Tag Archives: stage show

Available as a comedy show consultant or director or whatever you fancy, really

5Stars

The number of unknown unknowns is unknown

In the immortal words of Max Bialystock: “Flaunt it, flaunt it!”

I am available as a Director or Creative Consultant (or whatever words you want to use) on live comedy shows in 2016 – mostly, I guess, for people who intend to stage a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, although I am open to anything.

This can include structuring a show, giving feedback and show notes on performance and presentation, advice on publicity and marketing; whatever you want short of totally writing and performing the whole bleedin’ thing.

I won’t read scripts, because you are not reading out written scripts on stage. I will only advise people or see their live performances or run-throughs or try-outs – even if it’s in a living room! Me just reading words on paper or on a screen is a waste of your time and mine.

I have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe since around 1985 and been involved in the production of various live Fringe comedy shows including ones by Charlie Chuck, Janey Godley, Malcolm Hardee, Helen Keen and Lewis Schaffer. Since 2005, I have organised the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and, since 2006, staged annual variety shows in memory of Malcolm Hardee in London and Edinburgh, running anything from two to five hours. There will be a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe.

If I give advice on any show that is later considered for a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award, I will opt out of the decision-making process and will bend over backwards not to show bias. So, ironically, if I advise you on your show, you are much, much LESS likely to win a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

2008-2010 I was UK creative consultant to New York’s Bleecker Street Theater and Green Room venue.

2010-2015 I was UK creative consultant to New York based Inbrook Entertainment, including the Gene Frankel Theatre.

I worked in British TV for around 25 years – including peaktime entertainment shows and series with performers including Jeremy Beadle, Cilla Black, Jack Dee, Jonathan Ross, Chris Tarrant et al – as well as directing/producing/writing promotion & marketing campaigns and press & sales tapes for TV stations in the UK, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Holland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden.

In print, I wrote comedian Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, edited comedienne Janey Godley’s autobiography and edited an anthology of stories by 19 stand-up comics. My blog So It Goes – mostly about comedy – was posted daily 2011-2015 and continues sporadically, with over 1 million hits.

I have also written for Chortle, the Huffington Post, the Independent, Screen International, Three WeeksWhat’s On Stage and others. And been a script consultant for TV’s This Morning, Tricia, Turner Movies and ITV News etc as well as a researcher for BBC TV News.

In 2014 and 2015, I chaired live Grouchy Club chat shows about comedy at the Fringe with Scotsman comedy critic Kate Copstick. This will continue at the 2016 Fringe. We also post weekly Grouchy Club podcasts and host monthly live Grouchy Club meetings in London.

Quotes about me include:
“The Boswell of the alternative comedy scene” (Chortle)
“Fleming knows a bit about comedy’s extremities”(Fest magazine)
“One of the most influential figures in British comedy” (The Skinny)

My charges are:

£50 per hour + (if outside the London Travel Zone area) travel costs, including time taken.
or
£350 for up to 10 hours. For this, I have to be paid 50% up-front and 50% at the end of the consultation.

I know comedians!

CONTACT: john@thejohnfleming.com

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Famous two-faced showbiz pond scum + dancing in urine and the near-fatal ‘accident’ on live TV

I recently wrote a blog about The Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity.

Scots comedian Stu Who commented that he had had the “pleasure …of meeting, and socialising, with an astonishingly wide range of musicians, actors, comedians, writers, and celebrities with no discernible talent other than being ‘well-known’.”

He said: “Some of TV’s funniest and most charming are utter pond-scum, whereas many of the more obnoxious, grumpy, outrageous, aggressive, and tough-nut celebs are actually cuddly, sweet, and rather charming behind their rough-cast exteriors. This experience led me to suspect that there was a distinct corollary to be learned – i.e. the nicer they are on-screen, the bigger a bastard they are off-screen and vice-versa.”

I had come to exactly the same conclusion as Stu.

There are some interesting reversals, though. Stu mentioned in his comments at the bottom of my old blog that, the first time he met Shakin’ Stevens, he thought the Welsh singer was grumpy and rude. But, when he worked with him again, says Stu: “I mentioned that he’d been an obnoxious prick on our previous meeting, we established the date of the occasion in question and Shakey then recounted the rather horrible personal events that had led up to that day in Edinburgh when I’d met him and I totally understood why he wasn’t very chummy or affable under the circumstances.”

Before I worked with her, I had seen children’s and TV gameshow show presenter Sue Robbie on-screen and thought off-screen she was probably a slightly stuck-up, head prefect sort of person. Totally wrong. She turned out to be absolutely lovely. No ego. A wonderful person to work with.

