show in Leith in one of the skankiest basements I’ve ever been in – and I have been in quite a few skanky basements at various times for various reasons.

“I went to see her show because I thought I was going to hate it and I was gearing myself up for a vicious, typically-Copstickian attack on some blonde woman who thought she was a sex kitten.

“Among my many bugbears,” ranted Copstick, “are people who do shows that say Gosh! I’m really rude! when they are as rude as the Salvation Army… And women who do shows saying This is really full-frontal stuff all about sex! when it is actually a lot of girlish giggling and shite…”

“My show,” said Martha, “was called Sex Kitten/Corpse. I was teetering. I felt I was teetering between the two.”

“By the end of the show…” said Copstick. “Well, I say show…”

“Fair do’s,” said Martha.

“Quite a lot of it,” said Copstick, “was Martha showing every individual member of the audience to their seat, getting their life story, chatting… So before the show even started… Well, to be fair, the show never started.”

“I hadn’t time,” said Martha.

Martha McBrier in 2007

Martha McBrier at Edinburgh Fringe, 2007

“She’s a very ‘giving’ performer,” said Copstick, “and she spent so much time ‘giving’ at the beginning of what, eventually, was not the show, that there was no time for the show… However, there was not a dry pair of pants in the house, male or female. It was the most genuinely funny thing I have ever seen in my life. At which point, I did what turned out to be a not-very-helpful thing… I gave her a 5-star review.

“It was brilliant. Brilliant. Genuinely from-the-bone hysterically funny. But I didn’t think it through. I just rushed home and wrote the 5-star review. So, from then on, the basement was jam-packed not with the kind of people who go out to find great, unusual, weird comedy, but with the kind of people who see 5 stars in The Scotsman and take their sorry, sad, lazy, not-really-comedy-fan asses along to see it simply because it is a 5-star show. And they are not Martha’s target audience. So I think I probably made life a lot harder for her.”

“We,” said Matt Price, “just didn’t know what was going on. We didn’t understand the comedy industry stuff. All I heard was that this Copstick woman was really angry because the show started ten minutes late and Martha had a double brandy…”

“Because,” Martha interrupted. “Because the show in front of me over-ran a wee bit. They said: It doesn’t matter, because you’re the last show, so it doesn’t matter if you finish late. Then one of the bar staff said: Oh my God, Kate Copstick’s here! Do you know her? I said: No. He said: You’re fucked. You might as well take the blind cord and wrap it round your neck. Do you want a brandy?

“I thought to myself: If I’m fucked, que sera sera.But actually I wasn’t fucked. ScotsGay gave me 5 stars too. It was a very eventful year; it was very interesting.”

“Your venue was absolutely jam-packed after that,” said Copstick. “You put on extra shows. And then Marshall Cordell, multi-millionaire of this parish, went down and saw you and produced you for the next year, didn’t he?”

“He did,” said Martha.

Copstick continued: “With people who are not very experienced and have not done loads of stuff before, 5-stars is what they think they want. But be careful what you wish for. You go back the next year and expectations are massively high. If you don’t get 5-star reviews again, then you have failed somehow, because people in the comedy section are terrible star-watchers.”

“And,” said Martha, “the other kids won’t play with you. When you get 5 stars, they think: Who the fuck is she? She came from nowhere. She’s nothing. She’s got this yadda-yadda. There was a bit of that.

“The next year, my show was in The Caves. That was great. I really enjoyed that. But that’s when I started going deaf because of the brain tumour. One of the things I did a lot was interactive banter. That’s kind of my thing. But then I couldn’t hear people and then I went What? and people thought I was playing for time. And I wasn’t. I just couldn’t hear.

“So the next year I was performing in the Gilded Balloon and, at the last minute, my room was changed. I was going to be in a wee room but they put me on a raised stage and the audience were miles away, so I couldn’t hear them. I went from getting 5 and 4 stars to 1 star from The List.”

“How is your tumour?” asked Copstick.

“We’ll find out in December if it has shrunk,” said Martha. “but so far so good. Their microwaving seems to have done the job.”

Next year, Martha McBrier will be back performing an adult comedy show on the Fringe. She is currently in the middle of a 13-day run of a children’s show: The Very Scariesome Tooth Fairy.

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