Tag Archives: Scotsman

At the Edinburgh Fringe, physical attacks on comedians and on a critic

Comedian Charmian Hughes is married to comedy magician David Don’t.

Her Edinburgh Fringe show Charmian Hughes: Odd One In includes tales of kissing disgraced government minister Chris Huhn. It is part of the PBH Free Fringe.

David’s show David Don’t: The Delusionist (unbilled in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme) is one of Bob Slayer’s Heroes of Fringe shows within the Laughing Horse Free Festival – whom PBH of the Free Fringe sees as bitter competitors.

I met Charmian and David at the Pleasance Dome shortly after she had collected him at Waverley station, off a train from London.

It is David’s first Fringe and he is only performing for three days – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week – at Bob’s Bookshop. He was also keen to promote his new website.

“It’s been put together,” he told me, “by the fantastic new web designer (and comedian) Harriet Bowden…”

“She’s not called that any more,” said Charmian.

“Oh no,” said David, “she’s Lyndon Grady.”

“She’s designed me a new website too,” added Charmian. “Harriet went to a numerologist, who told her great success would only come by changing her name. So she has changed her name to Lyndon Grady. Isn’t that the name of the person who married Catherine Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights or was that Lytton Strachey? Anyway, everyone loves magic, except for me. A magician says what he’s going to do – like a dustman says what he’s going to do – and does it. Where’s the entertainment in that?”

“Except,” I pointed out, “that, when David says he’s going to do a trick, it often doesn’t work.”

“I never set out to fail,” said David Don’t.

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

David Don’t opens his wallet for Charmian Hughes yesterday

“I almost lost David once, through his magic,” Charmian continued. “It was when he was doing escapology from a postman’s sack at Pull The Other One. He was handcuffed and tied up in the bag and was failing to get out. One of the people in the audience said: Let’s put him on a bus.

“I don’t do magic at home any more,” David told me. “Charmian looks at me and doesn’t ask How did you do that? She asks Why did you do that? I think she’d rather find me wanking off to a porn mag than playing with a pack of cards. I don’t leave packs of cards round the house any more.”

“But do you lea…” I started to ask.

“Don’t go there…” said Charmian. “Barry Lyndon… That’s who I was thinking of. Have you noticed that Sean Hughes’ Edinburgh show is called Penguins but there is no image of a penguin on his poster? And I am Charmian Hughes. There is no penguin in my show title, but I have a picture of a penguin on my poster. That’s not planned. It’s a random serendipity of the universe.”

“When do the actual penguins arrive for your show?” I asked.

“Tuesday,” replied Charmian.

“And on Wednesday,” I said, “Andy Zapp and Ivor Dembina have a gorilla arriving to appear in their show for the rest of their run. Isn’t that a coincidence?”

“No,” said Charmian.

My secret view revealed

Non-secret launch party for book last night

Then the three of us went off to the launch of the new Secret Edinburgh book (my non-humorous piece is on page 179) at Bob’s Bookshop.

On my third day here, I saw Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show and the two performers in it asked me not to name them in my resultant blog. So I did not.

They were Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose – the comedy double act Ellis & Rose.

The reason I can name them now is that other, arguably less amiable, sources have.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show has currently received three 1-star reviews and one 3-star review.

“We feel that the 3-star review in The Skinny has ruined it,” Richard Rose told me outside Bob’s Bookshop last night. “That 3-star review is getting in the way of us doing one of the Shit of The Fringe competitions. We might ignore the 3-stars.”

The 1-star reviews came from Broadway Baby, London Is Funny and the Chortle website with Three Weeks still to publish its review.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

STAR Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

“We fear it might be more than one star,” Gareth Ellis told me.

“As well as Jimmy Savile,” I said, “I saw your own show at The Hive and it was all over the place, but I thought you were both TV presenter material. Very loveable and amiable and jolly; just no linear script.”

“There IS a script,” said Richard. “This is what irritates us slightly. It’s all written down and we play around with it.”

“But not a linear script,” I suggested.

“That’s not what we do,” argued Richard. “We’re fun and, today, we had a cracking show, but this heckler blundered into the room in the last five minutes.”

“He stumbled in and sat down at the back of the room,” explained Gareth. “He had a bottle of vodka in his hand – a big one – and it was half empty and he just shouted out: Yer mum!

Yer mum!” agreed Richard, “and I said Sir, it seems like an odd time, about three minutes before the end, to start heckling and that got a laugh. And then it came to the point in our show where Gareth says I’m feeling sexy! and the guy shouted out You’re not sexy – You’re shit! and Gareth just exploded… in character.”

