Tag Archives: Nunhead

US comedian Lewis Schaffer organising UK event with Randy, Jewish leader

Lewis Schaffer: the face of a multiple killer

Lewis Schaffer in Nunhead Cemetery

Yesterday, I blogged about disagreeing with London-based American comedian Lewis Schaffer over the nature of British comedy audiences.

Writing a blog about Lewis Schaffer is something which always goes down well with Lewis Schaffer. He lives to be criticised and criticises to live.

A few hours later, I got an e-mail from Lewis Schaffer saying:

“Your post today was excellent and not just ’cause it was about me.”

I believe flying pigs were recently sighted over Nunhead in London, where Lewis Schaffer lives.

He went on to say:

“I want to point out that when you, John Fleming, a man who knows me and knows of my work and has even been on my radio show thrice – a weekly radio show entitled Nunhead American Radio at 10.30pm every Monday on Resonance FM – calls the place where I live ‘Nunhead, Peckham’, as if Nunhead were part of Peckham, then there is much work for me to do.”

My offence in Lewis Schaffer’s eyes was that, in a previous blog about comedian Martin Soan‘s problems with posters and a bicycle, I had mentioned ‘Nunhead, Peckham’ because no-one other than Lewis Schaffer’s fan has ever heard of Nunhead so I had to locate it more understandably… because I was not quite sure if Martin Soan lives in Nunhead or Peckham… and because, frankly, I think Nunhead IS part of Peckham.

Lewis Schaffer, a man obsessed with Nunhead and its cemetery, disagrees.

The Fringe has reduced comedian Lewis Schaffer to this

American Lewis Schaffer now has split loyalties over Nunhead

“You wouldn’t,” he told me yesterday, “call Palestine ‘Israel’… or Canada the ‘United States’… or New Jersey ‘New York’.”

Well there he goes again – wrong again.

I would… New Jersey IS much the same as New York, isn’t it? It is in the movies.

Sometimes I think George III did us a favour by losing the American Colonies.

And Lewis Schaffer yesterday, I think, rather undercut his own case by telling me: “Nunhead does share the same postal code as Peckham (SE15), but that is only because Nunhead doesn’t have its own postal distribution centre. And much of Nunhead has been co-opted by Peckham – because of the proximity to Peckham Rye and Peckham train station and because of gravity. Bigger things attract. Sir Isaac Newton and all that. But Nunhead has been on the map since the 1500s and we are fighting for its own identity and I would appreciate if you would not make that mistake again.”

By this point, I was almost prepared (through sheer mental exhaustion) to admit Lewis Schaffer was right. But I did not. I am made of sterner stuff. I am from Scotland (which, you must remember, took over England in 1603 when King James VI ascended or arguably descended to the English throne as James I).

“I am organising an event…” Lewis Schaffer started to tell me.

My heart sank.

“The Nunhead American Association, the community group of Nunhead Americans,” he told me, “is organising a day-long event this summer, on 7th July 2013. It is for Nunhead Beats the Bounds Day.”

Oh Lord, I thought. Oh Lord.

“We will,” Lewis Schaffer told me, “reinstate the age-old British tradition of perambulating the perimeter of our village and beating the trees and buildings with sticks, letting all know THIS IS OUR NUNHEAD.”

Village? I thought. Village?? Nunhead is in the middle of London!

“The route,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “is estimated to be 4.3 miles culminating in a party on Nunhead Green starring our very own Dulwich Ukulele Club at the Old Nun’s Head pub.”

We?” I asked warily. “You said We will reinstate…”

“It has been confirmed,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “that the procession will be led by Assistant Vicar Dele Ogunyemi and Major Alan Norton of the Salvation Army and by lay Jewish leader Randy Klein.”

Lay Jewish leader Randy Klein? I thought. Surely not.

“We are still looking,” Lewis Schaffer continued, “for Muslim leaders, atheists and someone from the Not-Caring-Either-Way Community to unite our ville. Our procession will be led by Nunhead American Radio‘s house band The Dulwich Ukulele Club with Richard Guard.”

When I told my eternally-un-named friend about this last night, her first reaction was:

“You’re telling me Lewis Schaffer’s Jewish lay leader is Randy? Seriously?”

“I think I might blog about it in the morning,” I told her. “I’ve got nothing else to blog about and there is almost a knob gag in it.”

“You have had your friend Sandy over from Italy with her son for a week,” my eternally-un-named friend said. “You went to the British Museum and the National Gallery today!”

