Tag Archives: theft

More stories of comedians using other comedians’ lines – OK – stealing things

Picture of Ian MacPherson used without his permission from his website http://www.ianmacpherson.net

Picture of Ian MacPherson used without his permission or his knowledge from his website www.ianmacpherson.net

Yesterday, I blogged about Martin Soan’s version of how his late friend Malcolm Hardee appropriated – well, OK, stole – fellow comic Ian MacPherson’s gag.

The gag was to open your performance at a venue by saying:

“In show business, there’s a saying that you play (enter name of venue) twice in your career. Once on the way up. Once on the way down. (PAUSE) It’s good to be back…”

Martin Soan had heard (from Malcolm Hardee) that Ian McPherson had jokingly asked to be paid when Malcolm stole the gag and Malcolm had – much to Ian’s shock – actually paid several hundred pounds.

When he read yesterday’s blog, comedian Rob Thomas told me that a different version of what had happened was published in the British Comedy Guide in 2008, in an excellent piece by Robert Wringham.

I contacted Robert and asked him if he was happy with me quoting from his piece. “Is there anything you want plugged?” I added.

“You could mention my little book about Cluub Zarathustra,” he told me. “You helped out on that, I’m certain. I know I quote you in it.”

This surprised me because, in fact, I had nothing to do with either the book or with Simon Munnery’s show Cluub Zarathustra beyond seeing and immensely enjoying it at the 1999 Edinburgh Fringe. It is a fascinating show which was turned into a BBC2 TV series Attention Scum! directed by Stewart Lee in 2001.

The BBC have never released a DVD, but there are clips on YouTube.

BBC executives never liked the series and hid it away on BBC2 on Sunday nights at 11.50pm. They cancelled the series which was then – embarrassingly for them – nominated for the Golden Rose of Montreux as best TV entertainment show of the year. As I understand it, BBC executives then had to fly with Simon Munnery to Switzerland and sing the praises of the series which they had cancelled because they hated it.

There is almost a sitcom in that saga in itself.

But back to Ian McPherson and the gag theft by Malcolm Hardee.

In Robert Wringham’s 2008 piece in the British Comedy Guide, Ian said he first did the gag in the early 1980s at the Earth Exchange, a tiny vegetarian comedy club on the Archway Road in London.

Later, Malcolm nicked the gag, much to Ian’s annoyance.

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in Up The Creek office

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in his Up The Creek office (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“And,” Ian told Robert Wringham, “as he’d done it on some pap-for-the-masses TV programme, it looked as if I’d nicked it off him. So I had to drop it. He also put about that he’d bought it from me. Which he hadn’t. He then offered to buy it retrospectively. Fuck off, Malcolm, I quipped. So I fined him a pretty modest sum for theft. I was pretty furious about it at the time, but he had his eye on other stuff I’d written, so I was also warning him off. He ignored the fine at first, but he was just about to open (his own club) Up The Creek, so I gather some comedians refused to play there till he paid up. Which he grudgingly did. I also made it plain in words of one syllable that I was not, repeat not, selling the line. He muttered something about 6 seconds of material but, as I pointed out, It was 7 and a half seconds, Malcolm. You should have nicked my timing.

“Simon Munnery told me he does it too, but attributes it to me. Which is fine. No problem there. Good man Simon. I was told that Simon Fanshawe did it on radio. No attribution. I wrote to his agent at Noel Gay Artists three years ago for a clarification but he must be a slow typist. No response as yet. But not everyone is called Simon.

“A young film maker contacted me last month. Apparently he’s doing a documentary on Malcolm Hardee. Wanted to know if I wrote Malcolm’s gag. Malcolm’s? Apparently some of the older comedians who’d first seen me do it had told him it was mine. Anyway, he intimated they would be using the TV clip of Malcolm doing my gag and, er, was I okay with that. And maybe it was the Irish blood coursing through my veins, but my response was a good deal less than civil. Listen, I said. You people stole my country. I’m fucked if you’re nicking my act. Does that answer your question?

All those quotes from Ian have been stolen by me from Robert Wringham’s original article in the British Comedy Guide.

Well, not really stolen. I look on my use of them as an homage to Robert’s work and I recommend you buy his book on Cluub Zarathustra, a show that deserves to be remembered.

Robert Wringham’s assuredly excellent book which I have not read but buy it…

Robert Wringham’s assuredly excellent book which I have not read… But buy it

As a post-script to this tale of joke theft, I should also mention that juggler Steve Rawlings, who often played Malcolm Hardee’s clubs, also got in touch with me yesterday after reading my blog.

