Category Archives: UK

More comics’ comments on the death of the godfather of UK Alternative Comedy

Malcolm Hardee on his boat (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee’s birthday was yesterday in 1950.

He drowned on 31st January 2005.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

Yesterday I re-posted the first of those memories by fellow comics.

They continue here…


ALAN DAVIES, comedian – 7th February, 2005

The Tunnel Club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: 

“You’re not going to wear that shirt are you? They’ll take the piss out of you your first line.”

He introduced me.

“Stone him!” they shouted. ”Crucify him!”

Before I could do my first line, someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said, “Directors”. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off.

At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground.

Malcolm said, “I’ll book you,” which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way,” he said, “it’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread, even though it’s a Courage pub”. 

The following month, I did a full spot and soon after the pub was raided and it was over.

Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot but The Tunnel was special – the hardest gig. If you went well they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in… ”Mmmm…” louder and louder.

Malcolm would hurry from the back bar. 

“MmmmmMALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back.

“Oh no,” said Malcolm,”I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff.” The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation. 

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs, including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me.

There were stories all the way there and all the way back.

He was the one-off’s one-off.


ALEX HARDEE, Malcolm’s brother – 7th February 

I had just met a new girlfriend, who had never been introduced to any of my family before. She was from quite a well to do family, and I was quite nervous of her meeting Malcolm.

Unfortunately, it happened to be at Glastonbury where the meeting was to take place, so I dragged her backstage to the Cabaret Tent, and said, “Malcolm, this is Claudia,” at which he whipped his genitalia out and said, “Look at this Ultravoilet knob,” as he had painted it earlier with Ultravoilet paint.

A shocked look came across her face and he responded, “Don’t you worry. You should see my wife’s mouth.”

Of course, I am not still with her.

Will miss you loads. The world is a sadder and less colourful place without you.


MATTHEW HARDY, comedian – 8th February

October 2, 1992. I landed alone in the UK, straight from having lived my entire life under Mum & Dad’s working class roof in the sunny Aussie suburbs. A mate who’d been overseas showed me a copy of Time Out and, though I’d only done six open spots in Oz, I decided there was more opportunity in England. Saved money for a one-way ticket cos I was impatient. 

Many calls down the then ‘cabaret’ listings got me nowhere, until Malcolm answered at Up The Creek. My old man had verbally forced me to agree on keeping a diary, despite me saying it was for poofs. The diary entry from Nov ’92, upon meeting Malcolm in the Lord Hood on a Sunday Creek Sabbath, reads: “This weird bloke called Malcolm gave me a gig, met me in the pub next door beforehand, got me to buy him a pint, then told me I’d be shit, but not to worry. Unfortunately he was right, but I’m not worried cos he gave me another gig anyway”. 

Soon he arranged accommodation and a welcoming woman’s number. Hardee hospitality.

Years later, he took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. 

Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater(?) out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot. 

I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh. 

Just as I turn back to say, “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. 

I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad. I wanted to hit him and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. 

Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy. 

We laugh… NOW!

R.I.P mate.


SIMON DAY, comedian – 8th February

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all he was the king of comedy. They don’t make them like that any more. In the end he swam away with his underwater bollocks. Thankyou.


STEVE GRIBBIN, comedian – 9th February

As the man who launched the infamous Tunnel Club, one the two best and fiercest comedy clubs in the whole fucking world, Malcolm deserves to be justly celebrated, but those of us who knew him well will recall his love of a prank and a practical joke, which often shaded into criminality!

One time we were in Aberystwyth University and had to change in the kitchen. Malcolm saw a huge 15 foot square block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Oy Oy… let’s have it!”

It took five of us to carry it into the white Ford Transit van that Malcolm had ‘borrowed’ off Greenwich Council. 

The next day a very irate official from Aberystwyth University rang up Malcolm screaming abuse down the phone. 

“You thieving bastard, I know it was you!”

Malcolm denied all knowledge, ending the phone-call with the immortal words: “Sorry mate, got to go now, me cheese on toast’s ready!”

