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Part 4: In 2005, comics (and his mum) respond to the death of Malcolm Hardee

Continuing these daily re-posts of how British comics and other comedy industry people reacted when Malcolm Hardee drowned…


REX BOYD, juggler – 21st February 2005

I’m pretty sure the juggler that Alan Davies mentions playing at the Tunnel is me. It was just a month or so after some comic had been injured by a flying pint glass on stage at the Tunnel and a few months after Pan Am flight 103 was blown up over Lockerbie. 

Malcolm introduced me as “some American bloke. Might be shit,” and so I walked on stage to what I think to this day is the most intelligent heckle I’ve ever had: “Why didn’t you fly Pan Am?” (of course said with a gleeful hatred)

I thought I was doing an open spot and asked Malcolm how long I should do. He said: “Do as long as you can.” So I did about 20 minutes and, when I came off, much to my surprise, Malcolm paid me £80 for my open spot. 

His generosity and honesty only continued when 5 years later I came back to London to re-establish myself and Malcolm was the only promoter who was willing to book me without the hoop jumping open-spots.

Oh, and he tried to get my 4 month old daughter to take up cigarettes at Glastonbury.


LEE MACK, comedian – 22nd February

Instead of paying me for a gig, he once convinced me I owned half of a greyhound. I was actually quite excited until another comic told me that there were about five other comedians who owned the same half of the same greyhound. I didn’t know Malcolm particularly well, but somehow really miss him. X


BEN NORRIS, comedian – 22nd February

I remember one of my Malcolm Hardee adventures was when I was booked on the same bill as The Greatest Show on Legs at The Glee in Birmingham. Malcolm called me and asked if I wanted a lift with him Martin Soan and Steve Bowditch. I accepted and Malcolm picked me up in an old black cab… I knew I was in for a memorable weekend. 

I’m pretty sure I paid for the first tank of petrol as no one “had any cash on them”. On checking into the hotel, Malcolm gave a false name and told them that my credit card would cover him as well… DANGER!! 

After one of the gigs, we were sitting in the hotel bar when Malcolm popped off for a wee, but was back within a minute. I knew the gents was down 2 flights of stairs and along a corridor so I literally smelt trouble. Sure enough, he took delight in explaining that he’d only made it as far as the door to the hotel gym.

That night he insisted on buying the drinks and putting them on his room number. Very generous, I thought.

Needless to say when I received my credit card bill a few weeks later I discovered £200 had been taken to cover the room bill of my colleague a Mr Hardee Malcolm (surely his least imaginative alias) who had left the hotel without paying.

It seemed to be almost a right of passage in the comedy world to have Malcolm financially manipulate you.

Another time, Malcolm called me up out of the blue and asked me to go to a pub quiz with him. I couldn’t resist and had another mad odyssey with him… We didn’t do very well and Malcolm seemed slightly disappointed… It was only later I realised that he must have thought I was clever. After the credit card incident, you’d have thought not.

I managed to get my money back from the hotel, but what a shame I didn’t get to spend more time with MH; he will be genuinely missed.


JOAN HARDEE, Malcolm’s mum – 22nd February

Around the time he separated from his wife Jane, I was talking to Malcolm.

“You’re my son and I love you very much,” I told him, “but to live with you must be very disconcerting. After all, you’ve got all the vices: you smoke, you drink, you gamble and you’re a womaniser.”

“Good job I’m not into donkeys,” he replied.

There was no answer to that.


KAREN KOREN, Edinburgh Fringe venue owner – 24th February

Malcolm was always in and around the Gilded Balloon in the 1980s and 1990s performing at Late’n’Live or just hanging around. When Chris Lynam did his show in the early 1990s, his big finale was to stick a firework up his bum and light it, while playing There’s No Business Like Showbusiness. 

One night, Chris had to be rushed to hospital during the show, for some emergency or other, before his Grand Finale. Malcolm was in the dressing room and said, “I’ll do it”. 

So he went on stage, naked, and put his penis and bollocks between his legs, just like Chris would do. However, Malcolm had much longer and larger bollocks than Chris, and they stuck out the back. 

He had to stick the firework up his arse but his butt cheeks, not being quite as firm as Chris’, couldn’t quite hold it in place and, after lighting it, it dropped down and set his balls alight. 

He danced round that stage to There’s No Business Like Show Busniness with flames up his back, screaming his head off. 

He came off and said, in his usual downbeat manner, “That was alright”.


JANEY GODLEY, comedian – 25th February

It was the mid eighties and Jerry Sadowitz was doing a ‘big show’ at a Glasgow theatre. Having known Jerry for a few years previous I went along to see his gig.

I sat in the auditorium and watched as this shambolic looking man in crumply suit and big glasses wandered on. I and loads of other Glaswegians were very confused. Jerry’s brand of humour was just about enough of what we could handle, but this strange ‘English’ dude chatting was mental.

