ED2012 Columns ED2012 Week2 Edition

Fleming’s Fringe: Seeking some stunts most cunning

By | Published on Tuesday 14 August 2012

John Fleming

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards organiser and prolific blogger John Fleming writes…

I started the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards because I felt the Fringe had become too responsible and respectable. It was / is now part of the career path of aspiring comedians.

The name Malcolm Hardee remains unknown to the woman in a Leamington Spa bus queue. Modern Fringe performers almost see her as their target audience. Malcolm did not come to the Fringe to get on TV. He came because he could get drunk, make some money, get sex and had a licence, under the guise of the Fringe, to be anarchic.

He (and Arthur Smith) wrote a review of his own show, submitted it to The Scotsman under the name of one of the paper’s critics – and they published it! He drove a tractor, naked, through American performance artist Eric Bogosian’s show. Eric had annoyed him, so he annoyed Eric. Likewise, American ventriloquist David Strassman annoyed Malcolm, so he abducted David’s hi-tech dummy, held it to ransom and sent it back to Strassman piece by piece, demanding hard cash.

But Malcolm (who drowned in 2005) was much-loved in the comedy business and could spot talent at 200 yards in a thick mist. He nurtured more comedy talent in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s than you could fit into many a TV comedian’s ego. He helped many of today’s big TV names – some of whom would not return his phone calls after they bought their second Armani suit.

So the main Malcolm Hardee Award For Comic Originality seeks to celebrate risk-taking. The more recent Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid Award seeks to find more mainstream acts. And then… And then… we have the Cunning Stunt Award. This started in 2008 when comedian Gill Smith sent me an e-mail saying she was nominating herself for the Malcolm Hardee Award on the basis she could then logically put on her posters ‘MALCOLM HARDEE AWARD NOMINEE’. “I think Malcolm would have approved” she added.

“Yes,” I thought, “he would”. So we created a new Cunning Stunt Award for best Fringe publicity stunt and we gave it to Gill before she could give herself an award. Last year, Kunt & The Gang and their éminence bald Bob Slayer got the award for their ‘Cockgate’ stunt, in which paper penises were stuck on everyone else’s posters all over Edinburgh. Personally, I did not like the stunt itself, but they built up an extraordinarily effective publicity campaign on the slender back of it.

‘Cockgate’ did not appear until about halfway through last year’s Fringe – roughly where we are this year – so I am praying for another unexpected stunt. At the moment, contenders might include Stuart Goldsmith, who turned the Fringe Programme’s ridiculous censorship of his ‘PRICK’ show as ‘PR!CK’ into an effective piece of publicity. And I rather admired Chris Dangerfield, who got his show Sex Tourist sponsored by an Edinburgh escort agency – anyone who takes his flyer gets a 10% discount on the agency’s wares. Dubious taste is no barrier to winning an award.

At the other end of the spectrum, Charmian Hughes had a ‘knitathon’ in which punters were encourage to knit throughout her ‘Charmageddon!’ show (about the end of the world). She then used the half-knitted garment(s) as part of an erotic ‘Dance Of The Seven Cardigans’ at the end of the show.

But none of these truly excite me. There is no Malcolm Hardee element of danger. No real authority-annoying anarchy. Where are the Naked Balloon Dance and Banger-Up-The-Bum elements? PR man Mark Borkowski twice – twice! – managed to get Edinburgh Council in a tizzy by claiming French troupe Archaos were going to juggle chainsaws. They were not. But it got acres of publicity.Malcolm’s erstwhile comedy troupe The Greatest Show On Legs are in town from 22nd August. Is their anarchy-stewn inspiration forgotten?

John Fleming organises the annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards and writes a daily blog at blog.thejohnfleming.com

Photo: Kat Gollock