Tag Archives: Alternative Comedy

Dave Cohen & John Dowie: Why they became comedians in the good old days

Dave Cohen & John Dowie

Writer/performers Dave Cohen and John Dowie are one gig away from the end of their current world tour.

“Yes,” Dave told me, “it’s a world tour of independent London bookshops.”

They are at Clapham Books this coming Thursday.

“Why,” I asked, “are two people with no new books out doing a book tour?”

“In my case,” John told me, “to try and get enough people to pledge to my book – The Freewheeling John Dowie – to get it out.”

Dave Cohen with his new book at last night’s launch

Dave at the launch of his How To comedy book

Dave said: “I did do a book and basically published it myself – How to be Averagely Successful at Comedy.”

“How did that do?” John asked him.

“It does as well as I can be bothered to flog it. I am going to do another one.”

“So,” I asked, “on this world tour, you are doing a split bill in these bookshop shows and reading from your books both published and unpublished?”

“No,” said Dave, “I’m doing a show. I tried to write a novel and it didn’t work. So I thought: Maybe it’s a sitcom. But that didn’t work either. So I thought Well, maybe it’s a 40-minute stand-up poem.”

“Why didn’t it work as a novel?” I asked.

“I don’t know how to write novels. Well, maybe I do. But I didn’t have whatever it takes to do it.”

“I think,” said John, “you have to write quite a lot before you can get a good one out of yourself.”

“I think,” I suggested, “writing a novel is the most difficult thing to do.”

“Well no,” said John, “having your leg taken off without an anaesthetic is worse. Tell us your dirty secrets, English paratrooper, or we will make you write a novel! That never happens.

Guns ’n’ Moses (L-R Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen, Jim Tavare)

Guns ’n’ Moses were (L-R) Mike Cosgrave, Al Murray, Dave Cohen and Jim Tavaré

“To write a good joke…” suggested Dave. “Maybe 10 words, 12 words? To write a really fantastic joke: that’s a really hard skill. The most brilliant comedy writers who can do that are not necessarily that good at being able to write characters. You get people who are successful gag writers who can’t do a sitcom as good. It’s a different skill.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Horses for courses. Like comperes and comedians… It’s a different skill. Really good comedians are very often shit MCs…”

“Anyway,” said Dave, “my show… It’s called Music Was My First Love and it’s about me falling out with my dad. I did it at the Edinburgh Fringe and I think that’s in the contract. If you do a show in Edinburgh and you’re a male comic it has to be about not getting on with your dad. Did you ever do a ‘dad’ show, John?”

“It’s in me forthcoming book,” John replied. “The Freewheeling John Dowie. And I did a show about Joseph, father of Jesus Jesus, My Boy I guess that was partly to do with parenting.”

“That was great,” said Dave. “I saw it in a packed West End theatre.”

“Starring…?” I asked John.

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti starred in John Dowie’s Jesus, My Boy

Tom Conti.”

“Did you ever perform it yourself?” Dave asked him.

“When I first wrote it I did. Nothing sharpens the writer’s pen more than having to go on stage shovelling filth over the footlights yourself – Then it’s:  God! That scene’s going! That’s gone! THAT’s gone!”

“I’ve only done my show eight times,” Dave told me. “The first time I did it, it was about an hour and ten minutes long. The poor people who saw that first show really sat through my entire life story! So I got up the next morning and had a cup of tea and cut and cut and cut it down to about 55 minutes. Then John here told me thought 40 minutes was enough. So I cut it and cut it again and it’s now 40 minutes long.”

“How did you two meet?” I asked.

“I was,” explained Dave, “a fan of John before he even knew I existed. He was one of the pioneers in the punk days. I got into punk and, at the same time as I was setting up my record label in Bristol, John was appearing on Factory Records. There was a very small circle of people who were doing music and comedy in the late 1970s. There was Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias and John Dowie and that was kind of it. Billy Connolly sometimes – though he was Folk, really.”

“I became a big John Dowie fan and bought this record which had John on and also happened to have Joy Division and the Durutti Column. As a result, I suddenly became really hip among my Bristol contemporaries. Wow! You’re into Factory Records! But it was really just for this funny Brummie bloke who did comedy songs.”

