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“Most of the people in comedy have no honesty or integrity at all,” says a comic

This man had no important message in 2012

In yesterday’s blog, I posted a response I had received to a February 2012 blog of mine.

There must be something in the air.

Just after I posted it, I received another response to a totally different 2012 blog.

In May 2012, I blogged about a man I had bumped into in Leicester Square.

He had been holding a placard saying:

I HAVE NO MESSAGE. AND I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING. I JUST HAVEN’T GOT ANYTHING BETTER TO DO.

Four days later, I found out the man was comedian Phil Klein and I posted another blog about him, in which I quoted a Chortle website review of his 2006 show The Growing Pains of Amos Phineas Klein Age 33 And A Third. The Chortle comedy website is run by Steve Bennett.

This is the comment which I received yesterday from Phil Klein. It is addressed not just to Steve but, I think, more generally to other comedians.

These are Phil’s comments:


Phil Klein gives his opinion

Phil Klein reacts to a Chortle review and to comics

This is a communication to a Mr Steve Bennett, a Comedic Reporter from the land we know as Chortle land, where everyone has a good old chortle, when they aren’t acting like cunts to each other in a good, old-fashioned, English passive-aggressive, “Let’s pretend we’re friends while stabbing each other in the back” kind of way.

You were right, Mr Bennett, there was “a yawning gap” between me coming across “effortlessly as a nice enough bloke” and “the X-factor that will elevate him from the open mic circuit.”

You’re right there was a yawning gap, but here’s the thing, when people yawn it is because they are bored. What I just got, at the time, was that the gap between being an open mic comedian and a pro comedian was indeed yawning, i.e. very, very boring, and I wasn’t interested in it. Because the truth is that the world of comedy is fucking boring, and I want no part in it whatsoever. Because I want to be around interesting people who are up to stuff in life, and, frankly, most comedians aren’t.

And, yes, if you think that’s arrogant, fine, I’m arrogant. Which is actually a reflection of just how unbelievably arrogant so many of you are. Cos, you pretend you’re mates with other comedians, when the truth is you are trying to get one over each other all the time and you want them to fuck up and die on their arse so that you can feel better about yourselves. I know, cos I was as bad as anyone, but at least I’m honest about what I’m like, whereas most of the people in comedy have no honesty or integrity at all.

And that is why I have zero interest in doing comedy at all. Cos the world of comedy stinks. It pretends it’s different to the work place when, actually, it’s exactly the same. Boring and dull people (the comedians) being boring and dull, as other boring and dull people (the audience) watch them being boring and dull, while being jealous of the fact that at least the boring and dull people (comedians) have the cohones to show the world just how boring and dull they are.

I’m saying this, cos that is what you all really think, and you are all just pretending otherwise.

And, yes, of course, there are same great people in comedy, some amazing people who are very, very interesting and up to brilliant, fantastic, fabulous things (my kinda people). But, sadly, most of the people who either perform or watch or promote comedy are boring and dull with not a whole lot going on in their lives, and that is why I want nothing to do with it, after I finish the three remaining gigs I have left at the Cavendish and the Water Poet.

Oh, and Bennett, you saw me being naturally very funny twice at the London Comedy Festival in 2005, and it is shocking that you made no mention of that, though, on the whole, your review was fair based on that gig you saw at Hammersmith.


I would be interested to hear other people’s publishable views on Phil’s comments. You can contact me via SoItGoes@thejohnfleming.com – or just leave a Comment on this blog.

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Yesterday in Edinburgh, the post-Fringe world was getting increasingly odder with nudity, hedgehogs & flying saucers

Bob’s Bookshop Bar - a penis bottle opener, a bottle of gin & a fridge

Bob’s Bookshop has a basic minimalist Bar – a penis bottle opener, a bottle of gin & a fridge

Last night at what was the Edinburgh Fringe and is now just Edinburgh, Stompie the Half-Naked Chef played his last show at Bob’s Bookshop.

It was, for him, a normal show.

The room (a former shop) was full, so I sat outside on the cobbled street where venue runner Bob Slayer had thoughtfully placed three chairs for just such an eventuality – and because Stompie had always intended to perform his show both inside and outside the venue at the same time.

As always, Stompie – naked except for a kitchen apron and a pair of underpants (occasionally removed) – tended to run out onto the pavement to accost passers-by or into the middle of the street to stop passing cars, hail a cab or, on one occasion, to give a melon to a bemused and smiling middle-aged lady driver who appeared to speak no English.

I can only imagine she thought it was a local custom like men wearing kilts or people blowing bagpipes where the mouth movements bear no relation to the sounds being emitted.

The show occasionally strayed into the street

Car drivers were waved down by a half-naked man on cobbles

I was joined after a time by a passing lady who sat down. We watched couples and groups of mostly very respectable, ordinary (in a good way) people pass by, as the Festival Theatre round the corner had just finished its performance.

They – and other passing pedestrians who just looked in the window – and the accosted car drivers and taxi drivers who stopped because a mad-looking man was standing in the road in front of them – took in their stride the sight of a semi-naked man occasionally waving a cucumber at them.

A foreign lady driver accepted a melon of friendship

A foreign lady driver amiably accepted a melon of friendship

“Only in Edinburgh,” I said to the lady sitting beside me. “If this happened in Nottingham or Plymouth or London or Cardiff, people would be calling the police or running away.”

“I think I have seen too many shows,” the lady said to me. “It’s starting to seem normal. It has been a mad night.”

It turned out she, too, had been to the Festival Theatre show.

“What was it called?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she told me. “It was mad and wonderful and involved men and donkeys.”

Don Quixote?” I asked.

“It must have been,” she replied. “There were windmills.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

Artist Gay Halley watched the show from the street

Artist Gay Halley sat watching from the street

“My name is Gay,” she replied. “I always say that, rather than say I’m Gay. It avoids misunderstandings.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Just south of Aberdeen,” she replied.

“Stonehaven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied, surprised.

“I was partly brought up in Aberdeen,” I said. “We lived in Mastrick, a council estate on a hill. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds in the morning wearing her overcoat.”

