Part One in the very famous trilogy which tells the story of THE MUMBLE via those rather unscrupulous attacks of ne’er-do-wells
The Mumble is entering its seventh year at the Edinburgh Fringe, & it cannot be denied it has the coolest name, the slickest format & the best reviews. It is also the flagbearer for the revolution in the reviewing spheres that is demanding financial respect for its staff. This led to recent attacks by certain thespian types down south, which reminded the Mumble editorial team of similar conflicts in the past, which we call Mumble Rumbles. As a cheeky warm-up for the Fringe, we thought we’d proffer three of these Rumbles, including the latest one, which indirectly tell the story of the development of The Mumble, from the primitive blog-like beginnings, to our esteemed status as International Cultural Surveyors in 2019. The Mumble was launched in 2013, evolving out of a blog by Damian Beeson Bullen, in which he wrote, ‘Two summers ago, I threw myself headlong into the Edinburgh Fringe, reviewing as many shows as mi little legs could carry me to. This year, I’ve set up my own review site called THE MUMBLE, which means Multi-media Blogging, where you can find here. Now I’ve got myself a wicked wee team of reviewers together & we’re gonna be sampling some of the delights that Edinburgh Fringe 2013 has to offer, so if you’re in town or in Calcutta, enjoy.’
The Mumble did OK that first year, we were quite basic, but the writing was there. So we did it all again in 2014, which led to what we called ‘That Adam Riches Eruption.’ Essentially, one of our stalwart reviewsers to this day – Mark Divine Calvert – didn’t enjoy a comedian, but gave him an extra star for being from Yorkshire. Suddenly the publicist – Dan Pursey of Mobius PR – tried to bully us off the review – but we stood our ground which then got the national press involved. Suddenly everyone was talking about The Mumble. In our first proper battle, the result was a win-win, for not only did the incident raise our profile nationally, but the publicist lost his job, with the PR company came back the next year in an apologetic fashion asking for reviews.
Mark’s Original Review
It was a damp and wind-swept night and the welcoming warmth of the Pleasance Dome began to relaxed me into a state of mind ready for comedy. Tonight it was Adam Riches, a successful comedian with more awards that you can shake a stick at. Joining me was a capacity audience who clearly knew what we were in for. Alas I didn’t. With lots of audience participation, Adam humiliated his carefully chosen audience members who were middle class and loving every moment of it. Adam utilises different characters drawn from history, all of whom had a Yorkshire accent, which is a star point in itself. Taking his lead from vintage comedy telly, Adam was silly, pointless and yes, good fun. Which is just what his audience wanted. If you like trashy throw-away telly. Adam’s your man. Two Stars and one extra for being from Yorkshire.
A considered opinion?
Threat to block ‘disrespectful’ blog’s free tickets
A row has erupted on the Edinburgh Fringe after a PR company threatened to withdraw free press tickets from bloggers for not showing enough respect to the comedians they are writing about. Publicists at Mobius laid down the ultimatum after Mumble Comedy wrote a three-star review of former award-winner Adam Riches – saying that if the review was not altered or removed, they would not issue any more tickets, and spread the word to venues across the festival, too.
In return, the blog accused the company of trying to intimidate them into taking down a poor review – saying: ‘We cannot be bullied out of our integrity’. However, some changes to the review, by Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert, were made after Mobius first got in touch – including correcting the spelling of Riches’s name. The row is likely to spark debate over the line between established media and fans setting up an online presence in order to score free tickets.
Mumble Comedy’s ‘CEO’, Damo Bullen revealed the pressure from Mobius in a message beneath the review, accusing them of ‘chucking their toys out the pram & ask[ing] me to take it down’.
He refused saying: ‘Everyone’s entitled to their opinion & that Mark simply could not get into the comedy of Mr Riches.. The Mumble is an honest website, designed to help would-be show-goers make an informed choice. We cannot be bullied out of our integrity.’
Despite Bullen’s defiance, Dan Pursey from Mobius said the review HAD been changed since it first appeared – although Bullen insists any changes were ‘cosmetic’.
Pursey said: ’The original review also contained some very odd references that, apart from anything else, gave the impression our client’s work hadn’t been met with the respect, care and attention it deserved. These have since been removed. ‘
‘We really do support and encourage new titles, websites and critics and like to offer them access to write about our clients’ work where we can. We also totally acknowledge that everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion.
‘But when we initially (very diplomatically) expressed our concerns the site representative was quite uncooperative, and my worry was that this could be an attitude that stretched across the site. I’m sure it isn’t, but had there been more evidence of care, I wouldn’t have had to push quite so hard to get them to pay attention.’
It’s understood that after the original contact from Mobius the sentences ‘Taking his lead from vintage comedy telly’ to ‘Adam’s your man.’ were added, and references to the critic’s urge to go home and ‘listen to his Tricky CD’, and spend more time in his leopard print pyjamas with a large mug of tea were removed.
Speaking to Chortle, Bullen added: ‘Do you know what annoyed me the most – it was his brash, aggressive condescending attitude that wanted to sink my ship when a lot of people – performers, reviewers, back stage staff – have benefited from it.’
Mumble Comedy – a free WordPress blog that uses unlicensed clip art to illustrate the number of stars – was set up for last year’s Fringe and only publishes for the festival. It currently has 140 ‘likes’ on Facebook.