“But,” I argued, “there’s no real possibility of inserting a knob gag in that,”

“Your friend Sandy,” sighed my eternally un-named friend, as if strangely weary with me, “is an only child and her son’s an only child and you’re an only child… That’s interesting… But with Lewis Schaffer in Nunhead, he’s trying to make a little society out of people who are trying to do things to keep Nunhead alive. It all seems a bit pointless to me but, at the same time, the reality is you need to make a society of people you belong to. It’s very important.”

“That’s a bit too serious,” I told her. “It needs a knob gag in there to make it funny.”

Anne of Denmark, wife of James VI & I

Anne of Denmark, wife of King James VI & I

“You weren’t being funny in your Christmas blogs and your New Year one,” my eternally-un-named friend said accusingly. “You said in your blog you had a bloody miserable New Year again, but you were having quite a good time, really, with your friend Sandy you’ve known for 23 years over here…”

“Well, I…” I started to say.

“And don’t quote me,” interrupted my eternally-un-named friend. “You will just make it sound silly.”

“No I won’t,” I told her.

“That’s awful about the policeman with Martin Soan’s bicycle, isn’t it?” she said.

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Wannabe policeman is illegally ripping off London comedy show posters

(This piece also appeared in the Huffington Post)

The bike, after the attack by the representative of The Law

The bike, after the attack by the representative of ‘The Law’

In joke-telling, there is ‘The Rule of Three’.

Sometimes, this spills over into real life and overlaps with the saying ‘It never rains but it pours’.

In my blog three days ago, I mentioned that comedian Martin Soan had broken a rib in a bicycle accident and that a comedian who double-booked himself for two simultaneous shows had caused problems for Martin’s Pull The Other One comedy club in January.

In the last year, Pull The Other one has featured top comedy acts like Omid Djalili, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith.

On Friday, as an end-of-year thankyou to locals, Pull The Other One staged a free comedy show in Nunhead, Peckham. As normal, Martin and Vivienne Soan publicised it widely locally – as they have done for over five years – with flyers and posters. Some of the posters were on bicycles which were ridden round the area.

The show was a success – despite what appear to be illegal actions by a local wanna policeman.

To save money on paying the police, England and Wales are now blessed with cheaper “Community Support Officers” to back-up the ‘real’ police. I suspect (with no evidence, m’lud) that these are often wanna policemen and wannabe policewomen with over-developed superiority complexes.

“It seems we now have a special constable,” Martin Soan told me yesterday, “who has taken it upon himself to tear down our posters and most disturbingly rip them off our bikes… I’m not sure that’s within his powers or even if it’s legal.”

I would have thought it was most definitely not legal. This guardian of ‘The Law’ appears to have decided to remove a piece of private property attached to a private vehicle without the owner’s permission which I would think, in legal terms, must be pure vandalism and damaging private property – perhaps even theft.

“This bloke,” says Martin, “rides around on a bike with a ‘Comunity Warden’ sticker on it…. Am I within my rights to rip that off?… Or deface a Sainsbury’s lorry?… Or paint over shop signs?… He also told me that he would remove my bike if I put a poster on it again.”

The offensive poster for free comedy show

The offensive poster for a free comedy show

Martin’s wife Vivienne, who co-runs Pull The Other One, says: “The community policeman has systematically taken down all our publicity, telling us that we are making money from free advertising at the council’s expense. He says we are no longer allowed to put our poster on local notice boards and even took down a poster from British Rail property on which we have placed posters over the last five years!”

To my mind, this seems to be, again, a case of the ‘Community’ wannabe policeman damaging private property which stands on private land and removing property without the owner’s permission.

An interesting mindset for a guardian of ‘The Law’.

“Mind you,” Vivienne told me yesterday, “it has saved Martin a job, as he usually takes down all the posters the day after the show. And Martin’s rib is obviously greatly improved, as he wants to punch the guy in the face !!!!!”

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How I talked myself out of comedian Lewis Schaffer’s naked radio show

Martin Soan (left) Lewis Schaffer (being Jewish) last night

Two days ago, comedian Lewis Schaffer asked me to be on his weekly radio show next Monday and wrote in his blog that my own philosophy of blogging and performing was that “garbage set free is better than genius hoarded”. I have never said that, but I guess I do think it, so maybe I will claim it was my phrase not his.

Yesterday, I went with comedian Martin Soan to see Lewis Schaffer’s twice-weekly show Free Until Famous in London’s glittering West End – well, OK, it is in a basement in the rather dingy corner of Soho near Piccadilly Circus.

