Tag Archives: Nunhead

Why audiences would rather pay than see free comedy shows in London

Martin Soan and Paul Vickers before a Pull The Other One

Martin and Vivienne Soan have been running Pull the Other One comedy nights in Nunhead, South London, for over ten years. The shows are monthly. You pay to enter; and, in my opinion, they are always value for money whoever is on the bill.

Relatively recently, they also started monthly sister shows – free to enter – called It’s Got Bells On.

These two monthly comedy shows mean Martin and Vivienne run shows roughly every fortnight.

Pull The Other One is at the Ivy House in Nunhead; It’s Got Bells On is at the Old Nun’s Head in – you guessed it – Nunhead.

Martin has always paid acts to perform at It’s Got Bells On, though entry has been free for audiences. From this Friday, though, Martin is going to charge £3 entry.

“Why?” I asked him a couple of weeks ago, before a Pull The Other One show.

Also sitting at the table, mute, was Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey.

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“So,” I said, turning back to Martin Soan, “why start charging entry?”

“Well,” said Martin, “I started It’s Got Bells On because I was getting a little tired of putting on stuff that sells. If I book a big name like Alan Davies or Omid Djalili or Stewart Lee at Pull The Other One, people will happily pay to come along.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan

“If I don’t have a big name, people won’t come along in such big numbers, Which is very frustrating because all the shows are always consistently good. (Martin tells the truth here.) It doesn’t matter who is on, the shows are worth the same ticket price. The fickle nature of the public, though, is that more will come along if they see a name they recognise. And, because the audience is paying, the acts feel they have to deliver risk-free performances.

“So I wanted to have a free-to-enter evening which would allow acts to be more anarchic and experiment more without worrying about the possibility of failing. I could also feed off It’s Got Bells On and transfer acts tried-out there into Pull The Other One.

“What happened was that the first few months of It’s Got Bells On were incredibly successful. I didn’t realise at the time why, but the (mostly South London) acts I was putting on were bringing along lots of friends. But then, when I started having acts on from North London, they didn’t bring friends and I had only 20-30 people coming in, which was disappointing.”

“Why,” I asked, “would charging get you bigger audiences?”

“People have been talking to me, saying: I didn’t want to come along because it was free so, obviously, it was not going to be very good. Which isn’t true, but that’s what they think. So I thought: Right, fuck it. We will charge the audience, but all the ticket money will go directly to the Clowns Without Borders charity. 

It’s Got Bells On – £3 this Friday in Nunhead

So the people who won’t come to free shows because they think they will be shit may come to this pay show because they assume it will be better. But we will keep the essential elements of It’s Got Bells On – freedom from having to do risk-free comedy and allowing people to experiment. And I will still (as before) pay everyone £20 to perform. So it’s good for the performers and hopefully now people will start taking it a bit more seriously because there’s an admission fee (which goes directly to Clowns Without Borders).

“I’m still gobsmacked by the attitude of audiences out there. People have got these boundaries of what they will allow themselves to experience. If the performers have been on television, then that’s OK. They will come. At Pull The Other One, invariably, when we have really big names on, we will put acts either side who are completely nuts and the audience will come out saying: I loved the Big Name but that guy who did the blah blah blah whatever – I REALLY, REALLY loved him!

“The whole idea of It’s Got Bells On was to be free so acts feel no pressure not to fail… but I have never known an act to fail there. Generally, if you get up and do something new, then your adrenaline and determination will carry the whole thing through.”

Martin smiled.

Martin Soan decided not to have bluetooth

“Why do you have a green tooth?” I asked. “That wasn’t there before.”

“I wanted bluetooth to communicate better but I got a green tooth instead.”

“Ah,” I said. I turned to Paul Vickers aka Mr Twonkey. “Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

Paul lives in Edinburgh but had come to London to appear in various shows.

“Are you staying with Lewis Schaffer?” I asked.

“No. I’m staying with Martin here. That means I won’t have to do the book.”

“Do the book?” I asked.

“You remember I told you about the book?” Paul told me. “I Can Teach You How To Read Properly by Lewis Schaffer.

“Ah,” I said. “Do you have any books at your place?” I asked Martin.

“I do have a pop-up Kama Sutra,” he replied.

“A pop-up Kama Sutra?” I repeated.

“Yes. You open the pages and figures pop up fucking each other and, if you move the pages correctly, you get the penis going in and out.”

“How much did that cost?” I asked.

“It was 15p from a charity shop in Peckham.”

“That must be an interesting charity shop,” I said.

“It was in the children’s section.”

“No,” I said.

“Yes,” said Martin. “That’s the God’s honest truth.”

“Why?” I asked. “Just because it was a pop-up book and they assumed it was for children?”

