Tag Archives: Ricky Grover

Punchlines: comics getting beaten up

Comedy critics face fragile egos and non-comedic reaction

Yesterday, someone drew my attention to a copy of The Stage dated 26th April 1990. One article was headlined:

ARTISTS FEAR HECKLERS’ REVENGE

and started:

“Alarmed entertainers fear violence from rowdy club audiences may be on the increase after a series of ugly scenes which have put artists at risk on stage.”

Apparently comedian Paul Ramone had got a black eye and swollen nose after being head-butted by a member of his audience during a gig in Twickenham.

Manchester hypnotist Paul Nyles claimed he had had to abandon his act after 15 minutes when an audience member bit through his microphone cable. There were no details of what happened to the heckler when he did this.

Comedians getting beaten-up seems to be a non-uncommon phenomenon although biting through the microphone cable to stop an act is uncommon.

Off the top of my head, I remember three Edinburgh Fringe stories. One is told in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake:


Ian Cognito - nothing is unexpected

Cognito maybe forgot Ricky Grover is an ex-boxer

An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. Part of his Italian upbringing, I think. 

Ricky Grover had worked with him before, so said hello to him and Cognito grabbed him by his collar and said: 

“You’re a fat cunt!” 

Ricky doesn’t mind that sort of thing at all. He’s used to it.

So, not getting a reaction, Cognito continued: 

“You’re a fat cunt and you’re not funny!” 

Ricky still didn’t react, so Cognito added: 

“And your wife’s a fat cunt as well!”

This upset Ricky, because he’s one of those traditional people.

“Did you mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ian Cognito said.

“Can you repeat it?” Ricky asked.

Cognito said: “Your wife’s a fat cunt”. 

And, with one blow, Ricky just knocked him out. Unconscious. Displaced his jaw a bit. The lot. Ricky’s a professional, so he knows exactly where to hit someone.

Standing three or four yards away was Jon Thoday, who runs the Avalon agency. I looked over at Jon and said: 

“Oh, have you go that £500 you owe me?”

Funnily enough, the cheque arrived in the post about two days later.


Police said Ian Fox suffered “a small cut to his nose”

In 2012, comedian Ian Fox was randomly attacked in the street during the Edinburgh Fringe. The local police, who allegedly knew quite a lot about beating people up, told the Edinburgh Evening News: “The victim suffered a small cut to his nose during the incident,” but Ian’s face looked more like he had had an argument with a rhinoceros.

And, of course, most infamously, in 2013, comedy performer Ellis got beaten up in an Edinburgh street by an irate member of the public who was annoyed by Ellis & Rose’s appearance in Jimmy Savile: The Punch & Judy Show.

Gareth Ellis suffers for his art (photo by Lewis Schaffer)

Comic Ellis claimed he suffered for his art (Photograph by Lewis Schaffer)

Except it never happened. In fact, Ellis had repeatedly hit himself in the face with the blunt end of a milk whisk so he could tell the being-beaten-up story to get publicity for Ellis & Rose’s Fringe show. When the blunt end of a milk whisk did not have the required effect, his comedy partner Rose punched him four times in the face to give him the required black eye. For this, they won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

To me, the most bizarre part of the 1990 Stage article, though, was a paragraph towards the end which said:

“Alternative comedian Malcolm Hardee, who was knocked unconscious by a heckler at a Glasgow club, claims attacks are on the increase because comedy has become more aggressive.”

That this had happened to Malcolm seemed very unlikely – although admittedly Malcolm’s Tunnel Club had to become membership only after beer glasses were thrown at Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton) during their act.

Throwing beer glasses at acts was not uncommon at the Tunnel but, on this occasion (when Malcolm was NOT the compere) a glass hit Babs Sutton in the face and drew blood, after which several acts refused to play the Tunnel unless Malcolm reined-in his audience a bit.

MalcolmHardee_Diners

Malcolm Hardee – a comedian not unacquainted with alcohol

Anyway… Malcolm Hardee being knocked unconscious by a heckler at a Glasgow club sounded unlikely, so, yesterday, I asked Malcolm’s chum Martin Soan.

“This sounds unlikely,” I said. “Have you heard this story? Did he make it up?”

Malcolm making-up stories was not unheard-of, but Martin said surprisingly:

“Yes I do remember this. It is true after a fashion. The heckler sort-of pushed Malcolm in a friendly sort of way. Malcolm had drunk 13 pints of beer and some buckets of rum-and-coke and sort-of fell asleep for a bit… Talking of which, I had a knife pulled on me… twice. Once at the Old Tiger’s Head in Lee and once on the Glastonbury stage.”

