Tag Archives: Gilded Balloon

How comedian Malcolm Hardee lost his virginity & then got stabbed in the back

Malcolm Hardee (left) at Christmas

Blessed Malcolm Hardee (left) in his early life

Yesterday’s blog was about the stage show which celebrated the death – ten years ago – of comedian Malcolm Hardee.

Well, ‘celebrated’ might not be the right word. But you know what I mean.

In debonair comedy critic Bruce Dessau’s review of the show, he called me Malcolm Hardee’s “enigmatic biographer”.

I enjoyed this description so much I may use it in publicity for something-or-other. Though I have no idea what. I may bung it on my increasingly prestigious website. Self-publicity was something Malcolm Hardee specialised in.

Anyway, I was not Malcolm’s biographer. It was his autobiography I wrote – in his own words and with his own title – I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake.

The amazon.co.uk description of the book still erroneously and surreally reads: “For successful classroom teaching, your students need to be engaged and active learners. In this book, there is practical advice that is grounded in the realities of teaching in today’s classrooms on how to be an inspirational teacher and produce highly motivated students.” 

This may explain why the book is out of print now. But I might re-publish it at some point. Perhaps I may crowdfund it. To quote one of Malcolm’s occasional questions: “Anyone want to lend me a tenner? Only for half an hour. I’ll give it back.”

Sometimes the unwary would give him a tenner.

In this extract from I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake, Malcolm tells the tale of when he lost his virginity. He was always losing things. He lost a music tape of mine once. I glowered at him. He was a sensitive man who got unsettled whenever people glowered at him. Which was not infrequent. At these points, he used to blink a lot.

Here is Malcolm in his own words:


I Stole Freddie Mercy’sBirthday Cake

Patron sinner of alternative comedy

My first proper girlfriend was Pamela Crew. I lost my virginity on my sixteenth birthday. So did she, though it wasn’t her sixteenth birthday. Then we got engaged but it was a very up and down relationship. I bought a ring and then we had a row on a 94 bus about something. I didn’t used to have rows, but she did. She threw the ring back at me and I later lost it. She never believed me – she thought I sold it – but I didn’t.

I was engaged from 16 right through to about 20 and I was completely faithful to her. We were almost exactly the same age. She was a nice girl. She went to Prendergast, which was the sister school to Colfes.

After we had been together about six months or a year, we learnt to exploit her father’s regular habits. He was a builder. He was the nearest South East London could get to Alf Garnett, a very disappointed man because he wanted a boy and Pamela was one of four daughters. His routine was that he’d do his day’s building, then, at 8.00pm, go round to the Summerfield Arms pub at the end of their street and every night he’d come home at 11.15pm and go to bed. So I used to go and visit Pamela Crew when he was out and sometimes we’d have sex in the front room when her mother and all her younger sisters had gone to bed.

This one night, her father came back at 10.50pm and looked in. I was lying on top of Pam on the floor in front of the fire, banging away. He shut the door behind him and she went out and talked to him. She was in tears and he said to me:

“You’ve made your own bed, now you can lie on it!”

I didn’t like to point out that we didn’t actually use a bed.

Her mother always had a bit of a soft spot for me, but her father just thought I was completely mad and alien. I went round there once on a white horse which I got from Mottingham Riding Stables. I thought This will impress Pamela and her dad answered the door.

“Hello,” I said. “Is Pam in?”

He said: “Bugger off, you silly fucker.”

And that was that.

For some reason, I took the horse up to Blackheath and just left it tethered to a tree. There was a  piece in The South East London Mercury later that week, headed THE MYSTERY OF THE WHITE HORSE.

I once got Pam on the front cover of the local paper as ‘Miss June’. It was in the days before feminism, so she was sitting in the swimming baths with her tits half-hanging out. That impressed her. The fact that I’d contacted the press.

When I left school, after taking my ‘O’ Levels in 1966, my first job was at a thriving advertising agency called Saward Baker at 79 New Cavendish Street in the West End. I started working as a messenger, as people did in those days, thinking you were going to progress up the line and become Mr Big at the top. I definitely wanted to be in advertising. It was a ‘glamorous’ profession. We all wanted to be copywriters or advertising executives. I was the bee’s knees, working in the West End: Malc the Mod, earning my living. My first weekly wage packet held £7-6s-8d (£7.33p in today’s money).

I worked at the ad agency with a bloke called Rod Stewart – but not Rod Stewart the singer. Like me, he was a messenger and a Mod and he had his own motor scooter. We once got stopped by the police going back to where he lived in Pratts Bottom, near Orpington in Kent. The policeman asked him his name.

“Rod Stewart,” he said.

“Oh yeah?” said the copper. “Where do you live?”

“Pratts Bottom.”

We almost got arrested on the spot.

One hot summer day, we went over to Regents Park for the lunch hour. I had a platonic friend called Diane Ainsley who was going out with a bloke called Ray Mitchell. So he came over to the park as well. We were just lying on the grass, I turned over on my front to get a bit of suntan and he threw a knife in my back. It probably went about half an inch into me and stuck there.

I was a bit shocked. He just did it with no emotion or anything. He didn’t say anything and I didn’t ask why he’d done it because it was known he was a bit mad. He must have taken the knife back and he went away. It didn’t hurt. When I got back to work, they all asked what had happened, because there was lots of blood coming out. My shirt was covered in blood. The first aid kit was out and someone stuck a plaster on it.

Another time, I was travelling with Ray Mitchell on a tube train. I was just sitting there, he got up and, for no reason at all, tried to deliver a karate kick right into the middle of my face. It narrowly missed and he sat down again. Never said anything. He just went like that occasionally. He lived in Blackheath and he was probably the first violent psychopath I had met.