Ellis (left) & Rose walk the Edinburgh streets alone last night

Ellis (left) & Rose walk Edinburgh’s mean streets last night

Gareth said: “I told him You will feel the wrath of my sex! and slammed a chair down on the floor.”

“And you started humping the chair,” said Richard. “And people were applauding. People loved it.”

“He kept going on and I kept putting him down,” said Gareth. “And then the show finished, we got changed, went outside and the heckler was waiting for us. He said: You’re them two cunts who do that Savile thing! and took a swing at me. I managed to dodge it and he managed to land a slap on Richard and then we legged it.”

“For about two hours afterwards, it was really funny,” said Richard. “Fucking hell! I can’t believe we provoked that much reaction! But then it seemed to be less funny and we were quite shaken and now we’re just befuddled and a bit drunk.”

Two minutes after talking to Gareth Ellis and Richard Rose, I was inside Bob’s Bookshop, talking to Scotsman newspaper reporter and reviewer Claire Smith.

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (of Topping & Butch)

Claire Smith consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

“A couple of nights ago,” she told me, “I was walking home and I was very, very tired. I went to Tesco to buy some avocados and there were a whole load of guys running round from one side of the road to the other on Great Junction Street in Leith, throwing eggs at people’s houses, trying to hit the windows.

“Then one of them ran along behind me and whacked me really hard on the back of my head with his hand. So I’ve got this huge bump on the back of my head and I have concussion.”

“Have you seen a doctor?” I asked.

“No,” Claire told me, “I went to see Bob Slayer. “I needed medical advice and I thought Bob’s an ex-jockey who’s fallen off loads of horses. So, in between seeing shows, I thought I’d pop in and see what he said. He’s got a very calm, helpful side to him. It’s ‘Quiet Bob’ and I sometimes pop in hoping to catch Quiet Bob. I really like Quiet Bob.

“It was just before his own show started; he was dealing with a load of Phil Kay’s books which had just arrived; and there were all sorts of admin things going on to do with the bar at Bob’s Bookshop. But, when I told him what had happened, he sat down and chatted to me about it, which was very sweet. But what happened after I got hit was…”

“You went down?” I asked.

“No,” said Claire, “which is strange, because I fall over all the time. I just didn’t fall over when someone tried to make me fall over.

“I shouted something – I don’t know – You’re an arsehole! Fuck off! What are you doing? – they were across the street now, a big gang of them. And then this huge guy came and stood next to me. He was like a knight in shining armour.

Stuart - Claire’s knight in shining armour

Stuart – knight in shining armour

“He started speaking really slowly and really quietly and it was frightening because the gang of guys carried on shouting and they followed us for a bit.

“The big guy told me My bus isn’t for half an hour, so I’m going to walk you home and he walked me round the corner and then they started throwing eggs after us which were hitting the wall beside us and hitting the pavement in front of us.

“The big guy said to me: If they catch us, just run away. He said: You might need a brandy. So we went to a pub and I asked What do you do for a living? and he said I’m the most hated person in Edinburgh.

What do you mean? I asked.

I’m a traffic warden, he told me.

“He’s an ex-Army guy called Stuart. He had been shot twice – in Kosovo and somewhere else. He showed me his bullet holes in the pub.”

“Where were they?” I asked.

“They were both in his back,” Claire told me. “It was odd. Because Matt Price is staying at my house during the Fringe and I was thinking This is the sort of thing that happens to Matt. We have been invaded by the story-telling gods.”

Lewis Schaffer consoled last night by Topping (without Butch)

As I left the Secret Edinburgh book launch at Bob’s Bookshop, I picked up one of the daily Broadway Baby review sheets with, on the front, a review of actor Brian Blessed’s one-man show Shout: The Life of Brian.

Oh, I didn’t know he was doing a show, I thought to myself.

On my way home, at around 1.30am in the morning, I bumped into Arthur Smith in a kebab shop.

He is guest on the first of my Edinburgh Fringe chat shows next Monday. The show finishes at 4.30pm and, at 5.00pm, Arthur is getting on a train back to London. The audience will be invited to accompany him to Waverley station.

“Are you still doing my chat show next Monday?” I asked him. It is always worth checking everything in Edinburgh.

“Of course,” he replied. “I’m looking forward to people waving me off at the station.”

When I got back to my flat, I found a series of Tweets:

Broadway Baby - send in the cunning comedy clones

Broadway Baby – send in the cunning stunt clones

Broadway Baby ‏- They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This isn’t us folks. Someone’s copying BB! pic.twitter.com/YWPV32QCJK

Sean Brightman ‏- That is very funny.