“I suppose so,” said Martin. “I don’t think anyone had opened the book and looked inside.”

“Do you want to say anything surreal?” I asked Paul.

“No,” he replied.

“Ah,” I said.

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

Jeremy Corbyn & my beard and the link to Martin Soan’s new free comedy club.

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming?

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming? A combination?

I am probably going to be Jeremy Corbyn. In a music video for Ariane Sherine’s Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

The London Evening Standard’s opinion is that this “steamy tribute” to the great man is “one of the most stirring”. But that “most of the verses are too graphic to be printed in a family newspaper”. The song includes the stirring lines:

One poke from the leader
And you’ll be in Labour

I was conned into saying I would appear in this video, to be shot in July, on the basis it would include “topless” scenes. Alas, these turned out to be not Ariane Sherine topless but the Jeremy Corbyn clone – me – and, because of this, I have been trying to slim down to something more approaching Jezza than Dumbo.

It has also meant I have kept my beard, which I had intended to shave off.

Now, though, the video shoot is going to be in September not July. So I was going to chop off my beard and re-grow it during the Edinburgh Fringe in August. (This has the added bonus I could get up later in the mornings).

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair on stage in 2013

My eternally un-named friend then suggested I should get Martin Soan to cut it off or, at least, cut one half of it – perhaps the left half – and half my shirt and possibly half my trousers.

Thus it is going to happen on the opening night of his new comedy club this Friday night. There is a bit of ‘previous’ here. In 2013, comedian Stephen Frost cut off half Martin Soan’s hair on stage at Pull The Other One.

For over ten years, Martin and his wife Vivienne have run the very successfully bizarre Pull The Other One monthly comedy club in Nunhead (Peckham to you and me, but don’t say that to the natives). Now they are also going to be running another monthly comedy night in Nunhead called It’s Got Bells On.

“So,” I asked him, “you’re going to do this new one monthly and carry on doing Pull The Other One monthly? What’s the difference going to be?”

“Well,” said Martin, “It’s Got Bells On is free and Pull The Other One is pay-to-enter.”

Martin Soan promoting new night It’s Got Bells On

Martin Soan promotes his new It’s Got Bells On

“Why is It’s Got Bells On free?” I asked.

“Because I’m very lucky. Someone who is really into comedy is sponsoring me. He wants to remain anonymous. He’s fronting the cash for it – not a lot of cash, but it means I can pay the acts and have a bit for myself as well. Basically, everyone will get expenses.”

I asked: “When you say ‘free’ it will have a bucket at the end for voluntary audience donations?”

“Yeah. But there will also be 30 tickets behind the bar which you can buy for £1 each in advance to guarantee a seat.”

“So it’s the Bob Slayer ‘Pay What You Want’ model from the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Is there any difference in the type of act or the headliners at the two clubs?”

“I don’t know what you call headliners now. I’m moving against ‘celebrity’ because it muddies the water yet again. Comedy should be whether you like it or not – nothing to do with whether people have been on TV or not. But everything still hinges on whether they are ‘famous’ or not.”

“Your Pull The Other One shows,” I said, “are usually full up and the format, as I understand it, is that they are all variety acts plus one stand-up comedian who is usually a ‘Name’.”

“That’s the way it works out normally, “ said Martin, “but it’s not a rule. Variety is the key. I wanted to put on a free night and now I’ve had this glorious offer of it being funded by an anonymous sponsor.”

Dr Brown and an audience member at PTOO

“I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic” (Photo of Dr Brown at Pull The Other One)

“Why did free-to-enter shows attract you?” I asked.

“With it being free,” explained Martin, “we don’t have to fulfil any audience expectations. Acts can be more free with the type of material they do. I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic – as it used to be. I am going to feature a slot a bit like The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green). I have Brian Sewer to fulfil that role in the first week. He’s an art critic.”

“Ah,” I said, “a piss-take on Brian Sewell? Who is doing that?”

“Ed At Last.”

“So the idea with It’s Got Bells On,” I asked, “is that you would not have one big name?”

“Well,” said Martin, “if Stewart Lee wanted to try out 10 minutes of new material, he would be just the same as anyone else on the bill. He would get 10 minutes and his expenses.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

Stewart Lee (left) and Martin Soan, backstage at P.T.O.O.

“I’ve got Stewart Lee booked on at Pull The Other One on the 9th September and I must be getting two e-mails a day saying Can I get tickets? Can I get tickets!

“I’m getting frustrated by this celebrity-bound comedy and the way comedy is being used yet again.”

