Tag Archives: Malcolm hardee

What other comedians said about “the godfather of UK comedy” after he died

Today would have been comedian Malcolm Hardee’s 69th birthday. Who knows how he might have commented on that number?

He was born on 5th January 1950. He drowned in a dock in Rotherhithe, by the River Thames,  on 31st January 2005. He was drunk and fell in.

In their coverage of his death, the Daily Telegraph called him the “Godfather to a generation of comic talent”.

The Guardian’s extensive coverage called him the “patron sinner of alternative comedy, renowned for his outrageous stunts”

The Independent’s obituary said he was “the greatest influence on British comedy over the last 25 years”.

The Times’ obituary said: “Throughout his life he maintained a fearlessness and an indifference to consequences”.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

These are a few of those memories, starting with my own…


JOHN FLEMING – 3rd February 2005

Malcolm successfully turned himself into a South London Jack The Lad but the real Malcolm was and remained entirely different – a highly intelligent, rather shy, gentle and – despite his borrowing habits and forgetfulness – an enormously generous man.

People ask why women were so astonishingly attracted to him. I think it was because they discovered that, underneath the “Fuck it! Don’t give a shit!” exterior, he was a gentle schoolboy who just had a love of pranks, wheezes and escapades.

He was much loved by everyone who knew him well.

I remember being in his living room one afternoon. 

For no reason, he suddenly pulled a real goldfish from its bowl and put it in his mouth so its little orange tail was flip-flopping between his lips. He looked at me for approval through his spectacles with wide-open, innocent eyes.

At this point, coincidentally, his wife Jane came into the room, looked at his mouth and said casually, “Oh no,” then, more reprovingly, “Not AGAIN, Malcolm.”

He looked rather embarrassed, as if caught with his trousers down.

The irony, of course, is that, with his trousers down, he was never embarrassed.


BRIAN DAMAGE, comedian – 4th February

I’ve met some great people on the comedy circuit but Malcolm was without a doubt one of the best… and the funniest.

When I heard the terrible news, after the initial shock, I hoped that this might just be another of his scams to wind people up. I wouldn’t put it past him – but sadly I now know it isn’t.

I’ll never forget the Sunday night at Up The Creek when two girls died a terrible death. As they left the stage with the hair standing up on the back of their necks, Malcolm said: “Well, they were shit but… I’d fuck the fat one!”

Thanks Malcolm for all the laughs and encouragement and South Africa and Glastonbury and The Wibbley Wobbley and the odd bit of trouble you got me into. I’m proud to have known you. I’ll miss you a hell of a lot.

The comedy circuit won’t be the same without you

Oy Oy mate. Knob out.


IAN COGNITO, comedian – 5th February

My abiding and most recent memories involve an early morning swim (I know) after a bit of a night ahht. 

He’d managed to find some security code for one of the big officey blocks round the dock with its own, and subsequently Malc’s, private pool overlooking the Thames. It was an hour earlier than I expected ‘cos he’d never put his clock back and this was December. 

So it’s into one of his dodgy cars to visit an 80 year old lady called Moth for morning coffee, then off to try and blag some horse riding. Upon reaching these stables, after a spot of lunch, we were told someone had moved in nearby who claimed to know Malcolm. 

Without ascertaining friend or foe, we went to a house in the middle of nowhere. 

“Who am I?” asked Malcolm. 

We were invited in for champagne and Christmas dinner. Then to the Lord Hood pub in Greenwich where we seemed to blag some free buffet, (I can just see him wiping his hands halfway up his suit, the way he did after cleaning his plate with his finger, and why not.) 

Finally back to the Wibbley Wobbley to find more playmates. 

Up until the evening, Malcolm had drunk just half a pint of bitter and blagged a fiver off me for petrol. 

No fucking drama, just a lovely day out with a lovely man. 

All that for a fiver.


JERRY SADOWITZ, comedian – 6th February

Irresponsible, conscience free, worry free, fun seeking, knew how to have a laugh, a woman in every port, highly intelligent… all the things I wish I could be… So I resented him a lot of the time! 

But the measure of this man is that he could wind you up, rip you off, embarrass and exasperate you… and you’d still love him despite all that. What a rare quality!!

