Tag Archives: ricky gervais

25 Years of Shooting Comedians and the recent new devaluation of artistic talent

Rich Hardcastle has photographed comedians for 25 years.

Now he has a Kickstarter campaign to publish a large-format coffee-table book of 110 extraordinary photos and text: 25 Years of Shooting Comedians. Ricky Gervais has written a foreword for it and says: “Rich has a way of making even a rainy day spent standing in a muddy field look glamorous and important.”

Fellow photographer Idil Sukan recently wrote on Facebook about Rich Hardcastle:

“His photos of comedians are completely amazing. His work was the only reason I thought there was hope for the industry instead of just wacky head scratching photos of needy boys wearing red shirts. His photos are beautiful and touching and always stand out, always.

“He, like all of us comedy photographers, has done so much work under such high pressure circumstances, not always been paid at full rates, been messed around by producers, but regardless, consistently, always produced incredible work that supported comedians, sold tickets, made fans happy. The comedy photography industry really only opened up because of him, because he was taking risks and doing things differently.”

Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan (Photograph: Rich Hardcastle)

Some comedians are in the National Portrait Gallery because of Rich Hardcastle – Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Phill Jupitus et al.

“25 years as a photographer,” I said to Rich when we met. “Ever since you were at Edinburgh College of Art. So you had decided back then you wanted to be a professional photographer?”

“Well, I wanted to photograph rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do Terry O’Neill type shots: beautifully-framed shots showing the real person behind the facade. This was back in the day when celebrity meant something.”

“But you didn’t,” I asked, “want to be an ad agency photographer shooting pack shots and well-lit plates of food?”

“No. though I’d love to be in advertising now, because of the money…”

“Of course,” I said.

“Though there is not,” he added, “as much as there used to be.”

“There isn’t?” I asked.

“No. There’s no real money in photography. In terms of me in comedy, I think I’m the Ramones. I’ve influenced loads of people. I started something, but I haven’t made any money from it and I don’t even have the revenue from T-shirt sales.”

“So why, 25 years ago,” I asked, “did you start shooting comedians and not rock stars?”

“They were there, they were easy to get to and I liked comedy. I love the comedy industry. They’ve been very good to me and a lot of my success has been through things that happened in the comedy industry.”

“Why a book now?” I asked.

Director Terry Gilliam, as photographed by Rich Hardcastle

“25 years. I was there for 25 years, documenting that world opening up. I want it to be a big, beautiful, important book. It’s a snapshot of a generation of British comedy.”

“Surely anyone,” I prompted, “can photograph comedians? You just get them to open their mouths and wave their hands about in a zany way.”

“But I wanted to photograph them like rock stars,” explained Rich. “To try to make them look cool.”

“So what did you decide to do instead of wacky comedy shots?”

“Photograph them like I would a musician or a movie star. Nice, cool portraits of people who happen to be comedians.”

“There must have been,” I suggested, “no money in photographing people who were, at that time, relative nonentities.”

“I was an art student when I started (in the early 1990s); then I started photographing other things – editorial stuff like GQ; but I kept photographing comedians – maybe 90% was not commissioned. I did it because I was interested. No, there was not really any money in it.”

“There’s little money in anything creative now,” I said. “It started with music being free, then books, then videos. People expect all the creative stuff to be free or dirt cheap.”

Greg Davies (Photo by Rich Hardcastle)

“I used to do posters for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival,”  said Rich. “The greatest thing was when people would steal the posters because they were such lovely images. It changed around the time digital cameras took off and people were using almost snapshot photos of themselves. Russell Howard had a poster which was just him standing in a Vietnamese street market or sitting on a wall or something, obviously when he was on tour.

“Things changed around then. It looked like a bit of a movement, but it wasn’t. It was just someone’s tour manager taking a photo and thinking: Oh, we don’t have to pay a photographer to do this and you can take like 3,000 on one card – so one of ‘em’s going to be good. Phil Nichols said to me: The problem is what you do is now considered ‘Art’ and people now baulk at the idea of having to pay someone to come up with a concept and shoot it.”

I suggested: “Maybe all creative things are undervalued now. Everyone thinks they can write novels because they can type on their computer and self-publish a paperback book. And anyone can take a free photograph now because they have a smartphone.”

“This is the thing,” said Rich, “you can take 6,000 photos on your phone and print one up that might look good. But I can do it with one shot.”

“Everyone thinks they can be an artist,” I said.

“Yes,” Rich agreed. “The creative arts have been de-valued.”

“To create a music album,” I said, “you used to have to rent Abbey Road Studios for a month and pay George Martin to produce it. Now I can record something for free on GarageBand on my iPhone and upload it onto iTunes for people to hear worldwide.”