After Lewis Schaffer’s show, the three of us ended up in an ice cream parlour in Old Compton Street.

“Why do you want me on your show next Monday?” I asked Lewis Schaffer.

“I felt guilty about how bad the two shows you were in before were.”

“You felt guilty?” Martin asked.

“He’s Jewish,” I explained. “What was wrong with my two appearances on your fine radio show?”

“When we first started to do it,” Lewis Schaffer explained, “I didn’t know what the radio show was about… Now I know it’s about me and Nunhead, where I live. It’s about the life of a very small, previously-ignored inner city suburb and all the funny things that go on in this tiny little place that people who are not from Nunhead enjoy hearing about, because it’s got a funny name and no-one’s ever heard of it. So what’s interesting is Nunhead stuff. You’re not from Nunhead, John.

“In some cases I will have people on who are famous – because they’re famous – you’re not famous, John – or people who can help my career. I’ve known you for years, John, and I’ve now realised you can’t help me. But I keep forgetting that. When I…

Martin interrupted: “But John has got something to do with Nunhead now. He’s always coming down to my monthly comedy club Pull The Other One. And that’s in Nunhead.”

“And I’ve always supported you too” said Lewis Schaffer. “I’m always mentioning Pull The Other One on my radio show, though you probably haven’t sold a single ticket because it’s radio. I don’t know how many listeners we have: we could have anything from 10 to 30,000 listeners… and that’s literary ten.”

“Has he asked you to be on his show?” I asked Martin.

“No,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Yes you did,” Martin corrected him. “I Facebooked you… You asked me to come naked but then you bumped me from the show.”

“I didn’t!” said Lewis Schaffer.

“You did,” said Martin.

“I didn’t know that! I apologise… I thought… I dunno… I thought…” said Lewis Schaffer. “But I like the idea of you coming to the studio naked.”

“Do the radio rules allow you to be naked?” I asked. “Perhaps you should have a balloon to hide your modesty?”

Lewis Schaffer and Martin looked at me. There was a long silence. Eventually, Martin said: “That’s a good idea, John.”

“So,” I suggested to Lewis Schaffer, “next Monday, why don’t you un-invite me – I have nothing to do with Nunhead – and invite Martin on naked.”

“Naked would be better radio,” enthused Lewis. “You come into the studio totally naked… and then, during the show, I’ll get naked too.”

“OK,” said Martin, “We’re shaking hands on this now.”

“We’re shaking hands on it,” said Lewis Schaffer, shaking hands on it.

“Have you still got your female co-presenter?” I asked.

“Lisa Moyle. Yes,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“Do you maybe think you should ask her about this?” I asked.

“No,” replied Lewis Schaffer, “What’s the problem? I think it will make good radio… So what are we promoting? We’re promoting your next Pull The Other One show?”

“I’m not promoting anything,” Martin said.

“You have to promote something,” said Lewis Schaffer. “It’s a chat show.”

“Well… Ah!…” Martin suddenly enthused, “I could talk about what I’m doing in Nunhead.”

Lewis Schaffer looked at him.

“I’m working with old age pensioners,” explained Martin.

“That’s bad for comedy,” said Lewis Schaffer.

“I’m doing community work in Nunhead,” explained Martin.

Lewis Schaffer reconsidered: “I like the idea of you working with old age pensioners in Nunhead – probably a lot of the original residents of Nunhead – and now the dirty immigrants have moved in, like the Americans. I like that idea.”

“You could say,” suggested Martin, “And now, for Florence, who’s listening out there, here’s Martin who fitted your toilet seat last Thursday. He’s sitting here naked.

“And can we get into an argument and talk about America?” Lewis Schaffer asked enthusiastically.

“We can,” replied Martin.

“And you can talk a lot about toilet seats,” I suggested.

There was a long silence.

“Martin – you naked will be good radio,” mused Lewis Schaffer. “John would not be good radio. He’s run out of ideas.”

“I’ve run out of ideas?” I asked.

“That’s why you’re here,” Lewis Schaffer told me. “The only time you come to see my show is when you’ve run out of ideas for your blog. I wrote that in my blog. Now you’re going to write it in your blog. And people are going to read about Lewis Schaffer and think Oh shit! How boring! John’s run out of ideas again. He only goes to see Lewis Schaffer when he’s completely empty.

“What John’s really good at,” said Martin, attempting to be constructive, “is reminding you of the ideas you had but had forgotten about.”