I will miss him, despite the load of shit he spouted about me and the world is definitely a poorer place for his passing. Why could this not have happened to any other comic or promoter????!!!!!


MAURICE GIBB, Edinburgh fireman – 6th February

I first met Malcolm back in 1981 when he appeared with The Greatest Show on Legs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival following on from their successful TV appearance on OTT performing the Balloon Dance. 

I was the Fire Brigade officer that year tasked with ensuring the public were safe in respect of fire hazards during a performance – no mean feat considering Malcolm’s love of all things incendiary!

Like many others who knew Malcolm I was taken by his personality, intelligence and love of fun but in particular it was his “Fuck it” attitude to life that I truly admired and envied the most.

Malcolm and I remained friends and in contact right up to his untimely death and I will always be grateful for the fun and laughter that we shared over the last 23 years.

I will miss him a lot.


PAUL ‘WIZO’ WISEMAN, accomplice – 6th February

I first meet Malcolm when I was five. 

I was dressed in a full cowboy outfit (it was the fashion then) and it was my first day at primary school. He looked at me and started giggling.

We then spent the next 48 years giggling with occasional bouts of prison, setting fire to cinemas, blowing up stolen buses with fireworks and driving cars through supermarket windows as well as showbiz bollocks. 

He was the most fearless man I have ever meet as well as painfully shy, which he overcame with bluster and sheer persistence and a large pair of bollocks. 

When we were both sentenced to Borstal for various naughty boy things at Exeter Assizes in 1971, we both got our dicks out to the judge when he sent us down.

Knob out, thousand pounds, nightmare.


GEORGE EGG, comedian –  7th February

I was 19 when I did my first paid spot on the comedy circuit. It was at Up The Creek and for many years after it was the only club I played, because Malcolm was the only person who’d book me.

Some years ago I’d expressed interest in the fairground mirrors that were in the since closed Comedy Empire in Willesden and Malcolm had assured me I’d be able to get them for only a few quid so I took a trip up to London especially. 

I was directed to some bloke in Greenwich market who said they’d cost me a grand, so I called Malcolm who apologised for the mistake but asked me to pop round. 

We visited his boat and ‘Concrete Ken’, where we had a beer, and then we drove to some place in Whitechapel for a fantastic curry, all courtesy of Malcolm of course. 

Next we visited a bookie’s where he proceeded to bet shockingly high stakes on two races, both of which he won and we finally drove back to his place where his son’s friends were hanging around outside the house, sitting on steps and car bonnets.

“Look, it’s like New York,” he said, and then, “Right, I’m going back to bed. Knob out!”

It’s a small but fond memory.

A genuinely lovely man. The comedy circuit will not be the same without him. Malcolm was to British comedy what John Peel was to British music.


DOMINIC HOLLAND, comedian – 7th February

Is there anyone in comedy who was more liked than Malcolm? 

It is sad but, in an industry where success is covertly resented by too many, I suppose Malcolm fitted the bill for being liked perfectly. He was notorious but crucially not so successful either. 

What he had that set him apart was his great generosity of spirit. 

A rogue and a shyster, of course, but he was also a genuinely kind man and, aside from all his knob out antics, he was actually a shy and sensitive man who needed just as much approval as the next comic. 

I expect most people that knew him weren’t altogether surprised to hear the sad news about his death, but their sadness would have been brief and countered by their own memories and warmth of this lovely man. 

I’ll remember him most for the way he brought me on stage at the Creek on a dire Sunday night. I’d avoided Sundays for years. All the comics said that they were shit, so I thought What’s the point? But Malcolm kept on at me and finally I stuck it in the diary. 

So, after about 8 acts, most of which hadn’t gone very well, Malcolm was about to bring me on: 

“Last bloke on now. It’s his first Sunday night down here, because he just does Fridays and Saturdays and storms it… so he’s well overdue for a shit one. Oy, oy.” 

And he was right. 

I had a shit gig and smiled all the way home because only Malcolm would have said that and only Malcolm Hardee could have got away with it. 

In comedy, people try desperately hard to appear different. 

Malcolm was different, and as said by so many other people, he will be very very missed.


Mr METHANE, farteur – 7th February

I always thought that, underneath all that East End stuff he had going on, Malcolm was genuinely a really nice bloke and a real character. There’s not enough characters around these days and consequently its a sad loss.