For every tear of sadness that’s shed for his untimely demise there will also be an accompanying one of laughter. Malcolm was like that.


STEVE DAY, deaf comedian – 9th February

Malcolm helped me more than anyone else in my comedy career and when no-one else was interested. It used to be three good open spots at The Creek then you got a paid half spot – none of this perpetual open spot and competition rubbish. 

I had only done two when this happened – :

“The next bloke is a deaf bloke. I know he really is a deaf bloke cos I offered him a paid gig, but he didn’t hear me. So here he is for free… Steve Day”


IVOR DEMBINA, comedian – 9th February

Affectionate tales of Malcolm’s thieving abound, yet here’s one of an attempt of mine to steal from him. 

When I first saw Malcolm compere at his club, the Tunnel, I was so impressed by everyone’s reaction that I decided to ‘borrow’ his style of showmanship for my own comedy club in north London. 

My theft was doomed to failure because I wasn’t nearly as funny as Malcolm nor blessed with his gift for making strangers love him. 

My fruitless larceny taught me a painful lesson: as in comedy as in life, be only yourself, say what you think, do what you feel and stick to your guns. 

Malcolm Hardee was the living embodiment of that lesson and it’s a profound sadness to me that I never had the opportunity to thank him before he died.


KEVIN McCARTHY, ‘THE MAN WITH THE BEARD’, comedian – 10th February

For starting me off in this business – I thank you.
For giving me my name – I thank you.
For bouncing countless cheques on me – I forgive you.
For owing everyone on the circuit at least a tenner – I forgive you.
For swallowing a two bottle decanter of vintage port in one go and then redecorating my car with it – I forgive you.
For turning up at a meeting at the BBC as my manager with gravy down your tie and looking like a sack of shit – I forgive you.
For dying aged 55 – …


CHARLIE CHUCK, comedian – 10th February

I met Malcolm and played Up the Creek in 1990.

A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. 

I said to Malcolm: “What’s up with him?” 

He said: “it’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamarr, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest, you know who you are. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some. He got the media to his club, he could have signed many a comedian, could have exploited them and made money out of them. Malcolm was not that kind of man.

He was deeper and kinder than you know.

For me, Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him re TV at that time. I didn’t have a clue.

He put me on a show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I should imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at the Creek on 15th November; meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. So, instead, I didn’t listen & played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby. Where?

During the Edinburgh Festival, at half one in the morning two men were locked out of a car; the only place open was a bread shop. They went in and borrowed some baking implements to break into the car. It was so funny. Me and Malcolm howled.

Anyway, fuck it!

Joke No 1. Malcolm told me he had a terrible day; he woke up at 9am and a prawn cocktail slapped him in the face. That was just for starters.

His memory will live on.


SIMON MUNNERY, comedian – 11th February

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place, and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. 

Says one: “It’s been a good night.” 

Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out it’s going to be a great night.”

And that was true.

I regarded Malcolm and his wife Jane as my adopted parents and one night they dropped in to my flat in Stoke Newington. Malcolm was drunk – hold the front page – and after a bit had to go to the toilet. 

Malcolm used to steal – hold the front page – particularly from bathrooms. I knew this, Jane knew this and we could hear him crashing about in an exaggerated fashion for ages. 

When he at last returned I said, “Alright Malcolm, what have you nicked?” and he goes “Uh… uh… sorry,” and gets out this tiny pot of my girlfriend’s aromatherapy oils.

But it was too quick. 

I said “Yes; and what else?” 

He goes, “Oh, sorry,” and gets out another. And so on, and so on until, half an hour later, the entire contents of the bathroom were spread out in the living room and he swore there was nothing else. 

Later, we were helping him down the stairs when I noticed an overpowering smell. 

“What’s that smell?” I asked. 

He had emptied a bottle of perfume over his coat.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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What other comedians said about “the godfather of UK comedy” after he died

Today would have been comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 69th birthday. Who knows how he might have commented on that number?

He was born on 5th January 1950. He drowned in a dock in Rotherhithe, by the River Thames,  on 31st January 2005. He was drunk and fell in.