Perfectly true. These were days of linoleum and coal fires, before fitted carpets and central heating.

“Where do you live?” she asked me.

“Borehamwood,” I replied.

“You’re joking,” she said. “My sister lives in Borehamwood.”

The lady sitting next to me on the cobbles turned out to be artist Gay Halley and she had just had a picture hung (and sold) at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition.

After the show, in Bob’s Bookshop, I asked Stompie/Richard Stamp, the Half-Naked Chef what he was doing next.

“I have an Arts Council grant to build a flying saucer,” he told me truthfully.

stompie_cut

He has a grant to build a flying saucer but not to buy clothes

He is also going to London’s Wonderground, to perform with Miss Behave whose broken heel has now partially mended, though she is still performing on crutches.

If you have no idea what this is about, the only solution is to read my blogs regularly.

After that, I went back to my rented flat where two e-mails were waiting for me.

The first was from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It commented on my blog of yesterday:

“You can find the odd hedgehog wandering the streets of Plashet Grove,” it said.

It did not define the exact meaning of the word ‘odd’.

Along the mean streets of Plashet Grove a hedgehog must go

Along these mean streets of Plashet Grove walked a hedgehog

Plashet Grove is in the East End of London, in the Upton Park/East Ham area.

“I once found a hedgehog there,” continued Anna. “Just once. I was with a comedian, very late at night. We almost released it into the custody of the local parkies, but they suggested we bake it in clay so we fled and set it free on Wanstead Flats (a nearby open area). It was odd, finding a hedgehog in Plashet Grove.”

Odd was the word last night.

The second e-mail waiting for me was from comedy critic Kate Copstick, who returned to London from Edinburgh at the beginning of this week.

In my blog yesterday, I mentioned that, now the Fringe was over, the paper strips stuck on posters giving review quotes and showing the 4 or 5 star reviews are coming unstuck in the wind.

Copstick told me that, when she was leaving Edinburgh, she had bumped into a well-known comedian at Waverley station. She wrote:

There is nothing as worthless as yesterday’s stars

Edinburgh: fading and sometimes unwanted review stars

“He had told both his venue and his PRs (at a major management company) that he did not want any strips of stars to be stuck on his posters. NONE. AT ALL. He saw some of his posters in Bristo Square with a Broadway Baby and another star strip stuck across them, so he called his PR people.

“They said they had not put any strips of stars up as per his instructions. So he called up the venue PR. They said the same and told him (which he has had confirmed) that it is the publications THEMSELVES who go around and put their own strips of stars up on posters sometimes!!… If the acts’ PRs do not stick the stars up, then Broadway Baby does!”

Copstick and I both found this odd.

But, to me, even stranger was the fact that the act did not want to have his stars and review quotes publicised on his posters.

Either I am or the world is getting increasingly odd. Perhaps both.

_________

P.S. The folks at Broadway Baby tell me: “Broadway Baby does NOT stick up flashes or stars on posters… Bizarre indeed. As if any publication would have the time, resources or inclination to stick pull quotes on posters.”

Yup. That’s the word for this story.

Bizarre.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival – whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman – Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby – Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman – Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars – “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself” – and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Lewis Schaffer turns down a review by Kate Copstick; Bob Slayer strips another reviewer

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

London Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner has been staying in my Edinburgh flat the last couple of days, on a quick trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, he tried standing in the street, offering £20 notes to people if they would see a particular show – just to find out if they would. No-one would.

“People weren’t interested,” he told me, “unless there were Dancing on Ice stars in the show. The Edinburgh Fringe is dead. Mediocrity reigns.”

The Fringe – perhaps as always – is certainly in a state of flux.

And – perhaps as always – it is to do with money.

Yesterday, this blog published comedian Bob Slayer’s piece about ticket prices at the Edinburgh Fringe which The Scotsman newspaper commissioned but refused to print.

The Big Four venues at the Fringe are often criticised (including in this blog) for making money out of performers and being responsible for inflated ticket prices.

But someone yesterday (not connected to the Big Four venues) pointed out to me that the Big Four venues are as much held to ransom financially as the performers. One un-publicised villain of the piece, it was put to me, is Edinburgh University.

The Edinburgh Fringe

There’s a lot of it at the Edinburgh Fringe – but who gets it?

I was told by someone with alleged access to the figures (which I cannot confirm) that over 75% of the tickets sold at all venues (excluding the Free Fringe and Free Festival) are sold in venues rented out by Edinburgh University at high rates. These “exhorbitant” (the word used to me) fixed overheads mean that ticket prices have to be higher than they would otherwise be. Not only that but, normally, the takings from bars on property ultimately owned by Edinburgh University go not to the Fringe venues but to Edinburgh University and its Students’ Association. An exception would be the Udderbelly in public Bristo Square.

So all that visible money-making ‘exploitation’ of Fringe punters’ pockets is coming not from the venue owners but the ultimate landlord of the properties which the venues rent.

If you are a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe, all you want is lots of bums on seats and a good review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman.

Unless you are Lewis Schaffer.

Yesterday, Copstick told me she had gone to see Matt Price’s much-talked-about unbilled show at The Hive: Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

“I loved it,” she told me last night. “Matt is wonderful, warm, but very, very needy and that just gives me an overwhelming urge to smack him in the face. But he’s wonderful with the audience and the show was tremendous.

“I came out of Matt’s show with a glow and a terrible bout of acid stomach, so I was heading up Niddry Street to get some emergency Gavescon, when I bumped into Lewis Schaffer – He was the next show at The Hive and I was there to review him. Matt’s show finishes as 7.30 and Lewis starts at 8.00.

Lewis Schaffer needs no reviews

Lewis Schaffer: a man with no shoes

“So Lewis Schaffer says: Oh! Kate Copstick! Kate Copstick!

“No tongues?” I asked.

“Thank goodness. No tongues,” said Copstick. “But I told him: I’m coming to review your show.

No, you’re not! he told me. Well I am, I said.

