Monday 1st August 2005

The irony of Malcolm Hardee is that, in death, he may become more famous than in life – and outlive almost all the currently famous comedians.

At one BBC party in the 1990s, a Head of Television Comedy was heard to say: “He’s not going to get on television because he keeps taking his willy out.”

Such Oxbridge and Groucho Club sensibilities kept him off our screens for most of his career and normally, if there are few or no recordings, you are forgotten. Few remember Arthur Haynes, the biggest TV comedian of his generation.

But Malcolm may well be remembered 100 years from now simply because he wrote his autobiography “I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake”; the anecdotes in it appeared widely in his astonishing array of lengthy obituaries – there was our Malcolm among the Great and the Good in the Times, Telegraph et al.

Comedy acts date. Visual recordings change format and flicker and fade. But print outlives them all. It is the newspaper cuttings files and Malcolm’s book which may well means he outlives the ‘famous’ comedians he helped in their early careers and who turned their backs on him when they ‘got big’.

I’m just looking forward to his sister Clare Hardee and her Can Can Girls in Karen Koren’s tribute shows to Malcolm on 20th and 21st August. What’s that all about?

Tuesday 2nd August 2005

(As the Fringe has not yet started and I don’t get there for another five days, I have as yet no jolly anecdotes of nubile students shagging, nor of TV stars snorting. So you’ll have to make do with postings like this in the meantime.)

Talking of comedians who write their autobiographies… there is also the unique Janey Godley, of course.

Her autobiography “Handstands in the Dark” is possibly one of the most relentlessly violent and emotionally horrific books I have ever read (and, like Malcolm’s autobiography, I edited it for publication). But there are laughs in it. The libel lawyer, in particular, said he found it very funny… and then passed it with few changes.
I am trying, without much success, to persuade Janey to write a second autobiography covering exactly the same period as the first: roughly 1964-1994.

In writing “Handstands in the Dark” – 125,000 words – she necessarily had to choose to include certain characters and strands and exclude others. Her life story includes being regularly raped as a child for almost 8 years, the murder of her mother, sectarian violence, gangland warfare, razor-slashings, a crucifixion, the decimation of Glasgow’s East End by heroin and much more.

Like Malcolm Hardee, she has always attracted bizarre incidents throughout her life. More happens to her on a simple walk to the post office than happened to the entire population of Rome during the reign of the Emperor Caligula – her latest online blog talks of nude walks in the Scottish hills.

If she made different choices of stories from her life for a second book, the result would be a very funny second autobiography featuring surreal incidents, bizarre Dickensian characters and outright belly-laughs.

Both autobiographies would cover exactly the same period. Both would be totally and utterly truthful. Yet both would be totally different and would illuminate the fact that truth in biography is less to do with facts and more to do with style.

The truth that extracting both high tragedy and high comedy from the same facts is possible is shown by “Good Godley!” – Janey’s stand-up show at the Fringe last year – which covered her life – rape, murder, heroin et al – yet got rave comedy reviews and 40 stars from the press. And by her Fringe stand-up show this year “Janey Godley Is Innocent” which, in previews, managed to alternately make audiences laugh uncontrollably and feel their blood freeze (particularly in the climactic story).

It is arguable that all the best TV sitcoms are, in fact, tragedies in reality – Hancock, Steptoe, Till Death, One Foot in The Grave, even Fawlty Towers. Could it be that much of the best stand-up comedy is also often rooted in tragedy? Perhaps young comics and failed comics have problems because they try to write calculated gags out of fantastic situations rather than create humour out of cruel reality.

Janey was a guest on Radio 5 Live’s serious discussion of paedophilia on Sunday night – and she spoke very movingly about her and other’s sexual abuse. Yet she somehow managed to sneak in a mention of a talking giraffe without lowering the seriousness of the discussion.

Now that is funny.

Tuesday 2nd August 2005

Andrew J Lederer is, indeed, a very interesting guy – and bizarrely a cousin of actor Lee J.Cobb.

I thought his show about failure last year – which suitably died at the C venue – was fascinating.

I advised him against calling this year’s show “Me and Hitler” (a) because I wasn’t sure he deserved top billing over Hitler and (b) because I told him Hitler had peaked commercially with “The Producers” and then there was Spike Milligan’s book “Hitler: My Part in His Downfall” and last year’s Boothby Graffoe show “Hitler Sells Tickets” – which the show did, but more because of Boothby rather than because of Hitler.
Andrew told me, “I am trying to put the body odor back in the guy” (Hitler, not Boothby).

I shall be proved wrong, I’m sure, because Andrew is a superb self-publicist (nothing to do with being a Jewish New Yorker, I’m sure). Despite being a Yank living in Yankland, he managed to get two pieces about his show into The Stage Online within one month – both on the frailest of links.

He will have stiff opposition, though, from Janey Godley who is determined to either set her leg alight at a bus stop or to get arrested to publicise her show – last week, her daughter Ashley was handing out flyers saying only JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT at the Scottish Parliament, at the law courts and at The Scotsman building.

And Noel Faulkner was, at one time, thinking of paying for ads on the sides of buses and asked me if I knew anyone who could fly over Edinburgh in a hot air balloon with a bed suspended underneath in which he would be either sleeping or throwing flyers for his autobiographical show down on the throngs in Princes Street.

With Godley, Lederer and Faulkner on the loose, perhaps this will be the year of the autobiographical show. Or the return of the stunt.

It is sad that Malcolm Hardee is dead and PR man Mark Borkowski has forsaken the Fringe. I long for those days when Malcolm would announce the death of Glenda Jackson to packed press conferences and when newspapers would announce Archaos were going to be banned by the local Council for juggling chainsaws (something they never did, but Borkowski got enormous publicity for it not once but twice).

August 4th

“I think you should get kidnapped and murdered,” I said three weeks ago. “Think of the publicity.”

“No,” Janey Godley said sharply.

“You get publicity, the show gets publicity and you go down in Fringe history.”

“I’m no getting murdered. It’s no happening.”

“Look,” I said, “You get kidnapped in public on the Saturday night before your show starts by an unknown but very disgruntled East Glasgow gangster who has read you autobiography and taken offence. So the book gets plugged too.”


“The kidnapping would has to be in public with lots of witnesses,” I tried. “If it happens mid-evening or late on Saturday, it will miss the Sunday papers but it will hit the Monday papers.

“Around 1140 on Monday morning, Ashley announces – with a photo of your bloodied corpse sent in by the kidnapper – that her beloved mother Janey Godley has been killed. She can do tears and hysteria and everything. It will show off her acting skills. This will hit the lunchtime TV bulletins but not give them time to check facts in detail and it will get into the late editions of the Glasgow and Edinburgh evening papers. COMEDIAN KIDNAPPED AND KILLED AT EDINBURGH FRINGE.

“Later on that same day – Monday afternoon – around 1715, you re-appear and announce it is a stunt just in time to make the later editions of the Wednesday morning papers. And the early evening TV bulletins if they carried your death in their lunchtime bulletins. Your show opens on Thursday night and, as part of the show – the climactic story – you explains how you are innocent of this tacky stunt – You were persuaded into it against your better judgement by your beloved daughter whom you indulge too much – So… Janey Godley Is Innocent!”

“Fuck off,” said Janey Godley.

“The important thing here,” I continued, “is the timings. It all happens between late-night Saturday and teatime Monday. It has to be fast so that, at each point, you give the journalists just enough time to report the story but not-quite-enough time to fully check the background details.

“Even if it gets exposed midway through as a stunt, provided the media report it as a stunt, you get the press publicity for the show that you would have got anyway. You can’t lose. You could get prosecuted for wasting police time, but it’d be worth that in publicity terms and you could argue any fine would be tax-deductible for professional publicity.”

“NONONONOOOOOOOoooooooooooooooooooo” Janey Godley shouted at me.

“Y’er a crazy fucking nutter! Ya fanny!... And don’t encourage my daughter to plot my murder…you know what the family’s like.”

“But she gets to show her acting ability as the distraught daughter….”

“I will hunt you down and kill you like an animal…” muttered Janey Godley.

JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT opens at the Smirnoff Underbelly tonight and runs to 28th August. Janey is still alive and kicking.

Friday August 5th 2005

If the Pleasance, of all places, is claiming it’s not making money, it must be having its accounts run by Salvador Dali’s ghost. Their bar takings alone must rival the annual income of Liechtenstein. Venues have a guaranteed basic income which they know in advance – something which the poor performers don’t.

There has been talk of the less high-profile shows and performers, so can I stick my oar in with two shows that are not considerable for a WGGB/List prize but are worth a punt anyway?

he first is Ian Watt’s one-man performance JOHN LAURIE, FRAZER & I which runs at the Hlll Street Theatre until 29th August. It’s a spot-on impersonation of ‘Frazer’ from “Dad’s Army” and a fascinating insight into the surprisingly interesting actor John Laurie. Ian first staged this at the Fringe in 2002 to good-sized audiences though little media attention – for what reviews there were, see

Ian is an occasional stand-up comic but, as the shows he has written and performed at the Fringe over the last three years demonstrate, also a very good actor and a potentially very interesting writer. His 2003 show “Legend of the BBC” was a rather subtle, bittersweet story based loosely on Malcolm Hardee and Charlie Chuck – the latter of whom originally staged “John Laurie, Frazer & I”.

The second show to catch at this year’s Fringe also involves Charlie Chuck and is tucked away at Venue 45 from 21st-27th. It is called – with reason – “Don’t Be Afraid To Try”. This production, performed by people from Leicestershire with learning disabilities, Down’s Syndrome etc was partly conceived by good old Charlie, who also briefly performs on drums.

The show is a very sincere attempt to showcase the performers’ abilities and talents but is a very risky venture indeed at a Fringe filled with cynics and, let’s face it, airheads with degrees who work in the media.

When Dave (aka Charlie Chuck) sent me a video of an early version of the show, my first reaction was that he would get tarred and feathered and lynched from a lamp post in the High Street. It looked in the most appalling taste, although I knew it was sincerely meant to be inspirational.

But when I went up to Leicestershire and saw a run-through of the show it was, in fact, indeed, admirable, inspiring and entertaining. However, I told Dave they had to be careful in choosing the title of the show (they have) and to make it very clear in the Fringe Brochure exactly what the show is (they haven’t).

The end result, on stage in Edinburgh, is going to be at one extreme of the spectrum or the other – no in-betweens here, I fear. It will either be an inspirational and triumphant experience or you will see Charlie Chuck dangling from a lamp post while his Politically Correct assassins prod the swinging body with the sharp end of their pens.

The road to Edinburgh is paved with good intentions but, for three weeks every year, the city is peopled by cynics.Pissing Around & Arson Around

Sunday August 7th 2005

Brendon Burns, alas has far to go in the Classic Fringe Stunt Stakes.

I was once outside St Giles Cathedral with Malcolm Hardee when he tried to extinguish a fire-eater’s torch by pissing in an upwards arc.

It was an unexpected moment, given Malcolm’s love of arson. All the more unexpected for a middle-aged American matron in a blue hat.

Monday August 15th 2005

I met Dave Cohen outside the Gilded Balloon yesterday and had to apologise for not blogging on this site. I have high hopes I may do on Friday.

I have been sleeping on the floor of the hall in the Royal Mile flat rented by Janey Godley, her daughter Ashley and Janey’s forever un-named husband (currently being accused of murder)

I kept getting kicked in the head while asleep. I am not sure if this was accidental or if it is a sign of affection in some parts of East End Glasgow.

I forgot to take the rubbish sack out yesterday morning. Janey’s husband was not happy. In his circle, for less, people have been nailed to the wooden floors of flats and left overnight to ponder the error of their ways. Crucifixion in Glasgow is not common but is not uncommon; I think it is seen as a way of upholding traditional values. Or possibly just as a piece of recreational fun.

“You’re a fucking retard,” was his opinion of me.

So, last night, I decided to drive down to London for three days and drive back up to Edinburgh on Friday morning. The next rubbish collection by Lothian Council is on Monday.

I slept in this morning at my home in Borehamwood. At lunchtime, I found my mobile phone wasn’t working.

The Vodafone Helpline did not.

“One method to cure the problem is to switch to Orange,” the Irish helpline operative suggested.

I had to drive to a Vodafone shop in Watford. My phone was made to work.

I then found a message had been left on my mobile at 0724 this morning saying the ambulance had been called for my mother, who had fallen over in her bedroom (again).
I phoned my mother. She said nothing had happened. Then she decided to tell me, yes, the ambulance had come. No problem, she says. Except her emergency pendant doesn’t now work in the bedroom.

I will drive out to see her in Clacton tomorrow morning. I have to be at the dentist in Borehamwood at 0930. He has to stick back on the crown that came off my tooth over a week ago when I drove UP to Edinburgh.

I still haven’t done anything about the large black metal screw which hit my knee in the car. It seemed to be from the steering column but I can’t find the hole from whence it came. The drive down from Edinburgh was safe enough. Maybe the steering column will come off in my hand on the drive out to Clacton tomorrow morning.

I am trying to sell my life as a sitcom. I am told it is not incident-filled enough. I must try harder. Brad Pitt is currently refusing to answer my calls.

“You look nothing like him,” his agent spits down the phone at me. “Who are you? Do you know what time it is in Hollywood? And stop sending us those JPEGs of yourself.”

Friday August 19th 2005

I have returned to Edinburgh after a two-day visit to Clacton, where my 84-year-old mother has now fallen down so often that her right hand and arm resemble a pizza with too many tomatoes and a few bits of black pepper in it – instead of bruising, her body bursts blood vessels under the skin.