Comedy can be a dangerous business.

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Agent & manager Addison Cresswell & the colourful world of British comedy

Here is an extract from the late Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. It refers to an incident when comedians Ian Cognito and Ricky Grover had a falling-out at the Edinburgh Fringe:

An excellent performer called Ian Cognito was there and he was very drunk, as is his wont. When he’s drunk, he gets aggressive. Part of his Italian upbringing, I think. 

Ricky had worked with him before, so said hello to him and Cognito grabbed him by his collar and said: 

“You’re a fat cunt!” 

Ricky doesn’t mind that sort of thing at all. He’s used to it.

So, not getting a reaction, Cognito continued: 

“You’re a fat cunt and you’re not funny!” 

Ricky still didn’t react, so Cognito added: 

“And your wife’s a fat cunt as well!”

This upset Ricky, because he’s one of those traditional people.

“Did you mean that?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Ian Cognito said.

“Can you repeat it?” Ricky asked.

Cognito said: “Your wife’s a fat cunt”. 

And, with one blow, Ricky just knocked him out. Unconscious. Displaced his jaw a bit. The lot. Ricky’s a professional, so he knows exactly where to hit someone.

Standing three or four yards away was Jon Thoday, who runs the Avalon agency. I looked over at Jon and said: 

“Oh, have you go that £500 you owe me?”

Funnily enough, the cheque arrived in the post about two days later.

While Ian Cognito was still unconscious another well-known agent rushed over and told Ricky Grover he shouldn’t hit comedians and that he, the agent, could have people killed. 

This bloke’s gone a bit funny. 

He behaves as if he’s a ‘villain’ for some reason. His father is actually a distinguished academic. He comes from a very posh family but he likes to be ‘laddish’ and he’s gone one step further now. He’s got the black Crombie, the waistcoat: everything the well-dressed villain should have.

I met a real villain who had seen him walking about in the West End of London and the agent told this bloke he was one of the Brindle Brothers. At the time, there was a bit of a feud, including occasional shootings, going on in South East London between the Brindle Brothers and the Arifs.

The un-named “well-known agent” at the end of that anecdote was Addison Cresswell of the Off The Kerb comedy agency.

Yesterday it was reported that he died in his sleep, aged 53, on Sunday night and is genuinely much-lamented. Whereas other agents might occasionally rip-off their own clients, I never heard anything bad about Addison in that respect. He was always said to be “hard-nosed” in his negotiations on behalf of his artists (which was his job) – but always in his artists’ interests.

In a 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo, then Director of Television & Content at Channel 4, described Addison as a “big, flamboyant character in the showbiz comedy world… In the end, you can judge how effective and how good agents are by the long-term relationships they have with their clients. In other words, is their client base always changing or not? Addison has managed to keep his clients for a very long time, which is an indication how good he is for them.”

Addison was oft-quoted as saying: “I don’t see us (agents) as in any way different from the people who run the (TV) channels. They’re complete bastards as well, but we all have to work with each other.”

The Daily Mirror yesterday wrote that he was “seen as a no-nonsense, forceful and larger than life character by many in the industry”.

In the 2008 Guardian profile, Kevin Lygo said of Addison: “With broadcasters, he can be volatile – but my experience with him is that he is straight, and you always have the feeling that he has his client’s best interests at heart. He has an understanding of television, and is a hard negotiator but also fair.”

I only encountered him in person a few times in 1995 when I worked on Jack Dee’s Saturday Night show for ITV1. Addison’s TV company Open Mike produced the show. He talked fast and usually seemed coked-out-of-his-head in a long dark coat. He cultivated a hard-nosed image but seemed to be honest in the sense that, as far as I ever heard, he did the best for his acts and, unlike some other agents, financially screwed companies for the benefit of his acts – he did not financially screw his own acts.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography, from which the Edinburgh Fringe story above is taken, was published in 1996. This is an entry from my diary two years after that:

Sunday 30th August 1998

In the evening, we went to (Malcolm Hardee’s comedy club) Up The Creek, re-starting its Sunday night shows after a summer break.

Malcolm was extremely drunk in a dysfunctional way when we arrived. At the end of the show, he was so drunk that he fell over and had to be replaced by Simon Fox – one of the comics on the bill – who wore Malcolm’s jacket & spectacles and told three of Malcolm’s jokes.

