Tag Archives: Gordon Breslin

The art and psychology of heckling comics and throwing objects at them

Malcolm Hardee – known for running notorious comedy clubs

Exactly 14 years ago tonight, comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock in the Rotherhithe peninsula, London.

He maintained his principles, even in death.

When his body was raised from the dock several days later, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

Malcolm was famed for spotting and helping talented comedians at the start of their careers. He was also known for running and hosting the Tunnel Palladium club night – a Sunday evening show with good professional acts but also an ‘open spot’ section so dangerous for new acts to perform in that aspiring comics would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to see if they could survive an audience known and feared for its razor-sharp heckling.

After the club was raided and closed by the police for drugs offences (NOT on one of Malcolm’s nights – he only did Sundays) he opened Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich where, initially, the hecklers continued their trade.

Here, I chat to one of the Tunnel’s most effective hecklers – Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin.


Gordon Breslin – a taste for heckling

JOHN: You got a taste for heckling at the Tunnel club…

BRES: Well, before that, me and a friend used to go to Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday afternoon and absorb some of the heckling of speakers that was going on. I remember heckling the Reverend Donald Soper on occasion, when he was preaching there. That’s where we cut out teeth.

JOHN: Did Lord Soper take it well?

BRES: He did indeed. He was a very nice gentleman. After that, though, we discovered the Tunnel club.

JOHN: You were regulars.

BRES: Yes. And the heckling was quite good fun. To start with, it was limited to the open mic spots.

JOHN: But all heckling is surely cruel and nasty.

BRES: Sometimes it is cruel and nasty but sometimes an act just needs to go if they’re not very good.

JOHN: But these poor, sensitive people have spent months refining their act…

BRES: Well, being heckled is how they know it needs more refining. If an act is really bad, something should be done apart from walking out. I think audiences have become too tolerant of bad acts these days. Back in the Tunnel days, it could be quite rude – “Get off! You’re shit!” This was 1984 to 1989.

But word got out about the heckling there and it got progressively more ermmm… ‘aggressive’ I guess is the word.

JOHN: Well, I guess throwing beer glasses at the acts is aggressive.

BRES: Yes, but people like Simon Munnery were cutting their teeth there and he didn’t mind a bit of heckling. There used to be a very good heckler at The Tunnel called The Pirate…

JOHN: I think Malcolm told me The Pirate was a stockbroker who retired early to Spain with lots of money.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

BRES: His great one was… A comic would make his best joke of the night and The Pirate’s voice would be heard saying “Oh larf… Oh larf… Oh larf,” which would just floor the comedian. Some of the heckling was very very funny.

JOHN: And the best heckles are…?

BRES: I think the art of the heckle is… A heckler wants to make a funny gag and make the audience laugh and perhaps even get the biggest laugh of the night and – not necessarily make the comic feel small, but – make the comic appreciate the heckler’s one one-liner as well.

JOHN: Surely it is just solely to make the comic feel small.

BRES: Well, in a way. But the comic has the right of reply, so he can make the heckler feel even smaller. A lot of people don’t want to sit in the front rows because they don’t want to be picked-on by the comic. Let’s get it into perspective. For me comedians, if they are any good, will always pick on the front row. So they have more than ample opportunity to get their retaliation in first.

JOHN: So heckling is the audience picking on the comedian, not the comedian picking on the audience.

BRES: Exactly. That’s the one. As long as it’s fair and just. At The Tunnel, some of the comedians would come on looking nervous and, before they’d even said a word, the first thing shouted out was: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then someone else would take up the cry: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then the whole audience would end up shouting “Maaallcolm!!!” and, before the comedian had even said a word, it was not unknown for the act to walk off without even doing a joke.

JOHN: And the audience would sometimes call out for a taxi…

BRES: Yes. “Cab for (the comedian’s name)!” Those were the regular heckles. But then it got a bit overtaken by… Well, a bit violent, I should say – Throwing things and it… it got… erm… too bad. There was an incident where Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton)… I think it was a beer crate or something like that was thrown at them – something quite chunky…

JOHN: Malcolm told me he wasn’t the compere that night. I think he was maybe at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Malcolm made a mistake in giving a copy of this letter to each member of the Tunnel club audience

BRES: I think she sustained a cut – Joy Pickles. So, the following week, there was a letter to the audience from Tunnel Arts – which was Malcolm – asking all members of the audience to “refrain from throwing anything at the stage… The Tunnel Club is noted for its witty heckling and appreciation of a good act. Let’s not spoil it by behaving as animals. It is coming to a point where a lot of good acts are thinking twice about performing here (quite rightly so) and this means that your enjoyment will be impaired.”

A copy of this letter was put on every seat in the Tunnel club and, of course, when Malcolm came on stage, he got bombarded by people throwing screwed-up letters and paper aeroplanes at him. So the letter became a surreal heckle.

