Last night I went to see Martin Soan perform as part of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe he created years ago. They were performing at the always interesting Hob venue in Forest Hill, South London.
In the interval, a large group of men in the audience cornered Martin in the bar.
“They asked me Have you finished painting yet?” Martin told me this morning. “They’d read your blog. They were out on a stag do. It’s the strangest stag do I’ve ever heard of: coming along to see naked men. But, there you go, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They follow your blog and they know me from my various… eh… performances.”
“It’s the irresistible attraction of The Greatest Show of Legs and the naked Balloon Dance,” I said. ”But you told me you’re not always going to be in The Greatest Show On Legs from now on.”
“No,” said Martin. “I keep trying to pass it on to other people, but they keep saying they can’t do it without me.”
“Well, they can’t,” I agreed.
“It’s perfectly feasible,” said Martin. “If I got them Paul Merton to go out as part of the Greatest Show On Legs, are you telling me people wouldn’t go see that and enjoy it?”
“It wouldn’t be the same,” I said.
“Well, not the same exactly,” agreed Martin.
“Paul Merton – nice man, but he hasn’t got your grace,” I said. “And he wouldn’t do the nude bit.”
“I just think it’s time to make The Legs more sophisticated,” said Martin.
“Sophisticated!!” I spluttered.
“Yeah,” said Martin. “Sophisticated.”
“That’d be like Fast & Furious without the cars,” I said, having just watched the trailer. “So there’s Steve Bowditch and now Dickie Ryszynski, but that’s only two people. There has to be three people… Chris Lynam was in the audience last night.”
“He would be a good contender,” agreed Martin. “The first issue is there are three gigs coming up in Switzerland.”
“You gotta go to Switzerland,” I said.
“I’d go to Switzerland,” said Martin, “but not by plane.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I’m not going to fly again,” explained Martin. “I’ve done all my flying. There’s a lot of comedians like me.”
“You think your luck might run out the next time you fly?” I asked.
“No. I just really do not want to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning and hang around in airports and sit in a little metal tube and go up to 33,000 feet. I’ve done all that. And I don’t want to go by coach. I want to go by train or car. But the others don’t want to, because it’s more expensive.”
“Why not by coach?” I asked.
“I’ve lost people to coaches,” explained Martin. “Three people. And I was in an accident myself as a kid. Coming home after Christmas, the coach went off the road and into a ditch. No-one was killed, but it scared the living bejesus out of me as a child… and as an adult.”
“The other issue is I said I only want to do The Legs with new material. You saw a bit of new material last night and getting the old material and doing it properly would be… Last night, for the first time with the Red Sparrows routine, we got proper vapour trails. I think that’s up to speed now.”
“And,” I said, “you now have a routine that can actually follow the naked Balloon Dance, which I would have thought was impossible… You say you don’t want to do old material, but you have to do the Balloon Dance.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right there,” agreed Martin. “I just want to do new material. I’m not saying I want to be taken seriously as an actor.”
“Oh, go on, say it,” I said.
“I want to be taken seriously as an actor,” said Martin.
“As a vagina?” I asked.
“No, but if we follow the simple rule…”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well,” said Martin, “The Number One rule is that in certain situations – not all situations – the prop is more important than you.”
“Even when you’re naked?” I asked.
“No,” said Martin, “Not when you’re naked.”
“Good,” I said.
“Rule Number Two,” said Martin. “Come in hard. Exit hard.”
“Is that just in performance or in other things?” I asked.
“Everything,” said Martin. “So it’s not as if I’m a stick-in-the-mud. It’s just that there are rules. Observe the rules and you’ll do fine.”
“What’s the third rule?” I asked.
“Why should there be a third rule?” asked Martin.
“The Rule of Three,” I said.
“OK,” said Martin. “Rule Three – There is no Rule of Three.”
“I’ll be coming up especially for that,” confirmed Martin. “By train.”
“You could sail up to Edinburgh,” I suggested. “You’re near the River Thames. Get a boat; take it up to Edinburgh. Although I suppose Malcolm Hardee’s not a good example of surviving on water.” (He drowned in 2005)
“We once got a gig in Rotterdam,” said Martin. “Malcolm said Let’s go by boat. I said Yes. Steve Bowditch said No. Not in any way whatsoever.
“Then I looked it up and the English Channel into the port of Rotterdam is the biggest navigable waterway in the world. Absolutely frightening. Even Malcolm chickened out of that one. I think we would have died… Though what a brilliant death…
“You could have blogged and blogged about that one, John. Two of us dead in one go and it could then have been the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee/Martin Soan Awards. And it would have been a lot bleedin’ easier for me. I wouldn’t be here painting your woodwork with old-fashioned gloss paint.”
“Is there a new-fashioned gloss?” I asked.
“Yes there is,” said Martin.
“I like the old gloss,” I said.