“But how does he make a living doing that?” asked Lewis Schaffer. “People like us, people like Lewis Schaffer, we are busy people. We’ve got gigs and promotion to do; we don’t have time for a blog. Then John comes and sucks the life out of us, which makes it even harder for us to do a blog because he comes and takes all the ideas that we were going to use in our blog and puts it into his. I wrote in my blog the other day that John’s philosophy of blogging and performing is that Garbage set free is better than genius hoarded. I made that up. But I bet John will claim he really did say it.”

“No I won’t,” I told Lewis Schaffer. “And I don’t need to steal your ideas. I am not going to blog about this evening.”

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The black man fails to show up but the god-like comic Simon Munnery shines

Last night, comedy club Pull The Other One’s second monthly show in Herne Hill was packed, so word-of-mouth must have spread about last month’s bizarre events which I blogged about here.

During last month’s show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and a doctor’s stethoscope round his neck sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage occasionally re-arranging half-glimpsed works of art on the surface in front of him. In any other show, he would have been a disruptive distraction but, given Pull The Other One’s unique mix of surreality, alternative variety and downright bizarreness, he actually fitted right in with the show. It turned it into a two-ring circus.

I went to the Half Moon venue in Herne Hill again last night half-hoping the black man and his half-glimpsed mysterious works of art would make a comeback. Alas he wasn’t there. But Charmian Hughes, who had been one of four comperes last month and was one of three comperes last night  (look – it works, it adds to the oddness, so don’t ask) told me:

“That man with the stethoscope gave me a picture of a face which is half pharaoh and half enslaved black man. It’s actually really effective and I’ve hung it up. The title is Was my ancestor illegally detained?’’

Charmian had done a sand dance during last month’s show (again, don’t ask).

“He must,” Charmian continued, “have found it quite a strange coincidence that he went to a show on his night off from Egyptology or whatever he’s into and someone started talking about Egypt and the pharaohs and did a sand dance on stage.”

“Well,” I thought, “It wasn’t just him who found it strange.”

Last night, in an unusual move for Pull The Other One, they actually had three straight(-ish) stand-up comics in among real magic from David Don’t, Sam Fletcher’s fake magic, Charmian’s explanation of the Abelard & Heloise story using pandas, Holly Burn’s… well… indescribably odd performances… and the equally odd Nick Sun’s audience-baiting.

Towards the end of his set, Nick Sun persuaded the audience to show their appreciation (and they were very enthusiastically appreciative of his odd act throughout) to boo him and heckle him and he refused to leave the stage except in silence. He took any clapping as inappropriate and refused to leave except to complete silence. A good bit of memorable schtick.

The three stand-ups included the extremely good Maureen Younger, who shamed me. I was then and still am ashamed because I had never seen her perform before and I am amazed I had not seen someone that good. An absolutely top-notch and clearly highly experienced professional. My only excuse is that she seems to have worked abroad a lot. And that’s not much of an excuse. Woe is me. The shame. The shame.

Steve Jameson’s Borscht Belt character act Sol Bernstein – much admired by many – leaves me a bit cold because I have some general problem with watching live character comedy, which brings me on to Simon Munnery, who is on stunningly good form at the moment.

He was introduced as “a legend” which he certainly is, even though his existence is not in question and has been independently authenticated. He has always been extremely good but I have now seen him twice in two weeks and I am very surprised.

It’s rare for a comic to keep getting better. After a lot of experience, a good comic usually reaches a plateau of excellence. You don’t expect him or her to get better and he or she doesn’t have to. They have reached a plateau of excellence. Simon Munnery reached that plateau ages ago but now seems to be getting even better. It’s not that he wasn’t excellent before, but he is even better now.

As I said, I have a blank and difficult-to-explain spot about character comedy and I was never much impressed (though everyone else was) with Simon’s very early character Alan Parker: Urban Warrior.

I’ve always liked Simon as a person but it wasn’t until I saw Cluub Zarathustra at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1994 that I really started to appreciate his act. I thought the subsequent 2001 TV series Attention Scum! slightly watered-down the amazingly admirable nastiness of Cluub Zarathustra.

Simon’s original character which was OTT with audience-despising Nietzschean superiority and contempt for the audience in Cluub Zarathustra had (it seemed to me) been watered-down into the less-though-still-effective League Against Tedium.

The Attention Scum! TV series (directed by Stewart Lee) was highly original and, legend has it, much disliked by BBC TV executives until it was nominated for the prestigious Golden Rose of Montreux in 2001, at which point they had to feign enthusiastic support despite having already decided not to produce a second series.

