Tag Archives: The Scotsman

One of comic Malcolm Hardee’s famous stunts. The legend… And the real truth

Malcolm Hardee: a shadow of his former self

In a blog in January this year, I mentioned that Darryl, one of the squatters on the late comedian Malcolm Hardee’s Wibbley Wobbley boat, was thinking of producing a one-night-only Edinburgh Fringe play about Malcolm.

This now seems to be happening at The Hive venue on Wednesday 23rd August under the title Malcolm Hardee: Back From The Drink – two days before the last ever annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show.

Malcolm was famous for his stunts at the Fringe. One of the most famous was writing a review of his own show which he conned The Scotsman newspaper into publishing in 1989.

In his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, he described this jolly prank:


One year, we were playing at The Pleasance venue and, as normal, when you open the first week, there’s no-one there. All the other shows at The Pleasance had been reviewed by The Scotsman newspaper. Again, we were ‘wrong side of the tracks’. They hadn’t come to review our show. I was feeling bitter. So I thought I’d write my own review for them. 

Malcolm’s stunt-laden autobiography

I got a copy of The Scotsman and picked out a reviewer’s name at random – William Cook. I talked to someone I knew who used to write reviews for The Scotsman and found out how to do it. All you do is type it out in double-spacing. That’s the trick. 

Then, with Arthur Smith, I wrote a review of my own show, put William Cook’s name at the bottom, folded it up, put it in an envelope and went to the Scotsman’s offices at about 9.00pm when all the staff had gone home and gave it to the porter. Sure enough, next day, they printed it. After that, the show was full up. 

Then The Scotsman went mad because someone told them I’d done it and William Cook didn’t speak to me for years. I don’t know why. I presume he got paid for it.


This week, I asked William Cook what he remembered of all this.

“Since it was all so long ago – I make it 28 years – tempus fugit! – I’m not sure there’s much (if anything) I can add. I’d been writing reviews for The Scotsman for a grand total of about a fortnight and I had never even heard of Arthur Smith or Malcolm Hardee – although I naturally saw them perform and interviewed them quite a bit thereafter.”

Arthur Smith this week remembered the glamour of it all

Earlier this week, I asked comic Arthur Smith what he remembered.

“The story as it is usually told,” I began, “is that Malcolm wrote his own review. Did he write it? Or was it both of you?”

Arthur laughed. “I wrote every word. My memory is that his show had been going a week or so and it wasn’t getting big houses. So he shambled into the bar one day and said to me: Oy! Oy! Do you wanna write a review of my show?… So I said: If you like… And he told me: I’ve found a way of getting it into The Scotsman. I guess he must have been buttering-up some critic and –  typical Malcolm – he had a bit of deviousness in mind.”

“Surely not,” I said.

“It only,” Arthur told me, “took me half an hour or something like that. Obviously, Malcolm wanted me to write it very favourably, but not so they would read it and say: Fuck off! That’s not a real review! It was a fairly straightforward kind of review in a way.”

This is what Arthur Smith wrote and what The Scotsman printed:


Malcolm Hardee shambles on-stage in an ill-fitting suit looking like a debauched Eric Morecambe and initiates the funniest show I have seen in Edinburgh this year.

The infamous fake Edinburgh Fringe review

Hardee delivers some gross but hilarious one-liners before giving way to John Moloney, “angry young accordionist”; his sharp and aggressive observations had the audience hooting with laughter.

Then Hardee, who looks like he lives in a bus station, introduced the open spot. On the night I went a 13-year-old called Alex Langdon did a standup routine which put many of his professional elders to shame.

But the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Terri Rodgers, who walked on looking the epitome of a sweet old lady but then introduced her puppet friend Shorty Harris, who proceeded to tell a string of jokes that made Gerry Sadowitz’s material sound like Jimmy Cricket’s. This is alternative ventriloquising of the highest order.


Note: Terri Rogers is mis-spelled as Rodgers. Jerry Sadowitz, at that time, would occasionally and, I think, fairly randomly sometimes spell his forename as Gerry.

Brian Mulligan, who was, at that time, half of comic duo Skint Video, said last week: “It wasn’t completely gushing which I thought was very amusing.”

“That’s right,” Arthur told me. “Maybe, in a way, I should have gone: This is the greatest show ever. But maybe I thought that would alert the sub-editor or something. It was quite a good review. They didn’t have stars then but I would have given him 5-stars.

“I’d written reviews before for people. I had a column in the Guardian where I could write anything I liked provided it was vaguely arts-based and I reviewed a friend’s show – I don’t think I’d even seen it – and I just gave it 5-stars as a favour.