OWEN O’NEILL, comedian – 7th February

You were suspicious of poetry
saw clear through most of it
even with those glasses.
Dickens would have loved you Malcolm
would have immortalised you, given you
a name like Swindle Rotherhind, or Tucker Lawless.

But you didn’t need Dickens, you wrote
the chapters of your own life.
MALCOLM HARDEE
Your name fitted you like your food-stained ill fitting baggy suits. You were wide open, a big bad innocent book with no new leaves to turn.
All your pages stuck together, bound by your first rule of comedy: “Fall over! Get your knob out!”

You once caused me to cry with laughter until
I thought I would die. You took me for a ride in The Tartan Taxi. It had tartan seats and tartan carpets and tartan fairy-lights and a tape playing awful tartan bagpipe music and the driver changed hats and smiled like a lunatic as he drove us round and round and round the same roundabout for half an hour.

You encouraged him Malcolm. You encouraged the child in all of us, blew raspberries and pissed down the back of pomposity. We will miss you Malcolm. No one is brave enough to take your place. So when you fell over for the last time on Monday the thirty first of January two thousand and five, I really hope you had your knob out.

This last bit of the poem is a bit tasteless Malcolm. Some people might be offended by it.
They might think it’s not very nice to speak of the dead in this way… What’s that you say?
Fuck ‘em Oy Oy!
Yes, that’s what I thought you said.

… CONTINUED HERE

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My Comedy Taste. Part 3: Stand-ups vs jugglers. Skill is not the same as talent.

I posted Part 1 and Part 2 the last couple of days, so …here is Part 3 – the penultimate part – of a conversation in London’s Soho Theatre Bar back in the mists of 2017 in which comedy festival judge and linguistic advisor Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy. I continue to talk less than fluently through my own anal passage


LOUISETTE: So you admire skilled and talented people…

JOHN: Yes, but skill and talent are not the same thing. Malcolm Hardee – the highly-regarded British comedian, philosopher and nudist – always used to say he didn’t like mime or juggling, because they are skills not talents and “a tragic waste of time”.

If an average person practises for 12 hours a day for 5 years, they could probably become an excellent mime or an excellent juggler. But, if they practise endlessly trying to be a good comedian, they would not necessarily end up an even average comedian because there is some innate talent required to be a good comedian.

If you have two good jugglers or mimes, they can probably be as effective doing each other’s routines.

If you have two good comedians, even if they deliver the lines with exactly the same intonation and pauses, they very possibly cannot be as effective doing each other’s material.

LOUISETTE: Because there is something in the person…

Tommy: often copied; never bettered

JOHN: Yes. Though it depends on the jokes a little. People CAN do Tommy Cooper jokes and impressions quite successfully because the jokes are very short and simple and the timing is built-in to his very specific style of delivery. But I have seen people steal short, snappy, very funny Milton Jones jokes and they can’t deliver them as effectively as he does.

LOUISETTE: Some funny people are born writers and some are born performers.

JOHN: In days of yore, you didn’t write your own jokes; you bought them. Bob Monkhouse and Denis Goodwin used to write for Bob Hope. Well, that still happens, of course. (Famous comedian A) has a scriptwriter. And (Famous comedian B) buys loads of gags. I know the guy who writes for (Famous comedian A) and he was watching some TV panel show recently and one of his jokes from a few years before turned up. Which was fine; he had been paid for it.

LOUISETTE: Bob Monkhouse was brilliant. But would you have paid to go and see him? You said earlier that you would not pay to see Michael McIntyre because he was too professional for you.

JOHN: Interestingly, I WOULD have gone to see Bob Monkhouse and I have no idea why… I… I dunno. He was the Michael McIntyre of his time and he would have been the same every night.

LOUISETTE: He was a different comedian to McIntyre with a different relationship to the audience.

JOHN: I suppose the attraction of Monkhouse was that you could throw any subject at him and, off the top of his head, he would have six or ten cracking good jokes about it. No tricks. He was just like a joke encyclopaedia.

As a kid, I never rated Ted Ray – who was a generation before Monkhouse but had that same encyclopaedic joke ability. But maybe that’s because I was just a kid. Maybe if I saw him now I would appreciate his ability more. Though, to me, he never had Monkhouse’s charisma.