Perhaps it was too interesting for them.

Simon’s League Against Tedium and Buckethead character shows were always interesting but sometimes variable – you can see that a man with an orange bucket over his head spouting poetry might partially alienate a more mainstream audience.

I think the less Simon hid behind a character and the more he started to perform as himself (well, as much as any comic does) the better and better and better he became.

In 2003, he contributed to Sit-Down Comedy, the Random House anthology of original writing which Malcolm Hardee and I commissioned and edited to which 19 stand-up comedians contributed short pieces. (Now newly available for download in Apple iBooks for iPad and in a Kindle edition.)

Simon at first submitted Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind – basically a print version of his 2002 Edinburgh Fringe show which I thought was fascinating. It took me aback that the printed version was even better than the performed version. I think I had seen the hour-long show twice yet, when I read it on the page, I realised I had missed some of the verbal and mental cleverness.

He eventually supplied The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes, a wonderfully original story. When I read it, it was one of only three times in my life that I have ever laughed out loud while reading a piece of writing (the other two occasions were both Terry Southern books – Blue Movie and one tiny section of The Magic Christian)

Simon wrote The True Confessions of Sherlock Holmes after the publishers of Sit-Down Comedy thought Noble Thoughts of a Noble Mind was too complicatedly experimental. Well, I think they thought it was too original and too intellectual; that’s often a problem with publishers.

And it has always been Simon’s semi-problem. Arguably too clever. Too original.

Until now, quite a lot of his acts – with sections often tending towards performance art – have been slightly hit-and-miss and I think sometimes too dense with intellectual, mental and linguistic cleverness to fully succeed with an only-half-paying-attention mainstream comedy audience. That’s not a criticism of audiences as dim; but sometimes audiences who had not seen Simon perform before were not expecting what they got. You had to pay very close attention.

Last night, there was a gag involving Sisyphus and Icarus which was wonderfully explained, became part of a cluster of linked, overlapping gags and even managed to bring in modern-day, up-to-the-minute economics.

Simon used to be intellectual and much-loved by the Guardian-reading chattering classes of Islington – and he still is. But now he seems to have pulled off the neat trick of losing none of his intellectual content but performing a highly intelligent act which is populist and maintains a uniformity of laughter-making for all audiences.

In other words, he’s bloody funny from beginning to end and has an astonishing act of overlapping, densely-packed gags and observations which in no way dumbs down yet is totally accessible to a mainstream audience.

How he has done it I don’t know, but he has.

I once tried to persuade Simon that we should follow in L.Ron Hubbard’s footsteps and write a book about philosophy which many in the UK would see as a joke but which many in California might read without irony and blindly believe in as a new religion. That way, we could make money now, have a laugh and statues of him might be worshipped in 2,000 years as a God-like figure.

He wasn’t impressed.

Maybe because today many already worship him as a godlike figure in British comedy.

Quite right too.

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Pull The Other One – crying with laughter at surreal, non-PC performance art – OK, it was WEIRD night

I try not to describe comedy shows in too much detail but…

I have seen some bizarre Pull The Other One last-Friday-of-the-month shows at Nunhead in Peckham, South East London, but last night’s must take the nutty biscuit.

It was the first of Pull The Other One’s new first-Friday-of-the-month shows at the Half Moon in nearby Herne Hill and the ghost of Andy Kaufman seemed to have been raised from his grave for the occasion.

It was performance art that would make Damien Hirst’s shark in formaldehyde seem like a John Constable painting and Tracey Emin’s unmade bed seem like a perfectly normal idea.

And it wasn’t just the acts that were odd last night…

For the first third of the show, a very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears sat in a gold costume alone at a table right in front of the stage.

Before the show started and for most of Part One (it was a three-part show), he fiddled obsessively with three flattish oblong white cardboard boxes which contained wooden-framed pictures of what appeared to be wood cuttings. He would take them out and put them back in, look at them and stand them on the table facing the rest of the audience and arrange and re-arrange them. He was very interested in them. And in the show. On which he occasionally commented. He was almost a performance artist in himself.

I thought maybe he was deaf and the MP3 player was a hearing aid – or maybe he was mentally retarded. Or maybe he was an act; even though I knew he wasn’t.

He must have been bemused or confused when, right at the very start of the show, compere-for-the-evening Vivienne Soan explained her husband Martin Soan was at home but then he appeared naked, behind her, with a brown paper bag over his head. She appeared not to notice him.