Broadway Baby ‏- We are bemused and baffled by the effort someone’s put into this!

Sean Brightman – Well, the clue may be in the reviews methinks. And if it is who I think it is, he should win an award.

Broadway Baby – Best publicity stunt this year? Writing your own audience reviews happens. Printing an entire edition? That’s a first!

Sean Brightman – Yep, it should be in the running for a @thejohnfleming Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt award.

I looked up the Fringe Programme to check if Brian Blessed really was performing a show called Shout: The Life of Brian. It was not in the Fringe Programme. According to the Broadway Baby review, it was supposedly being performed at the Underbelly’s DistendedBelly venue.

Then I read the rave review on the sheet of Barry Fearn’s show Barry on Arthur’s Seat – 6 stars – “A phenomenal show. Better than life itself” – and went to bed.

Reality, fantasy, a few laughs and occasional random violence.

Welcome to the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, Lewis Schaffer turns down a review by Kate Copstick; Bob Slayer strips another reviewer

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

Noel Faulkner trying to give away £20 notes

London Comedy Cafe Theatre owner Noel Faulkner has been staying in my Edinburgh flat the last couple of days, on a quick trip up to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Yesterday, he tried standing in the street, offering £20 notes to people if they would see a particular show – just to find out if they would. No-one would.

“People weren’t interested,” he told me, “unless there were Dancing on Ice stars in the show. The Edinburgh Fringe is dead. Mediocrity reigns.”

The Fringe – perhaps as always – is certainly in a state of flux.

And – perhaps as always – it is to do with money.

Yesterday, this blog published comedian Bob Slayer’s piece about ticket prices at the Edinburgh Fringe which The Scotsman newspaper commissioned but refused to print.

The Big Four venues at the Fringe are often criticised (including in this blog) for making money out of performers and being responsible for inflated ticket prices.

But someone yesterday (not connected to the Big Four venues) pointed out to me that the Big Four venues are as much held to ransom financially as the performers. One un-publicised villain of the piece, it was put to me, is Edinburgh University.

The Edinburgh Fringe

There’s a lot of it at the Edinburgh Fringe – but who gets it?

I was told by someone with alleged access to the figures (which I cannot confirm) that over 75% of the tickets sold at all venues (excluding the Free Fringe and Free Festival) are sold in venues rented out by Edinburgh University at high rates. These “exhorbitant” (the word used to me) fixed overheads mean that ticket prices have to be higher than they would otherwise be. Not only that but, normally, the takings from bars on property ultimately owned by Edinburgh University go not to the Fringe venues but to Edinburgh University and its Students’ Association. An exception would be the Udderbelly in public Bristo Square.

So all that visible money-making ‘exploitation’ of Fringe punters’ pockets is coming not from the venue owners but the ultimate landlord of the properties which the venues rent.

If you are a performer at the Edinburgh Fringe, all you want is lots of bums on seats and a good review from Kate Copstick in The Scotsman.

Unless you are Lewis Schaffer.

Yesterday, Copstick told me she had gone to see Matt Price’s much-talked-about unbilled show at The Hive: Matt Price Is Not In The Program: Turkeygate, Tinky Winky & The Mafia.

“I loved it,” she told me last night. “Matt is wonderful, warm, but very, very needy and that just gives me an overwhelming urge to smack him in the face. But he’s wonderful with the audience and the show was tremendous.

“I came out of Matt’s show with a glow and a terrible bout of acid stomach, so I was heading up Niddry Street to get some emergency Gavescon, when I bumped into Lewis Schaffer – He was the next show at The Hive and I was there to review him. Matt’s show finishes as 7.30 and Lewis starts at 8.00.

Lewis Schaffer needs no reviews

Lewis Schaffer: a man with no shoes

“So Lewis Schaffer says: Oh! Kate Copstick! Kate Copstick!

“No tongues?” I asked.

“Thank goodness. No tongues,” said Copstick. “But I told him: I’m coming to review your show.

No, you’re not! he told me. Well I am, I said.

No, no, you shouldn’t come, he said. You know what it’s gonna be like.

“I said: Well, I like to think I’m open-minded as a critic and I don’t assume that I know what anybody’s show is going to be like. 

No! You know what it’ll be like, said Lewis. OK, you could give me 3 stars, you could give me 2 stars, but you’ll probably give me 4 stars.

