Comedy trio The Greatest Show On Legs are playing five shows in five cities in five days in Switzerland this week. This morning, Martin Soan set off by train, laden down with props for the shows. The other two GSOL members – Steve Bowditch and Richard Ryszynski aka Dickie Richards – flew by plane. It is the best way to fly.
The late legendary comic Malcolm Hardee used to be a member of the Greatest Show On Legs. He was famous or infamous for many things as a comic, club-owner, compere and anarchic character. One was the fact that he had around six jokes which he lived on for around 20 years. Another was a set of catchphrases, most or all of them picked up from other people.
If a member of the audience left to go to the toilet during one of his shows, Malcolm would say to the audience: When he comes back… let’s all hide.
“I did that first,” laughed Martin Soan yesterday, “out of desperation and I didn’t realise it was funny until Malcolm said it. I said it at a gig The Greatest Show On Legs were doing. I can remember the stage but I can’t remember where it was, but something fucked-up. I was on-stage introducing a sketch and I think the tape machine or something fucked-up, so I was left on stage and had to fill and some guy just got up and walked off and I said: Let’s all hide before he gets back.
“I don’t know if I even got a laugh that night, but Malcolm took it on in later shows and he got laughs from it.”
One of Malcolm’s opening lines when he played a new venue (or sometimes even if he had played it lots of times) was to say:
“In show business, there’s a saying that you play (enter name of venue) twice in your career. Once on the way up. Once on the way down. (PAUSE) It’s good to be back…”
Before he left for Switzerland, Martin Soan told me Malcolm had nicked this line from comedian Ian MacPherson.
“It was Ian MacPherson’s gag and Malcolm had seen him do it,” Martin told me. “So Malcolm then goes out and does it and Ian MacPherson found out somehow. Ian MacPherson was actually really cool about it. But he rings up Malcolm and says: Hey! MaaaIcolm… heard you did one of my gags…
“So Malcolm goes: Oh, err, well oy-oy, I.. err… I… ugh… the… I…erm… the… ugh… I… oy-oy
“And Ian MacPherson is really cool about it but he says: I want £400 for it.
“And Malcolm sent him £400 for the gag – or £200 or whatever it was. I dunno how much. But that story is the truth. And Ian MacPherson – of course – was gobsmacked.
“He’d been down to Malcolm’s club the week before and Malcolm had told him he would get paid £150 and only gave him £100 on the night. The sort of thing Malcolm usually did.
“But Malcolm paid Ian MacPherson for the gag… obviously because it was a great gag and he wanted to keep doing it forever.
“At Malcolm’s funeral, I opened the doors with the coffin behind me and I bellowed into the empty church: They say you play St Alfege’s twice in your career. Once on the way up. And once on the way down. It’s good to be back!… and then the whole procession came in and the audience filled the church.”
THERE IS MORE ABOUT THE ORIGIN OF THIS JOKE – INCLUDING IAN MACPHERSON’S VERSION OF WHAT HAPPENED – IN A BRITISH COMEDY GUIDE ARTICLE.