An early John Dowie album by the young tearaway

An early John Dowie album – this one was on Virgin Records

“How,” I asked, “did a Brummie end up on Factory Records in Manchester?”

“I lived near Manchester,” John told me.

“What year is this?”

“Around 1978.”

“You did gigs with Nico when she was living in Manchester,” I prompted.

“Briefly. She lived with John Cooper Clarke. She was being managed by a guy in Manchester.”

“And you, Dave,” I said used to share with Kit Hollerbach and Jeremy Hardy

“It was very pleasant living with them,” he said. “But a single person living with a couple was very…”

“You were a gooseberry,” suggested John.

“Yes. In fact,” Dave added, “John O’Farrell always said he wanted to write a sitcom based on me: a single bloke living with a married couple. I said: Yeah. Thanks for taking the sad loneliness of my pathetic life and turning it into comedy.”

“He never tried it?” I asked.

“He came close. He was writing with Mark Burton at the time and that was one of their ideas.”

“I am,” said John, “going to sue God for my life. It was a disappointment from start to finish. It didn’t say that on the label.”

“Anyway,” I said to Dave, “basically you were a John Dowie groupie.”

“I was,” he agreed, “and then, years later, I was doing a gig at the Earth Exchange and I think John turned up with Arthur Smith and we went for a drink afterwards. So there I was with my absolute god hero and it was… eh… It was character-building.”

John laughed out loud.

Dave explained: “He basically told me what was wrong with my act and he was absolutely right. I went away and thought: He’s absolutely right! I don’t look at the audience! I do move around too much.”

Dave got better. In the 1980s and 1990s,  with Pete Sinclair, he co-wrote several songs for ITV’s Spitting Image, including one when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher left office.

“When I first started,” John Dowie said, “I was up in Edinburgh and a theatre director came to see it, liked the material and hated the performance. I spent a week with him in London learning how not to walk away every time you get to the punchline. Why do you keep walking away on the punchlines? Stand still and say the punchline! Of course, the reason you walk away on the punchline is because you’re frightened of not getting a laugh and then, because you do it, you don’t get a laugh.

“They were quite nice,” John continued, “those 1980s days, because everyone was sort-of-doing the same gigs and hanging out in each others pockets and drinking in the same bars and going to the same nightclubs and slipping in the same sick. And it was not always mine. It was very camaraderie orientated, wouldn’t you say?”

“It’s a career now,” Dave agreed. “In the early 1980s, nobody who was doing it was thinking: Right, OK. This is my life now. I’m going to work as a stand-up, get some TV work and…”

“Well,” said John, “there was Mike Myers. He was the Paul Simon of the comedy generation. Came to London. Told everybody how he was going to be rich and famous in three years or else it was over. Went off and proved himself to be completely right.”

The Comedy Store Players (L-R Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey, Mike Myers

Very early Comedy Store Players included (L-R) Paul Merton, Dave Cohen, Kit Hollerbach, Neil Mullarkey and Mike Myers

“But,” said Dave, “he was still also very much a part of the spirit of it. I worked a lot with him at that time. When we set up the Comedy Store Players, he was fantastic. He was very giving and very much into the whole ethos of that whole stand-up scene. But he had come from Canada and…”

John interrupted: “I assumed he was from the US.”

“No,” said Dave. “Kit Hollerbach was the American one. She brought that professionalism and Mike Myers brought the improv side thing as well. So it became sort-of professional at that point. They made it a professional thing. Which was not a bad thing. A couple of years before that, nobody would see somebody like Paul Merton and think: Oh, right, this guy’s gonna be the hugest comedy star in the country and successful for 30 years.”

“So,” I asked, “if, before this, the incentive was NOT to build a career, why was anyone doing it?”

“It was better than working,” John replied.

“And what,” I asked, “are you going to do after this world tour is finished?”

“God knows,” Dave replied.

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Malcolm Hardee, (deceased) patron sinner of British alternative comics

Malcolm Hardee, man of the River Thames, had contacts (photograph by Vincent Lewis)

(Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

– R.I.P. MALCOLM HARDEE
GODFATHER OF ALTERNATIVE COMEDY
BORN 65 YEARS AGO TODAY
DROWNED 10 YEARS AGO THIS MONTH
(5th January 1950 – 31st January 2005)


Time Out, London:
“One of the great characters in the comedy business… Promoter, comedian, loveable and, at times, exasperating rogue Malcolm Hardee played a huge part in putting what was once known as alternative comedy on the cultural map. … his scams, scrapes and escapades will be talked about for years to come.”