The ‘crumpled’ man then just pulled down his zip and got out his penis and stood there. I laughed till I hurt but was shocked!

A bit later there was some sort of fracas happening at the front box office and I rushed out to see what it was.

There stood Malcolm, the theatre manager and a disgruntled wee Glaswegian couple. The wife was shouting: “I have never seen anything like that in my life! I came here to see comedy! I have never seen anything like that before!”

The manager looked at Malcolm, who turned to the woman and said: ”What? Are you kidding? You have been married for years and you have never seen a man’s penis?” He then pulled out his penis again and showed her it. ”There you go missus, just in case you forget what it looks like.”

He walked away laughing.

That was how I first met Mr Hardee.

Years later I got to know him a wee bit more.

He will be very sadly missed.


ALAN DAVIES – 25th February

I remember the predictions he would do on stage at the end of the year about who might die the following year. He’d keep a list of people who he and the audience reckoned might go in the year ahead and then pull it out again at the end of December to see how many were right.

The list always began with “The Queen Mum, hot favourite”.

He would then go through the people who’d gone unexpectedly before compiling a new list for the coming year, which would begin with “Queen Mum,obviously”.

There was so much laughter guessing who might die.

He’d weigh up the chances of a suggestion as if thinking what the odds were.

The juggler at The Tunnel who had his clubs hurled at him and caught them was Rex Boyd. Malcolm was worried as there was a comics’ boycott going on after Clarence and Joy Pickles had had an injury from a plastic glass. Malcolm was upset and wanted to make sure the comics would come back again.

They all did of course because they were so fond of him.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Edinburgh Fringe: Bob Slayer on being ripped-off and pulling-off another comic

Bob Slayer yesterday in Leicester - not changing his spots

Bob Slayer – a life in performance art both on and off stage?

Kate Copstick was not at the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club yesterday afternoon because she was off seeing a show in one of her other hats – as one of the four judges on the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards.

In her place was comedian, promoter and Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award winner Bob Slayer, a man of a thousand hats. The previous day, Bob had sent a text message to me, Kate Copstick and others saying: “I’ve had a creative breakthrough – I’m not a comedian. I’m a performance artist.”

Among the audience at The Grouchy Club yesterday was Stuart Richards, who is staging LaughDance at the Fringe.

Bob Slayer (left) and Stuart Richards at The Counting House

Bob Slayer (left) & Stuart Richards yesterday

“It’s stand-up set to dance,” he explained. “It’s basically a stand-up comedy show. Each comic comes out and does their ten or fifteen minutes and we have four professional dancers behind who interpret the comedian’s set. For example, we have comedian Tim Renkow, who has cerebral palsy, and he tells a story about getting into a fight with a neo-Nazi while, in the background, we have two dancers doing Brazilian martial arts dancing.”

“Mocking him, really,” said Bob.

“That’s exactly the schtick that Tim takes,” said Stuart. “He starts screaming at them.”

“What do you do between Fringes?” a shrewd member of the audience asked.

“My day job,” said Stuart, “is a development producer with a TV company.”

“All development producers do,” said Bob, “is try to not get anything commissioned, because then they would be putting their head above the parapet… I have an idea… Fat Jockeys

“I used to be a jockey. Me and another ex-jockey who is the right height, but round… We have a bet who was the best jockey and the only way to settle it is to lose weight, get fit and have one last race.”

“There’s definitely something in that,” said Stuart.

“With each element,” said Bob, “you can have little side bets like Who has lost the most sweat?

“Basically,” said Stuart, “at the end of the week, you only get to ride if you have lost enough weight – otherwise the horse will buckle.”

“We could go for liposuction,” suggested Bob, “and see who will make the biggest body fat candle… This idea – Fat Jockeys – has been ‘in development’ twice.

“TV people love the idea of Fat Jockeys then, six months down the development line, they say: Oh, we need to attach a celebrity to it. This happened and I said: Great! Lee Mack used to be a jockey. He looked after Red Rum. Johnny Vegas loves horse racing… And they said: Yeees… We were thinking Jeremy Kyle. Apparently he owns horses and likes horse racing. Clare Balding was interested in it.”

The real Devvo at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop yesterday

The real Devvo at Bob & Miss Behave’s Bookshop yesterday

“Can you tell the Devvo story?” I asked. “Or is that actionable?”

“Now,” said Bob, “we are getting onto my REAL beef with TV development producers. Devvo had a development deal about five years ago, first with Channel 4, then with the BBC.

“He had millions and millions of views online pre-YouTube and, when YouTube came along, he was one of the first YouTube stars.

