Tag Archives: bizarre

Odd UK comic acts: teddy bear torture and the man who ate his own brain

Comic investigator Liam Lonergan

Comic academic Liam Lonergan

Starting last week, I have posted three extracts from a chat I had with Liam Lonergan for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

This is final extract:

__________

John: In the 1980s you went to alternative comedy shows and got a stand-up bloke talking about Margaret Thatcher. You got a juggler. You got a man who came on and read awful poetry. And you got a man who came and set fire to his hair or something. Lots of variety.

Whereas now if you go to a comedy club it’s stand-up followed by stand-up followed by stand-up followed by a bigger stand-up.

Liam: Variety is sort of dead, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. So you’ve got, like, five people all basically doing the same thing and there actually isn’t any variety on the bill, whereas the original alternative comedy actually had variety. The last two years at the Edinburgh Fringe I thought the funniest acts were mostly listed in the Cabaret section.

The last two years – possibly three years – there’s been a Cabaret section separate from the Comedy section and I’ve seen quite a lot of the shows and a lot of the funnier shows have actually been the cabaret section shows and not the comedy section. In the Comedy section they’re either doing straight stand-up or they’re doing quite good storytelling or they’re doing “I’m a student being wild and wacky”. God help us! If you ever see the word ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ in a listing, avoid it like the plague.

Liam: That’s it. Toxic.

John: Whereas, in the Cabaret section, just weird things are going on. And very, very funny.

Liam: I didn’t know whether, within the dissertation articles I’m doing, to incorporate comedy revue and local theatre as well because there’s lots of that going on…

John: Small comedy clubs are closing and people are getting less interested in new comedy. You can see the big comedians with guaranteed quality in a big venue like the O2.

So why should you go to a small comedy club with acts you’ve never heard of? Acts who may be good but you’ve never heard of them so it’s a matter of luck. And, if you go to a comedy club, you’re going to get five or six people doing the same thing: stand-up. Whereas in the 1980s and early 1990s you got variety so you’d no idea what you were going to see. I mean, you would get Chris Lynam coming on and sticking a firework between his buttocks and they’d play No Business Like Showbusiness. Now THAT is entertainment.

There used to be an act who just came on and tortured teddy bears. There was a wheel of pain and the teddy bear got strapped to the wheel of pain and got tortured. Someone told me the guy is now a social worker in Tower Hamlets.

That’s what we want. That’s entertainment. Have you seen Hannibal? The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs?

Liam: The sequel to the film? Yes. Yes I have.

John: He eats someone else’s brain while the guy is still alive.

Liam: Oh, yeah.

John: There used to be a variety act in the 1980s or 1990s – someone told me he was a psychiatrist, I don’t know if he was – and he used to go round the comedy clubs with an act and the act was that he wore a fez and he had a spoon and he used to eat his own brain. He put the spoon inside the top of the fez and brought out grey stuff which he ate. And, as he ate different parts of his brain, different parts of his ability to communicate and to function disappeared. So he’d eat one part of his brain and he’d keep talking to the audience all the way through, then he starts twitching. So then he eats another bit and his speech starts to slur or the words get mixed up. It was simultaneously funny and very unsettling and scary because it like a flash forward to your own senility. You don’t get many of those type of acts anymore.

Liam: It’s a shame that’s dead because that’s the kind of stuff I’d… the audience reaction to that would be so mixed. It would be so…

John: You couldn’t altogether say it was funny but it was unsettling all the way through. It certainly wasn’t straight stand-up.

Liam: But that’s what I love. That’s what I…

John: Last year I sat through an entire evening of BBC3 comedy. There were four shows in a row. Not a titter. And I was sitting there thinking These people are sitting there trying to write a series of funny gag lines and that’s not really…

Liam: I think weird stuff can tap into humanity and the visceral reactions a lot more than the clever stuff.