“In a way, though,” said Rich, “it’s quite nice because bands are finding the only way they can make money is to play live, which is what they are supposed to do and sort-of great. Rather than a manufactured pop band who have never actually played live selling out the O2…”

“But then,” I said, “anyone can write a novel, self-publish it and call themselves a novelist…”

“…And that devalues the word ‘novelist’,” agreed Rich. “Brooklyn Beckham is a ‘photographer’ and has a book out and a show.”

“Have you seen it and do you want to be quoted?” I asked.

Rich Hardcastle (Photo by Sarah M Lee)

“I actually feel a bit sorry for him,” said Rich, “because, if he’s serious about wanting to be a photographer and he actually develops any talent over the years, then that’s fucked him. That book and that whole launch has fucked his career because people are going to think he’s a joke and real, creative people are not going to want to be associated with him. Which is a real shame.

“It’s like the Australian actor Guy Pearce. It has taken a long, long time for people to forget he was in Neighbours. Now it’s ‘Guy Pearce, Hollywood actor’ whereas, at the start of his career, it was ‘that guy who used to be in Neighbours’.”

Malcolm Hardee,” I told Rich, “used to say that any normal person who practises juggling for 10 hours a day, every day, for 3 years, can become a very good juggler. Because it’s a skill not a talent, but…”

“That’s what I hate about jugglers,” said Rich. “I think: You’re doing the same thing that every other juggler does. Yes, you are standing on a chair and the things you’re juggling are on fire, but you are still just juggling.”

“But,” I continued, “Malcolm said, without talent, you could practise forever and never became a great comedian because performing comedy has a large element of talent involved; it’s not just a skill… It’s the same with photography, I think. To be a great photographer, you need talent not just skill. It’s an art.”

“Yes,” said Rich. “You can take 3,000 photos on a camera and call yourself a photographer, but you are not. You’re just like a monkey taking 6,000 photos and one of them could be a good composition by accident.”

Stewart Lee, photographed by Rich Hardcastle

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, Comedy, Photographs

Janey Godley on awards, a rat and c**ts

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

Janey gave me a warm welcome this evening

My Scots comedy chum Janey Godley is down in London this week, from Glasgow.

I met up with her this evening for a chat.

“I’ll give ye a blog,” she told me. “What do you want me tae talk aboot?”

And, before I could reply, she started:

“I’ve stopped smoking for a month now,” she said, “and I’m on a diet, so my whole family have been put into the witness protection programme while that happens. And, if you talk to me about it, I’ll stab ye.”

“Well,” I said, “No change there, then.”

‘It’s hard to stop smoking,” she continued, “but to stop smoking AND go on a diet isn’t really that much harder cos you’re using the same willpower for both.”

“I would have thought,” I said, “that it must make you twice as angry as normal – but maybe that’s not possible with you.”

“That,’ said Janey, “is what (Janey’s nameless husband) says: How can we tell the difference?”

Janey looked over her shoulder.

“There’s really loud people behind me,” she said, “who deserve to be stabbed. But I’m really excited cos I’m up for four Scottish Comedy Awards on 27th April. have you voted for me yet?”

“Yes,” I said quickly.

“I won the Podcast one last year,” she told me. “This year, I’m up for Best Headliner, Best Compere, Best Podcast again and Best Festival/Tour Show.”

‘Tell me why are you in London in some way that’s repeatable?” I asked.

“I’m in London this week,” she explained, “cos I had a couple of meetings with the BBC about future projects and I’m doing a couple of gigs – Banana Cabaret in Balham and Soho Comedy.”

“Is that the one in the gay street?” I asked. (It is not.)

“A gay street in Soho?” laughed Janey. “That must be a fucking hard task to find, eh?”

Admiral Duncan pub  in Soho (Photo by Ewan Munro)

The Admiral Duncan pub in Soho (Photograph by Ewan Munro)

“Old Compton Street,” I said, “I didn’t know the street was supposed to be gay until the Admiral Duncan blew up when the nail bomb went off.”

“You didn’t know it was gay,” said Janey, “because not one gay man has ever approached you in your entire life. They’ve all went: No, you’re on yer own, John.

“Not even women,” I said. “I once had a pigeon approach me at Oxford Circus.”

“I bet,” said Janey that even it bolted when it saw you.”

“No,” I said. “You know the barriers at the kerb to stop you walking across the street? I was outside one of those, walking on the narrow bit of the kerb, and this pigeon was strutting towards me and I thought it would give way to me, but it didn’t. I had to step into the road so it could walk along past me on the kerb.”