There is an E4 video of Devvo on YouTube:

“The development people all said: We love Devvo. He’s not just someone dressed-up as a chav doing two-dimensional jokes. He inhabits his world; it’s not just crappy one-liners ridiculing chav culture.

“We did all sorts of bits of TV and then the BBC said: Can we put a laughter track on it? And we said: Well, no. The whole thing is it inhabits a real world. Then, a bit later, they asked: What’s his real name? They basically wanted to say THIS IS A CHARACTER … No!… The whole thing is it’s real.

“Then we got an e-mail – not even a phone call – saying he wasn’t going to be in this show and, when it was screened, who was in it? Lee Nelson, who was just somebody dressed up as a chav doing horrible jokes about chavs and he then went on and had Devvo’s career. I didn’t blame him so much, it’s just bloody TV producers! They wanted to commission Devvo but then they got cold feet.”

After the Grouchy Club show, Bob and I bumped into comedian Jeff Leach.

At the end of yesterday’s blog, I mentioned being told that the phrase John Fleming’s spunk in her eye featured in Jeff’s late-night rap battle against Sofie Hagen. Feigning shock, I wrote: All I know is that I feel soiled. Desperately soiled.

Jeff, apparently, was worried I had seriously been offended and had sent me an amiably soothing e-mail.

Jeff Leach (left) and Bob Slayer at The Counting House

Jeff Leach (left) and Bob Slayer yesterday

“Ah, Jeff Leach!” said Bob when we bumped into him. “I once wanked him off in a venue very near here, because he was dying on stage and the promoter said: Bob, can you pull him off stage. And all I heard were the words Pull him off. But whenever I tell this story, Jeff says: I wasn’t dying. I wasn’t dying.”

“What happened,” said Jeff pleasantly, “was I was on stage…”

“We used to have a friendship,” said Bob pleasantly.

“But then,” said Jeff pleasantly, “I heard some terrible things about you and I decided I didn’t want to be friends with a man who makes women feel that uncomfortable… So… what actually happened was I was on stage and Bob was very drunk and loud and obnoxious at the back and I said: Oh, Bob wants to be part of the show. So I said: Come up here and Bob thinks he’s a very shocking comedian; he’s always going to take it a step too far. So I said: Get yer cock out and he did, so I got my cock out and I grabbed his and he grabbed mine. That’s what happened. And I did not win the Malcolm Hardee Award despite doing that.”

“I love,” said Bob pleasantly, “how you’ve changed that version to put you in the centre.”

“Of course,” said Jeff pleasantly, “because I was the one booked to perform that night.”

“I was on after you,” said Bob pleasantly “I had to clean up the mess. What was interesting was the guy in that show whose face we wanked into – it was his first day at the Fringe and, this year, he’s doing the world record for the most shows at the Fringe. He’s seen 128 shows so far and I think he’s just looking for something near that first experience.”

“He’s never going to get it,” said Jeff.

“Has he been to see your show yet?” asked Bob.

“I’ve no idea,” said Jeff.

“I think you’ll find he hasn’t,” said Bob pleasantly. “Because you were dying on stage that night and he didn’t like you much and he thought I was very funny.”

“I don’t have to respond to anything that comes from Bob Slayer,” said Jeff pleasantly. “You ARE Bob Slayer; you are, in a sense, a walking piece of art.”

Perhaps all comedians are performance artists off-stage.

Expect a TV development deal soon for Bob Slayer and Jeff Leach in a reality show.

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American comedian Lewis Schaffer – always infuriating, sometimes inventive

London-based American comic Lewis Schaffer can be utterly infuriating to work with.

I know. I have worked with him.

If you can call it work.

But, after a tsunami of indecision and self-doubt, he will occasionally come up with brilliant ideas.

And, equally often, he will talk rubbish.

I had him on the phone a few weeks ago – after he had played a gig in some provincial theatre – saying he felt embarrassed to charge people for tickets to come and see his comedy shows.

“I feel like a con-man,” he told me. “What if they don’t like my show? What if they don’t like me? I will have ripped them off. You don’t pay up-front in a restaurant. You pay after you’ve eaten the meal and know what it was like. In no other area of life do you pay before you know what you are getting.”

“Lewis,” I said, exasperated. “In almost every area of life people pay up-front. It is called shopping.”

He ignored me. Today he has issued a press release saying:

“It bothers me to ask for money before a punter knows what they’re getting. Just because my show has been recommended by newspapers or because I look great in a suit or come from New York doesn’t mean they’ll like what I do. If they do like it, THEN they’ll give me what they think it’s worth.

“I hate disappointing people. I’ve disappointed my parents. I’ve disappointed my ex-wife and my kids. I’ve let America and the Jews down. I don’t want to disappoint any more people than I have to.”

Pure Lewis Schaffer.

Now for a major explanatory detour. Stick with me, dear reader.