“It seems now,” I suggested, “that people will pay to see an act they have seen on TV, but lots of venues are doing free shows with unknown acts who do not get paid to perform.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “It’s not that I disagree with free venues, but I think people need to get paid for what they do.

“Now venues are starting to refuse to pay artists, basically. We have gone backwards. I remember the days in the 1980s when bands used to have to pay to play. I was involved with bands through my wife Vivienne. There was one particular pub which was absolutely notorious. They charged all the bands something like £50 to use the PA.”

“In the 1980s?” I asked.

Vivienne and Martin Soan

Vivienne and Martin Soan – Campaigning comedy couple

“Yeah. And the band would get some percentage of any tickets. But, basically, very few people bought tickets. You were allowed two guests and the audience was just other bands. So the poor band that went on last played to no-one.

“I got quite political about it and helped start an organisation called Community Music and basically the practice was stamped out over a few years.

“Now with comedy, though, that seems to be happening again. Venues not paying the acts.

“There are very few venues where you have to pay to play but, nonetheless, considering it’s such a small business compared to bands – it’s just people coming along alone or with props – they just need a microphone and the overheads are cheaper – the venues are not passing the profits on to the performers. I know the overheads of venues are high. But, if they didn’t have this comedy going on in their pub, then they would be down on their takings. At one place I ran a comedy night, on my average night, the bar was taking maybe an extra £3,000.

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now."

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now.”

“I know the business from all sides now. The first guy who ran the Old Nun’s Head where Pull The Other One ran shows – Daniel – was very open about how he made his money and how much he needed to get. He was dead straightforward, put his cards on the table and I knew exactly where I was, which I appreciated. That enabled me to project a plan to make the club viable. And the new guy running the Old Nun’s Head is very straightforward too.”

“So you will be running monthly pay-to-enter Pull The Other One shows at the Ivy House in Nunhead… and monthly ‘free’ It’s Got Bells On at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.”

“Yes.”

“Any more shows in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, in November. Bartushka, who is from Berlin but you saw her in Leipzig, wants to work with us over there.”

“Remind me of her act?” I asked.

“She is…” Martin started. “She… It is very difficult to categorise her. She is cabaret-inspired, very charismatic…”

“Much like Pull The Other One,” I suggested. “And, I guess, It’s Got Bells On.”

I may revise my opinion after I get half my beard, hair, shirt and possibly trousers chopped off on Friday.

It’s Got Bells On - free comedy

2 Comments

Filed under Comedy

I get wet with comic Lewis Schaffer, talk toilets with comedian Charmian Hughes

Part of the 400 entourage follow Lewis Schaffer (Charmian Hughes with me in foreground)

Part of the 400 entourage of Beaters follow Lewis Schaffer in Nunhead (Charmian Hughes with me in the foreground)

In yesterday’s blog, American comedian Lewis Schaffer managed to creep in towards the end. Coincidentally, yesterday afternoon I followed Lewis Schaffer for 4 miles through the streets of Nunhead in South East London.

He had organised his second annual Beat The Bounds procession round Nunhead, in which several hundred people walk round the boundaries of the area hitting things – walls, railings, though never small children – with sticks.

Lewis Schaffer managed to get this funded by The Mayor of London, Southwark Council’s Sustainable Transport & Road Safety Fund, Resonance FM, Burger Bear, the Old Nun’s Head pub and the Salvation Army. (Strange but true.)

There were stewards with dayglo jackets, musical accompaniment from banjo duo The Relatives, free bottles of water at the halfway mark and a free beer for walkers in the Old Nun’s Head pub at the end.

The first half of the walk was a great day out.

Then – perhaps because it was a Wimbledon Finals day – the heavens opened and part of the North Atlantic fell on our heads.

Fun-filled Lewis Schaffer led the 400

Forever fun-filled Lewis Schaffer led the 400 strong throng

Afterwards, in the Nun’s Head pub, Lewis Schaffer told me: “They were happy because they were wet. They’re British. They love it. They love suffering.

“Last year we had 250 people. This year I think we had about 400. Some people come and only go halfway with us or they join us halfway through. It’s four miles and these British people, they’re lazy. When it started to rain, people caught the bus home. It was rain even by American standards.”

“Americans don’t have standards,” I told him.

“It was like Napoleon’s march into Moscow,” Lewis Schaffer continued. “You’re going to lose some people along the way but the ones we lost were worth losing. The true winners are here at this pub.”

Also there was comedian Charmian Hughes.

Last weekend, she had been at the Glastonbury Festival.

“So you got pissed-on last weekend AND this weekend,” I said.

Charmian Hughes examines her pants. Another exclusive for this blog.

Charmian examines her pants. Another blog exclusive.

