Tag Archives: Hackney

Outspoken comedy club owner Noel Faulkner on Jongleurs, Yuppies, Jarvis Cocker and his new career as a rapper

Noel in Rivington Street, home to the Comedy Cafe

Noel Faulkner in Rivington Street, Shoreditch this week – home to his Comedy Cafe Theatre

Before I interrupted myself in yesterday’s blog, I was about to say that I had a chat over a meal with Noel Faulkner near his Comedy Cafe Theatre in Shoreditch. It becomes relevant, in a moment, that Noel is Irish, so bear this in mind.

“How is Shoreditch?” I asked him.

“More twats,” Noel told me. “More 5-star restaurants. How far can people go up their own asses? I don’t know. It’s not what it was 24 years ago when I started the Comedy Cafe.”

“What was it like then?”

“It was full of thieves and printers. One half stealing money; the other half printing money. It was all printing presses around here. I don’t know why. Before that, it was cabinet makers. I don’t know why.”

“So you are feeling pissed-off?” I said.

“No. I’m very happy.”

“You are???”

“I have three meals a day, my house is comfortable and it keeps going up £100,000 a week in value. I moved to Hackney 13 years ago because I liked the vibe and now all the Yuppies want to be in Hackney. I thought I could live in a neighbourhood where I wouldn’t see pompous assholes but now the only thing my neighbours talk about is the value of their property and how they’re doing an extension and ripping the whole house out.

“I told my neighbours: My house is worth more than yours.

“They said: Oh no no no. Ours has got a garage.

“I told them: Yes, but I don’t have any Irish people living next door to me.”

The successfully diversified yet slightly grumpy Noel Faulkner

The successfully diversified yet slightly grumpy Noel Faulkner

“Where did you live before Hackney?” I asked.

“I was sleeping above the Comedy Cafe with a gun that held blanks to keep the thieves out.”

“Seriously?”

“Yep. The police had a word: We know it’s not you, Noel, but somebody’s got a gun poppin’ off.

I blew my nose.

“What’s your blood group?” Noel asked me.

“O-Rhesus something,” I said. “A dead common one.”

“Stay off wheat,” advised Noel. “It’ll help your allergies.”

“I think it’s just a tiny bit of hay fever,” I said. “I think I got it in China.”

“You know what they say about dogs in China?” Noel asked. “A dog is not just for Christmas. If you’re lucky, there will still be some left over for Boxing Day.”

“So,” I asked, “at what point did you decide you didn’t care?”

“I never cared what people thought of me… If we can’t be racist, what can we be? The lovely thing about getting older is I really don’t give a fuck. Not one iota. I am thinking of writing my own blog.”

“Bastard,” I said.

“I am going to call it Angry Man On The Roof.”

“Why?”

Noel in his office last year

Noel in his Shoreditch office last year – a man who likes yachts

“I’ve always liked roofs because no-one can catch me there. As a kid, when there was snow, I would convince my mother I was sick and then I’d go up on top of the roof and make loads of snowballs and, when all the kids were getting off the bus, I would pelt them with snowballs.”

“And,” I said, “you’ve been pelting people with snowballs ever since.”

“Yep.”

“Why do you want to do a blog?”

“Because people are insisting I should get my wonderful calm persona out there like the Dalai Lama – just give people hope that there is peace on Earth and tell everybody who’s a cunt that they are a cunt, because nobody else seems to want to tell them. Have you heard Jarvis Cocker’s song Cunts Are Still Running The World?

“Yes,” I said. “Yes. It’s strangely gentle.”

It is on YouTube.

“Any new business plans?” I asked Noel.

“I’m taking on Jongleurs’ format for comedy,” he told me. “I’m going to open sixty clubs throughout Britain. Any cunt who drinks and pisses and shits can come into the club and make as much noise as they like. I’ll provide lots of work for lots of comics, but I’m not going to pay any of them. I think it’s a great business plan.

Noel this week, paying the bill for our meal

Noel this week, paying the bill for our meal

“If comics had any bottle, they would go on strike and say Nobody works for Jongleurs and, the next day, Jongleurs would pay every comic they owe money to. But each comic is thinking: Oh, I’ll keep my head down and I might get some more Christmas gigs off them. The comics are actually helping the dragon devour the babies.”

“But any real plans?” I asked.

“I’m working on a rap song.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously. We’re just putting the music down. It will be a video. It’s called The Comfort Zone.”