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Filed under Comedy, UK

Is it still illegal to celebrate Christmas in England? + Eating sloths in Guatemala

Phoenix, Arizona, the perfect place to fry an egg

Phoenix, Arizona: a perfect place to fry an egg on the sidewalk

Yesterday I had lunch with someone who has just come back from Phoenix, Arizona.

“I read a while ago that it was the fastest-growing city in the US,” I told her, “but that it is a hell-hole and you can’t go outside comfortably because of the heat.”

“It was very hot,” she agreed. “They have a new law on the statute books which makes it illegal to fry eggs on the sidewalk any more.”

She swore this was true.

What fascinated me was the phrase “any more” and the fact that such a law might be necessary: that it had become so prevalent it was a problem.

In the 1980s, as far as I am aware, it was still illegal under the law of England and Wales for young adult males NOT to practice archery every Sunday (presumably in case the French invaded or the English monarch decided to invade France)… and it was illegal to celebrate Christmas (under an un-repealed Cromwellian law). As far as I know, it still is.

The mis-named English justice system is constantly fascinating.

Last week, I read in the London edition of Metro newspaper that Westminster Magistrates’ Court had given a 20-year-old man a £745 fine and imposed a curfew on him because he had been staying in a hotel and had “emerged from a cupboard naked, with a fire hose up his bottom”.

A fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

Fire hose with (it says here) a Finnish coupler

The 20-year-old man was said by his lawyer to be “truly ashamed of himself”. This sounds unlikely. He will presumably be bought free drinks by his friends for the next ten years.

The Metro report did not specify the exact law under which the man had been prosecuted. Can there really be a specific law prohibiting people being naked with a fire hose up their bottom?

Life is a constant mystery.

But one mystery has been cleared up.

Yesterday, I wrote that this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith had told me that her sister’s visit to Guatemala had resulted in three children and her (the sister) becoming an Anglican priest.

I wanted – I think not unreasonably – to know more details.

These have been forthcoming.

Anna tells me:

“Twenty five years ago, my sister met a cute Guatemalan refugee at Saigon Palace – a Vietnamese restaurant on Spadina Avenue in Toronto. They married and soon had three children. My Guatemalan in-laws were very happy when they found out I had been involved with British comedy – In particular, they were desperate to know if I had met ‘Benny Eel’.

“My new Guatemalan extended family also enjoyed visiting the Natural History Museum in Toronto. When we walked past the taxidermied displays of jungle animals, they said: Yummy Yummy… Remember when we ate that anteater in Rio Bravo?  and  Look – a sloth! Remember when Auntie cooked us some sloth stew?…

A sloth - highly regarded in Guatemala

A sloth – they are highly regarded by gourmets in Guatemala

“Then suddenly (well, after eight years at the UBC Theology School), my sister became an Anglican priest.

“She moved to a village high in the Guatemalan mountains. After years of being shot at during anti-mining demonstrations, she decided to return to Canada and has been installed in a church in New Westminster, close to where the recent Godzilla movie was filmed. She has recently completed a book about the evils of the Canadian mining industry in Guatemala and sat as a judge in some genocide trials.”

“Good heavens!” I said. “Genocide trials in Canada?”

“In Mexico City, I think,” replied Anna.”I will have to ask… She was a witness of a lot of exhumed bodies…”

Some answers just create more questions.

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Filed under Humor, Humour, Legal system

Several true inter-linked coincidences in Edinburgh, unbelievable if in a novel

Something fishy happening here?.. Just coincidence.

Normally the drive from London to Edinburgh takes me around seven to eight hours. Yesterday, we left at midday and it took me eleven hours – after two hold-ups caused by visible car crashes and five other very serious traffic jams. Eventually at Biggar, about 26 miles from Edinburgh via an up-and-down, windy road, we hit fog, which lasted all the way into Edinburgh. The only upside was that Edinburgh shapes look rather nice in foggy outline.

When we got to our rented place at the bottom of Morningside hill – the exact house address is 5a – there was no key waiting but, having sorted that out, we drove off at about 11.30pm in search of a pint of milk.

