Tag Archives: sexist

Lewis Schaffer on Dapper Laughs + how to make an offensive joke acceptable

I have blogged about the Dapper Laughs controversy before. It is too complicated to explain again, but you can pick up the gist on Wikipedia if you have to.

There is also a compilation video of Dapper Laughs material on YouTube

Comedian Lewis Schaffer – an American based in the UK – once got a review at the Edinburgh Fringe from a young, inexperienced reviewer. It said his act was ‘mildly racist’. Lewis Schaffer has always said this review was one of the worst he has ever received because of the use of that horrible, horrible word – ‘mildly’.

“Who wants to be mildly anything?” he says.

Yesterday afternoon I went to see Lewis Schaffer perform at The Establishment Club in London and, in the evening, saw him perform at his regular weekly show at the Leicester Square Theatre.

At The Establishment, gay acts Scott Capurro and Dickie Beau were on the bill and stayed around to watch him. Lewis Schaffer’s act was relentlessly about gay people. In the evening, almost everyone in the audience got ‘picked on’ for being gay or Scottish or (in one case) coming from the Indian sub-continent – which translated as being a Palestinian Islamic extremist, despite the fact the guy said he was a ‘Christian atheist’.

Both shows were very funny.

After the Leicester Square show, I had a chat with Lewis Schaffer.

Lewis Schaffer at the Leicester Square Theatre last night

Mild Lewis Schaffer at the Leicester Square Theatre last night

“The attitude of people in this country at the moment,” he said, “reminds me of America during the Vietnam War – how excited everyone was about everything. There was a heightened level of awareness and movement.”

“I think we’re just as lethargic as ever,” I said.

“No, I think there’s a big difference,” said Lewis Schaffer, “between now and even five years ago. People now get into arguments over the slightest possible thing.”

“That is just you being argumentative,” I said.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer, “it’s other people being argumentative – like what they did to Dapper Laughs. Whether what Dapper Laughs said was good or bad, I think the reason other comedians picked on him was because they were jealous of him: that he had not worked his way up through the ranks, that he called himself a comedian.”

“Well,” I said, “he needed a manager to control what happened.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he needed someone to take the flak for him. He rose too high and he fell too fast.”

“But he was a one-off,” I said. “He was just not experienced enough to deal with it.”

“He had a TV series, a tour, an album,” said Lewis Schaffer. “He had everything. The question is What does he do now?

Dapper Laughs - “dead in the water"

Dapper Laughs – is the presenter’s career “dead in the water”?

“He’s dead in the water,” I said.

“Do you think he ever has a chance making it back in the comedy business?”

“Not for five or six years,” I said, “by which time he will be perceived as being from a previous generation of performers.”

“And,” said Lewis Schaffer, “at that point, he’s not going to be interesting to anybody.”

“Yup,” I said. “He tried the best he could by going on Newsnight and saying Oh, I’ve killed off the character – to make it seem like there’s a distinction between him and Dapper Laughs. But it was too little too late.”

“It’s similar to what happened to Andrew Dice Clay in America,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“He just seemed to disappear from the radar,” I said.

“Well,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he rose very fast as well. He was on MTV and making movies and things and then people heard what he was saying. He saw himself as a joke but his audience was taking him seriously. He was a skinny Jewish guy from Brooklyn and he was playing it as a tough Italian.

“And,” continued Lewis Schaffer, “he was on the Arsenio Hall TV show, (there is a clip on YouTube) explaining everything and he starts crying. He destroyed his own career by crying on TV.”

Andrew Dice Clay seemed indestructible

Andrew Dice Clay. He seemed indestructible

“Why was he crying?” I asked.

“He was under a lot of pressure with people hating him. He didn’t want people to hate him. He was a comedian. As soon as he cried – forget it – he lost his core audience. They didn’t want to see some supposedly tough guy crying.”

“What happened to him?” I asked.

“He still performs but he’s never reached the level of success he had. He’s done some acting – I think he was in a Woody Allen movie.”

I laughed out loud.

“He also did a DVD of a comedian basically being unprepared and self-destructing on stage.”

“He’s stolen your act,” I said.

