More stories of comedians using other comedians’ lines – OK – stealing things

Picture of Ian MacPherson used without his permission from his website http://www.ianmacpherson.net

Picture of Ian MacPherson used without his permission or his knowledge from his website www.ianmacpherson.net

Yesterday, I blogged about Martin Soan’s version of how his late friend Malcolm Hardee appropriated – well, OK, stole – fellow comic Ian MacPherson’s gag.

The gag was to open your performance at a venue by saying:

“In show business, there’s a saying that you play (enter name of venue) twice in your career. Once on the way up. Once on the way down. (PAUSE) It’s good to be back…”

Martin Soan had heard (from Malcolm Hardee) that Ian McPherson had jokingly asked to be paid when Malcolm stole the gag and Malcolm had – much to Ian’s shock – actually paid several hundred pounds.

When he read yesterday’s blog, comedian Rob Thomas told me that a different version of what had happened was published in the British Comedy Guide in 2008, in an excellent piece by Robert Wringham.

I contacted Robert and asked him if he was happy with me quoting from his piece. “Is there anything you want plugged?” I added.

“You could mention my little book about Cluub Zarathustra,” he told me. “You helped out on that, I’m certain. I know I quote you in it.”

This surprised me because, in fact, I had nothing to do with either the book or with Simon Munnery’s show Cluub Zarathustra beyond seeing and immensely enjoying it at the 1999 Edinburgh Fringe. It is a fascinating show which was turned into a BBC2 TV series Attention Scum! directed by Stewart Lee in 2001.

The BBC have never released a DVD, but there are clips on YouTube.

BBC executives never liked the series and hid it away on BBC2 on Sunday nights at 11.50pm. They cancelled the series which was then – embarrassingly for them – nominated for the Golden Rose of Montreux as best TV entertainment show of the year. As I understand it, BBC executives then had to fly with Simon Munnery to Switzerland and sing the praises of the series which they had cancelled because they hated it.

There is almost a sitcom in that saga in itself.

But back to Ian McPherson and the gag theft by Malcolm Hardee.

In Robert Wringham’s 2008 piece in the British Comedy Guide, Ian said he first did the gag in the early 1980s at the Earth Exchange, a tiny vegetarian comedy club on the Archway Road in London.

Later, Malcolm nicked the gag, much to Ian’s annoyance.

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in Up The Creek office

Malcolm with distressed shoulder in his Up The Creek office (Photograph by my eternally-un-named friend)

“And,” Ian told Robert Wringham, “as he’d done it on some pap-for-the-masses TV programme, it looked as if I’d nicked it off him. So I had to drop it. He also put about that he’d bought it from me. Which he hadn’t. He then offered to buy it retrospectively. Fuck off, Malcolm, I quipped. So I fined him a pretty modest sum for theft. I was pretty furious about it at the time, but he had his eye on other stuff I’d written, so I was also warning him off. He ignored the fine at first, but he was just about to open (his own club) Up The Creek, so I gather some comedians refused to play there till he paid up. Which he grudgingly did. I also made it plain in words of one syllable that I was not, repeat not, selling the line. He muttered something about 6 seconds of material but, as I pointed out, It was 7 and a half seconds, Malcolm. You should have nicked my timing.

“Simon Munnery told me he does it too, but attributes it to me. Which is fine. No problem there. Good man Simon. I was told that Simon Fanshawe did it on radio. No attribution. I wrote to his agent at Noel Gay Artists three years ago for a clarification but he must be a slow typist. No response as yet. But not everyone is called Simon.

“A young film maker contacted me last month. Apparently he’s doing a documentary on Malcolm Hardee. Wanted to know if I wrote Malcolm’s gag. Malcolm’s? Apparently some of the older comedians who’d first seen me do it had told him it was mine. Anyway, he intimated they would be using the TV clip of Malcolm doing my gag and, er, was I okay with that. And maybe it was the Irish blood coursing through my veins, but my response was a good deal less than civil. Listen, I said. You people stole my country. I’m fucked if you’re nicking my act. Does that answer your question?

All those quotes from Ian have been stolen by me from Robert Wringham’s original article in the British Comedy Guide.

Well, not really stolen. I look on my use of them as an homage to Robert’s work and I recommend you buy his book on Cluub Zarathustra, a show that deserves to be remembered.

Robert Wringham’s assuredly excellent book which I have not read but buy it…

Robert Wringham’s assuredly excellent book which I have not read… But buy it

As a post-script to this tale of joke theft, I should also mention that juggler Steve Rawlings, who often played Malcolm Hardee’s clubs, also got in touch with me yesterday after reading my blog.

It is a widely-read blog and has probably had bits repeated from it without attribution.

Malcolm Hardee had handfuls of oft-repeated catchphrases. He used one of them to put-down anyone unwise enough to heckle him. He would say: “Isn’t it a shame when cousins marry?”

Yesterday, Steve Rawlings told me: “He got that line from me. I’d got it from a big-headed American juggler who was doing put-down lines on the other acts while we were sat drinking before a gig.

“He came out with three when I was sat alone with him.

“One was the when cousins marry line.

“One was It’s hard to believe out of millions of sperm you were quick enough to get there first.

“And the last was Living proof that Indians DID fuck buffalo, which was never going to work in England.

“I had the first two lines to myself for about two months and they were killing.

“Then Malcolm phoned me and said: Oy oy – Is that ‘when cousins marry’ line yours?

“I said: No, I nicked it off this American act.

“He said Oy oy again and hung up.

“Not long after that, everyone was using it. But for just a little while I had it to myself.”

I did ask Ian McPherson yesterday if there was anything he wanted to add to his British Comedy Guide tale of Malcolm stealing his opening routine. He said: “Say hello to Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch. Lovely, lovely boys and a credit to their respective mothers.”

Both are members of The Greatest Show On Legs which included Malcolm before he drowned and both are currently performing in Switzerland, where BBC TV executives had to smile and accept compliments for Simon Munnery’s cancelled series Attention Scum!

What the relevance of that is, I have no idea, but it sounds good – something which should never be underestimated.

Here is a YouTube clip of Steve Rawlings juggling.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, UK

2 responses to “More stories of comedians using other comedians’ lines – OK – stealing things

  1. ontheout@gmail.com

    Didnt realise it was Macphersons gag altho I heard him use it first ať the top of a one man show.he did ať The Oxford Arms but it became so ubiquitous I assumed it was an old gag u certainly had to watch Malcolm he was v fond of doing one of ur gags just b 4 he introduced u Cheers Bob

    Sent from my HTC

  2. History stuff now: Bill Martin (the late) told me a wonderful bit about Max Bygraves and Des O’Conner years ago..

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