What I am saying here is that the exact timing of what happened was pure happenstance.

On the way to what I thought might be a 24-hour shop on Nicholson Street (it turned out it is only 24-hours during the Edinburgh Fringe), having changed the route I intended to take, my eternally-unnamed friend said excitedly: “There’s a fish and chip shop open over there!”

It was called The Codfather with a sub-title: Criminally Good Fish and Chips and proclaimed it was “100% Halal”.

Obviously, I could not resist.

While waiting for the fish, I saw a card for the shop lying on the counter. It said the street address of The Codfather is 5a. What a coincidence, I thought. We are staying at a 5a in Morningside.

Next to the Codfather card was a similarly-designed card for Assam’s restaurant in another part of Edinburgh, at the top of Leith Walk. On the back of the card for Assam’s in Edinburgh, were details of Assam’s in Glasgow.

In March, I blogged about going to a Burns Night Supper in Kiev (despite the fact Burns Night is in January). During that night in Kiev, I encountered a man who said he owned a new Edinburgh restaurant called Assam’s at the top of Leith Walk; he also owned a similarly-named restaurant in Glasgow.

I am up in Edinburgh for a meal tonight with Stuart McKenzie, the Scotsman who organised that Burns Night Supper in Kiev and who is Managing Director of the largest PR agency in the Ukraine. He is flying over for the meal. Last week, he decided to hold the meal in Assam’s at the top of Leith Walk.

“Oh,” I said to the man at the counter of The Codfather in Edinburgh last night. “Are you somehow related to Assam’s? I’m having dinner there tomorrow night.”

“Tell him,” the guy said, pointing to a man standing at the other end of the counter. “He’s the manager of Assam’s.”

“I’m having dinner there tomorrow night,” I repeated to the other guy.

“You have booked?” he asked me.

I nodded.

“Do you know a man called Stuart?” he asked.

“Stuart McKenzie?” I asked.

“Yes,” said the man at the other end of the counter.

“Amazing,” I said to the manager of Assam’s. “I didn’t meet you a Burn’s Night Supper in Kiev in March, did I?”

“No,” the owner of The Codfather interrupted, “that would have been my younger brother. He owns Assam’s. Was he with another guy, skinhead look?”

“Ah!” I said. “Yes. I remember. He was.”

“That’s his friend who owns some Subway food shop franchises,” the owner of The Codfather said.

And, indeed, I remembered having a conversation about that very subject with the guy in Kiev.

So, driving in the fog in Edinburgh, on a whim, to a non-existent 24-hour shop, we had stumbled on a fish and chip shop owned by the brother of the man whom I had a conversation with in Kiev in March – who, in turn, owns the restaurant in which, tonight, I am having a meal with Stuart McKenzie who has flown in from Kiev… and the manager of the restaurant was standing at the other end of the Codfather counter last night.

“If you have any complaints tomorrow…” the owner of the Codfather said to me.

“Yes?” I asked.

“That,” he said, pointing through the window, “is the chef at Assam’s.”

I looked.

A man standing on the pavement was staring in through the window at me. He looked surprised.

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Filed under Coincidence, Surreal

Yesterday a man stood in Leicester Square with a placard saying he had absolutely no message for the world

This man has no important message for you

(This was also published in the Huffington Post)

Yesterday, I was rushing to a meeting at 6.30pm just off Leicester Square, in London.

At 6.18pm (that exact time is on the sound recording on my iPhone) I saw a man standing in the North East corner of Leicester Square with a placard saying:

I HAVE NO MESSAGE. AND I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING. I JUST HAVEN’T GOT ANYTHING BETTER TO DO.

So, obviously, I went up to him.

“You’re a performance artist?” I asked.

“No.”

“An actor?”

“No.”

“So” I asked, “Why?”

“Why?” he asked me in reply. “Why not? It’s something to do. I haven’t got anything better to do. It’s on the placard.”