“With me, hopefully,” said Lewis Schaffer, “there’s some kind of ending where it all comes together and we all have a good time. I think he was told at the time You can’t release this DVD and he released it anyway.

“It’s fascinating in this business what happens when people turn on you – what happens in life when people turn on you. It’s like The Bonfire of The Vanities scenario where the guy is a Master of The Universe one day and the next day he’s running for his life.”

Fatty Arbuckle - or Michael Barrymore?

Fatty Arbuckle – or is it Michael Barrymore?

Michael Barrymore was Fatty Arbuckle,” I said. “As far as I understand it, Fatty Arbuckle had three trials, was found innocent of rape and manslaughter – he didn’t do it, but his entire career was destroyed. He had just organised a party. And, as far as I’m aware, no-one has ever said Barrymore was in any way directly responsible for the death of the guy in the swimming pool. He just hosted a party in a rambling house where something happened. But his career was destroyed.”

“What interests me,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is how do people deal with being idolised one day and being persona non grata the next? I find that really fascinating. The question is What is going to happen to Dapper Laughs?

“He won’t have made that much money,” I said. “One series on ITV2 and a first tour.”

“The point is,” said Lewis Schaffer, “he’s the kind of person who’s doing anything for a laugh. He’s not political; he’s not motivated; he’s not a misogynist or racist; he just wants to be famous and he picked the wrong thing to be famous over. Now he’s thinking: Holy shit! I made a mistake here! It’s not that I agree with what he did or said – I don’t even know exactly what he did or said.”

“I don’t think it was the TV series that did for him,” I said. “It was the comedy club show. Telling a woman in the front row that she was ‘gagging for a rape’. That was way over the top. That was way beyond acceptable.”

“It’s too extreme,” said Lewis Schaffer, “but I imagine he meant it as a joke.”

“I think maybe,” I said, “he just lost control of the character. He was thinking through the character’s mind and lost objective control of what he was doing.”

“He wasn’t experienced enough,” said Lewis Schaffer. “After a while you know what you can and cannot say. He didn’t have that experience and the other comedians turned on him. Well, they don’t even consider him a comedian because he hadn’t done open mic spots or been on a road trip for some agency.”

Jimmy Carr at the 2006 Malcolm Hardee Show

Carr at the 2006 Malcolm Hardee Show (Photograph by Warren King)

I told Lewis Schaffer: “When I staged a five hour Malcolm Hardee show at the Hackney Empire in 2006, I had three comperes for the three parts and, because of their availability, I had to have Jimmy Carr and one of the hosts in the first part. I scheduled Jimmy Carr as the last act in Part 1. Then the compere of Part 1 – who wasn’t available for Part 2 – said he would not introduce Jimmy Carr because he had just done that joke about gypsy moths which had got him a lot of flak. So I had to move Jimmy Carr to the first act of Part 2 because he wasn’t available later.”

“What was the gypsy moth joke again?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

The male gypsy moth can smell the female gypsy moth up to seven miles away – and that fact also works if you remove the word moth. Which is a clever joke.”

“No it isn’t,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s not nice to the gypsies.”

I laughed: “Your entire act is based on insulting people. That gypsy moth joke is very well-crafted and, said, in Jimmy Carr’s cynical, throwaway persona I’m sure it was very funny. I never actually heard him tell it, so I don’t know.”

“It IS a well-crafted joke,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but the problem is it’s not making fun of the audience or making fun of the audience for believing that gypsies smell. The point is you can’t tell that joke to an audience of non-gypsies. I think Jimmy Carr is hysterically funny but that joke is inappropriate.”

“But you’re always insulting your audience,” I said.

Lewis Schaffer after last night’s show

Lewis Schaffer advice after last night’s Leicester Square show

“If he had an audience of gypsies and he made that joke right to their faces,” said Lewis Schaffer, “that’s OK… In my gig at The Establishment Club this afternoon, I didn’t do any race material. I never do black material unless there are black people there.”

“You’re right,” I admitted. “I suppose I could tell an anti-Semitic joke to you because you’re Jewish and that would be OK, but it would not be acceptable to tell it to…”

“…a room full of Nazis,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Though I might make good money.” I said.

“You might make some money,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “but you shouldn’t do it. That’s the point.”