He wasn’t a friend of mine. Just someone who was about.

About to stab me. About to kick me.


There is much more of that sort of stuff in Malcolm’s autobiography. He did not lead a dull life.

This year, as normal, the annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards will be presented in his honour at the Edinburgh Fringe, during a two-hour variety show on Friday 28th August.

Currently on YouTube, there is a ten-minute tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue:

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At the Edinburgh Fringe – How NOT to publicise a show & get your nose licked

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

Malcolm Hardee Awards, awaiting collection in Edinburgh

Yesterday I drove up from London to Edinburgh – an eight hour drive not helped by a performer phoning me at 9.34am, 9.59am, 10.32am and 10.36am to suggest himself for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award. The previous night, he had sent three identical e-mails suggesting himself. Not three separate e-mails… The same e-mail three times with gaps between. Not a mistake.

This does not signal Talent to me. It signals Trouble and I can do without the comic version of Play Misty For Me.

At the Gilded Balloon’s launch party, I was interested to see the Big Four venues have changed the cover of their brochure since their London launch – or, at least, provided an alternative.

The original Big Four cover (left) and the revised one

The original Big Four brochure cover (left) & the revised one

For a couple of years, they had printed a brochure under the banner Edinburgh Comedy Festival which got them terrible criticism because it was said they were trying to con punters into believing their shows were ALL the comedy shows at the Fringe.

I never understood the criticism. All the venues and all the agencies who print their own brochures to complement the main Fringe Programme have, at various times, in various ways tried to make their brochure seem to be the only one punters needed. It seemed to me to be perfectly reasonable self-marketing and the hoo-hah against the Big Four’s Edinburgh Comedy Festival appeared to be (I was told) stoked up by another venue which had been keen to be in the brochure but had been turned down.

So I was impressed to see at the London launch of the brochure a cover declaring it was the EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE brochure. It sort of masqueraded as the main Fringe Programme rather than just the comedy shows.

Now THIS is the sort of launch party I like

Now THIS is the sort of launch party I like…

Now I can only imagine the Big Four have backed-off and changed the cover.

A pity.

More jollity was to be had at the new Freestival launch party, sponsored by the La Favorita pizza chain. Not only were there slices of pizza on offer amid the champagne, but there were stacks of fairy cakes. Now THAT is my sort of festival launch.

The downside was a wanton attack on my shirt by very talented but obviously sartorially tasteless comedians Alexander Bennett and Paco Erhard.

Standing on my left side, Alexander texted to Paco who was standing on my right side (this is the 21st century):

John’s shirt – a brave choice.

Men of dubious taste: Alexander Bennett (left) & Paco Erhard

Men of dubious taste: Alexander Bennett (left) & Paco Erhard

Paco texted back to Alexander:

Oh great! Made me look! It looks like a lava lamp to me now.

These two excellent but foolhardy performers are not quite up to the level of some bloke sending me the same e-mail three times and phoning me four times in one hour, but they are risking the wrath of my increasingly prestigious blog.

It was a relief to be dragged across the street for a meal with Juliette Burton and her musical director Frankie Lowe.

“Nice shirt,” they both said with I thought a tiny trace of sarcasm.

Juliette told me she had four reviewers in the audience for her first Look At Me show – always a good sign there’s a buzz about a show even if it is nerve-wracking for the performer.

If there were prizes for shirts in Edinburgh, I feel I could be a contender

If there were prizes for most tasteful shirts in Edinburgh, I feel I could be a strong contender

I said I went “across the street for a meal with Juliette Burton and her musical director Frankie Lowe”. In fact, I did not have a meal with them. I watched them eat. At the end of their apparently very tasty meal, it turned out that Empire’s restaurant does not take credit cards or debit cards.

In a sign of how technology is affecting us – or just our own individual bank balances – it turned out neither Juliette nor Frankie… nor I… had the required £22 in cash in our pockets. Not even combining our resources. So I paid with a cheque (to be reimbursed to me by them later in cash or in fairy cakes).

Frankie said he had not seen anyone use a chequebook since the 1990s.

This made me feel out-of-date. I do try to keep up with the kids in the hood. I listen to the wireless on my computer and use the interweb and wear trainers.

Juliette Burton braves the tongue of Bob Slayer

Juliette Burton braved the tongue of Bob Slayer last night

Round the corner from the restaurant, we bumped into Bob Slayer outside his new venue Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop.

He licked Juliette’s nose.

He licked Frankie’s nose.

I escaped his tongue.

I felt relieved.

I went back to my rented flat.

It is frighteningly clean.

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Chasing pussy at Edinburgh Fringe + Lewis Schaffer develops terminal cancer

Lewis Schaffer (left) , Lach and Phil Kay last night

Lewis Schaffer (left in white), Lach and Phil Kay last night

It was 01.40am this morning, when I left Bob Slayer’s first Midnight Mayhem show which has no structure and simply has performers and members of the (if they want to) paying public doing pretty much whatever comes into Bob Slayer’s head – a risky concept at the end of the day, given Bob’s proclivity for drink.

Frank Sanazi croons “It’s Auschwitz" last night

Frank Sanazi crooned about Auschwitz craft

The show was still going strong with Phil Kay just about to start his second musical set.

Earlier, Frank Sanazi had performed one song to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s Witchcraft which he told us he now no longer sings in public (because of too many complaints) – Auschwitzcraft. And Lewis Schaffer had refused to perform his legendary three-part Holocaust joke.

A punter called Sally said it was her third visit to the Fringe over the years and she and her man had seen three shows at the major venues over the course of the day, two of which she said were “shit”. She asked what were the requirements for performing on the Fringe.