“Glastonbury was very wet,” she admitted. “There was lightning over me but then it dried out. Right now, though, I have to do that thing that ladies have to do when they step out of their pants. My pants fell down. The elastic went. They were falling down all the way through the walk and I was clutching them. They’re now in my bag.”

“You MCed the Comedy Tent at Glastonbury?” I asked, trying to change the subject.

“Yes,” said Charmian, taking the pants out of her handbag. “First time. It was fantastic. Great fun.”

“Isn’t it difficult because they’re all pissed or drugged out of their minds?” I asked.

Charmian with magician husband David Don’t yesterday

Charmian with magician husband David Don’t in the Nunhead rain yesterday

“I was very well prepared,” Charmian told me, examining her pants. “I made a mathematical chart of all my jokes and put them into statistical families so that, if the backstage people said Only do one minute, I could do the first minute of a joke and then, if they whispered behind the flaps: Keep going! Keep going! The next act isn’t ready! I could keep going on that same subject by accessing the other jokes within that family. They told me: We’ve never had anybody with such amazing time-keeping… and you were quite funny as well. So that was a relief.”

“And how were the toilets?” I asked.

“Lovely,” said Charmian. “There’s only a problem when they try to put proper toilets in.”

The John Lewis roof garden portaloo

The John Lewis roof garden’s exceedingly impressive portaloo

“Ah, you should go to John Lewis in Oxford Street,” I told her, “To celebrate their 150 years, you can get up into their roof garden where they have artificial turf and this week they were watching Wimbledon on giant TV screens. They have the most luxurious portaloos I have ever seen.”

“My wisdom tooth is coming through,” said Charmian, ignoring me, “and I am welcoming it because I need all the teeth I can get but, as it came through at Glastonbury, it was catching on my gum, making my mouth too full of teeth, so I got this speech impediment like a lisp and I thought everybody else might think I was on rugs.”

“Rugs?” I asked.

“Drugs.”

I have listened to the recording several times now. She said “Rugs.”

“I have got to go,” Charmian said, “because I’ve now got hypothermia and it’s fiddled with my mind. I can’t feel my feet.”

There is a video on YouTube of The Relatives and the Dulwich Ukulele Club singing the Nunhead Beats the Bounds theme tune on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly radio show.

The chorus, if you should feel inspired to sing along is:

Nunhead publicity leaflet, including the full song lyrics

Nunhead publicity leaflet, including the full song lyrics

Whack it boys! Beat the bounds!
Whack it girls! Make it sound!
Whack it hard! Whack with pride!
Let us hear the people cry
Nunhead! Nunhead! Nunhead forever!

(lyrics © copyright The Dulwich Ukelele Club 2013)

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Humor, Humour, London

Comedy gold from a herd of cows and a woman doing mathematics in Spanish

In several past blogs, I have extolled the joys of going to Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South East London. The format is basically a variety show filled with very bizarre acts with one token stand-up comedian – usually a Big Name – to draw people in.

On Friday, I am going down to – as far as I understand it – mill around and generally get in the way of Vivienne and Martin Soan as they set up for a special 10th anniversary Pull The Other One show.

Martin & Vivienne Soan at home yesterday

Martin & Vivienne Soan relax at home in London yesterday

“Is it really ten years of Pull The Other One?” I asked them yesterday on Skype.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “We bought the van ten years ago and did a tour of village halls.”

“In 2004,” explained Vivienne, “we used to visit our various relatives, which took us to places like Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Huddersfield. And, because we could never afford to go anywhere unless we worked, we would put on a show in the local village hall to subsidise our journey. Our shows were called Soan Alone which was Martin assisted by his wife – me.”

“Do you,” I asked, “think it might have been mis-titled as Soan Alone?”

“Viv and me,” said Martin, ignoring me, “wanted to go to the sort of club that we wanted to be at but, what with us having children, we couldn’t get out and about so much so we decided to create our own club. The Ivy House in Nunhead was then an almost sad pub which only had two or three people in it, but had a wonderful back room with gold lamé curtains and was just crying out to be the kind of club we wanted to go to. When we saw it, we thought We would love to come here to be entertained, but that wasn’t going to happen, so we started our own club there.”

“Having been out of the loop for so long with child care, though,“ said Vivienne, “we didn’t know all the extraordinary, mad, surreal, off-the-wall, bonkers acts that were around.”

“Although,” said Martin, “I don’t think there actually were many around then.”

“No, maybe there weren’t,” agreed Vivienne. “Not like there were when we did the Ghost Club back in 1992.”

Martin Soan as Miss Haversham last night

Martin in costume as Miss Haversham (The chair is part of his costume)

“The Ghost Club?” I asked.