“So what did you do,” I asked him, “before you didn’t do anything?”

“That’s a bit of a mind-turning thing,” he replied. “It’s been like this for years. I haven’t had anything better to do than this for years.”

“Did you go to college?” I asked.

“I did, but that was years ago.”

“What was the subject?” I asked.

“History and politics,” he replied.

“Ah!” I laughed. “So, you’re a failed politician?”

“Failed.” he said. “Completely failed to be a politician.”

“You could get yourself exhibited at the Tate,” I suggested.

“Do you think so?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Like a Damien Hirst thing.”

“It’s an idea,” he agreed. “In the Tate? Just stand on the steps at the Tate?”

“Yeah,” I told him, realising he was thinking of the old Tate building. “In fact,” I said, “you should stand at the main entrance to Tate Modern – at the slope – and you might get a commission. You might get a commission to stand there for weeks on end.”

“Brilliant,” he said with little enthusiasm.

“Leicester Square is the wrong place for you,” I suggested. “This is the home of showbiz and Hollywood. But, if you go to Tate Modern, that’s the home of people who give lots of money for nothing. That’s your ideal market.”

“So that would be my attempt to advertise myself?” he asked.

“Is that too commercial?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I dunno. I probably need a seat or something. Do you think they’d give me a seat?”

“No,” I said, “you’re better to stand.”

“But it’s going to get knackering after standing for too long,” he said.

“But,” I explained, “if you’ve got a seat, it smacks of lack of cutting-edgeness.”

“You think so?” he asked me.

“I think so,” I told him.

“Basically, you’ve got the wrong market here,” I told him.

“You think so?” he asked.

“I think so,” I told him, “There was a story that Damien Hirst was on his way to see some people who wanted to commission him to create a work of art and he accidentally stood in some dog shit on the pavement outside the building and he went in and put the shoe with dog shit on it on the table and they were very impressed.”

“If there’s some dog shit, I could step in it,” he said trying, I think, to be helpful.

Message from the messenger with no message

“Nah,” I said. “That’s been done. This is original – what you’re doing here is very original and admirably meaningless. The important thing is it’s totally and utterly meaningless.”

“Of course it is,” he agreed. “Because that’s life for you. Life is totally and utterly meaningless.”

“How did you get the idea?” I asked.

“It just came to me one day,” he said, brightening up slightly. “It just came to me. I thought Why not? Why not do something completely pointless and meaningless?”

“How long ago was that?” I asked.

“About four years ago, I think,” he said, his enthusiasm dimming. “I’ve been doing this for four years.”

“Oh!” I said, surprised, “I’ve never seen you before…”

“I stopped doing it for years,” he explained. “I started four years ago, but then I didn’t bother for about two or three years.”

“Why?” I asked. “To create a demand?”

“No,” he explained. “I just stopped because I couldn’t be bothered.”

“Why not have a hat on the ground to collect money?” I asked. “Would that undermine the idea?”

“No,” he said. “I just haven’t got round to doing it.”

“What’s your name?” I asked.

“Phil.”

“Phil what?”

“Phil Klein.”

“Where are you from?” I asked.

“London.”

“And you live in London?”

“I live in London.”

“Can we take a picture?” four passing girls asked Phil.

“Yeah,” he said, without much interest.

“You have a market here,” I told him. “You should be charging for this.”

The girls took their pictures.

“It spreads the word,” said Phil. “It spreads the word.”

“What word?” I asked.

“I dunno,” Phil replied. “There is no word. But it’s spreading whatever is there to be spread in its own kind of way. So this is like… yeah…”

“Where do you live?” I asked. “What area?”

Hampstead,” Phil told me.

“Oh my God!” I laughed. “You’ve got too much money!”

“Not me,” Phil said. “My parents.”

“There’s Art somewhere here,” I mused. “Performance Art. What do your parents do? Are they something to do with Art?… Or maybe psychiatry?”

