It is a difficult blog to write if someone you know quite well does a really stonkingly good gig, because no-one is really going to believe you when you say how good it was.
Even moreso when it’s an entire comedy club evening.
All I can say is that last night’s Pull The Other One comedy show in Nunhead, South East London, was one of the best comedy nights I have been at. And I have been at a few.
Vivienne and Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows are always odd and always entertaining but – like all the very best comedy nights – there can be some ups and downs, much like a well-loved camel. Last night, there were no downs – it was more firm-peaked dromedary than lumpy Bactrian – and the very excitable audience had every right to be just that… excited.
New-ish Darren Maskell was fairly indescribable but, if I had to put words to it, I’d try ‘successfully surreal’ and audience member Phill Jupitus was roaring with laughter at many parts. I particularly liked the miniature-chainsawed ice sculpture Darren gave to a member of the audience.
Lindsay Sharman in full-flow as a rage-filled Scots poet was extremely funny, as perhaps only rage-filled Scots poets can be.
And then Stephen Frost threw one of Martin Soan’s shoes out of the first floor window, grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off parts of Martin’s shirt and half his hair simply so Martin could deliver a gag about being “half-cut”.
Now that is true dedication to comedy. Especially as, if you throw a shoe out of a window into a South East London street, there is no guarantee it will still be there when you go to collect it ten minutes later. Fortunately the shoe was still there, though a shirt and jeans had been stolen.
Then, back on stage, there was Phill Jupitus reprising his 1980s persona of Porky The Poet with old and new material performed with flawless comic timing, followed by Oram & Meeton wildly on-form.
It maybe sounds like an ordinary comedy night ‘bigged-up’. It was not. It was a wonderful, wonderful event. At the end, one of the performers asked me: “Was tonight as good as I think it was?”
“Yes it was,” I said.
‘Porky The Poet’ had written new poems about Martin Soan, Stephen Frost and Malcolm Hardee (as well as one about touring with Madness).
And, at the beginning of the evening, a man approached me in the club’s darkness saying “I know your face.”
“Crimewatch?” I asked.
“No. You do occasional Facebook postings on the Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society page and I recognise your face from there,” he said.
This I find slightly worrying, as there is only a tiny icon-type picture of me there and, although I have occasionally been ‘recognised’ by people in trains and at parties in the past, I have only been mis-recognised as a totally different person, because I have a very unexceptional face.
I have often been mistaken for a ‘Peter’. Whether this is one particular Peter or, more likely, a variety of different Peters nationwide, I know not.
But this guy who really did recognise me in the dark at Pull The Other One last night was one Nick Bernard.
“I used to live next door to Malcolm Hardee’s house in Fingal Street in the mid-1990s,” he told me. “Well, Malcolm wasn’t living there then – that bloke from Only Fools and Horses was – but I used to hang out a lot with Malcolm. Have you heard the story about his first date with Jane (his future wife)?”
“Try me,” I said.
“I think Malcolm had met Jane at Up The Creek,” said Nick.
“Yes,” I said, “the way she tells it, the first time she saw him, he was naked on stage…”
“It was Malcolm who told me this,” said Nick, “and then Jane who ‘affirmed the narrative’… He chatted her up after the show and arranged to go on a date the next day.
“So the next day he turns up in his Jaguar at her house all suited-and-booted to pick her up… but he is desperate to go to the loo. And, rather than knock on the door and say I’m really sorry, I’ve gotta go to the loo, he thinks the best thing is to go before he knocks on the door. Except he needs to do a shit not a wee.
“So he shits in her neighbour’s front garden but doesn’t have anything to wipe himself, so he pulls his suit back together, knocks on the door, takes her to the car, Jane gets into the car and becomes aware of this foul smell… but she still married him.
“There’s obviously some winning charm there.”
“I think,” I said, “women liked his innocence.”
“Well, he did have a huge charm,” said Nick. “I think it was the honesty. I mean he could be really quite cruel, but it wasn’t like mean or deliberate. He saw the line of humour and the eventual laugh and he thought: I’ll just go for the humorous line and fuck it!”
“I think the definitive Malcolm story,” I said, “is the Matthew Hardy one where…”
“Oh! And his tax!” Nick said.
“His tax?” I asked.
“Well, you know Malcolm never paid his tax?” asked Nick.
I nodded, obviously.
“So, after Matthew Hardy moved in with him,” said Nick, “there was an M.Hardee and an M.Hardy sharing an address – same name but different spellings. So, after Malcolm was owing multiple years of tax… Well, he had written to the tax office and said he’d died and that hadn’t worked… Well, it did for a bit… Then he wrote to them saying You’ve been getting my name wrong and he told them he was M.Hardy not M.Hardee… Then the tax office started chasing Matthew Hardy…”
“After Malcolm died,” I told Nick, “his brother Alex was sitting sorting through the paperwork in Malcolm’s place and the phone rang. It was someone from the tax office asking: Can I speak to Mr Malcolm Hardee, please? So Alex says, I’m afraid he died and the taxman says, You tried that last year, Mr Hardee.
THIS IS MATTHEW HARDY’S STORY:
He took my visiting elderly parents out in his boat. Goes up the Thames and on the right was some kind of rusted ship, pumping a powerful arc of bilgewater out of its hull, through a kind of high porthole, which saw the water arc across the river over fifty foot.
I’m on the front of the boat as Malcolm veers toward the arc and I assume he’s gonna go under it, between the ship and where the arc curves downward toward the river itself. For a laugh.
Just as I turn back to say “Lookout, we’re gonna get hit by the filthy fucking water” – the filthy fucking water almost knocked my head off my shoulders and me off the boat. I looked back to see it hit Malcolm as he steered, then my Mum and then Dad.
I wanted to hit him, and my Dad said afterwards that he did too, but we were both unable to comprehend or calculate what had actually happened. Malcolm’s decision was beyond any previously known social conduct. He must have simply had the idea and acted upon it. Anarchy.
We laugh… NOW!”