In their coverage of his death, the Daily Telegraph called him the “Godfather to a generation of comic talent”.

The Guardian’s extensive coverage called him the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”

The Independent’s obituary said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

The Times’ obituary said: “Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences”.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

These are a few of those memories, starting with my own…


JOHN FLEMING – 3rd February 2005

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. 

For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not AGAIN, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that, with his trousers down, he was never embarrassed.


BRIAN DAMAGE, comedian – 4th February

I’ve met some great people on the comedy circuit but Malcolm was without a doubt one of the best… and the funniest.

When I heard the terrible news, after the initial shock, I hoped that this might just be another of his scams to wind people up. I wouldn’t put it past him – but sadly I now know it isn’t.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night at Up The Creek when two girls died a terrible death. As they left the stage with the hair standing up on the back of their necks, Malcolm said: “Well, they were shit but… I’d fuck the fat one!”

Thanks Malcolm for all the laughs and encouragement and South Africa and Glastonbury and The Wibbley Wobbley and the odd bit of trouble you got me into. I’m proud to have known you. I’ll miss you a hell of a lot.

The comedy circuit won’t be the same without you

Oy Oy mate. Knob out.


IAN COGNITO, comedian – 5th February

My abiding and most recent memories involve an early morning swim (I know) after a bit of a night ahht. 

He’d managed to find some security code for one of the big officey blocks round the dock with its own, and subsequently Malc’s, private pool overlooking the Thames. It was an hour earlier than I expected ‘cos he’d never put his clock back and this was December. 

So it’s into one of his dodgy cars to visit an 80 year old lady called Moth for morning coffee, then off to try and blag some horse riding. Upon reaching these stables, after a spot of lunch, we were told someone had moved in nearby who claimed to know Malcolm. 

Without ascertaining friend or foe, we went to a house in the middle of nowhere. 

“Who am I?” asked Malcolm. 

We were invited in for champagne and Christmas dinner. Then to the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich where we seemed to blag some free buffet, (I can just see him wiping his hands halfway up his suit, the way he did after cleaning his plate with his finger, and why not.) 

Finally back to the Wibbley Wobbley to find more playmates. 

Up until the evening, Malcolm had drunk just half a pint of bitter and blagged a fiver off me for petrol. 

No fucking drama, just a lovely day out with a lovely man. 

All that for a fiver.


JERRY SADOWITZ, comedian – 6th February

Irresponsible, conscience free, worry free, fun seeking, knew how to have a laugh, a woman in every port, highly intelligent… all the things I wish I could be… So I resented him a lot of the time! 

But the measure of this man is that he could wind you up, rip you off, embarrass and exasperate you… and you’d still love him despite all that. What a rare quality!!

I will miss him, despite the load of shit he spouted about me and the world is definitely a poorer place for his passing. Why could this not have happened to any other comic or promoter????!!!!!


MAURICE GIBB, Edinburgh fireman – 6th February

I first met Malcolm back in 1981 when he appeared with The Greatest Show on Legs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following on from their successful TV appearance on OTT performing the Balloon Dance. 

I was the Fire Brigade officer that year tasked with ensuring the public were safe in respect of fire hazards during a performance – no mean feat considering Malcolm’s love of all things incendiary!

Like many others who knew Malcolm I was taken by his personality, intelligence and love of fun but in particular it was his “Fuck it” attitude to life that I truly admired and envied the most.

Malcolm and I remained friends and in contact right up to his untimely death and I will always be grateful for the fun and laughter that we shared over the last 23 years.

I will miss him a lot.


PAUL ‘WIZO’ WISEMAN, accomplice – 6th February

I first meet Malcolm when I was five. 

I was dressed in a full cowboy outfit (it was the fashion then) and it was my first day at primary school. He looked at me and started giggling.

We then spent the next 48 years giggling with occasional bouts of prison, setting fire to cinemas, blowing up stolen buses with fireworks and driving cars through supermarket windows as well as showbiz bollocks. 

He was the most fearless man I have ever meet as well as painfully shy, which he overcame with bluster and sheer persistence and a large pair of bollocks. 