Noel started rapping:

Got me a pad I call a home
I got a big TV, Twitter on ma phone
I watch the president killin’ people with his drone
But it don’t bother me
Cos I’m in the Comfort Zone

“So you’re going to re-invent yourself as a rap artist?” I asked.

Noel started rapping another song:

Fukushima Fukushima I wonder why
There is that great big cloud in the sky
No fish in the ocean but look at the glow
Radiation sure gives you a great light show

“Are you going to perform on stage?” I asked.

Jimmy James Jones performs at the Comedy Cafe last night

Jimmy James Jones performing at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

“I’ll be the oldest Irish rapper. I’m going to do a video with me and comedian Jimmy James Jones on YouTube. I’m in my suit; he’s in his hip hop gear. He’ll push me out of the way; I’ll push him out of the way and then, in the last scene, he’s in my suit and hat and I’m in his gear and baseball hat.”

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Hackney Empire man lied for Geoffrey Archer + naked mental breakdowns

Roland Muldoon at his book launch yesterday

Roland Muldoon at yesterday’s book launch

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

L.P. Hartley could have been writing about the 1980s.

In 1986, Roland and Claire Muldoon re-opened Edwardian music hall the Hackney Empire in London as the home of ‘New Variety’ where stand-up comedy intermingled with dance, music, panto, opera, Caribbean farce and much more. Their background was in political theatre. They aimed to be ‘an Alternative National Theatre’.

Nineteen years later – in 2005 – the Muldoons were squeezed out after local government politicking, a series of failed internal coups, being starved of subsidies, the imposition of bankers and bureaucrats on the management board and much else. It is quite a tale.

In Roland’s book, how The Empire struck back

Roland on how The Empire struck back

Now Roland Muldoon has written a book called Taking On The Empire: How We Saved The Hackney Empire For Popular Theatre. Presumably he has had the text checked by libel lawyers, just in case.

I went along to the book launch in Hackney yesterday afternoon.

“We once had a dream before the Hackney Empire,” Roland Muldoon said, “that we would take over a castle in the Midlands and run an alternative motorway cafe. Luckily, we moved on to the Empire instead. We had great ambitions in those days to take over the world. And we still have.”

One anecdote told in Roland’s book is of a fundraising event to keep the Empire going. Author and politician Jeffrey Archer donated an item for the auction: an Andy Warhol silkscreen print of Marilyn Monroe. Archer had recently declared he would run for Mayor of London, although the Tories were undecided whether this was a good idea for them, given Archer’s somewhat dodgy image. So he may have been as much attracted to the charitable-sounding self-publicity as to publicising the Hackney Empire.

Roland and Claire arranged a publicity photo shoot with Jeffrey Archer and Ken Livingstone (whom the Labour Party had already told not to apply for the Mayoral job) plus comedian Griff Rhys-Jones and the lead in the Empire’s forthcoming panto Dick Whittington.

In his book, Roland writes: “Controversy and accusations of telling porkies seemed to follow Jeffrey Archer around wherever he went. Out of the blue came the question Are you aware that the Marilyn isn’t a genuine Warhol print?”

It turned out that, after Warhol had run off his own limited edition silkscreen prints, his friends came along to his studio and ran off some more for themselves. The Archer print was not one of the Warhol originals.

Roland says: “A reporter from the Daily Telegraph pressed me hard: Did he lead you to believe he was donating a genuine Andy Warhol or not?No, he never said it was, I lied, despite my total dislike of his politics. I couldn’t bring myself to slag off a benefactor and I was dubious about any benefit it would bring to our campaign if I did. Now I’ve done it. It’s out – I lied for Geoffrey Archer.”

Books are clearly a growth industry for people in the comedy business.

At the book launch, comedian Hattie Hayridge was telling me she had checked with Penguin Books and her fascinating 1997 autobiography Random Abstract Memory is out of print, so she is now able to re-publish it herself, though she finds the technology rather daunting.

Bob Boyton (left) with Mark Thomas

Authors Bob Boyton (left) and Mark Thomas yesterday

I also bumped into Bob Boyton, another stand-up turned author, who told me about possible follow-ups to his novel Bomber Jackson Does Some.

He also told me about what he claims was the only time he ever performed naked.

“It was about 27 years ago,” he explained. “There was something called The Mastery, which was related to The Actors’ Centre, which was related to Esalen, which was a real hard core growth movement thing from California. The idea was it helped actors to break down.”

“Sounds quite dangerous,” I said, “to encourage people to break down emotionally, unless you really look after people.”