It is a widely-read blog and has probably had bits repeated from it without attribution.

Malcolm Hardee had handfuls of oft-repeated catchphrases. He used one of them to put-down anyone unwise enough to heckle him. He would say: “Isn’t it a shame when cousins marry?”

Yesterday, Steve Rawlings told me: “He got that line from me. I’d got it from a big-headed American juggler who was doing put-down lines on the other acts while we were sat drinking before a gig.

“He came out with three when I was sat alone with him.

“One was the when cousins marry line.

“One was It’s hard to believe out of millions of sperm you were quick enough to get there first.

“And the last was Living proof that Indians DID fuck buffalo, which was never going to work in England.

“I had the first two lines to myself for about two months and they were killing.

“Then Malcolm phoned me and said: Oy oy – Is that ‘when cousins marry’ line yours?

“I said: No, I nicked it off this American act.

“He said Oy oy again and hung up.

“Not long after that, everyone was using it. But for just a little while I had it to myself.”

I did ask Ian McPherson yesterday if there was anything he wanted to add to his British Comedy Guide tale of Malcolm stealing his opening routine. He said: “Say hello to Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch. Lovely, lovely boys and a credit to their respective mothers.”

Both are members of The Greatest Show On Legs which included Malcolm before he drowned and both are currently performing in Switzerland, where BBC TV executives had to smile and accept compliments for Simon Munnery’s cancelled series Attention Scum!

What the relevance of that is, I have no idea, but it sounds good – something which should never be underestimated.

Here is a YouTube clip of Steve Rawlings juggling.

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Joke theft? Where did late UK comedian Malcolm Hardee get some of his gags?

Martin Soan prepares himself for Switzerland

Martin Soan prepares himself for Switzerland

Comedy trio The Greatest Show On Legs are playing five shows in five cities in five days in Switzerland this week. This morning, Martin Soan set off by train, laden down with props for the shows. The other two GSOL members – Steve Bowditch and Richard Ryszynski aka Dickie Richards – flew by plane. It is the best way to fly.

The late legendary comic Malcolm Hardee used to be a member of the Greatest Show On Legs. He was famous or infamous for many things as a comic, club-owner, compere and anarchic character. One was the fact that he had around six jokes which he lived on for around 20 years. Another was a set of catchphrases, most or all of them picked up from other people.

If a member of the audience left to go to the toilet during one of his shows, Malcolm would say to the audience: When he comes back… let’s all hide.

“I did that first,” laughed Martin Soan yesterday, “out of desperation and I didn’t realise it was funny until Malcolm said it. I said it at a gig The Greatest Show On Legs were doing. I can remember the stage but I can’t remember where it was, but something fucked-up. I was on-stage introducing a sketch and I think the tape machine or something fucked-up, so I was left on stage and had to fill and some guy just got up and walked off and I said: Let’s all hide before he gets back.

“I don’t know if I even got a laugh that night, but Malcolm took it on in later shows and he got laughs from it.”

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

The legendary Malcolm Hardee – pirate of many a good gag (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

One of Malcolm’s opening lines when he played a new venue (or sometimes even if he had played it lots of times) was to say:

“In show business, there’s a saying that you play (enter name of venue) twice in your career. Once on the way up. Once on the way down. (PAUSE) It’s good to be back…”

Before he left for Switzerland, Martin Soan told me Malcolm had nicked this line from comedian Ian MacPherson.

“It was Ian MacPherson’s gag and Malcolm had seen him do it,” Martin told me. “So Malcolm then goes out and does it and Ian MacPherson found out somehow. Ian MacPherson was actually really cool about it. But he rings up Malcolm and says: Hey! MaaaIcolm…  heard you did one of my gags…

“So Malcolm goes: Oh, err, well oy-oy, I.. err… I… ugh… the… I…erm… the… ugh… I… oy-oy

“And Ian MacPherson is really cool about it but he says: I want £400 for it.

“And Malcolm sent him £400 for the gag – or £200 or whatever it was. I dunno how much. But that story is the truth. And Ian MacPherson – of course – was gobsmacked.

“He’d been down to Malcolm’s club the week before and Malcolm had told him he would get paid £150 and only gave him £100 on the night. The sort of thing Malcolm usually did.

“But Malcolm paid Ian MacPherson for the gag… obviously because it was a great gag and he wanted to keep doing it forever.

