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Adventure, mass murder and bananas. It’s the perfect Edinburgh comedy show.

Charmian and Kaye on the Ganges in Varanasi

Charmian (left) & Kaye last month on the Ganges in Varanasi

If you are going to perform for over three weeks at the always potentially rainy and windy Edinburgh Fringe in August, it is best to make your show about a glamorous subject simply on the basis that the research will cheer you up.

Comedian Charmian Hughes was in India last month doing 16 days ‘research’ with her friend Kaye Bachelard. Both were following in the footsteps of their earlier even more feisty relatives and trying to uncover what really happened to them.

Kaye had a relative who forsook the Jesuit priesthood for a woman. Charmian’s story was even more of an adventure and will be the basis of her Edinburgh Fringe show next year.

“Which section of the Fringe Programme do you think I should put it in?” she asked me last night after she and Kaye had run through their stories with photos and videos in Charmian’s kitchen.

“In the Comedy section,” I said, “because it will attract more bums on seats. It’s a real cracking adventure story – well, a double adventure story – the 19th century one and your own 2013 one. It’s got murder, mystery mayhem and all the rest – but you’ll make it funny with all the incidental details – the populace paying homage to a great man by giving him bananas is worth at least a titter.”

I asked Charmian to give me an ‘elevator pitch’ for her proposed show.

“It is,” she said, “about me and my friend Kaye going to find out about our families who had escaped from India – and WE ended up having to escape!”

“Who was the relative whose adventure you were following in the footsteps of?” I asked, on the basis that it’s easier to write blogs if you get other people to supply the words.

“Mrs Goldney,” said Charmian. “She got caught up in the Indian Mutiny. She escaped on the back of an elephant by climbing up its tail and disguising herself in torn-up petticoats as an Indian bride. She took shelter with the one-eyed scoundrel and the Rajah and she escaped from a mob who were trying to kill her by throwing her money around so, in the end, she had the same tipping worries as everyone else does in India. Do you think it’ll work?”

“Yes,” I told her. “It has a Three Act structure. It starts off like it’s going to be a gentle tale about two modern women on a trip to India following in the footsteps of their forebears… then it becomes a 19th century female Indiana Jones adventure story set in the Indian Mutiny, with people getting killed by being tied to the front of the barrels of cannons while others are beheaded and escaping on elephants…

“…and then we have the end bit of your adventure which we can’t say too much about in a blog because it would give away how you met royalty and why you thought – with good reason – that you and Kaye might be killed and/or bricked-up alive inside a wall. What is there not to like? It has adventure, mass murder and bananas – the perfect Edinburgh Fringe comedy show. And, because you both had short hair, people kept thinking you were lesbians and kept offering you double beds. So it even has the lure of sex in it. You just have to add in some Indian dancing…”

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

Charmian tests out an Indian dance last night

“No dancing,” said Charmian.

“There has to be,” I said. “It’s a tradition in your shows. You did the sand dance in two of your shows. This one cries out for you to do some Indian dancing.”

“No,” said Charmian.

“Well at least have a practice here in the kitchen,” I said.

And she did.

I have high hopes Charmian may, once again, dance in her Edinburgh Fringe show next August.

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Juliette Burton (an English rose actress) & farteur Mr Methane’s burning bottom

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

The highly-coveted main Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award with Edinburgh Castle behind

The Edinburgh Fringe takes place every August but never ends. It is only three months since this year’s Fringe finished and a whole nine months to the next one. But already performers are starting to obsess. It is like having a baby – right down to people having occasional morning sickness with a feeling of nausea in the pit of their stomach.

Fortunately, as a non-performer, I do not have to suffer any of this.

I have already booked a venue for the two-hour 2014 Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – on Friday 22nd August – and talked to a venue owner about doing a second year of chat shows in the lead-up to it.

Elsewhere, performers’ traumas reign.

Yesterday, a young starting-out stand-up comedian asked me:

“Can literally anything – ANY experience – be turned into a Fringe comedy show?”

“Yes,” I told her. “Janey Godley’s Good Godley! was the show everyone talked about in 2004. It was very funny and it told exactly the same story as her autobiography Handstands in The Dark which is so terrifying it reads like a novel by Edgar Allan Poe. In the book, the story is horrific; on stage, it was very funny without demeaning the story. But, then, Janey’s talent is that she doesn’t tell funny stories, she tells stories funny.

“And Juliette Burton’s Fringe show this year When I Grow Up had something unexpectedly shocking in it: you could almost hear people’s jaws dropping. It was a happy, uplifting show with a coup de théâtre in it.

“If you’re having really bad time with your boyfriend and the relationship is breaking up,” I said, “write it down. It’s cathartic and it could be turned into comedy gold in a couple of years, if not sooner.”

“Should I wait a week,” asked this would-be comic, “then I write it down so I can be objective about it?”

“No,” I advised her. “The last thing you want to do is write something objective. If something horrible happens, write it down straight away while the pain is still vivid. The writing-down of it distracts you a little from the pain and, when you look at it in 12 months time, you will find you’re objectively looking at something that seems like a stranger’s writing.”

“But you’re not a performer,” she pointed out. “What do you know about it?”

