Edinburgh or Bust purports to be a documentary about
aspiring stand-up comedians and their experiences at the Edinburgh
fringe festival. In fact, it's a back-scratching deal
organised by those with most to gain - namely, Karen Koren's
Gilded Balloon venue, around which most of the programme revolves,
and Channel 4, who sponsor Koren's events in the first
As far as we're concerned, any
comedian who allows him or herself to be filmed for
Edinburgh or Bust
is - with a brief quote-nod to Hicks - off the artistic roll
call forever. Which is no big loss, because shows of this kind
inevitably attract the very kind of person the comedy world could
well do without - vain, insecure, glory-hunting, chutzpah-sweating,
pop-eyed, smirking, over-confident little shits, disgustingly at
home with the media they wish to monopolise, passing vacuous,
say-nothing asides to the crew in an attempt to appear like
scampering mavericks, despite the fact they are subordinate PR
puppets who will do what they're told once the money comes in.
And that's just Adam Bloom.
So, in case you happen to miss any of this year's
instalments, allow SOTCAA to keep you up to date...
Episode 1 (11 August 2000)
Same old opening titles - an epilepsy-inducing montage of ticket
stubs and pavements, tinted blue and accompanied by something
Richard Thomas put together in his lunch hour. Under Jenny
prattle about the number of shows and venues on offer at Edinburgh
this year, there is another montage - this time of posters being
pasted, scaffolding being erected, and anonymous theatre staff
mugging cheesily to camera. The person who invented digital editing
created a monster.
Throughout the show, we are introduced to the following acts, all
of whom mine new depths of depression and banality.
Brendon Burns - original host of
The 11 O'Clock Show
'Fringe veteran' (ie, can't get any proper work)
since 1994. An Andrew Dice Clay for the Andrew Dice Clay generation,
his act consists of having wacky hair and shouting. He picks on a
young woman in the audience: 'You're fucking
he observes. 'So congratulations -
you're the star of my next ten wanks!'
interviewed, and says that this year's festival will showcase
his strongest set to date (which is convenient, eh readers?), since
it is more 'comedically mature'.
As a get-out
clause, lest anyone should think he is dull enough to actually care
about his comedy and talk about it properly, he laughs drunkenly
afterwards, burps, and says 'wanker'
Elsewhere, a couple of kids called
Noble (not Ross) and Silver are
preparing for their Edinburgh debut. They were 'lucky
to be booked by the Gilded Balloon, and Karen
Koren is good enough to predict that they will be a 'big
. Their comic prowess is demonstrated by a prank phone call, in which
they hilariously say a swear-word to a receptionist. Much issue is
made of this being 'illegal', even though it's
obviously not, and the receptionist's voice is re-dubbed by an
actress. They both corpse after their handiwork, in a manner
resembling Kevin Eldon's London Shouting
Jerky Boys parody. Back in the pub, the duo enjoy a
not-even-remotely-earned pint, their stubble wobbling gormlessly up
and down in time with their opinions. (The pub is the Hen &
Chickens, incidentally - home to Barratt & Fielding's
and little else.) Noble and
Silver represent the most repellent by-product of this comedy age
- pretty boys who are keen to act the part of being comedians rather
than exist as either (a) funny people in their own right, or (b)
people who actually want to work hard on their material. Much
amusement is made of the fact that they only have one joke to fall
Paul Wagner is from Boston, and has chosen to bore Edinburgh with
a series of dreary, work-a-day non-characters that we wouldn't
wish on The Kids In The Hall. All improvised, naturally, with the
characters uttering some 'dark' non-sequitur whenever he
can't think how to end something. We see him discuss his
future with PR guru Martin Hunt. We see him walk into his improbably
huge venue and turn his nose up at it. We see him make a joke about
his sandwich not being to his satisfaction, and pointing to it - you
know, in that way people do in documentaries when they're
afraid to actually talk about their craft or do anything worth
Julia Morris, though, was
arguably the worst of the worst. A failed Australian chat show host
trying to find work in the UK, Morris' act consists of
mentioning sexual practices and reacting incredulously to them. She
knows nothing of comic presence, pacing, delivery, timing,
funniness, originality or wit, but she does know Rich Hall, which
kinda helped. 'I wonder if I'll get reviewed?'
she ponders, in the company of a
camera crew from a national TV station.
Russell Peters is a big name in Canada. Which is good, because he
can fucking well stay there.
Ed Byrne popped up sporadically, offering the only non-gushing
contributions to the show. Rather tellingly, he seemed keen to point
out the mechanics and one-upmanship prevalent at the festival,
without resorting to silly face-pulling or nervy little giggles at
the end of sentences. Byrne actually has enough talent to justify a
joky interview persona, but he eschews the temptation, and - as such
- his interview snippets are kept to a minimum. He was probably only
included at all because he was the only semi-famous person
who'd talk to them.
Over the end credits, we are updated on what the stars of last
year's Edinburgh Or Bust have been up to. Very little, it
would appear. Cathy Dunning has co-devised 68-part daily quiz show,
which was nice of her.
Anyway, that's the first episode. See
you same time next week...
Episode 2 (18 August 2000)
This week's instalment, we are warned, contains not only
strong language but 'strong opinions'. Strong as in
stewed tea, presumably. A day earlier, the excruciatingly dim
contestants on Big Brother
had been reeling
from the revelation that there was cheat in their midst, someone who
had - shock, horror - not been playing by the rules. Said housemates
would probably have been more at home on Edinburgh Or
, where boats are left unrocked and everyone is a
New titles this week. Well, they were the old ones, really, but
they've been inter-cut with stock footage of the Edinburgh
tattoo to give it that unique flavour of nothing. Jenny Eclair tells
us that 250,000,000 pipers walk past the Royal Mile in this
traditional ceremony, which marks the start of the festival.
It's press day at the various fringe
venues. What does that mean? Well, very little, obviously. Rich
Hall, in character (just) as Otis Lee Crenshawe, introduces Brendon
Burns, who performs a snatch of his dismal stand-up routine to the
completely correct response of no laughter whatsoever. Russell
Peters tells the camera crew that be is 'the human link
between reality and all the bullshit out there', saying
that it doesn't matter 'how different you are,
it's how good you are that matters'. Fine sentiments, until you see him do a
British-people-eating-curry-when-they're-pissed routine that
we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy. Who is Karen Koren,
We see vox pops of audience members leaving Peters'
show. All of them say positive things. For God's sake,
people, educate yourselves! If they were to gaze at Sarah
Payne's corpse for half an hour, they'd still say
it was 'absolutely brilliant!'.
Quick interview with Bill Bailey - like Ed Byrne, he clearly gave
a serious interview about his experiences at Edinburgh, but -
realising that this wouldn't fit in with their 'wahey,
it's a madhouse up here' vision - the editors cut his
views into very small bits. In contrast, this is followed by two
minutes of Paul Wagner pointing at his sandwiches.
In the Peppermint Lounge, Julia Morris is
losing her voice. As Basil Fawlty once said, 'I wish it
was an ingrowing tongue...'
More positive vox pops about Morris'
show then mix into Brendon Burns again. He opens his show by
squatting on a female audience member's face and singing the
Cameo song 'Word Up'. The audience, who are clearly meant to think 'Gosh,
how outrageous' and 'What a frightfully witty
post-laddish satire on seedy rock gestures' visibly look very
uncomfortable and scared. As does Burns himself.
Next up is the Edinburgh Or Bust video box, where the
public get to sum up Edinburgh in one minute. Sponsored by Missed
Opportunities plc, this enterprise merely results in lots of plummy,
giggly-girly nose-stud 'let me be in the media, I promise to
have no opinions' twatgoons doing their audition pieces. In
five years time, these people will be running the industry.
Back to Noble and Silver. We see them at
home, making a joke about their socks, and on stage, doing an
complicated and tedious trick involving televisions. After this, yet
more positive vox pops. 'It's stuff you
wouldn't see attempted anywhere else,' says one man, who has clearly never seen any comedy in
his life before.
More sandwich-pointing from Paul Wagner, and we see a glimpse of
his act - he performs his 'preacher' routine to an
enthusiastic audience of about 25. But he is not happy, saying he is
used to standing ovations back home. Hey, maybe we can have a
whip-round to get him his ticket?
Lastly, we see Julia Morris at the Gilded Balloon's
'Late & Live' evening. Legend has it that this is a
brutal, take-no-prisoners, bearpit venue, where only the strongest,
booziest, swearingest survive. No it isn't. It's full of
the same polite, Red-Bull-and-vodka crowd that invest every other
venue, and they will happily tolerate Morris' non-joke
meanderings about dancing to a Dannii Minogue CD until The Bert
Fersheners come home.
So that was Episode 2. There's a reward on offer for anyone
who can find our will to live.
Simultaneously to this travesty on C4, BBC2
were broadcasting Edinburgh Comedy - a
show which also featured Julia Morris and her assault on the
art. According to RT, next week's (concluding)
Edinburgh Or Bust is scheduled a bit later, presumably to avoid split loyalties in the Russell Peters fan camp.
We could go on like this, on a weekly basis, pointing out the
flaws in all these people's acts, but - to be honest -
we're starting to wonder if it's fair. It's
certainly pointless. After all, how much are these people actually
to blame for their elevation? If it wasn't them, others would
fill their place quicker than you could say 'Boothby
The rot is bigger and more dangerous than Edinburgh Or
Bust lets us believe. In fact, the way the show is edited lulls
us into accepting that the limp state of today's comedy is the
fault of the stand-ups themselves, rather than a more general
attitude problem which has infected the whole industry.
Have another look at the acts, and compare them to the hopefuls on display about a
decade ago - the Simon Fanshawes, the Rhona Camerons, the Jenny Lecoats,
the Jeremy Hardys. As talent goes, they are about equal. What's
changed is the performers' motivations. Simon Fanshawe wasn't
very good, but at least he was just an amiable
little toff, pottering around the fringe with good intentions towards his
craft. An act like Noble and Silver, on the other hand, know
the form - they understand the media far more than their predecessors did,
and are able to mould it to their advantage. The duo are
not without talent - they know how to deliver a line, and can
feed off each other in a way which resembles 'chemistry'. But what use
is this, and how much of a pleasure is it to
watch? They're phoney and we know it. Their voices are fixed firmly
in the Paul Powell / Armstrong & Miller /
Simon Pegg register, as if they've been to an evening
class in How To Talk With That Voice. They're po-faced pawns,
rather than people obsessed with and infused by the hot sticky
ecstasy of comedy itself. They're no fun whatsoever.
And Edinburgh Or Bust
will have the last laugh. Take this
piece, for example. Last week, we said that Brendon Burns was
rubbish. Lots of people agreed. But so what? This feeds the
bullshit, rather than destroys it. Comedy fans are being brought up
to believe that (a) the problems in the comedy world are at the
hands of individual performers, when in fact it's a by-product
of the way the media bollocks machine dumbs down everyone's
standards, and (b) it doesn't matter if you're shit,
because Karen Koren and C4 will give you a break anyway.
Rob Newman wrote a piece in The Guardian the other week,
bemoaning the lack of genuine political satire at the festival - he
argued that the Spitting Image idea of topical comedy was intrinsically reactionary, because it suggested that individual
rotten apples were to blame for the ills of the world, when in fact
it was the system itself that was corrupt. The same is undoubtedly
true in comedy, and it allows the PR twats a neat little escape
clause: after all, if the public aren't taken in by the latest
piece of spin - 'Ricky Gervais is a good TV presenter and
worthy of a Comedy Award', for example - they can always claim
that the faults were Gervais', rather than the comedy world in
general. Result? They take Gervais out of the picture and get the
chance to start again until they find someone who does
hoodwink the world.
Edinburgh Or Bust should be crucifying these people on a regular
basis. How DARE Karen Koren insult us all in this way? They
shouldn't be selecting the vox pops who say nice things, they
should be holding Koren and the morons she employs accountable, like
puppies being shown their own excrement accompanied by a firm
So what do we do? We're talking to you, the actual
Come on, there's a hundred of
you hitting on us every day, and we never see you in the forum. Don't
blame you, obviously - it's full of blokes with bobble-hat
pseudonyms dipping into the site for a 'bidduvalaff'
during their lunch hour. They're no use
to anyone, and they don't read anything on the site anyway.
(Wait and see how long it takes them to notice this bit and then
start a useless thread called 'Our ears are burning',
last post 28 Aug by Winky Wanky Wonky.) It's you
we're talking to, the real readers - how are we going to change
this? Send us your ideas, your gossip, your theories, everything.
We cannot let this situation continue - if we sit back, the
world will eventually be run by self-serving wannabes like Charlie Brooker
rather than people who understand comedy. Can you honestly look at
Edinburgh Or Bust and feel proud of your
comedy heritage? Is this honestly the best we can do? People say
we're arrogant, but we reckon we're nowhere near
Oh, by the way, it was only 7,000 pipers, not 250,000,000. Did
you notice? Don't worry - neither did Jenny Eclair.