Tag Archives: Gideon Vein

The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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Several reasons why people with a love of the bizarre should visit Vancouver…

Anna Smith in her Vancouver hospital

Anna Smith reports from Vancouver on wide cultural matters

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith tells me that there is an enormous amount of construction in Vancouver at the moment: over a hundred tower cranes rear up on the skyline.  She tells me a team representing fifty construction firms flew to Ireland last month recruiting workers. In Vancouver’s local Irish newspaper, full page ads are running:

DO YOU KNOW BUILDERS BACK HOME? CALL US NOW.

This is Anna’s latest despatch from Canada:

_______________________________________________________

Well-stacked shelves at Vancouver's Library

Well-stacked shelves in Vancouver’s Library

The building which used to house the main branch of Vancouver Public Library has evolved into an enormous Victoria’s Secret store and is bursting with brassieres, panties and corsets. The cornerstone, however, remains intact – So it now appears as if the Lieutenant Governor (the representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Canada) presided over the dedication of a lingerie supermarket.

The design of the new main branch of the library is based on the Colosseum in Rome and has got rid of most of its books, although a small volume of John Hegley poems survives. Most of the books have been replaced with computers which are being used without interruption by coffee-swilling, mentally-ill and homeless people who have given up hope of finding affordable housing and are engaged in other research.

Several other local buildings have recently been converted into churches. I have no idea why churches are getting popular here, unless it is something to do with so many used bookstores going bankrupt and the proximity of the United States.

The Hollywood Movie Theater on Broadway, once famous for art house and second run movies, has become a church.

Across the street from the ex-Vancouver Public Library – now Victoria’s Secret – building, the enormous Center for the Performing Arts is now home to an evangelical church. It used to stage elaborate Chinese Action Musicals.

Chinese Action Musicals

Chinese Action Musicals’ home is now an evangelical church

I only know the term ‘Chinese Action Musicals’ from the posters round here. It appears that they are a form invented by writer/director Dennis Law – a retired vascular surgeon turned theatre impresario.

He is Chinese but lives in Denver USA and has produced ten action musicals. They are said to be a combination of Kung Fu, martial arts, acrobatics, acoustic and lavish scenic wonders, erotic scenes, dance and music… and a non verbal performance spectacle of otherworldly beauty with virtuoso body movement skills.

Mr Law is the survivor of a messy divorce (he found his godson naked in his bedroom closet) and says Chinese humour and dialogue does not translate well for international audiences. His most recent productions include The Terracotta Warriors (two-thirds dance and one-third martial arts) and Tang Concubines (not sure of the percentages on that one),

Half Burns Night, half Chinese New Year - in Vancouver

Event half Burns Night, half Chinese New Year

Another impresario you might be interested in is a man called Toddish McWong, who has been holding an annual Scottish Chinese fusion cultural event here for several years under the title GUNG HAGGIS FAT CHOY. It combines Robbie Burns Night with Chinese New Year.

I have never been, but will try to go this January so I can report to you about it.

At the moment, I am taking photos of buildings in Vancouver for some mysterious architect I have never met. All I initially knew was that his name is Edward, he likes shoes and lives in Toronto. The story has now expanded to involve lady lawyers, a yacht, vipers, a cocktail party and a person who is something like that Peter Sellars character in Being There

Meanwhile, my smart phone has a problem in the form of Pope Francis.

My new screensaver is a picture of the Pope, arm outstretched, performing a blessing.

I did not ask for this, it just happened somehow.

OK, he is from Argentina and I do prefer Jesuits, if I have to have a preference.

I am glad that he says Who are we to judge? and that he said the drownings in Italy are an atrocity.

But I am not a Catholic and I don’t know how the Pope got onto my phone. It might have come from the BBC and is probably the result of the phone being jostled in my handbag shortly after reading the news.

'Sir Gideon Vein’ (copyright photograph by Anna Smith)

‘Sir Gideon Vein’ wore cravats back then (Photograph copyright of Anna Smith)

The only similar quasi-spiritual event that comes to mind from my past would be one occasion in London when performer Ian Hinchliffe appeared at the door of our flat at ten in the morning. He was half-cut as usual and was accompanied by a quiet, bewildered but ordinary-looking young man whom he introduced as The Benefactor. Ian pronounced this (being from Yorkshire) as Tut Benefactor.

Ian and Tut Benefactor paced restlessly while Sir Gideon Vein adjusted his cravat and then they  all headed off for a day at the horse races at Epsom, financed by Tut Benefactor.

Do you ever have occasion to visit Brussels? There are a couple of buildings that I need photographed there. If you know anyone who lives or works there or is passing through, let me know.

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Filed under Architecture, Canada, Humor, Humour, Surreal, Theatre