“That happened to me,” said Janey, “in Earls Court with a rat. You remember that hotel I lived in in Earls Court? There was a rat in the middle of the pavement and I thought: Well, clearly, if I bang ma feet, it’ll bolt. No. It stayed. I had to go into the road and I almost got hit by a car cos I was walking round a rat. And, see, when I went to the other side of the street, it turned its head to look at me and never moved. I am thinking like: Ya fuckin’ bastard! It was the size of a small poodle. I was frightened.”

“It was a very self-confident pigeon,” I said. “Its shoulders were going like it was an Essex Boy.”

“It’s the only bird that would come near you,” said Janey.

“Any other jollities for the blog?” I asked.

“I’m still,” said Janey, “having a fight with people on Twitter over the word cunt. They still can’t believe you can say that word. The other day, Ricky Gervais put up a post with the word cunt in it. That’s OK cos he’s rich and middle class. But, if I say it…”

“But you won’t,” I asked, “have had any Scottish people objecting?”

“A lot of people,” said Janey.

“Really?” I asked, surprised.

Janey’s current Twitter page

Janey’s current Twitter page has 16.5k followers

“Yup. It’s really weird that nobody will say anything to me (At the time of writing, Janey has over 16,500 Twitter followers) but, the minute I say cunt, people start to come on Twitter and moan. I always then put up this post that says: If the first time you’ve contacted me is cos you’ve saw the word cunt but, whenever I’ve asked you to donate to the Food Bank and you’ve never contacted me, then that means you’re a cunt.

“But I mean,” I said, “in Glasgow, it’s the equivalent of an Australian calling someone a ‘bastard’. It’s not strong.”

“They still have an issue with it,” said Janey. “It’s unbelievable that the word cunt makes you bad.”

“When you think,” I said, “of the things they asterisked-out in Victorian novels – H*ll possibly and certainly d***ed.”

“In London in 1960,” said Janey, “they had the court case over Lady Chatterley’s Lover – about the language in that – cunt – and it was found to be not obscene. So I can say the word cunt specifically.”

“Some of us,” I said, “lost the same court case in Norwich in 1996.”

“Did you?” said Janey.

“I was,” I told her, “found guilty of Malicious Communication for calling someone a fucking cunt.”

“You called somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“A fucking cunt,” I said. “I thought it was fair comment. The judge said in his ruling that both the words fucking and cunt were ‘clearly indecent’. As far as I could see, that overturned the decision in the Lady Chatterley case under Common Law.”

“You got taken to court for calling somebody a cunt?” asked Janey.

“Yes,” I said.

“You’re a dick,” she told me. “Who did you call a cunt? The Queen?”

“It’s a long story,” I said. “You should read my blog.”

“I usually do. It’s fuckin’ brilliant. Ashley (Janey’s daughter) is obsessed with your North Korean blogs. They’ve made Ashley want to go to North Korea.’

“Everyone should go to North Korea,” I suggested.

“She’s no going to North Korea,” said Janey firmly.

“It’s safe,” I said, “provided you don’t say anything. I used to go to lots of Communist countries because they were safe.”

Jonathan Ross as I remember him

Jonathan Ross as I remember him between my holidays….

“I have to say,” said Janey, “that the best laugh I ever had on Twitter was when I contacted Jonathan Ross and asked: Do you remember John Fleming? And he Tweeted back: Is he still going to weird Communist bloc countries? And I said: Yeah. You definitely remember him.”

“That’s it finished,” I told Janey. “That’s the way to do a blog. Pretend it’s about someone else, but it’s really all about Me, Me, Me.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Legal system, Offensive

Comedian Richard Herring on financing his own TV series and an alternative to losing money at the Edinburgh Fringe

Richard Herring ponders the meaning of life online

Richard Herring ponders online meaning

In my blog a couple of days ago, Richard Herring chatted to me about creating free content like blogs and podcasts as a way to generate paying punters for his live shows.

He has been podcasting since 2008 and his Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts – available on iTunes and on YouTube – continue but, this Sunday at the Leicester Square Theatre in London, he is also recording the second episode of his new online TV series Richard Herring’s Meaning of Life.

The Meaning of Life is another leap forward, he told me over a fifth coffee at Bar Italia in Soho, “because it’s going to cost me money, which none of the other stuff has really done.

“All the podcasts used up my time, but they’re basically free-to-do. I just recorded them on a computer or whatever. I spent a bit of money on equipment, but not very much. Then I just put them out and it’s fairly easy to do. But, with The Meaning of Life, the idea was me thinking: I’d like to do my own 6-part stand-up show on TV, but nobody is particularly interested in giving me that opportunity – so why not do it myself?