Bob: “He just really was hyper-sensitive”

Monkhouse had a terrible public reputation for being smarmy and insincere – largely from his stint presenting The Golden Shot – but I don’t think he was. He just really was hyper-sensitive. I only encountered him once. We had him on Tiswas and he famously liked slapstick: he had acres of slapstick films and idolised the great slapstick performers but, when he agreed to do Tiswas, the one thing he specified up-front was: “You can’t shove a custard pie in my face.” No-one had any idea why.

The pies were made of highly-whipped shaving foam, not custard, so they wiped off without damage or stickiness, but he wouldn’t have it. No problem. He said it up-front. No problem, but very strange.

LOUISETTE: You like the encyclopaedic part of Monkhouse and his ability to tell pre-prepared jokes well. But what about, at the other end of the spectrum, Johnny Vegas? He appeals to your love of more anarchic things?

JOHN: Malcolm Hardee phoned me up one Sunday afternoon and said: “You gotta come down to Up The Creek tonight to see this new comedian Johnny Vegas. You and me will love him but the audience might not.” No-one had ever heard of Johnny Vegas, then. 

I went and saw him that night and Malcolm and I loved him and the audience loved him. You could feel the adrenaline in the air. You had no idea what he was going to say or do next and I don’t think he did either. I remember him clambering through and over the audience in the middle of his act for no logical reason.

Hardee called Johnny Vegas “a genius”

He had no vastly detailed act. He just reacted to the audience’s reactions to what he did. Utterly brilliant. I said to Malcolm: “He’s never going to be a success, because he can’t do 2-minute jokes on TV and repeat them word-for-word and action-for-action in rehearsals, camera rehearsals, dress rehearsals and recordings.”

And I was wrong, of course. He HAS become very successful on TV. But not really as a comic. He made it as a personality – on panel shows where he could push the personality angle.

There was amazing adrenaline in the air that night at Up The Creek. You can feel adrenaline in a live show. But you can’t feel it through a TV screen.

A few years later, I saw Johnny Vegas perform an hour-long show at the Edinburgh Fringe and Malcolm had seen the show for maybe seven nights before that – every night. And Malcolm used the word “genius” about Johnny and I said: “You almost never ever use that word about anyone,” and he said, “Every time I’ve seen this show in the last seven days, it’s been a totally different show.”

Not just slightly different. A 100% totally different show.

Janey Godley is interesting in that respect because you know the story of her NOT being nominated for the Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Fringe?

LOUISETTE: No. Tell me.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comic Becky Fury, who married comic Arthur Smith, has won multiple Awards

Last year’s Edinburgh Fringe saw the last Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards, but it is good to see former winners upholding Malcolm’s  penchant for creative inexactitude.

There is an admirable piece of not-altogether incorrect publicity on display in Edinburgh courtesy of Malcolm Hardee Award winner Becky Fury…

She won the Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award in 2016 for seeming to claim in her publicity she was a finalist for the main Last Minute Comedy Award in Edinburgh… In fact, she had been a finalist for a totally different award from a similarly-named but totally different Last Minute lot (a small club no-one had heard of). She also put her Fringe poster on the Tinder dating site on the basis that she would either get additional audience members or a steady supply of young men or both.

After the Fringe was over, a mate of Malcolm’s then saw her perform in a pub in South London and gave her something which he also called a Malcolm Hardee Award.

So, on her posters and flyers this, year, Becky is honestly, if misleadingly, claiming again (arguably truthfully) that she was a 2016 Last Minute Comedy Finalist while adding that she won two Malcolm Hardee Awards in 2016.

She also has, on her posters and flyers, laurels for winning – this year – the ‘Arthur Smiffy Award For Show That Is Probably Very Good But I Haven’t Seen Yet’.

This Arthur Smiffy (for which, read Arthur Smith) Award might or might not be true as she ‘married’ Arthur Smith in Cumbria this year as part of a comedy show. Note that she ‘married’ him not married him.

In publicity, punctuation can make all the difference.

It is good to see traditions being upheld.

I think Malcolm would have approved of all this.

After all, with Arthur Smith, he did once write a review of his own comedy show, submitted it to The Scotsman newspaper under the name of their esteemed comedy critic… and they published it.