When we were both sentenced to Borstal for various naughty boy things at Exeter Assizes in 1971, we both got our dicks out to the judge when he sent us down.

Knob out, thousand pounds, nightmare.


GEORGE EGG, comedian –  7th February

I was 19 when I did my first paid spot on the comedy circuit. It was at Up The Creek and for many years after it was the only club I played, because Malcolm was the only person who’d book me.

Some years ago I’d expressed interest in the fairground mirrors that were in the since closed Comedy Empire in Willesden and Malcolm had assured me I’d be able to get them for only a few quid so I took a trip up to London especially. 

I was directed to some bloke in Greenwich market who said they’d cost me a grand, so I called Malcolm who apologised for the mistake but asked me to pop round. 

We visited his boat and ‘Concrete Ken’, where we had a beer, and then we drove to some place in Whitechapel for a fantastic curry, all courtesy of Malcolm of course. 

Next we visited a bookie’s where he proceeded to bet shockingly high stakes on two races, both of which he won and we finally drove back to his place where his son’s friends were hanging around outside the house, sitting on steps and car bonnets.

“Look, it’s like New York,” he said, and then, “Right, I’m going back to bed. Knob out!”

It’s a small but fond memory.

A genuinely lovely man. The comedy circuit will not be the same without him. Malcolm was to British comedy what John Peel was to British music.


DOMINIC HOLLAND, comedian – 7th February

Is there anyone in comedy who was more liked than Malcolm? 

It is sad but, in an industry where success is covertly resented by too many, I suppose Malcolm fitted the bill for being liked perfectly. He was notorious but crucially not so successful either. 

What he had that set him apart was his great generosity of spirit. 

A rogue and a shyster, of course, but he was also a genuinely kind man and, aside from all his knob out antics, he was actually a shy and sensitive man who needed just as much approval as the next comic. 

I expect most people that knew him weren’t altogether surprised to hear the sad news about his death, but their sadness would have been brief and countered by their own memories and warmth of this lovely man. 

I’ll remember him most for the way he brought me on stage at the Creek on a dire Sunday night. I’d avoided Sundays for years. All the comics said that they were shit, so I thought What’s the point? But Malcolm kept on at me and finally I stuck it in the diary. 

So, after about 8 acts, most of which hadn’t gone very well, Malcolm was about to bring me on: 

“Last bloke on now. It’s his first Sunday night down here, because he just does Fridays and Saturdays and storms it… so he’s well overdue for a shit one. Oy, oy.” 

And he was right. 

I had a shit gig and smiled all the way home because only Malcolm would have said that and only Malcolm Hardee could have got away with it. 

In comedy, people try desperately hard to appear different. 

Malcolm was different, and as said by so many other people, he will be very very missed.


Mr METHANE, farteur – 7th February

I always thought that, underneath all that East End stuff he had going on, Malcolm was genuinely a really nice bloke and a real character. There’s not enough characters around these days and consequently its a sad loss.


OWEN O’NEILL, comedian – 7th February

You were suspicious of poetry
saw clear through most of it
even with those glasses.
Dickens would have loved you Malcolm
would have immortalised you, given you
a name like Swindle Rotherhind, or Tucker Lawless.

But you didn’t need Dickens, you wrote
the chapters of your own life.
MALCOLM HARDEE
Your name fitted you like your food-stained ill fitting baggy suits. You were wide open, a big bad innocent book with no new leaves to turn.
All your pages stuck together, bound by your first rule of comedy: “Fall over! Get your knob out!”

You once caused me to cry with laughter until
I thought I would die. You took me for a ride in The Tartan Taxi. It had tartan seats and tartan carpets and tartan fairy-lights and a tape playing awful tartan bagpipe music and the driver changed hats and smiled like a lunatic as he drove us round and round and round the same roundabout for half an hour.

You encouraged him Malcolm. You encouraged the child in all of us, blew raspberries and pissed down the back of pomposity. We will miss you Malcolm. No one is brave enough to take your place. So when you fell over for the last time on Monday the thirty first of January two thousand and five, I really hope you had your knob out.