A ‘selfie' by Richard last week

A thoughtful ‘selfie’ taken by Richard last week

“We’re doing six shows and, including all the editing, the cameramen and so on – I’m not getting paid, but we’re paying everyone else – it’s going to cost me around £20,000 to film six of them.

“There’s six monthly recordings and that’s a lot of work. I’m trying to write new stuff and not use any old material. I’m writing at least 30-45 minutes of new material each month. I’m trying to use no stuff from my previous stand-up shows but there’s a few things from the 1990s where I think: Well, there might be something in developing that idea.

“We’re recording them every month but really we should have done them every two months. I under-estimated how much work would be involved. I have to write them properly and I go out and do a few gigs on the circuit to familiarise myself with the material. It’s mainly me doing stand-up, but we’ve got an animator who’s 3D animating a sketch with my voice and Christian Reilly is doing the theme music and there’s an interview in each show.

“The first one will hopefully be out at the end of this month – it will probably be about 45 minutes to an hour long – and it will have taken two months to put it together. It would be nice if they came out every month, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to manage that.”

“And I presume the material won’t date,” I said.

The creation of the universe, the paranormal. Whatever next?

The creation of the universe, the paranormal. Whatever next?

“No,” laughed Richard, “because it’s about the meaning of life. Each episode is about a big subject. The first one is about the creation of the universe – so that doesn’t really date. The second one’s about the paranormal.”

“And,” I said, “as an online show, it will get you seen worldwide.”

“Yes, the great thing about the podcasts is I’m getting Australian and American fans without travelling. I haven’t been out to Australia in ten years; I’ve never done anything in America. And I’m building up a sort-of fan base. Within the business, people know who I am, but I’m under the radar of most people so, if people do discover me, it’s quite a surprise for them and there’s a lot to catch up on: the TV stuff, the DVDs and hours and hours of podcasts.”

“I guess,” I said, “you’re under the radar in, say, Sacramento.”

“Oh definitely in Sacramento. But, even in the UK. If I walk round the middle of London for two hours, two people might recognise me. It’s nice in a way because it means I can carry on doing my job. I can sit in a coffee shop and work and look around and see what’s going on. No-one clocks me. If I were Ricky Gervais, all I would hear would be: Is that Ricky Gervais?

“On the last series of the Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, a website was offering me around £5,000 to advertise during it. I decided it wasn’t really enough money to justify selling-out, but also they wanted me to do an advert in the middle of the podcast as well as at the start and the end and I felt it would break the flow and my audience would laugh in the face of it and then they wouldn’t pay me anyway. I also figured If they think they’re going to get £5,000 of business out of advertising on my podcast, then it is surely worth more than £5,000 as an advert for me.

“I think one important thing about The Meaning of Life is showing what you can do if you’re prepared to put up some money.

Going to Edinburgh is financial death for some

The Edinburgh Fringe can mean financial death for some, though success for Richard

“People go to the Edinburgh Fringe and spend £10,000 and five people come and see them and they get one review. If you have got £10,000, why not make a very good one-hour video with some sketches in it instead?

“If you can find three friends with three video cameras, you can do it. You can do whatever you want. You can put that on YouTube for free and potentially millions of people can see it and you can send that link to journalists and producers when they’re not being bogged-down in Edinburgh.

“If you’ve got that much money to spend and to lose, then that’s a better investment than going to Edinburgh and spending the money doing a show that’s fantastic and 100 people see it and that’s the end of it.”

“But the problem is production quality and covering costs?” I suggested.

“Yes,” agreed Richard. “I thought we could make The Meaning of Life look like a normal TV show, but my shirt’s hanging out and it looks a bit messier. We get a little bit of money from the door because the tickets are very cheap – £10 – I struck a very bad 50/50 deal with the Leicester Square Theatre because I thought no-one would come and people are coming.”

“And the bonus of doing it yourself,” I asked, “is you have fewer content restrictions?”

“Yes,” said Richard, “The thing about the Leicester Square Theatre Podcasts (which are videoed and put online at YouTube) where I interview a comedian for an hour-and-a-half or two hours is that you couldn’t do it on broadcast TV. No-one would let you do two hours of talking to one person on broadcast TV.

Stephen Fry on Richard’s Leicester Square Podcast

Stephen Fry was guest on a recent Leicester Square Podcast

“In the end, someone like Netflix might buy them: someone who doesn’t have to put it into a fixed schedule. Four of my stand-up shows are already on Netflix.

“Within five years, I think most people will just have a TV and they’ll select what they want to watch from the BBC or YouTube or richardherring.com and they’ll watch it whenever they want. So we are all broadcasters now. It’s just finding a way to get some money back from that.

