Tag Archives: stage

Advice to stand-up comedians on how not to utterly mess up their stage acts

I am not a performer.

I am an audience member.

So I am well-placed to tell stand-up comics when they are annoying the audience and destroying their own act.

Lighting is vitally important in a comedy club.

New/inexperienced stand-up comedians understandably want to see the faces and the facial reactions of their audience.

But performers can be dazzled by the light or lights aimed at their faces, so the inexperienced tend to move their eyes – and thus part or all of their heads – out of the centre of the light.

This means they can see the audience slightly better but it also means the audience inevitably see the performer’s face less sharply lit.

Communication is all about people.

People are interested in people.

If you are writing an autobiography or a biography or a novel, it is almost always not the facts which are gripping; it is the people involved, their thoughts and their emotions.

This next bit actually IS relevant.

If you wrote about the physical causes and facts of an avalanche on a mountainside, it would not be especially interesting to a general readership. If you write about what happened when two people were caught in an avalanche, it IS interesting.

People are interested in people.

This next bit is relevant too…

Years ago, I read some research on violence in movies. The researchers were able to pinpoint where on the screen a viewer’s eyes were focussed.

In an action sequence, you might assume the audience would be watching the action. 

They are not. They are watching the RE-action.

If someone is punched or shot, the viewer’s eyes are not watching the punch land or the bullet hit… The viewer is watching the face of the victim.

There may be special effects blood spurting out from the bullet impact; the victim may be throwing his arms up in the air; but the audience are not looking at that. The audience are watching the face of the victim.

They are not watching the action. They are watching the RE-action.

When it gets down to basics, people are interested in people and people’s emotions.

It is exactly the same in comedy performance.

Being told a joke by a stand-up comic on-stage is, of course, about the greater or lesser effect of the material and the delivery. But, by-and-large, stand-ups do what the name suggests. They stand up, tell a joke and that is it. 

What are the audience looking at?

They are not looking at the stage backcloth; they are not looking at the comic’s costume; they are not looking at the comic’s hands, though they may be aware of them peripherally. They are looking at the face of the comedian telling the joke. They are looking at the performer’s face and at the eyes.

If the performer is moving around in-and-out of the main light, the constantly-changing visual information – or lack of it in dimly-lit shadows – starts to distract from and overwhelm the spoken words. One vivid picture IS worth a thousand words.

The audience, by and large, HAS to see the performer’s face clearly. Which means a bright light shining directly at the performer’s face.

The reverse of that is… If the performer can see the audience clearly, he or she is standing in the wrong place and being badly lit.

If the audience can’t see the stand-up comic’s face clearly, he or she might as well play a tape recording on an empty stage. The audience have not paid to come and see a chair or a curtain or a bit of wall while listening to disembodied words coming out of the gloom.

They have come to see a stand-up comic delivering lines. 

They have come to see a person.

The clue is in the word SEE.

My advice to new stand-up comics is…

The more YOU can see the audience, the less THEY are probably seeing of you.

If you are dazzled, you will be dazzling. If you are in the gloom, you are dim.

STAND IN THE FUCKING SPOTLIGHT!

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The difficulties of making prop genitalia for stage shows explained, by an expert

Poster for this month’s Pull The Other One

Poster for this month’s Pull The Other One

It will become obvious as this blog progresses why there are maybe fewer illustrations than normal.

Yesterday I was talking to Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs, who also runs London’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club.

The Greatest Show on Legs are performing two shows at London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre this month and also doing a special performance during the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the last Friday of the Edinburgh Fringe in August.

But Martin also makes props for other acts.

“Have you had any orders for anything at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked him.

Martin Soan, master maker of stage genitalia

Martin Soan, master maker of stage genitalia

“It’s a bit early,” he told me. “They usually start coming in panicking about a month before the Fringe starts. Then I get a flurry of requests. And I do a lot of consultation. People ring me up and want things and I tell them: This is the way you can do it cheaper. Have you thought about buying this or that? I talk people through how to make their own props. So I get a lot of consultation for which I get paid absolutely nothing.”

‘You’ll have to start charging this year,” I suggested.

“The thing is people approach me so late,” said Martin. “It’s usually so late I only have time to do things for a couple of people. This year, I can only do a couple cos I’ve got a lot of work on myself.”