The Scotsman:
“Notoriously outrageous and a prize prankster…a genuine original. His career was anything but straightforward but he had, with reason, been dubbed the irreverent godfather of alternative comedy. Hardee delighted in scandal.”

BBC News Online:
“Hardee became a comedian after being jailed a number of times for crimes such as cheque fraud, burglary and escaping custody. In the introduction to the book he wrote with John Fleming, Sit-Down Comedy, he said: There are only two things you can do when you come out of prison and you want immediate employment. You can either be a minicab driver or you can go into show business.”

The Times:
“Shamelessly anarchic comedian. A journalist once said of Malcolm Hardee that: To say he has no shame is to drastically exaggerate the amount of shame he has… Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences that was both a wonder and a liability. His comedy career seemed, to many, to be conducted purely for the hell of it… A kind, garrulous man without a drop of malice, Hardee nevertheless had a boyish ebullience that upset the faint-hearted.”

Daily Telegraph:
”One of the founding fathers of the alternative comedy scene… a former jail-bird, stand-up comedian and impresario instrumental in launching the careers of the likes of Paul Merton, Jo Brand, Vic Reeves, Harry Enfield and Jerry Sadowitz. A Hardee performance usually involved the flourishing of genitalia and was not for the fainthearted. He was famous as part of The Greatest Show on Legs, a three-man act in which he performed a ‘balloon dance’ stark naked except for a pair of socks and Eric Morecambe specs, a steadily dwindling bunch of balloons usually failing to preserve his modesty… Hardee’s most notable contribution to comedy was as godfather to a generation of comic talent in the 1980s, as proprietor and compère of the indescribably seedy Tunnel Club, near Blackwall Tunnel, and later of Up the Creek at Greenwich, venues at which fledgling comedians could pit their wits against some of the most boisterous heckling on the circuit.”

Chortle.co.uk:
“The most colourful figure of alternative comedy. He used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose. He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it. He had a unique approach to hecklers – urinating on them on more than one occasion – but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.”

The Guardian:
“Patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts… Hardee also had a sharp eye for comic talent. He managed Jerry Sadowitz, helped to nurture the careers of rising stars like Harry Enfield, and encouraged Jo Brand (a former girlfriend) to go on stage. He also worked as a tour manager for his friend and neighbour Jools Holland.”

The Independent:
“The greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years (piece written in 2005)… a Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. He was a maverick and a risk-taker. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.”

The Stage:
“A larger than life character whose ribald behaviour and risqué pranks were legendary… He was well known for outrageous behaviour, sometimes urinating on hecklers…. He wrote his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake with John Fleming in 1996 – the title came from the incident in 1986 when Hardee pinched the cake from the Queen singer’s 40th birthday celebrations and gave it to a nearby retirement home.”

London Evening Standard:
“One of the most anarchic figures of his era… Hardee enjoyed some mainstream success in The Comic Strip movies alongside Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson and had a bit part in Blackadder, but lacked the dedication to be a star. Instead he relished a cultural limbo between jack-of-all-trades and renaissance man. An Edinburgh Fringe Award in his name would be a fitting memorial.”

___________________________________

THE ANNUAL INCREASINGLY PRESTIGIOUS
MALCOLM HARDEE COMEDY AWARDS
WILL BE PRESENTED ON FRIDAY 28th AUGUST 2015,
IN THE BALLROOM OF THE COUNTING HOUSE, EDINBURGH,
DURING A 2-HOUR VARIETY SHOW AT THE EDINBURGH FRINGE
AS PART OF THE LAUGHING HORSE FREE FESTIVAL.

FREE ENTRY.

CONTRIBUTIONS WELCOME ON EXIT.
AS ALWAYS, 100% OF ALL DONATIONS RECEIVED
WILL GO TO THE MAMA BIASHARA CHARITY

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Memories of early alternative comedy: Malcolm Hardee and Sir Gideon Vein and the late lamented Ian Hinchliffe…

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna, not too long ago, recovering in a Vancouver hospital

Last week, I got an e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. In part it read:

“The whole time I was living in London – over four years – I never saw a window with the blinds or curtains open, except once.