No, no, you shouldn’t come, he said. You know what it’s gonna be like.

“I said: Well, I like to think I’m open-minded as a critic and I don’t assume that I know what anybody’s show is going to be like. 

No! You know what it’ll be like, said Lewis. OK, you could give me 3 stars, you could give me 2 stars, but you’ll probably give me 4 stars.

“I said: Well, it’s rather unseemly for you, as a performer, to assume you are confident enough in my work as a critic to know what the star count will be. 

Well, you know, you shouldn’t come, he said.

I’ll be there, I told him. But, as I walked up and back – and it may have been the shock of having to pay £5 for a tiny bottle of Gavescon – I thought Fuck this! I absolutely adore Lewis, love his work. I gave him great reviews when no-one else even knew he was there.

“But I mean, you never know when he is being tongue-in-cheek. Well, you do. His tongue is massive, but his cheek is bigger. And I thought Fuck this! I’ll go and see someone else. And I did.”

Copstick is the one reviewer everyone (apart from, it seems, Lewis Schaffer) wants to come and see their shows.

But one massive pet hate of most performers is the use by some (not all) of the seemingly expanding number of Edinburgh Fringe publications of young, amateur reviewers.

bobslayer_bawbags_10aug2013

Bob Slayer – unusually over-dressed last night

Last week, I was at one of Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem shows at Bob’s Bookshop. Among the crowd in the main room was a reviewer for one of the Fringe publications. He looked very young and inexperienced.

“I spotted him all fresh-faced with his press pass around his neck,” Bob Slayer told me yesterday, “and I told him: You can only be reviewing for one of two publications.

“So that’s why I took his press pass off him,” Bob told me. “After you left, the gig turned down to about a dozen people. Adam Larter took acts and they went and had a party in the back room while I told stories to punters in the front room.

“I asked the young guy how many shows he’d seen and he started talking about the ones he’d reviewed and I said No, no, no. Before you reviewed a show, how many shows had you seen? and he said None… And that’s a reviewer for one of the Fringe papers!

“But I got to like this guy, cos he was honest. And he said: Well, we’re perfectly entitled to review… and actually maybe a review from an ordinary person is better than a review from a bitter and jaded old hack. Except Copstick. She’s fine. An opinion is an opinion.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose ignorant reviewers are the ‘real’ audience. People who know who Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies or Arthur Askey was are not the comedy-going audience who read reviews to find out which shows they may like.”

“We made the gig all about teaching him about comedy,” Bob said. “He didn’t even know who Morecambe and Wise were, let alone Malcolm Hardee. He’s like an ‘open mic’ reviewer. He told me they don’t get paid anything. They offer them some training and a reference and that’s it.

“The long and short of it is, the little lad came in at midnight to review the show and left at 5:30am in only his underpants carrying his clothes and shoes. He had also stamped all over his hairless chest with my Bob Slayer ink stamp. As he stumbled into the street he asked where his press pass was. I told him that he would have to come back for it the next day – and settle his bar tab. The little lamb came in very hung-over the next day. I think he will become the greatest reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe, because I have trained him up to send him out into the world to go out and review properly. He has had a Fringe experience.”

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Nine more answers to questions asked by virgin Edinburgh Fringe comedians

Edinburgh Fringe 2012: an ordinary street scene

What performing looks like at the Fringe

A couple of days ago, I re-blogged some two-year-old Answers to nine questions asked by first-time Edinburgh Fringe performers

Here is a follow-up which I also blogged two years ago. I have made slight updates, particularly in the final answer

1. IF THERE ARE ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE, SHOULD I CANCEL THE SHOW?

No. Even if there is only one person in the audience, perform the show. You do not know who those people are in the audience (particularly at the Free Fringe and the Free Festival where there are no complimentary tickets). I have blogged before about an Edinburgh Fringe show performed in the early 1990s by then-unknown comedian Charlie Chuck. There were only four people in the audience. He performed the show. Two of the audience members were preparing an upcoming new BBC TV series The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer and, as a direct result, Charlie Chuck was cast as ‘Uncle Peter’ in the series. After appearing in that, he was no longer unknown. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

2. BUT IF I GET LOW AUDIENCES, SURELY I AM A FAILURE?

Very possibly, sunshine, but not necessarily. In reality, it means you are an average Edinburgh Fringe performer. Unless you are on TV, you will not get full audiences unless there is astonishing word-of-mouth about your show. Scots comedian Kevin Bridges could not fill a matchbox, even in Scotland. He appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow on BBC1. After that, he was filling auditoriums the size of Bono’s ego. What is important at the Edinburgh Fringe is not the size of the audience but who is in the audience and the perception of your impact by the media. It is not How Many? but Who? which is important. It can also be argued that, if you get an audience of zero then, by definition, no-one knows you had no audience, so there is actually no harm in media terms. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

3. BUT I AM GOING TO THE FRINGE TO GET SEEN BY AUDIENCES, AREN’T I?

No you are not. You are going to the Edinburgh Fringe to lose money. A comic whose name I have tragically forgotten, so cannot credit, likened it to standing in a cold shower tearing up £50 notes. You may have sold your grandmother into sexual slavery to afford this trip to the Fringe, but you are not in Edinburgh to perform shows to ordinary people. If you wanted to do that, you could have gone to the Camden Fringe or down the local pub on a Friday night. You are going to Edinburgh, the biggest arts festival in the world, to get seen by critics and, with luck, by radio and TV people, all of whom can boost your career. If you can create good word-of-mouth among the small audiences who do see your shows at the Fringe, then that may attract a few of the influential people. And, if the media perceive you as being successful, then you ARE successful even if you are not. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

4. I AM A COMEDIAN. AUDIENCES ARE NOT LAUGHING ALL THE WAY THROUGH MY SHOW. WHY?

Well, probably because you have a shit show, so tweak it or consider a career working at a call centre in Glasgow. There are some comics who should reconsider their lifestyle and bank balances. On the other hand, most comics are insanely insecure for very little reason. I have sat through many a show where the comedian thinks the audience did not like part of the show because it did not get enough laughs but I know for sure, because I was in the audience, that the punters enjoyed the show tremendously. They were just mesmerised in rapt attention during the quiet but important bits. It is all about perception.