“Last weekend,” I prompted, “you were in Omid Djalili’s two shows over two nights at the Hammersmith Apollo.”

“Yes, and the Watford Colosseum on the Thursday night. I got a couple of messages from Omid a couple of weeks before the shows, asking me if I could make some spinning testicles for him.”

“What size were they?”

“Slightly larger than normal. Malcolm Hardee sized bollocks.’

“Oh,” I said, “so they were not like 3ft wide bollocks? How did people see them in a vast theatre?”

“I made the colour of the trousers contrast with the colour of the testicles,” explained Martin. “It went down a storm, so presumably everyone could see it.

“In the show, Omid was sitting with his dad in front of the television and they have this ridiculous pastime – they stick their hands down their trousers and sort of wind each other up by seeing how many times they can twist their bollocks round. So they’ve got it up to five and Omid wanted someone to go on stage at the end of the show, get hold of their own bollocks, twist them round six times then let go and they go whirrr-whirrr-whirrr spinning round like that.

“It was a really difficult prop to make because, obviously, the testicles had to be right close to your own testicles and, obviously, he wanted not just testicles but an appendage to feature as well.

“So I had to research penises and stuff like that in the dark world of sexual applications and I eventually got a silicon penis. It was just really difficult to make it work. The testicles had to look fairly realistic immediately although presumably – once they started spinning round – everyone would realise they were not real.

“The silicon penis made it so difficult, because I had the spinning shaft and only had about 4 centimetres to play with – to motorise it or bungee-rubber-band it up. It was a really difficult prop to make. In the end, the only way to do it was with my own real penis.

“So I showed Omid a little video of it and he was really happy with the prop.

“First of all, he had a member of his family lined-up to do it and they thought it was fantastic up until the point when he described what happens. Then his father got really angry with him and refused to do it. Then he had two really famous people lined-up to do it. They thought it was very, very funny until he explained the actual end of the routine and they both refused to do it. So then he told me I had to do it.”

“And,” I asked, “did it work sensibly?”

“It worked,” laughed Martin. “Not sensibly!”

“How many genitalia props have you made?” I asked.

“Over the years for Edinburgh Fringe shows,” mused Martin. “I would say about ten. Some of them I might have forgotten. It might be a dozen. Over the last maybe five years, I’ve had two or three requests.

“The worst thing is having to do the research. To get the silicon penis for Omid, I had to go on all these sexual paraphernalia sites and you just get fed up with it and then you get loads of spam mail afterwards asking if you want all these weird dildos and things. It’s a pain in the arse.”

“Not what I would have thought,” I said,

“The worst one,” Martin told me, “was for Pete Jonas, who wanted a human-sized female genitalia.”

“How big?”

“About six or eight-feet tall.”

“That,” I said, “is bigger than the human ones I’ve seen.”

“I said human-sized,” explained Martin, “not life-sized.

“I had to do a bit of research – I wanted to get it anatomically correct – and, when I started looking, it was amazing. It really opened my eyes up about the wonderful array of female genitalia that is out there. Not any two are the same. I think most men’s penises are basically the same… or maybe two types – circumcised and non-circumcised – and then the other variation is the size, of course. But female genitalia? It’s a myriad of different styles.

‘Then, after doing the in-depth research, I had to build this giant vagina and it had to talk – the lips had to move – and it had to have eyes that blinked as well.

“Pete Jonas didn’t pick it up for about three weeks. So I had it in my front room with my two daughters in the house and, every time I came in, it was a huge shock. In the end, it got rather wearing.”

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Gay Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Now Linked To Sight Gags for Perverts

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

Jon Brittain without Margaret Thatcher in Soho yesterday

“It’s not a play. It’s not a musical. What is it?” I asked writer Jon Brittain at Bar Italia in London’s Soho yesterday afternoon.

He co-wrote and directs Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, which this week starts a 4-week run at Theatre 503 in Battersea.

“Well,” replied Jon, “we describe it as a drag comedy Christmas musical extravaganza. The idea behind it is that Margaret Thatcher, played by a man, has become a cabaret singer and she tells you the story of how she went from being Prime Minister to cabaret singer.

Matthew Tedford as Margaret Thatcher

Matthew Tedford stars as Margaret Thatcher, queening it up

“Basically, we tell the story of Section 28 – the law that stops councils funding the promotion of homosexuality in schools. It’s Margaret Thatcher, played by my friend Matt Tedford (who co-wrote the show) and two dancers in hot pants and moustaches who dance along to songs and play all the other parts in the show while never really wearing anything more than hot pants and moustaches – including when they play women and children.