“I was walking home from The Earth Exchange, which was a vegetarian restaurant in North London that used to be a good place for comics to work – Julian Clary played there when he was starting off and Andrew Bailey and David Rappaport did a macabre duo with candelabra and a huge birdcage which David wore on his head as he descended the stairs making bird sounds while Andrew carried the lit-up candelabra, throwing corn flakes at him…

“Anyhow, one night at about three in the morning, I was walking back towards central London with Tony Green, who was dressed as Sir Gideon Vein, when I spotted a window lit up, curtains pulled wide open, on the main floor of a house. I was amazed! Finally I would get to see what went on inside a dwelling in London at night.

“Tony tried to stop me. No, he begged. Don’t do it. What will the people who live in there think when they look out their window and see a big girl with red hair in plaits standing outside and staring into their sitting room?

“But I could not stop myself, so I raced up to the window. Tony gave up. Besides, he had to take a piss. I stood in front of the window staring in, but there were no people at all; it was just a very dull looking sitting room.

“So, a bit dejectedly, I returned to the pavement where I found Tony  urinating into a flowerbed. What will the people think, I asked, if they open their front door and look out and see you pissing on their flowers?

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green this month in his normal attire

Tony Green is an interesting figure from – if he can forgive me for saying this or even if he cannot – the early years of British Alternative Comedy. His character Sir Gideon Vein was (and, indeed, occasionally is) a Victorian era throw-back character.

Tony has occasionally turned up fleetingly in this blog. About 20 years ago, he took me to the fetish club Torture Garden. He looked like he was dressed as the Peter Davidson incarnation of Doctor Who. But he was not. That was normal attire for him. A few weeks ago, I mentioned him performing as both The Obnoxious Man and The Pompous man at Pull The Other One comedy club.

I recently met him at the Soho Theatre bar in London for a cup of tea, but he soon moved us to the upstairs room of a nearby pub. No surprise there.

When I switched my iPhone’s recorder on for this blog, Tony was doing an imitation of the late performance artist Ian Hinchliffe’s gruff Yorkshire accent.

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Sir Gideon Vein (Tony Green)

Ian Hinchliffe (right) with Tony/Sir Gideon Vein at T’others

I’m not having people thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt-lifter. Are you taping any of this? You’ve got it at the middle, really. I mean anyone will be thinking I’m a fookin’ shirt lifter. Such bad terminology and who really cares these days?… Not that I give a damn, you know, but…”

“Sadly missed,” I said. “Sadly missed. The first time I saw Ian Hinchliffe was at a club down in Oval around 1990 – I think you were running it. Malcolm Hardee and I went to it.”

“That was T’others at The Ship,” said Tony. “You and Malcolm came with his mother. I remember I got into an altercation with Malcolm and she said: Hit him, Malcolm! Hit him!

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm Hardee and mum

“He told her He don’t mean it, mum. I know him. It’s only a joke! and he said to me You didn’t mean that, what you said? and after that, I got on very well with Malcolm’s mother and I told her Mrs Hardee, you’re very well-spoken.

Yes, she told me, I don’t know how Malcolm came to get that accent. It was around the time his little eye started going off in the wrong direction.”

“I met someone,” I told Tony, “at the interment of Malcolm’s ashes. He had known Malcolm as a teenager and said he used to practise it in front of a mirror – the accent, the droop of the cigarette out of the mouth and everything, the whole character.”

“I once said to Malcolm,” Tony told me, “I don’t know how you get away with it. Your material’s crap. And he said It’s not a question of the material, is it? It’s not a question of talent. You don’t need talent, you don’t need material when you’re me. It’s charisma. When you’ve got as much charisma as what I’ve got, you don’t need nothing else.

“That’s sort of true,” I said. “Are you a Londoner?” I asked, trying the get the chat onto some course.

“Of course I am,” said Tony in mock outrage.

“I don’t know,” I said. “You could be from anywhere.”

“That,” replied Tony, “is what someone said to me the other day. Are you from the Colonies? How dare… God, sir… I’m a Londoner born and… (He started singing) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner…

“… from the 19th century, perhaps,” I said.