“Nothing,” I said, “but I can give bullshit advice plausibly.”

What you do not write is almost more important than what you do write. It is what you cut out that can give impact to what is left in. This is something known by the twice Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award nominee James Hamilton of comedy troupe Casual Violence.

Casual Violence - concentrated comedy

Casual Violence – surely everybody wants to see their sitcoms

He Facebooked a message yesterday about a one-off London show in January called Casual Violence: Nobody Wants To Make Our Sitcoms (Work in Progress). The blurb goes:

Join us for a low-key, super-informal script readthrough of two new sitcom projects that we’re working on – one for radio, one not for radio, both just for our benefit. We just want a bit of feedback so we can make them ourselves, for you. We’d like you to be our script editors. Come along, listen to our stories, have a drink with us afterwards and tell us what you think. Entry: £3 (entry fee is just to help cover the costs of the venue).

I have told them I will come along if they pay me £3.05p because, in comedy, it is seldom the performers who make the real money. It is the peripheral hangers-on.

Although, with luck, the aforementioned Juliette Burton might be an exception.

She is a combination of English Rose and whirling Tasmanian Devil type character with show ideas and promotional ideas spinning around her like a Wizard of Oz tornado. I had tea with her yesterday afternoon and most of the conversation I cannot repeat.

“What CAN I repeat?” I asked her.

“Well,” she replied, “as of today, it is confirmed that When I Grow Up is the first in a series of six live shows – and hopefully books and who knows what else? They will all be themed around identity – What makes a person? – The books depend on the interest I get from the proposal I have been asked to submit to a publishing company.”

Juliette’s new website lists her six shows as:

2013 – When I Grow Up
2014 – Look At Me
2015 – Dreamcatcher
2016 – an untitled show
2017 – Daddy’s Girl
2018 – The Butterfly Effect

“I am doing When I Grow Up at the Leicester Square Theatre in February,” she told me, “then touring it in Australia until May. There’s a new video promo for it.”

Juliette’s 2014 show Look At Me is going to be staged in association with the facial disfigurement charity Changing Faces, the body image charity B.O.D.Y. and the eating disorder charity B-eat.

Look At Me is billed as “a docu-comedy” (which is what When I Grow Up actually was) and, like When I Grow Up, will include video footage shot throughout the year – including interviews (the first is on 18th December) – and, in this case, the blurb goes:

By changing her appearance in dramatic (and hilarious) ways, Juliette will document how people react to her, how she feels and how she behaves. From wearing her glasses to being a man, from wearing a burka to dressing provocatively, from revisiting her “fat” self to being “old” and even going nude. Can we change who we are on the inside by changing who we appear to be on the outside? And is what we appear to be who we are?

I normally hate videos within live stage shows, but Juliette (a former BBC Radio journalist) showed with When I Grow Up this year that she can make it work smoothly and superbly.

Look At Me will also develop Juliette’s promotional blitz style with an accompanying pop song by Frankie Lowe, a pop video by Daniel Waterman, who directed her Dreamers (When I Grow Up) video, and who knows what else.

Juliette Burton seems to me to live a life of extremism.

With my chum Mr Methane, it’s a life of surrealism.

I got an e-mail from him last night.

Mr Methane pictured with Thomas Numme, Author - Jo Nesbo & Harald Ronneberg on a previous visit to the show.

Mr Methane pictured with (from left) Thomas Numme, author Jo Nesbo and Harald Rønneberg after a previous show visit

Tomorrow, he returns to the Senkveld med Thomas og Harald (Late Night with Thomas and Harold) TV show on TV2 in Norway.

He is making a special guest appearance with Robbie Williams and recently retired Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on the 10th anniversary edition of the show.

In fact, the show was pre-recorded on 22nd November in front of an audience of 8,000 at the Oslo Spektrum stadium.

Mr Methane tells me: “I had a brief chat with Robbie Williams as I came off stage and he went on – that’s right I was his warm up man. He said he had once gone to see me at a gig in Newcastle-under-Lyme in the early 1990s.

“Between us, me and Robbie had both ends covered on this gig. Although we both grew up not too far from one another and we both tread the boards, other similarities are not readily apparent. However I can now exclusively reveal that we both like oatcakes.

“Last weekend I went back to Norway again – this time to Kristiansand – where I did a 25th birthday gig for the Norwegian importer of Umbro sportswear.”

Part of Mr Methane’s much-admired yet seldom imitated stage act involves farting-out the candles on a birthday cake.

He told me:

“The Norwegian boss wanted me to wear Umbro sportswear until I explained that I came from Macclesfield where the Humphrey Brothers of Wilmslow set up their first Umbro factory. (The name UMBRO apparently obscurely comes from the words hUMphrey BROthers.)

mrmethanebends

Methane’s mate’s mum made his costume

“My mate’s mum, who made my Mr Methane costume, was an Umbro seamstress so I told the Norwegian boss that, technically, I was already wearing Umbro kit.

“He was delighted, but that didn’t stop a rather drunken member of the audience slamming the birthday cake candles into my bottom, burning my arse and rather spoiling the big moment. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or just fell over because he was so drunk.

