FOR WRITERS' GUILD,
EDINBURGH FRINGE, 2005
LIFE ON THE FRINGE
I saw a tribute to Scottish comedian Chic Murray at the Edinburgh Fringe this year. It was out of town in what appeared to be a smallish room in a local housing association care home. It was difficult to find as there were no signs, no placards and the names on the buildings bore little relation to what was in the Fringe programme.
that sense, the whole experience epitomised the Fringe: a barely-credible
ramshackle affair which, at its best, strays occasionally into fantasy
man who epitomised the spirit of the Fringe was comedy promoter, club-owner
and universally-admired talent spotter Malcolm Hardee. He drowned in
January this year in a Rotherhithe dock into which he fell, drunk, happy,
with betting shop winnings in his back pocket and, according to the
Coroner, still clutching a bottle of his favourite beer.
I run his website - www.malcolmhardee.co.uk - and I am currently available for work via my website - www.thejohnfleming.com.
blatant piece of self-publicity also epitomises the Fringe. Desperate
in-yer-face screaming publicity which attempts to get your voice heard,
your posters and flyers glimpsed, your creative work or genius seen
despite a market so full of product its as if the eleven largest
hypermarkets in Britain have had all their groceries accidentally delivered
to a one-man corner shop in Bolton.
year, within a four-week period in August, more student libidos are
pumped to excess, more talentless egos are pumped with cocaine and more
genuinely creative people are crushed forever than anywhere else on
earth. During the Fringe, Edinburgh is a city of testosterone, bullshit
and backstabbing amid dazzling primary colours and unrealistic expectations.
is also a city of mystery. Why are there two separate shops close to
each other in the Royal Mile both selling Christmas decorations and
nick-nacks all-the-year-round? Why is there a blackboard fixed to the
wall of the gents toilet in the Gilded Balloon basement which says:
IN MEMORY OF GAVIN COLQUHOUN - FRIEND OF THE UNION ?
mostly know the Comedy area, where stand-ups congratulate other stand-ups
on their reviews from behind double-glazed smiles, adding, Of
course, its only The Scotsman that counts, or Of course,
The Scotsman doesnt really count, depending on their relative
numbers of stars and adding, Good review, but its disgraceful
he was so condescending to you. You deserved better.
tend to be immune from most of the worst excesses because the Fringe
is a performers showcase. As elsewhere, the writer is only noticed
if, like Ricky Gervais in The Office, he or she is a writer/performer.
This is a land where comics take their audiences into the toilet to perform because they think it will make them a Fringe legend and/or get them two inches in a newspaper.
Hardee became a genuine legend by - while in the nude - driving a fork
lift truck through American performance artist Eric Bogosians
show... followed by his entire audience. PR man Mark Borkowski managed
- on two consecutive years - to get acres of outraged newspaper coverage
because French Motorbike & Chainsaw Circus Archaos were
going to juggle turned-on, buzzing and potentially limb-chopping chainsaws
as part of their act, something they had reportedly done on the Continent.
In fact, they never had and never did juggle chainsaws. It was PR bullshit.
But PR bullshit is potent in Edinburgh. Who is to say that Mark Borkowski
or Malcolm Hardee were less creative writers of fantasy scenarios than
J.K.Rowling? They were not writing for print; instead they were structuring
a rather warped, fantastical form of reality.
all the spluttering and erratic flickering fairy lights of the performers
egos and the sweeping searchlights of the normally desperate publicity
agents flit the self-important Oxbridge media moths, who are often those
most dangerous of creatures - airheads with degrees. With no opinions
or tastes of their own they listen, drunk, to the word on the
street in the Gilded Balloon Library Bar or - far worse - coked
out of their heads in the front bar of the George Hotel. They choose
to sign acts not on talent-spotting ability but on gossip and who will
impress their Soho House friends most.
all read The Scotsman and The List, the local equivalent of Time Out,
because they assume those two publications above all will know what
shows to watch. But, of course, The Scotsman is above such things most
of the year and The List knows only the acts who regularly play the
small, bitchy and incestuous Scottish Lowland comedy scene where talent
plays second fiddle to back-stabbing and back scratching.
Fringe is a case of the blind leading the blind with the Perrier selling
itself as fizzy water but often turning out to be flat. In recent years,
acts of rare originality have been passed over for acts which have created
a buzz yet failed to soar when given the chance. Look at a list of recent
Perrier winners & nominees and you look at a list of Who Were Theys
because the Perrier has got hamstrung by its own rules rather than looking
for pure talent.
the last weekend of this years fun fest, the most un-remarked-on
development at the Fringe was the creative rise of the tiny and shabby
Holyrood Tavern, a 50-or-so-seater drab room behind a dingy pub at the
bottom of the Pleasance hill en route to the old Gilded Balloon and
the new Smirnoff Underbelly.
visited by media moths, only six years ago the Holyrood Tavern used
to have naff acts you wouldnt want to see even when drunk and
in a tee-shirt on a rainy day. In the last five years, though, it has
been programmed by Vicky de Lacey (female half of the Brian Damage &
Krysstal comedy act) and the Holyrood has become a fascinating hotbed
of interesting acts - some brilliant, some talented though underdeveloped
and some just plain bizarre. Last year, the Holyrood Taverns Wil
Hodgson won the Perrier Best Newcomer award. This year, their Laura
Solon rightly won the prestigious main Perrier award for Kopfrapers
Syndrome while, with less of a fanfare, their Desperately
Seeking Sorrow (Johnny Sorrow & Danny Worthington) was nominated
for the new Malcolm Hardee Oy Oy Award.
De Lacey and Brian Damage run Pear Shaped comedy clubs in London and
Sydney and are shaping up as the new Malcolm Hardee, although adding
a pair of breasts to his legendary bollocks. They drink, they can spot
talent and they run fascinatingly creative bills in shabby venues. Acts
that used to play Malcolms venues - like the legendary Pigeon
Man - are now turning up at Pear Shaped venues.
while the media moths are attracted to the brightly coloured and wackily-posed
posters of the three (or, with the Underbelly, four) main venues and
sign up the Douglas Baader end of the creative spectrum - acts with
no legs - the really interesting acts have been passing them by.
will be interesting to see if this changes next year for two reasons.
is that Pear Shaped at the Hollyrood Tavern have now won major Perrier
prizes at two consecutive Fringes. The other is Scots comedienne Janey
handed out flyers for her show outside the McTaggart Lecture - the centrepiece
of the Edinburgh Television Festival. And this, again, epitomises the
Janey, a small, feisty Glaswegian in a black tee-shirt - with stomach-cramps
and on prescribed steroids after an allergic reaction two days before
to raw Japanese fish - touted her show on the steps, she was being physically
shoved and brushed aside by the designer-dressed Oxbridge media moths.
Turning, she lambasted them for coming to her capital city in her country
looking for talent then shoving aside the only performer with the gumption
to flyer in the one place where she could get access to all the movers
could be shoving aside the one person who can get you promoted,
she yelled at them.
this point, a shirt-sleeved man emerged, looked at the flyer and started
helping her to plug her show. She continued to shout, touting her show:
JANEY GODLEY IS INNOCENT - The only Scottish female solo stand-up
show on the Fringe!
camera crew, filming the good and the great as they emerged from the
McTaggart venue instructed her to stop shouting and move out of their
was here first, she shouted at them. You move your fucking
not moving, the shirt-sleeved man told them.
didnt move; people started taking her flyers; the shirt-sleeved
man took one himself and left. Half an hour later, I got a text message
is Greg Dyke? it asked. He was a nice man who helped me
Godleys website is www.janeygodley.co.uk
website is www.thejohnfleming.com
are both available.
This is the Fringe.