Tag Archives: The Stand

Paying publications to review your show is like having paid-sex with a famous wit

The Chortle piece on pay-to-review

Chortle piece on pay-to-be-reviewed

Someone told me about this yesterday.

I said: “Are you sure it’s not an April Fool prank?”

“If it is, it’s a day late,” the person told me.

And this is no surreal joke.

Just like my Frank Sanazi blog yesterday – which included Jesus Christ flying in from Glasgow for Hitler’s birthday – this is true.

I was more than a little surprised to see on the Chortle comedy industry website these words:

“This year we make explicit what we’ve always tried to do anyway, and promise to review any show that spends at least £250 on advertising on Chortle. To avoid any Daily Telegraph-style conflicts of editorial interests, we won’t make any promises as to which reviewer will see a show, when it’ll appear – or most crucially whether we’ll like it! And you’ll have had to have settled your bill before the Fringe, so you can’t back out if you don’t like what we’ve written.”

Each to his own, but I think once you allow people outside the publication (the performers themselves) to dictate which shows will receive reviews (by, in effect, paying to be reviewed) you have lost editorial control.

There is a story which is told about George Bernard Shaw or Winston Churchill or a variety of other fairly witty people in various versions…

There is a dinner party. The conversation turns to the concept that ‘Everyone has their price’ and the famous man turns to a lady sitting at the table and says – purely as a matter of intellectual theory, in order to spur the debate along – “If I offered you £10 million to sleep with me for one night, would you accept?”

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

George Bernard Shaw in 1925, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature

“I suppose,” the lady says, laughing, “for £10 million, I would.”

“In that case,” says the great man, “here’s ten shillings. Sleep with me tonight.”

“What kind of woman do you think I am?” the outraged lady replies.

“We have already established,” the great man says, “what type of woman you are. We are now merely haggling over the price.”

There is no actual moral or logical difference between saying: “If you pay me £250, I will guarantee to review you rather than another show which I could have chosen to review” and “If you pay me £500 I will allow you to veto what I say in my review” or “If you pay me £1,000 I will let you write your own review as a press release which I will print word-for-word.”

By receiving payment to get reviewed, we have already established what type of editorial judgment a publication has. We have established the principle. We are merely haggling over how much it might cost to influence the content.

If an act pays £250 (for whatever reason) to guarantee a review, the publication has relinquished editorial responsibility by letting an outsider decide which shows (among so many others) will be reviewed. If a publication had time and space to print 500 reviews at the Edinburgh Fringe and 500 acts were happy to pay £250 to get reviewed, then that publication would not be deciding to review any shows on the basis of merit or perceived interest. It would be merely selling space to acts to advertise their wares via reviews. Even if the act has no control over the content of the review, it has still turned an objective review into a paid-for advert.

Over the years, as reported in Chortle, some comedy venues have attempted to charge performers a fee to perform in their clubs or to have the act guarantee that a certain number of their friends will pay for tickets to their show – this has rather sniffily been described as ‘pay-to-play’.

There is no difference that I can see between ‘pay-to-play’ and ‘pay-to-get-reviewed’. In both cases, the result may backfire – the audience may hate the act or the reviewer may hate the act. But the principle of payment-to get-exposure is the same.

On Facebook, performer Richard Vranch has pointed out that the Chortle idea of being paid by acts to review their show is not new. In June 2012, Chortle ran a news item headlined:

Caimh McDonnell’s PR stunt became true

Caimh McDonnell’s jokey PR stunt has became true

COMIC TO PAY FOR REVIEWS
£100-a-Time ‘Bribe’ to Win Fringe Coverage

Comedian Caimh McDonnell was pulling a publicity stunt but interestingly called his scheme ‘undoubtedly a new low for British journalistic integrity’. In fact, to avoid actual bribery, Caimh said he would not pay the £100 to publications but – up to a maximum of £3,000 – he would pay the money to the Macmillan Cancer Support charity. Fair enough.

In May last year, Chortle ran this report:

He has been vehemently opposed to competitions in comedy, calling them a ‘malignant and destructive influence’ on the artform. Yet last night, The Stand comedy club owner Tommy Sheppard welcomed the Deuchars Beermat Fringe competition to his venue in Edinburgh, with heats in Glasgow and Newcastle to follow next week. And, unlike most competitions that keep the commercial side separate, this one insists that all acts must ‘weave’ the name of the sponsor into their set. But Sheppard told Chortle he saw no conflict as the Deuchars competition was across all performance genres: ‘We’re convinced it’s not a comedy competition,’ he said. ‘The majority of people taking part last year – and so far this year – are musicians.’ And the winner of last night’s heat? A comedian, Ross Leslie.

Paying £100 for a review… or paying £250 for the publicity of a review even though you don’t control content… or saying you don’t believe in competitions then hosting competitions which force acts to include brand names in their performances…

It all seems much of a muchness to me.

But, then, who am I to quibble? On my Facebook pages yesterday, I posted:

I am physically harassed yesterday

I am not one to take base bribes for publicity in my blog

If anyone would like to give me £251 in cash, I promise to print the name of your 2015 Edinburgh Fringe show in my increasingly prestigious daily blog.

For a further £251 in cash I will print the name of your venue.

And for a further £251 in cash I will print the days and time of the show. Only cash. Only sterling. Only current notes.

In the spirit of Kickstarter enticements, if you give me a further £53.96p in cash, I will also give you a free Mars Bar on the final day of the Fringe. And, as an extra gift from me to you, if you pay me an additional £2,373 in cash, you can also appear (naked) in the Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on Friday 28th August in Edinburgh.

I am awaiting offers.

Noel Faulkner: man with a calm persona

Noel Faulkner truly does not give a shit

Meanwhile, also on Facebook, iconic Noel Faulkner, the ever-outspoken owner of London’s Comedy Cafe Theatre, says:

There are a lot of talentless fucks worming their way into the business. When a comic sends me a list of credits and reviews and they list Broadway Baby, The List and all the other rags that send 20-year-old reviewers out to review, my first thought is You’re probably shit. I would pay these reviewers not to review my show.

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Edinburgh Fringe venue calls me a liar

FringeLogo_Red[1]Beyond people being two-faced, there is one thing guaranteed to get up my nose. Someone calling me a liar.

That last one happened yesterday.

In my blog yesterday morning, I wrote:

“I was told The Stand venue at the Edinburgh Fringe will not issue any tickets to any Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges this year – although it has done that without any problem for the past six years – both via the main Fringe Office and via The Stand’s own Press Office.”

In response, I got a message from Tommy Sheppard, owner of The Stand, saying:

“No-one in our press office has ever said that there’s a blanket ban on Malcolm Hardee award judges coming to our shows… try not to tell lies about us – it doesn’t help anyone.”

Well, I never said anyone in The Stand’s Press office had told me anything.

What I had done was the same as I had done since 2007 without any problem. I applied for tickets to the shows I wanted to see by sending the standard form to the Fringe’s Arts Industry office, where I am accredited as “John Fleming, Malcolm Hardee Awards”.

The Fringe Office either issue tickets reserved for Arts Industry accreditees or they ask the venue who normally ask the relevant act if it is OK.

For most of the shows I asked about, I was given tickets yesterday. Four requests were “pending” – which I presume means that the acts or their PR people are being asked if it is OK to give tickets.

The single ticket I asked for at The Stand was ‘Declined’ with the written explanation:

“On request of the venue, there is no complimentary ticket allocation for Fringe Award Judges. Tickets can be purchased for this show subject to availability.”

Call me unable to understand the English language, but this seems to me to say there is a blanket ban on Malcolm Hardee award judges coming to shows at The Stand in the standard way that has happened without problem over the last six years. Perhaps there was ongoing incompetence at The Stand over the last six years? Who knows?

In the last six years, I saw several shows at The Stand using an Arts Industry pass issued to the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Mostly I applied for tickets through the Fringe Office (which is standard procedure) though occasionally I got tickets direct from The Stand’s press office showing the Arts Industry Pass bearing the words “Malcolm Hardee Awards” as identification.

EdFringe2011PassB

The Malcolm Hardee Awards Show pass

EdFringe2011PassA

…acceptable to the venue in years past

For example, in one week in 2011, I saw four shows at The Stand, using printed tickets issued to me as a representative of the Malcolm Hardee Awards. Admittedly, on one of those four occasions, I was refused admittance to the venue.

When I arrived at The Stand (after rushing across town) with the printed ticket issued to the Malcolm Hardee Awards and collected by me from the Press Office, I was told at the door: “Oh, we’ve sold all the seats,” and I was turned away.

I was told by a journalist that this had also happened to him at another Stand show. Having been given a press ticket, he was turned away at the door because all the seats had been, in the meantime, sold to paying punters. As a result, he did not review the show.

The Stand has, for several years, claimed it ‘does not believe’ in competitions – that you cannot judge between comedians. Who can say one act is better than or even comparable with another? So they have refused to give tickets to judges for what used to be called the Perrier Award.

Yesterday, Tommy Sheppard of The Stand told me: “If a act wants to get you in on a comp they can. All you have to do is have the courtesy to ask – which of course you can do through us – just contact Dave or Sarah. It would be nice if you would pay for your ticket – since at The Stand that money goes to the acts.”

This seems a little simplified.

At any of the normal pay-to-enter venues, if you buy a ticket, the money goes to the acts… and to the venue. I am unaware of any change at The Stand which means that 100% of all box office receipts goes to the act. If that has suddenly become the case, then presumably The Stand must be making 100% of its money by venue hire to the acts and by bar sales.

I presume that, in fact, The Stand takes a cut of the door take.

So, if a journalist enters the venue on a press pass, The Stand loses that profit on the ticket (but there is a high chance of a resultant review publicising the show). If an awards judge enters the venue on a pass, only one act/show out of all those seen can win an award, so there is much less likelihood of The Stand getting publicity for itself and the show.

Someone defending The Stand on my Facebook page yesterday wrote:

“As I understand it, they don’t approve of competitions so it would make sense that they wouldn’t give away free tickets to someone running a competition, as it makes more sense for them to have those tickets paid for and the money in the pockets of the venue and the acts… It is a point of principle. But why give away a ticket to something that you don’t agree with when you can sell it instead.”

I replied:

“From what you say, then, it’s a money thing, not a point of principle. They don’t mind the act ‘losing’ money but not them…”

Venues allow acts a certain number of complementary tickets which they can give away to friends/contacts.

There are also normally a certain number of press and industry tickets held back until the last moment. If they are not taken up, they are sold to paying customers. In the case of The Stand, they allow press tickets but have an alleged (except for the last six years, it seems) ban on giving tickets to Awards judges. However, they do not tell the acts that judges want tickets (I have been told this by an act) and simply tell the judges they cannot have any: that they have to pay.

As my Facebook friend said: “it would make sense that they wouldn’t give away free tickets to someone running a competition, as it makes more sense for them to have those tickets paid for and the money in the pockets of the venue… It seems that if someone wants to buy a ticket then they are welcomed as a paying customer. If that person then wants to include the acts they’ve seen in a competition, it’s up to them. If an act wins a competition it’s up to the act if they choose to accept it. I don’t see where there is a loss of principle, they just don’t want to give away tickets for free for something they don’t agree with. In terms of losing career advancement… acts don’t have to play The Stand if they don’t want to.”

That seems to put it more clearly.

It is good to see capitalism at work.

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The vicar, the talking penis and the Edinburgh venue which restricts acts

Dave Thompson (centre) the fake vicar

Dave Thompson (centre) as the fake vicar at the TV wedding

In yesterday’s blog, comedy actor Dave Thompson mentioned in passing that he had recently been “a fake vicar at a TV executive’s wedding.”

