Tag Archives: rude

The Edinburgh Fringe now insists on artistic control of all shows’ promotion

Comedian Lewis Schaffer lost his shirt staging Fringe shows.

In 2009, I staged a show at the Edinburgh Fringe titled Aaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s Bollock Relief! – The Malcolm Hardee Award Show. No-one batted an eyelid. More’s the pity.

Not when the title appeared in full in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme. Not when flyers were handed out in the street. Not when posters appeared in the refined streets of Edinburgh.

No-one cared about the word “bollock” back then.

But yesterday, in an online response to a piece in the Edinburgh Evening News about censorship in this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Programme, comedian Jackson Voorhaar wrote:

A quote in my blurb was actually censored to “the b*st*rd offspring of Eddie Izzard and Noel Fielding”. Surely in that context bastard is a perfectly legitimate and inoffensive term?

My last couple of blogs have been about the Edinburgh Fringe Programme’s new-found puritanism where, for example, Richard Herring’s show Talking Cock (which had no problem in 2002) now has to be printed as Talking C*ck in the Fringe Programme because it might offend someone – despite the fact that, in August 2012 (as was the case in August 2002), large posters will festoon the billboards of Edinburgh saying Talking Cock and random pedestrians will be given A5 flyers advertising Talking Cock.

Vivienne Soan of London’s Pull The Other One comedy club talked to me yesterday about the title of the Stuart Goldsmith show, which the Fringe has insisted cannot be listed as Prick but has to be listed as Pr!ck. Vivienne sensibly said: “I think that, at first sight, they look like the same word… but actually the latter is slightly funnier/cleverer. Therefore,” she added a tad mischievously, “the Fringe programme are also insisting on artistic contro!”

She raises an interesting point here.

As Richard Herring told me: “Underneath the silliness and twatdom it’s a very important issue.” And it is.

Last night Mervyn Stutter, who has been staging Fringe shows for 26 years, asked me about the Charlie Chuck listing which the Fringe this year objected to as being “ungrammatical”.

“Strangely,” Mervyn told me, “I find that more sinister because it will affect so many more people with perfectly safe show titles.”

The 40 word Fringe Programme entry is an advertisement for each performer’s Fringe show. It is an ad paid for by the performer. It costs almost £400. So, if you use all 40 words, it costs £10 per word. If you used only 20 words, it would cost £20 per word.

Mervyn Stutter says: “If we pay £400 then we should choose exactly the wording we want. If it doesn’t ‘make grammatical sense’ then what happens next? An angry letter to the Fringe from an audience member demanding better grammar or just that we – the performers who pay for it – lose some audience?”

This is the key point.

Does the Guardian tell Renault it has to change the wording for a new car ad because it does not conform with the Guardian’s own ‘house style’? Does Exchange & Mart or eBay tell advertisers their ads are ungrammatical or must be changed into an appropriate house style?

The Fringe Programme is perfectly entitled to have a house style for its own wording. But not for paid advertisements. Occasionally, in the past, the Royal Bank of Scotland has taken out ads in the Fringe Programme. Were these vetted by the Fringe for proper grammar and checked for adherence to the Fringe Programme’s own house style? Bollocks. They were not.

Part of the blurb for absurdist comedian Charlie Chuck’s new show Cirque du Charlie Chuck mentioned above (trying to make every £10 work count) was submitted as:

Charlie Chuck back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and lady assistant.

The Fringe changed this to (the capitalisation is mine to show the changes):

“Charlie Chuck, IS back with cabaret, organ-playing, drum-smashing AND mixed-up magic, with burlesque bits of French songs and A lady assistant.”

The Fringe insisted: “These words are required to be added to make sure the copy is in our house style.”

Note they said “are required”. Not suggested. Required to be added.

When queried about this, Fringe Publications Manager Martin Chester confirmed that “as long as your copy… is grammatically correct… it can be run.”

His full explanation was:

“As long as your copy adheres to the style guide found on edfringe.com, is grammatically correct and within the 40 word limit (including your show title) it can be run.”

There are two points here…

  • What does it matter if it is ungrammatical? If an act were to pay the Fringe £400 to run a badly-written Fringe entry which made the show look bad, the performer seem illiterate and it persuaded punters NOT to come to the show, that is entirely the act’s problem. The Fringe officers – if they are hanging around and have loads of time on their hands – might kindly suggest the entry could be improved. But, if they are taking £400 simply to print the ad, then (provided the wording is legal and ‘decent’ by their standards) the English grammar contained within the ad is nothing to do with them. And…
  • Why do £400 paid-for ads come within the Fringe Programme’s house style at all?

A house style exists to homogenise the style of a publication created by a single entity.

It is reasonable that a document or publication written by the Fringe itself should have a house style.

It is unreasonable that a Programme listing hundreds of separate £400 paid-for ads in which individual performers are trying to uniquely distinguish their own show from the (literally) thousands of other shows should have all the £400 paid-for ads homogenised into a single style.

It is artistic nonsense. It is financial nonsense.

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned that comedian Jody Kamali told me that the Fringe Office “said I couldn’t use three dollar signs in a row ‘$$$’ in my Fringe entry, as it didn’t fit their ‘house style’.”

Call me innocent, but to have $$$ in your show title is not going to offend any man, woman or child who reads it. I fail to believe it will psychologically damage or morally offend anyone. I am unaware of $$$ being any obscure sexual term and I somehow think the Fringe’s own imposed C*ck and Pr!ick are a tad more objectionable than $$$.

What insanity is ruling at the Fringe this year?

This all seems to be the opposite of why the Fringe Programme exists. It seems to be the opposite of why the Fringe exists, the opposite of what the ‘open to all’ nature of the Edinburgh Fringe itself is supposed to be.

Performers and acts are not invited to the Fringe. Anyone can perform anywhere. You just have to arrange it yourself. The Fringe as an entity (the Fringe Office) does not stage, produce or directly promote the shows.

It can cost, over-all, around £7,500 to stage a fairly average Fringe show – venue costs, accommodation, promotion (including £400 to write Fringe Programme’s 40 words) etc etc.

100% of this is paid for by the performers.

The Fringe does not pay for the shows. The Fringe does not pay for the £400 show listings within the Fringe Programme.

So why does the Fringe claim that the £400 small ads (because that is what they are) within the Fringe Programme have (in the words of the man in charge) to “adhere to the style guide” and be “grammatically correct”?

In the Edinburgh Evening News yesterday, Neil Mackinnon, Head of External Affairs for the Fringe, said:

“It is not for us to vet the content of anyone’s shows – that’s one of our principles”.

Well, he is talking bollocks. And they are not even disguised, Photoshopped bollocks.

The Fringe are vetting the content of the ads people pay £400 to run. And not just for what they now (but did not in previous years) regard as ‘rude’ words. According to the Fringe’s own Publications Manager, the paid-for £400 non-rude words are vetted because they have to conform with the “style guide” – no use of $$$ in a title, for example – and be “grammatical”. Why?

The road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

In effect, the Edinburgh Fringe are now insisting on artistic control of the promotion of all Fringe shows. And charging performers £400 for the privilege not to have control of their own advertising.

The people who think of themselves as ‘good guys’ have turned into ‘rip-off’ merchants.

American comic Lewis Schaffer (who is staging two shows at this year’s Fringe – that means two Fringe Programme entries at £394 each) commented on a blog I wrote a couple of days ago:

“Next year I am not going to register my show with the Fringe and instead I will spend the money more effectively by paying the first 700 punters £1 each to come into my show. Or enrol everyone who comes to my show in a £700 lottery. Or spend £700 extra pounds buying drinks for the other acts bled dry by the Fringe Society.”

He may not be joking.

And he has a point.

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Filed under Ad industry, Censorship, Comedy, Marketing, PR, Theatre

Barking mad censorship continues at the Edinburgh Fringe Programme office

The censored and acceptable Edinburgh Fringe show image

Yesterday, I blogged about the insanity and inanity which has characterised the compilation of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme this year. In particular, the barking mad decision by the Fringe that the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PRICK was unacceptable and that it should be replaced by the title STUART GOLDSMITH: PR!CK which was acceptable.

Commenting on my blog, Stuart’s reaction was: “I thought this was an isolated incident, but I’m genuinely disturbed by how many people have come forward and said they’ve had copy disallowed for reasons of ‘taste’, ‘decency’ or ‘house style’. This was the Edinburgh Fringe we were talking about – What’s happened?!”

The other cracker which I mentioned yesterday was that comedian Richard Herring’s updated version of his 2002 show TALKING COCK (which was printed in the Fringe Programme under that title with no problem in 2002) had been changed by the Fringe Office – without his knowledge – from TALKING COCK: THE SECOND COMING to TALKING C*CK: THE SECOND COMING.

Quite why the word ‘cock’ (which, in this context comes from ‘cock & bull story’ – a phrase with a totally non-sexual origin and meaning) was deemed offensive but, in this context, the word ‘coming’ was deemed inoffensive is a mystery.