The former Scotsman building – now The Scotsman Hotel

“Anyway, I wrote the Scotsman review for Malcolm and, maybe two days later, there it was. I recall it really caused quite a kerfuffle. They got very upset about it.”

This week, writer/performer John Dowie told me: “I recall the editor of The Scotsman releasing one of the greatest ever closing-the-stable-door-after-the-horse-has-bolted remarks: We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again.

Arthur Smith’s opinion today is: “I thought they took it a bit more seriously than they really needed to. They went on about the freedom of the press. It was just a great stunt, really, though I suppose it made them look a bit like cunts… but not really.”

“Did Malcolm tweak the review at all?” I asked.

“No,” Arthur told me. “It was printed exactly as I wrote it. I would have written it by hand back in those days and he must have typed it up and handed it in.”

In fact, exactly how it was delivered to The Scotsman has got hazy in the mists of time.

Last night I talked via Skype to Woodstock Taylor in Edinburgh. She was the then-journalist who actually told Malcolm how to submit the fake review.

“How did you know Malcolm?” I asked.

Woodstock Taylor, taken  sometime back in the mid-1990s

“We had a dalliance,” she told me. “I had been dallying with (another now high-profile comedian). He dumped me, then Malcolm seized the opportunity and it seemed like a good idea at the time. We dallied for a while, then stayed friends after we stopped dallying.”

“And so…?” I asked.

“Basically,” she told me, “I used to review for The Scotsman. I was the comedy critic for several years, before William Cook got there. He took over my patch.”

“William Cook said,” I told her, “that he had only been in the job about two weeks when this fake review came out.”

“That’s right,” said Woodstock, “because I had been going to do it and then I didn’t.”

“So that,” I said, “was how Malcolm knew how to submit a review to The Scotsman. But do we now own up to the fact you told him how to con The Scotsman?”

“I think so,” said Woodstock. “It’s been 28 years. I’m not likely to write for them again. They’re not very likely to come and review my Fringe show this year. And, in any case, I have a different name now.”

Founded in 1817 – survived Hardee in 1989

“So how,” I asked, “did the fake review come about?”

“Malcolm kept coming up to me and pestering me to do a review of his show and I was trying to explain to him that I didn’t have any control over what was reviewed. I would have done him a review if it had been allowed and possible.”

“This was after you dallied?” I asked.

“Ooh, ten years after. He kept saying – about a review – Oh, come on. You can make it happen. And eventually, he got this idea and I told him how it was done.”

“He just,” I said, “put it in a tray one night, didn’t he?”

“No,” said Woodstock, “in those days, all you had to do was phone up the paper, reverse charges, and ask for the Copy Desk and then just read them the review.”

“So,” I asked, “he just phoned up and said: Ello! This is William Cook!?”

“Yeah. That’s exactly how it was done.”

“Poor old William Cook,” I said.

William Cook: now a successful author on the comedy industry

“I think it probably made him,” suggested Woodstock. “Nobody knew who he was before and everybody did afterwards.”

This made me wonder, when the editor of The Scotsman said We have taken steps to ensure that this can never happen again, what those steps actually were.

John Dowie told me: “When I mentioned it to Malcolm, he said: It’s a code number which you have to attach to the copy. But I know what it is. I gave a journalist ten quid and he told me. I could use it. But it’s somebody else’s turn now.

The last ever Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards take place at the Edinburgh Fringe next month, billed as Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s the Last Ever Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – and It’s Free!

One of the three awards is the Cunning Stunt Award for the best publicity stunt publicising a Fringe performer or show. There is a piece on how to win a Cunning Stunt Award HERE.

As for William Cook, he did not bear a grudge. When Malcolm drowned in London in 2005, he wrote a generous obituary for the Guardian which was headed:

MALCOLM HARDEE

PATRON SINNER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY,
HE WAS RENOWNED FOR HIS OUTRAGEOUS STUNTS

It concluded:

On the day his death was announced, Hardee’s friends and family converged on the Wibbley Wobbley to pour a measure of his favourite tipple, rum and Coke, into the river where he felt so at home. For alternative comedy’s patron sinner, who has been called a millennial Falstaff and a south London Rabelais, it was a suitably irreverent farewell.

(Video produced by Karen Koren of the Gilded Balloon venue in Edinburgh)

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I was tricked on my birthday by a comic’s Cunning Stunt on Facebook

So I currently have comedy performer Matt Roper staying with me. Last night, he went off to see some Edinburgh Fringe previews at comedy critic Kate Copstick’s Mama Biashara emporium in Shepherd’s Bush.

There is a video on YouTube of Copstick plugging the Mama Biashara emporium in 2010. Things have only changed for the better.

While Matt Roper was at Mama Biashara last night, I was off elsewhere. It was my birthday.