Street art at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

Street art truth at Edinburgh Fringe in 2012

5. BUT WHY DON’T AUDIENCES LAUGH AT EVERY LINE?

Possibly because a good comedy script is not 100% laugh-at-every-line. Not over a whole hour. If you think your show is that funny you are either deluded, on cocaine or have a serious psychological problem (not that the first or last is any drawback in comedy). Watching a man take 10 seconds to jump off a cliff 66 times in a row is not exciting; it exhausts and bores the viewer after a while. What is exciting is a rollercoaster. A build-up followed by an adrenaline rush. Excitement followed by relief followed by excitement followed by relief followed by a climax. Ooh missus. An hour-long show is about pacing. If you remove the build-up before the punch-line, you will lose the laughter on the punch-line. Of course, the highly-experienced comic can get three subsidiary titters in the build-up followed by a big belly-laugh at the climax. Ooh misses. Ooh missus. Even (billed in alphabetical order) the brilliant Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine, who mostly deal in one-liners, have pacing where their audiences can relax amid the laughter. It is all about perception.

6. SHOULD I WORRY IF I DO NOT GET REVIEWS?

Yes, but it is largely a matter of luck. I always tell people they have to play the Edinburgh Fringe on three consecutive years. The first year, no-one will notice you are there. The second year, you have some idea of how the Fringe works. The third year, people will think you are an Edinburgh institution and the media will pay some attention to you. You have to go for three consecutive years. If you miss a year, when you return, you are, in effect, re-starting at Year One. It is not just audiences but critics who change year-by-year. Critics reviewing shows at the Fringe may not have been doing it two years ago. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

7. I ONLY HAVE 30 MINUTES OF GOOD MATERIAL. WAS I WRONG TO ATTEMPT TO DO A 60-MINUTE SHOW?

Yes. You are an idiot. You should have delayed your trip to the Fringe and gone next year. Going before you are fully ready is never a good idea. Yes, go up and play a few gigs on other people’s shows. Yes, go up as part of a three or four person show. But, if you are doing your first solo 60-minute show and you have anything less than 80 minutes of good material, you risk rapid ego-destruction.

8. IF I GET REVIEWS, ARE THE NUMBER OF STARS IMPORTANT?

In Edinburgh, absolutely. The stars are everything – provided you get above three stars. Put four or five stars on your posters and flyers – with short quotes – immediately. All your competitors – and, in Edinburgh ALL other performers, however seemingly friendly, are your deadly competitors – will be using the number of stars on a review to boost their own ego or to try and deflate yours. After the Fringe is over, the stars mean bugger all. They are unlikely to bring in crowds on a wet Thursday in Taunton. But their real value lies next year at the Fringe when you can quote them and they will have some effect. And always remember the admirable enterprise of the late comic Jason Wood. Highly influential Scotsman critic Kate Copstick gave his Fringe show a one star review. The next morning, all his posters in Edinburgh proudly displayed a pasted-on strip saying “A STAR” (The Scotsman). The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

9. WILL I WIN THE PERRIER PRIZE?

No. Partly because it no longer exists. The name has changed several times. But mostly because you just won’t. Don’t be silly. Fantasy is a valuable part of the performer’s art, but never fully believe your own fantasy.

You stand a better chance of winning one of the increasingly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – the longest-running comedy awards with the same name at the Fringe. And, unlike their insignificant competitors, the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are guaranteed to run until the year 2017 because we have already had the trophies made.

It’s all about publicity and ramping or maybe camping it up.

It’s all about publicity and ramping or maybe camping it up.

I allegedly organise them, but intentionally try not to be too organised as that would be lacking in respect to Malcolm’s memory. Do not bother to apply to me because there is no application process, plus it interferes with my chocolate-eating.

Your show format is probably neither that original nor, frankly, that good and we will almost certainly hear about anything which actually IS that original. In Edinburgh, word-of-mouth is the strongest thing after a deep-fried Mars Bar soaked in whisky for 20 minutes.

The Edinburgh Fringe is all about publicity and perception.

To quote Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ movie The Producers:

“When you’ve got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”

A good show will not necessarily get noticed amid the adrenaline-fuelled mayhem in Edinburgh.

A well-publicised show will get noticed.

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Steve Bennett, editor of Chortle UK comedy website, says his criticism is fair

Steve Bennett, owner and editor of Chortle website

Steve Bennett thought about a music or movie site

The annual Chortle Awards are held tomorrow night at the Café de Paris in London’s West End.

The Chortle comedy website has been running since 2000.

I asked Chortle’s originator and editor Steve Bennett about the first Awards ceremony.

“It was basically just a piss-up in the Comedy Cafe’s bar,” he told me, “and I’d home-made them with the Chortle logo spectacles just nailed to a bit of wood.”

“And now they are…?”

“Better,” said Steve. “And the Chortle Awards are the only ones that cover live comedy nationally, really. The British Comedy Awards used to have a stand-up category but don’t any more.”

“When you started Chortle, you were a sub-editor for the Mail On Sunday...” I said.

“No,” he corrected me. “I was a local newspaper editor for the Informer free group in Surrey and West London. There was the Informer group and various other titles. We had the Surrey Herald for a bit.

“So I thought The internet is the way forward but the company weren’t that interested in websites. So then I thought What am I interested in? and I liked music and comedy and films and there were already music sites and IMDB and Empire but there was no site dedicated to comedy.”

“That was very smart of you,” I said, “That was about five years before other people twigged print was really dead.”

The Chortle website homepage this morning

The Chortle homepage today

“After I’d been going a couple of months,” Steve explained, “I got signed up by a ‘proper’ dotcom company – they had seed capital and all that – so I gave up my newspaper job and went to work for them in a trendy brewery in Brick Lane. They lasted two months. They took me to Edinburgh in August 2000 and then they went bust in September. They pissed away a lot of money because they had all these grand ambitions. They wanted to do everything; it was towards the end of the dotcom bubble.”

