Tag Archives: Robert Peacock

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 15: Participation hell and real tears in a comedian’s eyes

Hell is other people en masse, as Jean-Paul Sartre did not say.

God! How I hate audience participation!

Not all audience participation, just some.

As mentioned before in this blog, I am allergic to certain things in comedy.

One is stand-up character comedy when it is an attempt by an actor or actress to create a ‘real’ character. or, almost worse, a fake ‘eccentric’ character when the performer does not have any streak of eccentricity themselves. This is not comedy; it is a drama school showreel. The more cartoony, the less real, the more I like it.

The other thing that I can’t take is mass jollity. Singalongs, dancealongs and people doing almost anything as a group instead of as individuals just ain’t me. I can think of nothing worse than people singing in gigantic groups. Or doing anything in gigantic groups.

So perhaps it was foolhardy of me to accept a ticket for a late-night show called Juan Vesuvius: I Am Your Deejay at Assembly’s George Square Theatre, allegedly presented by a Venezuelan DJ (actually New Zealander Barnie Duncan in his third Fringe show).

Juan Vesuvius aka Barnie Duncan – Arghh! Help! Let me out!

It started as Manuel-from-Fawlty-Towers style character comedy then, once the character was established, turned into a brash, loud, glittery, music-music-music lecture on the history of disco music, disco clubs and related social music phenomena. It is tremendous entertainment. Wildly exciting. Terrifically atmospheric. And, as anyone who read my blog about The Elvis Dead, it is not remotely for me. At the end of the show, people were up on their feet dancing and waving their arms about. I was internally screaming: Arghh! Help! Let me out!

The audience loved it. And I got a new insight into my dourness.

At the risk of sounding like some desperate Miss World contestant, I’m interested in people. People as individuals.

150 people dancing the same movements to the same music or 10,000 people singing a song in a stadium is nothing to do with people. It has to do with psychological insecurity and a need to feel wanted.

Sitting at the back of the Grouchy Club, a silent man

The concept of the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club at the Counting House is to talk to the audience. One person at a time. Community singing is not encouraged. Individual opinions, anecdotes and bees-in-bonnets are encouraged.

Today, those people included Nick Awde from The Stage, director Sarah Chew, Ian Dunn from the British Comedy Guide, Robert Peacock from The Wee Review and Ewan Spence from multiple podcasts, Forbes magazine and the Eurovision Song Contest. And performers.

And no random non-industry punters. Which is perfect. Because it meant we could gossip, for example, about one performer’s objection to a one-star review he got from The Wee Review and his consequent, continuing campaign to get hold of Robert Peacock’s home address, threats of legal action, articles in the New York Times etc etc. It is possibly the subject of a future blog, except the current copied-and-pasted basic information is over 3,700 words long.

Michael Brunström, gloriously surreal, with a bag of Oz compost at his feet

The real eccentricity of the day, though, started when I went to see the gloriously surreal Michael Brunström’s show Parsley at the Dragonfly. Anything that starts with the performer in some sort of ancient Grecian dress, draped with  some sort of green-leafed climbing plant and playing the recorder is good for me.

If he then gives out whoopee whistles to the audience, asking them to randomly blow them whenever they like throughout the show, it can only get even better. And does.

The on-stage character is, of course, exactly that – a character, not the real Michael Brunström… but I can’t help observing it’s not THAT different from him. Writs may arrive in my letter box next week.

In the gloom, Mr Twonkey announces the bad news to his disappointed audience

I was also due to see Mr Twonkey perform his Christmas in The Jungle show at the Dragonfly. Alas, there was a power cut before he started and he was forced to cancel the show.

The admirable Mr Twonkey is, again, a surreally eccentric character (played by ever-amiable Paul Vickers).

And, again, the on-another-planet character on-stage may not be exactly the same as the person playing him, but I think they may live on the same planet as each other… just not on planet Earth.

Which brings me to Lewis Schaffer.

I went back to see his Unopened Letters From My Mother show again at the Counting House. I saw it around a week ago.

Each night, he is opening a different letter from his mother which he received but never read.

Someone has described this show as part comedy, part tragedy, part sociological experiment, part psychological insight and 100% voyeurism.

It may have been me in that last sentence.

Tonight, in her unopened letter from 2002, his mother called him a shit and said he was dead to her. She is now dead. The tears in his eyes were genuine.

Lewis Schaffer’s unopened letters from his mother

Lewis Schaffer does not really know why he did not open the letters and, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why he decided to do the show at all. I have a terrible feeling that he is doing these shows as a way of daring the audiences – and daring himself – to dislike him.