“But that’s Northern Europe for you: long cold winter nights and large amounts of booze.

“The next day, I got food poisoning at breakfast and had a rough journey home. I am now finally getting back on track. It is a big relief as I am on my last pair of pyjamas.”

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A man tries to sleep through comedian Lewis Schaffer’s show: violence ensues

The last King of Poland: not a plumber

The last King of Poland was not a plumber

Yesterday afternoon, with my eternally-un-named friend, I went to Brunel University in West London for the launch of their new Centre For Comedy Studies Research which aims to “promote and facilitate academic research on the comedy/society interface”.

In some ways, it is good for academics to treat comedy seriously though – as is often the case – this can sometimes lapse into intelligent people creating abstract academic ‘things’ to study to get an income and to spend their time on. The phrase ‘looking up your own arse’ is ready-made for these situations and deserves more detailed research.

When I sit through a discussion of ‘Polish jokes’ and encounter the sentences “The Polish trickster is a master of the paradoxes of porosity” and “It moves from a phobic to a philic register” I sometimes think a psychopath climbing up a university bell tower with a high-powered rifle and picking-off people at random is not necessarily performing a negative function in society.

On the other hand, the delightfully dour Rose – one of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s entourage – is currently writing her third academic thesis on Lewis Schaffer and there could be entire university departments profitably studying the psychological and sociological intricacies of Lewis Schaffer’s neuroses.

Hellfire! There must be multiple theses to be written on why he keeps repeating his full name “Lewis Schaffer” and why he attracts off-the-proverbial-wall incidents at his shows. Last night was no exception – and a good antidote to academia. It was one of his ongoing twice-a-week Free Until Famous shows which go hand-in-pocket with his ongoing weekly pay-to-enter American in London shows.

Lewis Schaffer performing in Soho last night

Lewis Schaffer performing at The Source Below last night (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

I arrived slightly late which, a whole two minutes after I was seated, managed to distract him from the flow of his performance. He was on form, though. Good show, good audience reaction.

Later, amidst the glamour of Leicester Square’s flagship McDonalds, Lewis told me:

“I’ve lost track whether my shows are good or not. My shows are like a rollercoaster. Most rollercoasters start with a slow incline up. Mine start with a drop into a pit. All I care about is making them interesting for me. I can’t start a show with people enjoying themselves because I’ve just got a feeling it’s going to get worse. I feel I have to start off with them hating me and build it up. I guess I want to be loved – I want to be loved by people who don’t love me.

“If they come into my show with high expectations of enjoyment, I just want to quash that. The key to my shows is that the audience, at some point, has to believe I’m a professional comedian and I can only be self-deprecating for a short period of the show. But I didn’t feel I was that brilliant tonight.”

“And then there was the drunk,” I said.

At the end of the first part of his nearly two-hour long show, Lewis Schaffer told the audience he was going to hide behind a curtain during the interval so that, if anyone wanted to leave without embarrassment, they could.

“Why were you hiding behind the curtain?” I asked.

“For scientific purposes,” Lewis Schaffer told me.

Lewis Schaffer contemplates in McDonald’s last night

Lewis Schaffer plays with a bottle last night

While Lewis Schaffer was hiding behind the curtain, a drunk came down into the basement venue and sat in a corner. At the time, I was upstairs buying a coffee for my eternally-un-named friend.

“He was young middle-aged,” she told me later, describing the man who came in. “He shuffled in wearing a dark jacket. He sat down at a table where two people had been sitting, but they’d gone to the bar to get a drink. He sat hunched over, holding a carrier bag to his chest in the way of the psychologically wounded or drunk, like someone who is cold. I thought Oh, is he a drunk who often comes in and tries to sleep in the corner during Lewis’ shows?

“If he’d come in without being so obviously drunk or damaged and then just leant against a corner in the dark, he would probably have been left alone because it wouldn’t have felt like he was so obviously the elephant in the room but, because he was slumped forward in a sleepy, drunken way… Rose realised there was this guy who was going to alter the atmosphere of the room, so she went to warn Lewis behind the curtain that there was a possible situation.”

“He was a proper, full-on, drunk, homeless guy,” Lewis told me. “He came in and passed out at the back of the room. He was very huge and very dangerous and we had to start the second half of the show and I felt I didn’t have the time to escort him out myself, so I asked the bartender to escort him out.”

“The barman was young,” explained my eternally-un-named friend, “and Italian, so English was not his first language. I think he was telling the guy You’re only allowed in here if you buy a drink and you’re too drunk to have one, so you’ll have to leave and the drunk guy was disputing this.”

I came back into to room when the barman had got the drunk man on his feet and they were both shuffling towards the bottom of the stairs.

Things apparently got physical up in the street and the drunk guy allegedly punched the bartender, the bartender allegedly punched the drunk guy and the drunk guy allegedly threw something at the kebab shop above the venue, cracking the window.

Broken dreams, broken window in London's Soho last night

Broken dreams, broken window in London’s Soho last night

“It caused maybe £1,500 of damage” Lewis Schaffer told me,

“And your point is?” I asked.