“I’ve heard club comedians say Oh, I can never get on the Michael McIntyre Roadshow – which I can’t get on either – but now you can make your own TV show. You can go into any club with three cameras. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. No-one is watching stand-up saying: Ooh, it has to be swooping cameras on a big stage. If the material’s good, you can put it up online and that will cost you let’s say £500 to pay the cameramen and edit it together. It can be done. There’s no excuse any more for not doing it.

“People used to say Well, I WOULD write a novel if anyone would publish it. You can publish it yourself now. You can upload it as an eBook. You can get it out there. It’s exactly the same with all of these things.

“It’s also about understanding that you don’t have to be paid immediately, that it can build up.”

… CONTINUED HERE

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, Internet, Podcasts, Television

Jimmy O: a ‘blackballed’ comic inspired by Jerry Sadowitz & Bernard Manning

Jimmy O yesterday in Wigan via Skype

Jimmy O chats in a Wigan internet cafe yesterday via Skype

A couple of months ago, I saw Waves of Laughter, an episode of BBC2 TV documentary series Funny Business. It was about comedians performing on cruise ships.

According to the BBC publicity blurb: “This film follows the fortunes of Jimmy O – a virgin water-borne comic, as he makes his very first cruise, and tries to learn the ropes in a hurry when he is thrown in at the deep end.”

He sank, so I was interested when he contacted me about a charity single his band Clown Prince are releasing for online download on 3rd May.

“What sort of music is it?” I asked.

“I always say it’s sugar-coated pop with a twist of melancholy,” He told me yesterday. He was in Wigan. I was on Skype.

“Comedy happened by accident,” he said. “Me main passion in life were music. It’s a cliché, but I were the class clown at school. People were always telling me I were funny. So, when the band originally broke up and I had no creative outlet left, I never thought I’ll be a comedian, I just thought I’ll stand on stage to test just how funny I actually am.

“Me band’s doing stuff again now, but I thought we’d do it online rather than live. To test it. And we’ll give the proceeds to a local stroke charity in Wigan and Leigh – Think Ahead

“I lost me mum to a stroke two years ago, which is a harrowing experience. It puts a lot of this entertainment bullshit into perspective.”

“How are things after the BBC documentary?” I asked.

“I’m on the dole,” replied Jimmy. “I live in a council house in Wigan with no carpets, paper hanging off the wall, a broken fridge and a broken telly. I’m basically a tribesman. I wonder what Michael McIntyre’s doing this morning. He’ll be sat in his £8 million house.

“I have problems getting booked.

The glitz and glamour of showbiz

Jimmy O amid the glorious glitz and glamour of showbiz

“When I first started out, Jerry Sadowitz was me idol. When I ran a club, I’d love to have booked him, but he’s always telling me to Fuck off on Twitter. He was the first comedian I felt passionate about. But I grew up with the pre-conceived idea of a real professional comedian being Bernard Manning. I used to watch the show The Comedians on telly.

“I actually supported Bernard Manning once. I was quite lucky. When I started out and was only ten gigs old and I were shit, I got the chance to support Bernard Manning. After that, I thought I don’t understand this Political Correctness. It’s such a middle class bar.

“You can make jokes about the poor. You can make rape jokes. You can make cancer jokes. You can make all the disabled remarks like Ricky Gervais does. But, as soon as you mention something like an asylum-seeker…

“When I went onto the alternative Manchester circuit, I told a gag which got me blackballed effectively. I said:

“I’ve got a friend. He’s a Kosovan asylum-seeker. I invited him round our house and said Make yourself at home. So he raped me wife and ate the dog. 

“I had another one:

“My girl said she wanted some smellies for Christmas, so I got her a tramp and a gypsy.

“Just a silly one-liner.

“But, as soon as I done that, I was known as ‘the racist’ and I was blackballed on the Manchester comedy scene and it’s kinda carried on. The vilification has carried on in the six years I’ve been doing stand-up. I’ve had promoters tell me We’ve had discussions. I’ve heard other promoters talk about you and because of ‘The Gypsy Joke’ you won’t get bookings. I have this reputation that precedes me.”

“Political correctness is an interestingly variable thing,” I said.

‘It’s a class thing,‘ said Jimmy. ‘If a middle class student had gone on stage and delivered that gag, it would be post-modern irony. If I go on stage – I look like a hod-carrier – I’m seen as a piece of racist BNP poster-boy filth.

“They’re just gags and it shouldn’t be that way. You shouldn’t have to police yourself. It’s comedy. Is it a George Carlin quote? It’s the job of the comedian to cross the line and offend. The nature of comedy is a dark art. It comes from a dark place. Most comedians are mental. The best ones are.