Cunning Stunts are to be encouraged and cherished in Edinburgh and elsewhere in the show business.

Becky’s show is titled The Apocaloptimist.

And, strangely, Fury is her real name.

I think.

That’s what she says, anyway.

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Steve From Up North says: “It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy”

Steve Taylor reflects on his new poetry book

Steve Taylor – aka ‘Steve From Up North’ – was last mentioned in this blog in October 2011.

I think he was given his geographical nickname by the late comic Malcolm Hardee.

In fact, Steve is from the North West of England. 

From 1981 to 1989, Steve was landlord of the Royal Oak pub in Chorley, Lancashire.

In March this year, he told the Chorley Guardian:

“In the 1980s, no comedy clubs existed outside of London. In 1982 Chorley comedian Phil Cool came into our pub. Because I was into comedy I recognised him.

“He was about to make it big time and said he wanted somewhere to practise and work-in his routine. So I started a comedy club downstairs in our cellar called Laughingas Comedy.

“We had this idea that every other Monday night there would be a guest comedian and anyone else who wanted to try out their material.

“Then I went to London and brought some acts from there, such as Jo Brand, Jeremy Hardy from Radio 4, Arnold Brown from The Comedy Store, Phil Cornwell from Stella Street, Felix Dexter, who was one of the first comedians on the circuit, and Jenny Eclair.”

Now Steve has written a poetry book – Reflections.

So I talked to him via Skype.

Steve Taylor with his then wife Kim at The Royal Oak, Chorley, in the 1980s


JOHN: You got into comedy back in the 1980s at the right time. Is this the right time to get into poetry?

STEVE: (LAUGHS) Well, I stopped promoting comedy just as it became popular and there was money to be made out of it. 

JOHN: And poetry?

STEVE: You can’t make money writing poetry, unless you write verses for Christmas cards and birthday cards. Who pays you for poems other than comedy nights? – If you’re lucky.

JOHN: So why the career change – writing poetry?

STEVE: I would never be arrogant enough to call myself a poet. Being ‘a poet’ is like you do it for a living. It would be nice to do it for a living, but it will never happen.

JOHN: Why?

STEVE: It just won’t.

JOHN: So why poetry now?

STEVE: I’ve always written stuff but never kept it. Then, about three years ago, I wrote something on holiday which I really liked and I thought: THIS could be performed! It was a poem about Magaluf. So I tried doing a few poems at a couple of open mic nights and they went really well. 

I thought: I’m going to save the poems. And, as time went on, I just felt myself in the frame of mind to write. When I started writing more and more and including them in stand-up gigs and putting some on Facebook, people started saying: Why don’t you put them in a book?

JOHN: Are they written as performance poems?

STEVE: In the book, perhaps about 30% are performance poems. There’s 100 poems in there.

JOHN: Is there a poetry circuit in the North West of England?

“Comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect poetry”

STEVE: I’m not keen on the poetry circuit. I feel more comfortable playing to an audience that don’t expect to get poetry.

So I might play to an open mic night where it’s 90% musicians. Or a folk music club where it’s musicians and singers.

I feel better there because I don’t feel I’m competing against people who are doing the same thing.

I have a very low opinion of my ability and I worry that I won’t be good enough.

I’ve not done anything outside Lancashire yet.

JOHN: Could some of them be turned into songs?

STEVE: Maybe 20%-25% of the ones in the book were written with a tune in mind.

JOHN: An original tune?

STEVE: Yeah. But, as I can’t sing or play an instrument…

JOHN: You mention Bob Williamson in the book.

STEVE: Very, very funny bloke, Bob. He was a good friend. A great friend. I carried his coffin, sadly. He and I set up a comedy club in 2000. It was called Laughingas. The same name I had used before. Peter Kay did the opening night. He had done That Peter Kay Thing and was just writing and filming Phoenix Nights at the time. He packed the place; he did an hour and a half for his 20-minute set.

The trouble was, when we set that club up in 2000 and I phoned up all the Names I used to know, they said: “Oh sorry, we can’t do it now. We’re tied-up with Jongleurs.” Or “We’re tied-up with the Comedy Store. They won’t let us do other gigs…” Well, at least, they said they had to be available for them. If I booked them and, say, the Comedy Store had a drop-out and phoned them, they had to do it.