During the evening, Kate Copstick posted this on her Facebook page:

We’ve got wonderful character comic Matt Roper visiting the emporium to see a show tonight. For those who don’t know him, he’s the man behind the vile but utterly loveable powerhouse creation of Wilfredo, of whom I had the good fortune to witness last year at the Fringe. Due to an error at The Scotsman, my review of his show only gave three stars when in fact it ought to have been a full five. He’s up at the Fringe once again this year in Routines, a new immersive comedy experience which I predict will smash the Festival this year (3.45pm at the Three Sisters). Those who haven’t seen Matt at work are highly recommended to do so. A huge comic talent.

Facebook posting that set it all off, sent from Mama Biashara

Facebook posting that set it all off, sent from Mama Biashara

I re-posted it on my Facebook accounts and thought no more about it until I got a Facebook message a little later from Matt. It said simply:

Just fraped Copstick.

I had to look this up. The online Wiktionary’s first definition of ‘frape’ was:

A crowd, a rabble.

This seemed unlikely.

The Wiktionary’s second definition was:

(Internet slang) To hijack, and meddle with, someone’s Facebook account while it is unattended.

Uh-oh, I thought.

And, sure enough, Matt had written the glowing review of himself (with the fake Scotsman stars) on Copstick’s computer while she had been off dealing with the Fringe preview in the Mama Biashara performance space.

I was not the only one who was taken in; there was widespread re-posting and Tweeting.

This morning, the real Copstick posted on her Facebook page:

So here’s a thing: Matt Roper popped by the Mama Biashara Emporium last night to pick up his typewriter. I leave him alone with my desktop for FIVE MINUTES and I wake up this morning to find FB wet with excitement over something I had apparently posted on the subject of how fabulous and talented he is and how the Scotsman stars were a misprint and should have been five. Yes I think he is pretty good and yes, to be fair, he did give me two slices of his pizza… but even John Bloody Fleming reposted the thing! Are my posts usually so fulsome in their praise? Well, I will be going along to see Routines (see place and times on ‘my’ previous posting) and it had better be FUCKING BRILLIANT, Roper!

A few hours later, Copstick posted:

They are still sharing Matt Roper’s fucking fake fucking fabulous fucking posting on my page about him and fucking WilfuckingFredo and RouFuckingTines. WTF.

Copstick is mellowing with age.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wilfredo-Unchained-Live-California-Explicit/dp/B0100E56JA

Matt strangely forgot to plug that his alter ego has a new album out – Wilfredo Unchained: Live in California

Matt just did this publicity stunt on a whim; there was no advance planning. But it is a thing of beauty. A contender (I would think) for this year’s Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

It did not just publicise Matt and his show but did so by making people not only fall for a con (as I did) but setting it up so that other people did the real work – all the people who were taken in and re-posted and re-Tweeted the initial frape.

It also, in this year – the tenth anniversary of Malcolm Hardee’s death – managed to doff a hat to one of Malcolm’s own legendary Edinburgh stunts. The one in which he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s Fringe show and submitted it to The Scotsman under the name of William Cook, the newspaper’s own highly-esteemed comedy reviewer – and it was, indeed published.

Matt’s stunt was almost better than this, in that he did not even have to write a fake review of his own show – he merely referred to an existing review and twisted perception of reality.

Desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

A desperate pose with Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award

Only a few days ago, I had been lamenting to myself that no cunning stunts had, as yet, appeared publicising a Fringe show or performer this year.

Ellis & Rose (as I mentioned in an April blog) had pretended they had appeared at Soho Theatre by hanging their own carefully-designed photo on the wall of the theatre’s bar. But they have no show in Edinburgh this year.

And, a few days ago, there was a brilliant publicity stunt by magicians Young & Strange who, while a Sky TV reporter talked to camera about government NHS reforms, staged a variation of the sawing-a-man-in-half trick behind him, on the green in front of Parliament.

This stunt got even better when it transpired that the whole thing was fake – it was not a real Sky reporter, nor a real Sky transmission, just a beautifully-crafted fake and one of a series of Young & Strange self publicity stunts aimed at getting broadcasters’ attention.

I would think this wonderful stunt would have been a sure cert for a Cunning Stunt nomination – if it were not for the fact Young and Strange are not plugging any Edinburgh Fringe show.

Still…

At least Matt Roper has now set a high benchmark to which others can aspire.

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How do you win an increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award?

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Malcolm Hardee Awards await collection near Edinburgh

Every August at the Edinburgh Fringe, I give away three increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards in memory of the godfather of British alternative comedy. One of these is a Cunning Stunt Award for the best stunt publicising a Fringe show or act.

And every year, around this time, people ask me for the definition of Cunning.