“They just earn money,” Phil said. “Doing stuff. Well, my dad earns money doing stuff.”

“How old are you?” I asked.

“Erm… Thirty… nine,” Phil replied.

“You sure?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“You were a bit uncertain,” I said.

“No,” said Phil, “I just felt… It was a bit of a question… thirty nine.”

“You must have done something,” I suggested. “In an office or something?”

“No,” he told me, “I’ve literally done nothing in my life. This is as exciting as it gets for me. This is as exciting a journey, an adventure as…”

A passing girl took a photograph of the large question mark on the back of Phil’s placard.

Seeing the back of the man in Leicester Square

“Thankyou,” she said.

“It works quite well,” he told me. “You see, I have a question mark on the back and a statement on the front.”

“It might be a bit too multi-media,” I suggested.

“You think so?” asked Phil. “Too…”

“Too pro-active, perhaps,” I said.

“You think it’s too active?” asked Phil.

“You need to be more passive,” I said.

“Right,” said Phil.

“Ooh!” I said looking at my watch. “I have to be in a meeting in two minutes!”

“You’ve got to go in two minutes,” Phil told me, with no intonation in his voice.

“Let’s hope the iPhone recorded that,” I said. “If it didn’t, I’ll be back again! Are you here at the same time tomorrow?”

“I could be,” said Phil.

When I came out of my meeting an hour later, Leicester Square was more crowded and Phil and his placard had gone, like a single wave in the sea.

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Performance, Surreal, Theatre

The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion, Theatre

Pull The Other One – crying with laughter at surreal, non-PC performance art – OK, it was WEIRD night

I try not to describe comedy shows in too much detail but…

I have seen some bizarre Pull The Other One last-Friday-of-the-month shows at Nunhead in Peckham, South East London, but last night’s must take the nutty biscuit.

It was the first of Pull The Other One’s new first-Friday-of-the-month shows at the Half Moon in nearby Herne Hill and the ghost of Andy Kaufman seemed to have been raised from his grave for the occasion.

It was performance art that would make Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde seem like a John Constable painting and Tracey Emin’s unmade bed seem like a perfectly normal idea.

And it wasn’t just the acts that were odd last night…

For the first third of the show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage.

Before the show started and for most of Part One (it was a three-part show), he fiddled obsessively with three flattish oblong white cardboard boxes which contained wooden-framed pictures of what appeared to be wood cuttings. He would take them out and put them back in, look at them and stand them on the table facing the rest of the audience and arrange and re-arrange them. He was very interested in them. And in the show. On which he occasionally commented. He was almost a performance artist in himself.

I thought maybe he was deaf and the MP3 player was a hearing aid – or maybe he was mentally retarded. Or maybe he was an act; even though I knew he wasn’t.

He must have been bemused or confused when, right at the very start of the show, compere-for-the-evening Vivienne Soan explained her husband Martin Soan was at home but then he appeared naked, behind her, with a brown paper bag over his head. She appeared not to notice him.

And then he must have then been further confused when compere-for-the-evening Vivienne Soan introduced compere-for-the-evening Charmian Hughes who did some topical material and a sand dance which the large man much appreciated and then compere-for-the-evening Charmian introduced compere-for-the-evening Holly Burn.

Holly Burn is a girl for whom the word “surreal” is a wild understatement; it would be like calling the one billion population of China “a man from the Orient”. She is billed on Pull The Other One’s flyers as “Bonkers But Brilliant” though, off-stage, she is only the third B in that billing.

On-stage is another matter.

She introduced the almost equally odd ‘magician’ Sam Fletcher (it was really a surrealist act), American comic Matt Baetz (the token stand-up on the bill) and then Holly (or perhaps by this time Vivienne Soan was compere-for-the-evening again) introduced two-minutes of vitriolic abuse shouted at the audience by The Obnoxious Man (played by Tony Green, of whom more in tomorrow’s blog)

This took us to the first interval of the evening, during which the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears decamped from his table, taking two of his three frames with him and wheeling a child’s scooter in front of him. I could see the woman sitting at the next table to him breathing an almost visible sigh of relief.

