Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

About Sherlock Holmes and a show with sheep at the Edinburgh Fringe

Matin Soan (left) and Steve Bowditch converse

So, on Wednesday afternoon, after the interring of the ashes of Joan Hardee, mother of the late comedian Malcolm Hardee, there I was sitting in the kitchen of his sister Clare Hardee’s home with comedians Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch – members with Malcolm of The Greatest Show on Legs.

We had sung When The Saints Come Marching In to Steve’s guitar accompaniment by the graveside.

Martin Soan is returning to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with a Greatest Show on Legs production co-written by Boothby Graffoe but without Steve Bowditch performing. Steve will be at the Fringe as part of another threesome called We Should Get a Boat. Their show is entitled Sherlock Holmes: The Return of the Hound.

A poster for the mysteriously unlisted show

It is not listed in the main Fringe Programme though it is listed in the Free Fringe programme. The Edinburgh Fringe listings are getting increasingly complicated.

“Who do you play?” I asked Steve Bowditch. “Sherlock Holmes or the hound?”

“Mrs Hudson,” he replied. “Dickie Richards, the most handsome man in showbusiness, plays Inspector Lestrade… Paul Norcross plays trombone and Professor Moriarty.”

“Trombone?” I asked.

“Well, Mrs Hudson plays guitar,” Steve explained patiently, “so, obviously, he plays the trombone.”

“And is there a hound involved?” I asked.

“We-e-e-l…” Steve prevaricated, “essentially not.

“Because?” I asked.

“Because it’s all an illusion of theatre,” Steve responded, putting on a posh voice. “For poetic licence, Johnny.”

“And who wrote it?” I asked.

“Me. Steve Bowditch, the actor.”

“Do you put on a Scottish accent as Mrs Hudson?” I asked.

“I don’t do accents, Johnny!” Steve replied, his voice rising to a thespian screech. “I am a character actor, Johnny! Haven’t you seen the Harry Hill bloody TV show where I did all those lovely characters?!”

“But what about Mrs Hudson’s Scottish accent?” I persisted.

“I don’t know what bloody accent Mrs Hudson had!” Steve screamed in an even higher-pitched voice. “It’s my interpretation of the character that matters, for Christ sake! I am an ac-tor! I am the…”

“Ah!” I said, interrupting, “I was getting Mrs Hudson the housekeeper in Sherlock Holmes confused with Mr Hudson the butler in Upstairs Downstairs. He had a Scottish accent. Gordon Jackson. I used to work with his son.”

“Well, you got it wrong,” said Steve. “I am Mrs Hudson. You’re a lovely lad, Johnny. A lovely lad.”

“Is it a comedy drama?” I asked.

“It’s a non-comedic straight part funny thriller…  that thing. Something like that. What I said. Yes.”

“You’ve done try-outs?”

“We’ve done five dress rehearsals in front of audiences.”

“Their reaction?”

“We got a one star award. On the Time Out website, a lady who saw it said she would have given it none if it weren’t for the electronic website media she was forced to use… but she walked out halfway through, the bloody cow. A bloody cow she is!”

“When was the last time you were at the Edinburgh Fringe?” I asked.

“I dunno. The last time was when I went up with Charlie Chuck for Malcolm and Malcolm’s been dead seven years, so…”

“So maybe not this century?” I said. “Which venue were you at?”

“The old Gilded Balloon before it burnt down. We’re coming back to take our rightful place, Johnny,” Steve said, his voice rising. “We’re coming back to knock all those other young Turpins off their…”

“Turpins?” I asked.

“Turpins!” shouted Steve. “I can say Turpin if I like… For the money, Johnny. It’s for the money! Dickie wanted to go up, so we’re going to go up and see what happens.”

At this point, Martin Soan interrupted.

The Greatest Show On Legs back bar Steve

“He’s not appearing in my show with the Greatest Show on Legs. Why, I don’t know.”

“Because ours is a far superior show,” said Steve. “I left the Greatest Show on Legs not because of artistic differences but for artistic increases!”

“Increases?” I asked.

“Increases,” said Steve.

“Increases?” asked Martin.

“Definitely Increases,” said Steve.

“You can’t talk about what’s in the Greatest Show on Legs show, can you?” I asked Martin. “Because it gives it away too much if you say you…”

“I want to get back to the reason why Bowditch is not in my show…” said Martin.

“We can’t talk about that in print, can we?” I asked.

“I’m not in Edinburgh,” Martin persisted, “when Steve’s show is running and his show has finished by the time The Greatest Show on Legs’ show starts. But it’s The Greatest Show on Legs. You, Bowditch, should be in the fucking show!”

“I should be in the fucking show…” Steve started to say.

“Don’t swear in front of John,” Martin said, “because he writes the swearing down in his blog. Don’t fucking swear, because…”

“But when I…” started Steve.

“Fucking stop it!” said Martin. “He’ll just print it in his blog.”

“It’s in my contract with Peter Buckley Hill and the Free Fringe,” joked Steve, “that I’m not allowed to talk to Martin Soan while he’s in Edinburgh. If I see Martin Soan whilst I’m in Edinburgh, Peter Buckley Hill says I have to cross the street.”

“I’m more interested in the sheep,” I said to Steve. “Martin told me he was borrowing your sheep for the Greatest Show on Legs’ show in Edinburgh and I…”

“Bowditch gave me the sheep,” Martin interrupted, “and I’m very, very flattered.”

“How many sheep?” I asked.

“Six,” Martin replied.

“Why?” I asked.

“We are going to recreate the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games at The Hive venue in Edinburgh.”

“With sheep?”

“Yes, obviously. To make it as close to the real thing as we can.”

“It’s actually four sheep and one sheepdog,” Steve corrected.

“So what is the thing with Peter Buckley Hill?” Clare Hardee asked.

“Well,” said Martin. “PBH has banned Bowditch from performing in our show because he runs the Free Fringe and our show is in Bob Slayer’s Alternative Fringe which is linked to the Free Festival who PBH is at loggerheads with.”

“Am I actually allowed to say that in my blog?” I asked Steve Bowditch.

“I think you should just let things lie,” he said.

“Get as much publicity as fucking possible, John!” said Martin.

“Well, you gotta do what you wanna do,” said Steve. “As long as I win the Malcolm Hardee Award.”

“How much are you prepared to pay?” I asked.

“Look, John,” said Steve, “It’s in Malcolm’s memory. So you lend me £500 and let me win.”

“That’ll do for a blog,” I said. “That’s enough. This is the way to write blogs. Get other people to supply all the words.”

“You didn’t plug my show, though,” said Martin.

“Who’s fault is that?” I asked.

“No, that’s the end line,” said Martin. “You didn’t plug my show, though.

“Ah,” I said. “Did I tell you I used to work with Gordon Jackson’s son?”

“Now you’ve blown the end line,” Martin said.

“No-one will know,” I said. “People don’t know what hasn’t been written or what was said and cut out.”

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The undead of “Star Wars” + “I am your farter” + The Return of the Bob Slayer

Gary Kurtz yesterday: maybe thinking about Mr Methane’s act

“Why did Gary Kurtz split with George Lucas?” I asked someone in Edinburgh just before the final session of the Guardian weekend event during which Gary Kurtz , producer of both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, explained how the first movie was conceived, produced and marketed.

“They fell out over the plot of the third film, Return of The Jedi,” I was told. “Gary Kurtz wanted to show the more realistic after effects of war, with Han Solo killed and Luke Skywalker left alone. George Lucas disagreed. He said Han Solo toys are doing great business!

It seemed impolite to probe Gary Kurtz about it, but he did admit George Lucas wanted more of a rollercoaster ride feel to Return of the Jedi and a more upbeat ending to the trilogy. The original script had seen Han Solo dead and Princess Leia going off to rule, accompanied by her two robots C3PO and R2D2, leaving Luke Skywalker to ride off into the sunset alone.

Gary Kurtz went off to produce The Dark Crystal for Jim Henson rather than Return of the Jedi for George Lucas and so the third Star Wars film got its rollercoaster plot ride and happy ending although, yesterday, Kurtz pointed out that the Han Solo character actually has no real effect on anything in the movie’s plot; the character was, really, just hanging around while things happened around him. And Kurtz did say the toy manufacturers had had an effect on the way the Star Wars trilogy developed.

Toy manufacturers and commercial factors affecting creative decisions does not worry me too much. After all, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle actually did kill off Sherlock Holmes but was forced by public opinion and against his better judgment to un-kill him.

We live in a commercial world, which brings me to farting.

Today is the birthday of my chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing flatulist (a ‘farter’ to me and you). He has an entrepreneurial air about him and is quick to spot a new opportunity. He tells me he has now started a Personalised Fart Greetings service.

“I’ve had a lot of requests for personalised fart video greetings,” he claims, though I suppose it could all be hot air.

“Basically,” he says, “all you have to do is fill out a form with details of the special oral greeting that you’d like me to convey and this will result in a personalised and very special video greeting from my rear end.”

I can think of nothing warmer nor more meaningful than sending a fart greeting to your loved one(s) personalised in this way by Mr Methane.

And, talking of farts, that brings us to comedian Bob Slayer.

We have twice failed to meet up since he returned from out-drinking and outraging Australia (as partly-chronicled in this blog).

I got this e-mail from him last night:

“Just back from a lovely weekend of gigs,” it read.

“Swansea seemed particularly happy to hear about Australian bans and goats and mayhem and I ended up doing a two hour / seven pints of Guinness gig. During the opening acts, I popped to the shop down the road and was nearly mowed down by a fella on a BMX bike with a laptop under his arm. He was closely followed by a hot police woman at full sprint.

“The man on the BMX bike then did something which I just cannot fathom out. He was getting away from PC Hot Pants but, when he got to the junction, he stopped at the red light! Why? Juliet Bravo rugby tackled him and his BMX and then sat on him until reinforcements arrived.

“It is remarkable that a burglar could be caught for respecting the Highway Code!”

But then Bob ominously added:

“I am going to South Africa on the 6th of April. Can we meet up before then?”

If anyone reading this lives in South Africa and is of a nervous disposition, I urge you to leave the country for the whole of April, just for your own personal safety and sanity.

You have been warned.

To cheer you up, though, here is a video which Gary Kurtz screened in Edinburgh yesterday:

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The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.


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