The vulnerability of anarchic comedians Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan

The young-ish Malcolm Hardee (left) and Martin Soan (right) (Photograph courtesy of Steve Taylor from up north)

Last night, a preview of the Greatest Show on LegsEdinburgh Fringe show at London’s Comedy Cafe was cancelled due to a gas leak.

So, instead, leading Leg Martin Soan talked to me about the oft-called ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee, about whom I have oft blogged here.

Martin and Malcolm met, in their late teens, shortly after Martin had started The Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. The Legs were perhaps most famous for their Naked Balloon Dance on Chris Tarrant’s OTT TV show.

“There was other stuff in Malcolm,” Martin said, “but, because he was a bit lazy and always took the easy options… We did talk about some fairly sophisticated stuff for the Greatest Show On Legs to do and, if only we’d pursued that and had had a university-educated ethic about work, we would have come up with some lovely scenarios, me and Malcolm, as a working partnership, except they would have been upper class rather than middle class or working class.

“With a university education, we’d have known all about writing and we’d have motivated people to do it and we would have been ahead of our fucking time.

“What you don’t write about about Malcolm, what you don’t write about about me is that we were vulnerable. We didn’t possess – I don’t possess – natural self-confidence. Malcolm didn’t. He really didn’t. That was our affinity with each other. We bullshitted; we both tried to get away with it; we were out for a good time. But, basically, we were both vulnerable. And that was very true about Malcolm.

“Though,” I said, “Malcolm exuded confidence to other people.”

“Yeah, he did,” agreed Martin.

“But…?” I asked.

“But…” Martin said and then stopped, lost in thought.

“He was shy, wasn’t he?” I said.

“He was shy, yes,” said Martin. “Not able to express his emotions.”

“Yet everyone who didn’t know him thinks he was this outrageous, extrovert character,” I said.

“As a human being, he had his faults and that’s why we loved him,” said Martin. “He was like, in some sort of way, a Mr Punch character. All the things that were wrong about a person were all the things you loved about them at the same time. That was Malcolm.

“There was an affinity between me and him because we met when we were young and we felt we weren’t worthy. We had this hang-up but, at the same time, it was Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it!

“And you told me the vulnerability was about education,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “There was this Wey-heh! Yeah! Go for it! But you couldn’t take that vulnerability out of me and Malcolm. There was a tragic inability for these young, sometimes charismatic working class lads to… we couldn’t quite fucking crack it.

“In a sense, we all did really well, but still there’s that feeling in the back of the mind: We’re no good.”

“But Malcolm wasn’t really working class,” I said. “And I don’t think he had a thing about education, did he? He went to Colfe’s School and he could have done better but,” I laughed, “the way he told it his father buggered-up his chances in the interview. I don’t think Malcolm had a thing about lack of education, did he?”

“He did,” Martin corrected me, “Malcolm did. On the very few times – in the early days, not so much in later days – we levelled with each other, I’d say Don’t bullshit me, Malcolm! He was a huge bullshitter. But he did talk to me about the cynical resentment he had – exactly the same as me. He did resent the Oxbridge comedy ‘passport’ to success though, at the same time, he wanted to get in with them. He wasn’t too good on those inroads, though.

“The first time we went up to the Edinburgh Fringe, Emma Thompson was doing a sell-out show. We did go along and see her and she was in the same venue as us – The Hole In The Ground.

“But he developed other relationships at that Edinburgh Fringe – with Arthur Smith and others – and he moved on. I was slower. I was a lot more introverted than Malcolm in terms of the whole social thing. I probably suffered more than he did from the whole insecurity thing, thinking I’m shit! and the whole thing.”

“Are you OK saying this in a blog?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin, surprised.

“The only semi-bad review Malcolm’s autobiography got,” I said, “was one by Stewart Lee in the Sunday Times which said it wasn’t analytical enough of Malcolm’s character – though Stewart did add that Malcolm wasn’t naturally someone who analysed himself. And he didn’t. When we were writing his autobiography, I occasionally tried to get Malcolm to analyse things he’d done and he wasn’t interested. And I figured it was an autobiography not a biography, so that was part of the nature of the person. He wasn’t analytical in that way and he did find it difficult to express his…”

“Me and Malcolm,” Martin interrupted, “were ‘family’ for a time. We grew up together. We started with that Hole In The Ground show at the Edinburgh Fringe, pushed it on and ended up going all over the world together and.. it was a big adventure.”

“Like brothers,” I said.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “I used to try and talk to Malcolm. Forget all that education stuff, I’d say. Here we are now. Let’s just enjoy ourselves. But I had to bludgeon him into it. Just sit and relax and savour all the memories. That dog when we were doing the naked balloon dance! Do you remember this? Do you remember that? That’s what ‘family’ is all about. It’s about memories and what you do together and fuck what anybody else thinks about it. It’s about what we did together and it was amazing!”

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Filed under Comedy, Psychology

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