This last bit of the poem is a bit tasteless Malcolm. Some people might be offended by it.
They might think it’s not very nice to speak of the dead in this way… What’s that you say?
Fuck ‘em Oy Oy!
Yes, that’s what I thought you said.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Other people’s lives: the schooldays of UK music legend Simon Napier-Bell

This blog is occasionally called a “comedy blog”, but it is really about interesting people doing interesting, often creative, things – and about other people’s often far-from-normal lives. 

Of course, ‘normal’ is in the eye and ear of the beholder.

Simon Napier-Bell has been called (by Billboard magazine) a “multi-hyphenate British entrepreneur”, (by many) “a bon viveur”, (by himself on his own websitean “author, songwriter, film-maker and public speaker” and (by the Guardian and others) “one of Britain’s most successful ever pop managers”.

The acts he managed included Marc Bolan and T Rex, Boney M, George Michael and Wham!, Sinéad O’Connor, Ultravox… and the Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page.

He currently lives in Thailand.

Today is his 79th birthday.

These are his thoughts:


Because it’s my birthday today I was searching though the past to find a good birthday to write about.

An intimidating evening of conversation with Harold Pinter, Clive Donner and Donald Pleasance at the Connaught in the 1960s.

An extravagantly debauched dinner with Spanish pop stars Camilo Sesto and Antonio Morales at the Masquerade Club in Earls Court in the 70s.

A Beluga binge at Petrossian in New York with Vicki Wickham in the 80s.

Not to mention all the birthday dinners with special friends of the moment, or the ones that ended up with too much boozing in night clubs, often with much shagging afterwards.

One birthday that jumped to mind was rather different. It was my first year at public school and the start of the summer term. I was still in what was called a ‘junior’ house, with a cantankerous, malevolent housemaster – Mr Hoare.

Bryanston School in Dorset (Photograph by Ben Brooksbank)

Two terms earlier I’d arrived from grammar school with the wrong accent and the wrong attitude. I’d quickly modified my accent but hadn’t done so well with my attitude. 

Everything I did or said seemed to rile Mr Hoare terribly; he hated me. And inevitably I hated him back.

On my 14th birthday, my best friend took me to the tuck shop and asked me what I’d like. Not wanting to overtax his good nature, I modestly chose a can of condensed milk.

That evening, with the can only half finished, I discreetly smuggled it into the dormitory and after lights out handed it round. Then the lights flashed on again.

It was Mr Hoare. I was hauled out of the room, taken downstairs and made to sleep on a camp bed in the cupboard where the cleaning utensils were kept – a couple of Hoovers, buckets, mops, that sort of thing.

That wasn’t the only present he gave me for my 14th birthday. The second one was to make me sleep there for the rest of the term. And instead of being able to use the communal bathroom and toilets I had to use an outside shack in the garden. It wasn’t how I would have chosen to live for the next ten weeks but I’ve always been one to cope with situations, so I just got on with it.

On the last day of term, as the coach was arriving to take us all to the railway station, Mr Hoare presented me with my two-month old, half-finished can of condensed milk. 

Disdainfully, I threw it into the waste bin. Mr Hoare was splenetic, “Napier-Bell. Aren’t we meant to say thank-you when someone gives us something?”

In my purest, sweetest public school tones, I said’ “Thank-you, sir.” But as I turned to get on the coach I was shocked to hear my mouth add something totally unintended. “And I hope you die, sir.”

It was certainly what I felt but definitely not something I’d intended to say. I spent the holidays in dread of the inevitable letter to my parents telling them I’d been expelled, but it never came.

And when I went back to school the next term I was in a new house with a new housemaster and no mention was made of what I’d said. A little later however, at morning assembly, the headmaster informed the school that Mr Hoare had died.

I can’t pretend I wasn’t pleased. But it was still quite a shock. And I have to admit from then on I’ve been rather careful about wishing bad on anybody. So for my birthday today, good wishes to everybody. May you all have long, happy, lovely lives.

(But never take a child’s condensed milk away.)

