Tag Archives: Royal Mile

Edinburgh Fringe, Day 19: How to perform comedy to a tough audience

Yesterday’s blog ended (because of the interruption of midnight) just before Arthur Smith’s annual alternative tour of the Royal Mile started (at 2.00am).

Telephone box claiming on the Royal Mile

This tour used to be a near Bacchanalian trip with occasional appearances by the boys in blue (usually the police; seldom the Smurfs).

Now it is a comparatively more civilised trip down the cobbles from the Castle to St Giles Cathedral – if you can call it ‘civilised’ with 60 people following Arthur down the street as he declaims poetry, misrepresents statues, accosts passers-by, encourages people to perform cartwheels, climb atop telephone kiosks and get into holes in the road, become living statues in the night-time street, and introduces a man loudly singing Frank Sinatra songs from a second-storey window at the top of his voice at around 02.30 in the morning.

Arthur approached one of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judges (not me) this afternoon to run naked down the Royal Mile but, alas, they felt the possibility of arrest and getting a criminal record was even riskier to their future reputation and job prospects than being an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge.

By the time Arthur had finished his shenanigans and I got home to my flat and into bed, it was around 04.00am. Which is fairly average for Edinburgh during the Fringe.

Later in the day, I bumped into former sailor Eric, who tried to persuade me again that he should get a Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality because he has now been performing the same show – Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn – at the Fringe for 10 years. He was eating a chip.

Could be good. Could be shit. Don’t matter.

The former squatters on the late Malcolm Hardee’s boat, the Wibbley Wobbley, are staging a one-off comedy play about him – Malcolm Hardee: Back From the Drink, on Wednesday at The Hive, not to be confused with my own Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday at the Counting House.

Their comic play should be interesting, as they never met him. And though I say it is a one-off. In fact, they tested it out on Friday in London… They are performing it this Wednesday in Edinburgh… And are hoping more London performances may happen.

They – five of them – came to the Grouchy Club this afternoon to discuss the show but I am told I have to keep schtum about it to avoid plot spoilers.

Who knows if it will be an audience-pleaser? I have not yet seen it. “Could be good. Could be shit,” as Malcolm used to say when introducing as-yet unseen acts.

To be really honest, it is not the shows I enjoy most about the Edinburgh Fringe, it is the city and the people. The shows come third.

The aforementioned Grouchy Club is open daily, totally free to all at the Counting House 1415-1515. If you got it, flaunt it.

The manager of the Counting House and the adjoining Pear Tree is Brian.

During the Fringe, all day long, weather allowing, he sits at a barrel on the pavement outside the Counting House, helping and supervising and helping and advising.

Brian is a big man. I did not realise how big he actually until today. He is normally seated at his barrel.

One of his lovely Counting House assistants told me Brian was officially the tallest teenager in Scotland in 1985.

Big Brian by his barrel with one of his lovely assistants on a surprisingly sunny day outside the lovely Counting House

“I was 6 feet 5 inches tall as a teenager,” he confirmed to me outside, sitting by his barrel. “I’m 6 feet 11¾ now – a quarter of an inch shorter than a giant. Imagine that. If I had just spent a little bit more time growing, I could have made it to giant status. I could have had it on my passport and my CVs. Occupation: Giant. There is a Tall Person’s Club, but I’ve never joined. It’s supposed to get you good flights with extra legroom and stuff.”

“Do you,” I asked, “get charged extra for having a sideways…”

“For having long legs?” Brian asked. “Yes. That or the drinks trolley goes over your feet. You are crucified either way.”

People. The Edinburgh Fringe is all about people.

I got an inevitable text message and two pictures from Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer (left) with what he calls ‘candies’ and Eric

“Eric the Submariner,” it said, “has been going around town today handing out candies to brighten performers’ moods on what he calls ‘Shit Sunday’ – the third Sunday of the festival. He has picked the right person. I’m a mess.”

Eric the submariner used to be a regular in the audience at Malcolm’s Up The Creek Club and it was Malcolm who encouraged Eric to perform. His Tales of The Sea is a real audience-pleaser of a show with Eric in total control of the audience. Well, he should be, after ten years!