And then he must have then been further confused when compere-for-the-evening Vivienne Soan introduced compere-for-the-evening Charmian Hughes who did some topical material and a sand dance which the large man much appreciated and then compere-for-the-evening Charmian introduced compere-for-the-evening Holly Burn.

Holly Burn is a girl for whom the word “surreal” is a wild understatement; it would be like calling the one billion population of China “a man from the Orient”. She is billed on Pull The Other One’s flyers as “Bonkers But Brilliant” though, off-stage, she is only the third B in that billing.

On-stage is another matter.

She introduced the almost equally odd ‘magician’ Sam Fletcher (it was really a surrealist act), American comic Matt Baetz (the token stand-up on the bill) and then Holly (or perhaps by this time Vivienne Soan was compere-for-the-evening again) introduced two-minutes of vitriolic abuse shouted at the audience by The Obnoxious Man (played by Tony Green, of whom more in tomorrow’s blog)

This took us to the first interval of the evening, during which the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears decamped from his table, taking two of his three frames with him and wheeling a child’s scooter in front of him. I could see the woman sitting at the next table to him breathing an almost visible sigh of relief.

Part Two involved Holly Burn (or perhaps by this time Vivienne Soan was again compere-for-the-evening) introducing charismatic compere-for-the-evening Stephen Frost who introduced the amazingly sophisticated Earl Okin as “a sex goddess”.

Earl, even more so than normal, went down a storm with an audience primed by 40 minutes or so of surreal comedy and who now had unleashed on them his highly sophisticated crooning, jazz, satiric folk music and a version of Wheatus’ song I’m Just a Teenage Dirtbag, Baby sung as a bossa nova. The result, before my eyes, was a British comedy audience transformed into some kind of energetically-enthusiastic whooping American TV audience.

Boy, did they enjoy Earl Okin.

In the second interval, I went to the toilet and encountered the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears. It turned out he didn’t quite have a totally shaven head. He had a slogan which I could not quite read shaved in hair around the back of his head.

He was back in his place for Part Three at his table by the very front of the stage.

Now…

I have seen American comic Doctor Brown (not to be confused with Doc Brown) several times and, to be frank, his act can be a bit hit-and-miss. Well, it’s not so much an act. It’s more a let’s-go-on-stage and see-what-might-happen-with-the-audience performance. On the basis of last night, he should team up with the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears.

Doctor Brown’s schtick involves a certain nutty reticence to perform which, last night, meant a certain reluctance to come on stage at all and the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears took it upon himself to encourage Doctor Brown, whom he assumed was a genuinely shy performer.

“Come on, you can do it,” was one early comment. “Come on stage, man, you can do it.”

The good Doctor played to this and – rather bravely, I felt – decided to incorporate the gent in his act which eventually culminated in his – even more bravely – inviting the guy up onto the stage.

It turned out that the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard, a gold costume and what appeared to be an MP3 player plugged into his ears, in fact, did not have an MP3 player plugged into his ears at all: it was a doctor’s stethoscope which he wore round his neck and, at his throat, he had a four-inch high bright white skull ornament. His below-the-knee gold costume was augmented by red hobnailed boots

Doctor Brown proceeded to auction off the doctor’s stethoscope and skull to the audience, though he actually stopped short of giving away the items. He also got perilously close to squeezing a bottle of Heinz tomato ketchup over the guy’s shaven head or allowing the guy to squeeze it over his head. I have a terrible feeling he almost went through with this idea but pulled back from the unknown precipice at the last moment.

By this point, I was crying with laughter.

Non-PC?

Oh yes. And the whole audience was laughing. And the guy on stage with Doctor Brown. And the other comics more than anyone.

Trust me. You had to be there.

After the very large black man with one eye, a speech defect, a mostly shaven head, a beard, a gold costume, red hobnailed boots and a doctor’s stethoscope left the stage, Doctor Brown turned to the audience and said simply:

“Does anyone have any questions?”

He then produced a robin redbreast bird (don’t ask) which he talked to, then unzipped the flies of his trousers and partially inserted the bird, head first. He turned his back on the audience and climaxed his show by being sucked-off by the robin redbreast.

The good Doctor then exited to much applause, having dropped the robin onto the stage.

Martin Soan then appeared on stage to retrieve the robin, to which he talked lovingly until Doctor Brown returned to demand the bird back. A vitriolic argument ensued about who had more rights to and more of a personal history with the robin, which ended with a rough tussle between the two men on the floor and Martin Soan somehow ending up naked on stage with a brown paper bag over his head.