“But you carried on with comedy because…?”

“Because, if you looked in the Comedy section of Time Out, you just saw a list of names with odd adjectives, but it didn’t really tell you what they were like; there wasn’t enough space. On a website, you could click on a link and get more information.”

“And also,” I suggested, “you can get comedy advertising from clubs, TV, video companies, movie releases, festivals, management, agents… it’s more than just one advertising stream.”

“I didn’t think that through at the time,” said Steve. “I wasn’t that commercially-minded at all.”

“It was presumably not financially viable from the start?” I asked. “It took – what? – three years?”

“No, a lot longer. Obviously, that was the advantage of being a journalist: you could pick up freelance work. So when the dotcom went bust, I was picking up freelance work at the Mirror and the Mail On Sunday.”

“And journalists have pretty thick skins.” I said. “People must slag you off over bad reviews on Chortle.”

“Not to my face so much,” explained Steve. “I know it goes on, but what can you do? The thing I get all the time is Oh, he’s a failed performer! They think everyone wants to do what they do, but I don’t.”

“You’ve never performed comedy?”

The Chortle Awards at the Cafe de Paris, London

Chortle Awards are tomorrow at the Cafe de Paris, London

“No. It would be a horrible car crash. I don’t really like it. I have to present Chortle Award winners at the end of the student heats, but I just look awkward and uncomfortable and it’s not my skillset. I do what I do. I get to work in comedy, I get to play to my strengths. Why put myself through it? And also the more you know about comedy, the more you know you can’t do it. If I thought I had an aptitude – which I don’t – it would still take four years before I could stand on stage and be OK. I like comedy, but I don’t like being in the spotlight.”

“So you must like to be hated for giving bad reviews?”

“It’s probably not very nice to be written about, especially if you get one star. But there’s no answer to that. You can’t go round being nice to everybody and giving them all 4-star reviews. You have to be honest about it and hope that, over 13 years, people know that I’m trying to give an honest reaction.

“I’m also quite happy that I’m not just a reviewer. The website is used as a resource and has news on it. That’s mine. I made that. I’m proud of that. It would be weirder if my whole job was just being a critic.”

“So you’re proud of being an editor rather than just a critic?”

“Yeah. I think I have created something.”

“So who reads Chortle? Just comedians?”

“It’s not just comics and the comedy industry. If they all used it, that would just be about 5%-10% of my audience. It’s comedy geeks as well. Just as the NME is read by all the up-and-coming musicians but also by all the people who are interested in up-and-coming and established musicians… so are we. We are the comedy industry’s version of the NME.”

“I’ve written film and comedy reviews in the past,” I told Steve. “But I tended to write features and interviews, not reviews, because then I didn’t have to say some things are shit.”

“The difference between writing film reviews and comedy reviews,” said Steve, “is that you’re not going to see Tom Cruise in the bar afterwards whereas, in comedy, you’re immersed in it. People are around the whole time and I’m on the circuit three or four times a week; you bump into people.”

“Have you had people attack you?”

Comedy critics face fragile egos and non-comedic reaction

Comedy critics face fragile egos and non-comedic reactions…

“Not for a while. A long time ago there were a couple of people. Verbally. But they tended to be people who were, for want of a better word, a Jongleurs act. They’re very good at crowd control; they’re very good at doing that specific comedy job, but they may be treading water. Especially when I first started, people would say Who’s this guy? Why’s he saying this isn’t very good? I’ve been doing comedy for twenty years!

“All I can write is whether I enjoyed it or not and explain to the best of my ability why I felt that way.”

“So when you write about an act, you don’t try to criticise it but to be constructively objective?”

“Ye-e-e-es…,” said Steve. “There are probably about 3% or 4% of shows I see that are just awful and appalling and I can’t think of a good word to say. But mostly you try and say… Well, it’s like being a director, I suppose. If you asked me my advice, this is what I would tell you, right or wrong.”

“So writing a review is not like being a heckler,” I suggested. “It’s like giving Director’s Notes to an actor… Objective insight into a performance after it has happened.”

“I would hope so,” replied Steve. “But you give the notes very publicly and everyone sees them. You also want to write entertainingly and write for a general audience.”

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Comedy man Steve Bennett talks about stalking women and losing his virginity

Chortle website owner and editor Steve Bennett

Steve Bennett, owner of the Chortle website

Since 2007, I have organised the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe. They continue until 2017.

Steve Bennett started the Chortle comedy website in 2000.

In 2010, he looked back at The 50 Most Memorable Gigs of The Decade and, at Number 6, put the Malcolm Hardee Tribute Show staged at Up The Creek comedy club in February 2005.

He wrote:

“The funeral of this alternative comedy legend was probably one of the gigs of the decade, but this wake in the venue he founded must run it a close second. A suitably raucous celebration rich with reminiscences, gags – and, of course full-frontal male nudity, the line-up included Arthur Smith, Jools Holland, Jimmy Carr and Chris Lynam, with his traditional firework up the backside.”

So I was little surprised when, last week, I got an email from Steve Bennett headed Elegibility For Malcolm Hardee Award, saying:

“I am doing my first solo hour as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival this year. I was just wondering about the eligibility criteria for your awards. Do I need to apply anywhere or do you just come to my show and decide from there?”

I was even more surprised when I Skyped him yesterday in Bordeaux and he told me about the night he lost his virginity.

Obviously, the Steve Bennett of whom I write is the Irish comedian who shares his name and not the esteemed Chortle website supremo.

Still, losing your virginity is always interesting.

This other Steve Bennett – the Irish one – currently teaches English to kids in a primary school in Bordeaux. He has been a comedian since 2008, but he has only “treated it seriously” since 2011, when he finished four years of studying French and Psychology at college in Galway.

This August, he will be performing his one-man show In Bits at the Finnegan’s Wake venue during the Edinburgh Fringe..

“I do a lot of musical comedy with a ukelele or a guitar,” he told me yesterday. “This year, it’s been ukelele mostly because I couldn’t bring my guitar to France, so I bought a ukelele here  – it was cheaper and smaller.