JOHN: Why are you not running clubs now?

STEVE: I keep losing money on them  Too many people are doing them now.

JOHN: Have you been influenced by anyone in poetry?

The inspirational Northerner John Cooper Clarke

STEVE: Not particularly, but I love John Cooper Clarke. When I was into punk music in the 1970s, I thought: He’s a poet… But he is cool and trendy and listenable… It made me feel it was more acceptable to write poetry and it didn’t have to be arty-farty. My very first performance poem – it’s in the book – was I Want To Be a Ranting Poet. It was a put-down of ranting poets and now I am one at times. He is mentioned in it. I think John Cooper Clarke made poetry accessible to anyone.

JOHN: I suppose Wordsworth was a Northern poet.

STEVE: I’m not particularly interested in poets. I know very little about poets. There was a great poet on the circuit, sadly currently dead – Hovis Presley. There’s a lot of good Northern poets – like Tony Walsh.

JOHN: So you are writing poetry for ‘ordinary folk’ – but ‘ordinary folk’ get embarrassed by poetry, don’t they? They think it’s a bit arty-farty and ‘not for me’. Is there a problem about finding the audience?

STEVE: Yeah, but I run a pub, as I have done for 30-odd years. I did a launch party for the book in my pub – full of football fans, builders, rough ’n’ ready and I can’t believe how many of them bought it and liked it.

JOHN: Well, once people give themselves permission to read ‘poetry’ with an open mind…

STEVE: I sold out the first print run of the book quite quickly – I covered my costs and made a small profit – and I’m now in the process of seeing if I can get it in Waterstones bookshops. 

JOHN: Is it available on Amazon?

STEVE: No, you can only get it through me at the moment.

JOHN: Is there a website?

STEVE: There’s a list of contacts in the book – My phone number, my Facebook page, my email.

JOHN: Isn’t that a problem? If you want to find out where to buy the book, you have to buy the book. This might slow sales.

STEVE: I also have a Facebook Poetry Page: Steven P Taylor Poetry.

JOHN: If you get on Amazon, you might find you become a cult in somewhere like Western Australia or Guatemala.

STEVE: The book is quite parochial to Lancashire.

JOHN: You think? I think it has got general appeal.

The Brook pub in Ramsbottom, near Bury, in Lancashire

STEVE: Well, the back section has poems about my home town of Bury, my time at college in Bolton, my love of Manchester and the village of Ramsbottom, where I am now.

JOHN: I don’t think The Beatles’ Penny Lane or Strawberry Fields only appeal to people from Liverpool, though.

You didn’t tailor it to a specific audience?

STEVE: I have written stuff to order. Someone asked me to write something for a wedding, to put on a plaque. And someone else wanted something about Bonfire Night. (It’s in the book.) It took me 45 minutes all in one go to write this quite long poem about childhood and Bonfire Night, which I was really pleased with.

Sometimes I can do that; other times I think over them forever. Most of my best poems come out in one go. I think the hardest thing about poetry is not the writing of it. It’s the coming up with the idea of what to write about. When I’m telling myself I have to write ‘some stuff’, it doesn’t really flow the same. It’s when I get an actual idea and a theme: that’s when it flows. It’s all about life, really – poetry and comedy. It’s about what you see and how you interpret it.


I WANT TO BE A RANTING POET

I want to be a ranting poet,
I’ve got the accent right, I know it,
Aggressive delivery of my own,
And talking in a monotone,
I’ve got no talent and want to show it,
By being,
A ranting poet.
It’s easy when you get the hang,
You don’t use big words just slang,
You don’t have worries trying to fit,
All the things you want to say on one line because in ranting poetry it doesn’t matter anyway and no one gives a shit.
No one laughs and no one smiles,
At poems that go on for miles,
So how can I make my name,
With poems that all sound the same,
Johnny Clarke did it, he showed the way,
A living legend still today.
I have to think of something new,
And give it my political left wing view,
Talk about things that have happened to me,
Nostalgia’s not what it used to be,
Or wars and crime and unemployment,
Dole queues, bus queues
Snooker cues ? Disappointment .
Walking the streets up and down all day,
Depressing everyone going my way,
No this ranting poetry’s not for me,
I thing I’ll have to leave it be,
I had a go I had my try,
I think I’ll sod off home now
Bye.