Well, non-cunning stunts are easy to think up. You can walk up and down the High Street in Edinburgh wearing a read nose and handing out flyers.

That is a stunt but is in no way cunning.

Christian Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Kate Talbot’s increasingly prestigious Cunning Stunt Award

Last year, the Cunning Stunt Award went to comedian Christian Talbot and his 12 year-old daughter Kate.

Cute Kate would wander around the streets outside Christian’s venue looking sad and distraught, go up to strangers and say plaintively: “Have you seen my daddy?”

When they replied in the negative, she would tell them: “Well, you should, because Kate Copstick of The Scotsman says he’s an engaging performer” and give them a flyer.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

Lewis Schaffer – a man not unused to cunning publicity stunts

In 2009 – a year when Perrier stopped sponsoring some other less increasingly prestigious awards – Lewis Schaffer won the Cunning Stunt Award for a fake press release which fooled several publications into printing stories (which they believed) saying he was taking over sponsorship of the awards for £99 and was re-naming them The Lewies. This resulted in a threat of legal action from the awards’ organiser and his agent sacked him. But he did win the Cunning Stunt Award, so it wasn’t all gloom and doom..

The Award started in 2008 when performer Gill Smith sent me an email saying she was nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that, if she nominated herself in the email, she could justifiably put on her posters: MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE. She thought Malcolm would have approved. I agreed and gave her the first Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

One of Malcolm’s own cunning stunts at the Fringe, of course, was the year when he and Arthur Smith wrote a glowing review of Malcolm’s own show and put it in a tray at The Scotsman under the name of that august publication’s own reviewer William Cook. The Scotsman printed it, thinking it was a legitimate review.

Bob Slayer & Kate Copstick exchange specs & tongues yesterday

Bob Slayer found another way to influence  Kate Copstick

Another legendary stunt was the year Scotsman critic Kate Copstick (a Malcolm Hardee Awards judge) gave comedian Jason Wood’s show a 1-star review. He immediately plastered his posters and flyers with the strapline: “A STAR” – THE SCOTSMAN.

These are definitive cunning stunts.

Last year (or it might have been two years ago – I have a shit memory) an act publicised his show by having lots of ginger haired people march through Glasgow.

I got a vitriolic letter later from a PR man berating me for not nominating this for the Cunning Stunt Award because the stunt had got worldwide press and TV coverage.

But it was not in any way a cunning stunt. It was just a stunt – and a little odd as it happened in Glasgow. It was no different to walking up and down the Royal Mile wearing a red nose. There was no con involved.

In 2013, Barry Ferns rightly won the Cunning Stunt Award for a series of stunts including publishing fake editions of Edinburgh Fringe review sheets Broadway Baby and Three Weeks publicising his own show, but we sort-of gave a second award (which we called the Pound of Flesh Award) to Ellis & Rose.

Could Gareth be cruising for another bruising?

Gareth Ellis was prepared to do anything for publicity…

Gareth Ellis had been beaten-up in the street by a punter angry about the duo’s Jimmy Savile comedy show.

Except it never happened. In fact, Gareth’s comedy partner Richard Ellis had repeatedly punched him in the face to give him a bruised cheek and genuine black eye… all to get a few inches of column space publicising themselves and their shows.

Like Lewis Schaffer doing a stunt in 2009 which lost him his agent, this seemed commendably OTT in stunt terms. And definitely cunning.

All this comes to mind because, a couple of weeks ago, Simon Caine invited me to be on his Ask The Industry podcast in the mistaken belief that I am increasingly prestigious in the comedy world and that he might get a Cunning Stunt Award for setting up a podcast solely so he could plug himself to allegedly influential people.

Previous interviewees had included Julian Hall (former comedy reviewer for the Independent and former Malcolm Hardee Awards judge), Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse comedy clubs and Edinburgh Free Festival) and Hils Jago (of the Amused Moose clubs and Comedy Awards).

Simon Caine Podcast

Simon Caine has another cunning idea – interviewing clothes

I told Simon that, if you set up a podcast simply to plug yourself to the people you invite on it, that is a commendable stunt but not a cunning stunt.

It would only be a cunning stunt if you invited people to the podcast recording, spoke to them for an hour and actually there was no podcast.

Sadly, he has scuppered his chances because there is a (very good) ongoing series of podcasts.

He has suggested he can get round this by never uploading the podcast with me or by not uploading it until September – after the Fringe has finished – but I am currently not convinced.

Watch this space.

This year, Ellis & Rose already have a cunning stunt up-and-running. I have told them, if they can keep it going successfully until August without anyone noticing, I will nominate them for a Cunning Stunt Award (provided they actually do use it in August to publicise an Edinburgh Fringe show).