“I said: Well, it’s rather unseemly for you, as a performer, to assume you are confident enough in my work as a critic to know what the star count will be. 

Well, you know, you shouldn’t come, he said.

I’ll be there, I told him. But, as I walked up and back – and it may have been the shock of having to pay £5 for a tiny bottle of Gavescon – I thought Fuck this! I absolutely adore Lewis, love his work. I gave him great reviews when no-one else even knew he was there.

“But I mean, you never know when he is being tongue-in-cheek. Well, you do. His tongue is massive, but his cheek is bigger. And I thought Fuck this! I’ll go and see someone else. And I did.”

Copstick is the one reviewer everyone (apart from, it seems, Lewis Schaffer) wants to come and see their shows.

But one massive pet hate of most performers is the use by some (not all) of the seemingly expanding number of Edinburgh Fringe publications of young, amateur reviewers.

bobslayer_bawbags_10aug2013

Bob Slayer – unusually over-dressed last night

Last week, I was at one of Bob Slayer’s Midnight Mayhem shows at Bob’s Bookshop. Among the crowd in the main room was a reviewer for one of the Fringe publications. He looked very young and inexperienced.

“I spotted him all fresh-faced with his press pass around his neck,” Bob Slayer told me yesterday, “and I told him: You can only be reviewing for one of two publications.

“So that’s why I took his press pass off him,” Bob told me. “After you left, the gig turned down to about a dozen people. Adam Larter took acts and they went and had a party in the back room while I told stories to punters in the front room.

“I asked the young guy how many shows he’d seen and he started talking about the ones he’d reviewed and I said No, no, no. Before you reviewed a show, how many shows had you seen? and he said None… And that’s a reviewer for one of the Fringe papers!

“But I got to like this guy, cos he was honest. And he said: Well, we’re perfectly entitled to review… and actually maybe a review from an ordinary person is better than a review from a bitter and jaded old hack. Except Copstick. She’s fine. An opinion is an opinion.”

“Well,” I said, “I suppose ignorant reviewers are the ‘real’ audience. People who know who Freddie ‘Parrot Face’ Davies or Arthur Askey was are not the comedy-going audience who read reviews to find out which shows they may like.”

“We made the gig all about teaching him about comedy,” Bob said. “He didn’t even know who Morecambe and Wise were, let alone Malcolm Hardee. He’s like an ‘open mic’ reviewer. He told me they don’t get paid anything. They offer them some training and a reference and that’s it.

“The long and short of it is, the little lad came in at midnight to review the show and left at 5:30am in only his underpants carrying his clothes and shoes. He had also stamped all over his hairless chest with my Bob Slayer ink stamp. As he stumbled into the street he asked where his press pass was. I told him that he would have to come back for it the next day – and settle his bar tab. The little lamb came in very hung-over the next day. I think he will become the greatest reviewer at the Edinburgh Fringe, because I have trained him up to send him out into the world to go out and review properly. He has had a Fringe experience.”

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The bad review of the unauthorised Father Ted stage show at the Edinburgh Fringe and the threatened legal action

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

The Father Ted logo from the original Channel 4 TV series

If you are a performer, reviewers are like Americans. It is difficult to live with them, but it is difficult to live without them.

Getting a bad review can be very upsetting, though.

Yesterday morning Garry Platt, photographer, occasional Edinburgh Fringe reviewer and one of the So It Goes blog’s increasing number of men-in-the-street with his finger-on-the-pulse, drew my attention to an amazing Fringe story.

The previous day, reviewer Amy Taylor had blogged about a theatre/comedy review she had written at the recent Edinburgh Fringe. It was her fourth year there as reviewer and, in her blog, she did not name the show she reviewed. She described it as “a two-hour long interactive comedy show, that involved actors impersonating characters from a famous TV comedy”.

She had booked her Fringe tickets via the show’s PR lady.

Amy says in her blog: “I wrote what was I felt was a negative, yet honest and fair review, which was published on The Public Reviews website shortly after. In my review, I stated that the show was ‘unauthorised’ as when I researched the show, I found a number of articles and quotes from the makers of the TV show saying that the show had not been authorised by them.”

Amy Taylor’s blog about the controversial Fringe review

It is well worth reading Amy’s full blog here but the potted story is this…

… A few days after the review was published, a barrage of e-mails started from the show’s PR lady, culminating in a threat of legal action for libel. Even this escalated with, Amy says in her blog, accusations of conspiracy.

Amy’s view is that “the intimidation, bullying and harassment of journalists simply because someone disagrees with what they have written, is immoral, unethical and odious. My advice to any company that is disappointed with a review is to see what they can take from it. If the review is constructive, then there will be something positive in there that you can learn from.”