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“The gendered experience of sexist humour”- New research shows how audiences react to comic Lewis Schaffer

Lewis Schaffer: creating a cult

Lewis Schaffer – a sign of the Thames

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer puts himself about a bit… Well, he puts himself about a LOT in London. The Independent newspaper recently called him a “London institution”.

Week in/week out, he has been performing five days every week for quite a while now.

Every Monday for the last five years, he has hosted his half hour Resonance FM show Nunhead American Radio with Lewis Schaffer.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday for almost five years, he has been performing his hour-long (or longer) Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous show (currently at the Rancho Grill in Mayfair).

Every Thursday, he turns up to perform a spot at the Monkey Business comedy club in Kentish Town.

And, every Sunday for almost two years, he has performed his hour-long Lewis Schaffer: American in London show at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Now he seems to be cornering the market in being analysed by university students.

Liam Lonergan meets a man with answers

Liam Lonergan got First in Schaffer Studies

In February, my blog carried extracts from academic Liam Lonergan’s interview with Lewis Schaffer for his (Liam’s) BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth

In April, Liam got a 1st for his thesis. I posted part of it.

Then, last Friday, Rose Ives got a 1st in her Sociology BA course at Goldsmiths College. She has been following Lewis around and observing audiences at his gigs for perhaps two years. Below, with her permission, is an extract from her academic piece which examines how audiences react to Lewis Schaffer’s performances.


Rose and Lewis Schaffer in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon

Rose reacts to Lewis Schaffer at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013

From the three pieces of ethnographic data I collected in the field, comparing and contrasting and thematically analysing the three methods of data collection, four key themes emerged.

AWARENESS

When watching the reactions to the six jokes selected, the women in the audience looked around at whoever they were with (this occurred in couples and non-couples) before they performed any of the gestures I had codes for on the Joke Sheet. This did not happen with the male members of the audience who mostly maintained eye contact throughout and laughed openly without looking around.

If the men did look around at other audience members it was whilst laughing or to signal an inside joke. The women looked around at other audience members with caution as though they were seeking approval. When asked about this in the ethnographic interviews, many were surprised that they had done such a thing. They did not deny that they had done it (not in the way they denied the gestures described in Denial of negative reactions) but they offered no explanation for their own actions, although some offered an almost psychological explanation for it, dissociating themselves from the action in the process.

One woman in her late twenties answered me when I asked her about why she looked around before not laughing at a joke about having sex with a transsexual: “I thought it was fucking hilarious but I’m not about to go making a fool of myself and have everyone think I’m some woman who loves dirty cock jokes.”

SEPARATING JOKE FROM COMEDIAN

Lewis Schaffer performing in London last night

Lewis Schaffer performing for no reason without his shirt on

The data from which this theme emerged were the ethnographic interviews I conducted after the show and during the intervals.

The men I spoke to, and this was across all ages and regardless of whether I interviewed them in a couple or as single, spoke about the joke and comedian as a “He” – the joke was “his joke”, their opinion on the show was “he is funny”, “he is crazy” – whilst the women at the show, again this was across all ages but particularly prevalent amongst women under 30 years old, spoke about the jokes, the material and the comedy as a whole as an “it.”

One woman who was in her early twenties and with a group of female friends of a similar age said: “It was certainly interesting. I’ve not seen much stand-up like this, it was funny. He’s sweet. (Referring to the comedian)” and this is a good representation of the shorter conversations I had as some people were eager to leave the venue after the show ended.

The men in the audience talked about the comedian as though he were a friend and therefore spoke about the jokes with forgiveness, as though it were friendly banter in the form of “Informal comedy”(Mulkay, 1988) whereas the women in interviews, many of which were couples with the men, were reluctant to engage personally with the comedian as if to do so would be condoning the sexist jokes.

Most women avoided critical engagement with the jokes when directly asked and used measured terms such as “perhaps you’re right” and “maybe it was because…” whilst the men interpreted my questions as an invitation to critique or praise the comedian in absolute terms – “He’s a pro (professional)”, “He’s a good guy” – which highlights a great contrast in the gendered experience of sexist humour.

DENIAL OF NEGATIVE REACTIONS

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London this week

Lewis Schaffer performing for no reason with his jacket on

If the Approval section was the first step in the process of reacting negatively to a joke, the second stage was the gestures that I had coded on the Joke Sheet.

