Tag Archives: The Scotsman

The printed book is dead… and libraries… and newspapers… but literacy lives on my iPad!

I was in the Apple Store in Regent Street last week and bumped into the multi-talented transsexual comic Shelley Cooper, who has almost finished writing her autobiography – now THAT should be a cracking read. She is thinking of publishing it online via a print-on-demand site.

I am also thinking about re-publishing the late comedian Malcolm Hardee‘s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake as an online print-on-demand book. The costs are so low as to be negligible and the percentages to the writer are much higher – on a traditionally printed paperback book the author usually only gets 7.5% of the cover price. People can buy a print-on-demand book as a well-produced traditional paperback or download it from iTunes or Amazon.

Traditional paper books and physical libraries in towns and cities will soon be dead. A book is not bought because it is an object, it is bought an experience or for information. Content is king. The printed word is not dying – it is thriving on Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, mobile phone texting, everywhere. But the printed book will die.

The husband of a friend of mine is the straightest person I know. For many years, he never watched ITV – only BBC TV -because ITV was not respectable, merely a young whippersnapper upstart TV station. Yet he is now thinking of investing in an iPad or the duller and much more limited Kindle because, that way, he could take a whole library of books with him on holiday and read anything he likes when he gets there.

Ultimately, Project Gutenberg and its ilk will put almost all out-of-copyright fiction online; and Wikipedia and Google and the web in general give ultimately unlimited access to known facts. Yes, there are old books, newspapers and magazines with content which cannot be accessed online, but only because they have not yet been digitised.

Online publishers have no reason to ever declare any new ‘book’ out-of-print because the online file can remain in cyberspace forever at no extra production cost. The traditional paper book is dead and so are traditional physical libraries.

A library is just a building to keep books in. Unless they re-invent themselves as leisure centres for the printed word and computer gaming, they will soon be dead too.

What is worrying the printed media industry more immediately, of course, is what is happening and what will happen to newspapers, whose printed, paid-for editions are sliding down a seemingly bottomless pit in circulation terms.

Newspapers were always printing yesterday’s news but there used to be no alternative.

But why should I buy a print newspaper carrying out-of-date news when I can watch live street demonstrations in Cairo or around the Middle East on 24-hour live TV news channels? Why should I buy a UK newspaper when I can read other UK news sources free online and get access to Australian, Chinese, Russian and US print sources free online? AND watch Al Jazeera, BBC TV News, Sky News, Press TV from Tehran or, god forbid, the terminally dull Russia Today channel direct from Moscow?

On my iPad, I have apps giving me access to the Huffington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, the Straits Times and the Moscow Times. I can access a wider variety of sources worldwide via my Fluent News, Pulse News and Stuff apps. I get daily news update e-mails from The Scotsman and from China Daily.

Why should  buy a newspaper except for a free DVD?

On the other hand, Rupert Murdoch’s launch less than a couple of weeks ago of his iPad-only newspaper The Daily is interesting, though it is only available le in the US at the moment. If, as rumours say, he really does price a future full UK daily electronic newspaper automatically delivered to you every morning at a cost of only 79p per week…

Well, even I might be tempted… but it’s still going go be news I can get elsewhere for free.

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Painting a New York fart, Tony Blair and Jo Brand

Yesterday, in response to my blog mentioning farteur Mr Methane, Jackie Hunter, former features editor of The Scotsman newspaper, reminded me that early 20th-century artist Maxfield Parrish painted a fart into a mural that now adorns the famous King Cole Bar in New York’s St Regis hotel. I have to agree with her that painting a fart is quite an achievement.

Yesterday was a funny old mixture of a day because British comedians are now planning for the Edinburgh Fringe in August. Going to the Fringe, like having a baby, is a nine-month project involving a lot of nausea, pain and uncertain results.

Charlie Chuck phoned me about his planned return to Edinburgh which sounds suitably unusual and the extraordinarily multi-talented Janey Godley, not planning to play the Edinburgh Fringe this year but just about to go to the Adelaide Fringe, told me about two possibilities she has been unexpectedly offered in two totally different media. From Janey, the unexpected comes as no surprise.