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“The Real Reason Why Edinburgh Fringe Tickets are Overpriced in 2013” – The article The Scotsman newspaper decided not to publish this month

Bob Slayer: comedian and venue runner

Bob Slayer: comedian & Fringe venue man

Last year, The Scotsman newspaper asked comedian and Edinburgh Fringe venue runner Bob Slayer to write a piece about the way the Fringe is financed. They read it and told him it would be published in a week’s time in their 4th August 2012 issue.

On 3rd August, they told him they had decided not to publish it. He was not told why.

So I published it in my blog on 4th August 2012. 

The Scotsman DID publish an excellent piece on Fringe financing last year – on 25th August 2012 – written by their own much-admired (by me and anyone who knows her) Claire Smith. In it, she wrote that, while researching her article, she had been threatened with legal action by a major Big Name comedian and by the owner of a major Fringe venue (NOT one of the Big Four).  

Claire wrote in her 2012 article: “I have never seen so much paranoia as I have this year. The Fringe is changing, as it always does. The dynamics are changing. But a Fringe where journalists who ask questions about money get threatened with legal action?”

In the fortnight leading up to this year’s Fringe, there was (and continues to be) a renewed surge of hits on Bob Slayer’s original article published in my blog a year ago. In one day alone – 23rd July this year – Bob’s year-old article got 6,433 hits.

According to strangely-reliable Wikipedia, The Scotsman’s circulation is currently around 28,500.

The moral is clear. If you want to get your ideas read consistently over long periods, suck up to me and get in my blog, sunshine.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from Bob Slayer. It said: 

The Scotsman have done it again – They commissioned me to write an article and then (after saying they were going to publish it) pulled it. Why? Who knows?”

Bob currently runs two venues at the Edinburgh Fringe – The Hive and Bob’s Bookshop. I presume that was the reason The Scotsman commissioned him to give his inevitably highly personal view of Fringe financing in 2013.

Below is the article The Scotsman commissioned, decided to publish then, at the last minute, decided not to publish. The opinions, obviously, are Bob Slayer’s.

_____________________________________________

At the heart of the Edinburgh Fringe is an open access, ‘all performers are equal’ philosophy that was developed by a group of passionate theatre groups when they were excluded from the first Edinburgh International Festival in 1947. They decided instead to seek out their own model with more creative ideals and the Fringe was born.

Ever since this noble start people have been attempting to pull the Fringe off balance with attempts to ensure that ‘some performers are more equal than others’.

In 2008, the year I first came to the Fringe, the ‘big four’ venues of Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Pleasance and Underbelly chose to launch ‘The Edinburgh Comedy Festival’.

This is a marketing initiative that prints thousands of brochures which, despite excluding all shows in independent venues, still purports to be the complete guide to Comedy at the Fringe. It is clearly designed to sell tickets by marginalising shows that are not in their venues… It seems that some shows are ‘more equal than others’.

These are the same venues that are directly responsible for driving up ticket prices. The average venue and marketing charges imposed on performers to put on a show in one of these venues is £14,000. This gives the shows little alternative but to raise prices in an effort to cover their costs.

The big names and the shows produced by the venues themselves are largely shielded from this, but the vast majority of acts in these venues leave Edinburgh in debt.

I spoke to Tiernan Douieb, who is taking a break from the Fringe this year for the first time in seven years.

He told me that, if he sold out all his tickets last year then he would have only been £4,500 in debt.

Only?!

He thought he actually had a good deal and – in comparison with many others – he probably did. However, it is hardly in line with the egalitarian ideals laid down by the original Fringe Board over sixty years ago.

This combination of modern day exclusion and a one-sided financial model, set up to serve everyone except the artist, is the primary reason why so many performers and punters have again looked for a new, more creative Fringe model.

Free shows were 10% of the Fringe in 2008 but have significantly grown to become 25% this year… Quality has also accompanied the quantity.

In recent years, free shows have won awards, received widespread media acclaim and have been picked up outside of the Fringe. It would be fair to say free shows have achieved all the things that paid shows have done. They have become a really viable fringe of the Fringe that will continue to grow..

I suspect that the mainstream commercial venues will always be a part of the Fringe: the glamour of big marketing spend and shiny, over-priced bars attracts punters and performers. But the increasing strength and innovation of the free shows provides a healthy alternative that will keep the pay-to-play venues in check.

If these pay-to-play venues do not want to respond to what is happening by offering punters better ticket prices and performers fairer deals, then the flow of quality acts moving over to free and independent shows is only going to grow.

Free shows are a symptom of the commercial venues but they are not in themselves a complete answer and we are in very real danger of the Fringe splitting into two opposing factions, perhaps irreversibly.

Of course, any change presents an opportunity.

The £5 Fringe attempted to bridge this gap with cheap tickets. Unfortunately, its model was still based on pay-to-play. The performers paid the promoter to use the space and then tried to make that money back with ticket sales. However, with their ticket price capped at £5 they struggled even more than other paid shows to break even. The failure of the £5 Fringe just shows that the pay-to-play model demands higher ticket prices.

Heroes of Fringe, the comedy collective and Fringe venue promoter which I set up, is now in its third year.

We aim to bridge the gap between paid and free shows by finding a place where commercial interests are in balance with creative ones. We asked ourselves the question: What if we could take the best of both worlds and actually create a new model that more suits the unique requirements of punters and performers at the Fringe? 

We think that, maybe, we may have come up with the answer.

This year, all Heroes of Fringe shows are adopting a third way.

Our shows are:
FREE, pay what you want on exit
OR you can buy a ticket in advance to guarantee entry…

We have created Free shows that can sell tickets. It seems to be working and, despite some scepticism, tickets are selling. In fact, shows such as Phil Kay’s and Ivan Brackenbury’s are close to selling out some weekend dates.

And, in our smaller venue Heroes @ Bob’s Bookshop, dates already have sold out. Including the amazing Adrienne Truscott’s show.

The model also means that less known shows or quiet days still have all the advantages of being able to let audiences in for free, impress them and then pass the hat around.

The real beauty is that, because we do not have the same risks as paid shows, we can keep the pre-sale ticket price low at £5,

We also do not need to charge performers rent / high venue fees or insist on high marketing budgets and, due to the pre-sales, there is more money to go around than free shows. Audience levels are more predictable.

This helps us to kit out the venues properly and enables us to give proper support to the performers in our venues. Of course, the most important part of all of this is that performers will see more money than on either free or pay-to-play shows.

If we can make this work then we will create a happy creative environment, a perfect home for some of the most exciting shows on the Fringe. It is also a model that could be adopted by both sides of the current divide.

We really believe that the Fringe can return to being somewhere where punters can see affordable shows and where acts do not have to accept losing money and getting into huge debt. A place where shows can support themselves with their own creativity and develop at their own pace.

When this happens then the real ‘Spirit of the Fringe’ will return.

_____________________________________________

I have to declare an interest, in that my Edinburgh Fringe chat show is at one of Bob’s venues in the final week of the Fringe.

______________________________________________________

ChatShowA6flyer

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Random anarchy, incompetence and brilliance at the Edinburgh Fringe

After reading my blog yesterday about the Edinburgh Fringe, former Skint Video performer Brian Mulligan left a post on my Facebook page saying :

“This reminds me of watching a left wing revolutionary comic flicking past the front pages of hard political news (Apartheid, Contras other 80s stuff) in search of the past night’s reviews. Truly a bubble…”

He is absolutely right, of course. The whole of London could burn down and all anyone in Edinburgh would care about is whether Kate Copstick gave them a 3 or a 4 star review in The Scotsman.

The Edinburgh Fringe is the ultimate inward-looking bubble outside which nothing exists. It also seems as if the English riots are taking place in a totally different country which, indeed, they are.

Yesterday evening, I was having tea with comedian Laura Lexx in the City Cafe, talking about Ink, the straight play she has written/produced at the Kiwi Bar about the 7/7 terrorist bombings, while music played on the audio system and the TV monitor showed footage of hoodie youths turning their Grand Theft Auto games into 3D reality on the BBC News channel – with subtitles. The ranks of police in Darth Vader helmets running along the streets were keeping impeccable time to the rhythm of the music. It was an instant accidental music video. Respect, bro.

Laura was more interested than most in the riots because, in London, she lives in the middle of what was/is one of the main riot areas, round the corner from a large Tesco store, now looted. Clearly teenagers in her area have low aspirations. She was telling me about how the 5,000 flyers she ordered for her Ink show in Edinburgh had not yet arrived and she had had to pay for another 500 from another printer to tide her over.

Edinburgh at Fringe time becomes spectacularly incompetent with the venues, shops, bars, newspapers, magazines et al dragging in hundreds of inexperienced and largely uninterested students, unemployed and general ne’er-do-wells. All they want is drink, drugs and, if they strike lucky, to make the beast with two backs. There are unlikely to be riots in Edinburgh because all the potential rioters are working long hours in temporary jobs. But the effect of this transient annual workforce is that nobody remembers anything that happened at the Fringe beyond two years ago. There is no continuity. Almost everybody is equally a newcomer.

So far, the City Cafe wins the highly-contended-for prize for utter incompetence. The Blair Street Sauna, only slightly lower down the slope of the same road, almost certainly has better service and probably has better things to eat. (I have never been there.)

