John Fleming: "We're all waiting for the comedy Beatles"

One of the most respected figures in the comedy scene, John Fleming explains the increasing prestige of the Malcolm Hardee awards

Feature by Bernard O'Leary | 02 Aug 2013

John Fleming has, without really trying, become one of the most influential figures in British comedy. It’s mostly because of his blog, in which he meticulously chronicles the truly alternative side of comedy, interviewing visionaries and artists and sometimes just plain weirdoes, all of whom are united by the fact that they’ll never, ever appear on telly. It is required reading for anyone who has a real interest in comedy. And it all started as a simple PR stunt.

“Originally, the blog was just to publicise the movie I produced, Killer Bitch,” says Fleming, “which is the worst movie ever made and I’m extremely proud of that. I reckoned that if I started writing every day, I could build up a readership by the time the movie was released. At the beginning, there were lots of general posts on politics and such, but I noticed that I tended to get vastly more hits when I wrote about comedy.”

Part of the popularity of the blog is the fact that he returns again and again to the same characters, building fascinating long-running narrative threads about the success and failures of barely-known comedians. It’s something that’s resulted in him becoming known as “the Boswell of the alternative scene.”

“Yeah, Chortle regret saying that, because I’ve quoted it everywhere. Although I’d be interested to hear what The Skinny have to say.”

How about The Archers for comedy nerds?

“…I’ll probably stick with the Chortle thing if it’s all the same.

“The idea has always been to turn the blog into a series of ebooks, and if you’re doing that then you need ongoing narratives to keep people reading. For instance, when I wrote recently about Matt Roper getting ill in Vietnam, I didn’t just leave it there so you’re wondering ‘well, what happened next?’ And it’s the same with other threads, like finding out what Bob Slayer has broken recently, or which minority is currently boycotting Lewis Schaffer.”

Fleming is also the custodian of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards, a venerable institution that began in 2007 following the death of one of comedy’s most anarchic and large-testicled figures. “The awards,” said Fleming, “were started just so I could be listed as a performer and get free tickets to everything. I think that’s something Malcolm would have approved of.”

With the main awards now chiefly being a method of driving consumer engagement with the Fosters brand, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee awards have taken a special place in the heart of the comedy community. A lot of this is due to the award ceremony itself. Rather than the comedy elite getting together to pat each other on the back, the Hardees are an open-door free gig with a two-hour showcase of some truly bizarre acts, ending in the three main awards being presented whether the recipients want them or not. It is the highlight of the Fringe.

“I’ve booked hardly anything for this year,” he says, “but I’m sure it’ll be fine. Miss Behave is presenting again this year and she’ll be helping me to programme it, although she’s just broken her heel in Ireland so I’m not even sure if she’s coming.”

Fleming’s blogging process will be performed live at his own chat show, taking place in the one of the Fringe’s weirder venues, Bob Slayer’s Bookshop. With his overview of the industry, what does Fleming think about comedy in general?

“It’s a little boring. I think it’s a bit like 1963: nothing happens and then suddenly the Beatles show up. I think we’re all waiting for the comedy Beatles.”

What about people like Doctor Brown, who seem to be succesfully challenging old-fashioned standup?

“Yes, they’re… like really great skiffle bands. We’re still waiting for the Beatles though.”