“My girlfriend Laura was very confused about the whole thing. We rehearsed in our living room and I think having to hear the voice of Maggie Thatcher all the time got a bit grating for her.”

Jon also directed John Kearns’ award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts show at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.

Jon Brittain (right) with John Kearns

Jon Brittain (right) with comic John Kearns

“John and I did a double act together at UEA – the University of East Anglia,” explained Jon, “and he’d been in a lot of plays I’d directed.”

“Was there,” I asked, “much difference between directing Sight Gags For Perverts and Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho?”

“Not much,” replied Jon. “John and Matt are both really spontaneous. John knows where he wants to get to and, if something happens in the room, he will respond to it… and Matt’s very much the same, even though Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho is a much more rigid script and much more about the story.

“John’s Edinburgh show was much more about the experience and he could go off in different directions. His show was deceptively stupid, but he’d thought about it loads and it was very intricately layered and worked-out. There was a really powerful emotional feeling behind it: a real sadness and loneliness and desperation behind the very silly, seemingly stupid, surreal stories he was telling.”

“But you have directed straight plays as well,” I said.

“Yes,” said Jon. “Directing comedy is different from directing a play… With a play, you’re saying Stand here… Do this… As the director of a comedy show, you go in and suggest There is a problem here: how are you going to solve it? and the performer is the one who has to come up with the solution.

John Kearns in Sight Gags For Perverts

John Kearns in the award-winning Sight Gags For Perverts

“During my time in Edinburgh with John, we had a lot of conversations about the end of his show and how to tie together the loose ends. I made a lot of suggestions as to how he could do that and then I went away and came back at the end of the run and he had solved the problem in a way that was entirely different to any of my suggestions. But I think my useful function was asking the questions and pointing out the problem.

“I think there’s a temptation in theatre plays to say everyone has assigned roles – the actors do this; the writer does this; the director does this – and no-one crosses-over into other people’s fields. Whereas I do a lot of crossing-over. I direct my own stuff and do the sound design and, in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho, Matt acts and writes and there’s a lot of crossing-over.”

“How did the idea for Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho come about?I asked.

The Margaret Thatcher - Queen of Soho poster

Margaret Thatcher – Queen of Soho poster

“Matt hadn’t performed in about five years – not since university. He’d been a civil servant and other things. I held a Hallowe’en party in 2012 and he came along dressed as Margaret Thatcher – in the same costume he uses in the play – with a wig. He looked amazing. He had a pint of milk in his handbag that he would pull out and say: Would you like some? No, it’s not for sharing.

“Then I was asked if I wanted to write something for a night of short plays – Thatcherwrite – a few months after Margaret Thatcher’s death. So I asked Matt to write something with me.

The original night

The original night when Margaret Thatcher first appeared

“We wrote a 15-minute version which he performed on the Thatcherwrite night. Most of the other plays were, by-and-large, quite serious. A play about the Falklands War. A play about the housing bubble.

“So we thought it would work if, at the end of the night, suddenly an announcer went: Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for your headline act of the evening – Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho! – and she comes out and sings YMCA with two backing dancers in hot pants. Just make it, on the surface, as stupid and silly and ridiculous as possible. Though there is a point underneath, because it is about Section 28 and gay rights and what she could have done if she’d chosen to.

Two dancers who always keep their moustaches

Margaret Thatcher + 2 dancers never without the moustaches

“From our research – which we pretend not to have done but which we did do – it sounds like she had gay friends and was OK with them as individuals, but she supported this legislation and so, with our play, we imagine what might have happened if she’d actually supported gay causes. That’s underlying it, but we try to do it in the most ridiculous, stupid way possible so that any kind of message is buried deep down.

“Even during the most po-faced emotional monologue we have in it, in the background there are dancers doing the most disgusting dance moves, grinding and slapping their arses in slow motion.

“One of our male dancers plays Jill Knight, an MP in the 1980s, but in a bright pink cardigan still wearing his moustache and we have Peter Tatchell as if played by Ray Winstone.”

“You are not interested in performing yourself any more?” I asked.