President Obonjo harangues his full audience of 350

The same could be said of President Obonjo – Benjamin Bello – whose African dictator character dominates any room – which is more difficult than he makes it seem because it could be fraught with all sorts of racial stereotype problems. The fact it sails smoothly through and he had his audience of 350 (he insists all his audiences anywhere at any time are and forever will be 350 but, in fact, today he did have a full-to-the-brim audience) eating out of his comedic hand is a tribute to his skill.

Matt Price was in charge of the Royal Marines

A talent that Matt Price (partner of cunning stunt vixen Martha McBrier) had to have in spades tonight.

His show The Weed Fairy is about his father – so-called because of his dad’s predilection for growing marijuana plants at the family home in Cornwall and consequent visits from those boys in blue again.

But that was not why Matt needed all his audience-controlling cleverness and amiability tonight.

Matt and men from 42 Commando, K Company, including Corpsey in the striped shirt, second from the right

He had eight Royal Marine Commandos in the audience, one of whom – Corpsey – was almost paralytically drunk. Matt managed to be relentlessly insulting to Corpsey (which is what his Marine mates wanted) without in any way offending either Corpsey or his mates.

It was an extraordinary feat of professionalism intermingling the scripted show, drunk-wrangling, physical improvisation, ad-libbing and street psychology.

Matt played very literally passive aggressive. He would be insulting to Corpsey and the other Marines (which they loved), then back-off into amiable self-effacement and amiability, then swing back into put-downs, then be your-best-chum, then land a slight insult, all-the-while keeping the pace of the narrative of his story on-course and on-pace.

Brilliant.

Plus there was film of him, as a slim teenager, skateboarding… and an online instruction video about didgeridoo-playing from a man claiming to run ‘The Didge Project’.

It might have been a Cunning Stunt.

Anything could be.

Fantasy and reality are beginning to merge in my mind. That is not uncommon at the Fringe, which may be the best thing since slice bread.

Meanwhile, the world outside the Edinburgh bubble still turns.

In non-Fringe-related news, my eternally un-named friend points out to me that entertainers Bruce Forsyth, who died three days ago, and Jerry Lewis, who died today, were older than sliced bread.

Sliced bread was born on 7th July 1928.

Bruce Forsyth was born on 22nd February 1928.

Jerry Lewis was born on 16th March 1926.

There are sequences from Jerry Lewis’ unseen movie The Day The Clown Cried in a documentary extract on YouTube. It has a commentary in Flemish…

Welcome to my reality.

 

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At the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday: nudity, farting and a hysterectomy

Today, my new temporary Edinburgh flatmate inventor mad John Ward arrives. He invents arguably useless or useful things like the bra warmer and the personal snow-making back pack. He also designed the physical trophies which are the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards.

Yesterday, Mr Methane’s window show entertained not just audiences but passers-by

Yesterday, Mr Methane’s Edinburgh show in the window of Bob’s Bookshop entertained not just audiences but passers-by

My previous temporary Edinburgh flatmate Mr Methane left yesterday, although he is returning on Friday specifically to perform at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

I will miss Mr Methane’s daily interesting facts which included not just surprising tales of touring with the semi-punk band the Macc Lads but also the fact that John Paul Jones – not the Led Zeppelin rock star but the 18th century US hero – led the only US attack on mainland Britain, by attacking Whitehaven in Cumbria and St Mary’s Isle near Kirkcudbright, Scotland, in 1778.

Mr Methane is very well-read for a man who farts professionally.

There is a distinctly literary lifestyle in my flat at the moment.

Comedy entrepreneur Neale Welch has a Fringe Odyssey

Comedy entrepreneur Neale Welch had a big Fringe Odyssey

Also staying here is Neale Welch from London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre. His audio company Just The Greatest has put up some money to cover part of the costs of the Malcolm Hardee Awards (though not any of my personal expenses lest I appear to be benefitting personally). For this, he gets to sleep on a sofa that is shorter than he is. No-one said life is fair.

I came back unexpectedly yesterday afternoon to find him reading Homer’s Odyssey.

He told me he had discovered Edinburgh is a great place for second-hand bookshops and that he had walked into one shop and asked if they had a copy of The History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

The owner of the shop had replied:

“Would you want a copy of that book in Greek, Latin or English?”

And, sure enough, the shop did, indeed, have copies of The History of the Peloponnesian War in all three languages.

“Which one did you buy?” I asked Neale.