Kirk Douglas in The List of Adrian Messenger

Did Kirk sing Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger?

“Of course,” said Tony. “Well, I’ve been going a long time now. Remember Kirk Douglas singing Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner in The List of Adrian Messenger? He can’t do it with the authentic Cockney accent any more that I taught him in 1963. I was only a young man then.”

“You taught him an accent?” I asked.

“Of course I did!” said Tony in mock outrage. “His Cockney accent.”

“How did you meet him?” I asked.

“Well,” replied Tony, “I was only – what? – in my (he started laughing) in my sixties at the time. I look very good for my age, you gotta admit it does work. I can tell you the secret, John. It’s Oscar. There’s a picture in the attic. Hey!” he said, putting on a Kirk Douglas whine, “what’s that song you’re singing? and I said It’s a song. Buy us a few drinks, Kirk. Buy US a few drinks – there were ten of us in the company…”

“You just bumped into him?” I asked.

“You don’t believe this, do you?” asked Tony. He started laughing. “You’ll believe anything!… It was in the Cutty Sark and I thought it was going to get me into movies. All I got was half a pint. I never saw him again. He’s been using it ever since. Even now – how old is he? He’s nearly 100 now. He’s had two strokes. When he gets on TV, he still sings (Tony put on a Kirk Douglas whine) Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner… He’s forgotten to do the Cockney accent, but you can’t expect everything at 97. But I forgive him. I’m like that in my old age.”

“Someone,” I said, “was lamenting to me that they had not seen Sir Gideon Vein perform for ages.”

“I used to run a private little club off Mallow Street,” said Tony. “It was one of those places, John, where you got carte blanche to do as you like. I could put all of my favourite performers on there. People like Mr Hinchliffe and one or two other oddities.”

“You were one of the few people to put Mr Hinchliffe on,” I said.

“We did a gig some time ago at an arts centre,” said Tony. “Someone called Chris Brooke put us on and I said to Chris: Do you think it’s a good idea, Chris, really? You’ve just taken over this new job as programme devisor which, from what I understand it, is quite a good job. Do you think it’s a good idea for the first one to put on the likes of Hugh Metcalfe – the man who started The Klinker club – and Hinchliffe and me as compere? For the first one, that’s not a good idea.”

“Because?” I asked. “It’s great idea, surely?”

“Well, did he want to keep the job? But he was quite clever, because we kicked off and, after us, he put on the Mike Westbrook Band and you can’t go wrong with the Mike Westbrook Band. I saw Ian in the dressing room. On this occasion, they had had some particularly good canned beer – one of his favourites – on the train and he had over-indulged. Maybe about 15 pints. Anyway, he fell asleep on stage. His partner – they were both over 60, so you could hardly call her his girlfriend – went Wake up! Wake up! And, after about seven minutes of snoring on stage, he did wake up and he looked at the audience and said: What are you bastards doing in my bedroom?

“Quite a good line, actually. So funny, in fact, that someone who was running a mega performance art festival in Belfast decided to book him as one of the headline acts.”

… TONY GREEN’S MEMORIES ARE CONTINUED HERE …

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Do Germans have a sense of humour? Hitler is playing the Edinburgh Fringe.

I am organising Malcolm Hardee Week at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, in memory of the late, great godfather of British alternative comedy who drowned in 2005 – all proceeds go to the Mama Biashara charity run by Scotsman critic and Malcolm Hardee Awards judge Kate Copstick.

As part of Malcolm Hardee Week, on Friday 26th August, there will be a two-hour variety show to celebrate Malcolm’s memory which will include the announcement of the three annual Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

Previous Malcolm Hardee tribute shows have included Jo Brand, Jimmy Carr, Omid Djalili, Janey Godley, Hattie Hayridge, John Hegley, Richard Herring, Jools Holland, Phil Kay, Stewart Lee, Simon Munnery, Phil Nichol, Arthur Smith and Johnny Vegas.

We are not announcing who is on this year’s bill until nearer the time but the two comperes for the evening – you read it first here – will be cabaret legend Miss Behave – star of Olivier Award winning show La Clique – and the Third Reich’s favourite crooner Frank Sanazi – he is, according to The Scotsman, one of the “Top 20 Comedians to Catch” at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.