“I’d be really interested in doing some story-telling,” said Jon. “About five years ago, I did stand-up very loosely for about a year and then very often for about a year and, at the end of that, I just wasn’t having fun. The reason I stepped away from it was I didn’t really have a ‘voice’. I could write stuff, but there was no unified point of view when I performed and I didn’t feel I could find it.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that a writer of plays can change into different voices, but a stand-up comedian can’t switch from warm-and-cuddly one moment and Frankie Boyle the next.”

Jon Brittain - a working playwright

Jon Brittain – a working playwright who knows his Ps and Qs

“Yes,” agreed Jon. “And I felt confident writing dialogue for stage plays and more confident of the worth of it. When I was writing jokes, almost every single one I thought: I don’t know if this is going to work. When I write a story, everything in that is working towards the telling of the story. I felt much more confident and comfortable with that. So I would quite like to return to standing up on a stage – but telling a story not jokes.

“I don’t really subscribe to the barriers between comedy and storytelling and theatre anyway. It’s people in the industry who like to put the barriers up so they can figure what section of the Edinburgh Fringe Programme it goes in and what person from what TV Department should go and see it.”

“If they still had such things,” I asked, “what would you write in your passport – writer, director or performer?”

“I don’t really act at all, though I do the voice of Winston Churchill in Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho – I do the voice and someone else operates a portrait where the mouth moves.”

“Like Captain Pugwash,” I said.

“That was the aesthetic we were going for.”

“But obviously without Seaman Staines…”

“Only backstage,” said Jon.

I think I’m a writer first and the directing comes out of that. I’d really like to direct more stand-up comedy and direct in different media – film, stage, live comedy. But I think I’m going to take a year off theatre and just write television scripts, because I’ve started making a bit of headway. Me and Suzi Ruffell have written a sitcom script that’s in development.”

“You’ve worked in TV already haven’t you?” I asked.

“I did six months at Cartoon Network,” replied Jon, “which was like in a writers’ room. It was called The Amazing World of GumballI worked with James Lamont and Jon Foster who wrote The Harry Hill Movie.”

“Do you get repeat fees on the Cartoon Network programmes or was there a buy-out?” I asked.

“Oh, there was a total buy-out. When my agent sent me along, the first thing said was: Whatever you do, do not create any characters!

“Wise advice,” I said. “When people are dead like Margaret Thatcher, it’s always comforting.”

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Filed under Comedy, Gay, Theatre, Writing

Comedian Bob Slayer swooped on by armed response police unit in London

Critic Nick Awde (left) and Bob Slayer (with spoon) yesterday

Yesterday, I had a meal with comedian Bob Slayer and Nick Awde, theatre critic and feature writer for theatrical trade paper The Stage and head of their Edinburgh Festival reviewing team.

In my blog yesterday, I mentioned that I had intended the previous night to go to the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society gig at the Lion pub in King’s Cross… but I got distracted talking to Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner and stayed to see a show at his venue instead.

It turned out that, unknown to me, Bob Slayer had been performing at the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society show.

“I felt a bit old during that gig,” he told me yesterday. “They were a young audience, but it went down well. So I felt Oh! I’m not too old for this after all!

“After the show, outside in the street at King’s Cross, these youngsters are going We liked you! and somebody asked me why I had a guitar case when I hadn’t played a guitar in my act and I told them I have long props.

“He said Can I see one of your long props?

“So I got out my extendable fishing rod, which has a stuffed rubber glove on the end, and these youngsters are laughing at my hand. Just then some pedestrians were crossing the road and I went Woooh! and cast my fishing rod so the hand shot out, as if to grab them.

“The oncoming traffic was a little way away but, as soon as I did it, I saw the lead car was a police Land Rover type thing which immediately pulled over while I’m winding my fishing rod back in and it was an Armed Response Unit. I had a big stuffed hand on my fishing rod and they had their arms.

“A policeman who was much younger than me came over and just looked me up and down. All he said was How old are you? very disparagingly. I told him and said Sorree! and they drove off.

“Did you see how big his weapon was?” I asked.

“I think the kids saw it, but we wasn’t waving it about. I don’t think they sit around in their cars holding big Dirty Harry guns and Kalashnikovs,” said Bob.

“How old are you?” asked Nick Awde.

“Older than that policemen,” said Bob evasively. “When I told him my age, he went very polite and said Oh, very sorry to trouble you, sir.

“He said that?” I asked.

