Tag Archives: Peter Rosengard

The early days of the Comedy Store and the alleged toilet habits of Irishmen

Tunnel Arts - Malcolm’s early management company

Malcolm Hardee’s early agenting company

In a couple of blogs this week, I quoted from a chat I had with performer Tony Green about the early days of alternative comedy in London. He remembers those days; I don’t really.

Around 1985/1986 I was a researcher on ITV show Game For a Laugh and was looking for bizarre acts. It was around that time I must have met the late Malcolm Hardee, who was agenting acts through his Tunnel Arts organisation (though the word organisation may be a slight exaggeration).

And I have a vague memory of Eddie Izzard standing in a doorway in the narrow alleyway housing the Raymond Revuebar in Soho trying to entice people into an upstairs room where he was running a comedy club. I do not remember the acts, I just remember it was rather small, brightly lit and desperate and I seem to remember the smell of seemingly irrelevant talcum powder.

“When the Comedy Store first started…” Tony Green told me, “…when anyone could go – it was Peter Rosengard’s idea – it would be a Saturday night and somebody would say:

What are you doing tonight?

I dunno really.

Tony Green back in the day (Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

Tony Green back in the early days…(Photograph courtesy of Anna Smith)

You want a few free drinks? Well, there’s a place round the corner called The Comedy Store. They’ll give you a few free drinks if you get on stage and, if you do well, they may even book you and you’ll get more than a few free drinks and you’ll meet quite a lot of other comics.

Alexei Sayle was the compere. He became a writer after that. Probably gave up the ghost realising he couldn’t change the world because it’s not possible. It’s like bashing your head against a brick wall.

Tony Allen took over from Alexei and I was very happy when Tony was there because, if people gonged me off, Tony would say I’m not gonging him off because I like what he’s got to say, whereas Alexei wasn’t always quite so kind.

“You never knew what you might get on those Saturday nights. It could be quite riotous. We’d get some really nutty acts there – as far as I was concerned, the nuttier the better. Some of the people were terribly boring, but some weren’t.

Keith Allen was probably the best at that time. And there was Chris Lynam sticking a banger up his bum with The Greatest Show On Legs.

At the Tunnel, Malcolm Hardee (left) and Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. CREDIT Geraint Lewis

At the Tunnel Club, Malcolm Hardee watches Chris Lynam with a firework up his bum. (Photograph by Geraint Lewis)

“My old friend Ian Hinchliffe had taken in a lodger – Captain Keano’s cousin.”

I should mention at this point that I never knowingly saw Captain Keano – a Covent Garden street performer friend of Eddie Izzard – but this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith last year told me in a blog:

“Captain Keano (Paul Keane) used to print his own money – headed The Bank of Entertainment – and give away the pound note sized currency instead of business cards. The notes had on them his phone number, a drawing of himself and the promise printed thereon: I WILL DO IT ALL – ALL YOU NEED TO DO IS CALL. How innocent.”

“What did Captain Keano’s cousin do?” I asked Tony Green.

“I think his profession was that of horse-breaker,” Tony told me.

“What?” I asked.

Tony Green today remembers his early days

Tony Green today remembers tales of Irish toilets

“Breaking-in horses in Ireland,” replied Tony. “He had a very heavy Irish accent. He wasn’t always that easy to understand. A nice man, a very very heavy drinker, and as strong as an ox.

“Anyway, he needed somewhere to live and my friend Ian Hinchliffe, being the big-hearted man he was, said I’ve got a three-bedroomed place. You can come and stay with me – meaning for a few weeks.

“But, seven months later, Captain Keano’s cousin was still there.

“He was paying rent, but the problem was… I dunno… This will probably sound racist. It isn’t meant to be… There’s an Irish pub near where I live… Somebody once said to me: When you go to the toilet, why is there always shit and piss all over the floor?

“Well, a lot of Irish people I know won’t sit on the seat, because they’re afraid of getting diseases, thinking somebody sitting on that place before them may have had some kind of sexual disease. So they tend to stand on the toilet seat. Sometimes the shit – forgive me, faecal matter – would miss the toilet seat and go down the side of the toilet and very few men would actually pick it up.

“Keano’s cousin had this habit – When he went to the toilet, he would piss all over the floor and I think Ian put a sign above the toilet saying IF YOU MUST PISS – AND, OF COURSE, YOU MUST – WOULD YOU PLEASE DO IT HORIZONTALLY AS OPPOSED TO VERTICALLY.

“I’m not sure that made any sense, but he was actually saying: If you’re going to piss all over the floor, would you please wipe it up, because it’s driving me round the bend every time I myself go to the toilet. 

“After seven months Ian, possibly emulating the man’s Irish accent, told me: He’s the divil of a divil and I want him out.

“I said: What do you want me to do? Get some big, heavy team in to throw him out? He knows he’s got to go. It was supposed to be three weeks; it’s been seven months. You should never have offered it to him in the first place. That kind of hospitality is not always a good idea.

“So Ian was phoning me all the time and phoning Chris Lynam all the time.

“Eventually, Chris drove over there one night at three o’clock in the morning:

Where is he?

He’s asleep in that bedroom.

“So Chris went into the bedroom and packed Captain Keano’s cousin’s clothes into a suitcase. Chris is not the biggest of men, but he managed to throw this big horse-breaker out of the front door – he was half unconscious, from what I heard and still somewhat drunk.

“When he woke up in the morning, he was outside Ian’s front door. Ian told him he wasn’t letting him back in: he had to find somewhere else to live and he’d see him in the pub later that day. And Ian phoned up Chris to thank him for what he did.