“The English language one,” he told me.

Frankly, I was saddened and rather disappointed in him.

Shortly afterwards, I bumped into Nick Awde at the Pleasance Dome, who started talking about Adrienne Truscott and her much-discussed show Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! which she performs naked from the waist down.

This coming Friday, Adrienne is a guest on my Fringe show Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! So It Goes – John Fleming’s Comedy Blog Chat Show. She will be discussing the joys and pitfalls of performing nude on stage with Martin Soan of The Greatest Show On Legs, who created the Naked Balloon Dance.

Nick Awde heads the Fringe review team for The Stage newspaper.

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s show split then united opinion

“Adrienne’s show split arty people and comedy people,” Nick mused yesterday, “At the very beginning of the Fringe, the comedy people were pushing her show away saying No, that’s performance art… and the performance art people were saying No, it’s comedy. Now they both claim it as their own.”

And now it is impossible to get tickets for Adrienne’s show.

In theory, you can turn up and entry is free; you pay to get out. But all the £5 pay-in-advance-to-guarantee-a-seat tickets have been bought and there is no space left. So an extra show has been added – tomorrow night at 11.00pm.

She has also been nominated for a Total Theatre Award.

Total Theatre “celebrates and supports a wide spectrum of contemporary theatre and performance” but I suspect Adrienne may get nominated for some pure comedy awards too.

While I was chatting with Nick Awde, he told me he always reads my blogs from the bottom upwards because, he claims, I usually get to any ‘meaty bits’ at the end. So this next bit  is hidden in the middle to confuse him.

I had a chat with Canadian comic Tanyalee Davis, who performed her first Edinburgh Fringe show in 2003 and who was last heard of in this blog transporting critic Kate Copstick to her trial. Tanyalee is currently appearing on the Channel 4 hidden-camera TV series I’m Spazticus.

“I come over to the UK on alternate months,” she told me.

“I always come over in December and this last December I had a 7-week tour booked but, after a couple of days, I developed a blood clot in my groin and then it all just went tits-up from there.

“It started when I got back with a guy I was dating 18 years ago. We only dated for 2 years, then I was married to somebody else for 13. So we were back together again. I went back on birth control because I was in a new relationship, I got a blood clot and then that caused all these problems. But him and I are together still, thank goodness, ten months on.

“The blood clot led to three months of having eight blood transfusions and ended up with me losing my box – my cooch, my meat locker – I got about 16 different ways of saying fanny.

“I was in four different countries for the whole medical shebang. It started in the UK. I flew to America, then Canada, then I got cleared to fly on a family holiday in Mexico and then I started hemorrhaging. I got there Friday, I started bleeding Saturday, I was hemorrhaging Sunday, then I ended up having a hysterectomy the next week because they were like We don’t know  what to do with you… Too many blood transfusions and, because I had the blood clot, they couldn’t do surgery because I could have died on the operating table.

Tanyalee turned tragedy into Fringe comedy

Tanyalee turned tragedy into Fringe comedy

“So now it’s a comedy show and the interesting thing is trying to find the humour in… I mean, I nearly died… I had 8 blood transfusions and nearly died on a couple of occasions and making that funny is…”

“I always tell comedians,” I said to Tanyalee, “that, if anything goes wrong in your life, it’s not a tragedy, it’s the script for your next Edinburgh Fringe show. It’s God giving you a 60-minute show.”

“Yeah, I lost my box,” said Tanyalee, “but I gained a show. I’ve been wanting to do a new show for a couple of years – I haven’t done a solo show since 2007 – but I didn’t want to do straight stand-up. So, when this whole shit went down, I thought Boom! Now I got a show! – It’s Big Trouble in Little ‘Gina.”

“Are you as ambitious since you nearly died?” I asked. “Or has that changed your perspective? I remember sitting watching my father die and thinking: Nothing really matters. Only love and friendship.

“Well,” said Tanyalee. “I just gotta enjoy my time while I’m here, because you never know when it’s gonna get yanked away from you. I have such a fun life normally, so being held up in the hospital and not being able to be on stage for three months… That was the worst thing.”

“Really?” I asked. “Not getting the applause?”

“No,” said Tanyalee. “It’s because it’s such an endorphin release and it’s therapy being on stage. I’m a raging bitch when I haven’t been on stage for a while.”

The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and Edinburgh – my favourite city in the world – has been called the Athens of the North. But it is also a tough wee town on the quiet.

As well as Fringe people getting beaten up in the street – I refer you to previous blogs both this year and last – it is the home of Trainspotting and (being Scotland) heavy drinking. I can say that as a shamefully teetotal Scots.

Last night, at around 1.30am in the morning, on my way to Arthur Smith’s legendary annual tour of the Royal Mile, I bumped into comedian Eric cycling home.

“A mother and daughter just fell down in the street in front of me,” he said. “just fell down.”

Arthur Smith’s tour of the Royal Mile was as bizarre as normal. NOTE: Arthur is on my first Fringe chat show tomorrow afternoon.

Arthur Smith, alien, in the Royal Mile last night

Arthur Smith, alien, spouted poetry in the Royal Mile late last night

The tour involved occasional mass wailing by the group of about 30 people trailing down the Royal Mile with him. We were instructed by Arthur to do this in the fashion of North Koreans being told their leader had died.

There was also a shouted conversation with some people in the top storey flat of one of the buildings in the Royal Mile who played a Leonard Cohen song and threw plastic milk bottles out of their window… a £10 challenge for any man or woman to take their top off and sing the Proclaimers’ song 500 Miles… a demonstration of strange rickshaw driving… and a Lithuanian couple who were persuaded to sing in Lithuanian on the steps of St Giles Cathedral. It ended with Arthur disrobing and turning into a sparkly-costumed alien.

Among the crowd were comics Carey Marx, Phil Nichol and, recovering from a street attack in Leith, Scotsman journalist Clare Smith.

Bob Slayer (right) in his sponsored underpants

Bob Slayer’s (right) face-off in his underpants

Afterwards, I walked to Bob’s Bookshop to see if Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem was still in full swing. When I opened the door, I was confronted by a fully-dressed man standing face-to-face with Bob who was in his underpants. This is unusual. To see Bob wearing clothes.

Alas, I arrived a few minutes before 3.00am and, as soon as I arrived, Bob told the audience to shout “tonight’s catchphrase” at me and the show stopped. I have no idea what they shouted, but they seemed to be laughing as they shouted it. I would like to think the show stopped because my arrival climaxed the show. In fact, it was due to licensing laws.

I then walked home.

About two minutes later, on the other side of the road, three girls were walking along singing. One fell over.

As I got to my flat, on the opposite pavement, a man still holding a mobile phone to his ear was picking himself up off the ground.

That’s Edinburgh.

Comedy, performance art, tragedy and people so pissed or drugged out of their heads that they fall over in the street.

Sometimes these categories overlap.

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Why no-one should ever interview me + I explain the Malcolm Hardee Awards

Hayden Cohen interviews me in the Royal Mile last month

This year, from mid-August to mid-October, the SoundCloud website supported fifteen ‘SoundCloud Fellows’  “on a project of their own design that inspires, engages, and communicates the unique breadth of sound”.

Surprisingly, this included comedian Hayden Cohen chatting to me for eight minutes in the doorway of a shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh in mid-August. It was part of a series of interviews called Royal Mile Stories: The Bumpy Road to EdFringe which he has now put online.

He asked me to chat after I had gone to see his Edinburgh Fringe show Age of The Geek. He describes himself as “an arty person obsessed with technology… because technology’s amazing. The idea that it’s limitless. Arthur C Clarke said technology has reached its peak when you don’t know the difference between technology and magic. And someone else said technology has become ubiquitous when you can throw it away in the rubbish bin. Back in the day, radios were seen as WOW! Radios!!! but now people throw them in rubbish skips all the time.”

Anyone who has ever heard me interviewed will know the feeling. The interview was theoretically about the Malcolm Hardee Awards and you can hear the full unedited version here:

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Arthur Smith’s usually anarchic, sometimes illegal night-time tours of the Royal Mile

Arthur Smith at the 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards

This Friday at 11.pm, The two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show starts at the Counting House in Edinburgh, as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival. Have I mentioned that before?

The show will include the Greatest Show on Legs performing their Naked Balloon Dance and a Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, international president of the World Egg Throwing Federation. So it’s all respectable stuff, not just people randomly smashing raw eggs in their faces.

Among those taking part in the Russian Egg Roulette will be comedians Richard Herring and Arthur Smith. After our show finishes at 1.00am, Arthur will be legging it up to the gates of Edinburgh Castle for 2.00am which is when he starts one of his legendary night time tours of the Royal Mile. To give a flavour of these always impressive cultural events, here are two extracts from Arthur’s autobiography My Name is Daphne Fairfax, available from all good bookshops and a few dodgy ones:

__________________

My tour of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh that year, a genre I now described as ‘radical site–specific outdoor promenade performance art,’ was a riot, ending outside John Thomson’s flat. John, a funny man and a mean impressionist had, that night, collected his Perrier award with Steve Coogan. He spoke from the shadows of the flat convincing a number of my crowd that I was talking to Sean Connery. We dispersed minutes before several police vans full of coppers arrived.

By now the tour began long after midnight; the most extreme starting time – 4am – is, surely, both the latest and earliest show to appear at the festival. The historical element of the event had been largely replaced by more muscular antics. I paid members of the crowd to climb onto an empty plinth, strip naked and sing Scotland the Brave; offered the squaddies guarding the castle a joint to slowmarch (yes, they usually did); induced residents of the Royal Mile to open their window and burst into song; staged kissing contests; introduced guest speakers such as Paul Merton, Hank Wangford, Mike McShane and Big Bobbie the armpit-farter; I might hush the audience to sneak up on a drunk enjoying a solitary piss against a wall, or stop by a shop displaying mannequins in tweed suits, introducing them as The Oxford Revue; I led everyone onto the back of an empty lorry and once ended the show at the Station where I got on the first train to Galashiels.

Oh, we had some laughs.

A DVD of my 1990 tour turned up recently, and watching it alone in the sober light of a Monday morning. I was appalled at how dangerous it now seems, how reckless I was, and how fortunate that no-one was ever seriously injured or even killed.  A fire breaks out, a pissed member of the Doug Anthony All Stars accepts twenty pounds to clamber up the scaffolding clinging to a building, a policeman appears in the background, and then mounts the portacabin on which Malcolm Hardee is standing in his traditional uniform of two socks.

In the previous year’s baccanal, I had turned up with an unruly mob of two hundred at a police lock-up round the back of the Royal Mile.  It was while Nelson Mandela was in prison so I informed the throng that he was in this very jail.  On cue everyone started singing, “Free -ee Nelson Mand-e-la!” until a small old policeman appeared and barked, “Will you please be quiet?  You’re keeping the poor prisoners awake.” Big laugh. Emboldened by my witty foe, I declared, “We will go when you release Nelson Mandela,” to which the gaoler responded, “We’ll be letting him out through the side door further up the road.”  Everyone roared and clapped and we moved on. The funny copper, whoever he was, was a class act, a Scottish Syd, a man of style who diffused a tricky moment with charm and humour.

Although I never did the day-time Royal Mile walks again after ‘83, I have presented a couple of more elaborate and innocent promenades shows elsewhere in town, My eccentric take on Swan Lake unfolded unpredictably round the back of the Pleasance

* * * * *

It was a full, fat, hard-drinking festival for me in 2000, with a suitably dramatic finale which contained the words

‘I am arresting you for breach of the peace and possession of a megaphone.’

I was in an Edinburgh Police Station at 5am when a police officer spoke this sentence to me. How did this unfortunate situation come about?

The story starts in the small hours of Sunday August 27th m’lud. A large crowd is gathered opposite the Tron church watching a man standing on a wall talking through a megaphone.  His underpants are on display and he seems somewhat the worse for wear.  It is myself and I am declaring an end to my tour; what remains of my audience are drifting off home. A couple of policemen arrive on the scene. Unsurprisingly, there is some light jeering from the remaining tourists. But now there are 5 police cars, a van and an armoured black maria. A couple of revellers hustle me round a corner where I put my trousers on and return in time to see post-renaissance comedian Simon Munnery being handcuffed and bundled into one of the cars.

At the time Simon had just taken the sacred megaphone from me, which he was perfectly entitled to do, since he had taken hilarious part in the improvised promenade, having reprised the role of Heinrich, the deranged Nietzschean German tourist.  Now a new part was thrust upon him – arrested man sitting in a cell feeling very pissed off indeed. I felt guilty that it had been Simon, and not me, the police had nabbed, so I led a few stragglers, whose outrage briefly outranked their tiredness, to the Police Station to await his release.  It was a long, strange night. At around 5am Rich Hall came by, fresh from collecting the Perrier award, and joined our vigil for as long as his eyes were able to remain open.  Not long after he left I was taken into a room, charged and immediately released. Later, when I was less angry, I was able to laugh at an imaginary conversation between the coppers.

PC:                  This Arthur Smith is obviously the Mr Big, Sarge.

SARGE:          Aye, we’d better arrest him.

PC:                  I wonder where he could be?

SARGE:          Let’s try the waiting room.

They seek him here, they seek him there…..

At approximately 8am, your honour, Simon was released from custody.  I decided to stay up since my last Leonard Cohen show was at lunch-time and it felt like Simon and I should top the night off together. We repaired to my nearby digs and an unlikely bottle of Asti Spumante. Sipping it, smoking, dazed at the chaos that had led us here, I grimaced at the realisation that I would have to tell Syd about this one. And then I laughed at the thought that I was forty-five years old. It was a beautiful, sunny, late-summer morning.  ‘Goodness me,’ I thought, ‘if this is what I have to do to avoid being bored, it’s pretty damn exhausting.’

“One must have chaos in one to give birth to a dancing star” – Nietzsche

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Edinburgh is preparing for the Fringe Festival and is stocking McCondoms

I had a day trip to Edinburgh yesterday. The Fringe Festival officially starts next Friday but actually on Wednesday.

The first street posters are already up and the venues are being constructed.

The Gilded Balloon’s turrets, which normally have food stalls beneath them which look like they have been shipped in from Glastonbury, this year appear to be going for a Robin Hood theme, with fake battlements built around the food area and the stalls having pseudo medieval roofs.

The Assembly is constructing its new home in George Square; and the Underbelly’s purple upside-down cow already dominates Bristo Square which has become the centre of the Fringe.

In Cowgate, the former church which used to be the Faith venue is now, year-round, called Sin – make of that what you will.

The grimy and pokey Holyrood Tavern, home several years ago to some great Fringe shows, has alas been smartened-up into a neat burger restaurant calling itself Holyrood 9A.

And, at one venue (which shall be nameless), as I was putting up a poster for Malcolm Hardee Week, two men were leaving. I went indoors to ask the barman something and, when I got back to the door, the poster had been removed from the wall… alright… nicked… half-inched… stolen.

I looked out of the doorway.

The two men were walking down the street looking at the poster with smiles on their faces.

Well, fair enough.

All publicity is good publicity and I think Malcolm would have approved of them stealing his poster.

Then I went to the Royal Mile.

I have not gone into one of those tartan tourist shops with bagpipe musak for years but yesterday I did (don’t ask) and beside the till were packets of McCondoms which, according to the illustration on the box, seemed to be in the shape of miniature whisky bottles. Ideal for me. I have no delusions.

I did not buy a packet although I was sorely tempted, just to see what they looked like.

When I got home, I looked up McCondom on the internet and found, alas, that they are not in the shape of miniature whisky bottles.

A customer review makes it clear that they are supposed to be whisky flavoured.

“The smell,” the reviewer says, “reminds of whisky, but I can’t say that it is exactly whisky smell. And this smell unexpectedly turned out not to be sexy at all. And unfortunately lubricant doesn’t taste like whisky, instead it’s something oily and unpleasant.”

It still gets Four Stars from the reviewer for being “really funny”.

So it is a bit like the Edinburgh Fringe. Good marketing may disguise something which gives you a good laugh but leaves you with a bad taste in the mouth. And four stars is no guarantee of a good night.

Look, I did not say this blog had any philosophical insights – nor any jokes.

The online reviewer surreally adds about the McCondom: “It can also become a good addition for a collection of condoms if anyone keeps such a collection.”

I would be very interested to hear if anyone does collect condoms… and why…

… That was going to be the last line of this blog.

Until I Googled “condom collection”.

Of course someone does collect condoms.

Of course they do.

Why would she not?

And she probably drives a small family car.

It really is like the Edinburgh Fringe.

Someone somewhere is doing something extraordinary.

It is just a case of finding her or him.

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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.

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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!”

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