“No,” laughed Bob. “If anything, he looked down on me even more.”

“Did you call him a Pleb?” asked Nick.

“No,” said Bob, “I didn’t call him a Pleb because I don’t think he was, really. He was a dickhead but he was not a Pleb.”

“I remember when the IRA set off a bomb near the NatWest Tower and the Stock Exchange,” said Nick, “I went down with a friend because it was very symbolic and we were like knee-deep in glass and debris, picking our way through it. And we started picking up pieces of glass on the grounds that was a piece of London history. It would eventually be found by archaeologists one day, but we thought we’d find it immediately and take it off to the Museum of London.

“So this policeman comes over and says What are you doing?

“And we say: We’re just picking up this stuff.

“And he says: How old are you? so obviously that’s an opening gambit they have.

Is it illegal? we asked him and he said No so we said Fine and carried on picking up things and he walked off.”

“How illegal can it be to use a fishing rod in King’s Cross?” asked Bob. “As soon as they say How old are you? maybe you should say Fuck you, rozzer! and there’s nothing they can do about it. Well, probably they can arrest you for saying Fuck you, rozzer!

“I did know a barrister,” said Nick,” who swore blind – and other people have said this before – that, if you do get nicked, the police always have to take down exactly what you say in their notes, so you should say: Alright, guv. It’s a fair cop, guv, and no mistake and then, in court, you get your barrister to ask the policeman And what did my client say to you when you arrested him?

“The Plod has to go to his notebook and say Alright, guv. It’s a fair cop, guv, and no mistake and it instantly demolishes their credibility in the court and you get off.”

“You should try it next time,” I told Bob.

“I was once,” said Nick, “walking around the West End with a black bin bag and this group of American tourists came up to me in Charing Cross and asked What’s in the bin bag? and they said Can we see? and I said It’ll cost you ten pence to have a look.

“They paid me ten pence, I opened it up…”

“And?” I asked.

“Two dead foxes in my bag,” said Nick.

“Why?” I asked.

“That’s another story,” he replied.

“That’s another story,” I said to Bob.

“Why” said Bob to me, “ would he have two dead foxes in a bag?”

“Well,” I said, “you wouldn’t have two live foxes in a bag. It would be ridiculous to walk round the West End with two live foxes in a bag.”

“And they’d get out,” added Bob. “I saw two foxes trotting along the street in Walthamstow the other day. Two together. I don’t think I’ve ever seem that before. You always see them alone. I think if I’d followed them, I could have seen them have sex.”

“Is there some line here about a fox being out of the question?” I asked.

“No,” said Bob. “But I would like it to be known that I met two people at the gig last night. One was a man called Andy, who ran customer service for gay chat lines, and his friend was an Eton & Cambridge educated sub-editor at the Sun newspaper. They will be the basis of my Edinburgh Fringe show next year.”

I took this with a pinch of salt.

When I got home, there was an e-mail waiting for me from Noel Faulkner of the Comedy Cafe.

“When we were speaking about the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday,” it said, “I forgot to mention that I am trying to rent a cruise ship to tie up in Portobello harbour and rent out accommodation to all the comics and run two double decker buses back and forth and do charity gigs in the ship’s ballroom. I will be dressed in my full admiral’s uniform with an all-girl crew.”

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

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post)

The Father Ted logo from the original Channel 4 TV series

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

Getting a bad review can be very upsetting, though.

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

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

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

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

Amy Taylor’s blog about the controversial Fringe review

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

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

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

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

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

The stage show logo, as published with the review

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

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

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

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

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

Private Eye’s reply was:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Fox experienced one of the dangers of the Fringe

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

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

He is still gigging widely.

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

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Day Five of Malcolm Hardee Week – the perils of publicity stunts

Well, at last night’s Malcolm Hardee Award Show, there was a change of plan when we found out we had been successfully conned by Bob Slayer who masterminded the ‘Cockgate’ publicity stunt for Kunt and the Gang – in which Kunt’s penis stickers were put on other acts’ posters throughout Edinburgh…..

Personally, I never rated the basic stunt itself. If you are trying to raise awareness of an act called Kunt… really, do not spread penis stickers all over Edinburgh, especially if they do not have the name of the act/show on and just one of those little square things which smartphones can read but which, in fact, no-one noticed. It’s like promoting 101 Dalmatians by putting blank stickers of the outline of a cat all over the place.