When reacting to jokes concerning the comedian personally – self-deprecating jokes about the comedian’s age or appearance – the women in the audience covered their mouths whilst laughing (this is one of the symbols on the Joke Sheet) as though they didn’t want to be seen laughing at the comedian. This gesture doubled as embarrassment, especially when coupled with looking away from the stage (also a symbol on the Joke Sheet).

The most interesting aspect of the reaction patterns that came from the Joke Sheets were the explanations that followed in the ethnographic interviews.

When I repeated the jokes I saw them react negatively towards, they denied that they had reacted in such a way, brushing off any words such as “sexist”, “offensive” or “taboo” with laughter and changed the words to “dirty” or “naughty” to articulate their thoughts. This showed how they were both embarrassed and ashamed of the sexist material as well as being embarrassed and ashamed of their reaction to it. This also approves the results of the humour and context work by Gray and Ford (2012).

THE PERSONAL TOUCH

Lewis Schaffer, shoeless man

Comedian Lewis Schaffer, not performing, with his shoes off

Although the focus throughout this research has been the consumption not the production of the comedy, it would do the data an injustice not to discuss the patterns of techniques the comedian uses and their effect on how the women in the audience perform their gender roles.

As a known friend of the comedian, the main obstacle of the interview process was attempting to get the participants to stop asking me questions about Lewis Schaffer. Both men and women (although the majority were women) asked me if many of the jokes he had made about himself were true – if he really was living in a council flat, if he really was a divorcee etc.

“The ironist insincerely states something he does not mean, but through the manner of his statement, rather through its formulation or it’s delivery, or both, he is able to encode and counter proposition its real meaning, which may be interpreted by the attentive listener.” (Nash 1985:52) or, as the comedian Lewis Schaffer explained it, “All jokes are opinion with deniability. If people actually thought I had sex with a horse they wouldn’t be too happy about it. As it happens, I’m not allowed within 50ft of a stable or Camilla Parker-Bowles.”

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Comedian Lewis Schaffer gets attacked for his allegedly woman-hating blogs about TV presenter Justin Lee Collins

Lewis Schaffer – sexist or vulnerable?

Last night, I got a call from Lewis Schaffer.

“The shit’s hit the fan,” he said. “I don’t want to be Frankie Boyle. I don’t want people to be mad at me. Well, just a little bit. That’s my default position. My parents were always mad at me. That meant they were paying attention.”

Last Friday, Lewis wrote a blog which started:

According to the Daily Mail, British comic Justin Lee Collins is on trial for “Harrassment (Causing fear of violence)” for calling his girlfriend a “fat dog” and telling her she was “riddled with cellulite”.

The blog was headlined: No man ever used the words “riddled with cellulite”. A defense of Justin Lee Collins.

The next day, Lewis followed it up with a blog headed: Justin Lee Collins attempts murder while Alan Carr watches. Believe it or Not!

“People are complaining that I’m defending violence against women,” Lewis told me. “That I’m a woman-hater, that I don’t understand what domestic violence is.”

“So what is your view on domestic violence?” I asked.

“That it’s best kept in the home,” said Lewis. “On stage, that’s funny. Maybe in print, people don’t know it’s a joke.

“People are viewing me like some archaic male chauvinist. I’m not. I don’t like people getting upset with what I write. My goal is to make people like me. The trouble with comedy is that, if you try to get people to like you, they don’t like you; and if you try to get people to hate you, then that doesn’t work either. Some people are saying to me – John, you yourself have said to me – I should be like Frankie Boyle and get into arguments, but I don’t want to get into arguments with people.”

“But,” I said, “that’s your schtick. On stage, you are confrontational. You tell the audience they are crap; you tell some audience members you don’t like them; you tell them you hate Jews, then you explain you’re a Jew and tell jokes about the Holocaust. That’s confrontational.”

“It isn’t confrontational,” Lewis argued, “because it’s interactive. They can see my face. The trouble is I write my blogs in the privacy of my own home and people can’t see my face when they read a blog.”

“So,” I said, “if you tell a live audience they’re crap, that’s OK because they can see your face and your eyes when you say it and you can see them, so you can control their perception of you?”