“At Malcolm’s funeral, I opened the doors with the coffin behind me and I bellowed into the empty church: They say you play St Alfege’s twice in your career. Once on the way up. And once on the way down. It’s good to be back!… and then the whole procession came in and the audience filled the church.”

THERE IS MORE ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THIS JOKE – INCLUDING IAN MACPHERSON’S VERSION OF WHAT HAPPENED – IN A BRITISH COMEDY GUIDE ARTICLE.

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Why you can do nothing if the BBC or anyone else steals your TV or film idea

The figure of Justice - blindfolded to avoid seeing any truths

Justice, as always, is blind in the UK

I went to a Creative England ‘crew night’ at Elstree Studios last night.

In theory, these evenings are a chance for people to sell their services – as camera people, accountants, make-up artists, prop suppliers and the rest – to producers, directors and production companies. In practice, it mostly turns out to be suppliers of such services talking to other suppliers of similar services and to recently-graduated film students while they desperately look over their shoulders for non-existent producers, directors and production company executives.

I went because Elstree Studios are at the end of my high street in Borehamwood and because I correctly guessed there would be free egg sandwiches and crisps. I am an overweight man without shame.

I got chatting to an enthusiastic young man who foolishly started talking to me because (I think) he figured anyone as old and overweight as me must be a good bet for an established figure with finance to spare.

How wrong can an enthusiastic young man be?

“I’ve got this great idea,” was his opening gambit.

Mistake Number One.

Never tell a stranger your idea. They may steal it.

If a large, established film company wants your idea, they will probably just pay you money and give you a producer credit.

If a successful, well-financed film company simply steals your idea, you can do nothing about it. They will out-finance you in any legal case and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a small film company steals your idea they may possibly, if you are lucky, give you a percentage of the film’s net profit (which will be zero), no salary and a producer credit.

If a small film company screws you and makes an unsuccessful film from your idea and you sue them, you are throwing your money away in legal costs because the film made no money and there are no profits in which you can share.

If a small film company screws you and miraculously makes a successful film from your idea, gets shedloads of money and you sue them then, again, they will simply out-finance you and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

If a TV company steals your idea, you are similarly screwed.

You cannot afford to sue a TV company. They will out-finance you in the legal process and, if you abandon your case, you will be liable for their costs.

Malcolm Hardee outside Grover Court in 1995

Malcolm Hardee told the man from the BBC to “Fuck off!”

Many years ago, the late Malcolm Hardee and I had an idea for a 26-part TV series. It would be made either as an independent production for the BBC or, more probably, as a BBC series with us as producers/associate producers or in some way involved and paid. We mapped out the structure and detailed series format.

We suggested our idea to the excellent and entirely trustworthy Janet Street-Porter who, at that time, was Head of Youth at BBC TV. She liked it and passed it upward to Alan Yentob who, at that time, was Controller of BBC2. He said he wanted to do it.

This was early in the year.

By autumn, the legendarily indecisive Yentob had changed his mind and decided he did not want to make the series. It may have been for budgetary reasons. Or on a whim.

But fair enough. No problem.

The idea, pretty much, had to be made as a BBC production/co-production or not at all because it partially relied on a lot of the BBC’s archive material.

About three years later (I can’t be exact) Malcolm received a phone call from someone at the BBC saying they were thinking of making a 26-part TV series and could they talk to him about putting them in touch with various people. The proposed BBC TV series had the same title as our idea, was on the same subject and had the same structure. There was no mistaking the rip-off.

Malcolm told the BBC man to fuck off and laughingly told me about the phone call. The BBC had forgotten from whom they had stolen the idea and had approached the very person they had nicked it from.

But it is not as simple as that.

Ideas are only ideas and two people can separately have an entirely original idea.

That was not the case with our idea, as the structure and even the title of the series was what we had suggested. It had been blatantly ripped-off, though it was never actually made.

Oddly, in the UK, the BBC has a worse reputation for stealing ideas than ITV, Channel 4 and the small independent producers. I suspect this is because of size.

I suspect what happened with our idea (which had been given a provisional go-ahead as a general, well-formatted idea for a BBC project but had not had any concrete work done on it) was that it had been discussed by and mentioned to various people and, three years later, someone simply plucked it from their memory without remembering or caring how it had got into their mind.

Channel 4 has fewer reasons to steal ideas

Channel 4 is less likely to steal

Channel 4 has no corporate reason to steal ideas: it commissions but does not make programmes. And, unlike the BBC and ITV, small independents (by and large) have no standing staff crews. They do not have staff instantly available for projects. They get ideas commissioned and then employ people on a project-by-project basis.

So, if you take an idea to them and you have all the contacts, knowledge and experience, they might as well bring you in as part of the production team and possibly (though rarely) cut you in on a small percentage of the money because it is easier to use your knowledge rather than employ someone who has to get to the state of knowledge you already have. Also, it is not the production company’s money; they can insert you into the production process within the budget which gets agreed by the commissioning channel; you become part of the overheads.

With the BBC, there are large numbers of staff on the payroll, so it is psychologically easier to rip-off external people’s ideas because the BBC is a vast organisation; and it is practically easier to rip you off because there are people already on the ongoing BBC payroll who can get together all the facts, contacts and research required.

It is easier to screw you and the person screwing you will probably not even be the person you gave your idea to.

It will be their boss or their boss’s boss or another producer who heard the idea from another producer who heard it from the secretary of the person you originally told.

So…

– There is simple theft of an idea.

– There is second-hand theft of an idea.

– There are cases where people have genuinely forgotten they heard the idea from someone else and think it is their own new idea.

– And there are cases where two unconnected people have simply come up with exactly the same idea because it is a concept whose time has come.

Whatever.

You can send manuscripts, plot outlines, formats and everything to yourself or your solicitor in strongly sealed envelopes by registered post and not open them when you receive them – thus being able to prove that you had a specific idea in detail on a specific date…

But, by and large, if a TV or film company or a producer decides to rip off your idea, there is nothing you can do about it unless you win the Lottery.

So it goes.

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How BBC TV forgot the person they stole a comedy series idea from

Malcolm Hardee - he never got a BBC TV series

Malcolm Hardee: Was it his original idea?

My blog yesterday mentioned Sean Brightman’s excellent tumblr pages The Alternative Alphabet.

He is quite rightly thinking of developing this idea of an A-Z of Alternative Comedy. But I have a cautionary tale for him.

At the end of the 1980s, the comedian Malcolm Hardee and I submitted an idea to Janet Street-Porter, who was then Head of Youth & Entertainment Features at BBC TV and who knew and liked Malcolm.

The idea was for a 26-part factual series titled The A-Z of Comedy. Each programme, based round a single letter of the alphabet, would include pieces on people, places and subjects, both current and past. We pitched it to the BBC because only they had such a vast visual library to draw on.

We submitted a detailed outline of the series, episode-by-episode, with a breakdown of the specific subjects in each episode.

Each episode had a balance between old and new, between recordings and newly-shot material, between people and programme clips and themes.

Janet Street-Porter was interested and submitted it to BBC2 Controller Alan Yentob, who thought about it for a while and then okayed it.

But about six months later the BBC, going through their potential projects again, decided not to go ahead with it.

Fair enough.

Fast forward a couple of years.

Malcolm Hardee gets a phone call from someone at the BBC – he is not clear if it’s a producer or a researcher – saying they are thinking of making a series called The A-Z of Comedy. It would look at various people, places and subjects, both current and past.

Malcolm often got calls from TV people wanting to plunder his encyclopaedic brain about various ideas and his contacts book for various people. They almost never paid him for any of this advice. It was a cheap and fast way to research a programme.

In this case, he said he could not help them… and then phoned me up, more bemused than angry, to tell me they had nicked our idea.

I do not know if they had stolen idea. I did not take the phone call. Malcolm reckoned they had had our programme outline lying around for a couple of years and just nicked the idea, forgetting who had originally suggested it.

Maybe they did. Indeed, I presume they did – the BBC at that time had a track record of stealing ideas.

Shit happens.

But maybe they didn’t.

It was just an idea – though beefed-up in detail in our submission.

And ideas cannot be copyrighted – only scripted formats.

Although it was our idea, it was hardly original. Indeed, Malcolm and I got our idea by distantly remembering an old TV series Alan Melville’s A to Z (on various subjects) which the BBC screened in the late-1950s.

The A-Z of Comedy is one of those ideas which lots of people will independently come up with at various times. The trick in our case was in the balancing of the various elements and in having Malcolm present it.

Basically, the truth is that, if a large company or corporation rips you off, there is nothing you can do about it. They can afford to out-finance you if you were ever stupid enough to take them to court.

And, no…

BBC TV never made the A-Z of Comedy series. Like many other ideas, including ours, it merely melted away like ice cream stains or grains of cocaine on TV executives’ desks.

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UK-based US comic Lewis Schaffer has his trousers stolen in a seaside town

Lewis Schaffer on stage in London this week

Lewis Schaffer on stage this week, before losing his trousers

London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer is performing eight weekly shows at the Leicester Square Theatre, starting soon. You heard it here first.

Last night, we exchanged text messages…

___

When is your first Leicester Square show?

3rd March

What time?

Sunday 6pm £10.

___

He then texted that he was in a well-known seaside town to play a gig. I will call it Boringtown. I texted back: Condolences. He texted back: Been here before. Seems nice.

Later last night, I was travelling in my car with my eternally-un-named friend (hereinafter referred-to as my EUF). I got another text from Lewis and this exchange ensued:

___

– I wrote that last text before my bag and useful black coat were stolen during the show. So now don’t have a good impression of Boringtown.

– In car. John is driving. EUF here. John says “Email me more about theft.” He hasn’t got a blog for tomorrow. It’s all Him Him Him isn’t it? – EUF says v. sorry to hear about coat. It’s cold. And bag. Hope no money was in it this time.

– I don’t want him to blog about that. I’m always losing things. Or having them taken from me. There’s a few Yiddish words for me. I’m the guy who spills the soup on you and I’m the one who gets the soup spilled on him. I had a feeling it wasn’t safe to leave it there.

It’s the jokes that I’ll miss. The paper bits with the funny things I said that I left in the bag. Who’s going to use them? I mean, if they can get laughs out of my joke scratchings then they’re funnier than I am.

– John says your txt msgs would make a good blog. I say you poor little Yiddish soupy sosage.

– Schmeil or schmozzel. I’ll have to look it up in Leo Rosten’s Joy of Yiddish. One of those words or both. I’m both. I wish I only spilled. My show at the Art Centre was good under difficult circumstances – there was an audience there (joke).

– John says your jokes are so specific to you that no-one else can tell them. He laughed out loud and said half your act is you saying the words ‘Lewis Schaffer’ – that is difficult to steal.

– It’s not that the jokes are good or that I would have used them. It is now I’ll imagine those lost jokes that I’ve forgotten are the funniest jokes I’ve thought up.

– John asks – You’re doing jokes now?

– I have jokes now. I don’t tell them in the right order or when I should, but I have jokes.

– John says Oh yes – The Holocaust ones.

– Now I have a bad view of Boringtown. Please don’t mention the town.

– John says you told him not to blog these texts.

– I lost my clothes. Luckily they didn’t think much of my leather jacket or I’d be going home dressed like a drunk stockbroker after a night out boozing.

– Are you still dressed in your stage gear? John asks have they taken your trousers? If so, comedy gold. EUF says are you on your journey home?

– They took my beloved Kenneth Cole stretchy trousers. I’m on the train. Please don’t say the name of the town. Me bad in not taking my belongings and putting them in a pile on stage with me.

– Sorry. Would hate to lose some fav clothes like that.

– And my beloved Kenneth Cole stretchy black jacket. And my beloved black and white checked shirt. By Kenneth Cole.

– John says have we agreed he can blog these texts minus Boringtown?

– And my beloved black casual shoes by Kenneth Cole, the American clothing designer.

– No more beloved clothes. I don’t know K Cole.

– Beloved Kenneth Cole.

– John says are you naked? If so, send pic immediately.

– They left my ratty suit carrier bag. Why am I such a plonker?

– I say you aren’t. John says you are. Have you still got phone charger? We are arriving at my flat now so there will be a pause.

– Luckily I hid that behind the portable heater in the dressing room. I am a plonker. I don’t think that’s a Yiddish word.

It’s John here again now. So can I blog, provided I don’t mention Boringtown?

– I’m not sure you posting my mishaps is helping me in the comedy business. I’m not sure still makes other comics happy to read of my failures. I’m not a threat to them. Yes, you can blog this, but only because I sense your desperation to keep this daily blogging going. I admire your commitment. I could only do 3 months, if that.

Do you want an IKEA double bed settee, lightweight base with mattress? Was EUF’s sister-in-law’s. Pix to follow. We just brought it back to Greenwich. IKEA beds longer than UK ones.

– Can use bed.

– Good.

– Actually, can’t. Sorry. No room.

– Pity.

– That’s 3 thefts in 5 months.

3 thefts in 5 months? You are being targeted by rogue members of the Elders of Zion… Maybe the Middle Aged of Zion.

– First the money in Edinburgh. Then my iPhone 4S in November. Now this. I should stress that the show was amazing. No-one walked out.

– My EUF says this means none of the audience stole your things. She trained as a sleuth by watching Monk on TV.

– I’ve had a run of good shows.

– Don’t worry. Things will get worse. I presume tonight was part of your Free Until Famous tour of Arts Centres?

– Yes. Packed. 150.

– Your Leicester Square Theatre gigs are eight Sundays in a row?

– Yes. Not announced yet. You can announce them in your blog. But they are paid dates. How can I justify it?

– The audience will justify it by arriving. When are you back in South London?

– I’m in New Cross now.

– Do you want food?

– Where? It is 1.30am. This is England.

– I have a car. We can find.

– Okay. Come. I can change.

– At your age, you cannot change. My EUF is starving. We will come round to your place.

– Okay. Hurry. Am fading fast. No. Don’t come. My door keys were in coat. Feeling flu-ish. Have to wake early to take son to football. His birthday. Sorry John. Ask for EUF’s forgiveness.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe: a battered face, Russian Egg Roulette and thefts

Ian Fox’s injuries at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday

The increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show was held last night at the Counting House in  Edinburgh.

Before the show started, comedian-writer-photographer Ian Fox  came along to say hello.

“Will you be staying?” I asked.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I am feeling a bit nauseous. It’s going to be hot in there.” He was attacked in the street a couple of nights ago, as I mentioned in yesterday’s blog,

He took his dark glasses off and showed me the damage inflicted on him and the three stitches used to sew the side of his nose up. Not a good look.

That is, perhaps, my most vivid memory of the show. That and three naked men in the same corridor.

The show lasted two hours with 24 people performing in 11 acts. I think we came in four minutes under time, but I have forgotten the exact figure. I saw more of it than I usually see of those annual shows but still not very much, as I was running around slightly. Well, at my age, tottering around. So, if anyone can tell me what happened, I would be grateful. And I don’t even drink.

Miss Behave comperes the Malcolm Hardee Award Show (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

I do remember the Greatest Show on Legs preparing for their Naked Balloon Dance by stripping off in the narrow corridor leading to the room, as there was a space problem backstage. This meant that a more-than-middle-aged couple who left the room to get drinks from the bar returned to find three naked men talking about balloon movements as they turned the corner. The woman looked simultaneously surprised yet pleased at the sight.

I also remember the extraordinarily superb compering of Miss Behave  in her skin-tight red costume. She head-butted a watermelon. What can I say? It exploded and was very messy.

The three Award winners were:

Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality: The Rubberbandits

Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award: Stuart Goldsmith

Malcolm Hardee ‘Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid’ Award: Trevor Noah

I remember those winners accepting their awards, of course.

And fairly memorable also was the sight of comedians Arthur Smith and Richard Herring smashing eggs against their own foreheads in our Russian Egg Roulette contest supervised by Andy Dunlop, World President of the World Egg Throwing Federation.

Andy Dunlop: Russian Egg Roulette supremo

Earlier in the week, I mentioned in a blog that Andy Dunlop and World Gravy Wrestling champion Joel Hicks had recently triumphed at the Worthing Air Tattoo. In my innocence at the time, I assumed this was an air event which involved planes. But, last night, Andy told me it was actually what used to be called the Bognor Birdman Rally transferred to a new seaside home in Worthing – that’s the one where people leap off the end of the pier with wings attached in an attempt to fly.

“The soles of my feet were sore,” Andy told me, “because you hit the water at about 35 mph.

Lewis Schaffer + Egg Roulette medal

The eventual surprise winner in our knockout Russian Egg Roulette contest last night was American comic Lewis Schaffer.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman newspaper later lamented to me:

“What have you done? The award winning Lewis Schaffer – We are never going to hear the last of that…”

As the winner, according to Andy Dunlop, Lewis Schaffer automatically becomes official champion Scottish Tosser, something of which Lewis Schaffer seemed inordinately proud.

His win at the Counting House was all the more impressive because, last year, he had been banned from the Counting House because, during his shows there, he kept turning the loud air conditioner off and, when it got hot, opening the doors.

Arthur Smith was an early casualty in the Russian Egg Roulette contest and made an early exit from the show to prepare for his legendary annual Alternative Tour of the Royal Mile, which started at 2 o’clock.

I missed about the first ten minutes of this, but was in time to see Arthur try to prove the non-existence of God by standing on the entrance steps to St Giles’ Cathedral and saying, if there was a God, then would he please provide a naked woman.

Unfortunately for Arthur’s thesis, a naked woman then did appear to join him on the steps only to leave almost immediately, mumbling something about it being very cold out.

Martin Soan of the Greatest Show on Legs (currently in the spare bedroom of my rented Edinburgh flat) tells me that Arthur’s Royal Mile tours used to include genuine historical facts but, last night, this seemed to include only: “That’s some old church over there.”

Naked man stands proud in Edinburgh’s Royal Mile last night

Certain traditions were maintained, though – in particular, getting a punter to climb on top of a reasonably high object for £10, strip naked and sing Flower of Scotland and, further down the Royal Mile, Arthur getting drenched when someone threw a bucket of water over him from an upstairs window (also hitting a passing and entirely innocent cyclist).

One (I think new) addition to the tour was Karen O Novak being designated as an official kisser and comedian Shappi Khorsandi having a theatrical snog with her… and a punter saying he had to go to the loo and being persuaded that, for £10, he should instead piss on the cobbles in the middle of the High Street while the tour throng (perhaps 30 strong) stood in a circle round him with their backs to him. He said he couldn’t pee if we watched. I felt we should have watched.

There was also the appearance of a live and apparently untethered crocodile at what I think was the junction of George IV Bridge and the High Street.

Those, rather than my own two-hour show are my main memories of last night.

But, on a more sobering note, today I got a message from Lewis Schaffer which said:

Lewis Schaffer loses £600 in Edinburgh

It was a horrible day yesterday. Two brilliant shows from me and then I go to my venue to retrieve my suitcase and about £600 was missing. It was stolen from inside my bag there. I was a plonker for leaving money in the suitcase. A schmuck. 

I’m still in pain today. 

Your event was the best ever and not just cause you let me be in it. I loved the Greatest Show on Legs and Miss Behave was amazingly over the top. 

For me to beat Arfur Smith was a comfort as, on a few occasions, he’s trashed America on stage right after I’ve been on. Deliberately. So sweet revenge. 

And see what I mean about boiling Edinburgh rooms? No ventilation at all. A freezing cold evening outside and inside it’s boiling. A simple extractor fan would have cooled that room!

Lewis was not the only one whose property was stolen. I heard today of a comedian whose MacBook Pro laptop computer was stolen from inside a locked room at his venue. It contained all his scripts and the lighting cues for his shows.

Because it was an Apple computer, he had taken the precaution of activating the Find My Mac facility in the iCloud. This means that, using GPS, you can see on another device where the MacBook Pro is.

He traced it to a student accommodation block and to one of three rooms. He told the police, who said they could do nothing about it unless he gave them the IP address

Quite why (given that they had due cause to believe the stolen computer was where it was) they could not go and knock on doors to locate the stolen machine, is one of those mysteries of policing to rank alongside Is there a standard bribery rate card for the Metropolitan Police?

The increasingly prestigious critic and judge Kate Copstick

I heard about the stolen computer when I was having tea with Kate Copstick, a long-time judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

We were talking over ideas for Fringe shows next year and how best to honour Malcolm’s memory. Ideas included hosting a Biggest Bollocks competition and having famous male comics appear in full drag – the audience has to guess who they are.

It is ideas like this, I suspect which make the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show increasingly prestigious.

After that, we went our separate ways: she to have tea with a millionaire, I to see the Greatest Show on Legs strip off for their penultimate show at the Hive venue.

My life. Don’t talk to me about my life.

But things could be worse. I could be Ian Fox.

Before I went to bed tonight, I emailed him to find out how his battered face was.

“Starting to itch a bit tonight,” he e-mailed back, “and my teeth are starting to throb slightly, as the sensation is starting to return.”

This sounds at least hopeful.

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Filed under Comedy, Crime, Eccentrics, Scotland

Lewis Schaffer and the unreported theft of all his Edinburgh Fringe jokes

“You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?” I asked Lewis Schaffer. “They call it the Hubbard Academy of Personal Independence, presumably so people don’t know it’s Scientology.”

“No,” he replied.

Well something strange has happened to him.

American stand-up comic Lewis Schaffer is a former Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner and no wonder – he just can’t stop attracting publicity.

This last week, he did a double whammy.

On Thursday, the genuinely very amiable and charming comedy agent Brett Vincent used Twitter to accuse Lewis Schaffer of stealing a joke.

Brett tweeted:

“Hey @LewisSchaffer – I have heard from 3 sources that the first joke in your show is 15 minutes in and its a Ben Hurley gag from 2006? True?”

New Zealand comedian Ben Hurley is one of Brett’s acts.

The gag was: ‘’I lost a good friend in the World Trade Center. I remember telling my friend: Mohammed, stay in flight school! Practice the landings!’