Then there was the racing certainty that it would annoy all the other acts, promoters and venues which had paid for and put up the posters. I was told that one promoter has spent £36,000 on Edinburgh Fringe posters for a particular act. If you deface their posters, it ain’t surprising they are going to be a tad pissed-off.

To my mind, the whole concept of ‘Cockgate’ was cock-eyed and against the basic spirit of the Fringe. The acts (who ultimately pay for everything) are having a bad enough time at the Fringe already without some plonker coming along defacing their marketing tools.

There is much truth in the idea that the posters festooning Edinburgh are promoting promoters not acts but, ultimately, they are building awareness of acts even if they are not putting extra bums on seats; and every act – even one perceived to be successful – is struggling in some way. Showbiz careers are frail facades of mirrors and smoke.

So why did Kunt and The Gang get nominated for the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt promoting a performer or show at the Fringe?

Basically, because – as the nomination said – Kunt (or, rather, Bob Slayer) managed to push the basic sticky penis stunt way beyond what seemed possible. There were tales about agents, managers and promoters threatening people legally, physically and financially; there were humorous quotes from Edinburgh Council officials about seizing and pulling off cocks; there were tales of the outrage caused; and there were photocalls with comedians far more famous than Kunt sporting the iconic penis stickers.

The stunt itself was a load of balls. The handling of and the spin put on the stunt was a work of art.

There was talk among the Malcolm Hardee Award judges of awarding the Cunning Stunt trophy to Bob Slayer instead of Kunt, but the’ Cockgate’ publicity stunt was no different to PR men Mark Borkowski or Max Clifford creating a buzz about an act. Any prize or box office credit goes to the performer not the PR man/woman.

So the nomination went to Kunt and was only slightly wobbled when Kunt sacked Bob Slayer as his PR man in this e-mail which Bob Slayer posted on his website and which I included in my blog yesterday:

Kunt has sacked me

___________________________________

Dear Bob

Sorry to have to tell you by email but I don’t want you doing anything else on the cock sticker campaign. As much as I appreciate the other comedians turning out for the photocalls that you organised, I didn’t want to be in the photos and you convinced me against my better judgement that it would be a good idea. I’ve seen the resulting photos and I look more awkward than Jade Goody’s mum on a juggling course. Also I’m getting grief off my bird after you made me put that sticker on Kate Copstick’s jumper and some cunt took that photo which is now doing the rounds that looks like I’m titting her up.

I know you were doing what you thought best but the reason I don’t do any press releases is because I know who my audience is and they find us naturally through the internet or word of mouth. They are proper people like bricklayers, carpet fitters, shop workers, central heating engineers, students and drug dealers. Since you took it upon yourself to ‘help’ with my cock sticker campaign, coverage in po-faced luvvie mags like The Stage has meant the shows have been increasingly full of pompous, middle class, chin-stroking ponces. For fuck’s sake, the poxy Culture Show have even been in!

In the last seven days since you helped ‘mastermind’ the cock campaign I have had more roll-necked twats in cuntish berets sat there with a glass of red wine and laughing ironically than in the previous seven years of gigs. Fuck knows how this has happened because I’d hardly call your act highbrow, I was there the night that bird stuck her finger up your arsehole and pulled it out leaving a rubber glove hanging out your brown eye.

I will buy you a beer when I see you to say thanks for helping us get nominated for the cunning stunt award. But I don’t want you doing anything else. At this rate it’s only a matter of time before Michael fucking MacIntyre turns up covered in cock stickers shouting ‘Where’s the party?’.

Cheers

Kunt

P.S. I seriously think you are liable for Daniel Sloss’s agent losing her sense of humour and invoicing us for 900 quid. I told you in confidence that I overheard someone saying that he didn’t have pubes yet, there was no need to go and blog it.

___________________________________

When I first read this, I thought it might be another brilliant piece of spin to keep the ‘Cockgate’ saga spinning even longer but, no, I spoke to Bob Slayer and it was genuine; he was very upset.

Except that he was not.

None of it was true.

The e-mail was a fake and was, indeed, written just to stoke the spin on ‘Cockgate’ even more.

Malcolm Hardee judge Kate Copstick and I were totally taken in. We did not realise we had been conned until we were told by Bob immediately before the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show last night.

His reason for the fake e-mail?

