Tag Archives: Richard Gadd

How to alienate an Edinburgh Fringe audience with mis-conceived videos

Yesterday’s blog was about things which could be wrong in an Edinburgh Fringe comedy show’s script but which can be changed even at a very late stage.

Today’s blog is about something it is less easy to sort out.


When people ask me about performing at the Fringe, they are concerned about getting audiences in. They are concerned with bums-on-seats. Fair enough.

But one thing I remind them – rightly or wrongly – is that the real reason performers flock up to Edinburgh in August is not to fill seats with money-making ‘real’ members of the public (most performers make a loss) but to be seen by the media and the showbiz industry.

Many years ago, I was up in Edinburgh with one act who was unknown at the time and was getting virtually no audiences. He was talking about giving up and going home. I told him not to. One night (when I was not there) he had only four people in the audience.

But it turned out that two of them were TV producers looking for talent for a new series they were preparing. He was booked for two full runs of a BBC2 TV series.

Oh, alright, it was Charlie Chuck and the series was The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer where he performed as the Charlie Chuck character but was called Uncle Peter.

Another time, I turned up to see an interesting-sounding show at the Fringe. The only audience members were me and another man. But the two performers had given up a few days before and gone back to London. I was looking for acts for a Channel 4 TV show. The other man was a BBC Radio producer. We never saw the show or the performers.

It is not the number of bums-on-seats that matter… It is whose buttocks they are.

30 ‘ordinary’ punters in an audience cannot make you famous.

One person in the audience could make you a millionaire and the biggest thing in British entertainment.

Though not if it’s me, obviously.

It is all smoke and mirrors.

I remember several years ago, one act who was hot, hot, hot. He is now a known Name comedian. Everyone was talking about his Fringe show that year. It sounded massively successful. And it was. But, when I went to see it, he was performing in a small shipping container. Perhaps there was room for 30 people in the audience. But the right people had seen the show and the word-of-mouth was massive. I repeat:

It is not the number of bums-on-seats that matter… It is whose buttocks they are.

Richard Gadd clearly did it right at the Edinburgh Fringe

In 2015, Richard Gadd was booked into a venue in Niddry Street that turned out to be too small when the word-of mouth about his show Waiting for Gaddot became massive. People were getting turned away every night, which just fanned the flames of the word-of-mouth.

In 2016, he was nominated for an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award because – now much much better-known and guaranteed to sell out a much bigger venue – he had booked himself into the same small venue on the basis that even more people would NOT be able to see his equally superb show Monkey See Monkey Do, thus making himself and the show even hotter.

At least, that was the story. It might have been bullshit to get nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award. But, if it was untrue, that was a successful Cunning Stunt in itself.

My point is that acts perform on the Edinburgh Fringe to be seen by the press, TV & radio producers and prospective managers, agents, promoters, whatever. They want to be talked about. They want to be hot and to be seen to be hot.

But, as a result of this, an appalling habit has crept in over the years.

Pre-recorded video clips.

They started, I think, because people wanted to demonstrate to TV producers what fine comedy sketches they could do if given a TV show.

That was bad enough.


It has now got worse than trying to demonstrate TV sketch performance potential on stage via pre-recorded video clips. Comedy performers are now willy-nilly bunging pre-recorded videos in their solo shows, having ever-changing stills backdrops and all sorts of appalling visual distractions.

This CAN work and it CAN be relevant.

In Richard Gadd’s aforementioned, rightly-acclaimed 2015 stage show Waiting for Gaddot, the conceit was that he was not there. The pretence was that he was late for the billed show and other people performed while waiting for him to arrive – and this was interspersed with make-believe-live video clips of his various problems trying to get to the venue. Eventually he did arrive and he ran into the venue just as the show was about to end.

In that case, the video clips had a very well-thought-through purpose which was part of the cleverly-conceived format of the show.

But, mostly, comedy performers – an insecure and neurotic breed at the best of times – witter on about wanting to add ‘production value’ to the show and how just watching them stand at a microphone talking for 55 minutes would be dull for the audience. They want to make the show “more interesting”

Well, if you are worried about people getting bored watching you talk to them uninterrupted for 55 minutes, you should not be taking a show up to the Fringe and you should consider a career change. If you want the show to be more interesting, then be more interesting.

One thing you definitely don’t want in your show – feared comedy critic Kate Copstick commenting via a video screen. (In this blog, this is an example of an irrelevant distraction.)

Adding videos to the show is not ‘adding production value’, it is distracting the audience and interrupting their concentration. Every time you show a video or a series of stills to ‘add production value’, the audience has to switch attention from the performer’s face to a TV screen of totally different luminosity. Their visual focus literally shifts and their ears have to re-tune to a different type of sound wave. And sometimes there is also a lighting change involved to further distract their concentration.

It destroys whatever momentum the performer has built up.

The audience, who have been (or should be) intent on watching the performer’s face and listening to his/her carefully-crafted spiel, have to mentally switch off and re-tune to the ‘other’ (pre-recorded) video performance or visual.

At the end of that, they have to mentally, visually and aurally re-adjust back to the performer. Literally change their focus, literally re-adjust to a totally different visual display.

Every time the performer stop/starts his/her performance, the momentum is stop/started and the audience’s concentration diluted or lost.

Also, the audience must inevitably have at least a slight thought in the back of their minds: I came here tonight to see a live comedy performance. Why am I sitting watching a TV screen/projected image that has been pre-recorded?

And, while they are watching this unexpected interruption, they are half-flicking their attention every now-and-then back to the performer who is just standing around like a wanker doing nothing or – God forbid! – has walked off-stage for the duration of the clip.

The audience will and must think: Hold on! Am I watching this because the performer doesn’t have enough confidence to risk doing it live and has pre-recorded it? Or: Is the performer not talented enough to entertainingly describe in fascinating language what I am watching?

I am not a performer. I can show you a video of a monkey juggling a meringue and get laughs. A talented comedian can describe it to you and get even more laughs.

Every time I have to sit through bloody video clips in a live show in which the performer stands to one side and scratches his/her nose/anus, I start to wonder: If this wanker can’t perform the whole show live, why not just record the whole thing, email the video file to me and I wouldn’t have to come out on a wet night, have my luxuriant hair half-blown off by the wind and be shat upon by giant seagulls with attitude problems! (This is Edinburgh, after all.)

These annoyed and annoying thoughts will also, most of the time, be shared by the TV or (God help them) radio producers whom the performer most wants to impress.

If you don’t think you are interesting enough to hold people’s attention in a 55 minute live show, just don’t go to the Edinburgh Fringe. (This is another distracting picture.)

If you are trying to demonstrate what a good writer and live performer you are in front of a live audience on a stage, then don’t go multi-bloody-media luvvie unless it is vital to the whole caboodle (like it was in Richard Gadd’s show).

If you are a sketch group, don’t bloody have me sit in a darkened room in Edinburgh watching you being clever in Take 13 of some video you pre-recorded in a London park four months ago. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it’s not going to impress me. If you can’t think of an entertaining way to perform sketches live on stage in a room in Edinburgh, then don’t go up there and go get a job stacking shelves in a supermarket.

If you can’t do 55 minutes of straight-to-the-audience stand-up material then (unless you can make it VERY original and an integral part of the live-to-the-audience act), don’t have video inserts. Just do a bloody stand-up routine entertainingly. Or send a showreel to Netflix or Amazon or BBC3 or put it on YouTube. Don’t inflict it on me, sitting on an uncomfortable chair in some annexe to a church or some student lecture room draped in black curtains in Edinburgh.

I could be watching re-runs of old Tommy Cooper shows instead.

Of course, if you take all the advice above, you will never be nominated for, let alone win, an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality.

Life is a bitch.

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Humour’s not a universal language – it’s a matter of personal or national opinion

I have sat through some weird shit in my time

Michael Powell’s movie Gone To Earth, Robin Hardy’s movie The Fantasist and Edinburgh Fringe stage show Sally Swallows and the Rise of Londinian. They spring immediately to mind.

And I can now add to that an ‘acclaimed’ Finnish ‘deadpan comedy’ movie The Other Side of Hope.

I was invited to an “influencer preview screening” in Soho yesterday afternoon. It was in English, Finnish and Arabic. With English subtitles.

The first person I saw when I arrived was Scots comic Richard Gadd. His factual movie drama Against The Law is being screened on BBC2 at the end of June.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“I’m the lead actor in The Other Side of Hope.,” he told me, apparently slightly affronted that I had not known.

Some people will turn up to the opening of an envelope. I will turn up to anything which has the likelihood of free tea and salmon sandwiches. It does not mean I read the fine details of any press release.

“How come you are the lead in a Finnish film?” I asked Richard Gadd.

“Because,” said Richard Gad, “I am half-Finnish.”

“Heavens,” I said, slightly embarrassed, “I didn’t know that,”

“Well I am,” he told me, slightly wearily.

Thom Tuck (left) and Richard Gadd at Soho House yesterday

The next person I saw was comedian, writer and variably-hirsute thespian Thom Tuck, currently touring Britain in Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman.

“Are you playing Willy?” I asked.

“No,” he said slightly wearily. “He is in his 60s.”

I thought it unwise to mention anything about ‘playing with Willy’ so, changing the subject, I said: “I didn’t know Richard was half-Finnish.”

“I only know how to swear in Finnish,” Thom replied.

“Don’t let me stop you,” I told him.

“Kusipää…” he said. “Vittu pois… Kivekset.” Then, looking at Richard, he asked: “Was my pronunciation OK?”

“Pretty good,” said Richard, generously.

As for The Other Side of Hope – the film we had come to see…

Well, as for the film…

What can I say…?

One selling synopsis for it is:

A poker playing restauranteur and
former travelling salesman befriends
a group of refugees.

It is about a Syrian immigrant from Aleppo during the current civil war who is in Finland as a refugee.

The film won the Silver Bear Award for Best Director at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and rave reviews for it include:

“Combines poignancy with torrents of laughter” (5-stars. Daily Telegraph)

“’Surreal and screamingly funny” (5-stars. The Times)

“I laughed, I cried, I shrieked.” (5-stars, Observer)

It currently has a 91% Rotten Tomatoes score.

People say comedy is a universal language.

Well, I am here to tell you it is not.

Rikki Fulton, Scotch & Wry: too straight-faced for the English

I remember working for a cable or satellite TV channel (I can’t remember which) and, in trailer-making mode, I sat through three episodes of Scotch & Wry, a legendary successful BBC Scotland TV comedy show which I had never seen and which I don’t think had been screened on English terrestrial television. It was absolutely terrifically funny,

After seeing the three episodes, I went back into the office.

“Have you seen Scotch & Wry?” I started to say. “Isn’t it absolutely…”

“Yes,” said someone. “It is utter shit, isn’t it?”

That was the general English view in the office and I think it was because star Rikki Fulton et al performed everything utterly straight-faced. I think deadpan comedy works with Scots audiences, not so well with English audiences and it may ultimately be a Scandinavian thing,

I worked in a Swedish TV company with Swedes, Norwegians and Danes. Each nationality’s sense of humour was slightly different and the Swedes in particular were very, very straight-faced though equally humorous.

My experience of Finns is mostly meeting them on holiday – particularly in the former Soviet Union and, as a result, in cliché mode, I think of Finns as very very amiable but almost always paralytically drunk (there are licensing problems in Finland and the exchange rate between blue jeans and vodka in Leningrad was highly in favour of the Finns).

All this comes as an intro to my opinion of The Other Side of Hope.

The film very-noir in its original Finnish: it translates appropriately as “Beyond Hope”

It was like watching zombies perform some dreary social-realist drama about Syrian immigrants in a grey city. It made Harold Pinter’s dialogue and pauses seem like Robin Williams speeding on cocaine.

The film opened with a woman wearing curlers in her hair. She was sitting at a table on which stood a spherical cactus with thin spines sticking out. I thought: This may be a commendably weird movie.

Well weird it certainly was but, for me, utterly titterless. Not a single titter dropped from my lips, missus.

There was a 10-15 minute section towards the very end of the film which showed signs of very straight-faced, deadpan humour involving a restaurant. But even that was titter-free.

I have obviously missed something.

It is oft – and truly – said that Tommy Cooper could walk on stage, do nothing, say nothing and the audience would laugh. I have often wondered if some American or German or Latvian who had never seen Tommy Cooper before would have laughed.

And there is the never-to-be-forgotten lesson of Scotch & Wry.

I am prepared to believe The Other Side of Hope has them rolling in the frozen deadpan-loving aisles of Helsinki. It left me totally enjoyment-free. It was a bleak film about a Syrian immigrant in Helsinki in which people didn’t say much. But, then, I did enjoy Can Hieronymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness, I like eating kimchi and, as a child, I enjoyed cod liver oil.

The Other Side of Hope has had great reviews. It can survive without me.

As a coda to all this, I should mention that, as we went into the screening room, Richard Gadd told me he was not half-Finnish and he did not appear in the film at all. He had just been invited along to see it because he is an “influencer”.

This turned out to be true.

He is not in the film.

Yesterday afternoon was just totally weird. I also met a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head like Carmen Miranda. He was not smiling. He may have been an actor of Finnish origin.

Oh, alright.

I made that bit up. I did not meet a man in a tube train who was wearing a giant banana on his head.

The rest is true.

Though I am beginning to think I may have dreamt the whole of yesterday.


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Why Richard Gadd won a Perrier Prize at the Edinburgh Fringe but justifiably failed to get a Cunning Stunt Award

Richard Gadd with his used-to-be Perrier Award

Richard Gadd with what used to be called the Perrier Award

Richard Gadd’s first words to me were: “You thought I would cancel this meeting, didn’t you, John? You thought I would be too big for you now. But I like you, John, even though everyone else doesn’t.”

He was joking.

I think.

After he was nominated for – but failed to win – this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award back in August, he texted me a message saying: “You. Are. Dead. To. Me.”

He was joking.

I think.

Yes, he was.


We nominated him for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award on the basis that he had caused a buzz at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe with his show Waiting For Gaddot – mostly because it was stunningly original but also because it was almost impossible to get in to see it because there were far more people wanting to see it than there was space in the small room he had booked at the Banshee Labyrinth venue.

So, this year, he booked his new show Monkey See, Monkey Do into an even smaller room at the Banshee Labyrinth, meaning the difficulty of getting in – and the consequent buzz – was even greater. We checked with him and he said, Yes, indeed he had booked himself into the smaller room as a cunning stunt to create more buzz.

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ award in Edinburgh

Richard Gadd winning that ‘other’ comedy award in Edinburgh

He failed to win our award, but he did go on to win the other main comedy prize at the Fringe – the one that is forever called the Perrier Award even though the sponsors have changed over the years.

“So,” I told him this week, “booking yourself into a smaller room was a very clever cunning stunt…”

“Well, no,” he replied. “It wasn’t a stunt.”

“You told us it was!” I said.

“No, it wasn’t a stunt,” Richard repeated. “When I visualised the show, there was only one room in the whole of Edinburgh I visualised – the Banshee Labyrinth Cinema Room. I needed a screen that was bigger than me. I needed a screen that would engulf me and engulf the audience.

“I thought: What do I do? Do I sacrifice audience numbers and money for artistic gain? And the answer was: Absolutely. I didn’t do it to create a buzz or as a cunning stunt or anything like that. It was a genuine artistic decision that I made.”

The poster image for Monkey See, Monkey Do

The poster image for award-winning Monkey See, Monkey Do

“And Monkey See, Monkey Do went on to win the Perrier,” I said. “That can be life-changing.”

“Well,” he replied, “I’ve had a lot of interest since then, but I’m not a mainstream act. It used to be, back in the day, that someone would win it and get a TV series straight away. But those days are over.

“I think now, if you win the Perrier, there is a more logical route towards the Have I Got News For Yous and Mock The Weeks. But that’s not my route either because I’m a very alternative act.