Obviously, I wanted to know more.

“Well, basically,” Dave told me, “a senior person at Channel 5 (she works in digital sales and is not directly involved in production) wanted to have a ‘different’ sort of wedding.  The couple approached Geoff Whiting of Mirth Control comedy agency, who thought I was best suited to the job.  He had seen me playing an insane killer attacking and fighting Harry Hill in Harry’s recent live show Sausage Time.

“I met the couple at the wedding venue in Surrey. There was a minstrels’ gallery at the back of the room and a kitchen to the side of the ‘stage’ area, where the ceremony would take place. We decided I should pretend to be a vicar and they liked my suggestion that the caterers should make a lot of noise in the kitchen, prompting me to have an argument with them.

“The couple were married in secret the day before, so all 150 guests including the best man thought I was a real vicar, until the end of the ceremony.

“It started normal, then I quoted some extreme passages from the Old Testament about adultery and death.

“I adapted a normal wedding script, putting some of my own material in it:

Mark, you are a very handsome young man. Emily, you are an exceptionally attractive young woman. I am going to ask you both in turn to declare that you are free to marry one another. I hope that you will share a marital bed and perhaps, as dawn lights up the garden of the house you will one day be able to afford (preferably in a nice area), Emily’s slumbering leg will brush against Mark’s leg. This will lead to caresses and the flowing of conjugal juice.  Emily, may perfect milk abound from your perfect bosoms. And one day, may that milk of kindness mature into the cheese of wisdom.

Dave’s vicar garb, including axe and optional animal sacrifice

Dave’s vicar garb, including axe and optional animal sacrifice

“When I stripped off to my purple Lycra leotards and tights (custom made for my appearance in Ben Elton’s feature film Maybe Baby) and did a fertility dance down the aisle, the congregation started to wonder if, perhaps, I was not a real vicar. I danced provocatively and put my leg over the balustrade.

“I then produced an axe and sacrificed a small animal (cuddly toy) for their abundance. I qualified this by saying I’d just returned from several years serving in rural Africa, and had been influenced by their rituals.

“At the end of the performance, the bride and groom walked down the aisle and out of the wedding barn as if the ceremony had been completely normal.

“The couple paid me a very good fee and I hope to get more work like this, as it’s easier than stand-up and had a massive impact on the 150 people in the congregation – though I had to keep it fairly clean in case I offended any of the older people there.”

So there you have it: a blatant attempt by a stand-up comedian to tout for more work.

But he is not as desperate as Harry Deansway.

In other news, yesterday I got an e-mail from Harry, the publicity-hungry publisher-turned-comedian:

Harry the performer - as he wants to be seen

I ask you in all honesty Would you interview this man’s penis?

“After years on the sketch circuit,” it said, “my penis is hoping to finally get his big break in my Edinburgh show Wrong Way and is looking for press opportunities. I am e-mailing you on behalf of my penis as he is very shy, so if you would like to speak with my penis it would have to be via e-mail.”

I e-mailed back a rejection because:

“It sounds like your penis doesn’t have the balls to email me itself.”

Finally yesterday, I was told The Stand venue at the Edinburgh Fringe will not issue any tickets to any Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award judges this year – although it has done that without any problem for the past six years – both via the main Fringe Office and via The Stand’s own Press Office.

EdFringe2011PassA

Acceptable to the venue in years past…

EdFringe2011PassB

the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show pass

As a result, no acts appearing at The Stand will be considered or nominated for any increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award this year.

Since when has the venue not the performer decided who should be allowed to see their shows?

Since a long time ago in The Stand’s case, as it has a long and undistinguished record in restrictive practices which adversely affect acts’ careers.

To quote Malcolm Hardee, “Fuck ‘em.” He would have gone round and pissed on their stage.

But The Stand has been taking the piss for too long already.

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