Kate Copstick, there to review Midnight Mayhem for the Scotsman newspaper, told Sally that it was a free-access festival and if you paid (one particular major venue) £5,000 up-front, then that was your qualification for performing.

Midnight Mayhem was happening in Bob’s Bookshop which, as a Pay What You Want show within the Free Festival within the overall Edinburgh Fringe, is in a rather different league but it was one which Sally seemed to say was what she had thought she was going to experience when she came to the Fringe for the first time. The earlier shows had not been this anarchic.

Andy Zapp - the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

Andy Zapp – the current man in my bed at Edinburgh Fringe

My day had started oddly, having breakfast with Lewis Schaffer at midday. Also at the meal – well it was a snack, really – were Ivor Dembina and the man currently sleeping in my bed, Andy Zapp. (I should point out I am sleeping in the living room next door.)

“What’s your best advice to young new comedians?” Ivor Dembina asked Andy.

“It’s good to make money while you’re still shit,” replied Andy.

Lewis Schaffer told us that his Fringe show next year would be called Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer and would contain details of his battle with a life-threatening form of cancer.

“What sort of cancer?” I asked.

“I haven’t decided yet,” he replied. All Lewis Schaffer knows so far is that his show will have to be life-affirming and he says he feels he has to establish the title Lewis Schaffer Has Cancer early, in case someone else uses it.

In a press release later in the day, he wrote:

I have never had cancer, nor do I have cancer, but I hope someday to have cancer. Cancer worked for comic greats Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks and Tig Notaro – why shouldn’t it work for me? My apologies to everyone who has cancer and everyone who hasn’t had cancer.

Has anyone seen Kitler? Lost in Edinburgh.

Anyone seen Kitler? Allegedly lost by F.Sanazi

At around the same time I received this press release, Frank Sanazi phoned me up with news that he was sticking up posters all over Edinburgh about the tragic loss of his pet cat Kitler. The feline was not, as far as he knew, dead but (he claimed) had gone missing in action on Thursday.

He told me he would give me more information if I came to see his show Frank Sanazi’s Das Vegas Night II (which I had already arranged to do.)

Yesterday was a day I had chosen to see shows by other acts I already knew. For example, I saw two shows by previous winners of the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

Johnny Sorrow (left) in The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

Johnny Sorrow (left) – Bob Blackman Appreciation Society

The first was Johnny Sorrow, appearing as 50% of the Bob Blackman Appreciation Society. I laughed out loud throughout, something I rarely do. The Bob Blackman Appreciation Society Bonanza show included tap-dancing fleas and ‘the man with no act’ and – suitably for a show steeped in showbiz nostalgia and kitsch – it also included the soundtrack of an ITV trailer of the type I used to make for 20 years.

After the show, I chatted briefly with increasingly prestigious award-winning Johnny Sorrow and he told me:

“A couple of weeks ago in Stockport, Bob Blackman’s grand-daughter Abbie came to see our show. She lives in Macclesfield.”

“Poor woman,” I said. “How did she hear about you?”

“She saw us our name on the internet and thought What the hell’s this? and got in contact with us.”

Bob Blackman used to appear on TV hitting his head with a metal tray to the tune Mule Train. It was a memorable act, now sadly and unjustly forgotten by most subsequent generations of thrill-seekers.

“We found out where Bob Blackman actually started the act,” Johnny Sorrow told me yesterday. “It was at the Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs in London. At first, he used to do the act just by hitting the tray on his knees but then, one day, the Watermans Arms was so packed the tray couldn’t be seen, so he started hitting himself on the head with the metal tray and his fame just took off. His son Raymond told me that. You know you can get plaques put up on walls where cult comedians did famous things? We want a plaque up for Bob Blackman.”

The Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The rousing Rubberbandits at the Gilded Balloon yesterday

The second Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winning act I saw yesterday was Ireland’s Rubberbandits, regaling a packed Gilded Balloon venue with their greatest hits including Spastic Hawk and Up The RA (including the appearance on stage of two balaklava-wearing fake IRA members).

I rather enjoyed the particularly bad taste of their Spoiling Ivan,

The Gilded Balloon seems to be on a roll this year. Earlier, I had seen two other shows by top-notch acts.

Janey Godley was untagged in Edinburgh yesterday

Janey Godley happily ungagged in Edinburgh

My chum Janey Godley has returned for two weeks only to the Edinburgh Fringe – after a break of a couple of years – with a stonkingly good show Janey Godley Is Ungagged mostly about social media.

But it also has one of the most interesting anti-police stories I have heard and Janey’s barnstorming performance occasionally teetered on the edge of successful rabble-rousing.

When she said she was thinking of standing as an MP (I think she was joking – although the late Margaret Thatcher once suggested Janey should enter politics) she was loudly cheered and, by the end, she was telling the audience to be ungagged and to realise words are just words and had them chanting along with her Cunt! Cunt! Cunt! which – as everyone knows – is a term of endearment in Glasgow.

Ashley Storrie with mother Janey at the Gilded yesterday

Ashley Storrie and mother Janey Godley at the Gilded Balloon

As always, Janey did the whole show unscripted and, for these particular Edinburgh shows, she is preceded by a 15-minute warm-up performed by her daughter Ashley Storrie.

I had never seen Ashley perform stand-up before. She got 4-star reviews at the Fringe when she performed as a 13-year-old in 1999, but lost interest in it shortly after that. A couple of years ago, she performed at the Fringe with sketch show Alchemy but, this year, she started doing pure stand-up again. I talked to her about it in January.

On-stage, she has her mother’s self-confidence and audience-controlling charm. Astonishing.