“What it didn’t do,” said Bob, “was to say that you should take the leap on stage and in rehearsal, but the rest of your life should be ordered.

“So they did this weekend called The Mastery and I was very cross, because they sort-of encouraged people to break down. If you survived, at the end of the weekend, you broke into little groups and did a little sketch. I was already enough of a practising stand-up to realise that sketches have to be something special to work.

“So I was in the middle of this grim sketch with these actors who all played drama students and I played the caretaker who was sweeping up after them and the only way to liven things up was, each time they finished a chorus, I’d come on with me broom and I’d shed an article of clothing… I was a lot slimmer then.”

“And you felt better for this?” I asked.

“Well, I got a shag that night,” replied Bob, smiling broadly.

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Shoreditch dreams – Satanic stand-up comedy and Lycra-clad policemen

Perhaps it was the fact I only had two hours sleep the previous night.

But what is it with Shoreditch in London?

It seems to have aspirations to be trendy Islington but its pockets of aspiring Yuppieness have been dropped down into what, at night, seems like a set from a Jack The Ripper film – jet-black stone streets with added 21st century traffic. It’s like King’s Cross but darker and with less investment.

Shoreditch is a dark night-time nether corner of schizophrenic Hackney, where partly-trendy-yet-immensely-downmarket Hoxton meets a corner of Hackney proper and the world that was the Kray TwinsBethnal Green, which now has 1950s Brits intermingled with penniless immigrants who have nothing but hope in two generations time.

And round the corner from all this sit the glass towers and stone solidity of the City of London.

Shoreditch is a very strange place.

The area is like some darkly surreal imagining on the thin border where a dream may or may not turn into a nightmare.

So, a couple of nights ago, I went to Shoreditch after only a couple of hours sleep the previous night with these thoughts in my mind and comedy in my heart.

Yes, I have no fear of bad writing.

I went to see the weekly Cantaloopy Comedy show run by Miss D aka the interesting part-comedian, part serious journalist that is Daphna Baram.

Last time I went, the Cantaloupe pub cat stole the show, meandering across the stage and occasionally finding high points from which to look down disdainfully at the performing comedians.

This time, sadly for me, there was no cat but also, sadly, no headliner Arthur Smith, whose mother had had a bad fall. Daphna reckons I am bad luck when I go to one of her gigs. She may be right.

But the Cantaloopy bill was so choc-a-bloc, the lack of the two main attractions did not damage the show.

One highlight for me was Janet Bettesworth, who is just plain weird and I cannot for the life of me figure out why.  It had nothing to do with my lack of sleep. It has something to do with her Joanna Lumley voice, the dry sometimes almost literary delivery, the unexpected shock of red hair and her extraordinary transformation late in the act into a comedy ventriloquist with Hammer Horror hints. It was like watching a refined relative talk sweetly to you but with a whiff of the Satanic and dark deeds behind the curtains of Middle England wafting from the stage. I began, at one point, to think I must be hallucinating.

Highly entertained and utterly fascinated… but hallucinating.

This can’t be happening, I thought.

Yet it was and I was pleased it was.

I knew it wasn’t my lack of sleep. I had seen Janet Bettesworth before and was equally mesmerised before.

I had never seen David Mills before despite the fact he was recently crowned New Act of the Year – the highly prestigious award formerly known as the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year and proof that something good can occasionally come out of Hackney.

But I was amazed how a totally top-notch professional camp American of this quality had  escaped my radar. Especially as he has apparently lived in the UK for a decade. Much like Maureen Younger being a new act for me at a Pull The Other One gig a couple of weeks ago.

Curiouser and curiouser.

A few weeks ago, someone mistook me for Antipodean intellectual Clive James. At Cantaloopy, David Mills said I reminded him of Shrek. I know which I prefer. But alas I know which is more realistic.

Altogether an unusual night in Shoreditch especially when, on my walk back to the car, I bumped into Noel Faulkner just leaving his Comedy Cafe venue and, after crossing Shoreditch High Street, he became fascinated by the sight of two police cars pursuing a man on a skateboard.

“The guy should just keep going,” Noel said to me. “Police cars will never catch a skateboard.”

When I reached my own car I saw, up an adjacent side street, two policemen and a policewoman milling around in the middle of the road while another two policemen were climbing up on a wall to look over railings into a graveyard.

I wondered what the man had done. Perhaps we are on the cusp of a spate of major skateboard robberies which will be countered by Scotland Yard establishing a Skateboard Squad of Lycra-clad coppers.

Or perhaps I just need more sleep.

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