She also points out that “journalists communicate with one another. This means that if you threaten a writer or a publication with legal proceedings, other writers will hear about it. Once others learn about your treatment of journalists, it damages your reputation more than any negative review ever could. Some might say that’s ironic, but to me, that’s poetic justice.”

Amy’s review is still online here at The Public Reviews.

The stage show logo, as published with the review

The show she reviewed was Ted & Co: The Dinner Show, staged by the British company Laughlines Comedy Entertainment who also have Fawlty Towers: The Dinner Show in their repertoire (not to be confused with a rival Australian company’s show Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience).

Laughlines claims to be “the UK’s leading comedy entertainment company” – something which I think might be disputed by the BBC etc.

I asked PR guru Mark Borkowski what he thought about the handling of this affair. He has vast Edinburgh Fringe experience – he legendarily got acres of coverage for Archaos in two separate years by simply claiming they were going to juggle chainsaws during their show (they were not) and then having people ring up and complain to the Council and to the press.

He told me yesterday: “In PR, legal action is a threat of the very  last resort. Jaw-jaw before war-war. It reminds me of the Private Eye reply to a letter they received threatening legal action. The letter said:

Our attitude to damages will be influenced by the speed and sincerity of your apology.

Private Eye’s reply was:

“Tell your client to fuck off – Sincere enough for you?

“Frankly,” Borkowski told me, “every bad review is an opportunity.

“According to Claire Smith at The Scotsman,” he told me, “2012 was a high bullshit mark on the old Festival’s Plimsoll line. There were more PR people running around the Fringe than performers.”

So, obviously, I asked Claire Smith what she thought.

“I think there was definitely more paranoia around this year,” she told me, “and a lot of misunderstanding about the way PR people and journalists work together. PR people helped me get interviews – get comments on things – check information. But I heard a lot of spurious theories about the way PR people influence reviews which I would not agree with…

“Reviews are not as powerful as they once were because of the influence of social media and I would say that is a good thing. Social media has amplified the word of mouth effect – which has always been one of the great things about the Fringe. But the numbers of people getting paid to write reviews is shrinking. Are we losing something? I think we are… Though I would still argue reviewers can add something to the mix.

“I’m glad Amy blogged about her experience. I’ve had similar experiences myself in the past and it is very upsetting.”

(Claire refers to a recent report she wrote for The Scotsman on the financing of the Edinburgh Fringe and being threatened, during her research,  by a prominent venue owner and a prominent British comedian.)

Australian John Robertson, who had two shows at this year’s festival tells me: “The only PR people I saw at the Fringe drank with me in various bars, danced with each other, knew each other and when gathered in a group, all began to look and sound exactly the same. My PR was lovely, but I can’t speak to a deluge. Though I did see the high watermark of bullshit (fake stars, stars from odd places, reviews with plenty… of… this) but that begat its own backlash from punters, which is lovely.”

There is another angle to this story, though. That the Ted & Co stage show at the Fringe this year had no authorisation from the copyright owners of Father Ted.

Mark Borkowski told me: “Clearly there is a rights issue. If I was a corporate TV rottweiler legal, I would take a good look at the company’s output. Do BBC Worldwide know they are staging Fawlty Towers or Father Ted?” (BBC Worldwide distribute Channel 4’s Father Ted series)

Comedian Ian Fox pointed out to me that the Chortle comedy website had posted an article raising worries about Father Ted: The Dinner Show when it was performed at the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe.

In a posting on my Facebook page yesterday, comedian Richard Herring put into words what I myself had been thinking: “I simply don’t understand (and never have) how they are allowed to do this without the consent of the people who created the characters.”

Ian Fox suggests: “The Fringe Society does question whether or not you’ll be using music in a show and you pay relevant PRS fees at the end of your run. I don’t see why they can’t ask when you fill in your Programme registration If you’re using characters and material created by others do you have the rights to perform the material? and simply not allow anyone who doesn’t have rights into the main Programme.”

As regular readers of this blog will know, Ian was randomly attacked in the street during this year’s Fringe. I can report he is slowly mending.

Ian Fox experienced one of the dangers of the Fringe

“I’m free from noticeable bruising,” he tells me. “Still not got the feeling in two teeth at the front. I believe it’s the infraorbital nerve that is damaged/injured and, once the areas that are under the skin have healed, the feeling should come back. I have more feeling in the teeth than last week. However lots of movement appears to make my face ache.