At the City Cafe, it took 27 minutes to get a wildly overpriced (as everything is in Edinburgh at Fringe time) and very bland Mississippi Mud Pie out of them when the place was only a quarter full. This saga went through getting the other half of the food ordered, getting the drinks, but them forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie, being reminded, bringing a totally different dessert, forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie, being reminded, forgetting the Mississippi Mud Pie again; and only getting it when I stood at the bar looking at them with an unblinking and slightly psychotic stare.

I don’t actually mind people ballsing things up through general inbuilt incompetence – it’s their employer’s fault not theirs. But this was don’t give a shit incompetence – par for the course in many an establishment during the Fringe.

Things on the show front were going well, though.

The Forum at the Underbelly is a touching little play about an online internet forum with a slight twist at the end which could elicit tears from the unwary. This ain’t going to become a Hollywood movie because you come out into the night unsettled and melancholic. But it is beautifully acted and scripted.

Sneasons of Liz at the New Town Theatre is the opposite – you come out into the night beaming.

It is a musical narrative about a woman with multiple allergies who sneezes her way around the world and is not remotely anything like what I expected.

It is an odd production because most Edinburgh Fringe shows – even the best ones – are ‘alternative’, which means perhaps a bit rough-and-ready and… well… Fringe-like. The one thing they never are is smooth, mainstream Broadway or London West End quality.

But Sneasons of Liz is just that.

It is only a singer on a stool or wandering the stage plus a piano accompanist and some good lighting design. So it is stark. It has no scenery. But it is of London West End or Broadway standard and almost from another era.

This is largely because its star Liz Merendino is a Grade A humdinger of a performer.

She is a classically-trained singer from New York, based in Hong Kong who has been a music teacher for the last nine years. She was wasting her time doing that; she should have been on the West End or Broadway stage. She is that good. The show combines musical standards with specially-commissioned new songs from Fascinating Aida’s Adele Anderson and it is a wonderfully entertaining showbiz blast. Very American but, in this case, none the worse for that. In fact, it’s a positive advantage here.

We are talking Liza Minnelli blast-em-out songs, though much more varied than that implies and Liz Merendino has a voice to die for – let’s hope she doesn’t – one which can cope with some very difficult singing subtleties.

Great songs. Great energy. Great piano accompanist (strangely uncredited). Great, great singer.

It is probably incomparable at the Fringe but, in its own world, it is a 5-star show which does not put a foot wrong.

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Edinburgh Fringe publicity stunts: the planned drowning of Malcolm Hardee

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards – there are currently three of them – are being given every August until the year 2017. This is because that’s the number of physical awards I got mad inventor John Ward to make.

Of these three prestigious annual prizes, the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (won last year by Stewart Lee) honours the best publicity stunt for any act or show at the Edinburgh Fringe that year.

There are no rules for the Malcolm Hardee Awards. If there were, Malcolm’s ashes would turn in their urn. But one rule-of-thumb for the Cunning Stunt Award is that people do not have to apply to be considered. Because, if you have to tell the judges you have done a publicity stunt then, by definition, the stunt has failed.

I started the Cunning Stunt Awards because it seemed to me that the marketing and publicising of comedy shows on the Fringe had become too serious and what was lacking was a bit of mindless irresponsibility. The Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award aims to encourage this.

The late lamented Malcolm was a comedian, club owner, compere, manager and sometimes agent, but it was often and correctly claimed that his real comedy act was his life off-stage and, at the Fringe, he was known for his stunts – writing a review of his own show and conning The Scotsman into printing it under the byline of their own comedy critic; driving a tractor naked through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show; announcing at a press conference that Glenda Jackson had died then eventually adding, “No, not that Glenda Jackson.”

If it had not been his mother who phoned me up in 2005 and told me Malcolm had drowned, I would probably have thought it was a publicity stunt.

Especially as, a few years before, I had tried to persuade Malcolm to fake his own death by drowning, as a publicity stunt.

The Assembly Rooms venue (now re-branded as simply Assembly) were paying him that year to do a show for the duration of the Edinburgh Fringe but he had also somehow managed to double-book himself on a mini-tour of South Africa.

“My kids have never been to South Africa,” he told me dolefully. This was after he had already started his Fringe run at the Assembly Rooms. “I think I’ll just do a runner.”

“How will the Assembly Rooms react?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged his shoulders, blinked a bit and mumbled something inaudible, as he often did.

“Rather than pissing-off the Assembly,” I suggested, “why don’t you fake your own death?”

Malcolm had once been in prison with disgraced MP John Stonehouse, who had faked his own death by drowning then been found living with his mistress in Australia.

“You could hire a car in Edinburgh,” I suggested, “and drive it to North Berwick. Leave it near the beach with your clothes in a bundle nearby and something in the clothes which has your identity on it – a letter addressed to you, maybe. Then piss off to South Africa.”

“Mmmmm…” Malcolm mumbled.

“You go off to South Africa for two weeks,” I continued, “When you come back, you can read your own obituaries, with luck you can go to your own funeral and everyone including the Assembly will think it’s a great joke that’s in character. It’s a triple whammy. You get to go to South Africa for two weeks, you get publicity and you don’t piss-off the Assembly too much.”

Malcolm thought about it for a bit.

“I can’t do it,” he eventually said to me. “The only way it would work is if I didn’t tell Jane (his then wife) or my mum.”

Malcolm was a surprisingly sensitive man:

“They’d get hurt,” he said. “It wouldn’t work unless I didn’t tell them and I couldn’t not tell them.”

So that particular publicity stunt was never pulled.

One day, he just never turned up for his show at the Assembly Rooms. He had gone to South Africa. I don’t think, under the circumstances, the Assembly Rooms took it too badly.

I guess they just shrugged their shoulders and thought:

“Fuck it! It’s just Malcolm.”

(This year’s Malcolm Hardee Awards, including the Cunning Stunt Award, will be announced on the evening of Friday 26th August during a two-hour comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe.)

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The distortion of the UK tax system by socialist ideology

For a few months, when I was much younger, I read the Sunday Telegraph.

I stopped after reading an article on the UK income tax system. I could see no logical flaw in the newspaper’s argument, but it made me morally uncomfortable.

The article argued that a tiered system of income tax in which higher earners pay a higher percentage of their income in tax is illogical, unfair and both economically and morally indefensible.

Intellectually, I had to agree with the Telegraph‘s logic. The argument went like this…

In a capitalist system – or in the mixed capitalist system which we have – people are, by and large, paid their worth to the company and industry in which they work and to the country’s economy in general. The ultimate goal is always to maximise profits to the company and to the shareholders. So, with competition from other companies for the better executives and workers, a fair salary is reached for each working person by the workings of the market.

It is morally correct that people who earn more should pay more to the community in taxes. But that ideal and morally correct situation is reached by a flat rate tax on earnings not by a tiered system.

Someone who pays 20% of a £100,000 salary pays far more to the community than someone who pays 20% of a £25,000 salary. They pay according to their wealth. As their salary increases, their tax payments increase. They are taxed according to their ability to pay at the same flat rate. And, of course, it is right that people who earn a low salary beneath a certain amount should pay no tax.

The tiered system we currently have in which people on a high salary may have to pay 40% of their salary while people who earn a lower salary may have to pay only 20% of their salary is not moral, is not fair, it distorts the market forces which create ‘fair’ wages and it is punitive on the more successful workers who should be not discouraged but encouraged.

The fact that some higher earning people may be able to ‘cheat’ the system with clever accountants is not relevant. Distortions like that are inevitable in any system and are the fault of the government’s incompetent bureaucracy – they should prevent those frauds. It does not affect the principle that a flat rate tax system is fair to all taxpayers and the fact that a tiered tax system is fundamentally unfair – a political decision not a moral or economic decision.

If there is a tiered tax system, it distorts the market forces which decide salaries because, if people are losing money for reasons of political tax ideology not for genuine economic reasons, their salaries will have to increase to take account of the loss. Thus you get distorted salary scales.

A tiered tax system makes no economic sense and is morally unfair. It’s object is to blindly redistribute wealth on ideological grounds.

I could not and still can’t disagree with the cold logic of this argument. Yes, someone who earns more should pay more. But why should they pay a higher percentage of what they earn? Taxing higher earners a higher percentage is blind knee-jerk socialist ideology not economics.

I felt morally uncomfortable with the fact I could not fault the logic in the article and stopped reading the Sunday Telegraph because I felt somehow my moral values were being undermined and skewed by cold logic.

This quandary in my erstwhile youth was brought back to me yesterday when I read a report in The Scotsman that RBS, which the taxpayer had to bail out with millions and of which the government owns 83%, was about to pay 100 members of its staff £1 million each in bonuses.

The chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, of course, has been awarded a pay-and-bonuses package worth £7.7 million for 2010. So his 300 underlings getting bonuses of £1 million are merely getting the left-over scraps.

These awards were made at the time RBS was making a £1 billion loss.

Coincidentally yesterday, I also caught up with a small piece in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph about Tony Blair’s Sports Foundation – a charity – which, in its first financial period, made £348,233 of which it spent £33,929 on charitable activities and £37,621 on its staff.

So I am in two minds about high earners and extreme right wing politicians like Tony Blair.

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