 

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Simple explanation of the Irish problem

With all the hassle over Brexit and the Irish border, I think it would be wise to bear in mind these two simple explanations of the British Isles, taken from 1066 and All That:

“The Scots (originally Irish, but by now Scotch) were at this time inhabiting Ireland, having driven the Irish (Picts) out of Scotland; while the Picts (originally Scots) were now Irish (living in brackets) and vice versa. It is essential to keep these distinctions clearly in mind (and verce visa).”

“Gladstone… spent his declining years trying to guess the answer to the Irish Question; unfortunately, whenever he was getting warm, the Irish secretly changed the Question.”

One explanation of the British Isles (there are many conflicting explanations). This one on MapPorn

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Agent/manager Hollie Ebdon’s Strip Light, big shout-out & Comedy Project

Angelic agent/manager Hollie Ebdon

Angelic Hollie Ebdon has a Comedy Project

So, last night was the first Strip Light show at London’s Museum of Comedy.

“It’s monthly?” I asked Hollie Ebdon of Ebdon Management.

“Yes. Tamara Cowan, who runs the Musical Comedy Awards, and I decided to set up a production arm together – Strip Light Productions. And the Strip Light show is a monthly night at the Museum of Comedy every first Thursday until August, when we go up to the Edinburgh Fringe.”

“It’s a stage production company?”

“Yes. Live production company. We are interested in developing acts that could tour. We felt there was a bit of a gap in the market for acts that maybe aren’t quite so straight stand-uppy and for people who want to do more interesting concept nights and make them into something bigger.”

“And, separate from that,” I said, “you’re involved in The Comedy Project.”

“Yes. Starting on Monday and every Monday for a month there are Comedy Project shows at the Soho Theatre. It’s a separate thing. It’s not part of Strip Light or Ebdon Management. The Comedy Project has been going longer even than I have been working. It was started by actress/comedy writer Rosalind Adler in the late 1990s and has continuously pushed through loads of great new comedy writing.”

“So just the same thing year after year?” I asked.

The Comedy Project 2017

Not the same annual thing: it has evolved

“No. It’s sort of evolved. There was a time when judges came in to give feedback, but the acts were kind of uncomfortable with that.”

“It was a competition?” I asked.

“No. But I think it maybe felt a bit confrontational getting feedback in a room with an audience.”

“So you run it with Rosalind Adler?”

“The last couple of years we’ve been doing it together.”

“And the idea of the Comedy Project,” I asked, “is two new scripts – one by an experienced writer and another by a less experienced writer?”

“It doesn’t matter, really,” Hollie told me. “It’s a balancing thing. It’s the mixture of the scripts and how they sit together. We don’t want to put anything too similar on together. We want acts that will complement each other tonally. So something surreal might sit next to something that could be a big BBC1 sitcom.”

“The object,” I asked, “is to find a TV sitcom?”

“The object,” said Hollie, “is to get the scripts seen by industry people who might take an option on one of them… to present the writers to commissioners – so they can learn who they are before they are pitched to them. And for the acts to be able to hear their scripts performed. They get so much feedback and they can really see what’s working.”

“They are all your clients?” I asked.

“No. Only three are my clients. We do a big shout-out to other agents and lots of other comedy writers.”

Hollie Ebdon acts

Ready to cross-pollinate

“Why are you,” I asked, “a presumably hard-headed agent, touting the work of other agents’ clients? – You can’t make any money out of them.”

“You gotta share the love,” Hollie explained.

“But,” I said, “if Fred Bloggs, a writer or actor from another agency gets a break from this, you get nowt.”

“Yeah, but that’s life. My writers and performers will cross-pollinate with other agencies’ writers and performers. It’s a community and a great thing to be able to do. I’m always going to support new writing, whoever it is.”

“You could always nick someone else’s clients,” I suggested.

“I think my eyes are good enough to pick out the best talent without having to take it off anybody else. I have a little bit of a spine left, despite being an agent, so I try my best.”

“It takes time,” I suggested, “to make money.”

“Nobody starts as a money-maker. You do have to put the time in. Things don’t happen overnight.”

“How did you become an agent?”