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette Burton in her first grown-up solo show

As is Juliette Burton’s show When I Grow Up, also at the Gilded Balloon.

“I was walking round today flyering people,” Juliette told me after the show, “and I remembered the first time I came up to the Fringe in 2005, just as a punter. Back then, I was really, really jealous of all the performers and now I am one.”

“Which is what your show’s about,” I said. “realising dreams. Though the one thing you do not say in your show is that, as a kid, you wanted to be a comedian when you grew up.”

Juliette Burton gets a dream Fringe pass

Juliette gets her dream performer’s pass

“Not a stand-up comedian,” replied Juliette. “And that’s not what I am now. Why does comedy have to be stand-up? Why do you have to necessarily adhere to one specific form of comedy to be considered a comic performer? If you’re billed as a comedian, everyone assumes you’re going to do stand-up.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “I saw Janey Godley earlier this evening and she’s called a comedian, but she’s really not a traditional comedian – she’s a brilliant storyteller who gets laughs.”

“I don’t see,” continued Juliette, “why comedy has to be set-up/punchline/gag. Why can’t comedy take different forms? Mine is very mainstream storytelling, but it would not fit in the theatre section of the Fringe Programme: it would be too comedic. On the other hand, it’s not stand-up comedy.”

“The videos are very funny,” I said. “I normally don’t like videos plonked into live shows to attract TV producers. But your videos and recorded interviews are a seamless part of the live show.”

“I guess,” said Juliette, “that it’s poking fun at some of the social boundaries that we’ve enforced upon ourselves in ways that – I don’t want to give away what’s in the show, but I like to do things that might seem absurd and crazy and like a nutcase, but actually the real crazy thing is not to enjoy what you’re doing with your life.”

“I suppose,” I said, “that your enthusiastic presenting style says to the audience that it’s a showbiz, comedic piece, but it’s not actually..”

Juliette foregrounded by either arms or legs

Juliette (right) sings at rockfest T In the Park

“How can you define comedy?” Juliette interrupted. “I’m very honest on stage. In a way, a stand-up comedian’s routine is more dishonest than what I’m saying. Several people have told me in the last couple of days that they are tiring of stand-up because it’s so predictable. They actually want something a bit different, something to surprise them.

“Stand-up – however shocking it might be – swearing and taboo subjects – is no longer pushing any boundaries. So maybe redefining what a comedy show is might be the next boundary to push.”

“I cried at one point in your show,” I said. “Not from laughter. From sadness. Despite the fact I had seen the show before and knew what was coming. It has shades and the audience don’t see what’s coming. Sometimes comedy is best when you laugh AND cry”

Juliette’s pop promo for her song Dreamers (When I Grow Up) – recorded specially for her show – can be seen on YouTube and the song can bought online. All money made during the Fringe will be donated to Children In Need.

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At the Edinburgh Fringe, it is perfectly normal for women to wear nothing below the waist: it is cucumber season

Steve Ullathorne, photographer to the stars, outside the Gilded Balloon yesterday

Steve Ullathorne (right), photographer to the stars, doorstepped outside the Gilded Balloon yesterday

I arrived at the Edinburgh Fringe yesterday to find it unchanged.

Going into the Gilded Balloon venue press party, I passed a young man who was wailing: “I just got wine on my phone! I just got wine on my phone!”

Inside the Gilded Balloon, comedian Maureen Younger, who was going in to see Janey Godley’s show Janey Godley Is Ungagged, told me people keep coming up to her in the street because they mistake her for either Janey Godley or Karen Dunbar – both of whom have Scots accents – despite the fact Maureen looks nothing like either and has an English accent.

Maureen Younger yesterday - or is it Janey Godley?

Maureen Younger – or is it Janey Godley?

On the other hand, Maureen’s own show The Outsider is about how she became the only London-Scottish, Austrian-accented German-speaking, black lesbian on the UK comedy circuit, despite being white, straight and British.

At the Gilded Balloon party, I also bumped into New York comic Laura Levites, still jet-lagged, who told me she had finished re-writing her show Selfhelpless eight minutes before her first performance yesterday, which turned out to be a good idea, as Kate Copstick (the Fringe’s most influential critic) came in to see that show.

Apparently Copstick liked it.

“What’s it about?” I asked Laura.

Laura Levites does not like puppet pigs

Laura Levites does not like puppet pigs at all

“What’s it always about?” she asked.

I can do no better than quote the blurb.

Life is shit. Drugs, shrinks, denial and the higher power of eBay haven’t helped. It took Laura three hours to get a new diagnosis – judge her in 60 minutes. ‘A straight-talking New Yorker with an upfront attitude’ (Scotsman). ‘Levites is both lovable and crazy’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com). If life were a cab it would first refuse to take her home and then hit her … wait … it just did! Laura almost let a creepy ex-neighbour photograph her in chains for this show. ‘Nuff said. Her dog needs vaginal rejuvenation. Lord knows what Laura needs.

What she did not need at the Gilded Balloon party yesterday was a rather scary pink pig puppet on the end of a man’s arm come up and try to sell his show to her while she was drinking.

Leaving by the pedestrian underpass outside the Pleasance Dome venue, I heard someone say: “He’s daubing graffiti with an invisible paintbrush,” and, indeed, a man was doing just that, while talking loudly to himself about the fact that the bees are being killed off by “them”.

But even I can be occasionally slightly surprised at the Fringe.

Adrienne Truscott and her one-woman bottomless show

Adrienne Truscott’s one-woman bottomless show

I have seen some topless comedy shows, but American performer Adrienne Truscott’s show is the first time I have seen a female comic’s show performed bottomless.