JOHN: My memory is that, sometimes, they didn’t just throw beer glasses at the acts; they sometimes threw half-full glasses so there was beer all over the place too.

BRES: Well, it was probably quite watered-down beer. 

JOHN: The heckling-off of acts was quite effective.

BRES: Yes. Sometimes self-defeating. Sometimes you might have seven or eight acts and the show would be over in half an hour because everyone had been heckled off – sometimes even the good ones.

Jools Holland (left) with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel club in 1985 (Photo by Bill Alford)

JOHN: Malcolm told me that, after the trouble with Clarence & Joy Pickles, he had to make it a members-only club and he then discovered lots of the audience were not local. They were coming through the Blackwall Tunnel from north of the Thames and a lot were very highly-paid, highly-educated City workers, which was why the heckling was of such a high standard. I think someone was once heckled off in Latin and looked a bit surprised.

BRES: Yeah.

JOHN: What was your job at that point?

BRES: (LAUGHS) I was a Lloyds underwriter, working in the City.

JOHN: So basically it was up-market scum causing the problems.

BRES: Exactly. (LAUGHS) But I am from humble beginnings. I guess the Tunnel club had a timely demise and we were then a bit bereft of anywhere to go. We tried out Jongleurs club in Clapham, but the comedy was never great there and we weren’t allowed to heckle. We were physically told-off by bouncers. Luckily, Malcolm then set-up Up The Creek in Greenwich, which didn’t have the same notoriety as the Tunnel.

JOHN: I think the brothers who co-owned it with Malcolm told him after a few weeks that he couldn’t allow heckling and throwing things. Though I do remember some open spot act who got up on stage and started reading poetry. He was a bald man and you could see the blood trickling down his forehead after something was thrown and hit him.

BRES: I was there when Eddie Shit was performing. He came on dressed as Freddie Mercury and was singing songs by Queen with all the lyrics changed to refer to shit. I was sitting down the front and we were getting things passed to us from the back – including glass ashtrays – to throw at him. Which, obviously, we never did.

There was one occasion when an act which really was shit had been using a real frozen chicken and they ended up throwing this frozen chicken at the audience. The audience kept it then, slowly but surely, it made its way down the front. It came to me and I remember getting up on stage and offering it to Malcolm and I think I started up the chant “Shag the chicken! Shag the chicken!” which the whole audience took up.

So Malcolm got his knob out and duly obliged. 

That was quite amusing.

JOHN: Did you make friends with the other hecklers?

BRES: Yes. And some of the acts as well. It wasn’t all animosity. Simon Munnery, Martin Soan, Boothby Graffoe, Rich Hall. We would leave the good acts alone and they would leave us alone.

JOHN: Mostly, I thought the hecklers at Malcolm’s clubs were firm but fair.

BRES: I would like to think that.

JOHN: Part of the training process for new comedians. You don’t get much heckling nowadays.

BRES: The demise of heckling is down to the extra tolerance we have nowadays, even for bad acts. There are hidden boundaries these days. There’s too much respect for comics these days. Performers don’t know how to give a riposte and, as a heckler, you don’t want to show them up. It would just stump them.

JOHN: Isn’t that the point?

BRES: Not always. The next generation should learn what “Maaallcolm!!!” means.

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In a Vancouver hospital, odd events, movies and talk of aliens wearing bras

Here I sat after midnight, struggling with the transcription of two blogs – well, struggling with the first, which is delaying the second – when I got a series of emails from Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional correspondent. She lives in Vancouver.

They started and continued thus:


Anna, Ruggero and Daniel at St Paul’s A&E in Vancouver

I am in the waiting room of A&E at St Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver again.

I have been sitting beside two nice young men for two hours. They are both film students – one Italian, one Mexican. One of them had to get scans as he had an appendectomy two weeks ago and his innards were still settling so he is waiting for the scan results and getting blood tests.

It has been a very entertaining last several hours.

A and E is very busy. Though a window, I saw a catatonic Sikh man sitting on a chair, without a turban and his hair was a mess. Nearby, a hefty, good-looking drunk woman with bare legs sat howling angrily that she had been in every suburb of Vancouver in the last two days. 

“You DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT HAS HAPPENED to me!” she told people. “My boyfriend has LEFT me!”

The emergency waiting room is like a circus. The two students and I seem like we are the only ones not stoned or drunk.

One old man was amiably drinking beer after beer from cans. He announced he had some pot but not rolling papers. An old lady (who works as a safety officer on a building site) said she had papers, so they went out to smoke a joint and got stoned in the ambulance bay.

Meanwhile, a wiry little man with a grey Afro hairstyle went into the bathroom and, when he emerged, his pants were falling down. He ripped his shirt off and started roaring around the room stripping so they made him lie on a stretcher.

“Fuck Me!” he said in exasperation.

“Don’t talk to me like that!” a nurse told him.

“I wasn’t talking YOU,” he said angrily. “I was talking to MYSELF!”

I went for an MRI scan.The technician asked me to remove my bra and necklace. The necklace had a fiddly clasp and, because I was feeling shaky, I asked the young lady to undo it for me. 

She asked: “Do you want me to help take your bra off too?”

“God, no!” I said, “I’m a stripper. I can take my own bra off.”

Anna Smith – Nurse Annie – c1979

“When did you do the stripping?” she asked.

“I still do it,” I told her.

“Did you ever do anything else?” she asked.

I should have pretended to be surprised and asked: “What else is there?” but I didn’t.

Anyhow, when I got back to the waiting room, the students were still there, I told them about the bra question and they cracked up.

I told them my funniest stories. They told me their funniest stories too. One involved a friend in Mexico, who had mistaken a midget for a leprechaun.

We also spoke about film, art and the drug problem downtown. 

The Italian – Ruggero Romano – is directing a feature documentary film about homeless people on the downtown east side – it depicts the controversial dynamics of the financially poorest and emotionally richest postal code in North America – V6A – There is a teaser trailer online.

 
The Mexican – Daniel Federico del Castillo Hernández – was a painter before turning to film.

Daniel del Castillo’s lively painting of his family in acrylic

He showed me a lively painting he had made of his family, with each of his  relatives portrayed as a different animal – a dog, a cat, a horse, a deer, etc. We were having so much fun watching the goings on. Ruggero was busy taking notes. He has joined a writers group. He said: “We should come here more often….”

A cute, paranoid lady with a skateboard and a British accent sat nearby, chatting on her phone.

The beer drinking man started demanding that the television channel be changed. When no-one responded, he stood on a chair and groped around the TV unsuccessfully. A security guard then realised the TV-groper had been drinking and told him to put away his beer. He refused, so he was told: “You aren’t allowed to drink in the hospital!” and he was escorted out.

Eventually (after 6 hours) a doctor came to explain that Daniel’s scans were OK so he could leave. 

Alien Bra heads at the Isle of Wight (Photo by Gordon Breslin)

While waiting, I have found out that, in the UK, Ian Breslin and Mark Levermore of The Outbursts band were at the Isle of Wight Festival. Apparently they are still celebrating the release of Alien Bra, their latest album, which features a song about being abducted by aliens and forced to wear a bra.

Elsewhere, the World Health Organisation has declared that BDSM and Transvestism have been struck from the list of diseases. They did not mention anything about men who go out in the sun wearing alien heads (or alien bras), so I suppose that is still an illness.

I am still here, in acute care now, waiting for my CAT scan result.

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Walking the plank, ten years of comedy awards and cataract operations

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin’s annual get-together for former hecklers at the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. There was talk of legendary heckler The Pirate and questions about where he was now. I vaguely remember Malcolm telling me The Pirate had, in his ‘real’ life, been a City of London stockbroker and that, once he made his mint, he retired early and went to live in Spain.

I could be corrected.

Also at the get-together, I got chatting with that wondrous act Frank Sanazi (he sings like Frank Sinatra, looks like Adolf Hitler). He told me a prominent comedy critic had come up to him after a show and said: “You know, secretly, I like your act!”

SECRETLY?

He’s a comedy critic!! Why secretly??

Frank Sanazi – real name Pete – also told me a tale of chatting on the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub with Malcolm (who drowned a few feet away in 2005). Malcolm was lamenting the poor standard of some of the Open Spot acts who appeared there.

“What can I do?” he asked Pete. “They’re shit.”

“You could make the worst ones walk the plank,” Pete suggested jokily.

“That’s a thought!” Malcolm said, seriously.

When we met yesterday afternoon, Pete said that, as was often the case with Malcolm, he possibly took this idea too far by drowning.

With luck, though, Malcolm’s memory will be kept alive by the Malcolm Hardee Awards which I started in 2005 or 2007 (depending on how you calculate it).

Another reason for starting the Awards was that I realised they meant I could get free tickets for any comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe for at least ten years. (I know Malcolm would have approved of this scam.)

I decided in 2007 to get a decade’s worth of trophies made in advance in case I encountered some serious financial embarrassment in the future so the Malcolm Hardee Awards (unlike some other lesser awards at the Edinburgh Fringe which rely on sponsorship) will certainly be awarded until 2017.

Coincidentally, last night, I went to the annual Fringe Report Awards masterminded by the remarkable John Park. He announced on stage that next year – 2012 – after ten years – both Fringe Report and the Fringe Report Awards would stop. A great pity, as Fringe Report encourages theatrical talent on the way up (as the Malcolm Hardee Awards try to do with comedians) rather than awarding trophies to people who are already vastly successful.

Now, I am off to have what I hope is a routine follow-up check-up on my eyes.

Last year, I had two cataract operations.

I hope I’ll be seeing you soon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gordon Breslin is at gobres@btinternet.com

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

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