And they haven’t got around to writing their ‘About Us’ page, which says: ‘This is an example of a page. Unlike posts, which are displayed on your blog’s front page in the order they’re published, pages are better suited for more timeless content that you want to be easily accessible, like your About or Contact information. Click the Edit link to make changes to this page or add another page.’
Steve Bennet: A Jaded Opinion? By 2019 Steve Bennett is rapidly becoming the Arsene Wenger of comedy reviewing. On three occasions last Fringe I was completely blown away by the youthful talent & bountiful originality of certain artists, whose shows’ names I shall leave out of this wee pontification. Five star shows the lot of them. Yet, a couple of days after my own visitations, Mr Bennett trundled in to see the same shows & is only giving them 3s. Is he observing the same shows that I am? Is he seeing the same hunger of performers in their prime, the same tenacity of talent, the same boundary-breaking of burgeoning genius? Clearly yes, for he does describe each show’s sheen accurately enough – but the substance & magic, definitely not. Once is opinion, twice is taste, but thrice… that doesnae even make the Europa League. Perhaps it is time, like Mr Wenger, for Bennett to retire from front-line duties & leave the reviewing to a fresh generation. Throughout the 21st century comedy, like football, has evolved & it seems like Mr Bennett is stuck firmly in the stand-up of the past, when comedians of today are soaring on the winds of the future.
Back in 2014, the next to get hold of the story was Brian Logan of the Guardian, whose own article on the matter reads;
As the mainstream press withdraws from Edinburgh, there’s been a rise in alternative voices. Some new reviewers will be learning on the job – just like novice standups
My colleague Lyn Gardner wrote last week about “a critical exodus from the fringe by the mainstream press”, and I share her concerns. The issue is discussed in comedy circles too: I’ve spoken to several PRs who say they haven’t had much to do at this year’s fringe, because coverage in the mainstream press is so diminished. Of course, the flourishing of alternative critical voices online is an exciting development, but perhaps not yet an adequate replacement – as one confrontation last week made clear.
The contretemps – as reported at Chortle.com – was between the arts PR agency Mobius and the website Mumble Comedy, and it concerned the latter’s review of the former’s client, the comedian Adam Riches. Mobius contacted the website to express displeasure at – and request amendments to – a three-star review that lacked “the respect, care and attention [Riches] deserved”. That was met with what Mobius call an “uncooperative” response, which led to the PR threatening to withdraw free tickets from the website. The blog’s editor, Damo Bullen, posted an angry response, insisting “we cannot be bullied out of our integrity”.
The review that caused the fuss can no longer be read in its original form. Mobius’s complaint seems to be, not that it was critical of Riches’ show, but that it was half-arsed (it misspelled Riches’ name, for example). Even the revised version is a little slapdash and impressionistic. But does that justify Mobius’s threatened withdrawal of privileges? And what does the fuss tell us about the state of fringe criticism?
On the former point, I don’t think any publication – not the Guardian, not Mumble Comedy – has a divine right to free tickets. With rights come responsibilities: publications have to demonstrate a degree of professionalism, commitment and (pace Mobius’s complaint) respect. (They probably also need a readership – or the likelihood of acquiring one.) On the latter point, well, there’s clearly a frustration in some quarters that – as the mainstream press withdraws from Edinburgh – acts are ever more dependent on the opinion of often inexperienced and unauthoritative reviewers.
That’s not meant to denigrate amateur criticism, or professional online criticism, which supplies much of the best writing around the fringe. (It’s also worth noting that critics of all stripes have been unpopular with artists since the year dot.) But we should be more explicit about the fact that – as BAC artistic director David Jubb discussed on Twitter last week – “Edinburgh is [the developing] critic’s equivalent of scratch” – ie a place to learn in public, and seek feedback in order to improve.
The them-and-us, /de haut en bas/ relationship between critics and artists (or their representatives) is never helpful, but least of all when many critics have yet to earn trust or demonstrate commitment to the artform they’re writing about.
In that context, dialogue is good. The world of Fringe reviewing is changing, and it’s in everyone’s interest that the new model – which will include a far wider range of reviewers and publications than the old – foregrounds lively and intelligent discussion of the artform. That’ll only happen if all parties speak to one another about what they want criticism to be.
It’s a shame the conversation got antagonistic, but Mobius did the right thing by contacting Mumble Comedy with their concerns. We probably all intuit that some writing – the careful, attentive, “respectful” kind, perhaps? – constitutes valid criticism, and some writing doesn’t. We’ll only know where that line should be drawn if we talk about it.
The above image was created in 2014 by the reviewer-reviewer site, Fringepig.It wont be the last time they snorted at The Mumble – indeed, we’ll be looking at our ‘war’ with them in the next episode. But back in 2014 Fringepig & Chortle did actually have a point, & their criticisms gave us a wee kick up the arse. We were young, we were just stepping out, it was all good! By the next year we had figured out how WordPress Menus work, & also designed our own stars, with a lovely M in the centre of each one. We also completely overhauled our scoring system. Where the rest of the review world awarded 1-5 stars, sometimes halving them, we started to award 5 stars in three different categories, from which we could obtain a more natural overall score. Each Mumble would have its own categories – Comedy would be marked on material, delivery & laughs; Theatre on stagecraft, performance & script, & so on. So instead of our never getting a press ticket in town again – As Dan Pursey thoroughly wished – we became instead the most sophisticated reviewers on the scene.
Next Episode: In The Bay Of Pigs