“Next time I saw Chris – about two weeks later – I told him: That was a really good thing you did, Chris, because the man was driving Ian round the bend. But, the thing is, Chris, you’re not that big and he’s an ex-horse breaker…

“Chris looked at me in amazement and said: Did I do that?

“Chris had no recollection of doing it. I don’t know where Chris was that night in his headspace, but Ian was eternally grateful.”

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Filed under Comedy, Ireland, London, Racism

A visit to a fetish club and the recent death of a unique British comedy performer

I blogged yesterday about a Pull the Other One show in Herne Hill, South East London, run by Vivienne and Martin Soan.

Before the show, Martin told me: “I’m in the final of a mime competition at the Royal Festival Hall on 29th May. It’s going to be me against France.”

“The whole of France?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Martin. “It’s in honour of Malcolm Hardee because he admired the art of mime so much.”

(Malcolm thought mime was “a tragic waste of time”)

“You’re competing against the whole of France?” I asked Martin.

“Yes. I’ve actually got a real French mime artist to take part and I’m going to win. The contest is rigged because Malcolm would have approved of that.”

“Have there been any heats?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “No heats. But it’s called The England v France Mime-Off and I’ve got through to the final.”

I think he was joking but, with a surreal comedian, you can never be altogether certain.

It was also an interesting night at Pull the Other One because Tony Green was performing in his guise as The Obnoxious Man, whose act is to shout two-minutes of ad-libbed vitriolic abuse at the audience.

I first met him in the early 1990s, when the late Malcolm Hardee suggested I see Tony compere at a now long-forgotten comedy night called T’others at The Ship in Kennington, South London.

A few months later, Tony somehow persuaded me it would be interesting to go to the monthly fetish club Torture Garden which, that month, was being held in a three-storey warehouse in Islington. The top floor was given over to unconventional cabaret acts and Tony’s chum Sophie Seashell, the partner of one of The Tiger Lillies, had booked bizarre acts for the night. That month’s acts included the extraordinary Andrew Bailey.

Torture Garden still exists and, earlier this year, Adolf Hitler singing act Frank Sanazi told me he was performing there, so their taste for the bizarre clearly still remain high.

There was and I presume still is a dress code at Torture Garden and perhaps rather naively, when I went, my concession to fetishism was wearing an ageing hippie Indian-style shirt and colourful trousers while Tony was wearing a white straw hat and rather louche suit and looked a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who.

When we arrived, Tony was told: “You’re OK, you look perverted,” but my shirt was not deemed good enough as a costume. The people on the door suggested I take off my shirt so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front. I think it may have been some personal fantasy of the man on the door.

“If I take my belt off, my trousers may fall down,” I said.

“All the better,” the man replied.

“It won’t be a pretty sight,” I warned him.

“All the better,” the man replied.

That’s the good thing about sado-masochists – they always see half a glass – although whether it is half-full or half-empty depends on their particular tendencies.

I was not reassured a fetish club was my scene, but it was certainly interesting. I think Americans take to such things much more wholeheartedly – there was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.

Tony Green took in his stride such things as a slightly-self-conscious naked fat man ‘walking’ his wife like a dog on a lead. She was scrambling about on all-fours and I think her knees were playing up a bit. Presumably in suburbia there are carpets.

At Pull the Other One, Tony told me things are looking up for him at the moment as he is performing in the play Reign at 4th Floor West Studios in Commercial Road this week. Tony is a man never short of an interesting story.

When I mentioned that Pull the Other One has more than a touch of Andy Kaufman’s experimental anarchy about it, inevitably, Tony had an Andy Kaufman story.

He told me of an evening in the early 1980s when Comedy Store founder Pete Rosengard phoned up Andy Kaufman, who was in London, and persuaded him to come down and perform at the Store. Andy appeared as his ‘women’s wrestling champion’ character, challenging any women in the audience to wrestle him on stage… and was gonged off. This was the early 1980s and Tony himself led heckles of “Fuck off, you sexist pig!” perhaps not unconnected to the fact he himself had been gonged off earlier.

Andy Kaufman was not amused.

Tony also told me sad news which I had not heard – that the extraordinary performance artist and comedy performer Ian Hinchliffe drowned in Arkansas around two months ago. He was there with his American partner and, the way Tony told it, Ian was fishing in a boat on a lake with a 94-year-old friend. They caught a whopper of a large fish, both got excited, both fell out of the boat and the 94-year-old man survived but Ian, 68, drowned.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (Malcolm drowned too, in 2005) quoted an anecdote about Ian Hinchliffe and Ian was not amused because his surname was mis-spelled ‘Hinchcliffe’ – not surprising as, even though I wrote the manuscript, publishers Fourth Estate never showed me a proof copy and the result was a plethora of mis-prints throughout the book.

I had not met Ian at the time the book was published but I met him later and he was most certainly a one-off. We exchanged slightly odd Christmas cards for a while although I hadn’t seen him for years.

The reference to him in I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is below (with the spelling of his name corrected):

__________________________________________________________

Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.

__________________________________________________________

Tony Green tells me an Ian Hinchliffe Memorial Day is being organised on Saturday 2nd July, probably starting around 2.00pm, at Beaconsfield arts studio in Newport Street, SE11 which will include Tony Allen’s Jazz Tea Party and a host of prominent early alternative comedians.

If the day is anything like Ian Hinchliffe, it will be truly original.

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Filed under Comedy, Sex, Theatre