The previous time I saw this show, he opened and read the letter towards the end of the show. Tonight, he opened and read it towards the start.

He is trying out different things each night.

For me, opening and reading the letter towards the start was a mistake, because he was so emotionally affected by the contents tonight that he was not in the same control of his show that he usually has.

Even when performers appear to be themselves on-stage they are, of course, performing as a particular version of themselves. They are not themselves.

Lewis Schaffer’s show tonight was a fascinating, unique voyeuristic experience, watching an actual person on-stage showing raw emotions and trying to recover from them – part performer, part real human being. Fascinating.

Colin Buckie – from Bobby to Lou

Someone who should have been at the Grouchy Club but wasn’t was Colin Buckie, who owns Bobby’s Sandwich Bar by the Greyfriars Bobby statue. I met him because he was chatting to former submariner Eric in the Abattoir by the Purple Cow.

Such sentences seem reasonable in Edinburgh during the Fringe… I met him because he was chatting to former submariner Eric in the Abattoir by the Purple Cow.

Colin had once sat next to Velvet Underground rocker Lou Reed at a Burns Night Supper in Edinburgh.

“It was three years before he died,” Colin told me. “It was an unusual night. It was at the Reid Music Institute, the Reid Hall at Edinburgh University. We had a lovely evening round a table and Lou Reed stood up and read out a poem or a story by Edgar Allan Poe – he was a huge fan of Edgar Allan Poe – and then some readings of Robert Burns. He was a huge fan of Robert Burns too. He said: I love these lyrics.

“I mean, primarily, Lou Reed was a lyricist. He was very interested in poetry and William Burroughs and beat poetry and…”

“He,” I asked, “read out Edgar Allan Poe stuff on a Burns Night?”

“He did,” said Colin. “I was astounded I was sitting next to Lou Reed. I have never been starstruck before or since. I was so astonished, I never mentioned once to him that he was Lou Reed.”

Will people, in future, speak in such awe of having been in the presence of Lewis Schaffer?

Only time will tell.

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Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

One thing I always tell performers at the Fringe is: Always perform, even if there is only one person in the audience, because you do not know who that one person might be.

The two examples I endlessly give are …

  • Comic Charlie Chuck, at his first Fringe, unknown, was getting very few bums-on-seats. He was thinking of going home. I told him not to. A few days later, he performed to an audience of four… Two of them were TV producers and, as a result, he appeared on two Reeves & Mortimer TV series.
  • I turned up to see a show at the old Holyrood Tavern venue. I was 50% of the audience. I was looking for acts to appear on an ITV series. The other audience member turned out to be a BBC producer. The act had gone back to London in despair because they were not getting audiences.

Perhaps nothing would have come of us seeing the act. But maybe it might.

The thing to remember is that you are not necessarily paying out large amounts of money to get money back from audiences’ bums-on-seats. You are also – perhaps mainly – performing in Edinburgh to be seen by showbiz and media people who may change your career and your life.

An empty stage in London (not the Edinburgh venue)

Today, I turned up to see an act. I had seen this English act ‘die’ on several occasions at ‘open mic’ nights in London, performing basically to other open mic acts in ‘dead’ venues. But my intuition told me the act had something that might work and I might see it in a 60-minute show.

The show was in an out-of-the-way venue and, when I arrived, I was the sole audience member.

The performer turned up about three minutes before the billed start time and, two minutes before the billed start time, apologetically cancelled the performance, saying: “It would be awkward just performing to one person.”

About to join me, but slightly delayed, was Nick Awde, playwright, producer, publisher and critic/feature writer for The Stage.

Now, maybe nothing would have come of the two of us seeing the act but, if you perform, there is a possibility, however slight, that something may result. If you do not perform, there is a certainty nothing will result.

Cancelling is never a good idea. Cancelling two minutes before the billed start time is an even more self-destructive decision.

The phrase ‘self-destructive’ is, of course, bound to lead to Lewis Schaffer, the man who, on getting a 5-star review in The Scotsman only half-jokingly said he was depressed because he feared it might destroy his image as a loser.

“Quite unlike anything else in the programme”

This week, he got a good review on the Chortle comedy website, for his show Unopened Letters From My Mother.

The review gave him three stars but started: “Look beyond the star rating here, for this is one of those shows that it’s hard to judge by the standards of a conventional Fringe offering. For some, the fact that this is quite unlike anything else in the programme will be enough to make it a must-see.”

It went on to compare him to Award-winning Kim Noble.