“What’s more annoying though is the fact that I appear to be showing signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in that I’m very jumpy in busy places and still don’t like being out at night. Which is making gigging a bit difficult.”

He is still gigging widely.

But, with threats of legal action over bad reviews and physical attacks on comedians in the street, the Edinburgh Fringe seems like it is getting to be an increasingly dangerous place to be in August.

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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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I criticised the BBC shows first! Plus today’s other Edinburgh Fringe tales.

You read it first here (Photo by Kat Gollock)

This morning’s Scotsman newspaper carries an article saying that the pay-to-enter venues at the Edinburgh Fringe are having a bad time with ticket sales down anything from 7% to 30%. This is rather odd as, at the start of the Fringe, I seem to remember the same venues were saying sales were 70% up – a figure that always smelled of bullshit to me.

Interestingly, part of the blame for lower ticket sales is being put onto the BBC which, this year, has been staging a veritable cornucopia of free shows.

Coincidentally – remembering that self publicity is what keeps the Fringe going – the new issue of Three Weeks hits the streets today. That means I can publish on this here blog the column which I wrote in last week’s issue of Three Weeks, which was headlined Is Auntie Stealing Your Bums on Seats?

In it Mervyn Stutter, who has been staging his Pick of the Fringe shows for 21 years, criticised the BBC for putting on so many free Fringe shows this year. Remember, dear reader, that you get the news and views first by reading my columns and blogs! Among Mervyn’s comments last week were:

“Their (the BBC’s) shows are free. They have stars in. And you don’t have to pay. Why is the BBC doing so many shows here? It spreads the audience energy too wide. In the past, there have been only one or two BBC shows and there have been queues round the block. Performers think: ‘Oh, that would have been nice for an audience at my show’. But it’s free and it’s famous and it’s the BBC. It’s an attractive deal. I would go. Brilliant… if there were only a couple of shows. But this year there are acres of BBC shows. I’m sorry. It’s irritating. It’s the Fringe… It’s hard enough already. It’s a legitimate complaint. I’ve nothing against the BBC, but why are they here putting on so many shows?”

You can read what Mervyn said to me in full here.

But now back to yesterday and the genuine PBH Free Fringe and Laughing Horse Free Festival shows.

I bumped into Paul B Edwards flyering in the street for his show Songs in the Key of Death outside the Banshee Labyrinth venue. He said he had not bothered to put a listing in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme this year because it was not worth forking out almost £400 to list a free show.

Not listing a show in the main Programme has the upside that you save almost £400 but the downside that you cannot expect to get reviewed. Paul does not care about that. But he shared with me an interesting idea about reviewers.

With Fringe shows often being reviewed by unpaid 20-year-olds, he suggested that starting-out reviewers should only, at first, be allowed to review 5 or 10 minute open spot acts. Then, like the acts themselves, reviewers with a bit of experience under their belts could progress to 20-minute acts. Then they could start to get paid to review longer acts or whole club shows and, after 5 or 6 years, once they knew what the were doing, they would be allowed to review 60-minute performances at the Fringe.

It is, indeed, odd that one publication this year is actually printing blurbs like: Cynthia Smyth-McTavish has written 4 reviews since joining our team in 2012.

Well, at least they are being honest that she has no experience!

Half an hour after bumping into Paul B Edwards, I walked into the Gilded Balloon to see Doug Segal’s How To Read Minds and Influence People.

After the show, I told him (I saw his show last year too): “It was a bloody amazing show, Doug. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful audience manipulation. Really jaw-droppingly impressive.”

So far, it has garnered two 5-star reviews and six 4-star reviews. I would have given it a 5-star last night.

Doug told me in all seriousness: “You came to the worst show of the run. I’m really sorry.”

What can you do with performers?

As I went in to see Doug’s show, I bumped into my chum Laura Lexx rushing between her two shows. She had just strutted her energetic stuff in the excellent comedy sketch show Maff Brown’s Parade of This at the Gilded Balloon – a very funny show in which she is oddly and erroneously teased for being a boy, something visibly untrue… She was rushing to get over to TheSpace @Surgeon’s Hall to appear in a serious drama show which shall remain nameless as the production company turned down my request for a free ticket. Petty? What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t be petty?

On the other hand, their show is inspired by Chekhov and I am getting free tickets under the banner of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. Perhaps they thought I wasn’t serious.

“I’ve only got 40 minutes between shows,” Laura told me, “and I just fell off my stool in a moth suit.”