We were back at the start of the evening, at which point Vivienne Soan rounded it all off by announcing future Pull The Other One shows at the Half Moon in Herne Hill will include John Hegley, Simon Munnery and the extremely surreal Andrew Bailey.

Andrew will have his work cut out to top last night’s bizarre shenanigans.

In tomorrow’s blog – what Tony Green told me at Pull The Other One about Andy Kaufman, another dead comic; and the tale of our visit to fetish club Torture Garden.

There is a Pull The Other One video HERE

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Variety is not dead in Britain – not with the Royal wedding of William and Kate AND Pull The Other One

I saw a repeat of The Story of Variety with Michael Grade on BBC TV recently. The argument was that variety is dead. Michael Grade (unusually) was wrong. Two things yesterday proved this to me: the Royal Wedding and a monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, home of Only Fools and Horses – no connection with the Royal Wedding.

At school, I took British Constitution for ‘A’ Level so i am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. If left to my own devices yesterday, I might have switched on BBC1 to see the RAF fly-past at the Royal Wedding and perhaps I would have watched the drive back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in case anyone got assassinated.

As it was, I was with a friend who is a feminist republican. (Note, if you are an American reader, a republican is almost the opposite of what you might think: more left wing than right wing).

Of course, like almost all British republicans, she is obsessed with reading about and watching the Royals and following the soap opera and I had to sit through the whole thing on TV.

We had recently sat through Lindsay Anderson’s surreal movie If…. together and yesterday, when it got to the marriage bit where camp-looking churchmen in kitsch golden dresses were intoning sleep-inducing words and the congregation was awash with politicians, Royals, the upper classes and Elton John, I half expected Malcolm McDowell to appear high up in the Abbey among the gargoyles desperately firing an AK-47 at the congregation who would flood out the doors of the Abbey into Parliament Square where mortar bombs would explode.

Perhaps my mind wandered a little.

But men intoning the word of God in funny costumes always stimulates the surreal nodes in my brain.

My friend did make the interesting point that, apart from Kate Middleton, the colourful service was an entirely male affair apart from two nuns sitting to one side dressed in drab grey among the men in bright colours and the presumably-repeatedly-buggered choirboys in white surplices. It looked to me like the two nuns had been hired from Central Casting. One was unnecessarily tall and the other was unnecessarily small. It was like watching that classic comedy sketch where John Cleese is upper class and Ronnie Corbett is working class.

I am Sister Superior; I am taller than her and nearer to God… and I am Sister Inferior; I know my place.

Even when they sat down, the tall one was twice the height as the small one – that never normally happens. I began to fantasise about special effects and trapdoors in the pews.

The real pisser for me, though, was that the BBC TV director managed to miss the shot of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flying down the length of The Mall. That was the only reason I was watching the thing – other than the possibility of visually interesting assassinations – and it was almost as bad as ITN missing the Royal Kiss on the balcony when Charles married Di.

Everything else was so impeccably stage-managed, I couldn’t understand why they missed the shot. I particularly loved the trees and random greenery inside Westminster Abbey though I found the chandeliers distracting. I don’t remember chandeliers inside the Abbey. Did they come with the trees as part of a special offer from B&Q?

The Royal Wedding guests included Elton John, an invisible Posh & Becks and the distractingly visible two nuns.

In the evening, I went to the monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, which similarly attracts performers who come along to see the show but not to participate. This month it was writer Mark Kelly, actor Stephen Frost and surreal performer Chris Lynam. As I have said before, you know it is a good venue if other performers come to see the shows.

Pull The Other One is not a normal comedy show in that its performers are almost entirely speciality acts not stand-up comedians. If you need a break from reality, I recommend Pull The Other One as a good place to go. And the compering is usually as odd as the acts.

With Vivienne Soan on tour in Holland, the always energetic Holly Burn – the Miss Marmite of Comedy as I like to think of her – compered with Charmian Hughes and the latter performed an Egyptian sand dance in honour of the Royal wedding. Don’t ask, I don’t know, but it was very funny.

Martin Soan, Holly Burn and massed wind-up puppets performed Riverdance.

The extraordinarily larger-than-life Bob Slayer surprisingly did balloon modelling and unsurprisingly drank a pint of beer in one gulp.

Juggler Mat Ricardo (to be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this August in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show) still has some of the best spesh act patter around.

Magician David Don’t – who had variable success last month when he used blind-folded members of the audience throwing darts at each other – unusually succeeded in an escapology act involving a giant Royal Mail bag, although it’s the last time I want to see a banker with no clothes on and a Union flag coming out of his groin.