“Yes. It’s a very complicated situation,” said Lewis.

“I’ve seen you say on stage that you don’t like women,” I told Lewis. “But, of course, the audience knows that’s not true because they can feel the comic attitude. But a lot of your act on stage superficially is about how awful your ex-wife was and women are.”

“Yeah,” agreed Lewis, “it is about that but I think, at the end of the show, people realise who the real loser is – and it’s me. They walk away thinking I feel sorry for that woman being married to that man.”

“You have had some people walk out of your stage shows outraged, though,” I said.

“I have had many people walk out of my shows,” said Lewis, “and usually they walk out not after what I say but in anticipation of what I’m going to say because they think Oh my god! I can’t listen to this!”

“And in fact,” I suggested, “if they stayed and listened to more, they would realise it’s more balanced.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis. “It’s balanced. I don’t blame my ex-wife for everything. At the end of the show, people see that. They see I’m a flawed human being.”

“So your basic problem,” I suggested, “is that you’re used to saying things in a conversational way… You tend to talk WITH the audience in your shows, not just talk TO them… It’s a dialogue… But, when you put the same words down in cold print, people can’t read between the lines.”

“Yeah,” said Lewis. “A lot of what I do is tongue-in-cheek and most people realise that when they see me.”

“But they don’t necessarily see that in an individual blog?” I asked.

“If they read all the blogs, they realise that. The problem is I do care. I never do a blog that everyone agrees with. If I were to do a blog that says women are oppressed, some people would disagree. When I write a blog about Justin Lee Collins being pilloried and that no-one is speaking out for him…

“What I was reacting to in my blog was the sense of imbalance that’s being projected about Justin Lee Collins. I don’t know the guy. If I met him, I might not even like the guy. Anybody who screams at women… I’ve never done that… I withdraw into my own shell when people are attacking me. I’ve never ever screamed at a woman.”

“So give me an example of how people are criticising you…”

“Well, they’re saying that I’m… Well, one well-known female comic didn’t even have the nerve to say what she didn’t like… She asked if any comedians were going to speak out against me. It was one of the Tweets. But she didn’t come out and say I don’t like what this guy said. She didn’t say that, but she was thinking that, probably…”

“So,” I asked, “have people actually said to you in the flesh that you are blogging bad things?”

“No, just on the internet,” replied Lewis. “It’s the power of the Tweet. The irony is that, behind closed doors, I went a little mental and crossed a line I shouldn’t have done and, behind closed doors, they’re going all mental on me. Everyone’s in the privacy of their own little iPhones and iPads so they can say and write and do things that they wouldn’t say and do in real life. If they spoke to me, they’d know… They know me…

“Yeah, I am bitter. I do hate women. And I love women too. Women hate women. Life’s complicated and I’m even more complicated. I am famous for my bitterness. I’m bitter about men too. This blog happened to be bitter about women. There’ll be a future blog that’s bitter about men. Just wait…”

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Day Two of Malcolm Hardee Week – physical threats and censorship

I pity the poor Prime Minister.

Well, maybe “poor” is not the correct word.

But David Cameron was off abroad having a holiday and got dragged back to London because riots were going on.

Then he’s having a holiday in Cornwall and he gets dragged back to London because the Libyan rebels have taken Tripoli.

Totally unnecessary. This is the 21st century. You don’t need to be in any particular place to sort things out. Yesterday, when we were supposed to draw up a shortlist for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards at the Edinburgh Fringe – just as important as Libya, I would argue – one of the judges had been dragged back to London to interview someone-or-other; and another was stuck in the wrong part of Edinburgh. But it was simple enough to communicate with each other. And we all half-had ideas from e-mails and accidental meetings in the previous two weeks anyway.

It is all a bit vague. It is the fourth week of the Fringe – or Week Three as it is officially called to maintain the spirit of the Fringe.

Fringeitis has kicked in – a long recognised and largely unavoidable ailment that affects the throats of performers and the brains of hangers-on like me.

Last night, at the second Malcolm Hardee Debate (“Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!”) we only had three instead of four participants.

Rab C.Nesbitt creator Ian Pattison had buggered his back in Glasgow and could not make it to Edinburgh.