Jimmy like Total Abuse from Jerry Sadowitz

Total Abuse inspired

“I first saw Jerry Sadowitz on an ITV morning show called The Time, The Place when I was 15 years old. This episode was about swearing and they had Jerry Sadowitz and his manager sat in the audience. This is a clip from your show… and it was like Beep… beep… beep… beep… Being 15, I thought This is great! so I got me mum to buy me his Total Abuse DVD and I loved it. It was amazing! When I started doing comedy, he was the man I wanted to be like. That’s why I did asylum-seeker jokes. I thought: Well, he’s doing it…

“I grew up on a council estate in Wigan. I had a loving mother and a cold, distant, cruel father. He never beat me, but he was always putting me down so I’ve been instilled with this fucking Grimaldi complex – you know – the tortured clown. Most entertainers are dysfunctional to varying degrees and they stand on a stage to say Please like me.

“Other ‘normal’ people go out on a weekend and go for a dance and that’s their showtime. But the more twisted of us go stand on a stage and get shouted at.”

“And a TV documentary about cruise ship entertainers is a bigger stage,” I said.

“I’d been on television before,” Jimmy replied. “A show called Living With Kimberly Stewart: a reality TV show with Rod Stewart’s daughter on Living TV. Twelve contestants. The premise was Kimberly Stewart had no friends in the UK, so she had to find two flatmates to live with her. This was 2007 and Kimberley was in her late twenties.

The world of Kimberly Stewart on the cover of Hello!

Kimberly Stewart’s world: the cover of Hello!

“I fill out the application form and I’m brutally honest. I’m an unemployed comedian. I have a battered old Astra car. I live with me mother. I guess because I was raw and different, they invited me down to auditions at Endemol in London and it was full of girls who looked like they’d just come off an FHM shoot and guys in scarves and pointy-toed boots who looked like they’d been in Duran Duran and I’m a bloke from Wigan with a flat cap on and a pair of £7 jeans from Asda.

“There were tasks every week and, because I had been involved in music, there was a music task. Donny & Dirk Tourette were on the show doing the music task as well – Donny Tourette was on Celebrity Big Brother in 2007.

“The producer took us to the London School of Music. Donny & Dirk Tourette were sat down with loads of Stella beer cans round them. Having a comedic slant, if you’re in a strange situation, you tend to fall back on comedy. Dirk Tourette’s hair were bright blond, with a straight fringe and straight down the sides.

“I said: I know you off the telly… It’s Jim’ll Fix It!

“And he said: You cunt! You Northern cunt! It were like something out of Grange Hill. He actually said: I’m gonna put your ‘ead dahn the toilet! There’s footage of the fight on YouTube, but they’ve edited all this bit out.

“So it started a push-and-pull. His brother Donny ran over with a full can of Stella and smashed it in me face – the footage is on YouTube.

“Donny Tourette scratched me eye. I had to go to Moorfields Eye Hospital. One of me regrets is I didn’t punch him; I just grappled him to the floor because, at the time I was green and thought Well, I don’t want to get thrown off this show. I thought it could be me ticket to the chocolate factory. But it turned out to be me ticket to the fucking meat counter in Tesco.”

“When I saw you on the BBC2 cruise ship show,” I said, “I thought He’s playing a professional Northerner on-and-off stage and I can’t see what the guy’s really like.”

“Well,” explained Jimmy, “I had a dichotomy that had been bothering me for a while. I had developed this dopey, Northern, Ken Goodwin type character. I’d shuffle onto the stage looking bewildered and get laughs.

“I had developed this act which was very old school: dead-pan one-liners. But I’d got bored with it and me delivery had become so slow and dragged-out… My goal now is to become more like myself on stage, but there’s something very scary about that. It’s like going on stage naked.

“People told me: You’re funnier as yourself. But it’s like when someone tells you something and, deep down inside, you know it too and you’re in a state of comedic denial.

“I’m not a cruise ship entertainer. I’m not from a world of cheesy smiles and Come on, Beryl, let’s have a dance; it’s Beryl’s birthday, everybody! Comedically, that’s not what I want to do. My goal is to be myself now. That BBC cruise ship documentary put the final nail into the coffin of my old act.”

There is an extract from the upcoming Jimmy O/Clown Prince charity single Cradle Me on SoundCloud:

3 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Music, Television

Comedian Lewis Schaffer’s strange offer of Edinburgh Fringe show sponsorship

In Soho - Peter Goddard - He’s a nice guy!

Yesterday, I blogged about problems over free shows at the Edinburgh Fringe and quoted one of the most prominent free performers, London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer.

He crops up in quite a few of my blogs.