Steve Bennett talks to me via Skype yesterday

Steve Bennett talks to me yesterday from Bordeaux via Skype.

“My Edinburgh show’s about the ‘breakup hangover’ – what happens post-breakup and comparing that to the drinking hangover, being Irish. One song’s about your ex finding you on Facebook all the time. The stalking thing that happens. So it’s written from her point of view – kind of crazy zany, which suits the ukelele because it kinda has a NING NING NING NING sound to it. The…”

“Erm…” I interrupted. “You said ‘the stalking thing that happens’ as if stalking is an everyday result of a relationship breaking up.”

“The stalking thing on Facebook,” explained Steve. “It’s done more by girls, I’m told, than by gentlemen. I don’t really do it too much, but it’s where you can go on Facebook when you’re Friends with your ex and take a look and see what they’re doing with their lives. That’s the thing the exes do now: they keep tabs on you.”

“You said I don’t really do it too much,” I said. “This implies that…”

“Oh, I’ve definitely taken a look see,” admitted Steve. “Who’s that guy? Is he your boyfriend?

“Does the ex-girlfriend know you’re doing this show about the breakup of your relationship with her?”

“Yeah, she’s aware of it. She’s not aware of all the intense details and I think I’d be happier if she didn’t see it. But she told me she’d be happy with it so long as it wasn’t baring all the details of our relationship. I’m fine with that too: I don’t want to get too personal about stuff. It’s more about general things and exaggerated things. A lot of it’s true, but not all of it’s true: the same way with most comedy.”

“When did you realise there was another Steve Bennett?” I asked.

Steve Bennett performs at the Róisín Dubh club in Galway (Photograph by WonderfulLife Productions 086 668 1375)

“Quite early,” replied Steve Bennett. “I started doing the Róisín Dubh club in Galway. The guy who runs the club introduced me to another more experienced comedian who went: Oh! You’re that asshole! It turned out Steve Bennett had given him a bad review at some point.

“Chortle actually ran a short piece about me and included a very early YouTube video of some of my stuff that I’m not very happy with. It’s from a talent show back in 2009. I won that, but it’s not really indicative of my stuff these days. I do a lot more high energy comedy these days.

“Back then I was a very subdued man standing at a microphone telling jokes. Now I’m a lot more getting into the crowd, having fun and the songs are snappy and fast, some done in characters like the Facebook one written from my ex’s point of view.”

“But you seem quite sane,” I said. “Why do you want to be a comedian? All comedians are mad.”

“I don’t know,” Steve replied. “I’m probably trying to find some deep-seated emotional depression.”

“But,” I said, “You are too happy to be a comedian, surely?”

“I probably just like the attention. When I was about ten years old, a kid at school said to me You should be a comedian, because you’re funny and I just went Yeeaahhh! That only came back to me after I started doing the comedy. I only fell into it because… well, the first time I picked up a microphone at an Open Mic night was the night I lost my virginity. So that’s why I…”

“Say that again?”

“The first night I did a comedy Open Mic, I lost my virginity.”

There was a long pregnant pause.

“So that’s probably why I’m still doing it.”

“Perhaps you are hoping to lose it again,” I suggested.

“That’s maybe it,” said Steve. “I’m still trying to find what I was looking for.”

“But you’re going to be stuck in France for the foreseeable future,” I prompted.

“Oh no, I’m done here at the end of next month. So I’ll be back in Ireland from May 3rd and I’m booking comedy stuff now over the summer and then in August it’s Edinburgh.”

“And after that?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m going to pick up the odd job here and there, maybe tutoring people in French.”

“But you’d like to be a permanent, full-time millionaire comedian?”

“That would be the ultimate goal, wouldn’t it? But I’ve always liked the idea of having a day job to give me material. If I was only a comedian, I don’t know what I‘d talk about. I know there’s life and day-to-day stuff, but I’d like to have that other job I do at the same time. Which works, because there’s no money in comedy at my level.”

“And next?”

“At the moment, I’m running an internet thing. I campaigned on Facebook amongst my friends and fans to try and get as many words and descriptions of hangovers as possible. Sick as a parrot. Those kind of things. One of them became my show title – In Bits – and I took loads of suggestions and, when I was in Paris one weekend, I said the words to camera with loads of Parisian landmarks in the background. And now I’m trying to get people to send me videos of them saying In Bits and I was hoping to put together a promo video of loads of people saying the name of the show.”

“Do you read the Chortle website?” I asked.

“I don’t much. Not at all, no.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t know. Is that a good place to keep up-to-date? Is that what I should be doing?”

“You should be reading my blog every day,” I told him.

“Oh,” said Steve Bennett. He seemed surprised.

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The Edinburgh Fringe? – “It is called show business and not show charity”

In yesterday’s blog, I wrote about two types of show at the Edinburgh Fringe.

In normal ‘paid’ shows, the audience pays for its tickets before seeing the show and reviewers and talent scouts for the media/showbiz industry mostly get free tickets because they potentially may publicise the show or further the performers’ careers.

At ‘free’ shows, people do not buy tickets in advance, but are encouraged to pay on exit and reviewers/talent scouts may be scowled-at if they do not pay. In yesterday’s blog, I suggested the fact that ‘industry’ people ironically do not pay for ‘paid’ shows but may be expected to pay for ‘free’ shows might discourage reviewers and talent scouts from attending free shows. They would, in effect, be paying to promote the shows/further the performers’ careers.

I quoted Peter Buckley Hill, organiser of the PBH Free Fringe in Edinburgh, as saying: “This is not something that concerns me greatly… Our performers are strongly advised to concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame… What happens at paid shows is nothing to me either.  But in my view, both (the employers of) reviewers and competition judges should pay for their show tickets.”

There has been some reaction from other Fringe veterans to yesterday’s blog.

Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy reviewers, ITV Show Me The Funny judge and a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge, Facebooked me: “Shame on you, you skinflint Fleming. I make a POINT of seeing as many free shows as I can and, yes, they are the only ones I end up paying for but, to coin a literary term, SO THE FUCK WHAT ? It is the right thing to do. If we don’t review goodly numbers of free shows then we are saying that money WILL buy you reviews. Not mine it won’t.”

American comedian Lewis Schaffer has used the Fringe’s ‘free’ show model in his twice-weekly Free Until Famous shows which re-start in London’s Soho tomorrow and in a mini-tour of UK arts centres which I blogged about recently. He says:

“Whether or not to let reviewers in for free is such a minor point and one easily addressed: give the promoters and industry people ‘get out of show free’ passes to drop in the performers’ jars. Simple. If a performer doesn’t want to accept them, he can post a notice at the entrance.

“Acts are willing to lose massive amounts of money just to be seen by entertainment industry people in Edinburgh. That’s always been the main benefit of putting on shows at the Big Four venues. Industry people are corralled, cuddled and coddled at the Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly. Is it worth it? Well, for many shows, yes.

“Why shouldn’t the free venues do the same?”

Alex Petty, who organises the Laughing Horse Free Festival at the Edinburgh Fringe (separately from PBH’s Free Fringe) says:

“I like the idea of tokens. It would be good to come up with a zero maintenance solution to this.”

Bob Slayer, who ran the Hive venue as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival last year and who, this year, will be running his Alternative Edinburgh Fringe at the Hive with a mixture of ‘free’ shows in the afternoon and and ‘paid’ shows in the evening says:

“As a promoter I think, if this really is a problem, the free shows should look at a low-maintenance way to address it. Personally, I only really know one of the reviewers that ‘does’ my Fringe shows – Kate Copstick from The Scotsman – and she always drops in a fiver and buys me copious amounts of Jagermeister. I think the other reviewers may have heard how expensive it is to review me and sneak in quietly.

“Copstick is one of the good people. But the question is Do you only want to be reviewed by good people?? I am more than happy for evil, tight-fisted people to enjoy and review my show too. (I fear they might be my target audience.) So this year, instead of paying for PR I will offer a bottle of whisky and/or a hand-job to anyone who reviews my nonsense. And, just to keep this creatively pure, I will give extra for bad reviews.

“However, I think your blog has opened up some wider and bigger questions beyond reviewers.

“I cannot agree with your statement that, at the Fringe, performers (quite rightly) assume they will not make any profit. This is the biggest single problem at the Fringe today.

“Two million tickets are sold at the Edinburgh Fringe every year, so someone is making money. A lot of money. This myth that performers should expect to lose money has been very successfully spread by the people who are making the cash in order to protect their annual golden goose. If there is not enough money left for performers – after venues, PR people, poster people, publications, marketing services etc have taken their cut – then the obvious solution is that we cannot afford all these services and we should re-structure everything so that all the money doesn’t disappear into these people’s pockets.

“That is what we are aiming to do with the Alternative Fringe – paid shows with no rent/guarantee or other hidden costs, plus low ticket pricing and efficient marketing so that the performer earns from the first ticket sold.

“I also find myself totally agreeing with PBH and have very little to add when he says performers should concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame. The former leads to satisfaction in a job well done; the latter to frustration and the sort of nervous breakdown behaviour often associated with Fringe performers.

“However, as admirable as PBH’s non-profit stance is, this is still a business model that needs to be sustained and it is hardly wise to ignore the industry and reviewers altogether. Performers want to be able to keep performing and/or build a career.

“Reviews, along with word-of-mouth, recommendations, online activity, marketing etc, can all help them put bums-on-seats. But it is a question of balance and priorities. Find and develop an audience and the industry will come – Kunt and the Gang proved last year that, if you create a buzz amongst ‘normal’ people, then the industry and press will follow, no matter how inappropriate your act or name is!”

Lewis Schaffer adds:

“Someone in Edinburgh is certainly making money out of the free shows. It is the pub owner who sells alcohol to the punters coming in droves for free entertainment. The ‘free’ shows hinge on punters drinking. How British is that!?

“No punters drinking mean no shows, no PBH Free Fringe, no Laughing Horse Free Festival, no Lewis Schaffer is Free until Famous, 18th Year, Again, at the Counting House this August.

“Peter Buckley Hill provides entertainment that draws punters to the pubs, which makes Peter Buckley Hill a promoter for pubs in Edinburgh.

“I don’t have an axe to grind with the dude. His existence doesn’t hurt or harm what I do enough for it to matter. I am just a participant doing a free show. Though it does hurt me a little when he calls what he does a charity and holds benefits and makes free shows seem like charity cases, which my show isn’t. I don’t want people to feel sorry for me any more than is necessary!

“All performers at the free festivals are just alcohol salesmen, really. If PBH wants to sell himself as some saviour of entertainers or some charity for lost performers, that is one thing. The truth is something else.

“Everyone involved has a business model: the acts who want a venue at the lowest cost, the pubs who want drinkers in their pubs, the promoters who need money to conduct their businesses and live (… Oh, PBH isn’t doing it for the money? But the Free Fringe needs money to operate. And PBH has a ‘business plan’ to have his needs met as the saviour of entertainers and the liberator of worker artists.)

“The Fringe is part of show business. It is called show business and not show charity.”

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Do Edinburgh Fringe performers need to suck-up to reviewers/talent-spotters?

(This was also published in the Huffington Post and, in part, on the Chortle comedy industry website)

A lot of performers at the Edinburgh Fringe are there simply to get publicity, not to get big audiences. Getting bums-on-seats is a secondary, though still important, aim.

They (quite rightly) assume they will not make any profit. They want to gather review quotes and/or, with extreme luck, get talent-spotted by the media – especially by radio and TV people – and/or by promoters/producers/agents.

For the last few years, the Fringe has comprised two types of show – especially in comedy.

One is the traditional theatrical ‘business model’ in which people pay to buy tickets and then go see the show. These are the so-called ‘paid’ shows.