Viz magazine creator Simon Donald had ‘Fringe throat’, that long-recognised Edinburgh ailment. As did Hardeep Singh Kohli, who had a spoon and a bottle of medicine in his top pocket to ease the throat.

Topping them both, Maureen Younger had been bitten twice by some dodgy Scots beastie (clearly neither cow’rin nor tim’rouson the back of her left leg, behind the knee, so she was filled with anti-histamines and feeling woozy.

None of this was visible on stage, of course. They bubbled and entertained and appeared on top form. Ah! the joys of performance!

I am not in any way a performer, so two nights on the trot on a stage did not fill me with the post-show adrenaline that performers sometimes have. I just felt shagged-out and my brain switched off immediately afterwards.

This could explain why, when two people approached me separately after the shows – one saying he liked this blog and one saying we had been Facebook friends twice (no, I don’t know either) I did not chat at length. Indeed, not at all. I got distracted by other things happening at the end of the show. Oh lord. I do apologise to them.

Fringeitis affects performers’ throats but my brain.

As for the Malcolm Hardee Awards, we nominated thus:

MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD FOR COMIC ORIGINALITY

Doctor Brown for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason

James Hamilton as the odd writer, producer, director, actor and creator of Casual Violence

Bob Slayer for going beyond OTT into uncharted areas of comedy excess

Johnny Sorrow for simply being a bizarre act Malcolm Hardee would have loved

CUNNING STUNT AWARD (for best Fringe publicity stunt)

Tim FitzHigham for breaking multiple bones and damaging bone marrow to pursue comedy

Kunt and the Gang for pushing his sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible

Sanderson Jones for selling all his show tickets only to people he himself has met

ACT MOST LIKELY TO MAKE A MILLION QUID AWARD

Benet Brandtreth – if he doesn’t make a million on stage, he’ll make it as a lawyer

Josh Widdicombe – possibly the new Michael McIntyre

The shortlist was reported in various media, possibly helped by the fact I put in brief quotes after the acts. Doing that means the press can lift the quotes without having to think anything up. The phrase “for oddness beyond necessity and comedy beyond reason” proved particularly attractive.

The media reporting the Malcolm Hardee Awards shortlist yesterday included BBC News online, which referred to one of the performers as “The act, which we will call KATG”

Kunt and the Gang is going to have problems with that name. The Fringe Society apparently told him that they would only print the name of the act and the show in the Fringe Programme if he put an umlaut over the ‘u’ in Kunt.

That is the least of Kunt’s problems. A press release from his promoters this morning was headed:

AWARD NOMINATION COULD COST COMEDIAN (KATG) THOUSANDS OF £££

It is not really my/our fault…!

Edinburgh Council is still threatening him with a £3,000 fine if any more ‘cock stickers’ appear on other shows’ posters.

One agent sent him an invoice for a four-figure sum for damage to one Scottish act’s posters with the mild threat: “I would also recommend this invoice is paid immediately and discreetly as if it is not I will make my actions known to all the other producers affected and you can then expect a lot more of these and some from people who will be far more forceful that I will be thru the law in order to recoup.”

In reply, Kunt’s admirable PR people say he will “happily reveal the name of the Comedy Agent and send you a copy of the Comedy Invoice in return for a donation to the Cock Aid appeal. Details on request.”

There is also the unreported fact that one prominent London-based promoter has made physical threats of “sending the boys in” to sort out Kunt. And it is not even the one promoter you might assume would say this.

Various acts are now, to show support to Kunt, wearing cock stickers. I am particularly impressed by the one sported by Frank Sanazi.

At the time of writing this, the Third Reich’s favourite crooner is in London performing pre-booked gigs but he will be returning to Edinburgh on Friday, solely to appear in the highly-prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards Show is 10.00pm to midnight in the ballroom of The Counting House as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival – no tickets, free admission – Friday 26th August.

The Edinburgh Fringe is about shameless promotion.

Now I had better prepare for the two days of spaghetti-juggling events I perhaps foolishly decided to put on outdoors Outside the Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket… 6.15-7.00pm tonight and tomorrow…

It is looking like it might rain…

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The Edinburgh Fringe debate about sexist and racial – maybe racist – jokes

I admired the late Bernard Manning as a comedian.