(SINCE THIS BLOG WAS POSTED, STEVE HAS BUILT A WEBSITE WHICH IS… HERE)

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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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The Comedy Store, Saturday Night Live and being a stripper in 1980s Finland

The current Comedy Store entrance in London

Kim Kinnie died last weekend. The Chortle comedy website described him as a “Svengali of alternative comedy… the long-serving gatekeeper of the Comedy Store (in London) and a ‘spiritual godfather’ to many stand-ups in the early days of alternative comedy… Kinnie started out as a choreographer and stage manager of the Gargoyle Club, the Soho strip club where The Comedy Store began in 1979”.

This blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith used to work at the Gargoyle Club – she now lives on a boat in Vancouver – so I asked her if she remembered him. This was her reply:


Anna retouched her nose in this.

Yes. He (and Don Ward) hired me on the spot when I auditioned there as a stripper.

I have had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and lost my internet at home, so I have been reading for a bit, about the Irish in Montreal, and maybe a Margaret Cho bio next.

Recently, I have felt like trying standup again after this almost 40 year interval. I was telling some stories I call my “God Guy” stories to a crazy lady at work – a client – She thinks she has a snake living in her ankle and wears a TRUMP supporter badge,

Anyhow, she loved my stories and was having me repeat them to everybody.

I say I did stand-up comedy almost 40 years ago. Maybe I should have call it Pop Out Comedy, as I would pop out of my costume when the audience was too rambunctious.

A poster for the Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne clubs

I wasn’t doing stand up among the dancers. The Gargoyle/Nell Gwynne club had a theatre, where the strip shows were done and The Comedy Store was in a separate room (and floor actually) which was set up more like a supper club, with round tables and a stage barely a foot above floor level. There is a picture in the book by William Cook showing a punter sitting at a table in front of the stage, resting his feet ON the stage!

For some reason I remembered the theatre as upstairs and the comedy club downstairs but, from the memoirs of other comics, it was the reverse. The club was upstairs and the theatre downstairs. The comics sometimes used to come in and watch us do our shows before they went on.

When I went there I auditioned first as a dancer, but then I also used to do stand up at the open mike (which was in a gong show format) at The Comedy Store. It was in the very early days of the Store. It had only been open about a year and the compères were Tony Allen and Jim Barclay.

Tony Green, aka Sir Gideon Vein. Photo circa 1983/1884

Jim Barclay used to wear the arrow-through-his-head thing at the time. I saw Sir Gideon Vein doing his horror show, in his hundred year frock coat. He always started his act by saying: “This looks like the place to be-eeeeeee…” and then he told a ridiculous ‘Tale of Terror’ about The Gamboli Trilplets, Tina, Lina and Gina… John Hegley was a hit right off the bat there. Others took longer to find their feet.

Most of the comics were ultra politically correct and some were really boring. The audience has been rightly described as a bear pit – very drunk, mostly young people who had too much money. They thought nothing of throwing objects at us. One time the chef, newly arrived from Bangaldesh, rushed out to offer first aid to Sir Gideon Vein, who had a stream of fake blood pouring over his face – because comics were known to suffer injuries from the audience throwing their designer boots at them.

The Greatest Show on Legs – (L-R) Malcolm Hardee, Chris Lynam and Martin Soan (Photo: Steven Taylor)

The Greatest Show on Legs were there one night and the first time I saw them I couldn’t believe it – they were so hilarious – so I ran down to our (strippers) dressing room and made the other dancers run up the stairs so they wouldn’t miss it. We watched them through a glass window in a door at the back of the club. Malcolm Hardee was, of course, glad to have a bunch of strippers admiring his act and greeted us after the show with a genial “Hello LADIES”.

I had started doing stand up in Toronto as I loved comedy already, before I went to London. In Toronto my strip shows had become sillier as I went along. Once I learned the rudiments of striptease, I found it impossible to take seriously. How could I take seriously taking off my clothes in public for a bunch of old men? When I did my nurse show I dressed in a real nurse outfit with flat shoes.

The audience really loved my silly character and act. I used to start it with a song called I Think I’m Losing My Marbles. I would come out with my first aid kit and whip out a notebook and, looking really bitchy, I would pretend to take notes on the audience and would put on a surgical mask.