“I might mention it in my blog,” I told her – my now automatic reaction to anything anyone tells me. But then I stopped and thought. “What?” I asked. “A moth suit? Why we’re you dressed as a moth? I don’t remember a moth sketch when I came to see the show.”

“A MORPH suit,” she said.

“A moth suit is funnier,” I said.

“Then say that,” she told me. “You can say I have a slightly broken leg if it helps!” and then she disappeared into the crowds.

Breaking a literal leg is the sort of thing Bob Slayer would do on a whim to get a single line of publicity. I have told him I am going to charge him rent for appearing in this blog.

In his latest attempt to get a plug, he told me:

“I have now come up with this new Fringe show concept mid-Fringe… My show Bob Slayer – He’s A Very Naughty Boy – at The Hive – has become a Trilogy! Each part is self-contained and can be seen in any order or in isolation…

“When I did some previews for my show, they ended up about two hours long, but I figured, if I removed the distractions and tangents, it would boil down to under an hour. Unfortunately, after my first week up here, I realised that I love a good tangent and distraction and I am simply unable to remove them! So, each night, I was failing to get beyond the first third of my story of getting banned and my other problems in Australia and beyond…

“And then the answer came to me when stepping out on stage and seeing a bunch of people return from the day before. Why not just start off where I left off yesterday? I did this the following night and it went a cracker! People bought tickets for the next part of the show on the way out of the venue, which is always a good sign! Mervyn Stutter’s scout signed me up for his Pick of the Fringe show and Bernard, the comedy editor of The Skinny who, earlier in the Fringe, had given me a generous one star review… took me out on the piss for the night…”

Still trying to assimilate all thus, I rushed across to the Pleasance Courtyard to see Jon Bennett’s Pretending Things Are a Cock which does what it says on the label but has an interesting amount of story depth to it. As I rushed past three men drinking outside a bar, I heard one say to the others (and I am not making this up):

Adam Smith, yes. David Hume, maybe. But Henry Dundas? You must be joking!”

I then proceeded to Pretending Things Are a Cock.

Edinburgh is an interesting city.

The latest issue of Three Weeks – in Edinburgh

My latest Three Weeks column is on the streets today. It is about publicity stunts. If you are not in Edinburgh – and why would you not be? – you can read it online here or download the whole Three Weeks issue as a PDF by clicking here.

I will be posting my column on this blog in a week’s time, once it has disappeared from the streets of Edinburgh like a used, discarded and doused fire-eating busker.

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Why the Malcolm Hardee Awards are the REAL Fringe Comedy Awards

(This blog was also published by the Huffington Post)

I hate to be bitchy, but those other Edinburgh Fringe comedy awards – the ones that used to be called the Perrier Awards, which seem to have had almost annual name changes since then and are now, it seems, forever to be called “the former Perrier Awards” – well, Perrier must be laughing all the way to the bar… they no longer have to fork out any money but they still get their name splattered all over the media every August, associated with youth-attractive comedy…

I am a bit behind in the Twittersphere, but recently I saw a tweet from those other awards – the corporate Voldemort whose name we should not speak – and it said:

“Team enjoying traditional opening night supper before it all starts with annual lunch tmrw….”

I felt proper sorry for my own sweat-shopped Malcolm Hardee Award judges.

They toil in the vineyard of comedy talent, searching for strange and wonderful new saplings (sometimes freakishly deformed ones) and they get nothing, nowt, zilch – not even a name-check unless you look carefully on some obscure page of the Malcolm Hardee website.

I think there is a danger – much as with charities – of getting too much sponsorship. There is a danger of the mechanics of the search for talent becoming as important as the search.

Of course, if some company wanted to throw money at the Malcolm Hardee Awards,  I would probably be delighted. Where is Bill Gates when you need him? He may make shit computer software (I’m an Apple man myself) but he has user-friendly money that does not crash and who cares about children in Africa?** As Malcolm used to say:

“Fuck it! It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa. Not all over. Round the edge – fish.”

I would be a little uncomfortable with sponsorship money to run the Malcolm Hardee Awards; it would feel like it was somehow against the spirit of the Edinburgh Fringe.

The whole spirit of the Fringe is to come up to Edinburgh every August and tear up your own hard-earned £50 notes while standing in the pouring rain.

And getting sponsored by some large conglomerate would not seem to be keeping alive the spirit of Malcolm – ironically. Because, if BP, Rupert Murdoch or Microsoft had thrown money at him when he was alive, he would have taken it and screwed them for everything he could.