“We wanted to confuse Daniel Sloss’s agent so she didn’t know which one of us to sue.”

What was our reaction?

We gave Kunt his Cunning Stunt Award, but we also gave another Cunning Stunt Award to Bob Slayer for fooling us.

This is a one-off extra award and only because somehow, by accident, I had an extra Cunning Stunt Award made. I do not know how this happened. Clearly senility has hit. I cannot count. I cannot spot PR cons.

Yesterday afternoon was also the deadline for bids on eBay from anyone wanting to buy last year’s Malcolm Hardee Award from winner Robert White, who could do with some hard cash. Yesterday morning, I got an e-mail from Robert:
______________

Dear John

Malcolm came to me in a dream last night and got me to stop this obvious sham of a self-promoting non-real auction and as such the item is no longer for sale. Although I believe you can acquire one of your own by doing the Edinburgh Festival and being mental enough.

Yours with best wishes and God’s blessings,

Robert

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A Broadway success story for anyone staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe

There are two things which will make people queue round the block to see a stage production.

Great reviews.

Or widespread press coverage saying it is a catastrophe.

I am allegedly a creative consultant to US theater promoter Calvin Wynter’s company Inbrook based in New York.

He phoned me last night. One of the most interesting things he told me were the Broadway box office figures for Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark.

Inbrook handled PR and general management services for Spider-man producer David Garfinkle at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and, after that, I had followed the increasingly OTT production stories of Spider-man in the US trade magazines.

You know a show is going to be interesting when the opening line of the New York Post’s review is:

Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark pulled off a miracle this week: it opened…”

Spider-man took eight years of pre-production, its premiere was postponed five times and, at a reported $65 million (or possibly $75 million), it is the most expensive production in Broadway history. The previous most-expensive-production Shrek only cost half that to stage on Broadway.

Spider-man has 41 cast-members, an 18-strong orchestra, complicated mechanical sets and 27 aerial stunts including a battle over the audience between two characters.

It has music by Bono and the Edge of U2 and it has been described – and indeed promoted – as one of the most technically elaborate Broadway musicals of all time. Which was what caused a lot of the problems in pre-production. That and the soaring budget, cash flow, cast problems and the fact it managed to knock up four accidents in one month.

It reportedly has a weekly running bill of $1 million.

Last week, of the 24 shows on Broadway, only seven grossed over $1 million at the box office. They were:

Wicked – $1,882,731

The Lion King – $1,854,764

Spider-man – $1,811,432

The Book of Mormon – $1,256,830

How to Succeed in Showbusiness – $1,223,226

Mary Poppins – $1,111,911

The Phantom of the Opera – $1,026,795

The previous week, Spider-man also stood in the No 3 position.

Why are people going to see it in droves? Because of the overwhelming publicity.

It’s spectacular, it got varied reviews, but – hey! – it might be a car crash or – literally – someone might fall on top of your head. The one thing it is unlikely to be is dull.

In the UK, I remember stories of the legendarily catastrophic 1980 Old Vic and touring production of Macbeth with Peter O’Toole – tales of rickety sets sometimes falling down, totally OTT blood and Peter O’Toole virtually eating the scenery with his over-acting – It was a show which got worse reviews than the Third Reich… and yet you couldn’t get tickets for it anywhere – I tried to buy tickets to see it in London and Manchester myself – No chance. It was a sell-out.

Stephen Pile wrote: “Eradicating the unnecessarily tragic aspects that have always weighed the play down, the cast sent the first-night audience home rocking with happy laughter.”

The Daily Mail wrote: “It was, of course, the rottenest luck for him (Peter O’Toole) to run smack into a wall on his third bravura exit (so much of the play takes place in the dark).”

The Independent reckoned: “the sheer quantities of stage blood reduced audiences to hysterical giggling”.

The London Evening News claimed Lady Macbeth “greeted her husband by leaping at him and achieving a leg-encircling embrace of the kind which illustrates helpful sex manuals” and that her antics “would have woken the whole castle”.

In an admirably odd interview several years later, Peter O’Toole said: “My nose bleeds as I think of it”.

So, if you are staging a play and want to get lots of bums on seats, either get great reviews, horrendous pre-publicity or truly awful reviews.

All publicity is good publicity.

If you can kill a member of the cast or audience, you will sell out at the box office.

I am still looking for worthy nominees for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

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