For those who have not experienced Frank Sanazi, he sings like Frank Sinatra but looks like Adolf Hitler. Classic songs on his album Mein Way on a Steinway include Third Reich and Strangers on My Flight (about the 9/11 attacks) – and let’s not even mention The Guy From Al-Quieda (featuring Osama Bing Crosby).

You might think one place it could be problematical for Frank Sanazi to play would be Germany, especially as there have long been legal problems impersonating or representing Hitler on stage… well, you tend to get arrested.

But Frank played three gigs in Berlin last year.

His opening words in Berlin were:

“Nice to be back…”

“The locals were a bit shocked at first,” he tells me, “but then I added I know what you’re thinking… This guy looks like Charlie Chaplin and, when they realised it was all parody, they really got into the swing of it. One man even asked if I would consider performing for his company’s annual office party… though he did later phone, embarrassed, to say that his company directors didn’t share his sense of humour.

“By and large, anyone who says Germans don’t have a sense of humour or irony is severely mistaken as I never encountered a single adverse reaction or comment.”

Surely not?

“Well, OK…” he admits, “I must admit that, at my first gig in Berlin, there were a few stunned elders who didn’t really know what to make of me. But they kept a dignified silence apart from one older German lady who had a noticeable sharp intake of breath when I appeared. But maybe she was asthmatic…”

“All three gigs in Berlin were really well received,” Frank tells me. “However, my run in a cabaret show in Munich this October has been cancelled. The promoter thinks the locals in Munich would not take kindly to reminders of their past. As an act of protest, I have arranged to do a show on top of The Brandenburg Gate in October…

“No, I haven’t really but – seriously – I am back in Berlin in early October.”

So is he looking forward to the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe?

“Heil yes,” he says and waves goodbye to me with a cheerily raised hand.

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I saw this comedian last night and I have no idea who he was… or if the act was good or just deeply odd

I am worried I am going to get even fatter and ultimately explode like Mr Creosote in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. I am also worried, having just re-read this blog entry, that I am turning into a mindless luvvie but without the glitz, glamour, class and cravat.

Yesterday I had lunch with Malcolm Hardee documentary director Jody VandenBurg and multi-talented multi-media writer Mark Kelly, who has that very rare thing: a genuinely very original TV idea. He was, at one time the stand-up comic Mr Nasty and he reminded me of one typical early Alternative Comedy incident in which comedy duo The Port Stanley Amateur Dramatic Society got banned from right-on vegetarian cabaret restaurant The Earth Exchange… for throwing ham sandwiches at the audience.

This was actually part of their normal act but proved far too non-PC an anarchic step for the militant non-carnivores at the Earth Exchange which was so small I’m surprised they actually had space to move their arms backwards to throw the offensive sandwiches.

Mark also remembered having his only serious falling-out with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Palladium comedy club after Malcolm put on stage a female fanny farting act who, at the time, might or might not have been a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend of local Goldsmiths College art student Damien Hirst. Mark felt the audience – and, indeed, Malcolm – might have been laughing at the performer rather than with the act.

Knowing Malcolm, I guess it might have been a bit of both.

(Note to US readers, “fanny” has a different meaning in British and American English.)

So, anyway I had a very nice ham omelette and banana split with Mark and Jody downstairs at The Stockpot in Old Compton Street, Soho, and then Irish comic/musician/vagabond Andrias de Staic arrived. I know him from his wonderful Edinburgh Fringe shows Around The World on 80 Quid and The Summer I Did the Leaving, but he is currently appearing until 2nd April in the Woody Guthrie musical Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End.

I swear that, the last time I met Aindrias – and it was only last year – he was 5ft 9ins tall. He confirmed this height to me. Yesterday he was 6ft 1in tall.

“It’s the theatrical work,” he told me. “It makes you stand straighter and taller.”

For a moment, I believed him. Then I realised it was rubbish. Then I started to wonder if it could be true.

Or perhaps I am shrinking. The uncertainty of life can be a constant worry.

After that, I went to the weekly Rudy’s Comedy Night gig at Rudy’s Revenge in High Holborn to see Miss D perform an interestingly different routine in which she gave advice on what to do and what not to do when having a heart attack – something she knows about, having had one in June 2009.