It was pretty complicated but I realised that if you are a young woman dressed as a nurse you can get away with just about anything.

The original 1975 cast of Saturday Night Live (Left-Right) Laraine Newman, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Gilda Radner, Garrett Morris, Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase.

Another time, when I was about 22 years old and still living in Toronto, I went to New York and, dressed as a nurse, showed up at the offices of Saturday Night Live and I just walked in looking for Lorne Michaels, the producer.

At the time, I wasn’t looking for comedy work. I went there (without an appointment) because I wanted to ask if they could give my musician boyfriend a spot on  the show.  It sounds like a long shot, but my boyfriend had been at the University of Toronto with Lorne Michaels and the show’s musical director Paul Shaffer, who are both Canadian.

It took me a couple of days but eventually I got a meeting with Paul Shaffer. He was very nice and I sat there in his office as he explained to me that, sadly, even though he was the musical director, he didn’t actually have much say in which acts were chosen for the show because John Belushi held the balance of power there, so all the musical acts chosen to be premiered on Saturday Night Live were friends of John.

Life was never boring.

When I was dancing on the Belgian porno cinema circuit, there was a particularly dedicated licence inspector in Liege whom I managed to avoid by hiding on the roof of the cinema (probably half dressed in costume, after my shows). Eventually, he caught me and so I had to visit the Harley Street physician dictated by the Belgian Embassy and got a certificate to prove that I was physically and mentally fit to strip for Belgians.

I may be coming back to Amsterdam this year or next. If I do, I will try to find some other shows or work like playing a double bass half naked or some such nonsense. Is there much work for that type of thing do you think? Or maybe I will go to a burlesque festival in Finland.

The ever interesting Anna Smith

I danced in Finland in February around 1985 and it was exceptionally cold that year. But not indoors.

I was billed as Lumoojatar, which means an enchantress. I took trains all over the country for one month and then did a week at a cinema on the waterfront of Helsinki called La Scala.

In my CV, I say that I stripped at La Scala.

When I did my show at La Scala, all the men were wearing wolf skin hats. All I saw was a sea of wolf skin hats. One time, when I was passing through the lobby, a tiny man wearing a wolf skin hat – who appeared to be about 85 or so – told me in halting English: “You very good show. Very good. Very good, I know. I am connoisseur!”

The worst thing that happened to me was in the industrial town of Tampere where the policemen wore earmuffs. I was dancing on the floor of a cavernous bar (it seemed more like an arena than a bar). I could barely hear my music – theme songs from James Bond movies. The audience of paper mill workers on their afternoon break seemed thrilled anyway. A rough-looking lone old woman in the audience stuck her tongue out at me.

After my show, I was getting dressed in a toilet and an enormous drunk man suddenly threw the door open, advanced towards me and then dropped to his knees bellowing in Finnish.

Before I could figure out what to do next, four more men crashed in and grabbed the first man.

“He wants to marry you,” they explained, laughing and apologetic as they dragged him out.

My phone’s battery is about to die now. I am going for a swim.

Anna Smith took this selfie in Antwerp

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My surprising top ten blogs of last year

(Photograph by Ariane Sherine)

I started this blog in 2010 and it is usually referred-to as a “comedy blog” but, just out of quirky interest, here is a list of what were my Top Ten blogs in terms of hits last year.

This list is obviously more a reflection of who my readers are than anything else…

1) Where the Kray Twins gangster film “Legend” got it all so very badly wrong

2) The practicalities of putting your head in a gas oven: my 2nd suicide attempt

3) Krayzy Days – Why London gangster Ronnie Kray really shot George Cornell inside the Blind Beggar pub in 1966

4) What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

5) Hello to the Bye Bye Girls – Ruby Wax’s offspring – two Siblings on the Fringe

6) Creating a Legend – The Krays and the killing of ‘Mad Axeman’ Frank Mitchell

7) What it is like to be on the jury of a murder case at the Old Bailey in London

8) Why Chris Tarrant’s TV show OTT was taken off air – a naked Malcolm Hardee

9) Edinburgh Fringe, Day 12: How to destroy a comedy career & other news

10) The death of an Italian archaeologist who knew so many 20th century secrets

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