“The agency has been going just over 2 years. I used to work in TV production as a runner and was going up to co-ordinator level, but then I got the hump because I wanted to be a producer and I didn’t feel I was being pushed in that direction.”

“You go for the quirky end of the market,” I suggested.

“Not on purpose. I don’t feel like that. And I don’t like the word quirky. They’re just different; more interesting; unique voices.”

Ed Aczel

Malcolm Hardee Award winning Ed Aczel – What?

“Anyone who wins the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award is quirky.” I suggested. “You have Ed Aczel.”

“But he’s so inspiring,” said Hollie. “Everybody I ever put him in front of says: I don’t know what I’m going to do with him, but I want him. He gets cast in great films, Call The Midwife, whatever.”

“Are your parents in showbiz?” I asked.

“My dad’s a plumber.”

“He has loads of money, then,” I laughed. “There’s more money in plumbing than most showbiz.”

“He only recently retrained in his 50s,” said Hollie. “Before that, he used to work in a print finishers in Hackney where, essentially, you cut up flyers. He’s happy now. Everyone needs a plumber.”

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The President in a comedy competition

President Obonjo

Regular readers will know I am not above getting other people to write my blog for me.

Last weekend, Benjamin Bello aka President Obonjo of Lafta Republic took part in the annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year competition.

I asked him about it.

This is what he told me.


President Obonjo

President Obonjo onstage

Comedy competitions are a great way to showcase your talent in front of industry people and to play to audiences that have never seen your act, but there are times you wonder after you have been going for years: At what point do you stop calling yourself a New Comedian? 

It has been a great year for me, reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions and winning two of them has helped raise my profile. One was based on audience voting only and the other was a combination of audience voting and the judges voting.

Reaching the finals of seven comedy competitions in one year is no mean feat… but there are comedy competitions and there  are comedy competitions.

I recall at the beginning of my comedy career I won the Luton Comedian of the Year competition and I thought I had conquered the world. I had no idea of other comedy competitions like the BBC New Comedy Awards.

I have entered the prestigious annual Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year twice in previous years going out in the heats and then in the quarter finals the following year. I had resigned myself to not entering again and decided instead to enter the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016. (Benjamin lives in Luton) I was runner up and, as a result, I automatically progressed to the semi-finals of the Leicester Square New Comedian of the Year.

A few weeks before the semi-finals I knew I had to invite friends to come and vote and support me. Invitations went out on Facebook and I tweeted on Twitter and I spoke to a few people individually and they said they would come – I was elated.

I continued gigging across the country to get match fit.

I needed to prepare a polished five minute set.

As I sat in a coffee shop, I reflected on my Edinburgh Fringe show last year.

It was a one hour show. I received five stars with some degree of success.

I thought: Why am I stressing about a comedy competition with a five minute set?

The Leicester Square gig was on a Sunday. I turned down all other gigs the weekend before, just to relax and reserve my energies.

On the day of the gig, I could not relax. I was not worried about my set but more worried that no-one would show up and support me and that would hurt me more than not getting through to the finals. This competition includes audience voting and it does help if your friends are in the audience voting for you.

I arrived at the venue.

The first semi-final had been concluded that evening and I knew one of the comedians who had gone through to the final. He had come third at the Great Yorkshire New Comedian of the Year 2016.

I thought: Yes! I am going to get through to the final!

I met the comedians I was going to be competing with. Some were already in the Zone.

We walked into the venue to choose where we wanted to be in the running order.

I chose the last spot – I am the President and I should close the show.

I thought: It’s going to work! 

The venue was filling up and no-one showed up to support me.

I thought: My election strategy won’t walk tonight. I am going to be performing to an audience of friends of other comedians.

This was going to be tough no matter how funny I was. It was going to be hard to get through.

I waited in the dressing room. The MC called my name and said this was the most difficult spot. I got on stage, did my thing and I was pleased with my performance. Very pleased.

The results were announced.

I was not placed in the final.

My initial reaction was one of utter disappointment. I had wanted this so much.