I also presumed the late Marti Caine would be up-herself, as she was a talent-show-to-stardom person and looked a bit damaged on-screen (therefore dangerous off-screen). I could not have been more wrong. I don’t normally gush, but…

Marti was, I think, the most wonderfully warm, modest, lovely “star” I have ever met. She was an absolute joy to be with. Talking to people who worked with Marti Caine is a bit like talking to people who own Apple Mac computers. They go on and on and on about how wonderful, marvellous, friendly etc etc etc… She once told me – and I totally believe it is true – that, although she’d liked the showbiz glitter to begin with, all she really wanted to do was be a housewife. She told me she really enjoyed hoovering and cleaning the house, but people would phone her up with offers of ludicrous amounts of money which she felt she’d be mad to turn down, so her career continued.

She was everything you could hope for.

Like Stu, I have found performers’ on-screen personas are often the opposite of their off-screen ones. If I fancy some star or think they seem great, the last thing I would ever want to do is meet them, because they will probably turn out to be shits.

Having said that, I have only ever worked with one awful “star” who, alas, shall be nameless because I don’t want my arse sued off and the English legal system is a gambling pit of shit-juggling.

Some stories you can never be certain of.

James Cagney never did say “You dirty rat” in any film.

Michael Caine never did say “Not a lot of people know that” – well, not until it became an accepted ‘truth’ that he did say it and then he said it as a joke.

Word of mouth always spread untrue stories and now the internet spreads urban myths in seconds like politicians spread bullshit.

Several people have told me the story (also on the internet and apparently printed in a national newspaper) that, in the 1980s, during the London Palladium run of Singing in the Rain, Tommy Steele would dance the climactic title song in the rain while water poured down onto the stage from giant overhead tanks and the rest of the cast and backstage crew watched (as he thought it) admiringly from the wings. What he didn’t know was that he was so disliked that many of them routinely pissed in the water tank before every show and watched to see the resultant mix of water and piss pour down on Tommy’s head.

In my previous Downside of Being a Dead Celebrity blog, I mentioned how veteran TV producer Michael Hurll went for the late comedian Charlie Drake’s throat in a Chortle interview. My mad inventor chum John Ward, after he read the blog, reminded me about Charlie Drake’s ‘accident’ in 1961.

John told me: “I was having tea last year with somebody who ‘was there’ at the time and had quite a lot to say about that ‘bloody awful little man’…”

I remember as a child seeing the ‘accident’ when it happened. Because I’m that old. And because it happened on live TV.

Charlie – a big big star at the time – appeared in BBC TV’s The Charlie Drake Show every week. It was live and he was known for his physical comedy. On this one particular night, as part of a slapstick story called Bingo Madness, he was pulled through an upright bookcase and thrown out of a window on the studio set. There was then a very long pause when nothing happened and then the credits rolled. The next morning’s papers reported that Charlie had been knocked out by going through the bookcase and was unconscious when thrown out of the window.

The story was that someone had ‘mended’ the breakaway bookcase between rehearsals and the live TV show. John Ward tells me this someone he knows who was there at the time says balsa wood had been replaced by real wood, though this is not quite the story  Charlie Drake himself told (here on YouTube). The implication (not shared by Charlie, of course) was that he was so disliked (which he certainly was) that the bookcase had been intentionally ‘firmed up’ to injure him. He fractured his skull, was unconscious for three days and it was two years before he returned to the screen.

The moral?

Don’t piss on the backstage crew or they may piss on you…

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Write it as Art, sell it as baked beans… How to publicise stage shows, movies, books, TV and Shakespeare

Sit back, relax and have a cup of tea.

Throughout my life, whenever I’ve been asked what I do, I have never been able to give any understandable answer because the truth is I’ve really just bummed around doing overlapping this, that and sometimes the other.

One thing I used to do was review and write feature articles about movies, so I saw previews a week or a month before the films were released, having read little or nothing at all about them.

I saw them ‘cold’ as they were structured to be seen.

That blissful ignorance happened again last night with the movie The Adjustment Bureau. I had read nothing at all about it. I knew it starred Matt Damon, was based on a short story by Philip K Dick (who wrote the stories on which Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report were based) and, on the poster, Matt Damon and a girl in a red dress were running away from people chasing them in a city.

That was it.

So last night I saw The Adjustment Bureau cold and thought it was a fascinating film – quite often totally doolally, but fascinating. It is severely weird for a commercial film and it is well worth seeing.

But the poster bears no relation at all to the basic content of the movie – to the extent that it even implies The Adjustment Bureau is in one particular type of movie genre when it is actually a totally different movie genre (I don’t want to give it away).