And it remains a mystery. And it is not alone. Australian comedian Jon Bennett is performing his first Edinburgh Fringe show PRETENDING THINGS ARE A COCK at the Edinburgh Fringe this August.

The show’s title has been printed in full without any problem in the brochures for the Adelaide Fringe, the Edmonton International Fringe, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the Montreal Fringe and the Vancouver International Fringe. And, this August, the Edinburgh Comedy Festival booklet/posters/flyers will have ‘Cock’ written in full in Pretending Things Are a Cock, but the official Edinburgh Fringe Programme will not.

This morning, producer Bronwyn Hooton told me: “It’s baffling to think that the Edinburgh Fringe – the largest fringe in the world – is censoring the art forms that appear within it, when your own Commonwealth countries do not.”

The Edinburgh Fringe, this year, seems determined to become a laughing stock world-wide, not just in Britain.

Bronwyn continued: “The welcome video on EdFringe.com says: The Fringe was created 65 years ago when eight companies who hadn’t been invited to take part in the international festival, in the true show-business tradition and in a flash-mob style decided to stage their work anyway. On a tradition of open-access and freedom, to have censorship issues from the Edinburgh Fringe Office themselves seems to go against this ethos they claim to abide by.”

The word ‘cock’ in Pretending Things Are a Cock had to be censored (to ‘c*ck’) on the image used in the Fringe Programme because the word was deemed to be offensive, though the image itself (see above) was not.

I could barely believe my eyes when I saw this censored image.

But it is a very nice asterisk and, obviously, it has made a big difference.

Has the Fringe Office got their kn*ckers in a twist and gone completely mad this year?

Well, yes, apparently it has.

The Chortle comedy website yesterday pointed out that, printed in the upcoming Fringe Programme will be “a show called Molly Wobbly’s Tit Factory, which has escaped the blue pencil, comic Chris McCausland has been allowed to use the quote from a Chortle review ‘balls-out funny’ and a show called Sex Ed: The Musical contains the blurb: Have you ever tried hand-to-gland combat? Playing the clitar? Spelunking? Have you ever been vaginally tardy?

Writing in his blog yesterday, Richard Herring pointed out that Kunt and The Gang’s name is acceptably print-worthy to the Fringe Office, as is Reginald D.Hunter’s show title Work in Progress… And Nigga (Reg has a tradition of putting Nigga in his titles) and that, indeed, in Richard’s own Programme entry, the Fringe Office took no exception to the phrase “the yoghurt-spitting sausage” but, somehow, ‘cock’ was too much for them to swallow.

Comedian Jody Kamali commented that the Fringe Office “said I couldn’t use three dollar signs in a row ‘$$$’ in my Fringe entry, as it didn’t fit their ‘house style’.”

Also, following my blog yesterday, Chortle phoned the Fringe Office and reported that “when asked why certain words are deemed offensive and others not – and how Herring’s title was changed without him knowing until now – the Fringe office said they did not wish to comment.”

No surprise there. But there was a surprise that – several weeks after the final deadline had past – the Fringe Office told Richard Herring yesterday that his very expensive quarter page ad in the Fringe Programme was suddenly also unacceptable. He was told that he would have to disguise the word ‘cock’ by removing the letter ‘O’.

In his blog yesterday, Richard wrote: “I wonder will the Fringe brochure people object if the “O” of cock is… hidden behind a big splurge of dripping white liquid… (it) might be allowed because a splurge of white liquid is not on the list of rude words.”

The two substitute censored versions he submitted to the Fringe are below:

“Talking Cock” – censored with an asterisk

“Talking Cock” – censored with a splurge

Presumably, the Fringe Office objected to Richard Herring’s ‘cock’ because of what they perceived as the use of a genital word (even though the common phrase Talking Cock is not sexual in origin).

However, they had no objection to a review quote on the ad, which says:

“Man’s answer to the Vagina Monologues – The Guardian”

So, apparently the word ‘cock’ (in the context of the non-sexual-origined phrase Talking Cock) is unacceptable but the word ‘vagina’ (which has a solely genital meaning) is completely acceptable.

Richard Herring, in his blog yesterday, wrote:

“Whilst I acknowledge there is a point where some choice has to be made over what is suitable to go into a general publication, I am concerned about the draconian level of censorship that is occurring here and what it says about what the Fringe is turning into. This should be the last place where freedom of expression is clamped down on.”

Or, as Richard said to me: “Underneath the silliness and twatdom it’s a very important issue”.

What on earth is going on?

One thing is certain. There is no point asking the Fringe Office.

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Filed under Censorship, Comedy, Language, PR