Always worth remembering life goes on outside the Fringe which exists only in a surreal bubble of testosterone, primary colours and egotists trying to undermine other egotists’ confidence.

I passed a beggar in the Cowgate talking on her mobile phone while occasionally breaking off to say: “Any spare change, please? Any spare change?”

I got a phone call from Charlie Chuck, who was in a rickshaw in Edinburgh with a blind girl from his show “Don’t Be Afraid To Try” (Venue 45). Knowing Dave, I suspect he was showing her the sights of the city.

Comedian Steve Day, who is 70% deaf, is sharing a flat with blind comedian Chris McCausland and two midgets (I can’t bring myself to say Short People, as it is PC gone mad). He says he is the only one tall enough to see himself in the mirror. He swears blind it is true, watching BBC News, that he heard Ann Widdicombe said, “Let me give you an analogy…” But the sub-titles for the deaf were printed as “Let me give you anal orgy…”

I saw Steve perform off the Fringe in the tiny Rennie Macintosh (I can’t spell that in this Internet cafe) Cinema which is more like a tiny pink-painted alcove in a brothel in a Fellini film. It is under the Nicol Edwards pub in Niddry Street North and is one of the few basements where you have to climb up steps to enter.

At this same venue, writer Dave Cohen was performing stand-up heckled by his own 2-year-old son: “Do it again, Daddy! Again!” The heckler was eventually carried out mumbling.

I then went to see American Craig Ricci Shaynack’s show at Sweet on The Grassmarket where, in the guise of a black-clad and bulky security man, he frisks and security assesses the audience before they go in. A rather bitter-looking black-clad and bulky man from the previous show was standing to one side selling books. It was not until I saw the word SPIES on the book cover that I recognised him as former-M15 agen David Shaylor.

I always think Andy Warhol gets too much coverage for his “15 minutes of fame” remark. I prefer Ray Davies and The Kinks’ “Everybody’s in Showbiz”. Certainly in Edinburgh.

I asked the rather bitter-looking black-clad David Shaylor where he lives now.

“Eastbourne. It’s all I can afford.”

A member of Craig Ricci Shaynak’s audience wore a bright pink wig. She was not part of his show.

When I saw the revue “Folk Off Ulster” at Southside, a member of the audience was dressed as a cat with whiskers and ears. She was not part of the show.

When I came out of the venue, a seagull crapped on me.

I have never taken drugs. In Edinburgh, no-one needs to.

Saturday August 20th 2005

Last night, the first Fringe tribute to the late Malcolm Hardee (second one is tonight) seemed to run remarkably smoothly at the Gilded Balloon, a tribute to Karen Koren’s perseverence and producorial ability.

There were a couple of acts who didn’t turn up – which, in itself, kept the tradition of Malcolm alive after a fashion…But Paul Merton contributed a surprise reminisce amid contributions from Charlie Chuck, Simon Munnery, Owen O’Neill, Nick Wilty and compere Arthur Smith (who also read Jo Brand’s funeral poem for Malcolm).
Malcolm’s sister Clare led a very raucous and loudly-cheered can-can with five brightly-underweared, naked-buttocked female friends, lovers and ex-employees of the Father of Alternative Comedy… and Martin Soan & Chris Lynam recreated The Naked Balloon Dance with a startled-looking third man – someone Martin claimed was a complete stranger.

Future social historians should note the night was videoed by Clare’s partner. All money raised went to Malcolm’s children Poppy and Frank – the latter a future British Prime Minister – you heard it first here.

Nudity and dangling genitalia seemed to be the order of the night with the Underbelly’s late-night SPANK! show successfully continuing it’s one-minute-nude-promo slot, where anyone can get on stage and blatantly plug their show provided they are totally naked.

All in all, a night which upheld the great Fringe tradition of turning up at venues and seeing bollocks. In these two cases, though, welcome and successful bollocks.

Sunday August 21st 2005

The second Malcolm Hardee tribute was even better than the first, with Jerry Sadowitz paying a fine tribute, Hattie Hayridge reading out Jo Brand’s poem from Malcolm’s funeral and Chris Lynam rounding things off with the banger-up-the-bum routine.
Malcolm would have been happy and blinked a few times.

The Malcolm Hardee Award for most Malcolm-friendly show (or whatever it was for) went to rather bemused but grateful American Reggie Watts, with performers of the also-nominated shows Desperately Seeking Sorrow, Circus of The Future and Congress of The Oddities in attendance.

As I left the Gilded Balloon, a balding tramp in Bristo Square said:

“Give us some money. I can’t even afford hair.”

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