KATE Copstick looks at the highs, the lows and the whoas of comedy show titles at the Fringe.
Arose might be a rose might be a rose, according to Gertrude Stein, but in the Fringe Programme, Gertrude would surely have gone with Aaaaaaaaaaargh Crazy F*cking Rose is a PornStarRose is a Five-Star Rose. Coming up with a genius title is a big part of Edinburgh success, especially in the comedy section. Although I do remember a student theatre show called Poo Shame, Vagina Curiosity and Other Things That Won’t Kill You. Generally, though, choosing from the other sections is like speed dating but trawling the comedy section for fun is a pick-up joint experience.
Given that indigent performers are obliged to meet the earlybird Fringe Programme deadline in mid-March, almost everyone registers their title before they have written their show. In the case of Malcolm Hardee’s award-winning Come Look At The Baby last year, that wasn’t a problem because all you did was come and look at a baby. A good Ronseal title show can be a great thing, the apotheosis of the genre being Peter Buckley Hill and Some Comedians. But not everyone has that confidence.
This year, Glenn Moore has plunged deep into surreal tangential title territory with The Very Best Of Belinda Carlisle, which, spoiler alert, has nothing to do with the 1980s solo success of the songstress, even at her very best.
“It was either that, or go for the classic Edinburgh Fringe pun-based title, like Glenneth Paltrow, Glenntanamoore Bay, or Make America Great Aglenn,” says Moore, who cannot even hum Heaven Is A Place on Earth. “Everyone has to submit their show titles months before the Fringe, so some people go for something vague. I decided to bite the bullet and go for the most specific show title I possible could.
“My dream is that this will start a trend of shows being named about very specific things that they couldn’t possibly be about. What a waking nightmare the Fringe guide would be to peruse.”
Was he not advised against the move ? “The company doing my PR won’t let me hear the end of it.” he says. “I mean, fair enough – they’re specifically the only victims of this otherwise victimless crime.”
That would be Impressive PR, whose boss, Mel Brown, says: “I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t point out that he is definitely setting himself up for… well… you know… it’s not at all about Belinda Carlisle!” She shrugs an experienced shrug. “But he’s the creative…”
Misleading is one thing in a title (Clusterf*** is just a bit of mild comedy, The Worst Show on the Fringe showcases some excellent comics) but downright nasty is another. Loud outrage met the (actually rather good) 2008 musical Kiddyfiddler on the Roof and last year Adam Kay invited us to watch him Fingering A Minor on the Piano. Again, the title predated the writing of the show.
“I assumed at the time that my show would end up being my normal lowest-common-denominator smut so it would all fit,” says Kay. “Unfortunately the show ended up being a harrowing polemic about the NHS, so it made no sense whatsoever.”
The deliberately provocative title is always a calculated risk.
Although Kay claims his title was “entirely uncalculated and ill-thought-out, the show is back this year, and he does admit that “one benefit was that last year I was on immediately after Nicholas Parsons, and it meant that none of his oxygen-tank-dependent audience decided to make an evening of it”. “But I heard ‘I came because of the title’ and ‘I would have come but the title put me off’ in equal measures.” says Kay. “So it was all a waste of f***ing time really.”
But while Carlisle does not even get a mention from Moore, and Kay’s onstage behaviour is entirely beyond reproach, James Nokise’s show Britain, Let’s Talk About the Golliwogs is very much about the symbolism of golliwogs, which, one might guess, has already occasioned some excitement amongst the chatterati.“Oh yes, but weirdly only from Caucasian people,” says Nokise. “I’ve actually got stories in the show about people trying to tell me it’s not the doll but the name that’s offensive. We still openly sell them in New Zealand, and they’re made in Australia so in a way, the show’s about lip service PC attitudes.”
Of course, not everyone sets out to shock. The wildly – and usually hopelessly – optimistic title is also popular with comics. “***** The Scotsman”, for example. This year we look forward to seeing Mark Forward Wins All The Awards, Trevor Feelgood: Sold Out (But Some Tickets Still Available) and Ben Fogg: How I Won Best Newcomer 2017. Or perhaps you will be more drawn to the self-deprecating (Andrew Silverwood is a Self Absorbed Tw*t)?
On the other hand, one can barely look at the title of Phil Nichol’s without pupils constricting and blood pressure rising. It pains me to write it. Your Wrong. Ouch. Doesn’t bother Nichol, however. “Any great show title should be compelling and contentious,” he says. “Ideally, it will capture your attention, if not your imagination. This simple ‘ignorant’ spelling mistake winds people up and draws attention to their intolerance. My new show is an intolerant admonishment of blind faith, superstition and religious intolerance. The title’s simple complexity summarises the pointlessness of arguing the pointless. We all have our wrongs. Your wrong is that you think you can only spell your wrong ‘you’re wrong’.” Of course, he’s wrong. But I will go and see the show.
Worst case scenario is that, just when you have found that irresistible title, things get legal. Never rule out the chance of a copyright holder having a total sense of humour bypass when it comes to their property. The cast of Five Go Off On One got into awfully hot water with Hachette, holder of the rights to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books. Hachette were, they said, worried the title was “likely to mislead customers into believing your production … is endorsed by us”. Interested audiences will find the show under Four Go Off on One! A Jolly Good Romp Through Childhood.
The bottom line is that, while a title might get someone into a show, it will not keep them there.
• Glenn Moore: The Very Best of Belinda Carlisle is at Just the Tonic at the Tron, until 27 August, 6:20pm.
Clusterf*** is at Subway until 27 August, 8:45pm. The Worst Show On The Fringe is at Subway until 27 August, 2:30pm.
Adam Kay – Fingering A Minor on the Piano is at Gilded Balloon Teviot, 14-28 August, 8:30pm.
James Nokise: Britain, Let’s Talk About the Golliwogs is at Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4 until 27 August, 8:15pm.
Mark Forward Wins All the Awards is at the Gilded Balloon Teviot until 27 August, 8:15pm.
Trevor Feelgood: Sold Out (But Tickets Still Available) is at Just the Tonic at The Caves until 27August, 1:20am.
Ben Fogg: How I Won Best Newcomer 2017 is at the Pleasance Courtyard until 28 August, 4:45pm.
Phil Nichol: Your Wrong is at Heroes @ Monkey Barrel until 27 August, 9pm.
Andrew Silverwood is a ‘Self-Absorbed Tw*t’ is at Laughing Horse @ The Mockingbird until 27 August, 7:45pm.
Four Go Off On One! is at the Gilded Ballon Teviot until 27 August, today 4:30pm