Her show was an eye-opener in that I now know the projected faces of several pop stars look even weirder with a lady’s pubic hair added to their chin. Her show is called  Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! 

As someone said to me afterwards, it seems perfectly normal, at the Edinburgh Fringe, for a performer to wear nothing below the waist.

Bob’s Bookshop bar - where everything costs £3

Bob Slayer’s new Bookshop bar – with Cat the lovely manager

The show took place in Bob’s Bookshop – a new venue run by comic Bob Slayer which unsurprisingly (for those who know Bob) has a public bar selling beers and sundry other drinks.

Before and after Adrienne’s show, I was chatting to comedian Ian Cognito. He was wearing a hat. He said he had a song about the late Malcolm Hardee. I invited him to perform it at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe. He said Yes.

The last time I saw Ian Cognito was when he, Jenny Eclair and I shared a funeral car at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral at Greenwich in 2005 – an event that was ‘reviewed’ by the Daily Telegraph with the words “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford at Bob’s Bookshop last night

Ian Cognito and Pam Ford (holding up the wall) last night

Last night, Cognito told comic Pam Ford and me a very funny series of stories about his own dad’s funeral and what happened to the ashes afterwards.

Alas, I don’t think I can repeat them, because I was harassing Cognito that he should do death stories as an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2014.

“You would make it funny, sad and odd,” I told him. “You should call it Four Funerals and a Funeral.”

He did not seem persuaded, but you never know.

When I got back to my Edinburgh flat, zonked, an e-mail was waiting for me from Alexander Frackleton, a Scot living in the Czech Republic, occasionally mentioned in this blog.

He told me: “Please gonnae no’ refer to me as an ex-pat. I hate ex-pats and avoid them like the plague cos they are always complaining about how things are not like Britain, America, Canada, Australia etc. And I’m not a comedian – and don’t want to be. Ye know that. I’m a Scots Poet in exile. Don’t look at me like that, yer a writer, ye can work with that idea.”

His real reason for writing, though was to tell me that a report he had spotted in yesterday’s Daily Mail online was not a wind-up.

“It is true,” he told me, “cos it was reported here in the Czech Republic a few days ago.”

Pastafarianism lives! - in the Czech Republic at least...

Pastafarianism lives! – in the jolly Czech Republic at least…

The report was about a Czech man who claims his religion forces him to wear a sieve on his head. He says his religion is ‘Pastafarianism’ and the authorities have now given him permission to wear a sieve on his head on his official Czech ID card picture.

Perhaps it is NOT just Edinburgh which is eccentric.

“Do ye know what the Czechs call the ‘silly season’?” Alex asked me. “They call it the cucumber season.”

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Juliette Burton on what it’s like to sing at Scotland’s T in The Park rock festival

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Comedy performer turned rock chick Juliette

Comedy performer turned rock chick Juliette

The annual T in The Park is Scotland’s equivalent of the Glastonbury music festival.

This year, the acts included Snoop Dogg, Paloma Faith, Killers, Mumford & Sons, The Proclaimers, Dizzee Rascal, Stereophonics, Travis and comedy performer Juliette Burton, who is staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe titled When I Grow Up.

In it, she recounts how, this year, she tried to be all the things she dreamt of being when she was a child – including a baker, an artist, a Muppet and a pop star.

Performing yesterday at T in The Park was her “research” for being a rock star. She sang one song – Dreamers (When I Grow Up) – which is on sale for charity now and online as a music video later this week.

“What was it like yesterday?” I asked her.

“Unusually,” she told me, “there was no rain. But it got so dusty I am still sneezing dried mud out of my nose. I thought I had got a tan but when I had a shower this morning I realised it was just dust.”

“I’ve been to Glastonbury a few times,” I said, “but never to T in The Park. It’s much the same I imagine?”

Juliette about to go on stage

Juliette about to go on stage

“Well,” said Juliette, “there were the obligatory sightings of men and women peeing in public. That was expected. But there was an unusual fashion I hadn’t realised existed where young women wear hot pants cut so high that their bottoms hang out. I played ‘spot the arse’ which was a fun game. Sometimes it wasn’t bare cheeks I spotted but arses of a different kind – young men. I learned a lot about how to spot people on different types of recreational drugs.

“Then there were the tanked-up teens who decided to play volleyball in the middle of the crowd dressed as Monty Python-esque characters. There were some other excellent costumes around: the panto horse, the superheroes, the men dressed as bananas and a guy with a hoodie that just said CUNT on it. I was not sure whether he was advertising it or wanted to find some or he just wanted to let people know he was one.”

“So it was a different audience to the normal comedy show audience you’re used to?” I asked.

“Yes,” agreed Juliette. “Normally my audience keep their shirts on. There are usually far fewer nipples on display at a comedy show.”

“Were you more nervous?” I asked.

“I was trying to cope with the nerves by not thinking about it until it happened,” replied Juliette. “Which is a great coping strategy… until it happens. Before going on stage I was more of a bundle of nerves than I’ve been in a long while. I felt physically sick. I was worried I’d not be able to pogo in the shoes I’d chosen, worried I’d forget the words and worried about being bottled by the crowd.”

“So it was much scarier?” I asked.

Juliette on screen and on stage yesterday

Juliette on screen and (tiny on the right) on stage yesterday

“Terrifying,” said Juliette. “My comedy isn’t stand-up exactly – and stand-up is terrifying for much the same reason as T in the Park was terrifying – the crowd. But a comedy crowd – especially during the Edinburgh Fringe – comes to see a show because they love comedy. They want to watch a show you’ve put your heart and soul into creating.