The gig was also notable because I saw for the first time the extremely funny and talented compere Katerina Vrana… and an extraordinary act by a man claiming to be an archaeologist about having a hawk on his arm. I missed his name. If you know, tell me, because it had the same effect on me as watching Anthony Newley’s Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? in a Kensington cinema one afternoon etched on my memory in 1969. Perhaps I mean the experience scarred me for life. When the movie finished, I sat there like a stunned halibut and thought What was that??!! and sat through it again to see what on earth I had been watching and whether I liked it. Except, of course, I didn’t have the opportunity to sit still and see this guy perform again last night.

He certainly had energy, that’s for sure.

As for Can Heironymus Merkin Ever Forget Mercy Humppe and Find True Happiness? – it is highly recommended, provided you know what you are letting yourself in for.

It is a bit like North Korea in that respect.

(POSTSCRIPT: Within 5 minutes of posting this, two people Facebooked me to say the ‘hawk’ comedian is Paul Duncan McGarrity. The wonders of 21st century communications leave me in perpetual awe; I should, perhaps, get out more.)

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A Hardee annual celebration: St Malcolm’s Day and the story of the penis in the flying frozen chicken

I thought I knew most things about the late “godfather of British alternative comedy” Malcolm Hardee, who drowned at the end of January 2005. We met around 1985, I wrote his autobiography for him in 1996 and, in his memory until 2017, I am organising (if that’s the word) the annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy.

But I didn’t know there has been an annual piss-up in South London every February since he died. Apparently, for the last five years, the first Monday in February has seen a celebration of Malcolm’s life

Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin tells me next Monday (7th February) is the day this year.

“That’s the day,” he writes, “that the Beckenham Tunnel Club and Up the Creek hecklers get together for what we call St. Malcolm’s Day. We had a memorial lunch to Malcolm on the first Monday in February 2005 as a way of getting over the loss of a comedy legend and we have been doing it ever since. We get together just to reminisce about the bizarre acts he put on and Malcolm’s own routines. So if you are passing the La Rascasse bar and restaurant in Beckenham High Street any time from 1.30pm through to late evening please feel free to join us.”

Alas, on Monday evening I’m going to the Fringe Report Awards at the Leicester Square Theatre, but I’ll certainly be popping in to Beckenham in the afternoon.

Bres also told me this anecdote about Malcolm. It was May 1997, it was Whitsun Bank Holiday Sunday and Bres’ birthday and what better way to celebrate, he thought, than a trip Malcolm’s Up the Creek comedy club in Greenwich…

“We took our usual seats in the first row by the stage,” Bres told me. “A double act came on for the Open Spot. Their act had something to do with a frozen chicken. They were obviously novices at this game and posh with it: you could sense the crowd smelled virgin blood and would up the heckle levels.

“What must have been a funny skit to their pals in a ski chalet in Verbier went down like Eddie Shit doing his Freddie Mercury impression. As the act disintegrated, the duo chucked their frozen chicken into the audience in disgust. Naturally, it was thrown back at them but it didn’t quite reach the stage. I’d never seen a live chicken fly through the air let alone a frozen one and it was bloody heavy. It landed on my table and I kept it warm and safe from further abuse. It was my birthday, after all.

“Later, Malcolm was bringing the evening to an end when, flush with birthday alcohol, I thought I should get on stage with the now de-frosting chicken. It seemed a good idea at the time, because my mate Adrian had somehow got on the panda and was playing his harmonica as a duo with Malcolm. So I got on stage with the frozen chicken and suggested that Malcolm should stick his knob in it.

“The, by now, very vocal audience thought this would be a great idea and, so as not to disappoint, Malcolm duly whipped out his knob and oversized bollocks and stuck the whole bundle in, giblet to giblet as it were.

“I’ve often wondered whether the double act seeing this happen incorporated it into their own act!”

So I will certainly be celebrating St Malcolm’s Day with Bres and his pals this Monday 7th February at La Rascasse, 59-63 Beckenham High Street, London BR3 1AW.

It starts at 1.30pm and goes on way through to late evening.

Gordon Breslin is at gobres@btinternet.com

From now on, I will be putting St Malcolm’s Day in my diary every year.

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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

“Fuck it… It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa… Not all over… Round the edge – fish.”

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

* * * * *

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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