In the afternoon, I had to take a friend to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich which, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, is surrounded by a high Grade A security fence which makes it look more like a Stalag Luft Queen Elizabeth II escape-proof prison camp in World War II or a Ministry of Defence site in the Cold War.

In the evening, I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One comedy club at the beleaguered and now closed Ivy House pub in Nunhead. The venue was re-opened specially for the night to stage Pull The Other One with this month’s headliner Jo Brand.

Vivienne & Martin now have their next six shows arranged but with no definite venue and are looking round, although they would prefer to stay at the warmly ornate and atmospheric mirrored ‘golden room’ behind the Ivy House bar. One local alternative might be The Old Waiting Room at Peckham Rye Station.

Comedian and novelist Dominic Holland, making his second appearance at Pull The Other One called it “the weirdest gig that exists,” which it surely is. The format is about two hours of variety acts and two stand-up comics. Unusually, nowadays, the bizarre variety acts – far be it from me to name-drop Bob Slayer and Holly Burn – are as important to the feel of the shows as the stand-ups.

Afterwards, Dominic told me that his 14-year-old son Tom Holland, recently on stage as Billy Elliot in the West End, is currently in Thailand filming a lead role in major Hollywood blockbuster The Impossible. I thought Dominic was probably ‘talking up’ this film out of fatherly pride until I looked it up on IMDB Pro and found it is a big-budget tsunami disaster movie “starring Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland” and is one of the “most anticipated films of 2011”.

Other shocks of the evening were that the much talked-about cult comedian Dr Brown has got an entirely new character act in which he actually moves and talks semi-coherently. And I heard that legendary ‘open spot’ act Jimbo – he seems to have been doing open spots as long as Cilla Black has been acting-out the role of ordinary woman next door – is now getting paid gigs, has allegedly changed into a (different) character act and is perhaps going to the Edinburgh Fringe. If he won an award as Best Newcomer at the Fringe it would be very funny and would be a triumph for Brian Damage of Pear Shaped, who has long championed Jimbo and other – even by my standards – very, very bizarre acts.

A very funny night at Pull The Other One ended very entertainingly but totally unsurprisingly with nudity. There were even some calls for The Naked Balloon Dance of fond memory.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, Tunisia continued to stumble around like a blinded meerkat towards potential anarchic chaos and tanks were rolling around Cairo to prevent what threatened to be a popular uprising.

Is it my imagination or have things deteriorated badly in that area since the United Nations, evidently an organisation with no sense of irony, appointed Tony Blair as Middle East Peace Envoy and why is it I never actually see any pictures of him in the Middle East?

Could it be he’s just too busy talking to God and this week, according to The Times, signing a six-figure deal to make four speeches for a hedge fund which made around £100 million by betting on the collapse of the Northern Rock bank in the UK?

This was shortly after the Daily Mail reported that he got £300,000 for making one speech for banking giant Goldman Sachs, while he had a £2.5 million deal as “advisor”  to JP Morgan, who, according to London’s Evening Standard, won a contract to set up an Iraqi bank in the wake of the US-led invasion.

Which gets us back to the subject of Mr Methane and farting around the world and brings up the possibly pertinent question:

What is the difference between being a comedian and taking the piss?

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Surreal reports and Malcolm Hardee Awards mistranslations

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

All publicity is good publicity, especially if it’s extraordinarily surreal.

We announced the Malcolm Hardee Award shortlist yesterday and, today, there was a very funny report on the nominees in The Scotsman, but also a wonderfully surreal online report which I can only assume was cobbled-together from other reports and put through a particularly dodgy piece of automatic translation software.

It begins “Comedian Stewart Lee has been beheld unintentionally compelling Japanese deed the Frank Chickens who were not conducting at this year’s Fringe….” and then goes downhill linguistically.

As the Malcolm Hardee Awards are, in part, a search for the bizarre, this is a fitting report and I know Malcolm would certainly have approved.

Click here if you fancy a surreal trip through the English language.

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The Spirit of the Fringe is dead, dying or thriving

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

Scots comedienne Janey Godley has been telling me and has blogged that she feels this year’s Edinburgh Fringe is different. That the spark has gone. That it has lost some of its character.

I told her it felt that way every year. Malcolm Hardee, the legendary godfather of alternative comedy and a Fringe legend, told me fifteen years ago that he felt the “supermarkets” of the big-time agents and comedy promoters had taken over from the ramshackle “corner shop” shows which he ran and which epitomised the spirit of the Fringe.
But, in the last few days, I have come round to agreeing with Janey Godley. The old Fringe is dying or is already dead. The big venues are now overly-large operations charging serious prices for mostly slick shows. The new McEwan Hall venue’s 2,000-seater is staging Cameron Mackintosh’s West End and Broadway hit Five Guys Named Moe in a production where The Scotsman rightly guessed the lighting rig alone cost more than most normal Fringe shows. It is straight West End transfer in a limited run. A Fringe show it ain’t.

The true spirit of the Fringe has transferred to the two competing Free festivals and to the Five Pound Fringe.

Bob Slayer’s gobsmackingly anarchic Punk Rock Chat Show (which had nothing to do with punk, rock or chat the evening I saw it but did involve a banana, nudity and an orifice) is the pure unadulterated spirit of the true Fringe and, with Lewis Schaffer now taking the erratically-billed 5.30pm performance of his improvised Free Until Famous show out of the venue and literally onto the streets, come rain or shine, we are living in a two-tiered Fringe world.

Punters can’t take the increasing financial risk of paying professional-level prices in the big venues on shows that might be rubbish. They sensibly lessen their financial risk by booking for shows by Names they have already watched on TV.

The spirit of the Fringe in which people accidentally discover new talent and rising stars in grim, sweaty rooms has now transferred to a second, lower tier of the Fringe.

It’s not all bad news, though.

Janey Godley herself straddles both Fringes, drawing big audiences in one of the Big Four venues on the reputation of her often highly improvised live shows despite not being one of the young Oxbridge males so beloved of BBC3 and Channel 4.

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Cunning Stunts, Chainsaw-Jugglers and 8-Month-Old Babies

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

There’s been a distinct lack of publicity stunts in Edinburgh this year. The Fringe used to be full of bizarre events and admirably surreal attempts to steal a few column inches in The Scotsman. Where are the naked tractor rides, the motorcycle-riding chainsaw-jugglers and the men and women dressed as woodland creatures committing sex acts illegal in the majority of American states?

At the moment, front-runner for the annual Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award (for best Fringe publicity stunt) would seem to be Stewart Lee for his accidental promotion of the Frank Chickens who were not performing at the Fringe although, ironically, he was so successful in unintentionally raising their profile that they then made a one-off appearance (the first in 25 years) on his own Stewbilee book-promotion show.

People are at least starting to try now.

Always pro-active New York promoter Cal Wynter phoned me up to tell me Manos The Greek is going to offer to re-finance the ruined Greek economy.

Meanwhile, I bumped into Gill Smith, the 2008 recipient of (and, indeed, inspiration for) the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award.

In 2008, she sent me an e-mail nominating herself for the main Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis that she could then justifiably put on her posters MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE (because she had nominated herself). She reckoned Malcolm would have approved. I agreed he would.

So we gave her a Cunning Stunt Award for best publicity stunt of the Fringe on the basis that, if we didn’t give her a Malcolm Hardee Award of some kind, she’d give herself one, thus diminishing our credibility.

This year, Gill is up here performing with her 8-month old daughter who does not take part in the stage show itself but who collects the money afterwards at Gill’s Free Festival show OCD: The Next Generation. Very difficult not to give money to an 8-month old smiling up at you expectantly.

The fact Gill is a new-ish mum is attracting other new-ish mums with small kids to her show and she reckons there might be some mileage in trying to get publicity on the basis that her show has had the largest number of audience members simultaneously breast-feeding.

Her husband has meanwhile been amusing himself by trying to (often successfully) persuade people that the baby long-pictured on the Gilded Balloon’s So You Think You’re Funny posters grew up to become the young woman bending over on the Spank! posters. Given that the Gilded Balloon is celebrating its 25th birthday this year, it is credible though deeply untrue.

Something of which Malcolm Hardee would have certainly approved: “credible though deeply untrue”.

The 2010 Malcolm Hardee Awards are announced next Friday 27th August during Shaggers.

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Lewis Schaffer (never call him just Lewis) at some time or other

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

Even I’m getting confused, but Lewis Schaffer is an American comic who has lived in Nunhead (Peckham) for ten years and, although he now knows what proper football is, he still can’t spell the English language properly let alone get the time of day correct.

Lewis Schaffer (never call him just Lewis) originally messed-up his Fringe Programme listing because he submitted his Free Until Famous With Lewis Schaffer show as starting at 17.30 when, in fact, it was 7.30 at the Counting House. He claimed he got confused by the Fringe listings being in British military time.

So he was actually performing his show at 7.30 at The Counting House, but he was listed as 5.30.

Then he got some good news and some bad news.

The good news was that a 5.30 slot became available at The Counting House, so he has been performing his show at 5.30 AND at 7.30 daily at the Counting House. The bad news was that the 5.30 slot was only available until last Saturday.

Then – more good news – another 5.30 slot became available immediately at the Blind Poet venue right next door to The Counting House… or so he thought… and he sent out a press release yesterday announcing it. But when he arrived yesterday for the first of these new 5.30 shows – more bad news – he found the room was crowded with punters watching a big screen football match. A big misunderstanding had occurred. The bar lady was not sympathetic. This is not uncommon with Lewis Schaffer (never call him just Lewis).

And an audience had turned up to see him, not the football. Not because they’d read the incorrect billing at the Blind Poet but because they’d read the incorrect billing in the Fringe Programme.

So – more good news – the man Scotsman critic Kate Copstick called “the superstar of free comics” took his audience round the corner to an empty square behind the Pleasance Dome venue and performed his show al fresco with his audience sitting on a wall. He was heckled by a passing skateboarder. Being heckled by a passing skateboarder in the middle of your stage show not common, even at the Fringe.

So, as far as listings go… from now on… at the moment… his one and only show is 1930-2030 daily at The Counting House although he told me last night that he may do more street performances when people turn up – as they will – at 1730.

Who knows what will happen next? I certainly don’t.

Knowing Lewis Schaffer (never call him just Lewis) even slightly is never dull. His life is much like his shows: he has a tendency to make a lot of it up as he goes along and he gets a tad distracted. Me? I am merely a bemused observer.

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The Tunnel, the all-star line-up and the dead godfather

(This blog originally appeared in What’s On Stage)

I am sponsoring the Malcolm Hardee Awards until 2017. This year’s are presented on Friday 27th August. But, in the meantime, every day at the Fringe, there is the Aaaaaaaargh! Malcolm Hardee Documentary event. Nothing to do with me except I gave the director around 20 hours of audio tape recorded when Malcolm and I were writing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

“This film is beautiful, evocative and in an odd way profound. Brilliant.” (Arthur Smith)

“This is great.” (Stewart Lee)

It was The Independent on Sunday‘s No 1 Fringe comedy favourite and The Scotsman‘s ‘Best of the Festival Pick of the Day’ but I hadn’t seen the whole hour-long event until yesterday. It is an event, rather than a film. Yesterday, it was introduced by comedian Bob Slayer. Future screenings will be introduced by the likes of Simon Munnery and Arthur Smith.

The screening includes a 32-minute documentary The Tunnel (about Malcolm’s most notorious comedy club) followed by a trailer for the still-in-production docmentary Malcolm Hardee: All The Away From Over There… followed by about 16 minutes of clips from MH:ATWFOT.

Interestingly both documentaries are rather wistful, with Malcolm Hardee: All The Way From Over There in particular mixing both laughs and sadness – like all great comedy. The list of those appearing in even these early clips is extraordinary:

Keith Allen, Jo Brand, Charlie Cbuck, Jim Davidson, Harry Enfield, Boy George, The Greatest Show on Legs, Ricky Grover, Rich Hall, John Hegley, Lennie Henry, Jools Holland, Phil Kay, Mark Lamarr, Norman Lovett, Chris Lynam, Bernard Manning, Paul Merton, Simon Munnery, Mike Myers, Vic Reeves

I am not involved in the production of this documentary but, holy shitteroonie, it looks like it could be a fittingly extraordinary tribute to the extraordinary and much-missed ‘godfather of British Alternative Comedy’ Malcolm Hardee.

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