“That was fanTASTIC!” said Vivienne. “It was in Noel Faulkner’s Comedy Cafe. Patrick Marber was the compere. It started off every week with a dance troupe of housewives with ironing boards and washing machines and other everyday household items, but done as a dance routine in the dream sequence of a rather weird birdwatching cyclist nerd, which was Martin.”

“So it had an element of reality,” I said.

“And,” continued Vivienne, ignoring me, “at the end of the dance routine, Martin would say I made that up myself.

“We used to have herds of cows passing across the stage,” said Martin. “The concept of the Ghost Club was that the Comedy Cafe was at the intersection of two spiritual ley lines and, on certain nights at certain phases of the moon, all the ghosts would come out of this vortex… all the acts who used to perform in the music halls around the East End of London.”

“It just so happened,” said Vivienne, “that it was also on the path of a man who used to herd his cows into town in medieval times. So the cows used to come through as well.”

“Was it difficult to find performing cows for the show?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “I built life-sized ones that slowly moved across with a soundtrack of the moo-ing.”

“And we had white table-cloths on all the tables,” said Vivienne, “with lots of crayons and pencils and people used to do artwork on the tablecloths and, at the end of the evening, we had an art critic who would appraise the drawings and we would auction them, which used to subsidise the next show. At that time, in 1992, I was pregnant with our second daughter Sybil and, after that, all our creative activity sort-of went on hold.”

“Anyway,” said Martin, “ten years ago, we went local and went to the Ivy House.”

“Actually,” said Vivienne, “first of all we did Hooper’s Bar and that’s where Pull The Other One’s core of DJ Ratsmilk, Go Diddely and Vincent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) were created.”

Vincent Figgins (left) and Martin Soan

Vincent Figgins (left) and Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

“Vincent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) goes back that far?” I asked.

“Yes. We had to create our own acts,” explained Martin, “because we didn’t know if we were good enough to run a club so we wanted to keep it in-house. And also we didn’t have the contacts then, having been out of the loop with children for all those years.”

“Vicent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) is a relation, isn’t he?” I asked.

“My nephew-in-law,” said Martin. “We had him and we had a Spanish lady called Rosa Navarro who did mathematics in Spanish… and Mr Julius, who was me in a fluffy shirt as a dance instructor who used to try and teach everyone the lumbago – I would go De-de-de de-de-de dah-dah. De-de-de de-de-de. Ooh-aahh! Right down here. It gets you right down here. Lumbago! De-de-de de-de-de dah-dah. De-de-de de-de-de.”

“And then,” said Vivienne, “there was The Poet Lorry-at, who just wore a lorry on her hat.”

“… and the beginning of River Dance,” added Martin.

There is a clip of Vivienne Soan introducing Martin’s River Dance routine for Pull The Other One at The Ivy House on YouTube.

“The Ivy House shows,” said Vivienne. “started on a Thursday night.” She turned to Martin and said: “Shall I tell the truth here?”

“Yes,” said Martin.

“It started,” said Vivienne, “on Thursday the 13th 2008 at The Ivy House.”

She gave no month.

Stewart Lee: one of Pull The Other One’s token comics

Stewart Lee – one of Pull The Other One’s token stand-ups

“And,” said Martin, “that’s when we decided to start booking one solid seat-filling act like Nick Revell, John Hegley, Simon Munnery, Omid Djalili, Jo Brand, Stewart Lee, Arthur Smith or whoever, supported by a lot of unusual acts – some of them us – and booking one big speciality act. Out of that came The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green) who is appearing this Friday… and The Gates of Hell.”

“The Gates of Hell?” I asked.

Malcolm Hardee,” explained Martin, “had one of those Billy The Bass singing fish on his boat and I remember going down there and saying Oh, Malcolm, what’s that? I went over to push the button and he said: No! No! Don’t push the button! And, of course, I pushed the button and it started singing and he said: Oh I fucking hate that fish; I fucking hate that fish! Anybody else would have removed the batteries or even the fish, but not Malcolm.

“Everyone who went in there would go Oh, Malcolm! You’ve got one of those! and he would tell them Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! and, obviously, they would press the button. And it WAS very VERY annoying.”

There is a video of Billy the Bass singing Take Me To The River on YouTube.

“So, for The Gates of Hell, I went out and bought a fish crate and it opens up like a pair of gates and, inside are 30 Billy The Bass all singing at the same time. That’s The Gates of Hell… It’s brought on stage by a couple of monks.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“And we’ve taken,” said Vivienne, “Pull The Other One to Macclesfield, Bridport, Axminster…”

“And now Leipzig,” I reminded her.