“My point is that I feel horrible because I’ve had 20 years in the bar business – that’s what my job is compering and hosting comedy shows – and I know how to get people out of a place without getting them angry. I should have done it myself… Is there something funny in that for your blog?”

“Your shows are never less than entertaining,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “Some people see the bottle as half empty; some people see the bottle as half full. You always see an empty bottle.”

“So it goes,” he said.

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Would Malcolm Hardee have HATED the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show?

I don’t know exactly what the etiquette is for exposing the identities of people on social media, but let us hope I am not breaching it in this blog.

This morning, the normally infallible mind-reader Doug Segal made an error when he re-Tweeted a message from itinerant comedian Matt Roper to me. The re-Tweet read:

@johnfleming RT @MrMattRoper: Too late for a Hardee Award? > “@doug_segal: Ian Cognito did 20 mins. Got his cock out then stormed off stage”

Ian Cognito - nothing is unexpected

Ian Cognito – comic originality comes as standard

My initial reaction was that, if Ian Cognito did NOT get his cock out and storm off stage then THAT would – for him – be comic originality.

But then I received another Tweet from Doug Segal. It read:

@MrMattRoper @johnfleming Whoops! Wrong @thejohnfleming

My Twitter address is @thejohnfleming NOT @johnfleming and Doug had accidentally Tweeted about Ian Cognito getting his cock out to a completely innocent other John Fleming who lives in Florida and who apparently is a “company builder, marketing and social media practitioner, clean tech advocate, country music fan and stumbling but dedicated parent”

Media people and performers – especially people in the comedy industry – do not live in the normal world as other people know it. So I do not even want to think what the other John Fleming made of the unsolicited Tweet about a cock.

Nudity, farting and sticking fingers up people’s bottoms (I refer you to yesterday’s blog) are perhaps not everyday occurrences in the world of entertainment, but they do not raise an eyebrow. Standards are different.

Anal entertainment: Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart

Arty anal entertainment? Mr Methane prepares to fart a dart (Photograph by Stephen O’Donnell)

For example, the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe last Friday had farting from Mr Methane and a man with bacon draped on his head and a singer who looked like Adolf Hitler crooning Frank Sinatra songs and giving the Nazi salute.

There was, as far as I am aware, only one complaint – which was that the show was too middle class.

On Facebook, just a few hours after the show finished, Bob Walsh posted:

The Awards Show was a rally for the middle classes

The Malcolm Hardee Awards Show was a middle class rally? (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

I hope y’all enjoyed the MH awards whilst the people that actually worked with him DIDNT GET INVITED! The people that headlined his shows ARE NOT INVITED! And his whole ethos has been ignored by middle class cunts who he would have HATED enjoyed yourselves. Goodnight!

Comedian Keara Murphy replied: What you on about? It wasn’t an ‘invite’ situation. Janey, who hosted it, did work with him.

Bob Walsh responded: Wow there was one then… He would have hated it.

Patrick Monahan lost to Tim Fitzhigham in Russian Egg Roulette

Pat Monahan lost to Tim Fitzhigham in Russian Egg Roulette (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

Keara argued: You don’t know what he would have hated. Fact! Loads of people who were there last night knew and worked with him. The organiser knew him personally. The performers were chosen for their reflection of his spirit – of who he was and the kind if acts he would have booked. Your rant is misinformed and misjudged.

Bob’s reaction was: I knew him well, he is the reason I am in comedy and I THINK HE WOULD HAVE HATED IT! An opinion not misinformed!

Keara replied: You said his ‘ethos was being ignored by middle class cunts’ – in what way, exactly? And exactly to whom are you referring? And who exactly are you calling ‘middle class’? John Fleming? Kate Copstick, Bob Slayer? Janey Godley? The audience?

Keara has something of a point here. I do not think former railwayman Mr Methane from Macclesfield would label himself middle class.

Do not call Janey Godley middle class

Janey Godley on a quiet day

And anyone calling Janey Godley middle class risks an unfortunate end, as she occasionally points out in her act that she can get someone killed for the price of a packet of chips. She is only joking, of course.

She could get someone killed for free, as a favour… and, indeed, she has half-joked in past shows that her uncle was killed one year as a birthday present to her.

But, by this point in the Facebook postings, I was a bit confused and I posted to Bob Walsh:

The GSOL as they are today (from left) Dickie, Steve, Martin

Greatest Show On Legs (from left) Dickie, Steve, Martin

I’d be interested to know who didn’t get invited. Martin Soan of the Greatest Show On Legs was booked to appear but, at the last minute, could not come up. Steve Bowditch and Dickie Richards, the other current two members of the Greatest Show on Legs, were invited to appear, decided to do Michael Jackson’s Thriller then decided they did not want to do it without Martin.

As for the middle class cunts in the audience, Malcolm discovered, when he was forced to turn the Tunnel Palladium into a members-only club, that a lot of his audience came from middle class areas. 

Malcolm ran his Tunnel comedy from 1984 to 1988. He told me that, to his surprise, a lot of his best hecklers worked in the City of London. I think (though I may be wrong) that his most legendary heckler – The Pirate – was a stockbroker who retired early on his mega-earnings to Spain.

Bob Walsh confused me even further, by saying: I THINK HE WOULD HAVE HATED IT and the whole middle class comedy industry and my drunken rant stands as my opinion. (Great line up tho Malcolm would have put some completely unknown acts on that HE liked)

The Silver Peevil from planet Venus

Would Malcolm have approved the Silver Peevil from Venus? (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

It is, of course, impossible to know which unknown acts Malcolm would have liked because he drowned in 2005.

But I would lay bets that he would have liked The Silver Peevil in what I think (I could, again, be wrong here) was only his fourth performance.

And then there is the (in England, Scotland and Wales) unknown comedy harpist Ursula Burns, who performed her ditty I’m Your Fucking Harpist.

Alas, I could not book Ursula Burns on her back with the harp

Alas, I could not book Ursula Burns on her back with the harp

Alas, because of the sightlines in The Counting House ballroom, I did not ask her to perform her climactic opus in which she sings and plays the harp lying on her back, legs apart, with the harp on top of her. Trust me, Malcolm would certainly have appreciated that part of her talent.

With great respect to Ursula, I’m sure his outro to her act would have been: “I’d fuck her…”

On Facebook, though, I told Bob Walsh I was Still a bit vague. What would Malcolm have hated specifically and specifically why? I’m not arguing with your opinion, just interested in it.

Bob told me: Its just opinions of his regulars at Tunnel that I still associate with. They are NOT happy

I asked: Were they there?

Bob replied: I wasn’t but 2 were. The main gripe seems to be the lack of risks and how the show has become a cool thing for trendy comics to network at.

Cool and trendy comics Richard Herring & Juliette Burton

Cool and trendy comics Richard Herring and Juliette Burton? (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

There are several points here.

One is that three acts did not appear on the show at the last moment. The act which had been going to climax the show phoned to cancel about 15 minutes before the show started. Two others (one a regular at Malcolm’s comedy clubs) simply did not turn up.

The other, more important point, is the incessant criticism of people being middle class.

Is that, in itself, a bad thing?

I think there is a worrying level of reverse snobbery going on here.

Yes, there is a comfortable Oxbridge elite of (especially BBC) producers who make programmes for audiences they do not understand. But there is no God-given rule of comedy that a so-called working class person from Liverpool can be funny and a middle class person from Surbiton cannot.

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm’s early management business

If I booked a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show starring acts of which Bob Walsh’s ‘middle class cunts’ who read the Guardian and watch TV panel shows might approve, then Keith Allen, Bill Bailey, Jo Brand, Jenny Eclair, Jules Holland, Stewart Lee, Sean Lock, Paul Merton, Vic Reeves and Johnny Vegas might appear on it. Malcolm booked, helped and sometimes even managed some of those acts.

He also booked bizarre odd acts and gave chances to new acts, which I always try to do.

As for “a cool thing for trendy comics to network at” – if only.

If only…

I would love that to be the case.

Those there last Friday – appearing on stage – if they hung around to see the show, that is not necessarily networking – included Baconface, Ursula Burns, Juliette Burton, Kate Copstick, Tim Fitzhigham, Janey Godley, Richard Herring, Lady Carol, Stewart Lee, Laura Levites, Mr Methane, Patrick Monahan, Frank Sanazi, Lewis Schaffer, Nelly Scott, Bob Slayer and Ewan Wardrop

Now, I am not specifying names, but I would not say all or even the majority of those names come into the liberal middle class elite of paranoid trendiness. And I may look like a fat, if shabbily-dressed, bank manager but, if forced to socially classify myself, I would say my upbringing was lower middle class and Malcolm Hardee’s was a step above me.

Malcolm was a grammar school boy who very nearly went to a public school. (American readers will have to translate that into their own native tongue.)

But, to steal Malcolm’s catchphrase – Fuck it!

Enough with all this class bollocks.

The so-called working class have no more right to own comedy than Oxbridge or the so-called middle class.

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Comedian Bob Slayer has a sex change & I go up a hill at the Edinburgh Fringe

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Revisited

The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Revisited

I am not technically-minded. I do not want to know how computers work. Which is why, after having one excellent Amstrad computer, I have only ever bought Apple computers. I bought my first in 1993.

I had one laptop which occasionally had problems – It had to have the DVD drive replaced twice. But I had had it for at least two, perhaps three, years when – in September 2011 – I took it in for a second time.

The Apple Store assistant took it into a back room, came back and said: “You’ve been having problems with this machine. Would you like a new one for free?”

As I say, I had had the machine for over two, perhaps around three years. It was well out of warranty.

“How much would the new one cost normally?” I asked.

“£2,100,” came the reply.

“I’ll have it,” I said.

About a week later, I was watching a BBC TV News report of Apple boss Steve Jobs’ death.

Around ten minutes later, my phone rang. It was Apple telling me my new laptop had arrived. It was faster, with more memory and a bigger hard drive than my previous laptop; they had given me the latest model with better specifications than my previous one.

Yesterday, in the Gilded Balloon venue in Edinburgh, I heard someone say: “If you want to see Steve Jobs, he’s along the corridor and down the stairs.”

They were talking about an Edinburgh Fringe show – The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs Revisited – but nothing would surprise me either with Apple or at the Fringe.

Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Scars: Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show

Shortly afterwards, I saw a show called Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show

The two performers asked me not to mention them by name. This is unusual but I can understand their dilemma.

I would award 5 scars to Jimmy Savile: The Punch and Judy Show.

Yes, that is, indeed, five SCARS not stars.

I will need psychological counselling for years to come but, I suppose, it did come under that catch-all phrase ‘the spirit of the Fringe’. It was free and, not unreasonably, you had to pay to get out.

Sign in the window of Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

Sign in the window of Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette Burton – interesting dreams of flyering

Juliette Burton – whose show When I Grow Up has already got five STARS tells me that, at a previous Fringe, when she was performing as part of the Mace & Burton double act, during the night at their flat, she once woke up both herself and fellow performer Lizzy Mace by ‘sleep-flyering’… “I was flyering in my sleep!”

Everyone is stressed during the Edinburgh Fringe except, it seems, my temporary flatmate Andy Zapp.

“Anything bizarre happen yesterday for my blog?” I asked him this morning.

“I never get stressed up here,” he told me.

Well, that is the most bizarre thing anyone has ever said to me at the Fringe.

How passers-by saw Miss Behave in the window of Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

How passers-by saw Miss Behave in the window of Bob’s Bookshop yesterday

Meanwhile, at Bob’s Bookshop, co-venue manager Miss Behave (who has broken her heel) is hobbling around on crutches at a speed which should make her eligible for the next Paralympics and has been re-decorating the window (partly by stretching out in it).

I seem to remember that, at one point before the Fringe started, her co-manager comedian Bob Slayer threatened to sleep in the window overnight every night as a form of art installation.

As far as I am aware, this has not so far happened. I think Miss Behave would draw more attention.

Andy Zapp (left) with a stunned Bob ‘Rachel’ Slayer yesterday

Andy Zapp (left) with a stunned Bob ‘Rachel’ Slayer yesterday

In the meantime, Bob is going around with an unexplained name tag on his chest saying he is RACHEL.

Today I think I may go up to see the view of Edinburgh from the Blackford Hill.

To understand why, you will have to read a book about Edinburgh which, I am told, is on sale from this coming Wednesday.

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick faces court fraud charges during Edinburgh Fringe

David Allison - a Fringe virgin’s first trial

David Allison, Fringe virgin, risked getting screwed up there

The Edinburgh Fringe – which starts next week – has shows where you buy a ticket in advance, it has ‘free’ shows where you get in for free but can (if you want) pay on the way out and now it has shows where you are not allowed in.

Producer David Allison is staging a series of five shows called This Is Your Trial, three of which are private and only two of which are open to the public.

“I just didn’t know the ‘rules’ of doing the Fringe,” David Allison says.

blogged about This Is Your Trial back in February.

Basically, David structures a personalised comedy show based round the idea of putting one person ‘on trial’ for a spurious offence and inviting the person’s friends, workmates and acquaintances along as prosecution/defence witnesses, jury and audience.

This Is Your Trial,” says David,has been described by Mark Dolan (of Channel 4’s Balls of Steel) as Judge Judy meets a comedy roast. It has taken some time to develop, with different comics and audiences and all its ups and downs.

“People tell me I should be waking up in a cold sweat and I should be panicking… I should be regretting embarking on this plan… That is how I’m told people normally prepare for going to the Edinburgh Fringe and yet I feel quietly optimistic. Am I getting it all wrong?”

He does have one big problem, though.

“One proviso when I started my Edinburgh adventure,” he says, “was my partner Nina’s demand that it wouldn’t put me (further) into debt. Otherwise, I was told, I might as well stay up there and not come back.”

David, a Fringe virgin, at first naively thought: Surely people don’t lose money at Edinburgh Fringe?

HA! I say. HA! HA! I say.

I told him: “Going to the Fringe is like standing in a cold shower tearing up £20 notes” and one comedy act he spoke to told him that if he (the act) sold all his tickets for the entire run he would only lose £3,000. Only.

David Allison feared losing his shirt in Edinburgh

Mr Allison feared losing his shirt in Edinburgh

It was at this point, apparently, that David realised going to the Edinburgh Fringe and not losing his shirt (and his partner) was going to be more tricky than he thought.

But comedian now Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer offered him performance slots at the new Bob’s Bookshop venue under his inventive Pay What You Want – Heroes of Fringe banner, a spin-off from the Free Festival.

Bob told David: “Everyone will tell you to expect to lose money at the Fringe and that is sound advice based on most performers’ experience. But £2 million of tickets are sold during August, so someone somewhere is doing OK. I think it’s probably the people giving you the advice that you’ll lose money – the PR people, marketing people, big venues, agents. They are are probably the ones making all the cash. It’s not in their interest to see the Fringe model change even if that would make it a more creative and vibrant Fringe. So don’t be swayed by the general industry consensus. Find your own way and you can succeed (or fail) on your own terms.”

Spurred on by this, David says: “My first decision was to limit the time spent up there. I couldn’t get any more than a week off my (proper) work anyway, so that decision was made for me. And the nature of the shows I do requires a lot of detailed research, so a limit of five shows would help ensure the quality wouldn’t suffer.

“The unique position I had was that, although most shows might need to sell a lot of tickets per day to make a profit, my shows are personalised experiences for groups who know each other – so selling individual tickets is not relevant. I only need to sell one ticket for each show. That said, as the ticket buys the whole show, I was asking for £500 per ticket. This led to the awkward boast that This Is Your Trial is the most expensive ticket on the Fringe. But that became a useful ‘hook’ attracting press coverage in The Scotsman… and a blog by you.

Judge Norman Lovett

Judge Norman Lovett will preside over a court

“I also decided I needed some big names. So I just approached a few of my favourite acts and asked them directly: Scott Capurro, Mark Dolan, Barry Ferns, Tim FitzHigham, Janey Godley, Tony Law, Norman Lovett, Glenn Wool. To my surprise, each one said Yes.

“But, just as I was beginning to wonder how hard this Fringe thing could really be… I realised I still hadn’t sold any tickets.

“The only person I knew in Scotland was a solicitor in Glasgow who had been to one of my London shows. He bought the first ticket for Inksters, his firm of lawyers. Not so difficult.

“Then Bob Slayer sold another to the cheeky Edinburgh underpants manufacturer, Bawbags and Scottish Borders Brewery.

“The third went to a stag party I found through a local website.

“And then Thomas Black – a local Edinburgh comedian and huge fan of Hearts FC – introduced us to Scott Wilson, the stadium announcer. A couple of calls later and we had secured our fourth booking – a fundraiser for Hearts, who are in administration. Players and fans are invited to watch manager Gary Locke face charges before a court of Judge Norman Lovett, prosecutor Janey Godley and defence counsel Bob Slayer. The show will take place on August 5th at Tynecastle Stadium itself.”

This meant David was staging three private shows, one public show – at Hearts’ Tynecastle Stadium, no less – and he had only one show left to sell before he could boldly claim a 100% sold out show and attach a laurel to his Fringe flyers next year.

“My costs were now almost covered,” he says. “I knew I could pay all the comedians involved and maybe even buy my partner Nina a nice present for putting up with me and my obsession.

“So I decided to stop busting a gut to sell the last show and find a worthy cause instead. I asked The Scotsman’s comedy critic Kate Copstick – who had been super supportive all along – if she would like a show in support of her Mama Biashara charity.

“We did, however, attach one condition, which was that she herself would be put on trial. She is a game bird and she agreed without hesitation.”

Copstick consults with defence counsel Slayer

Copstick (right) consults with her defence counsel Bob Slayer

The Trial of Kate Copstick is on August 7th at The Hive venue where she will be charged with being A failed performer who snipes from the pages of the Scotsman instead.

Scott Capurro will be prosecuting Copstick. Bob Slayer will defend her. Glenn Wool is the judge.

Now David is looking for witnesses to the alleged crime.

Maybe you got a great review from Copstick,” he says in his appeal. “Or you got a terrible but accurate Copstick review that spurred you on to better things… Or maybe you once saw her appear on Chuckle Vision and thought her performance worthy of a BAFTA… If you did get a terrible, unfair, scathing review from Copstick, maybe she was lambasting you because she knew you were better than she ever was?”

If so, he wants to hear from you.

You can contact him HERE.

This morning, I asked Copstick what she thought her chances were at the trial.

She told me:

“I am slightly worried that I have Bob Slayer as my defence lawyer – a bumbling, drunken ex-jockey who is quite likely to get his cock out in court. However, Scott Capurro is the prosecutor and he is going to be so busy cruising the audience and trying to seduce Glenn Wool (the judge) that he will probably forget to do his job. One fly in my ointment is that I am, of course, totally guilty of being a failed stand-up. But please don’t tell anyone.”

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News of Edinburgh Fringe sexual organ props & the World Fart Championships

Martin Soan, an older man, but stylish in his Nigel Hall socks

Martin Soan (right) chats on Lewis Schaffer’s radio show

“I thought I was going to get away without building a sexual organ prop this year,” Martin Soan told me yesterday. “But the first order for a cock has come in today. It’s for a comedian going up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“Your FIRST order?” I asked. “How many do you normally get?”

“I usually get about two a year,” Martin told me.

As attentive readers of this blog will know, Martin was asked in May to perform the part of a vagina in a play. He is famed for The Naked Balloon Dance he created for the Greatest Show on Legs.

“What happened to your vagina part in the play?” I asked him this morning.

“The woman sent me the script, I read it and I politely told her I was not an actor.”

Martin was once asked to build a prop for a comedian which, he said, was an “all-singing-and-dancing talking vagina. I used silk. It had hair and eyes. It was really scary.”

He may not be an actor in the traditional sense, but he walks an ever-moving dividing line between being a comedian and a performance artist, a prop maker and a creator of stage fantasies.

mrmethanebends

Mr Methane flying off to fart in Finland

And, talking of unlikely career paths and fantasies, we have the case of my chum Mr Methane, the world’s only professionally-performing farter who is attending the first ever World Fart Championships in Utajärvi, Finland. They are being held this Saturday.

He flies off at noon today, but may arrive in Finland earlier than scheduled if there is a following wind.

“I’m surprised they’re having championships,” I said to him yesterday. “Surely it’s a talent rather than a sport?”

“I would say it could be both,” he told me. “It’s a sport in terms of my kind of farting – petomania – because performing a full show like mine is quite strenuous and it requires one to be farting fit. I think the talent is being able to control one’s emission.”

“That is always a bonus when in polite society,” I suggested.

“Sometimes,” said Mr Methane, “when I am introduced as a professional farter, the ladies do not fully take into consideration the fact that a pro can control his emissions. That is a positive over your average male, surely?”

“I certainly consider it thus,” I said. “But do foreigners really understand the joke? Indeed, is it a joke?”

“I am the man,” said Mr Methane, “who apparently blew the doors of censorship wide open for Swedish TV after my 1991 appearance on Robert Aschberg’s TV3 show.”

Mr Methane performed in front of guests including the country’s Foreign Minister.

“Things were apparently never the same again,” Mr Methane told me yesterday. “Or so I found out when I was invited as a guest on a Swedish style This Is Your Life TV show for Robert. The show’s producer wrote to Barrie, my manager:

When Mr. Methane visited Robert’s show Ikväll in the early 1990s he stunned a whole country. Some was amused and some were appalled by Mr. Methane’s talent however – it was television history. None in Sweden had before seen this kind of a show. Robert’s show was a predecessor and Mr Methane was the one guest that made it happen.

“When Martin Soan and Malcolm Hardee and the Greatest Show on Legs took The Naked Balloon Dance to Sweden in the early 1980s,” I said. “it was very popular there, but Malcolm told me he didn’t think the Swedes actually understood why it was funny.”

“I think Malcolm is partially correct but not entirely,” said Mr Methane. “If you watch the clip of Robert Aschberg crying with laughter and tears running down his face as I perform, it’s hard to believe that Swedes have no sense of humour. I think they tend to conduct themselves in a reserved fashion and this gives off that impression.

“Robert’s mate Gert Fylking, who held the microphone, could give the Greatest Show On Legs a run for their money. He was mental and did some really crazy things. But, then, he did attend a boarding school in Uttoxeter… His parents felt that an English education would be good for him and it obviously paid dividends.”

“Crazy things?” I asked.

“He had an enema-shitting contest,” said Mr Methane, “but his real party piece is jumping up and down on one leg, naked, until his cock spins round like a propeller. Both were performed on TV3 after they’d tested the limits with my act. He is a Christian Democrat politician now.”

Little House on The Prairie was a fine TV show

Little House on The Prairie was a fine TV show

“I used to work for TV3 in the UK,” I said. “It is a fine TV company. I think they screened Little House on The Prairie undubbed. Do you think any one nation more attuned to the true appreciation of your farts?”

“I guess my show is best received in Australia,” mused Mr Methane, “though some Australians are touchy about it because they feel that the world sees them as crude and rude when they are, in fact, a highly cultured nation.

“My 1997 appearance on the Channel 9 Footy Show apparently holds the record for the most complaints about an Australian TV show. People were calling in to complain from remote places out in the bush that weren’t even meant to get Channel 9’s signal. The switchboard apparently melted. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

The Footy Show panel turned to rubble, the studio audience was a mix of Animal House delight and gob smacked incredulity and the phones ran hotter than a Kate Fischer calendar.

“So what are you doing at the World Fart Championship in Finland?” I asked.

“At 47,” said Mr Methane, I’m past my competitive age, so I’m there as a The Godfather of Flatulence – an inspiration to those who follow in my footsteps – or wherever – A bit like you get the retired footballers on Match of the Day.

Johann Strauss was a fine Austrian composer

Johann Strauss II was a fine composer

“I will be doing a fully-blown show there, but I will be pacing myself. I will be going at my own speed, not sprinting to a finishing line in the shortest time and I will be accompanied by the Utajärvi Brass Band in a special rendition of The Blue Danube by Johann Strauss. I see my show as a mature wine that should be savoured and not rushed so one can experience the true aroma.”

“How can they judge farts at the Championships?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” admitted Mr Methane. “You could have The Longest, The Shortest, The Fattest, The Thinest… Hang on, this is beginning to sound like the theme tune to Record Breakers.”

“Whither farting contests?” I asked.

“I think it is an event that could run and run,” said Mr Methane.

“Any helpful advice for actual contestants?”

“Relax… But not too much.”

“And after your visit to Finland?”

Bob’s Bookshop (left) is a fine venue

Bob’s Bookshop (left) is a fine venue at the Edinburgh Fringe

“As you know,” said Mr Methane, “ I am appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe, with My Life In Farting at Bob Slayer’s Bookshop venue at 3.30 every afternoon,  13th – 17th August… Ring-side seats are still available.”

“And you are staying in my Edinburgh flat for that week?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Mr Methane.

“Oh dear,” I said.

As I was about to post this blog, I got a mobile phone text from Mr Methane. It read:

“I’m hearing reports of a fart on The Archers. Not sure if true but, if so, you’d think they would have brought me in to do it. We both missed some publicity there.”

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Filed under Comedy, Finland, Humor, Humour, Sweden, Theatre, UK