The other, newer model is the one pursued by the PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival, in which the audience does not pay in advance to see shows. Instead, after the show, there is a bucket or similar financial receptacle and the audience members throw into it what they think the show was worth – or they can pay nothing. These ‘free’ shows have the same ‘business model’ as busking in the street.

I only really became aware last year of a problem for Free shows who want to get reviewed in the media or head-hunted by talent scouts.

I have reviewed comedy shows at the Fringe. I have attended shows as a researcher/producer for TV programmes. For publishers, even! And I currently organise the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (which have no outside sponsor providing financial backing).

If I go to a ‘paid’ show as a reviewer, as a media person, as a promoter or as an awards judge, I get a free ticket from the Fringe Office/venue/producers. I hand that ticket in at the door to see the show. Everybody is happy.

If I go to a free show, there are no tickets. So I go into the show without a ticket.

I just walk in and, at the end of the show, the performer usually stands at the door to collect money in a bucket.

If I put nothing at all in the bucket, I feel like a schmuck and/or the performer looks miffed or both. After days of this constantly happening, it wears you down. It is less embarrassing simply to see only paid-for shows – or certainly to see far fewer free shows.

Yes, you could put money in every bucket. But having access to free tickets means you can take a bigger chance on going to see less high-profile shows which may or may not turn out to be utterly appalling. Having to pay for shows potentially means less risk-taking.

This holds true for promoters, would-be stage producers, and radio & TV researchers/producers. They, of course, have budgets, but…

Another fact to take into consideration is that many reviewers for Fringe free-sheets, websites and magazines are not paid.

As a reviewer, you may see 5 shows a day over 25 days. That is 125 shows. If only a third of those are free shows and if you put only £1 in each show’s bucket, that means forking out around £40. It is far easier – and cheaper – not to see free shows. There is no shortage of higher-profile, probably-very-good paid-for shows.

I do not know what the solution to this is.

It would probably be too expensive for the shoe-string free show organisers to start printing/administering press passes.

I suppose media people could drop into the bucket their business cards or bits of paper with their details on. But few reviewers have business cards and the last thing you really want is performers hassling you after seeing a show (which may have been crap).

I asked the opinion of Alex Petty who organises the Laughing Horse Free Festival; and Peter Buckley Hill who started the free show concept in Edinburgh and runs the original PBH Free Fringe shows.

Alex’s response was: “I hadn’t thought that it may be like that for reviewers. We certainly seem to have got our fair share of reviews but, if it’s putting people off, it’s something to look at, definitely.”

Peter Buckley Hill’s response on behalf of the PBH Free Fringe was a little more complicated and surprising. He replied:

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This is not something that concerns me greatly.

Traditionally, performers have been desperate to gain the attention of the press, and many people have exploited that desperation. Even now, many performers are briefed that they ought to be desperate for press attention, and ought to value the opinions of one reviewer more than those of hundreds of audience members.

The consequences have been obvious and deplorable. A number of publications exist merely for the purpose of reviewing Fringe shows, and young people are recruited by these publications, sometimes without knowledge or appreciation of the genres they are sent to review.

The result is a climate of over-deference to reviewers, leading to a culture in which entertaining the audience is not given first priority. When a reviewer is known to be coming, many comedians pack the audience with their friends, on free tickets and with instructions to laugh particularly hard. These are stupid games.

When a man (as it would have been in those olden days) worked hard in the shipyards or mines six days a week, and spent his hard-earned money taking his family to the theatre or music hall on a Saturday, there was some merit in reviews which helped him choose his entertainment; his shillings would not be wasted on inferior shows.

These conditions were not present at the Edinburgh Fringe until recently, when ticket prices started exceeding £10 for a one-hour show. With or without reviews, these prices are too high.

At the Free Fringe, no hard-earned money is wasted. If you don’t like the show, you don’t give (and often you sneak out early, thus leaving an audience who is on the wavelength of the show). If you do like the show, you don’t have to give either. Some don’t. Most do. The choice to give or not is always theirs.

And in choosing shows, the audience is free to be guided by its own instincts, not the second-hand views of others. They can experiment without financial penalty.  And experimenting — watching something without recommendation, almost at random — is the essence of a festival calling itself Fringe. Among our achievements has been the restoration of the Fringe to the people of its host city.

Our policy has always been that entry to shows is first come first served. Reviewers queue with the rest and there is no special treatment. There are no tickets and there never will be. In situations of particularly high demand we have issued tokens to the queue, thus allowing it to wait in more comfort and not stand for an hour; this is still first come first served.

In our world, the interests of audiences come first and those of performers second, followed by the legitimate need of our venues to profit from having our shows.

Our performers are strongly advised to concentrate on entertaining the people in front of them, whoever they are, and not to entertain unrealistic dreams of discovery and sudden fame. The former leads to satisfaction in a job well done; the latter to frustration and the sort of nervous breakdown behaviour often associated with Fringe performers. The danger of the latter, however, is greater when the performer has poured £5000-£15000 of his/her own money into the show, as he/she does not have to with the Free Fringe.

If reviewers are commissioned by publications, in my view they should be paid for that work. But it is nothing to me if they are not.  That is between them and their employers. What happens at paid shows is nothing to me either.  But in my view, both (the employers of) reviewers and competition judges should pay for their show tickets. Otherwise, this is money taken from the pockets of performers.  When restaurants are reviewed by most reputable publications, the reviewers remain anonymous and pay for their meals.

Our shows get audiences with or without reviews. I am not convinced that the public read them anyway. Certainly the additional numbers that came to my show in 2009 following its five-star review in The Scotsman had not read the review itself; they merely followed the stars like the three kings of legend. If there are to be reviews, abolition of star ratings would be a very positive step. It would at least make people read something about the show itself, and teach them that excellence is subjective.

The Free Fringe is not a ‘business model’. It is a model for the liberation of performers from the chains imposed on them by others making profit on their labour. Thus, we must be a non-profit organisation. The Free Fringe is free in many senses. Among those freedoms is freedom from the (perceived, not real) need for reviews.

We will continue to do what we do.

It is right.

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(There was reaction to this in later blogs here and here.)

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