I like to have subsidiary characters and plot threads running through my blogs so that anyone regularly reading the blogs can – or, if I were to turn them into an annual e-book, anyone reading the chronological collected blogs could – follow these threads as they develop.

I recently encouraged Lewis Schaffer to start his own blog, which means he occasionally mentions me in his blog.

I aspire to being a subsidiary character myself.

Yesterday, in his blog, Lewis Schaffer wrote about his show the previous night (pay attention, dear reader): “My personal blogger John Fleming was there last night with the ‘un-named’ woman who makes his presence bearable – actually he is a welcome sight for anyone who wishes to be loved and accepted as an artist.”

I think this has the semi-unfortunate side-effect of making me seem a little creepy but – hey! – a little creepy gets you noticed.

The other slightly odd thing Lewis Schaffer wrote in his blog yesterday was: “Peter Goddard – the man whose hair I was stroking – he’s a nice guy – told me afterward that I had the audience laughing many times but stopped them as if I didn’t like them enjoying themselves.”

Stroking a man’s hair during a gig where the comedian tries to stop the audience laughing may seem odd enough but what, you might ponder, is with the odd sentence construction: “Peter Goddard – the man whose hair I was stroking – he’s a nice guy – told me…”??

Well, this goes back to two nights ago, when I saw Lewis Schaffer’s ongoing twice-weekly show Free Until Famous in London’s Soho.

There was a man there who laughed throughout. It turned out he was this Peter Goddard.

After the show, Peter Goddard, his female friend, Lewis Schaffer and my eternally-un-named friend had a meal in Soho and Peter Goddard decided he wanted to sponsor the publicity  costs of Lewis Schaffer’s Edinburgh Fringe show in August.

Peter Goddard had thought the whole idea through before he came to the gig.

The only thing he wanted in return was that a picture of his head and his hand giving a thumbs-up sign should appear in the corner of every flyer and every poster for Lewis Schaffer’s show with the slogan “PETER GODDARD – HE’S A NICE GUY!”

He had loved Lewis Schaffer’s show that night. So did Lewis Schaffer. They both loved the fact it had been ‘uncomfortable’.

“Being in your show tonight,” said Peter Goddard, “was like sitting INSIDE The Office as opposed to sitting at home, watching The Office on TV. If you watch The Office on TV, you can laugh. If you were actually sitting inside The Office itself for real, you wouldn’t laugh. It would be very uncomfortable. Imagine going to a comedy club and not being sure if the comedian was David Brent or Ricky Gervais.”

That was what Peter Goddard said. And that was why he had enjoyed Lewis Schaffer’s show so much.

Lewis Schaffer was – of course – this is Lewis Schaffer, after all – indecisive about the idea.

“What do you get out of it?” Lewis Schaffer asked Peter Goddard.

“Nothing,” Peter Goddard replied. “It’s just funny… and I’m a nice guy.”

“It would have to be a photo of you with a cheesy grin,” I suggested, “like you were recommending a hamburger or a washing machine in some naff 1950s ad.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed Peter Goddard.

“I flyer for myself in Edinburgh,” Lewis Schaffer said. “People are going to ask me a thousand times – five thousand times – who you are and what you get out of it. It’ll drive me crazy talking about you and not talking about me. I hand out 5,000 flyers in Edinburgh.”

“You just say,” I suggested. “Peter Goddard – He’s a nice guy… That’s all I am contractually allowed to say.

“What do you do?” Lewis Schaffer asked Peter Goddard.

“I’m a project manager for banks,” Peter Goddard replied.

Lewis Schaffer looked at me. I looked at Lewis Schaffer.

“I think it’s a great idea,” I said.

Afterwards, I asked Lewis Schaffer, “How long have you known him?”

“I’ve met him twice but I only remember meeting him once. Maybe more. But I don’t remember. I don’t know why he chose me.”

I opened my mouth to say something.

“I don’t know,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a great idea,” I told him. “It will get you attention and get your posters and flyers talked about, like Cockgate. Well, not quite as much as that.”

“As what?”

“Cockgate.”

“Ah…”

Lewis Schaffer pondered this for a few long seconds.

“Do I want that?” he asked me.

“Yes,” I told him. “It’s at least worth two-inch pieces in three or four newspapers or magazines during the Fringe.”

“Ah,” he said.

We said nothing for a few long seconds.

“Even saying No comment to 5,000 people would drive me crazy,” he said. “I want to be talking to them about Lewis Schaffer.”

We said nothing for a few long seconds.

“Tomorrow I could contact MegaBus,” Lewis Schaffer eventually said, “They could be my tour sponsor. Peter Goddard could sponsor my Edinburgh Fringe publicity and MegaBus could sponsor my Free Until Famous tour…  £1 Until Famous.”