Earl Okin did wonderful musical things with his mouth.

And, to round off the evening Matthew Robins, with ukulele and accordion accompaniment, performed a shadow puppet story about murder and mutilation and a visit to the zoo. It is rare to see a shadow puppet show about someone getting his fingers cut off with pliers, his sister hanging from a rope and the audience spontaneously singing along to “I wanted you to love me, but a snake bit my hand…”

But it is more interesting than watching the Archbishop of Canterbury with his grey wild-man-of-the-desert hair wearing a gold dress and a funny pointy party hat in Westminster Abbey.

Pull the Other One – on the last Friday of every month – is never ever predictable and Stephen Frost, keen to appear, lamented to me the fact it is fully booked with performers until November.

Most interesting line of the evening – of the whole day, in fact – came from Earl Okin, who pointed out what a historic Wedding Day this was…

Because it was exactly 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun.

“It doesn’t bode well,” Earl said.

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Comedy, burlesque and going OTT at PTOO with a naked Irish Riverdance in Peckham, London

There seem to be two separate ‘circuits’ in London at the moment: the amorphous alternative comedy circuit and the burlesque circuit. The latter seems to meander from stripper-type-tease to glimpses of old-style variety to fetish-style stuff with more than a nod to Berlin cabaret between-the-Wars.

Most of the straight comedy shows nowadays are a just a string of stand-ups with maybe, occasionally, an odd act thrown in. Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One club in Nunhead (that’s Peckham to me and you) is clearly not burlesque; but it is not one of the amorphous straight comedy nights either.

It is old-style variety mingled with comic performance art plus usually one big-name straight stand up. It is never short of the unexpected and bizarre, so it’s no surprise that Pull The Other One regulars Bob Slayer and Holly Burn both appear in the April issue of Bizarre magazine as New Alternative Comedy Heroes.

The average Pull The Other One show does not exist and it is a sign of how unusual it is that it has always attracted comedians to its audience. Last month Boothby Graffoe was there in the audience just to enjoy it; this month it was Stephen Frost.

The Big Name stand up on the bill last night was multi-talented Omid Djalili, a man who can move with nary a blink from appearing in Gladiator, The MummyPirates of the Caribbean and James Bond movies to club gigs on the London comedy circuit to playing Fagin in Oliver! at the London Palladium and having his own TV series on BBC1. His career is almost as variety-filled as a Pull The Other One show.

I missed most of last night’s show because main speciality act Paul Morocco had got cut down earlier in the day with a very serious stomach bug and couldn’t appear – well, it’s a tribute to his professionalism that he would have appeared if Vivienne Soan had not been able to find a fill-in sharpish. But Paul’s amazing act includes juggling, a lot of bopping around and blowing/juggling multiple ping pong balls from his mouth. This is not ideal if you have a serious stomach bug and just want to lie in bed and die with the pain.

So I missed most of last night’s show because I was picking up and driving my chum Melbourne-based Irish fiddle-playing comic vagabond Aindrias de Staic from the West End to Nunhead after he appeared in two performances of Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. Aindrias is not so much jet-lagged as show-lagged. He is over in London to appear in Woody Sez until 2nd April – another two shows today – and tomorrow he performs his one-man show Around The World on 80 Quid at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

So last night, at 9.35, we were legging it to my car to get to Pull The Other One in time – parking mid-evening on a Friday in the West End had not been fun.

Aindrias decided in the car on the way to the venue what he was going to do: mostly stand-up stories with an inkling of fiddling… but, when he actually got there and realised the measure of the audience, changed it all.

He gave them a bit of a foot-stomping fiddle, then a bizarre story and a couple more musical items.

Well, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

He had had a 20-second chat with Martin Soan before he went on and they ad-libbed what then happened.

Aindrias was interrupted during his second diddly-aye foot-stomping Irish fiddly piece by Martin Soan – totally naked, of course – Riverdancing in from the wings behind him and, trust me, Irish dancing in the nude is a particularly visual entertainment.

There’s a lot of flopping up and down going on.

When this went down very well with the audience, Aindrias called Martin back on stage to do a reprise “bollock dance” to the Jew’s Harp accompanied by a rather dubious song which Aindrias improvised.

Aindrias called what was happening “gyp-hop” – a musical combination of gypsy and hip-hop.

Watching this, Stephen Frost said to me: “If only Malcolm (Hardee) were here to see this.”

Indeed.

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