In a recent interview in The Scotsman, the immensely talented comedian and actor Phil Nichol said:

“I want to be like Malcolm Hardee… He was inspirational. I went to his funeral and there must have been 800 people there, who had all been inspired by him.”

I joke that, when organising anything in Malcolm’s memory (he drowned in 2005), I am in a win-win situation. If everything goes smoothly, it will reflect well on me as a slick and efficient professional. If it all falls apart into a desperate, shambolic mess, it will seem I have upheld the true Heath Robinson spirit of Malcolm’s shows – and it will reflect equally well on me as a master of mayhem.

I think, of the two options, I prefer the second.

I organised full-blown variety shows in Malcolm’s memory at the Hackney Empire, London, in 2006 (five hours), 2007 (five hours), at the Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh in 2009 (90 minutes) and now, this Friday, in the ballroom of the Counting House in Edinburgh (2 hours)… to be preceded by Malcolm Hardee Comedy Punch-Up Debates on Monday/Tuesday and spaghetti-juggling on Wednesday/Thursday. It is the first ever Malcolm Hardee Week and is part of the Free Festival – all the shows are free. I hope Malcolm would have approved.

All the acts will perform without any payment; they do it purely to honour Malcolm’s memory; and I take no fee of any kind; I do not cover any of my costs.

That is not really pure altruism. I feel I could not ask top acts to perform for free if there were any suspicion that I was dodgily making any money in any way from the stuff… as Malcolm might have done!

Originally, in 2007, I was going to buy the other Malcolm Hardee judges a good slap-up meal to thank them for their work. The practicalities of getting them all together at any given time was too much to cope with, so I just gave up. Now, if they are lucky, they might get a cheap drink each during the Fringe.

It is not a well-honed, efficient machine which sees every show and sifts everything scientifically. I specifically chose as judges critics whose normal jobs at the Fringe involves seeing lots of shows anyway. And I chose a quality spread – The Scotsman, The Times, The Independent, The List, Time Out.

This year, the judges are me, Kate Copstick of The Scotsman and ITV1’s Show Me The Funny; Dominic Maxwell of The Times and freelance Jay Richardson of The Scotsman, The List, Chortle etc. Next year, another quality paper’s comedy critic will be joining this merry throng to choose the Malcolm Hardee Awards.

It’s a ramshackle old way to choose awards, but it seems to have worked so far. We aim to spot and encourage new talent, outrageous publicity stunts and generally make the Fringe a less sombre, corporate entity. More anarchic.

That is why the Malcolm Hardee Awards are the real Edinburgh Fringe Comedy awards…

** OK, I was joking about not caring about children in Africa. In fact, 100% of any money given at the Malcolm Hardee Week shows goes to Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara charity. I apologise for this outbreak of morality. I will try to curb it in future.

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The Scotsman’s 4-star review of Charlie Chuck’s Edinburgh Fringe show – uncut

For space reasons, The Scotsman shortened Claire Smith’s 4-star review of Charlie Chuck’s Laughter Lounge at the Edinburgh Fringe. This is the un-cut version; it was part of a piece reviewing various cabaret shows…

__________

I think it was when I was sitting in Lili la Scala’s show and started dreaming of a martini that I realised there was something missing in all the cabaret shows I’d visited.

So I was delighted when I stuck my head into Charlie Chuck’s Laughter Lounge, (filed under comedy but subtitled Cabaret, Absurdist), and clapped eyes on a working bar. Hooray.

The demented legend that is Charlie Chuck bursts onto a stage brandishing a lump of wood and proceeds to play/demolish a drum kit, which at one point seems to be fighting him back.

To begin with he’s barely articulate, thumping his chest, stamping, walloping said bit of wood on the floor and making cat noises. When the speech does start to form it begins like speaking in tongues before developing into shouted jokes and eventually philosophical observations and bursts of tangential erudition.

This is a moveable feast and tonight’s turns are Barnaby, whose speciality is wildly inaccurate impressions of famous actors – Michael Caine as a giant winking slug and Peter O Toole as a foetus.

Then Pat Cahill kicks off with a couple of brilliant songs. That Dog is not in any immediate Pain and Too Much Chicken a rap about chicken restaurants performed to French techno music.

When the absurdmeister himself returns to the stage he is laughing so much he can barely maintain his onstage anger, so he steadies himself with a long rambling story about a crab then bursts into his heart thumping wood slamming foot stamping exercise demonstration Chuckaerobics.

Wayne the sound technician, who must have seen the show seven times already, is creasing with laughter. And you can’t get any greater tribute than that.

Cabaret heaven.

4 STARS

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