“…and to The Amazing Mr Smith’s village hall,” said Martin. “Then we got chucked out of The Ivy House and carried on doing Pull The Other One at The Tenants’ Hall in Nunhead, then at The Half Moon in Herne Hill – we got flooded out of there – and now we’re monthly at The Nun’s Head pub which we’re very happy with. It’s nice and it’s intimate.”

Martin & Vivienne Soan + Holly Burn at Pull The Other One

Martin & Vivienne Soan + Holly Burn at Pull The Other One

“So this Friday,” I said, “in honour of the supposed 10th anniversary of starting Pull The Other One, you’re filming it with 5 cameras.”

“That’s right,” said Martin. “The crew are all in their final year at Ravensbourne. Except the director, David Crossman, who used to direct Cannon & Ball’s TV shows.

“They’re making a 25 or 30-minute documentary plus a promo for Pull The Other One and showreels for all the performers. They’re filming me from my loft down to the pub, taking all the gear down there and setting up and basically I want people – comedians – to come down there in the daytime, which is very unlikely, and get in my way and make that part of the documentary a bit more interesting. I’m also trying to get any comedians who know me to phone up from 2.00pm onwards to ask me to build some bizarre prop.”

Martin builds props for other comedians and, to my knowledge, has made at least two vaginas for the Edinburgh Fringe. I think one sang.

There is an old promo video for Pull The Other One on Vimeo.

PTOO_DrBrown_MartinSoan

1 Comment

Filed under Comedy, UK

Lewis Schaffer and the clenched fist of comedian Tim Renkow’s cerebral palsy

Lewis Schaffer last night - aspiring moustache twirler

Lewis Schaffer and failed moustache last night

“I can see why you are not a success,” comedian Lewis Schaffer told me,”but why am I not a success?”

“Why am I not a success?” I asked.

“Because you started too late,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Maybe I was doing other things before I didn’t become this,” I said.

“Everyone who’s a success,” said Lewis Schaffer, “is a success because they started young.”

George Eliot,” I countered.

“Him too,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “When you write that in your blog, John, add in as Lewis Schaffer said with a wink.”

Frank Skinner,” said Tim Renkow.

It was last night. We were sitting in a branch of the Subway sandwich shop near London Bridge. Comedian Tim Renkow had just been a guest on Lewis Schaffer’s weekly Resonance FM radio show Nunhead American Radio, allegedly aimed at Americans living in Nunhead, which is part of Peckham in South East London. He had invited me along to sit on the floor during the recording.

“How many Americans are actually living in Nunhead?” I had asked.

“Thirteen,” Lewis Schaffer replied. “Maybe twelve.”

“Do you meet up?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Frank Skinner,” repeated Tim Renkow.

“Maybe he started in his thirties,” said Lewis Schaffer. “But he didn’t start as a blogger.”

“They didn’t have blogs when Frank Skinner started,” I said.

“You’ve been doing this blog,” replied Lewis Schaffer. “At the end of the day, it’s just a blog. I’ve been doing two free shows every week since the start of 2009; I’ve been doing my Sunday paid shows at the Leicester Square Theatre all this year; I’ve been doing a weekly radio show since 2009…. And nothing. I’ve got nothing out of it… What’s happened to you with your blog? Nothing. You’ve been focussing on the smallest aspect of the entertainment business, which is…”

“Lewis Schaffer?” I suggested.

“Lewis Schaffer,” agreed Lewis Schaffer, “is the smallest part of the smallest part of the entertainment business. Even if you were focussing on somebody really big – John Bishop or Michael McIntyre – there’s only a limited number of people who want to read about stand-up comedians. “

John Bishop - famous in little Britain

John Bishop – He is famous in little Britain

“No-one’s famous,” I said. “No-one’s heard of John Bishop or Michael McIntyre even in America.”

“You’ll never get big writing about stand-up comedy,” continued Lewis Schaffer. “Even worse, you’re picking on the dregs of the stand-up comedy business, which is Lewis Schaffer.”

I pulled down my shirt and exposed my right nipple to Lewis Schaffer.

“No-one wants to see your body, John. It’s not funny,” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’d rather look at Tim Renkow’s drooling.”

“It IS funny,” said Tim Renkow.

“You make a note, John” said Lewis Schaffer, “that I was the first stranger to tell Tim Renkow that he needs to tidy himself up.”

“I dress like a homeless person,” agreed Tim.

“You too, John,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “I’ve also criticised your dress sense.”

“What dress sense?” I asked.

“My point is…” said Lewis Schaffer. “My point is… At one point, I thought to myself Well, it’s only because I moved countries from America to England that I’m not famous or it’s because I’m an artist or something but… I’m never going to make it, okay?”

“You can never tell,” I said. “Someone picks you up for a TV show, you can become famous within a week. Supposedly famous.”