“I’m very interested in the art performance and I’m very theatrical, so those sort of (panel show) offers did not come through the door, but a whole bunch of people did get in touch who do want to work with me. Television companies and theatre companies. Writing work, drama work, stage work. And better acting auditions.

“People seem to take you more seriously. They know who you are – you’re not just a sort of underground comedian this, cult comedian that. People now know who I am and I think that’s important – and they know I take myself seriously and I’m still young – I’m 26.

“People don’t really trust people in their mid-twenties but, if you win the Perrier, if they have whittled down 1,000-odd shows in Edinburgh, it’s no easy feat to win that award. So at least I’m not being patronised any more.”

“A lot of people,” I said, “thought you should have been nominated for the Perrier last year.”

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

“All my other comedies have been very -in-your-face romps”

“Well, I think my work until very recently has been very polarising, very in-your-face and some people don’t like their eardums blasted or their eyes tainted with images of this and that. I think this year it set out to make a difference and to change opinions on things and it did tackle some big subjects.

“All my other comedies have been joyful romps or very -in-your-face romps but this year it set out to say something. I’ve had a challenging and complicated life in a lot of ways and this year I was tackling a subject that not many people speak about.”

“There is,” I prompted, “an autobiographical revelation in the show.”

“Yes, I use an autobiographical account in the show to reveal this information about myself. It’s an incident I went through that no person should go through and it caused a lot of turmoil and upheaval in my life, especially as a man.”

“I don’t want to give too much away,” I said.

“You can say sexual assault,” Richard told me.

“So the type of show you did,” I said, “was different this year…”

“I think the difference,” replied Richard, “was that, this year, it had a lot of heart and a lot of soul. It was trying to challenge views on masculinity. That was quite important to me. I’ve always felt I was a man but, after the incident, my masculinity was taken away from me.”

“Can I include that?” I asked.

“You can put what you like but just put me in a bloody good light, for the love of fuckery.”

“Righto,” I said.

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

Richard Gadd wants to challenge YOUR views on masculinity

“I wanted,” Richard continued, “to challenge the mainstream media definition of masculinity, cos masculinity needs to shift now, in this day and age of feminism and emotion on your sleeve. I feel masculinity needs to become synonymous with openness, But there is still this keeping-it-all-bottled-up masculinity; being ‘the man’.

“I bottled it up for so long because I felt it was a dent in my masculinity. That was the difficult part. But then, all of a sudden, you wake up one day and you realise: Jesus Christ! It’s just a word. It doesn’t exist.

“Your masculinity is as fickle as sexuality. These words that just cause people so much pain and don’t mean anything in the end, because boundaries are blurred. Nothing is black and white. Nothing is concrete. They’re just words, but they can cause so much misery.”

“It must,” I suggested, “have been scary to decide to talk about it openly.”

“I hinted about it in every single thing I did. Every single show I did, there were big overtones of it.”

“You seem,” I said, “very commendably serious about what you do as being art.”

“Yes, I am. I care. I kick myself if things aren’t good enough. I always try my best. If I’ve made mistakes, I will try to learn from them. I’m interested in the process of art and what it can achieve. And I’m interested in always doing things differently. You just have to keep staying one step ahead of what people expect you to do and expect you to be.”

“So what is your next step ahead?” I asked.

“I’m going to chop my cock off on stage and then eat it and regurgitate it and use it as a flute.”

“And,” I asked, “in reality?”

“I have ideas about what next, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give them to you, Mr Fleming.”

“Would these new things,” I asked, “be like writing a different type of comedy drama or coming out of a totally unexpected trap like writing a musical?”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd: “I wasn’t doing anything different”

“I did Cheese and Crack Whores. Then Breaking Gadd the year after… and Breaking Gadd was Cheese and Crack Whores in a different setting with a different group of characters but sort of the same. Despite the fact it did well and got well-reviewed, I realised that the buzz was elsewhere because I wasn’t doing anything different. So the next year Waiting For Gaddot was a big shift in a different direction and that got the buzz.”

“Some people,” I said, “equate arty success with low audiences.”

“Yes,” said Richard, “Some people think: I like being cult. I like being not for everyone. I’m too cool for mainstream. But it’s ridiculous to think I would write a piece of work so only the cool people can enjoy it. I would like to be as mainstream as possible. But I still like to bring these off-kilter themes into the mainstream and still be challenging. You can be challenging in the mainstream: you just need to figure out how to do it. To rebel against it is wrong. Charlie Brooker is a good example of someone who manages to be quite challenging in the mainstream.

“I don’t care about money. I was brought up better than that. I don’t care about that. I would like to expand my audience size but, at the same time, get my message over and do a piece of work in the best possible way it can be done.”

“We are having a chat,” I reminded him, “to plug your Monkey See, Monkey Do show at the Soho Theatre in London, so when is it on?”


Richard trying to keep one step ahead outside Soho Theatre

“We are doing a live recording for the DVD this Saturday at 5.30pm. Then the show runs 18th October to the 12th November. That run is completely sold out already, so it will probably be back in the New Year.”

“So this blog is completely pointless,” I said. “You don’t need the publicity.”

“No, I don’t,” agreed Richard. “But I like talking to you, so that’s fine.”

I do not think he was joking.

But who can tell with comedians and actors?

