Tag Archives: Peckham

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

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Not only Fools and Horses in Peckham – Now they have absurdist comedians

Tina Turner - Tea Lady performs at last night’s show

Tina Turner – Tea Lady performs at last night’s PTOO show

NB NOT FOR THE EASILY OFFENDED

Michael Brunström won the increasingly prestigious main Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality at the recent Edinburgh Fringe but, by the time it was awarded, he had finished his run and was back in London. So I gave him the trophy last night.

I gave it to him shortly before a Pull the Other One comedy night at the mis-named CLF Art Cafe in the Bussey Buildings, Peckham.

The CLF Art Cafe is mis-named because it is really a large dance hall (and used as such at weekends) in a vast rambliing building which used to be, among other things, a Victorian sweatshop and an armaments factory. Pull The Other One are running four not-quite-monthly variety nights there between now and March, as well as their monthly comedy nights in nearby Nunhead and – perhaps – more shows in Leipzig.

One of last nights poster survivors

One of last night’s show posters which survived

Vivienne and Martin Soan run Pull The Other One and put up 200 posters plugging the new show, but almost all disappeared quickly. This might have been due to heavy rain or because “It’s posters war round here,” as Martin says. “It’s very much like the Edinburgh Fringe. People ripping down your posters to put theirs up. It’s all happening here.”

“Peckham?” I asked. “Home of Only Fools and Horses and Del Boy?”

“You know it is,” said Martin.

Martin had been going to perform with The Greatest Show On Legs at the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show in Edinburgh – actually titled Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrghhh! It’s The Increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – And It’s Free! but, instead, had to be in London for the premiere of Steve Oram’s new film entitled Aaaaaaah!

There’s been a lot of Aaaaaahsing about lately.

There is a trailer for Aaaaaaah! on YouTube.

“I’ve got a tiny cameo role in the movie,” Martin told me last night. “Two brief shots of me as a has-been rockstar in his underpants singing at a coked-up party.”

“Has Aaaaaaah!,” I asked, “got naked women and armadillos?’

“Yes,” said Martin, then added, “well, I’m lying about the armadillos. But it has naked women and a lot of action and graphic violence – but not gratuitous. And, in it, Steve has created this TV world for them to watch.”

“Like?” I asked.

“Cookery programmes, but done in the genre – without giving the game away – of the whole premise of the movie. There are just so many elements to it.”

“Is it even odder than his previous film Sightseers?” I asked.

“Extremely odd, but brilliant.”

“Much like Michael Brunström,” I said.

Well, no, I did not say that.

But I have to cover over the half hour gap between the above conversation with Martin and me giving Michael Brunström his Malcolm Hardee Award.

Michael keeps his Award next to his books by Boris Vian

Michael keeps his Award next to his books by Boris Vian – French writer, poet, musician, singer, translator, critic, actor, inventor and important influence on the French jazz scene.

“You will be wanting to say you are deeply honoured,” I told Michael.

“I’m deeply honoured,” said Michael. “Last year, I did ten shows and got nominated for the Award. This year, I did six shows and won it. Next year, I’m thinking of not turning up at all.”

“Where are you going to put your Award?” I asked. “Laurence Owen put his on a shelf next to two small Daleks.”

“I have a bookshelf,” said Michael. “Are you only running the Awards until 2017?”

“Well,” I said, “In 2007, I only had eleven years’ worth of trophies made. So I run out of them in 2017.”

“After that,” suggested Michael, “you should just steal trophies and palm them off as  Malcolm Hardee Awards.”

“You’re right,” I said, brightening up. “It would be a fitting tribute and it’s what he would have wanted.”

At that point, Brian Damage arrived for his performance.

Brian Damage with Vicky as Krysstal

Brian Damage bearded with his wife Vicky de Lacy as Krysstal

Well, no, he did not.

But I have to cover over the gap between the conversation with Michael above and Brian talking about my newly-grown beard.

“You should think ZZ Top,” he told me. “What you got now is just bum fluff. Think of a beard as a straight line down to your waist. It catches food. You will never go hungry.”

As he said this, Spencer Jones arrived.

No. You are right. He did not. But, later, he told me about his bad drive back from the Edinburgh Fringe on Tuesday.

“I didn’t just have babies in the car,” he explained. “I had budgerigars and, because the budgies were in the back, I couldn’t recline my seat and have a quick hour’s sleep in that long 12-hour drive back to London. So I had four Red Bulls and two large coffees. Yesterday – the day after – was weird.”

Spencer has a budgie close to his heart

Spencer has a budgie close to his heart

“You took your budgies up to the Fringe?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“What did the budgies have to say about that?”

“They twittered on for a while, but they were OK about it. I nearly took them on stage up in Edinburgh. I thought Who’s ever taken budgies on stage? But I realised it would freak them out.”

“The audience?”

“The budgies.”

“I had,” I told Spencer, “a budgerigar act on a couple of TV shows I did.”

“I think his name was Don…” said Spencer.

“Don Crown,” I said. “I met him six or seven years later and he was a broken man: he had become allergic to feathers. His act had been destroyed by an act of God.”

“I think he had a song,” said Spencer, “which we used to sing in our house: Budgie Man... He’s the Budge-Budge-Budgie Man…”

There is a video on YouTube featuring Don Crown and his budgies.

“Do your budgies speak?” I asked.

“No,” said Spencer. “They fly around the house.”

“Shitting everywhere?”

“Shitting everywhere,” agreed Spencer.

“Much like children,” I suggested.

A budgerigar not owned by Spencer not shitting in his house

A budgerigar not owned by Spencer not shitting in his house

“Yeah,” agreed Spencer. “The reason I bought the first budgie was that, before my girlfriend and me had kids, I wanted to see if me and Ruth would get on looking after a little life. So I bought a budgie without telling her and we got on fine, so then we had kids. But then the budgie needed a friend. I had bought it thinking it was a boy, but it wasn’t. So we had a girl budgie called Ernie and we bought another one called Dirk.”

“Is it possible to ‘doctor’ male budgerigars?” I asked.

“I doubt if anyone’s ever tried.”

“Otherwise they’d breed all over the place,” I said.

“I think you have to have a very high calcium diet,” said Spencer.

“The owner?” I asked.

“The budgerigars,” said Spencer. “Though I do have quite a high calcium diet and have two kids.”

This morning, I looked up Don Crown and found recent YouTube clips of him with his budgies.

So either I imagined meeting him after he became allergic to feathers or he got over it.

Perhaps I have started hallucinating past events. But who has to?

This morning, I got an email from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. It said:

A man in Kelowna, British Columbia, has grown the world’s largest cucumber which he is planning on turning into the world’s largest pickle and he is wondering if anybody is making the worlds largest hot dog.

Michael Brunström also posted a photo of himself online this morning, holding the Malcolm Hardee Award.

Michael Brunstrom holds his Malcolm Hardee Award

Michael Brunström holds his increasingly prestigious Award as Malcolm Hardee would have wanted

 

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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

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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

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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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Filed under Comedy, Police

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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Filed under Books, Comedy, Religion, Theatre