And, unlike many who criticised him, I saw him perform live.

I blogged about this in January and got a lot of negative feedback.

But I think many anti-Bernard Manning sentiments are knee-jerk reactions. People dislike him because they know they are supposed to dislike him.

The comedian, musician and writer John Dowie contributed a very interesting short story to the Sit-Down Comedy anthology which the late Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited for Random House in 2003. His Help Me Make It Through the Night is basically a fictional story about a right-on early Ben Elton type alternative comedian and an old school Bernard Manning style comedian… written sympathetically from the point of view of the Bernard Manning character.

The story was written for the book by John Dowie after he and I had a discussion about Bernard Manning and surprisingly found a lot of common ground. Indeed, I think we agreed that we both admired him as a technically brilliant comedian; and it helped that we had both lived through the period when Manning was having his greatest success.

John Dowie is (in my opinion) a notable left-wing thinker; we are not talking a Daily Mail reader here.

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog that I am chairing a couple of debates in Malcolm Hardee Week (the last week of the current Edinburgh Fringe).

On Tuesday 23rd August, the proposition is:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

It is perhaps not the most original of ideas for a debate, but it is never not irrelevant and I felt it still has a lot of proverbial mileage left in it. The phrasing and punctuation of the debate’s title can be taken to represent either viewpoint:

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

I did invite Jim Davidson to take part in this debate (through his agent) without payment. He is taking part in the Guardian-sponsored Edinburgh International Television Festival at the end of the week reflecting, according to the programme, “on the industry that loved him, supported him but ultimately rejected him, as he discusses the changing nature of acceptability in comedy and television as a whole”.

His agent said Jim was unable to be in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd for the Malcolm Hardee Debate because he is on tour – playing Great Yarmouth on the Monday night and Weymouth on the Wednesday night.

I have no idea if it is just impractical (it sure ain’t easy) or because there was no money in it or because he just did not fancy doing it. All are perfectly reasonable.

It is a pity – but much in life is, like the fact choc ices are fattening.

I have never met Jim Davidson and have never seen his live act (television, in this case, does not count). I have asked people who have worked with him what he is like and opinion is varied. I have no personal opinion on him.

Prejudice is not something I admire and, by that, I mean judging people without really genuinely knowing what you are talking about. It is a comic irony that people who say you should never believe what you read in newspapers and magazines nor on the internet – and you should never believe edited video clips out of context – often do.

So I am prepared to believe Jim Davidson is a shit; but I am also prepared to believe he is misunderstood and misrepresented. Jimmy Carr, a brilliant comic whom I have seen and whom I do admire, has also been accused of telling racist jokes. To which I say Bollocks.

Admittedly, even if I did think Jim Davidson were a shit, I would put him on to get bums on seats and to let him defend himself (equal factors in my mind).

I think the line-up on 23rd August without him is still very good:

Simon Donald, co-founder of Viz magazine, who has now re-invented himself as a stand-up comedian.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, sometime presenter on BBC1’s The One Show and columnist for Scotland on Sunday newspaper.

Ian Pattison, creator and writer of the culturally phenomenal BBC TV series Rab C.Nesbitt.

And Maureen Younger, the astonishingly well-travelled London-Scottish comedian who hosts all-female Laughing Cows comedy gigs in London, Birmingham, Berlin etc.

If you are in Edinburgh on Tuesday 23rd August…

RACIST OR SEXIST JOKES? IT DOESN’T MATTER IF THEY’RE FUNNY!

at The Hive, 6.15-7.00pm.

It is part of the Free Festival – so it is free unless you want to throw appreciative money in a bucket at the end, in which case it is for charity; 100% goes to the Mama Biashara charity.

Don’t pre-judge it.

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John Lennon’s night on the tiles and Bernard Manning’s tarbrush legacy

Comedian and actor Matt Roper recently told me a story about defiantly adult Bernard Manning being considered for  the 1972 movie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I blogged about it last week. Matt is up to his ears moving flat today, then straight off for three weeks of summer festival performances – firstly at Glastonbury, then Lushfest in Poole and then the Maker Sunshine Festival in Cornwall.

Very new school trendy.