I drove Malcolm and a girl back to his former home in Fingal Street (which he still rents out to people). The girl was some sort of groupie, mid-20s, glittering hard eyes caused by drugs, drink or cynicism. 

During a break in the show, Malcolm had told me how he and (a friend) had had tea with comics’ agent Addison Cresswell in Covent Garden. Malcolm and (the friend) were “stone cold sober” but Addison was heavily coked-up. He kept telling them how he was now a millionaire and how much he loved them. 

Around the same time – I guess the late 1990s – I heard two other stories.

I had a chat with someone who was thinking of buying Addison’s home. He had gone round to see the property and had been surprised to find, he told me, that the kitchen had bullet-proof glass in the windows.

A stand-up comedian with a colourful past also told me Addison had taken to carrying a gun which he would occasionally take out and wave about to appear macho.

“You shouldn’t do that, Addison,” the stand-up comedian had told him. “If you get into an argument with naughty people (the phrase he used) they may hit you. But, if they know you’ve got a gun under your coat, they’ll just shoot you straight off.”

The Guardian wrote yesterday: “Cresswell preferred his stars to be in the spotlight rather than himself although the BBC hoped he could rival Simon Cowell on a projected talent show.”

A spokesman for Off The Kerb said: ”He leaves behind a proud legacy in his tireless charity work, initiating and organising the annual Channel 4 Comedy Gala in aid of Great Ormond Street hospital. It was his dearest wish to raise enough to fund the opening of a brand new wing of the hospital, a goal that is now in sight. He is survived by his beloved wife, Shelley, his dogs Bonnie and Nessie and many, many pet fish.”

So it goes.

There is a rather strange report of his death on YouTube:

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9 things I did not blog about this week

There are always stories and incidents which do not fit comfortably in my normal daily blogs and get lost like tears in rain, as Rutger Hauer might say.

This week, amongst other things:

Mat Ricardo - the gentleman juggler of comedy

Mat Ricardo – the man with a potential TV show

ONE

I went to the last ever Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties show at the Leicester Square Theatre which started with the unbilled Heather Holliday walking on stage with a stick and a plate. She used the stick to spin the plate.

Fair enough.

Then an assistant came on stage with a sword and a hula hoop.

Heather replaced the stick with the sword, spinning the plate on the sword’s hilt, then dropped the sword’s blade down her upturned throat – while still spinning the plate – and started hula hooping.

And THAT was just the start of an extraordinary show.

It should be a TV series.

The Dark Room - could be bound to please

John Robertson & wife Jo wake in a dark garage

TWO

On the same night at Leicester Square Theatre, I saw John Robertson’s The Dark Room again – a preview for his upcoming Edinburgh Fringe run. An amazing show based on his 2012 YouTube hit.

John recently got married in a chicken shed in Australia – I blogged about it – and he and his lovely wife Jo have now re-located from Perth in Australia to Brighton in England. Until they go up to the Fringe, they are living in Jo’s sister’s garage in Brighton.

When they return from Edinburgh, more conventional accommodation has been arranged.

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

Escaped kangaroo’s Bohemian rhapsody

THREE

Meanwhile, in surprise news from the Czech Republic, Scots ex-pat Alexander Frackleton, who currently lives there, sent me an e-mail:

“A kangaroo is on the loose in northern Bohemia,” he told me. “It escaped from the backyard of its owner on Tuesday night near the north Bohemian town of Lovosice. The owner found a hole in the fence and realised his pet kangaroo was missing on Wednesday morning after being alerted by the police that a kangaroo had been spotted in nearby villages. Although a number of people are reported to have seen the kangaroo (named Joey), no-one has yet re-captured him and the owner has recruited a friend with a private helicopter to help him look for the marsupial.”

“Keep me up-to-date on this,” I begged him.

“The kangaroo is still on the loose,” he told me the next day, “But two weeks ago, there was a wild boar running around the 10th, 11th & 12th districts of Prague… It took police three hours to catch him and eight policemen to pin him down. There is never a dull moment in the Czech Republic.”

Alex tells me he is looking forward to meeting comedian and So it Goes blog regular Matt Roper in mid August, when he passes through Prague.

“I’m going to take him on an alternative sight-seeing trip,” Alex tells me, “by visiting places and things connected to the old regime – including The Tunnel of Intelligence, which was constructed by political prisoners of the communists during the 1950s. Stuff like that. There is also a museum of Totalitarianism which will probably be the first port of call.”