“But,” I suggested, “maybe you don’t get people with disposable incomes taking the MegaBus. Are they your target audience for comedy shows where you want people to give you as much money as they can at the end of the show?”

“You’re not going to see famous people take the coach,” said Lewis Schaffer “£1 Until Famous… In New York, I got free Oliver Peoples glasses for travelling by bus. They are the glasses of choice of American psychos.”

“Have you stopped drinking?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’ve stopped drinking,” replied Lewis Schaffer.

“What about Peter Goddard?” asked my eternally-un-named friend, as the three of us walked through Soho.

“He’s a nice guy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“It’s a start,” I said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Sponsorship

The Edinburgh Fringe in 2005

I wrote this article for the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain’s magazine UK Writer in 2005.

With this year’s Edinburgh Fringe rapidly approaching, it might be of interest.

Though plus ça change.

_________________________________________________________________________________

LIFE ON THE FRINGE

I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out-of-town in a smallish room in what appeared to be a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe Programme.

In that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy and anarchy.

The man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy, with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.

I run his website – www.malcolmhardee.co.uk – and I am currently available for work via my website – www.thejohnfleming.com.

This blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard, your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen despite a market so full of product it’s as if the eleven largest hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.

Every year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.

It is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and knick-knacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says: IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN – FRIEND OF THE UNION ?

I mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, “Of course, it’s only The Scotsman that counts,” or “Of course, The Scotsman doesn’t really count,” depending on their relative numbers of stars and adding, “Good review, but it’s disgraceful he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.”

Writers tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe is a performers’ showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.

This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.

Malcolm Hardee became a genuine legend by – while in the nude – driving a fork lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show… followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed – on two consecutive years – to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage because French ‘Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus’ Archaos were going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws as part of their act: something they had reportedly done on the Continent. In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit. But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.

Betwixt all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers’ egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those most dangerous of creatures – airheads with degrees. With no opinions or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to ‘the word on the street’ in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or – far worse – coked out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will impress their Soho House friends most.

They all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out, because they assume those two publications above all will know what shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.

The Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier Award selling itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years, acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking for pure talent.

Until the last weekend of this year’s fun fest, the most un-remarked-on development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and the new Smirnoff Underbelly.

Seldom visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used to have naff acts you wouldn’t want to see even when drunk and in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage & Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed of interesting acts – some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Tavern’s Wil Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for “Kopfraper’s Syndrome” while, with less of a fanfare, their “Desperately Seeking Sorrow” (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated for the new Malcolm Hardee Award.

Vicky De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts that used to play Malcolm’s venues – like the legendary Pigeon Man Phil Zimmerman – are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.

So, while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and sign up the Douglas Bader end of the creative spectrum – acts with no legs – the really interesting acts have been passing them by.

It will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.

One is that Pear Shaped at the Holyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey Godley.

She handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture – the centrepiece of the Edinburgh International Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the Fringe.

As Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt – with stomach-cramps and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before to raw Japanese fish – touted her show on the steps, she was being physically shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths. Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers and shakers.

“You could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted!” she yelled at them.

At this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show: “JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT – The only Scottish female solo stand-up show on the Fringe!”

A camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their way.

“I was here first,” she shouted at them. “You move your fucking camera!”

“She’s not moving,” the shirt-sleeved man told them.

She didn’t move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message from Janey.

“Who is Greg Dyke?” it asked. “He was a nice man who helped me flyer.”

Janey Godley’s website is www.janeygodley.com

My website is www.thejohnfleming.com

We are both available.

This is the Fringe.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Well, that was the Fringe in 2005.

The Holyrood Tavern has since been ‘modernised’. Pear Shaped no longer runs a venue at the Edinburgh Fringe, though its adventurous London club continues.

The Perrier Awards no longer exist as they keep changing their name.

Janey Godley will not be performing an hour-long show at the Fringe this year – her show The Godley Hour is at the Soho Theatre in London during the final week of the Edinburgh Fringe. But, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, she will be taking part in one of two new annual Malcolm Hardee Debates on the proposition “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – on Monday 22nd August at The Hive. Details here.

At the Fringe, publicity is all-important.

Remember the wise advice of Max Bialystock.

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, PR, Scotland, Television, Theatre

Five ‘Hot’ Comedians

After the Stateside success of Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais and Eddie Izzard, I see that, in the US magazine Punchline‘s list of the five UK comics worth keeping an eye on, one’s Irish and one’s an Aussie. So that only leaves three top new British comics to note – Robin Ince, Janey Godley and Laura Solon.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy