Tag Archives: Leipzig

Martin Soan sells bits of comedy history – and The Greatest Show on Legs’ origin

The poster for the latest Pull The Other One

Martin Soan’s comedy club Pull The Other One has been running for eleven years in South East London but is closing in June this year. Currently, there are shows twice a month. Recent acts have included Alan Davies, Omid Djalili, Boothby Graffoe, Robin Ince, Tony Law and Stewart Lee. The next one is this Friday with top-of-the-bill Nina Conti. After that, there are only five more shows including one headlining Simon Munnery. The final Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June with Oram & Meeten. 

Martin Soan is also a prolific prop maker both for himself and others. Almost every Edinburgh Fringe, it seems, he gets asked to make a giant vagina by different acts: on one occasion, a singing one.

I did not ask him about the giant vaginas when we met.


Martin – legendary performance artist with a sense of humour

JOHN: So you are selling your props… Why?

MARTIN: To get a bit of cash and fund me doing something else. And I don’t have a van any more and some of these props are quite large. That’s the main reason.

JOHN: Doing something else? 

MARTIN: I’m reinventing myself, John.

JOHN: As what? A woman?

MARTIN: A performance artist with a sense of humour.

JOHN: But you’ve always been a performance artist.

MARTIN: I haven’t done a show for ages.

JOHN: You’re doing a show every two weeks!

MARTIN: Well, with that, I’m a comedy producer or a gig owner or whatever. But there’s another show inside me.

JOHN: Which is?

MARTIN: I don’t know yet. It won’t be themed. It won’t be like…

JOHN: Hamlet?

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: So?

MARTIN: Stupid, surreal.

JOHN: What are you going to do with this show? Take it up to the Edinburgh Fringe next year?

MARTIN: No. 

JOHN: Why?”

MARTIN: Because Edinburgh is a black hole of financial… deadlines and… Edinburgh is rich enough now. The breweries, the University. They’re rich enough. Move on… To another city. A depressed city.

JOHN: Where?

Could Scarborough be the new Edinburgh for Fringe comedy?

MARTIN: Scarborough. Let’s create a Fringe at Scarborough.

JOHN: Why?

MARTIN: The last time I went to Scarborough, it looked a bit like Brighton – a gorgeous town – but it was completely and utterly depressed.

JOHN: Isn’t it where Alan Ayckbourn does his plays?

MARTIN: I’m not sure. I’m saying Scarborough, but it could be any town. Scarborough is ideal because it has all these large premises. Loads and loads of rooms out the back of pubs.

JOHN: How about Leipzig? You have staged Pull The Other One shows there.

MARTIN: Well, yeah, but it’s getting popular now. Probably moving out of Leipzig is the thing to do. Grünau is probably the place. I’m desperate to go somewhere like Leipzig.

JOHN: You mean move there?

MARTIN: Yeah, for a time. That’s the desire. I’ve gotta get some funding. Pull The Other One in Nunhead was fantastic, but I don’t make money. I cover my expenses. It’s an enormous amount of work. I dress the room, which takes a day and then another day taking it down. I would carry on, but it does occupy all my time, really, and it’s tense leading up to the gigs. If I don’t sell tickets, I’m losing big-time because I have to pay everyone. The Nun’s Head pub are very, very good to me, but I want to do two or three pop-up shows a year.

JOHN: So what props are you selling?

MARTIN: The Gates of Hell.

JOHN: Eh?

MARTIN: That rack of 24 singing Billy The Bass fish… And  I have an anvil made out of foam… I’m selling The Red Sparrows with written choreography…

…and I’m selling Mr Punch, who is 49 years old. 

JOHN: And the relevance of Mr Punch is…?

MARTIN: He was the very first member of The Greatest Show on Legs. I was the second. Basically, the Greatest Show on Legs started out as a Punch & Judy show and it was me and Malcolm Hardee. That was where me and Malcolm met. He became my ‘interpreter’.

JOHN: Why is it called The Greatest Show on Legs?

MARTIN: Because, rather than being a free-standing booth, the booth cloth came down halfway and was all strapped to my back so my legs came out the bottom and I could walk around with it. In fact, the original one had four legs coming out of it, because I did the old Rolf Harris Jake The Peg thing.

JOHN: Malcolm told me the other reason for building it that way was that, if the show went badly, you could just do a runner…

MARTIN: Well…

JOHN: …or was that just one of Malcolm’s fantasies?

MARTIN: Well, yeah, Malcolm just made that up. I mean, I wouldn’t be able to see where I was running, would I? There was one time at the Ferry Inn at Salcolme when I had had rather too much to drink and, inside the booth you have no horizon so I was falling over and didn’t even know it. Suddenly, it was like a sledgehammer coming up and hitting me on the back of the head and I was knocked out. Malcolm looked at the audience and said: “Ladies and gentlemen, there will now be an interval of fifteen minutes.”

JOHN: But you had done the Greatest Show on Legs on your own before you met Malcolm.

MARTIN: Oh yeah. I was 16 when I started. I think me and Malcolm met when we were about 24 or 25. When I first started at 16, obviously, I was shit. I had no formal training in any performing art or anything. I didn’t know what I was doing. I always remember the first show I gave where I thought: Aaah! I think I might have the hang of this! It was at University College, London. Outside one of their buildings, at some event. Something clicked on that one.

JOHN: You got around a bit.

MARTIN: I used to do Portobello Road and only two people used to come and see me regularly. This large black lady and a little boy. They came and saw me every time; I don’t know why. I  used to shit bricks before I got into the booth and started.

JOHN: Why did you start doing it if you had no natural aptitude at 16?

MARTIN: When you’re young, you are desperate to make friends and at least be recognised in some sort of way. Plus it fed my creative ‘making’ side – making props and things. I used to like all the problem solving. 

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Thinking it would be brilliant if Mr Punch got so angry that smoke would come out of his ears. So he has two tubes to blow smoke out.

JOHN: And this is the one you are auctioning off?

MARTIN: Yeah. He is 49 years of age.

JOHN: That must be a bit of an emotional trauma for you.

Martin Soan’s 24 Billy The Bass which will sing in unison

MARTIN: Well, so far, people have not taken it seriously. Boothby Graffoe started mucking around and saying he would bid half a monkey. Otiz Cannelloni bid £500 for the crate of Billy The Bass singing fish which I think… Well, they are £25-£35 each and you could flog ‘em for £25 each so, in singing fish alone it’s worth £500. But it’s a concept and they’re all wired up to one button so they all sing together.

JOHN: How do you know when the auction has ended? 

MARTIN: I will decide when it gets to the reserve price or more.

JOHN: Have you got reserve prices in mind?

Martin says: “Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at”

MARTIN: No. Mr Punch is 49 years of age and his skin is really good to look at. He looks aged. He looks 49, but not in a bad way.

JOHN: What does “Not in a bad way” mean?

MARTIN: Look, I’m talking bollocks now. You have tricked me into talking bollocks.

JOHN: It’s a natural aptitude.

MARTIN: I obviously would not let Mr Punch go for for £25.

JOHN: If people want to bid or buy or ask questions, what is the ‘handle’ as I think young people say or used to say.

MARTIN: @PTOOcomedy on Twitter and Facebook is Pull The Other One.

JOHN: Not Martin Soan?

MARTIN: Well, you could. And I have other interesting stuff.

JOHN: Such as?

MARTIN: Miss Haversham.

JOHN: From Great Expectations.

Martin Soan on stage as Miss Haversham

MARTIN: She’s sitting down in an armchair and she has arms and legs – which are false. 

JOHN: And Miss Haversham IS the armchair.

MARTIN: Yeah. You put it on like a costume. You can be dressed normally, You go in from the back and come up and, as you come up, you are putting on the whole costume; there’s even a wig built-in. It’s like a quick-change thing.

JOHN: I seem to remember it involved a 3-minute build-up for one visual gag.

MARTIN: Well, you’ve never seen the whole sketch. It was all about alliteration. There’s Pip and Miss Haversham is doing embroidery and she gives the needle to Pip then she moves away from him to create the tautness of the thread and comes back. Instead of him moving, she moves.

JOHN: You should do a show demonstrating all the props you’re selling ‘as originally used’.

MARTIN: I suppose so. They’re lovely props, but they are big props for a big show. You need a van. To get even the fish in AND Miss Haversham, you need a big van.

JOHN: You’re not going to retire.

MARTIN: No.

JOHN: That’s a relief.

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In London soon: a little-seen Saxon comedian with a chicken on his head

Martin Soan, master maker of stage genitalia

Martin Soan – long stalked a Saxon comedian

I was in bed all of yesterday, trying to throw off the remnants of a cold which had turned my voice into a rivett-rivetting impression of a frog.

The only real interruption to my sleep was a Skype video call from comic Martin Soan, who was wondering if I was going to his Pull The Other One comedy club show in Nunhead on 29th January.

Wild hoarseness would not stop me, because it is my first chance to see live The Short Man In Long Socks – I always thought he was called The Short Man With Long Socks, but I stand – or, given my cold, lie – corrected. I presume it is a variable translation from his actual German stage name: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken.

Martin tells me it is Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken’s first live UK appearance. I think I may have seen him back in the 1980s when London Weekend Television’s Entertainment Dept had a tape with video excerpts of Vier gegen Willi a German peaktime TV show which was co-presented by a hamster. I think LWT was considering doing a British TV version but might have been put off by the fear of complaints by animal lovers. In Germany, they had to have multiple Willi doppelgängers on standby because the eponymous hamster tended to die under the hot studio lights.

There is currently a clip of Vier gegen Willi on YouTube, though the star rodent does not appear until 26 mins 16 secs into the clip.

Martin told me yesterday: “I first saw Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken 15 years ago in Leipzig, at Jim Whiting’s club Bimbo Town – the best club I’ve ever been to. It’s full of automata, installations, art, music and performance and is what us Londoners call ‘immersive’ – everything is out of this world and challenging. It’s a funfair of surreal proportions in a disused factory and it is VAST… Jim is a magnetic force and artists of all descriptions gravitate to him. Some aren’t even artists but genius just the same.

“Anyway one such act featured that night I went to Bimbo Town was Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken, I really, really was impressed, It was the most pointless and ridiculous act I have ever seen, but one of the best. There are three sections to the routine. Him getting ready to ‘go out’… Him ready to go out… And then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but… “

“I seem to remember,” I told Martin, “that, in Vier gegen Willi, he had a live chicken on his head.”

...a chicken...

…a chicken…

“Oh yes,” said Martin. “I forgot about that.”

“Is he possibly,” I suggested, “ever-so slightly bonkers?”

“Depends how you define it,” said Martin. “When I met him, he didn’t think any of it was mad at all. I had the feeling it was maybe a little cathartic for him.”

“Why cathartic?” I asked.

“No idea, “replied Martin. “He told me he very rarely did the act.”

“Possibly,” I suggested, “because of a lack of willing or well-balanced chickens.”

“It was just a thing he felt he had to do,” Martin explained.

“And they say,” I mused, “that Germans have no sense of humour…”

“He is fiercely not German,” Martin told me. “He is very definite that he is a Saxon not a German. Apparently he earns a very good living as an optician in Plagwitz (a suburb of Leipzig). He told me Saxons love designer glasses. He invited me around to his flat for kuchen (cake). We got on really well and he showed me his etchings. Very dark, they were – the subjects. Lots of eagles and women wearing horns. Angst is a good word isn’t it?”

“I do,” I agreed, “always enjoy hearing it said out loud.”

Too poster - Phil Kay

Kay fan: Der kleine Mann mit langen Socken

“When I was back in England,” Martin continued, “I contacted him regularly to try and entice him over. I have actually booked him three times and three times he has cancelled and I got resigned to never getting him over for the club. But he’s making it on the 29th of this month because there is some opticians’ convention in London and because Phil Kay is on the bill at Pull The Other One. He has seen Phil Kay perform abroad and he’s a big fan. So he wants to perform with him.”

“Who else is on the bill?” I asked.

“Darren Walsh and a nun.”

“I’m not going to ask,” I told Martin. “Some things are best left to the imagination.”

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Teaching the Germans British humour?

Martin promoting tonight's show in Leipzig

Martin promoting a previous Leipzig show

Last night, before this month’s ever-original Pull The Other One comedy show in South London, I talked to Martin Soan who organises both it and the Pull The Other One shows in Germany. He and his wife Vivienne have so far staged three in Leipzig this year.

“What’s next?” I asked.

“A lecture in Leipzig,” Martin told me.

“On what?” I asked.

“British comedy.”

“To whom?” I asked.

“Leipzigians,” said Martin.

“In general?” I asked.

“What we’re going to aim for,” explained Martin, “is the working class. The history of comedy in Germany is very interesting.”

“Is it?” I asked. “The British cliché is that the Germans have no sense of humour.”

“Yeah, but that’s total bollocks,” said Martin. “What IS true is that, traditionally, they have not had anybody entertaining the working class. Traditionally, the working classes were just supposed to work. Their thing was sausages and beer not comedy and cabaret, which was for the middle class.

“Before the First World War, Leipzig had about 20 dedicated cabaret and comedy theatres – variety, kabaret and comedy – which were frequented by the intelligentsia and the middle classes. Some of them still exist today – there are two or three in the middle of town. The acts they have are very skilled and crafted acts – magicians and stuff like that.

“Me and Vivienne met some elderly Leipzigians and they told us that, traditionally, the working class have never had their version of music halls or comedy clubs.”

“They didn’t,” I asked, “have any equivalent of our music halls in the late-19th century?”

“No,” said Martin. “Now, obviously they have television, but their heritage was not live entertainment. So we are going to try and reinvent ourselves for the working classes of Leipzig.”

“How?” I asked.

Vivienne Soan even promoted the show to statues

Vivienne Soan promoting a previous comedy show in Leipzig

“We’ve opened up a show in the Louisiana bar, which is a working class bar and we are going to do our next Pull The Other One show there in December. We’re going to go away from all the students, away from all the middle classes.”

“And,” I asked, “you are going to do a lecture on British comedy in the pub?”

“An education in British humour,” said Martin. “Yes. Just me and Vivienne. We are basically just going to do a show, but Vivienne is going to have a lectern, notes and it starts off with her talking about how we have always had to import everything into Britain and we did actually, at one point, import humour.”

“We did?” I asked.

“Well, Mr Punch came from Italy. That’s where we start and then we’ll go through gags, a description of each different genre of comedy and I’ll upstage her, then I’ll do a bit at the lectern and she’ll upstage me. That’s the show, basically, but it’s gonna be very low-key because we don’t wanna put on a show-show because we don’t want to frighten them off.”

“It sounds like an excuse for a piss-up,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin, “but with entertainment. Even the working classes over there are very, very academic. And, for me, it will be a break from the comedy scene here, which is getting a bit claggy.”

“Claggy?” I asked.

Soiree in a Cemetery

After the success of cemetery comedy, underground comedy

“It’s stagnating a bit. There must be something different out there. That’s why I enjoyed doing our Soirée in a Cemetery the other week. It was different. The next one’s at the end of November.”

“In a cemetery again?” I asked.

“No.”

“Where’s the next one?’

“Subterranean.”

“Where?” I asked.

“It’s a secret,” said Martin. “It’s underground.”

“It certainly is,” I said.

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The dead ITV variety show, the revived Greatest Show on Legs and grave laughs

The Greatest Show on Legs in the Fringe Programme

Greatest Show on Legs’ balloon dance – original and still best (from left to right: Malcolm Hardee, ‘Sir Ralph’, Martin Soan)

Last night, ITV tried and failed to revive legendary, classic and once classy variety show Sunday Night at The London Palladium under the inexplicably shortened title Sunday Night at The Palladium.

If Simon Cowell had produced it, the show could have retained some class. Instead, ITV transformed class into crass and the result was somewhere between a reality show produced by Endemol on an off night and Saturday Night at Butlins for Essex Man.

Stephen Mulhern presented it like an edition of Big Brother’s Bit On The Side and it came complete with what looked very much like an audience plant towards the start of the show.

To compound the felony of failing to revive an old classic rather than thinking up a new idea – and rather than have highly original variety acts – they went for Cirque du Soleil performers Les Beaux Freres who nicked the idea of the Greatest Show On Legs’ classic 1982 Naked Balloon Dance and replaced the balloons with towels.

They performed perfectly serviceably and at least, unlike many acts, they changed the music and the objects. But original it most certainly was not.

Sunday Night at The London Palladium used to go out live. It did not last night. It went out dead.

By coincidence last night, the latest incarnation of the Greatest Show On Legs were performing live in Leipzig for a second consecutive night.

The Feinkost venue in Leipzig before the show

The Feinkost venue in Leipzig before the Saturday night show

On Saturday, the new Legs line-up (Martin Soan, Matt Roper and Adam Taffler) had performed together for the first ever time at the Pull The Other One show at Feinkost in Leipzig.

“It’s this big old East German canning factory,” Adam told me via Skype this morning, “which is now a communal arts hub.”

“It’s a huge Hof,” added Martin, “covered in glass. It was probably where all the lorries loaded up the cans and I managed to get a set up, but our stage curtains got totally soaked.”

“How?” I asked.

“We made a mess in the crowd games.”

“Crowd games?” I asked.

“There were two sections to the show. There was Vivienne (Martin’s wife) doing her laughter yoga to warm them up. And then we played some games – egg tossing and stuff like that.”

“Without,” I asked in some shock, “supervision by the increasingly prestigious World Egg Throwing Federation?”

“Yes,” said Martin. “Then we got on with the main Pull The Other One comedy show. But we had made a mess in the crowd games and the Germans, with their efficiency, immediately sloshed disinfectant all over the floor and started scrubbing the concrete. Our curtains got wet at the bottom.”

“Steve Rawlings,” I said, “remembers being told about you and Boothby Graffoe being in Germany years ago. You were running around naked in the audience spraying them with a fire extinguisher and Boothby told Steve it was around this point he thought: They’re just not ready for us yet.

Martin Soan on Saturday – This time the Germans were ready

Martin on Saturday – The Germans were ready

“That was a number of years ago,” remembered Martin. “We did a freeform existentialist theatre piece. The climax of it was me climbing up the central marquee pole bullock naked with a John Major mask on – so that time dates it a bit. Boothby and I did two shows at that festival. The first one was absolutely brilliant. We did a tribute to Christo who wrapped the Reichstag in polypropylene.

“There must have been a thousand people at that first show and they adored Boothby and me.

“Then we were booked to do a second show in a marquee very late at night. There were 800 people when we started and 4 people when we finished. We scared them all off. But the four people who stayed came up afterwards and said: That was just the best piece of existentialist theatre we’ve ever seen.”

“Define existentialist,” I said.

“I dunno,” said Martin. “I didn’t understand it, really. But, once we saw them leaving in groups of twenties and thirties, me and Boothby started really, really experimenting. It was great, great fun. Steve Best was there too and he performed with Boothby while I improvised with props and my body.”

“Improvised with your body?” I asked, suspiciously.

“Yeah. Doing a bit of modern dance around people, dressed-up as John Major. Posing every now and again. I hid from the audience in various places and just picked up various objects and improvised with them. Nothing sexual; I was naked, that was all.”

“But this time,” I said, “the Germans were ready for you?”

Pull The Other One act Wilfredo (left) with Adam Taffler on Skype this morning

Pull The Other One act Wilfredo (left) with Adam Taffler talked to me via Skype from Leipzig this morning

“I think they really, really enjoyed it,” replied Martin.

“They really did enjoy it,” agreed Adam. “They want so much to open up and we opened them a bit. They’re ready for a lot more of this type of style of humour.”

”What type of humour is that?” I asked. “Surrealist anarchy? When they saw Candy Gigi perform at Pull The Other One in Leipzig, they enjoyed it but mostly reacted with open-mouthed amazement: they hadn’t seen anything like her.”

“I think,” laughed Martin, “that it’s the supreme professionalism we bring to it that gobsmacks them.”

“What is it like now with Adam and Matt as the other two members of the Legs?” I asked.

New Legs (left to right) Adam Taffler, Matt Roper, Martin Soan use sanitised rubber bands

The new Legs (left to right) Adam Taffler, Matt Roper, Martin Soan now use sanitised rubber bands in their Thriller routine

“Well,” said Martin, “my two new members have got a thing about personal hygiene which I’ve never experienced with other Legs members before. They don’t want the balloons being in other people’s mouths. Nor their rubber bands. They sanitised their rubber bands before they went on. They were also rehearsing a bit too much for my liking. They may be a bit too polished for Legs purposes; but I will persist with them.”

“Saturday was our first show together,” said Adam.

“But not the last?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “Absolutely not the last.”

At this point, Vivienne Soan arrived on Skype.

“I’ve been in the bath with a mud pack on,” she said.

“What is next?” I asked.

On 4th October,” said Adam, “an irreverent variety night in a secret Victorian cemetery in London… with Stewart Lee, shadow puppetry and the British Humanist Choir.”

Soiree in a Cemetery

Soiree in a Cemetery – the location is kept secret until the day

“What happens if it rains?” I asked.

“People will bring umbrellas,” said Adam. “And we’ll have covered areas.”

“Like tombs?” I asked.

“Like awnings,” said Adam. “It will be cosy.”

The Greatest Show on Legs’ 1982 Balloon Dance is on YouTube.

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Last night I saw a woman sing with her hand up several dead animals’ heads

The queue stretch along the tunnel last night

Queue stretched along a tunnel while dead animals warmed up

Last night was surreal.

Well, there is surreal and then there is pure gimmickry.

I am not sure which I saw last night.

Pull The Other One comedy club runner Vivienne Soan and I went to see a variety of dead animals sing and perform in The Vaults, which are in an extraordinary officially-graffiti-encouraged tunnel under Waterloo station in London.

The event was artist Charlie Tuesday Gates’ allegedly ‘private’ view and stage performance of exhibits at her Museum of Death.

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house + nose

A very, very large audience was hanging around and queuing outside the venue for about half an hour after the billed start time because, according to the security guy on the door “They’re warming up inside.”

This is not something you necessarily want to hear about performing dead animals.

According to the tease by Saatchi Art, who know a thing or two about ‘bigging-up’ Art: “Despite never describing herself as a taxidermist, Charlie Tuesday Gates was instrumental in bringing this previously dark art into the mainstream with her pioneering performance series, D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE!”

Charlie Tuesday Gates is a vegan.

The come-on for the show went:

Vivienne watched an ‘animaal-ation’ film last night

Vivienne watched a 21st century fox ‘animal-ation’ art film

“Gates’ first solo show since retirement transports you into a fantasy underworld where beauty and death collide with nostalgia and borderline insanity… Controversial ‘animalation’ video pieces will also be screened and a special live performance of Gates’ Musical: ‘SING FOR YOUR LIFE!’ in which real animals are manipulated by hand to perform, sing and dance in a bizarre talent contest: a cross between X-Factor and Pet Rescue…. Where the recently deceased compete for the chance to live again.

“Her fashion brand ‘Mind Like Magpie’ provides the perfect complement to her sculptural work: wearable art that will be showcased alongside the exhibition… Pieces have been commissioned for Elton John, Beyoncé and even appeared on the holy head of Cara Delevingne.”

So there were the exhibits last night…

…and then there was the performance.

Charlie Tuesday Gates

Charlie Tuesday Gates – hand up dead beast

Basically Charlie Tuesday Gates sang while her hand was inside the heads of dead, skinned animals, moving them as if they were doing the singing… and a man manipulated the fore-legs of the dead foxes, badgers, dogs etc. He used sticks attached to the limbs. It was a bit like some Muppet musical staged during the Weimar Republic with disembowelled dead animals.

Someone in the audience told us: “You know, she normally gives live skinning demonstrations during her shows?”

We didn’t.

Is it Art or is it gimmicky?

Is it Art or just a gimmick? People thought Art.

According to the publicity: “Working with audience participation, she skins and stuffs an animal using only the most basic ingredients: salt, sanitary towels and Shake n’ Vac.”

There has been talk of Charlie Tuesday Gates appearing at one of Vivienne & Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows at Nunhead, in London.

I said to Vivienne after the show, as we left through the graffiti-festooned tunnels under Waterloo station: “You should maybe put her on at Pull The Other One in Leipzig. It might remind them of Berlin in 1936. When is your next Leipzig show?”

“June the 7th,” said Vivienne.

“Have you any locals on the bill?” I asked.

“We have Felix & Jander, a couple of local artists in Leipzig. Jander is a mathematician and an artist. He is going to give a lecture to the audience on mathematics.”

“Is he a fine artist or a performance artist?” I asked.

“A performance, fine and mathematical artist,” replied Vivienne.

This did not make things any clearer.

But, perhaps, I would not have it any other way.

Last night was surreal.

That is good.

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Comedy club Pull The Other One will stage a rival to this year’s Glastonbury Festival, headlined by rock band Oasis

A couple of weeks ago, Vivienne Soan phoned me up to tell me she had been certified.

She is now a certified teacher of Laughter Yoga.

In the Laughter Yoga movement, yesterday was the 17th annual World Laughter Day.

Yesterday Vivienne and her husband Martin Soan – who run the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in London – came to my home for dinner because they had been to a laughter workshop in nearby St Albans.

Shortly after they arrived, Martin and I went out to buy him some beer. When we returned, Vivienne and my eternally un-named friend had built a wigwam in my back garden.

Vivienne (top) and un-named friend

Vivienne (top) and un-named friend yesterday

“Didn’t you have one as a child?” Vivienne asked me.

“No,” I replied.

“I thought everyone had one,” said Vivienne.

“Not me,” I said.

My eternally un-named friend said she had not had a real wigwam as a child and had had to make-do with some cardboard boxes.

I did not even have cardboard boxes.

Life can be a trial.

In a couple of weeks, Martin is going up to Muncaster Castle in Cumbria. Last year, Martin was chosen as Muncaster Castle’s Fool for a year. This year’s Fools festival is being held 25th-29th May. So he has to drive up to Cumbria, attend the choosing of this year’s Fool on 29th May, then drive overnight back down to London to set up the regular monthly Pull The Other One on 30th May.

“Then the next morning,” he told me, “I have to pack up the set and travel out to Leipzig where I do a week’s pre-publicity with Vivienne for our Pull The Other One show on 7th June.”

Upcoming Leizig PTOO show

Upcoming Pull The Other One show Leipzig

“And that’s now going to be a regular show in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Bi-monthly until we live there.”

“You are still thinking of moving to Leipzig?” I asked.

“Definitely,” said Martin.

“Martin,” said Vivienne, “I keep getting people come up to me and saying Oh! You’re still here, are you? I thought you were moving to Leipzig. It’s a long-term plan.”

“Definitely,” said Martin.

“It’s the end intention,” I suggested.

“Well, said Martin, “not the end. The beginning.”

“You can speak German?” I asked.

“Of course not,” said Martin. “Nein. Einen Aschenbecher danke.”

“What does that mean?”

“An ashtray, thankyou.”

Vivienne Soan yesterday

Vivienne Soan and palm yesterday

“It just shows,” said Vivienne, “how long he’s taken to learn that phrase. He gave up smoking five years ago.”

“It’s handy, though,” said Martin. “I intend to live in Leipzig sooner rather than later. Viv will be able to get work out there.”

“Well,” said Viv. “If I could, that would be great.”

“We WILL be able to get work out there,” said Martin.

“I hope so,” said Vivienne.

“We ARE going to get work out there,” said Martin.

“Gizza job,” said Vivienne. “Put that in your blog, John. Has anybody got any work for us out there?”

“What I intend,” said Martin, “is to create an annual Festival of The Surreal and get funding for it in Leipzig. The Greatest Show on Legs have always had an element of popular appeal but always with an edge of the surreal.

“I want to get away from all these absurdists and de-constructionists and surrealists and just get back to proper good old-fashioned British eccentricity. I think the continent – and especially Leipzig – is going to open their arms to us, because they seem to have lost that appeal in their cabaret.

“They have very strict, skill-based cabaret. Which is very good. But very much like Cabaret the movie. Great compere. Lovely song and dance routines. And all the artists are very skill-based – contortionists, magicians. But the absurdist side of things – though I don’t want to use words like that – the eccentric side – is lost.”

“What’s the distinction between absurdist and surreal?” I asked.

Vivienne suggested: “Absurdism is like big, big, big. Surrealism is more cerebral and pictorial.”