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

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Kissing shoes in Soho, the incendiary comedian, w*** gags & a Banana Split

Richard Gadd wearing nob shoes to promote his Soho Theatre show

Richard Gadd wearing no shoes to promote his Soho show

Yesterday was a pretty ordinary day.

In the afternoon, after talking to director Chris Lincé for a future blog, I bumped into comedian Richard Gadd at the Soho Theatre.

I got down on all-fours and kissed both his shoes.

You can never be too careful when someone is on the way up and you are in decline.

Richard Gadd’s response:

“Is it too late to tell you about the clump of dogshit I stepped in just before I arrived at the Soho?”

I think he was joking. He may not have been. Life is the sole of a comedian’s shoe who has just stepped in dogshit.

Last Friday, I went to see Martin Soan’s always excellent monthly Pull The Other One variety show at the Old Nun’s Head in – no surprise here – Nunhead.

On Monday, I got a call from comic Lewis Schaffer to say the manager at the Old Nun’s Head had found my British Rail travel pass, which must have fallen out of my pocket. Lewis was not at the show, but the manager had phoned him when he found my railpass. It seemed best not to ask why.

So, last night, after going to a Gresham Lecture about finding the body of Richard III under a car park in Leicester, I ventured down South of the River again to collect the card. I told Lewis Schaffer I would buy him a drink or a meal to say Thankyou.

He texted: I have got car unexpectedly staying here. Can you come to my flat instead?

You have a car staying in the flat?? I texted back.

Carnegie, he texted back.

Lewis Schaffer has a son called Carnegie.

I have never asked why. It seemed best not to.

Martin Soan last night, promoting Thursday’s show

Martin last night, promoting  Thursday’s show

As I left the Old Nun’s Head with my railcard, I bumped into Martin Soan with a placard on his back. He insisted I have a cup of tea before seeing Lewis Schaffer.

It is usually better to have a stiff alcoholic drink before seeing Lewis Schaffer.

Martin, whose Pull the Other One I saw in Nunhead last Friday, is preparing for another Pull The Other One show in Peckham Rye this Thursday, which is Guy Fawkes Night. The poster (which he had on his back) promises An Explosive Finale.

“What does that involve?” I asked.

“Indoor fireworks,” Martin told me.

“Indoor fireworks?” I asked.

“Indoor fireworks,” Martin repeated.

“What are indoor fireworks?” I asked.

“Incendiaries,” said Martin. “There are famous indoor fireworks. There’s the snake, the elephant’s arse…”

The incendiary comic Martin Soan last night

The incendiary comic Martin Soan last night

“…Dresden,” I suggested. “Hamburg.”

“No,” said Martin, “they were extremely outdoors.”

“Not if you were indoors,” I said.

“If you were indoors they were indoors,” admitted Martin, “but I think the effect was outdoors.”

“Not if you were indoors,” I said. “They had a big effect if you were indoors.”

“But,” argued Martin, “if you were indoors, you wouldn’t be indoors for very long, because your doors wouldn’t be in.”

“Well, in fact,” I said, “you wouldn’t be for very long.”

“Anyway,” said Martin, “you can now buy specific incendiary devices for all types of computers that blow up in different ways. For computer screens, electric wires, huge fuel boxes, electricity cables on pylons…”

“When I had to buy sugar-glass bottles to hit people with,” I said, “I had to go all the way to Shepperton Studios. Where are these incendiary people?”

“There’s a French company based in London,” Martin told me,” called – it’s a French name – Le something or La something.”

“It would be,” I said. “So, things are going to bang at the show on Thursday?”


“But will there,” I asked, “still be nudity and knob gags?”

“No,” said Martin firmly. “I am trying to escape my horrific past. I am trying to become a serious fucking artist, John.”

“But it is a tradition,” I argued. “If there’s no nudity and knob gags, you are letting me down, you’re letting your family down, you are letting the Queen and your country down. What else are you doing before Christmas?”

“I’m organising an alternative performance for a Christmas Fair.”

Martin Soan’s living room as it was a couple of years ago

Martin Soan’s living room as it was a couple of years ago

“What is alternative about it?” I asked. “Does it involve Easter eggs and bunnies?”

“I am,” explained Martin, “getting some abnormal people to do walkabouts.”

“No giant, singing-and-dancing vaginas?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin.

“You have no sense of tradition,” I told him.

Martin said: “I did my first proper comedy club – not variety club – shows in ages recently. Just me and stand-ups. I did well but being on the same bill and seeing that stand-up stuff again was a huge cultural shock for me. I haven’t done any regular comedy clubs for years.”

“So was it,” I asked, “just 19-year-olds telling wank jokes?”

“No,” said Martin. “Middle-aged men telling wank jokes. They were extremely well-crafted, extremely good, very funny wank gags, but it was exactly that. I got a bit blown away. I thought: Oh, Jesus Christ! I’ve been living in this rarified atmosphere of variety and people coming on and juggling peanuts and putting costumes on and suddenly there I was in the real world of a proper, regular comedy club. My God! What a shock! I had thought maybe the whole comedy – what I now call the ‘straight’ comedy – circuit had maybe moved on a little bit.”

“I think,” I said, “maybe it moved on and came back round in a circle.”

“Then,” said Martin, “coming up I’ve got some big variety shows up in Sheffield, Halifax, Devon, which I’m completely at home with. But then I have this tradition of spending Boxing Day with this miserable old git in Borehamwood.”