Part Two involved Holly Burn (or perhaps by this time Vivienne Soan was again compere-for-the-evening) introducing charismatic compere-for-the-evening Stephen Frost who introduced the amazingly sophisticated Earl Okin as “a sex goddess”.

Earl, even more so than normal, went down a storm with an audience primed by 40 minutes or so of surreal comedy and who now had unleashed on them his highly sophisticated crooning, jazz, satiric folk music and a version of Wheatus’ song I’m Just a Teenage Dirtbag, Baby sung as a bossa nova. The result, before my eyes, was a British comedy audience transformed into some kind of energetically-enthusiastic whooping American TV audience.

Boy, did they enjoy Earl Okin.

In the second interval, I went to the toilet and encountered the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears. It turned out he didn’t quite have a totally shaven head. He had a slogan which I could not quite read shaved in hair around the back of his head.

He was back in his place for Part Three at his table by the very front of the stage.

Now…

I have seen American comic Doctor Brown (not to be confused with Doc Brown) several times and, to be frank, his act can be a bit hit-and-miss. Well, it’s not so much an act. It’s more a let’s-go-on-stage and see-what-might-happen-with-the-audience performance. On the basis of last night, he should team up with the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears.

Doctor Brown’s schtick involves a certain nutty reticence to perform which, last night, meant a certain reluctance to come on stage at all and the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears took it upon himself to encourage Doctor Brown, whom he assumed was a genuinely shy performer.

“Come on, you can do it,” was one early comment. “Come on stage, man, you can do it.”

The good Doctor played to this and – rather bravely, I felt – decided to incorporate the gent in his act which eventually culminated in his – even more bravely – inviting the guy up onto the stage.

It turned out that the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard, a gold costume and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears, in fact, did not have an MP3 player plugged into his ears at all: it was a doctor’s stethoscope which he wore round his neck and, at his throat, he had a four-inch high bright white skull ornament. His below-the-knee gold costume was augmented by red hobnailed boots

Doctor Brown proceeded to auction off the doctor’s stethoscope and skull to the audience, though he actually stopped short of giving away the items. He also got perilously close to squeezing a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup over the guy’s shaven head or allowing the guy to squeeze it over his head. I have a terrible feeling he almost went through with this idea but pulled back from the unknown precipice at the last moment.

By this point, I was crying with laughter.

Non-PC?

Oh yes. And the whole audience was laughing. And the guy on stage with Doctor Brown. And the other comics more than anyone.

Trust me. You had to be there.

After the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard, a gold costume, red hobnailed boots and a doctor’s stethoscope left the stage, Doctor Brown turned to the audience and said simply:

“Does anyone have any questions?”

He then produced a robin redbreast bird (don’t ask) which he talked to, then unzipped the flies of his trousers and partially inserted the bird, head first. He turned his back on the audience and climaxed his show by being sucked-off by the robin redbreast.

The good Doctor then exited to much applause, having dropped the robin onto the stage.

Martin Soan then appeared on stage to retrieve the robin, to which he talked lovingly until Doctor Brown returned to demand the bird back. A vitriolic argument ensued about who had more rights to and more of a personal history with the robin, which ended with a rough tussle between the two men on the floor and Martin Soan somehow ending up naked on stage with a brown paper bag over his head.

We were back at the start of the evening, at which point Vivienne Soan rounded it all off by announcing future Pull The Other One shows at the Half Moon in Herne Hill will include John Hegley, Simon Munnery and the extremely surreal Andrew Bailey.

Andrew will have his work cut out to top last night’s bizarre shenanigans.

In tomorrow’s blog – what Tony Green told me at Pull The Other One about Andy Kaufman, another dead comic; and the tale of our visit to fetish club Torture Garden.