“Was it a good radio show tonight?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“It was,” I said. And it had been.

“You’re from America,” Lewis Schaffer had asked Tim Renkow on the show. “You’re doing comedy here in England. How did you get here? Why did you get here?”

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer last night in Subway

Tim Renkow and Lewis Schaffer joking last night in Subway

“I got here cos I burned every bridge I had,” Tim told him. “I told a couple of promoters in New York to fu… to do something I can’t say on the radio at 6.30 at night.”

“What is it?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “Is it an anger you have?”

“In New York,” said Tim, “when you start out, they make you bring your friends to the show and then they charge ‘em like 50 bucks and I didn’t like that and I told them that and they didn’t like me telling them that.”

“Why here? Why Nunhead?” asked Lewis Schaffer’s co-presenter Lisa Moyle.

“I’ve been asking myself ever since,” laughed Tim. “I like that you don’t drive here.”

“…So you can get around,” explained Lewis Schaffer. “You’ve got cerebral palsy.”

“Yeah,” said Tim. “So I COULD drive, but it would be a disaster.”

“You’re a rebel,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re constantly drooling all over the place.”

“Is that an act of rebellion?” asked Lisa Moyle.

“I only do it on Lewis Schaffer,” said Tim.

“Is that true?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“No,” said Tim.

“It that a act of rebellion?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes,” said Tim.

“Is it really?”

“No.”

“Are you having an argument with me?” asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m trying,” said Tim.

“Is there a cerebral palsy community?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “When you see someone with CP do you go up to them?”

“Yes,” said Tim, “I give ‘em the Black Power fist. But that’s only cos I can’t open my hands.”

“How did you meet Lewis?” asked Lisa Moyle. “And would you call him a friend?”

“What would you call Lewis?” mused Tim. “An interesting case study… I like Lewis. I like anyone with the balls to tell me to Walk right, which is what Lewis said the first time he met me.”

Tim Renkow at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

Tim Renkow outside Bob’s Bookshop at the Edinburgh Fringe during August this year (Photograph by Brian Higgins)

“Well, he goes around with no shoes on” said Lewis Schaffer.

“That’s dangerous,” said Lisa Moyle.

“Especially in some of the comedy clubs we have,” agreed Lewis Schaffer.

“Well, I can’t walk with shoes,” said Tim. “And it bothers people. I like that it bothers people.”

“That’s what I like about you,” said Lewis Schaffer. “You’re very similar to me.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Comedy, Medical, Radio

OTT Southwark Council officialdom threatens Martin Soan’s comedy club and reprimands Bill Bailey’s ex-roadie

THIS BLOG HAS BEEN TEMPORARILY REMOVED FOR LEGAL REASONS UNCONNECTED WITH ME

Leave a comment

Filed under Bureaucracy, Comedy, London, Police

After “Only Fools and Horses” – comic Martin Soan & The Village Hall People

Martin Soan and the village hall people

Martin Soan yesterday, with friends from the Nunhead area

Yesterday, I spent the afternoon with Pull The Other One comedy club runners Martin and Vivienne Soan in Nunhead aka a little bit of Peckham in South East London.

And I found out to my shock that, in August, there will be creative things happening in parts of Britain other than Edinburgh. Specifically Nunhead and Peckham.

Martin and Vivienne have lived there for over 30 years.

They have run Pull The Other One there for 8 years.

In my ignorance, I still think of Peckham as down-market Only Fools and Horses territory, but Martin knows someone in a local estate agent and house prices in the area recently rose by around £7,000 literally overnight. A two-bedroom house across the street from his home sold last month for over £500,000.

“When property’s cheap,” Martin suggested yesterday, “the artists move in and make it a ‘groovy’ area to go to. That’s exactly what’s happened to Peckham. And we had all these diverse cultures from all over the world gather here along with the artists because it was cheap. But now it is coming up and I want to introduce this influx of Yuppiedom and money to the side of Peckham that actually made it happen.”

So Martin is organising The Village Hall Experience on Saturday 17th August.

“It’s going to happen on the site of the old Peckham Lido,” Martin told me. “It’s very rarely visited and completely under-used, apart from a few dog-owners who let their dogs shit on it. Three-quarters of it is surrounded by trees so, once you’re there, it’s actually rather nice and it’s near where William Blake had his boyhood vision of angels in a tree.

William Blake’s vision of Jacob’s Ladder

William Blake – from trees to Jacob’s Ladder

“It’s 25 years since the Lido closed and the reason I can remember that date is that Vivienne was one of the last bathers in there, while she was pregnant with our eldest daughter Sydney,”

“So what’s the concept?” I asked.