Banana Split a La Lewis Schaffer

Banana Split a La Lewis Schaffer – yum yum

“Oh,” I said.

After that, I went to see Lewis Schaffer. He made me a banana split, with ice cream and banana and put mincemeat on top of it. He seemed to think this was perfectly normal.

Then I had to talk to him for 90 seconds in a brick stairwell because he is making 90 second videos every day which he is putting on YouTube. He told me very few people are watching them.

“Have you mentioned them to anyone?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

The 90 second video I did with him is on YouTube.

I am telling you because he is unlikely to.

When I got home, there was an email from the London Fortean Society telling me that, in January, Rat Scabies – drummer with punk band The Damned – is going to give a talk about the Holy Grail and the mystery of Rennes-le-Château.

It was that sort of day.

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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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Performer Richard Gadd on ego, anxiety and why comedians are like strippers

Richard Gadd flyering outside Soho Theatre

Richard Gadd flyering his show outside Soho Theatre

Performer Richard Gadd played Macbeth in a school play.

“I enjoyed the nerves and the adrenaline,” he told me yesterday. “And the sense of accomplishment at the end. I liked that. I wanted that.”

Ten years later, he was playing Macbeth on stage at the Globe Theatre in London. But he is currently in his own show (categorised as comedy) at London’s Soho Theatre.

“Are you a comedian or an actor?” I asked.

“I’m difficult to pigeonhole,” he agreed, “but I like that. I am not a comedian, but I do comedy.”

“What does your agent say you are?” I asked.

“I think he’s as confused as I am,” he laughed.

“If you had to put your profession on your passport,” I asked, “what would you be?”

“A writer-performer. If someone introduces me as a comedian, I think Oh fuck! Don’t say that! Comedy is limiting. I am not a comedian in the purest sense – I can’t tell jokes.”

“And you don’t play the comedy circuit,” I said.

“The circuit is a circle,” said Richard. “You need to figure a way to get off it, otherwise you keep going round and round and then, all of a sudden, you’re 40 years old and what the fuck have you done? I was not mainstream enough and I was not good enough to make it as a full-time circuit act.”

“Which is?” I asked.

Richard Gadd - Cheese and Crack Whores - not mainstream

Richard Gadd – Cheese and Crack Whores – not mainstream

“A circuit act is a good, reliable, dependable act who can earn money and knows where to get the laughs. I wasn’t like that. I would go on with a wig and a stuffed parrot and stuff my face with cake and whip myself with a belt. You can’t guarantee that’s going to go well every single time.”

“So what is your schtick?” I asked.

“Heightened surrealism.”

“Your show last year,” I said. “Cheese and Crack Whores. What was that about?”

“That was about a break-up I had with a lady and I stalked her and my life spiralled out-of-control. It was more-or-less a veiled truth. I never stalked her. I would never stalk anyone.”

“It was heightened reality?” I asked.

“Yes. I was going through a break-up and I teased it out. You know when you go through a break-up and you sort-of go insane and you think those thoughts: I’m going to do this… I’m going to do that…?  But you can’t do them, because no sane person would. So I did a show about What would I have done if…? But, in fact, I don’t like cheese and I don’t like crack whores.”

Breaking Gadd - Richard’s current show

Breaking Gadd – Richard’s calming current show

“You’re halfway through your current show – Breaking Gadd – at the Soho Theatre. The Guardian called it a comedy of relentless degradation.”

“Yes. Up until 20th December.”

“What is this one about?” I asked.

“In this one, I lose my memory after getting attacked in an Edinburgh street and then I have to piece my life back together, because nobody comes to my bedside in hospital. I piece my life back together only to find out that my life probably wasn’t worth remembering.”

“That’s most people’s reality,” I said. “What was this fabricated truth based on?”

“A fractured family,” said Richard. “Not that I had a fractured family. There’s no reality. I’m from a place in Fife called Wormit, which sounds like what you do to a dog. Kids from St Andrews had their teddy bears. I grew up hugging a bottle of Buckfast.”

“You told me you got drunk on Buckfast after the show last night,” I said.

“That’s what I do,” said Richard. “A bottle of Buckfast before bed. It’s got a lot of caffeine in it, so it doesn’t really work, but I pass out awake.”

“Why did you shave your hair off?” I asked. “You used to have long hair.”

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

Richard Gadd talked calmly yesterday of comics and strippers

“So I look more like a psychopath on stage.”

“Are you interested,” I asked, “in damaged characters?”

“Yeah. All comedians are like strippers.”

“You’ve been preparing your quotes,” I said.

“I don’t even think it’s my quote,” said Richard. “I think it’s a bastardisation of some well-known quote, but it’s a good analogy. In comedy, you strip your emotions in front of an audience. Good comedy is always revealing and truthful. You emotionally unravel in front of an audience, like a stripper physically unravels in front of an audience. The difference is a stripper is attractive and a comedian is often ugly and neurotic.”

“And the difference between comedians and actors is…?” I asked.

“Comedy is, at least, interested in pure art,” said Richard. “Comedians create something which they then tell an audience. Actors are very much conduits of someone else’s text: they are an echo of someone else’s work. They probably require the biggest egos and the biggest inflated sense of self-worth. But, in reality, they’re the least important part of the artistic process. Their art wouldn’t exist unless there was an original creator and actors are not original creators unless it’s improvisation. I get more annoyed at actors than I do at comedians.”