As I walked out of the building, an audience member came to me and whispered: You were very funny tonight but I could not vote for you.

Another comedian said: You smashed it; you should have got through.  

As I walked home, I thought: I gave it my best shot, but who knows? I might get a wild card.

That thought – I might get a wild card – kept ringing in my ears. I got home, slept it off, checked my email.

There was a gig offer from a comedy promoter but no wild cards.

A few days later, the finalists were announced.

I smiled and wondered who was going to win.

President Obonjo: dictator to Benjamin Bello

President Obonjo: yet more places to conquer

I needed to move on but I wondered if I would ever do another comedy competition. Three more are left I think: the BBC New Comedy Awards, the Old Comedian of the Year and the Silverbird Comedy Awards for those over 55.

I still have a few more years left for that last one. LOL.

I have no regrets about taking part in comedy competitions. They have been a real opportunity to showcase my talent in front of the industry and I have had great reviews from them.

President Obonjo of Lafta Republic will be taking a show to Brighton, Glasgow and the Edinburgh Fringe next year.

It will be titled The Rise of the Comedy Dictator.

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The Brexit vote to leave Europe was a lie. Percentages were more like 10/90.

The pencil is more powerful than the pen?

The pencil is more powerful than the pen or the sword?

Yesterday, I was travelling in an Overground train in London and got chatting to someone who works as a plumber. Let’s call him Peter (not his name).

Peter the Plumber is maybe in his late twenties. I could be way out. He could be in his early thirties but, if I had to guess, I would put him at maybe 29 years old.

We bonded on a lot of things, though not everything.

He thought the police were corrupt from bottom to top. He thought the court system had nothing to do with justice and was a game for lawyers and judges. He thought the drug laws were ridiculous – it is legal to willy-nilly prescribe variations of heroin and cocaine for medical purposes but not marijuana.

He said he did not vote in elections because the whole political and ruling system was corrupt. If he were to vote for anyone, he told me, he supposed it would be Jeremy Corbyn. I suggested maybe the Green Party and he was not averse to that but, as he thought the whole system was unworkable, there was no point.

I suggested, if there were a candidate or a party he thought had the correct policies and beliefs, then, by voting for them and increasing their majority even by one, he was giving them more profile and more visible backing – he should vote for them even if he believed they had no chance of winning.

“Like Jeremy Corbyn,” he suggested.

But he is not going to vote in elections because he believes the whole system is corrupt.

“Why do they give you pencils to mark the ballot paper in voting booths?” he asked me. “The people who mark you down as having voted and the people sitting outside the polling stations have pens. Why do they give you pencils to vote with? Pencils are more expensive than pens.”

I said I thought it odd that, as far as I know, when policemen write down statements, they are required to do it in pencil not pen. (I could be wrong that it is a requirement.)

brexitmapbbcHe said he did not believe the Brexit vote to leave the European Union was correct. The vote was 52% to leave. “I think the real vote,” he told me, “was more like 90% to 10%.”

“In which way?” I asked.

“To leave,” he said. “No-one I know wants to be in Europe. The Scots have it right. They want to leave the UK because they don’t want this other place making decisions for them. They want to make their own decisions.”

Let’s leave aside the fact that a high percentage of Scots voted to remain in the European Union.

Given the fact that many people who voted ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum find it unacceptable that there was a ‘Leave’ vote because everyone they know voted ‘Remain’… I thought it was interesting that youngish Peter The Plumber, who shows all the signs of being a true Corbynite and an anti-Establishment Left-Winger could not believe that the ‘Leave’ vote was as low as 52%.

Everyone thinks they are ‘normal’ and average and that their mostly self-chosen circle of friends and acquaintances are the norm. Everyone thinks they know what the majority of ‘normal people’ think.

Everyone is almost always wrong because they see and hear in their own bubble of ’normality’.

And, yes, I know if I write ‘everyone’ I should not write ‘they’ and ’their’ – I should write ‘he or she’.

But let’s not be pedantic. It is normal to use ‘they’ to mean ‘he or she’. Isn’t it?

Well, it seems that way to me.

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Filed under Europe, Politics, UK