“Basically,” said Martin, “anything you can imagine happening in a village hall we are going to endeavour to put on in one large marquee and three smaller satellite marquees. That ranges from Taekwondo demonstrations to Cubs & Scouts, to the local fire brigade, police and ambulance, to jumble sales, white elephant stalls, a youth club involving black light ping pong – you play in total darkness with ping pong balls that glow in the dark – to a Women’s Institute formation team, a little bit of professional cabaret, maybe a beetle drive or a bingo game, a pet competition, a funny vegetable competition, a cake competition… There’s going to be a bit of a tea dance, a bit of rock ‘n’ roll and a village hall disco.”

“Heavens!” I said. “So this is an all-day event?”

“At a usual village hall event,” said Martin, “each of those things would take up several hours. But we’re going to compress each and every one into tiny, tiny vignettes.”

“So how long?” I asked.

“I would say the jumble sale would last five minutes,” explained Martin. “The Taekwondo people wanted to do a half-hour demonstration. I said That’s out of the question. It will be seven minutes maximum. The youth club will probably be about 15 minutes. The cabaret will be about 25 minutes.”

“How do you demonstrate a youth club?” I asked.

“Well,” said Martin, “there are three basic elements to the show and we’re going to do it twice. There will be a matinée show and an evening show.”

“How long is each show?”

“About three hours long. People can come in and go out any time they want – just join in for the bits they’ve come to see. Someone may just come in to see his mates sing in the local choir.

“The first section will come under the heading of The Tea Dance. The middle section is The Youth Club. The end section is The Cabaret. Within that, we will have all the other elements.

martinviviennesoan_9may2012b

Martin and Vivienne Soan on an unusually quiet day at home

“There’s going to be a team of Women’s Institute volunteers all dressed-up like my giddy aunt, along with Vivienne and comic Lindsey Sharman. They will all have clipboards and they’ll basically be my stagehands. They will be busybodying around and getting everyone moving along.

“As soon as you’ve sat down and got into the jumble sale, it’s going to be over and the volunteers will transform The Tea Dance into The Youth Club and into The Cabaret.”

“Any nudity and The Greatest Show on Legs?” I asked.

“Absolutely not,” said Martin. “It’s a family show and, because the Council have funded it, we have to be inclusive of all the different minorities and majorities in the area.

“Three events have been funded in this project, all happening on the same day – Saturday 17th August. There’s our Village Hall Experience, but there’s also separately The Peace Picnic with a stage and a picnic and The South American Flower Festival in Camberwell, which involves dancing and food and doing mosaics with the petals of flowers. We have to all co-ordinate with each other and we each have all these designated disparate groups to include within the community. So these three funded festivals are all after the same minority groups.”

“Are there,” I asked, “enough minorities to share around between the three festivals?”

“Well,” said Martin, everybody’s clamouring for the Mia Dancers, who are all aged over 70 years old. And I’m going to the parts of the community that others don’t reach – the Afghan Khans I deal with all the time and some other Afghan guys who run a street food thing. There’s the South Americans and the Turkish delicatessens. Through the traders, I will hopefully get to those ethnic minorities: they are the representatives of the communities.”

“You seem to be taking it very seriously,” I said.

“I’m treating it very seriously indeed,” said Martin. “The Polish I have got in through a nail parlour. What excited me about it is squashing it all down and doing it twice in one day. The impetus you have to put into it; the restrictions you have to put onto the people… That makes it a rollercoaster ride.”

“And it all takes place in one big marquee?” I asked.

“One big marquee with three smaller satellite marquees,” Martin corrected me. “The main marquee has to be capable of a total blackout because we’ll be having the black light ping pong when it’s still daylight outside.”

“And, in the satellite marquees…?” I prompted.

“The first one – and it’ll be quite a big one – will have The Nunhead Municipal Museum and Sideshow Gallery. There’s an artist called David living in Nunhead. And then there’s the Peckham Pathé News Theatre – a 15-20-seater cinema screening a loop of specially-filmed spoof news items and clips. And then there’s going to be street traders, food and we’re licensed and there’s going to be an art gallery. It’s everything you could possibly ever think of. It may sound perfectly normal…”

“What??” I said. “Only on Planet Soan.”

“There will be two entrances to get into the area,” Martin enthused. “One will be for Good-Looking, Intelligent People. The other one will be for Useless Wasters With No Imagination and No Hope, Going Nowhere. The second entrance will take you round this maze and, along the way, there will be art, notices and all sorts of stuff.”

“And the entrance for Good-Looking, Intelligent People?” I asked.

“That one will be locked, so no-one can get in,” said Martin

3 Comments

Filed under Cabaret, Comedy, London