“Why annoyed?” I asked.

“Because comedy is creativity and ego, whereas a lot of acting is solely I want to be an actor because I want to be adored. It’s pure ego a lot of the time.

“I think I used to chase that and, when I realised I was chasing it, I decided I wanted to step away and wanted to write and want to create stuff. I was chasing ego and adoration and I don’t think that’s good. I don’t think that leads to happiness.”

“Being adored doesn’t lead to happiness?” I asked, surprised.

“No it doesn’t,” said Richard. “You need to learn how to self-critique and not chase your own ego. You need to learn to appreciate what you have, not what is waiting for you in the future because you’ll just keep chasing your own ego. The ego inflates and inflates and inflates and never pops; it never bursts.”

“Sounds a bit Buddhist,” I said.

“Well,” said Richard, “I do meditate.”

“What type?” I asked.

Transcendental meditation,” replied Richard. “Two 20-minute sessions a day.”

Maharishi?” I asked.

The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi - an unlikely role model?

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi – unlikely role model?

“Maharishi, yup,” said Richard. “It’s very important, transcendental mediation. I used to have so many performance anxieties, so much anxiety in life. I still have in certain cases, but I’m a lot better than I was. It teaches you to focus your mind on one thing and not let it run away with itself. The second I did it, I realised my life was getting better. It’s like being given the keys to a secret truth. It genuinely is.

“And I’m not spiritual. I’m not into the hokey-pokey spiritual side. I don’t believe in that side to it. But I believe there is a practical, extremely useful, scientific, proven methodology behind transcendental meditation.”

“So you’re not doing it for philosophical reasons,” I said. “You’re doing it for physical reasons?”

“Yeah. It takes your anxiety levels down. I used to not be able to get on public transport. I used to hate the tube. I used to not be able to make eye contact with people. Once, I would have found talking to you quite difficult.”

“What was the problem with the tube?” I asked. “Too many people?”

“A mixture of claustrophobia and the fact you are forced to be in other people’s gazes. The public’s gaze can be quite hard sometimes – if you catch eyes with someone. What are they thinking of me? I used to very much care how I was coming across in every single situation.

“Everybody makes a faux-pas every now and again but, if I made a faux-pas back then, it would stay with me for days. I would think about things I did when I was 16 that still made me embarrassed. I would ruin a day. It was affecting me professionally. I wasn’t performing well on stage or when I went to auditions. I was too anxious.

“Meditation has really helped me. I’m still a long way from being perfect, but it helps. I’m very manic on stage, but that has to come from a place of stability. The one tool I lacked was mental stability. I have not got it yet, but at least I’ve got the hammer and chisel towards getting my full tool box.

“I don’t have inner peace, but performance is something I do because I think it’s important.”

“Do you enjoy performing on stage?” I asked.

“I’m still not sure,” said Richard. “It’s not something I enjoy particularly. I don’t enjoy it like I used to when I was a kid. But I enjoy writing and putting stuff out there that’s different.”

“What you’re telling me,” I said, “is you used to enjoy it when you were terrified. Now you are less terrified, you don’t enjoy it so much.”

“Yeah,” said Richard. “It’s interesting, isn’t it? I don’t want to play the stereotype of the suffering artist, but I definitely feel like I’m sometimes one of those awful fucking guys saying I dunno why I do it; I hate it so much! but then can’t stop doing it.”

“Adrenaline?” I asked.

“Adrenaline,” agreed Richard. “Fear of failure. Fear of What if in 20 years time? Plus the fact of those rare instances when you do enjoy it and you do feel proud of yourself or you meet someone who says they were touched by your stuff. That is a priceless feeling.”

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Edinburgh Fringe: Comic Jim Davidson faces the alternative comedy Fascists and I am maligned by comic Jeff Leach

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

At The Grouchy Club, Copstick let rip at ‘right on’ comedians

At the daily Grouchy Club, my co-host Kate Copstick and I try to know our audience. Sometimes we already know them.

“Who is this gent in the front row?” I asked yesterday.

“This gent,” Copstick told me, “is the reason I am here. This is Robert Dawson Scott who, in 1999, was Arts Editor of The Scotsman and he gave me my job as a critic.”

Later, Copstick asked: “Has anyone been to see Jim Davidson?”

“I’m going to Jim Davidson’s Funeral on Tuesday,” I said.

“There is a double act called Ellis & Rose,” Copstick explained to the audience. “They phoned me today..”

“Oh, you too!” I said.

What a pair! - Two Jim Davidson goodies

In the Fringe Programme, Jim Davidson’s show and the spoof funeral show are next to each other

“They’re doing a one-off show,” Copstick continued, “called Jim Davdson’s Funeral, which one cannot help but feel is going to be a bit anti-Jim Davidson. They wanted to invite him to The Grouchy Club tomorrow and ‘have a heated debate’. But I don’t really see why Jim Davidson would want to come here considering that, whatever he is offstage, he is technically a brilliant comedian.

“It really irritates me when a lot of baby-boy comics and – even worse – baby-harridan comics get up on their hind legs to criticise him when they are doing –  supposedly ironically – quite a lot of racist, sexist stuff themselves. They are just dressing it up and he doesn’t. I don’t think I’d laugh like a drain if I went and saw his show, but I really… It’s a horrible… It’s… Look, I interviewed Richard Herring and he said that the very first time he came up to the Fringe was in 1987, right at the height of the alternative comedy ‘We Hate Thatcher’ mood.

Even after Fist of Fun, Richard Herring (left) and Stewart Lee were not getting enormous bums on seats

The Young Herring (left) went to Edinburgh with Stewart Lee

“Richard came up here with the Oxford Footlights. He and Stewart Lee were both involved with the Oxford Footlights; Stewart mainly as a writer.

“Richard was really excited. It was his first time ever in Edinburgh and all these comics were listed as being here who were his idols and whom he loved.

“But, for the whole first week, every time they went on stage, there was a contingent of alternative comics heckling and booing them. One time, Keith Allen completely disrupted the show and ended up punching the theatre manager in the face.

“The thing is all of the boys in that Footlights show were from comprehensive schools. None of them were posh. They were just clever boys from comprehensive schools who had done really well. But the ‘alternative’ lot were so far up themselves about how marvellously ‘right on’ they were that they didn’t even stop to find out.

“I think there still is a kind of Fascism in comedy that thinks We are the right-thinking ones! You are bad!

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh Fringe show

Jim Davidson’s current Edinburgh show

At this point, Malcolm Hardee Comedy Show helper Stephen O’Donnell suggested from the audience: “Some old comics get to re-invent themselves but, maybe because of what’s happened with him in the last ten years, Jim Davidson might be beyond that possible re-invention. You have to go away to come back and, because he has been newsworthy in the last five years, he is not really able to go away and come back. So he really just has to go on and show he can do what he does.”

“Also,” said Robert Dawson Scott, “he’s made it difficult for himself because, before the arrest and all that stuff, he very clearly positioned himself as ‘not alternative’. He thought they were not funny and he was rude about them. He may have some bridges to build.

“I gather,” he continued, “that most of his show is about being arrested, which is why it’s called No Further Action. Clearly it was an unpleasant experience – although possibly comedy gold.”

“And,” said Copstick, “if somebody else had been doing it, everybody would be going Yah! The police are terrible! But, because it’s Jim Davidson, they go: Oh, there’s no smoke without fire.

Kate Copstick & Steve Bennett: The Counting House last night

Kate Copstick & Steve Bennett: The Counting House last night

Yesterday evening, I accidentally bumped into Copstick again in the queue for Scots comic Richard Gadd’s show. Also in the queue, was Chortle comedy website boss Steve Bennett.

Richard Gadd recognised Copstick and Steve and, in a show of bravery, sat them in the front row. I sat with them. It must have been a comic’s worst nightmare in the small venue: performing at times only about 18 inches away from the two most-read reviewers in British comedy… and a fat, bald bloke who was clearly a bit too old for a comedy show.

Towards the end, Richard Gadd started eating the heads off flowers.

After the show, Copstick said to me: “It’s a bit dangerous eating flowers. Some can be poisonous.”

“He’s probably researched it is OK to eat those particular ones,” I suggested. Then I thought about Richard Gadd’s show. “Maybe not,” I added.

Blanche Cameron, Lewis Schaffer, Heather Stevens

Heather Stevens in normal Edinburgh pose

I went to bed early last night – early for Edinburgh – just before 2.00am.

At 1.56am, I got a text from Heather Stevens, the primus inter pares of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s entourage. Heather is a woman who seems to know everyone and to be everywhere at this year’s Fringe. Her text said simply:

“The phrase John Fleming’s spunk in her eye featured in Jeff Leach‘s rap battle against Sofie Hagen tonight.”

I know no more, dear reader, except that I am innocent. I have never talked at any length with Jeff Leach. I have never talked at all to Sofie Hagen. I have a notoriously bad memory but, if such an incident had happened, I feel sure even I would have remembered it.

All I know is that I feel soiled. Desperately soiled.


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Of the Blue Lady, academic comedy and Shaggers

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

I’m organising the Malcolm Hardee Awards until 2017 although “organising” was an anathema to Malcolm. With luck, the ashes in his urn will forgive me.

We have now announced this year’s shortlist, but there were other acts I personally saw and wished I could have included but we couldn’t.

Prime among these was Tricity Vogue’s The Blue Lady Sings at The Three Sisters, which mixes kitsch theatricality, Freddie Mercury, torch songs, audience involvement, Blues medleys and a bright pink ukelele and which has more laughs than several alleged comedy shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. It’s highly original and almost indescribable because it falls into no existing genre. But it’s not comedy as such; more a music show.

All The King’s Men at Espionage (not to be confused with the totally different All The King’s Men at Surgeons Hall) brings together four highly promising young Scots comics including Richard Gadd who has aspirations to high levels of weirdness which, if developed, could easily bag him a Malcolm Hardee Award in the next couple of years.

And joker in the pack is my comedy chum the elfin and highly talented Laura Lexx in Quiz in My Pants at Dragonfly. All three of this show’s team studied Stand-Up Comedy (yes they did) at the University of Kent at Canterbury… as did other Fringe participants Tiernan Douieb, Jimmy McGhie, The Noise Next Door and Pappy’s.

Malcolm Hardee’s ashes must be turning in that South East London urn of his at the thought of anyone studying Stand-Up Comedy but, on present evidence, this Kent course looks like it may turn into a comedy equivalent of Malcolm Bradbury’s legendary Creative Writing course at UEA.

Who has won this year’s three Malcolm Hardee Awards? We won’t know until around midnight on Friday during Nik Coppin’s nightly Shaggers show.

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