Lewis Schaffer decided not to share a link to the review on his social media.

This morning at Fringe Central, I bumped into American performer Peter Michael Marino. He told me:

“I found a cracked iPhone in the Lounge at the Counting House, wedged between the fireplace and the stage. I put word out to performers in the Lounge and it turned out the iPhone was Lewis Schaffer’s. Before I gave it back to him, I tried to crack the passcode, so I could access his text messages and next year I could do a show called Unread Text Messages From Lewis Schaffer.”

PM Marino – a man with saliva in his mouth

JD who runs Sweet venues told me the Fringe Office had told him that this year’s line-up included 300 more comedy shows than last year. Getting even noticed at the Fringe takes an effort of promotion.

If you don’t promote yourself, you are invisible.

The official Fringe figures are that, this year, there are 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows from 62 countries in over 300 venues, including 686 free shows with comedy making up 35% of the shows, theatre 28% and cabaret 4%.

And that is only the Fringe. There is also the official International Festival, the Jazz & Blues Festival, the Art Festival, Military Tattoo, Book Festival and Television Festival (the last being a private conference rather than public festival, but having a big influence).

People will do anything to get noticed.

Peter Michael Marino’s Show Up follows The Grouchy Club show in the Lounge at The Counting House. Have I mentioned The Grouchy Club before? The increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club hosted by me and Kate Copstick.

Flaunt it. Flaunt it.

This morning the aforementioned Peter Michael Marino told me: “I swapped saliva with Copstick yesterday.”

“I am not even going to ask…” I told him.

I may come back to this story.

Eric has filled Fringe venues under the radar for ten years

I went inside Fringe Central and bumped into Eric, who has been performing Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn at the Fringe now for ten years.

After a brief conversation, he told me. “I’m off now. I gotta see this werewolf.”

Nothing odd about that at the Fringe.

An hour later, I got a text from him: “The werewolf has just finished. Cracking show. You missed a great experience.”

By this time, I was going into The Hive to see Mark Dean Quinn’s You Win You Lose. A true original, he is a combination of Andy Kaufman, Dadaism, intentional shambles and (I think genuine) emotional self-flagellation. What more could anyone want in an Edinburgh Fringe show?

I had to leave quickly at the end, taking the newly-fried chips with me (don’t ask) to get to Simon Caine’s elevator pitch event at the Apex Hotel in Grassmarket.

‘Reformed Whores’ pitch their show to Robert Peacock etc

He and JD had arranged a collection of Sweet performers to get in a lift (US translation: elevator) with reviewers Nick Awde (The Stage), Robert Peacock (Wee Review) and me and they had to pitch their shows to us in the time it took the lift to travel from the Ground Floor (US translation: 1st floor) to the 5th and back.

Then I saw Phil Ellis Has Been on Ice with unbilled co-star Pat Cahill. Phil’s breakthrough at the Fringe was with Funz & Gamez in 2014 and it has taken this long for the BBC to faff around without giving him a radio or TV show.

Phil is a successful example of one type of comedy. Post-modern originality and regular, gigantic audience Whhoooaaaaahhhs!!!!

Smug Roberts is a successful example of another type of comedy.

Neither is better than the other.

For me, the Smug Roberts show was possibly the most highly anticipated of the Fringe.

In 2006, he did a one-off, one-night performance at the Edinburgh Fringe of a show he called Me Dad’s Dead. And that is what it was about. I wrote a review of the show for the Chortle comedy website and have remembered the performance ever since.

I started the review: “Smug Roberts is a Manchester based Jongleurs-style club comic who might be described, not entirely correctly, as old-school. He is clearly a very professional Northern circuit act who can play to any audience and quickly endear himself to them rapidly.”

The intervening 11 years have not changed that, except that he is even more warm, natural and extraordinarily skilful as a performer.

He is a real person in a pub doing stand-up

Smug is 57 and had a pretty-much full audience at the Three Sisters aka Free Sisters tonight in which, I think, I was the only person over 30. It was an audience of 20-somethings (at least one was 19) and they laughed virtually non-stop for 55 minutes because this is a masterclass in comedy. Autobiographical, fanciful (at home, his dog speaks to him), seemingly effortless comedy within straight, traditional stand-up, including vocal and physical bits of ‘business’.

Smug Roberts should be a national institution.

He is a brilliantly assured comic now incapable, I would suspect, of ever putting a foot wrong with any audience.

His show is called Just Me In a Pub Doing Stand-Up.

That is more than good enough for me.

Wonderful.

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