There has never been an award for the ultimate Malcolm Hardee Award winner, but if there was, says John Fleming, it would go to Doktor CocaColaMcDonalds.
The Doktor, who has since disappeared from the comedy scene, wore psychedelic underpants and clown facepaint and accompanied himself on a Casio keyboard while singing songs such as “Gene Hackman is better than Pac Man” and “Don’t join the army unless you want to kill people”.
He won the award for comic originality in 2007. “I put Doktor CocoColaMcDonalds on during the annual awards show without telling anyone why and he was booed off stage,” says Fleming, who set up the awards in 2005. “He was indescribable. And if you can’t describe something, then that shows originality.”
As well as comic originality the “increasingly prestigious” Malcolm Hardee Awards recognise The Act Most Likely to Make a Million Quid and the most Cunning Stunt. Fleming also co-hosts the daily Grouchy Club, a talking shop for comics riding the emotional rollercoaster of the Edinburgh Fringe.
Until recently he wrote a daily blog, So It Goes, a marvellous meandering diary, featuring some of the most singular characters in comedy, such as terminally depressed New Yorker Lewis Schaffer, ex jockey turned promoter Bob Slayer and professional farting champion Mr Methane.
Fleming’s association with comic oddity began through his friendship with Malcolm Hardee, in the early days of alternative comedy. At the time he was a television researcher, charged with finding alternative acts and Malcolm was running the Tunnel Club – the wildest comedy club in London. Hardee drowned in 2005 after falling into the Thames.
“I wrote Malcolm’s obituary in the Independent and one of the things I made sure I put in was that he arguably had the greatest influence on British comedy in the last 25 years,” says Fleming.
“He wasn’t a great act, although he was a great compere. But he was very, very sharp. Alternative comedy started in the 1980s and he knew everyone. He persuaded Jo Brand, who was a psychiatric nurse, to become a comic. He used to manage a lot of acts because he would book them.”
Fleming wrote Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. “I remember him telling me he’d been arrested on Michael Heseltine’s third-floor balcony with pockets full of pornographic playing cards. He forgot to mention it while I was writing the book because it was just one of those things that happened.”
Fleming, who can write but not read, thanks to serious concussion following a road accident, also wangled a book deal for Scottish comic Janey Godley, after seeing her play The Point Of Yes, about why she refused heroin, despite a Glaswegian girlhood coloured by sexual abuse, murder, alcohol and drug abuse. Her book, Handstands In The Dark, was published in 2005.
“Someone said to me: ‘I read the book and kept thinking this is the worst it can get. But you turn the page and it gets worse. It’s like Edgar Allen Poe.’”
Fleming himself is Scottish, born in Campbelltown, although he moved to Ilford, near London when he was a boy and says: “I’ve lost my accent, alas.”
He presents the Grouchy Club with Scotsman writer Kate Copstick, who says: “Sometimes looking for comedy is like mining, there are so many strata. It is John who opens up the mines for the rest of us. He’s someone who can recognise a comedy diamond in the rough.”
Although Fleming claims he started the Malcolm Hardee Awards “to get free tickets” he spends his own money seeing three or four comedy shows a week throughout the year and has an exhausting Fringe schedule, seeing six or seven shows a day in Edinburgh.
Past winners have included Trevor Noah, who went on to present The Daily Show, Luisa Omelan, now an international touring comic and Matt Roper, who is currently conquering the theatre and cabaret world in New York.
However Fleming himself passes almost unseen through the Fringe crowds. So what drives him? “Nihilism. I’ve never felt I have to prove anything to anyone else.”
When the awards began Fleming had ten trophies made by sculptor John Ward. Next year the trophies run out, the money has run out and he says the 2017 Malcolm Hardee Awards will be the last.
Meanwhile Fleming himself looks younger and fitter than ever, thanks to a new diet of six slices of bread and two cans of Red Bull a day. He wanted to lose weight to look more like Jeremy Corbyn, who he promised to impersonate in a video for musical comic Ariane Sherine. “She’s fantastic. Wonderfully clever lyrics and very funny,” says Fleming, eyes shining. Take it from him. You may not have heard of Ariane Sherine yet but you will.
l The Malcolm Hardee Awards will be presented on Friday, 26 August. http://www. malcolmhardee.co.uk/award