There is a Pull The Other One video HERE

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At the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe, two comedy debates, two bizarre live events and a two-hour variety show

Forgive me while I amiably meander in almost – but not quite – the same way as preparations for the Edinburgh Fringe meander – well, OK, they meander increasingly manically as the year progresses. Preparations for the annual August adrenaline fest normally start around December or January…

As background for what is coming, remember that, in the wonderful world of showbiz, TV shows always take precedence over live stage shows. One year, not so long ago, well after the Edinburgh Fringe Programme deadline had passed, comedian John Oliver was offered a regular spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart in the US so, quite rightly, he decamped Stateside. He had been due to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe in his show with Andy Zaltzman in the August and was billed in the printed Programme to appear but Andy successfully carried it off as a solo show. So it all turned out well.

Pity the poor Edinburgh Fringe staff at this time of year, though – indeed, pity them at any time of year.

The Fringe this year does not start until the first week in August, but the deadline for entry into the Fringe Programme was nine days ago and yesterday afternoon at 5.00pm was the final deadline for making changes to any of the entries. The Programme is published in June.

As we are talking of Fringe performers here, chaos must have reigned all over the UK yesterday. I got phone calls from two comedians changing their show titles and wording and asking me what I thought. One of those calls was from American comedian Lewis Schaffer who, last year, managed to incorrectly bill his 7.00pm show in the Programme as a 17.00 show. What can you expect from a nation that calls mathematics “math” instead of “maths”?

Lewis reckons that it is Europe’s fault for confusingly listing 5 o’clock as 17 o’clock.

Last year, however, he miraculously managed to get a second timeslot at 7.00pm for part of his Fringe run to compensate and did two shows a day and then, when he lost the venue for the extra slot, he waited outside the venue at the appropriate time, picked up people who thought he was performing inside and dragged them off like some latter-day Pied Piper for a performance outside in another street.

Lewis is a New York Jew and he did those performance in a street opposite the main Edinburgh Mosque. I think he claimed to me at the time that this location was coincidental (and it was never referred to in his show) but I have never been too sure, as he is that rare thing: an American with a hyper-active sense of irony.

Anyway, this year it was me who had to change one show I’m putting on.

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy have been around since 2005 and, in varying ways, there have been stage shows since then in London or Edinburgh.

This year, there is going to be a two-hour Awards show – well, maybe ten minutes of actually awarding Awards in the middle of a two-hour comedy variety show – at the Edinburgh Fringe on Friday 26th August.

Until yesterday, it was going to be preceded by four nights of comedy debates – chaired by me on the Monday/Tuesday and by Kate Copstick, doyenne of Fringe comedy critics, on the Wednesday/Thursday.

At the last minute, though, a TV show to which Kate was already committed switched its recording days so she now has to be in London on the Wednesday/Thursday (and possibly also the Tuesday). She can’t do her two Malcolm Hardee Debate shows and can’t switch her two dates with mine.

So, at the last minute yesterday, I changed the Wednesday/Thursday show and its venue (don’t ask about the venue change – private grief).

Now, in the final full week of the Fringe, 22nd-26th August 2011, there will be Malcolm Hardee debates on the Monday/Tuesday evenings at The Hive, a bizarre event which I have always wanted to stage on the Wednesday/Thursday evenings in the Grassmarket and a two-hour Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards show on Friday night at The Counting House.

Alright, it means bugger all to you and I didn’t say what the bizarre event is.

But to me, this blog posting counts as a promotional pre-launch. You insert in people’s brains the vague idea that something is happening in the future, then say nothing about it for a while and then plug it increasingly nearer the time.

You have been warned.

More will follow.

Eventually.

Unless it all changes.

We are talking, here, after all, about the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kate Copstick should be appearing in the Malcolm Hardee Debate on Monday 22nd August. But who knows?

Any profits from the debates and from the two-hour Malcolm Hardee Awards show on Friday 26th August will certainly go to her Mama Biashara charity.

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