Lewis says he had actually come up with the gag himself straight after the 9/11 terror attacks:

“I have fond memories,” he said in a press release, “of telling the joke in early 2002. It’s the joke that got me banned from Jongleurs. I brought the joke back this year because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11 to remind me of all the good times… A comedian is judged by how soon he or she makes a joke about a tough subject. For instance, I made the very first joke about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance – the day before I kidnapped her. Maybe that was too soon.”

I had tea with Lewis Schaffer at Fringe Central in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon and it was not the spat with ever-affable Brett Vincent which was obsessing him. No, it was the fact that he was living in the Now.

“I am living in the Now,” he told me. “It’s all good.”

“You’re saying meaningless things again,” I told him. “You’re being very American.”

“No I’m not, John. I’m living in the Now.”

That’s when I asked him: “You haven’t been to that Scientology place on South Bridge, have you?”

“No,” he replied.

“So why,” I asked, “have you suddenly decided to live in the Now?

“Because I realised I’m 54 years old. I have too much shit going on in my life. I have more past than I have future. When you’re 20, you can live in the past because you don’t have much of a past. Now I’m gridlocked. My Now is that I have a show to do but I’m sitting here with you. I’m not even worried about my show in half an hour.

“It’s going good because I’m living in the Now. I’m not going to remember the bad things that have happened to me. I only know that right now is good.”

“And Now is good?” I asked.

“Yes. I got a review today which said my show was over in a flash. Well, it must have been good if it seemed to be over in a flash. Only good shit is over in a flash. Bad shit goes on and on and on. Name anything bad that’s over in a flash besides premature ejaculation.”

“So it’s all good now?” I asked again.

“I had my bag stolen yesterday.”

“Is that good?”

“That’s bad. It had all my jokes in it. I had all the jokes for my show stolen. I was flyering yesterday and I left my joke book in my bag outside and someone stole it. Well, it wasn’t a book, it was a sheet… sheets.. And it had the money from my show. It’s the second year in a row this has happened, though I don’t know how I remember that, because I am living in the Now.

“Every year I make a list. You remember my lists, John? In 2009 it was

“I am not shambolic.

“I don’t hate the audience.

“I don’t think this country is completely shit.

“Discussions confuse people.

“I know Madeleine McCann is not as important to others as she is to me.

“I lost all those lists, all of them; they were in my bag; four years worth of lists. I lost them. Maybe that’s good. They were in the past. Maybe I have to do a new list because now I’m living in the Now.”

“Have you reported it?” I asked.

‘You can’t report it.”

“Of course you can. Someone might find it. It’s the sort of crime where they steal the bag, take the cash and then they throw the bag aw…”

“But,” Lewis interrupted, “They would read the notes and the jokes inside the bag and say to themselves This is Lewis Schaffer’s bag – and they might have given all my jokes to Ben Hurley.”

But you don’t need a list of jokes,” I said, trying to be positive. “You don’t tell jokes; you tell stories with jokes in them.”

“I tell jokes!” Lewis complained.

“But if you can remember the stories,” I persisted, “you’ll remember the jokes. You have been doing your show twice weekly in London for the last year. You’ll remember the jokes because you know the stories.”

“I live in the Now,” Lewis told me. “Those stories were yesterday’s stories. How can I remember them in the Now? You know how critical the reviewers are: they only want to see new jokes. They don’t want to hear my Award-winning Holocaust joke again.”

“It’s the best Holocaust joke I’ve ever heard,” I told him.

“You said that already,” Lewis mumbled. “I have to do a show in half an hour and I have lost my book of jokes. Well, my sheets of jokes; and notes; and my lists.”

He became very serious. He looked me in the eyes:

“What would you – John Fleming – do if someone said to you You have to be on stage in half an hour and do an hour-long comedy show?… Would you think to yourself: I’m shit because I didn’t prepare?… No you wouldn’t, because you didn’t know you had to prepare.

“That’s what I feel about my life. I didn’t know I had to prepare.

“No-one told me. When I was crawling out of my mother’s vagina, no-one told me I had to prepare for an Edinburgh Fringe show. Did you know it was coming? I didn’t know. It’s not as if it’s an annual event. They just spring it on you!”

I looked at Lewis.

“I don’t remember the past,” Lewis said, looking me in the eye, very seriously. “I am living in the Now.”

I said at the beginning of this blog that something strange has happened to Lewis Schaffer.

I take it all back.

He is the same.

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology