In 2005 Amos Phineas Klein went to the fringe and did two shows that both got decent reviews. Alex Petty was really pleased. Phil (as he is really known) didn’t have the best reputation as a comedian on the circuit but he fliered loads and got good crowds. For the Free Fringe he was a success.
In 2006 I went to see The Growing Pains of Amos Phineas Klein. In between his last shows and this one he did two or three previews a week. As friends, we all wanted to help him out. I sat with him and went through his show. Quite a few others helped out too. A week before the festival he threw away all the hard work and decided to do a show about a book he’d recently read called The Game. I haven’t read it but apparently it’s all about picking up women.
In not so many words the show was an unmitigated disaster. It got three one star reviews. The kind of one star reviews that are legendary. So legendary that people are still talking about them today.
I’d recently met for the first time my now good friend and Edinburgh resident Dave Hickey. I was having a drink with him and I mentioned the show. To be honest I was a bit annoyed with Phil because he threw our help and advice in our face. As I spoke to him about it I could see this look on his face. My friend Krisztina was there too and she too looked fascinated. I said to them, do you actually want to see this show? They nodded eagerly.
The next day I went to the show with Krisztina and said to her that people are always eager to do things with a drink inside them but in the cold light of day they’ll have a hangover or can’t be bothered, so it would almost definitely just be the two of us. Dave and his wife Lucy were already there AND they brought a friend with them. Everyone was terribly excited about seeing the show and we all grabbed a beer, sat down and the show started. Well I say started. Phil shuffled on and mumbled hello and told the crowd that that I was also a comedian with a show on at the festival, which was a curious thing to do, but little did we all know would be possibly one of the most talked about anecdotes of the festival that year.
The show was an unmitigated disaster. One awful story after another and a particularly poor card trick had me shaking and crying with laughter. Halfway through the show Phil said to me, “Shut up Belgrave. How would you like it if I came to your show and laughed.” This made the whole room erupt with laughter. Even Phil laughed.
As much as the show wasn’t great it was thoroughly entertaining. The audience had come to see this show because of the bad reviews and they weren’t disappointed. Everyone threw money into the bucket and no one walked out. Another good friend and excellent comedian James Dowdeswell was there and to this day I’m still over the moon he was there to also witness this. The story got passed around so many times I have even been told this anecdote by people for me to say, “yes I was there and I was the comedian he was talking about.”
Which makes me think. If Phil had decided to do his normal show he would have probably got a few three star reviews and which would have been barely read and quickly forgotten. But in changing tact his Edinburgh show is still being talked about. Just because you get a bad review it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a bad thing.
I’m off to the fringe for a few days and I’m on the lookout for shows such as this. I am a massive fan of outsider music. There is also the phenomena of outsider art. So why not outsider comedians? Why do we have to look at these acts as being “bad” or “rubbish”? If they still genuinely entertaining surely the fob off of “interesting” is a more accurate description. I would put the likes of Ben Target, Ian Cognito and Edward Aczel in the same bracket of outsider comedian and those acts are considered by reviewers as bordering on genius. Not that reviewers get things right. Many are the moans of performers for reviews making assumptions. I have read many a review explaining “the audience were laughing but I didn’t find it funny.” This reminds me of the saying about if you think everyone around you is crazy then you must be the nut job. To paraphrase Woody Allen, “I’m paraphrasing of course”
So here’s the deal. I’m up for a few days and I’m genuinely interested to see if these acts are bad, got caught on a bad day or as I hope to find are outsider comedians.