So that’s an example of a misleading movie poster successfully attempting to get bums on seats. It’s a potentially counter-productive strategy because word-of-mouth soon gets round.

I’m interested because another thing I did – for over twenty plus years – was make on-screen TV promotions – ‘trailers’.

I was a writer or producer or director or writer-producer or writer-director or whatever it took a company’s fancy to call the job.

So I am interested in how creative products are ‘sold’ to the audience.

A couple of days ago, someone asked me about their 40-word show entry for the Edinburgh Fringe Programme.

My advice was the same advice I give on anything creative.

Write it as Art.

Sell it as baked beans.

If the content is high quality in itself, it won’t be demeaned by a tabloid headline type of publicity.

There’s nothing wrong with being populist.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

The creative work itself is what you want people to read, hear or see. It can be as subtle and/or as sophisticated as you want. Publicity is another matter. Publicity is like someone standing outside, in a busy street, with lots of other audio distractions, yelling through a megaphone to try to get people to notice you and your creation exist.

If it fails, no-one will see what you have struggled to create. So don’t knock it.

If you are in Piccadilly Circus or the High Street in Edinburgh amid 150 other people yelling about what they’ve done, then you need to be loud to be heard and you need to wear bright colours to be seen.

I’ve also written books. In standard publishing contracts, the author gets total control over the text inside a book – the publisher cannot change it without the author’s permission. But the publisher has total contractual control over the design of and text on the cover. There is a reason for this.

What is inside the book is the artistic creation you want people to experience. What is on the cover is advertising and promotion aimed at intriguing potential readers into picking up and buying the book and its unknown content.

Publicity is persuading as many people as possible to buy an invisible pig inside a bag.

In its own way, it is equally creative. But it is different.

Content is a different form of creativity from publicity.

In television, the last thing you want is for a director to make the promotion for his own TV programme. The result is almost always shit. For one thing, he or she is too close to it to be objective. Also, he or she may be able  to make a great 30 or 60 or 90 minute TV programme, but, trust me, he or she knows bugger all about selling a programme to the viewer in 20 seconds in the middle of other promos amid forests of £500,000 adverts for soap powder, cars and insurance companies.

There is a difference between creating something which will give a pastel-wearing theorist at the Arts Council a creative hard-on and creating something which will get people en masse to pay out money and/or spend time to read-hear-watch it.

Repetition is also not always bad.

There is nothing wrong with populism.

The opposite of popular is unpopular.

‘Populist’ is just a word meaning ‘popular’ made up by people who can’t create anything popular themselves and want to save their egos by trying to seem culturally superior.

Shakespeare was never less than populist.

Macbeth was written by Shakespeare because the new English King James I was actually King James VI of Scotland who was interested in witchcraft and the supernatural. So what better way to suck up to the new King and revived public interest in the supernatural than to write a Scottish play with witches and ghosts in it? And bung in death, destruction, gore and swearing.

The best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Baz Luhrmann‘s movie William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet – a movie so untraditional and in-yer-face that, the first time you see it, it takes about five minutes to adjust to the OTT style.

The second best Shakespeare film I have ever seen is Roman Polanski’s Macbeth, financed by Playboy magazine, with Lady Macbeth nude in the sleepwalking scene and awash with more blood than the Colosseum on a bad day for Christians. It was the first film Polanski directed after his wife Sharon Tate was butchered.

I’m sure Shakespeare would have loved both movies because they are real audience pleasers. Once you get people in and watching, you can communicate any in-depth piece of philosophical seriousness you want.

Reverting to my chum who wrote 40 words on their Edinburgh Fringe show… The first version was ineffective because it described the plot rather than push the unique selling points of the show.

I asked: “Don’t tell me what’s IN it, tell me what it’s ABOUT.”

You want to say what it is ABOUT – what made you want to create the thing in the first place. And that, in fact, is how to promote bad productions too.

My rule of thumb in TV promotions was never to mislead or lie about a programme to the audience. If it was shit, I tried to figure out what the original concept was that got the producer, director and cast keen to make it.

No-one intends to create a shit book, play, comedy show, TV series, movie or whatever.

In promoting anything, part of what you want to communicate is whatever made the people involved keen to create it in the first place. If the audience can be interested in the concept as much as the failed creators originally were, then you may get an audience and they won’t feel too let down because what they have been told is there actually IS there. Even if it’s not very good.

If the creative product is good – as The Adjustment Bureau is – then that’s even better.

Pity their poster was so misleading.

Of course, some things are so shit, the only thing to do is to get in and get out fast before the word-of-mouth gets round.

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Filed under Ad industry, Books, Comedy, Movies, PR, Television, Theatre