“The crowd at yesterday’s T in the Park gig was not there to appreciate the fact I wrote a pop song to realise my childhood dream of being a pop star. They were there for the beer. They were mainly men, already pissed and enjoying themselves.

“I’ve never taken drugs – because I’ve already had a psychosis and nowadays I like to get my highs from laughter. So some of the young men may have also been on something else. It was a music a music festival after all. I don’t know about that. But I do know they were loud and a little aggressive. And they just wanted more beer.

“Even the compere of the show said they were the toughest crowd they’d ever had and the crowd was terrifying because they weren’t listening. So seeing that crowd before I went on was absolutely the scariest thing. I mean, what if they bottled me? Or chucked pints of pee at me?”

“So how did it go?” I asked.

Juliette fending off marriage proposals yesterday

Juliette had to fend off marriage proposals from front row

“Actually,” said Juliette, “it was frickin’ awesome. I owe a lot of that to the amazing comperes – Ben and Rufus. They introduced me in a way that meant the crowd (even that crowd) would warm to me – We want you to go crazy for this lady. Imagine she’s Rhianna and Beyoncé’s love child! – and they said they’d give free beer to my biggest fans…

“So, with that sort of introduction and bribery, I was lucky. Some of those guys, though, took the biggest fan thing really seriously. I got proposed to mid-song by two of the guys in the front row.

“I was told by the lovely team backstage that another thing in my favour was the fact most of the guys in the audience were ‘laaaaaads’ who, when they see a woman, just revert to Animal mode. And that’s Animal from The Muppets. They just end up shouting WOMAN! WOMAN! in their minds. The fact I wore a sparkly dress also meant they were distracted by something shiny.

“So lots of different tactics meant I didn’t get bottled. If they had been preparing pints of warm liquid excreted from their bodies especially for me, they kept them reserved for another band later on – maybe The Killers or David Guetta… I hope it was the latter because The Killers were fantastic.”

“And afterwards,” I asked, “you felt what?”

Not everyone in the audience was a lad

It looks like not everyone in the audience yesterday was a lad

“I imagine,” replied Juliette, “that will be how it is for the first performance of my actual show at the Fringe in the Gilded Balloon – terror and then fun. That’s why performing is amazing – it’s real life. A mix of the best and the worst. Maybe the preview reviewers might get their nipples out too… I don’t know.

“After the show yesterday I was so high – on life, not whatever those guys in the front row had been taking. I wanted to do it all again. I don’t know… Maybe I will get the chance again one day.

Juliette foregrounded by either arms or legs

Juliette foregrounded by either arms or legs

“Emotionally, my inner tweenager was overjoyed – I’d just realised a childhood ambition. All those days I had dreamed of singing a song to adoring fans, wearing a cool dress; all those days I had fantasised about it in my bedroom at home and drew little pictures of myself performing on stage – putting those pictures in a little homemade magazine inspired by such intellectual publications as Bliss magazine – I was NOT a cool little girl.

“And then finally, yesterday, I had realised that little uncool girl’s dream. It felt brilliant. But not as good as I imagine the first show at the Fringe will feel – That has been fewer years gestating but I think I care about it in the long term far more.”

“How does yesterday fit into your Fringe show?” I asked.

Juliette is torn between Gonzo and Jimmy Carr

Juliette wants to recreate T in the Park orgasm

“The pop star section is at the end of the show,” explained Juliette, “and there will be proof of all that I’ve done in all this mad research on video and in photo form throughout the show on a Powerpoint. I don’t want to give too much away, but the pop star bit is a big climax of the show. Much like the orgasm I had walking off stage at T in the Park yesterday. It’s meant to be euphoric, life-affirming and uplifting.

“What did you think when you woke up this morning?” I asked.

Did that really happen?” said Juliette. “Followed, right now as I’m talking to you, by thinking: Seriously – anything can happen. We can make anything happen if we want it to – and if we work hard enough for it.

“Did you video yesterday’s performance for YouTube?

“Yes, some kind fellow performers filmed it for me. And I did a little introduction to camera afterwards to explain it. I’ll be editing that in the next day or two and get it online. And, if I can do a plug…”

“Yes you can,” I said.

The downloadable Dreamers song

Downloadable Dreamers from iTunes, Spotify & Amazon

“Anyone can buy the song I performed yesterday from iTunes, Spotify and Amazon – Just search for Dreamers (When I Grow Up).

“All the money raised until the end of the Fringe is going to Children in Need.

“As is all the money raised from auctioning off the When I Grow Up Dreambook – which is being signed by all kinds of exciting people – already including Janey Godley, Robin Ince, Stewart Lee and more. They’re all writing in it what they wanted to be as a child and what they do now. It will be on eBay during or just after the Fringe.”

“And when is the pop video you shot for the song – which I blogged about – going online?”

“Hopefully later this week.”

“So,” I asked, “what you have learned from all this is…?”

“That I think the Fringe might actually be a more restful time than this past week,” laughed Juliette. “And it would be a terrible waste of a life if we didn’t do something we at least enjoy, right?”

YOU CAN SEE A VIDEO OF JULIETTE’S PERFORMANCE HERE:

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The poor Vietnamese woman, the Gilded Balloon & the millionaire Iranian

Yesterday evening, American comedian Lewis Schaffer (who, like all other self-obsessed comedians, likes to be name-dropped at every opportunity and to get a link) sent me a text message about my blog:

It’s amazing you can keep on doing it every day.

Well, I can tell him and you it ain’t always easy.

Yesterday, I moved a friend’s sofa from Essex to Greenwich and was helping clean up a house. Not a good subject for blogging.

So, this morning, I looked through my e-diary for what had happened around this date in previous years. These extracts are the results:

1989

In Hanoi, my local guide tells me:

“This is still a Socialist country – like Russia, da.”

He keeps absent-mindedly saying “da” instead of “yes”.

A fat woman in a rickshaw in Hanoi, 1989

Fat woman of money in rickshaw in Hanoi, Vietnam, 1989

I think I now eventually have the economics worked out.

Beggars ask local people for money but they don’t ask me. They assume I am a Russian, because I am a white-skinned foreigner.

The Vietnamese have no time for Russians because they (a) don’t smile and (b) have no money. No-one wants roubles, only dollars and, even if they did want roubles, the Russians don’t have spare cash.

The problem with using travellers cheques here is the US economic embargo on Vietnam – US companies are banned from trading with the Vietnamese. (This does not stop the North Koreans accepting cheques, though – they deal with American Express via Moscow.) My Hanoi guide tells me credit cards here are “many many years” away because there are very few computers in Vietnam.

When we pass the very flash Hanoi Opera House, he tells me it was intended for the people, but only the very rich can afford it. This implies there is a group of very rich (as opposed to just very privileged) people.

At lunchtime, I took a walk and met Hanoi’s equivalent of a bag lady in ragged-sleeved jacket, the bottom half of her face entirely red. Her face was like a robin redbreast. Brown top half. Red bottom half. I think she must have been knocking-back some particularly brutal local equivalent of meths. She muttered (and probably cursed) at me a bit, then staggered away.

'Hanoi Hilton' no longer taking foreign guests in 1989

The ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison – not taking foreign ‘guests’ in 1989

My local guide asked me if he could use the shower in my hotel room. Perhaps it is a perk of the job – a glamorous Russian shower. He told me he lives on his own in a Tourist Office room with no cooking facilities – presumably he can always eat in hotels……I think he agreed when I asked about this last bit.

I was writing a postcard on the balcony of my hotel when bits of brick started falling on me: they are building a new storey above me. I had to go to two separate buildings to send the postcard. One to buy a stamp and another to hand it in for sending. There was a power cut halfway through this process.

I had dinner tonight with the two Hong Kong Brits I met in Da Nang – plus a couple of Canadians. When he was in Da Nang, the Canadian bloke told me he had had a T-shirt printed saying in Vietnamese I AM NOT A RUSSIAN.

He lives in an apartment in Calgary with a one-metre long iguana which, he says, craps in a sandbox behind the television set. He feeds it on cat food and says it can sense when he is about to go away because it pines and goes off its food. The iguana has its own dead tree – “well, it’s dead now,” the Canadian said – in the apartment, so it can climb occasionally. It normally sleeps on its own heated pad although once the Canadian found it curled inside his pillowcase. The only problem is it likes to climb up the Canadian’s leg and has sharp claws.

In the same apartment block, a neighbour keeps a pet boa constrictor.

I must remember to avoid Calgary.

2000

A taxi driver told me that lap dancers at Stringfellows nightclub in St Martin’s Lane pay £200 per night to work there, then make the money back by commission on drinks bought by punters and tips from punters. Competition among the girls is cut-throat… not surprisingly, given that they have to make £1,000 in a five-day week just to break even.

2001

I went round to an interesting Iranian woman’s home. She is thinking of writing her autobiography… but will probably not.

“I am not rich,” she tells me. “If I get £100,000, I spend £25,000 here and £25,000 there. It soon goes.”

She has what appears to be a part-time Kosovar maid, pale, white skinned, hook nose, melancholic hang-dog expression, cavernous eyes with black lines in the skin underneath as if on drugs.

Also there was a Kosovar translator from Pristina.

The Iranian has a British and (as of two years ago) an Iranian passport. She is thinking of publishing her autobiography when her son is 21 because he will be “more able to take things” then. He is now 16. Her family is related to the former Prime Minister of Iran assassinated by Khomeini’s agents in  Paris. Her grandmother was a Mossadeq – as in the Mossadeq who was overthrown by the CIA to install the last two Shahs of Iran.

She lived in Dubai with first husband. She once had to go to China to buy a plane – she knew the Chinese general who was selling it.

If it gets around that she is writing about her life, she says, there will be panic calls from Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Saudi offering her millions not to publish. She has lots of dirt on the Saudi royal family.

A former Swedish boyfriend found oil in Texas and she spent one year in LA after her son was born (by her second husband). She has stories of the Playboy Mansion and Hugh Hefner’s parties.

“I always went for the wrong men,” she told me.

Once, she says, she lost £5 million in a London casino.

She has a tiny and very amiable shih tzu dog which came from the US. She flew with it to Paris, then drove to the UK, hiding the dog under her armpit to avoid the six-month quarantine restrictions aimed at stopping rabies.

2002

I heard a radio report that a big fire in Cowgate, Edinburgh, had destroyed the Gilded Balloon venue last night. I phoned comedian Malcolm Hardee, who phoned his Edinburgh friend Maurice The Fireman. When Malcolm phoned him, Maurice was still fighting the fire.

The bestselling hardback version of Janey's book

The bestselling hardback version of Janey Godley’s autobiography

2003

Comedian Janey Godley is writing her autobiography. I have a terrible cold. My advice to her today was:

DON’T DON’T DO NOT GO BACK AND RE-WRITE THAT BIT. YOU CAN SORT IT OUT IN THE NEXT VERSION YOU WRITE. KEEP GOING EVER FORWARD LIKE THE SNOT DOWN MY NOSE. 

But just remember I am either a man living in New Zealand who has never seen the building you are writing about nor heard your life story… Or I am a housewife in Gloucester reading the book in bed at night before she goes to sleep. And, frankly, the way I feel I would prefer to be a housewife in Gloucester. Lead me to the sex-change shop. Bring on the Rabbi with the meat-cleaver.

I will read tonight’s (I’m sure excellent) piece tomorrow. If I live. Which seems unlikely. I don’t so much shiver as wobble around the waist and shoulders while an invisible Grimm giant takes an axe to my throat. Childbirth? Pah! NOTHING compared to the suffering of men with slight chills.

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Malcolm Hardee, godfather of British alternative comedy – remembered

It was seven years ago today that ‘godfather of British alternative comedy’ Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe. His body was found and recovered on 2nd February 2005.

When it happened, I put a page online where people could leave memories of him.

Comedian Charlie Chuck wrote:

I met Malcolm and played Up The Creek in 1990. A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. I said to Malcolm: “Whats up with him?” He said: “It’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamar, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some.

Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him. I didn’t have a clue. He put me on a TV show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at The Creek on 15th November. Meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. I didn’t listen and played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby, instead.

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

The last time I worked with Malcolm, from me picking him up, he talked about religion and Jesus Christ. I often wandered why. He had never mentioned it before.

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

His memory will live on.

Comedian Jeremy Hardy wrote:

Malcolm, you helped and encouraged me when I started. At the time, I think I took it for granted. I’m not sure I ever thanked you. We lost touch over the years, partly because I tried to avoid getting involved in things which would involve you owing me money. I’m sad now that I hadn’t seen you for so long. You once introduced me at the Tunnel club as your little brother and people believed you. I think you only meant it as a joke but, in retrospect, I’ll take it as a compliment if you don’t mind.

Alan Davies wrote:

My memories of Malcolm….

The Tunnel club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: “You’re not going to wear that shirt are you?”. He introduced me. “Stone him!” they shouted. “Crucify him!” Before I could do my first line someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said Directors. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off. At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground. Malcolm said: “I’ll book you”, which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way”, he said,”It’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread even though it’s a Courage pub”.

The following month, I did a full spot and, soon after, the pub was raided and it was over. Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot, but The Tunnel was special. The hardest gig. If you went well, they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in. “Mmmm”…. louder and louder…. Malcolm would hurry from the back bar…. “mmmm…MALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler – Rex Boyd – who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back. “Oh no!” said Malcolm. “I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff”. The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation.

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs,including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me. There were stories all the way there and all the way back. He was the one-off’s one-off.

Comedian Jeff Green wrote:

I remember many times backstage at Glastonbury – bringing me on to nothing! And playing trivia machines at Up The Creek. I remember you pretending to faint in the Gilded Balloon at Edinburgh – to see how many people would come to your aid. I remember spending an afternoon rowing boats on a trip to a gig in Bungay And all those times I don’t remember ever hugging you and telling you what a great bloke you are. And I regret that.

Journalist Andrew Billen wrote:

I met Malcolm a few times and interviewed him once for the Observer, but did not know him. I just think he was the funniest stand-up, possibly the funniest man, I have ever seen.

PR man Mark Borkowski wrote:

I first met Malcolm in a bar in Edinburgh in the 1980s. He had a profound influence on me. Malcolm was a legend and a true Gandalf of the dark alchemy of the publicity stunt. One of my last conversations with him was when David Blaine was doing his stunt in London, sitting in a glass box dangling from a crane. Malcolm rang me up to ask if I could help him organise the media and a crane because he’d got one of his mates in Deptford to knock up a glass box and he was going to put his up right next to Blaine and sit in it for the same amount of time… stark naked. When I told him he’d never get away with it, he decided to settle for standing underneath Blaine throwing chips at him. As anyone who ever saw him perform will know – he had balls.

Comedian Simon Munnery wrote:

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel club. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. Says one: “It’s been a good night.” Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out, it’s going to be a great night.”

Backstage at the Gilded Balloon in Edinburgh one night, a bunch of comics were sitting round and Malcolm was seemingly out for the count, slumped in a chair, so we began discussing his autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake which had just come out. Someone said: “Do you think any of it was exaggerated at all?” and we laughed because, knowing Malcolm, that wasn’t beyond the bounds of possibility. Then Malcolm sits bolt upright and mumbles: “Uh uh – It worked for George Orwell”, then collapsed back into a stupor and the assembled comics spent the next twenty minutes filling in the gaps… “Road to Wigan Pier – he only got as far as Watford”…. ?

Simon Day of The Fast Show wrote:

I was supporting Vic Reeves in Newcastle. We were staying at the Copthorne Hotel. Malcolm arrived having missed the show. Earlier in the day, he had won eight grand (true) and had a girl with him he was attempting to mount. He was half-cut and mistakenly assumed I had gone to my room with a girl he had seen me talking to earlier. He decided it would be highly amusing to inch along the balcony from his room and expose himself to me and the girl, who didn’t exist, wearing just a dressing gown.

He climbed out of the window, the icy waters of the Tyne swirling 100 foot below. He struggled along for ages finally reaching my room; no doubt he shouted “Oy! Oy!” and pressed his balls to the glass. It was the wrong room. I was fast asleep on the floor above. On returning to his junior suite, he was hurled to the ground by two Special Branch officers. (There was a Tory Conference on.) They wanted to know what the fuck he was doing on the window ledge, naked except for a dressing gown.

They searched his room and found £5,760 in a vase on top of the wardrobe and a pack of pornographic playing cards. He was taken to a portakabin nearby where he gave his address in Fingal Street. All sorts of alarms went off. It was the former home of a leading member of the IRA. After intensive questioning, they decided that he was not a threat to national security only social security and off he tottered. I miss him.

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all, he was the king of comedy.

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