I know I am going to get at least one complaint about this.

Hello PBH.

Rising comedians are almost obliged to go to the Edinburgh Fringe every year. It is the biggest arts festival – and therefore the biggest showcase – in the world.

Once upon a time, going to the Edinburgh Fringe every August was relatively simple to understand.

Each performer paid their venue an inordinately large amount of money up-front to hire the performance space; an average of around only six people per day paid to see the show; and the performer lost a shedload of money but gained that vital 0.0001% chance of being talent-spotted and/or getting an agent or radio series or TV series and becoming a temporary millionaire.

In their dreams.

Oh, I forgot to mention the cost of accommodation in Edinburgh – possibly £1,000 for a one-bedroom flat and £2,000 or so for a two-bedroom flat – plus the cost of flyers, posters, transport and lots of other sundries.

The main problem, though, was and is the cost of venues. There is a fee to hire the place and then the venue takes around 40% of the box office earnings plus VAT plus you may be forced to pay around £500 for a listing in the big venues’ brochure as well as the £300-ish cost of appearing in the main Fringe programme. And over a thousand quid for a quarter page ad in the main Fringe programme. Plus the cost of getting it designed and formatted.

One year, the very successful and very funny comic Tim Vine paid for a single giant poster – we are talking vast here – which said, simply, that he was NOT appearing at the Fringe.

It must have cost him a fortune but it was the talk of the Fringe and probably cost him less than the cost of travelling to, staying in and performing at Edinburgh – and it certainly got him just as much publicity and attention as he would have got if he had put on a 28-day show. Meanwhile, for the 28 days of the Fringe, he could perform elsewhere for better money.

The Edinburgh Fringe experience for a performer has been described as standing in a cold shower for three weeks while tearing up £20 and £50 notes. Sadly, I have forgotten which comic said that: a reflection on the uncertain benefit of writing good gags.

This losing-shedloads-of-money-at-the-Fringe equation was changed in 1997 when Peter Buckley Hill (the PBH mentioned above) put on his show Peter Buckley Hill And Some Comedians in a venue without being charged a venue fee: the pub venue was happy enough to receive the extra drink sales generated by audiences at his show. He also did not charge any admission fee to the audience: they only paid whatever they liked at the end if they had enjoyed the show.

The idea of free shows at the Fringe really took off around 2005/2006 by which time PBH and comedy promoter Laughing Horse were jointly promoting lots of shows by various performers.

Inevitably, the two fell out so, from 2007, there have been two sets of free shows at Edinburgh in August: the PBH Free Fringe and the Laughing Horse Free Festival, both of them under the over-all umbrella of the vast Edinburgh Fringe.

The format for both of these two freebie empires is that the performers do not pay to hire their venues… the audiences do not pay up-front to see the shows… and there is a bucket of some kind at the end so you can give your appreciation by paying whatever you think the show was worth.

Lewis Schaffer had successful years at paid venues on the Fringe in 2000 and 2008 and still lost money. At the Fringe, “successful” means breaking even or losing only a small amount of money.

Since then, Lewis Schaffer (he is always called ‘Lewis Schaffer’, never ‘Lewis’) has performed as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival, usually doing two shows each day – and filling his rooms.

He brought this idea – basically PBH’s original Free Fringe idea – to London in 2009, performing a twice-per-week (sometimes thrice-per-week) show Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous at the Source Below club in Soho. He now claims – and I think he has to be right – that it is the longest-running solo comedy show in London.

And it is free. You only pay only if you like the show and, at the end, you throw however much you want to (or nothing) into a bucket.

Now Lewis Schaffer has, in a suitably ramshackle way, organised his own mini-tour by persuading arts centres around the country (so far only in England) to give him venues for free and to stage The Lewis Schaffer is Free Until Famous Tour.

He says: “Lee Mack suggested I take my show on tour. I know: You don’t think Lee Mack knows me, but he does. You can ask him. On the other hand… just wish me luck.”

I do. Though who knows if it will work?

“Look,” he says, “I think that only I could pull this off. Better known comics don’t have to and worse comics wouldn’t get the gigs and surely couldn’t get the money. No-one gives money for a bad time, no matter how much the comic begs. Who else would have the nerve to ask a British audience for money? Only an American would have the chutzpah.”

Obviously – if you know Lewis – at the time of writing this blog, he has not actually put his tour details on his website. But the upcoming shows – the first is only four days away – are:

10 December 2011 – The Nook, Northampton

27 January 2012 – The Plough Art Centre, Great Torrington

4  February 2012 – The Bromsgrove Artrix

20 April 2012 – Colchester Arts Centre

27 April 2012 – Cambridge Junction

21 July 2012    The Belgrade, Coventry

Now, if only he could get some self-confidence…

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