But as the son of George Roper, star of 1970s ITV series The Comedians, he grew up with the old school comics and their chums.

“There are tons of stories about the old school,” he tells me. “I never really think about it all too much as my contemporaries are quite young still and don’t really know who most of these guys are. The slightly older generation of alternative comics of course do. I got sick of defending the new school to all the old school and vice versa. They’d hate to hear it, and I’ve thought about it for a long time, but they have more in common than in difference.

“People sometimes tar all of those old school comics with Bernard Manning’s brush. It’s hard, having been so close to my father and loving him for his gentle mind and manner, to hear him being lumped in with all the stereotypes about Northern racist comics… Somebody said to me recently that “Bernard was all about the darkness and your father was all about the light” which was very sweet but makes me think – Never mind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, they should’ve been cast in Star Wars!

One source of stories when Matt was a kid was legendary Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp.

“He was full of interesting stories which I soaked up happily like a sponge.,” says Matt.

“My favourite story is of when he and his wife were in bed, at home, asleep. It is 2.00am when the phone rings. It’s John Lennon, out on the tiles in Manchester after a TV recording. He asks if Johnnie is coming out to play.

No, says Johnnie, I’m in bed, asleep. But, if you have any trouble getting anywhere, just mention my name.

“As if John Lennon of the Beatles would have had any problem getting into a club and have to resort to name-dropping!”

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How did spaghetti-juggling get into this year’s Edinburgh Fringe programme?

The ever-energetic comic Bob Slayer is looking after The Hive venue at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the Laughing Horse Free Festival and, back in January, he asked me if I wanted to do any chat-type shows based on my blog.

I had already arranged to stage a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe.

So we arranged that I would precede this with four ‘talking head’ shows. Debates, but with comedians. I would chair the first two and doyenne of Edinburgh Fringe comedy reviewers Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Award judge) would chair the second two. The subjects seemed quite clear:

On Monday – “Comedians are psychopathic masochists with a death wish” – based on a blog I wrote which comedy industry website Chortle later used.

On Tuesday – “Racist or sexist jokes? It doesn’t matter if they’re funny!” – again based on a blog of mine which Chortle later printed.

On Wednesday –  “Have the Big Boys Fucked Up The Fringe?” about large promoters, producers and management agencies’ effect on the Fringe.

On Thursday – “Are Bono, Bob and the Big Boys Fucking Up The World?” about charity and aid money.

This was all OK until Copstick discovered, at the last moment, that she had to be in London for the final of ITV’s new reality TV series Show Me The Funny on the same days as her planned Fringe debates – and possibly rehearsing in London on the previous two days.

This happened a few days before the final Fringe Programme deadline, when the titles and billings had already been submitted.

I have always wanted to hear the introduction, “And now… a man juggling spaghetti…”

I would accept a woman. If you have a spare one, let me know.

But, if I could hear that introduction and then see someone do it, I could die happy and fulfilled.

Since the mid-1980s, when I was working on the LWT series Game For a Laugh, through series like The Last Resort with Jonathan Ross, I half-heartedly tried to find someone who could juggle cooked spaghetti for more than one minute. It appears it cannot be done. In the 1990s, I tried with the brilliant juggler Steve Rawlings, at which point, I gave up – If he can’t do it, no-one can do it, I thought – but it has always simmered away at the back of my mind.

So, on the basis that I could not think of anything better, I decided to hold the Malcolm Hardee Spaghetti-Juggling Contest – Year One (who knows if there will be a Year Two, but it sounds good) at the Laughing Horse Free Fringe venue which is exactly what it says in the name – Outside The Beehive – in Grassmarket for 45 minutes on the final Tuesday and Wednesday nights of the Edinburgh Fringe.

It should be messy and, if it rains, shambolically messy – a fitting tribute to Malcolm Hardee. But it might get a few pictures in the media and/or some word-of-mouth to plug the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the Friday night. And I suspect I can get quite a few comics to wander along and take part as well as members of the public.

The submission has gone in to Guinness to see if – in the unlikely event someone can actually keep cooked spaghetti in the air for more than a minute – they would actually recognise spaghetti-juggling as a world record.

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to get large amounts of cooked spaghetti on two nights in Edinburgh in late August…

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