Martin Soan

Martin Soan in my living room on a previous visit

“If you take it literally,” said Martin, “surrealism is real things taken and given extra meaning. Absurdism is real things with no meaning whatsoever. The one common denominator in comedy between absurdism, surrealism and deconstructionism is it has got to be entertaining and funny. That’s what I want to get back to. It’s easy to be absurd and not funny. Are you going to Glastonbury this year?”

“No,” I answered forlornly.

“We are doing a Pull The Other One Glastonbury Festival Special on Friday 27th June – Glastonbury weekend. Basically, people can save themselves a shedload of cash, come to our show in Nunhead and experience exactly what they would at Glastonbury. We’re going to have a very frightening, naked person walking around drunk and shouting, installations, top-notch comedians, very high profile bands…”

“Such as?” I asked.

Oasis are headlining this year,” said Martin.

“And…?” I asked.

Boothby Graffoe,” replied Martin.

“I’ll be coming then,” I said.

“I have The Poet For Hire booked,” added Martin.

“Who he?”

“He’s one of those installation guys. I’ve got a juggler, a face-painter, everything you would experience at Glastonbury – including a really shitty toilet and the audience will sit in little tents.”

“How will people see over the tent in front of them?” I asked.

“I’m building levels,” said Martin. “It will be tiered tenting.”

“And all this,” I asked, “is going to be in the upstairs room of the Old Nun’s Head pub?”

Martin Soan sits by my Picasso yesterday (free with The Scotsman newspaper)

Martin Soan sits by my Picasso yesterday (It was free in the Scotsman newspaper)

“Yes,” said Martin.

“And you’re going to have Oasis playing?” I asked.

“Definitely,” said Martin. “I’m going to have one of their record covers on stage and play a track of their music and that’s exactly what it would be like at Glastonbury – just like you would see them very, very far away.”

“What about the rain and mud at Glastonbury?” I asked.

Martin ignored this, but I think it is a very valid question, although maybe surrealism would insist on no rain and no mud at a re-imagining of Glastonbury.

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In Leipzig, a bizarre British comedy club succeeds and a Dresden voice impresses

Vivienne Soan even promoted the show to statues

Vivienne Soan even flyered the PTOO show to local statues

Pull The Other One’s brand of bizarre British comedy cabaret club seems to have transferred successfully to Germany on its first attempt. Last night, the doors opened at 8.30pm for their 9.00pm first show in Leipzig and, with pre-bookings and people turning up on the night, the house was totally full by 8.45pm and a large number of people had to be turned away.

On the bill were (in order of appearance) Vivienne and Martin Soan, Dickie Richards (one third of the Greatest Show On Legs), eye-opening Berlin cabaret act Bartuschka (who did her act partly in English), stand-up Nick Revell (who did his act partly in German) and Candy Gigi who successfully did her act on some other planet much to the open-mouthed appreciative shock of the local audience.

Dickie Richards last night pondering his opening

Dickie Richards last night pondering openings

There was much talk before the show about whether the locals would 100% understand English, but this seemed to be no problem. And Dickie Richards (who is part Polish) resolved his artistic crisis of “Shall I start with How Poland started the Second World War or shall I do the fart material?” by choosing the latter. It was a successful choice, though I suspect Option 1 might have worked too.

That was last night.

This afternoon, local Leipzig film maker Kali took Martin Soan and me to see Dresden-based singer Anna Maria Scholz aka Annamateur interviewed and perform on live radio show MDR Figaro-Cafe

I cannot speak nor read a word of German, so a 90 minute show mostly comprising chat was an interesting experience, mostly involving me listening carefully to the cadences of the words in the abstract. But, then, I used to enjoy listening to the abstract splendour of BBC Radio 4’s late-night Offshore Shipping Forecast and, in years long gone by, a BBC announcer reading the day’s Stock Market prices.

Anna Maria Scholz, as promoted by MDR Figaro-Cafe

Anna Maria Scholz aka Annamateur, as shown by Figaro-Cafe

I am glad I went, though, because it meant I heard and saw Anna Maria Scholz perform.

I may not understand German words, but I know an astonishingly talented and varied voice when I hear one. Every song different and a showcase in itself.

Martin & Vivienne Soan’s Pull The Other One is set to return to Leipzig in April and, after that, with luck, the German version of their club will be monthly.

There is a 2012 video of Anna Maria Scholz on YouTube.

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