The same day, back in London:

John Park 3

This man knows too much about Hellfire Club

FOUR

I had tea with former Fringe Report editor John Park. We had an interesting discussion about the Bible, theology and Roman Catholicism and he told me about a gay whipping club just off Trafalgar Square, merely a short blood-stained crawl from Whitehall.

John has no interest in such things himself but he did know an unhealthy amount about Sir Francis Dashwood’s 18th century Hellfire Club which was held in the caves near High Wycombe.

I was able to tell him about the defence bunker at High Wycombe and the fact that the adorably wonderful but sadly being fast forgotten entertainer Marti Caine used to live there.

In High Wycombe, not in the bunker.

She once told me – truthfully – that she was perfectly happy just being a housewife and Hoovering the living room, but people kept phoning her up offering ludicrous amounts of money to do showbiz things. She was one of the sanest entertainers I ever met. And was dying from cancer. She died in 1995. So it goes.

Which brings us inevitably to:

Malcolm, Glastonbury 2003

Malcolm Hardee with prized sock

FIVE

Malcolm Hardee, who drowned in 2005. So it goes.

A couple of days ago, I blogged about Malcolm and fellow comedian Ricky Grover breaking into a zoo and encountering a silverback gorilla. Comedian John Moloney has now told me a story from many years ago when he was up at the Edinburgh Fringe with Malcolm.

“I was lying in my bed one afternoon with a lovely lady,” John told me, “when Malcolm knocks on the bedroom door and comes in – naked of course, apart from his socks.

“He’s got a tenner in his hand and says to my lady friend, as he waves the tenner in the air: Oy Oy – Show us your tits.

“She says (as she flashes her tits): You can have this one for free.

“Malcolm turns on his heels and says: Oy Oy I’m off for a wank. Sublime.”

“It’s the wearing of the socks that makes that story,” I told John.

“There were wooden floors,” he explained, “so Malcolm didn’t want to get cold – He was always very practical about his masturbation.”

Candy Gigi at last night’s Pull The Other One

Cereal offender Candy Gigi – last night’s Pull The Other One

SIX

At last night’s Pull The Other One comedy club show in South East London, Martin Soan said to me: “I must tell you the story about Malcolm and the kangaroo.”

“Not another one,” I said.

“You haven’t heard this one,” said Martin.

“I meant Not another kangaroo,” I said.

Martin looked at me, ignored the comment, then told me The Greatest Show On Legs will be performing in Switzerland in December.

“Have you been there before?” I asked, as I know Martin hates flying.

“Yes,” he told me. “I drove there and, at the border, we were stopped and questioned by a very serious-looking Swiss Border Guard. I thought Oh Jesus, we’re in for trouble here! But what he told us was: You will have to wash the car before you can come into the country. They are very clean, the Swiss.

SEVEN

Clean but with an occasional taste for filthy things, Kate Copstick, legendary comedy reviewer for The Scotsman newspaper and a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judge since they started, this week got an e-mail from comedy group Late Night Gimp Fight, drawing her attention to their scantily-clad video attempt on YouTube to curry favour with her. See it HERE

I can only dream of such honey traps and not involving other men.

Jon on the final Friday of the Emporium, Greenwich

Jon on final Friday at the Emporium, Greenwich

EIGHT

Yesterday was a sad day in South East London. The Emporium vintage clothes shop in Greenwich – which supplied Malcolm Hardee with many of his clothes – is closing tomorrow, though it will continue online.

Co-owner Jonathan Hale was arranging everything – the shop has been there for 27 years.

But Greenwich’s loss may be Hollywood’s gain, as Jon and partner Jacki Cook can now turn their attention more to their successful movie costume business.

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover was originally to be on BBC TV’s Secret Killers

NINE

Good news, though, came in the form of a section of that chat I had with Ricky Grover a couple of days ago. It was in a section which I did not include in my previous blog.

I had read that he had been diagnosed with diabetes.

“There’s a two-hour BBC TV show coming on called Long Live Britain,” he told me. “It was originally called Secret Killers but they changed the title.

“They had three of us so-called celebrities.

“We done a couple of tests and it showed up that I had Type 2 diabetes and I had a bit of scarring (fibrosis) on me liver. But they’re reversible things. I’m not on any medication.”

“You don’t need injections for the diabetes?” I asked.

“No, that’s more Type One,” Ricky told me. “If you get anyone who’s middle-aged and overweight like me and you do tests… I’m only a little borderline over.”

“I had a BUPA test two years ago,” I told Ricky, “and they found I had the lungs of a 38-year-old. I had another BUPA test a couple of months ago and they said I had the lungs of a 39-year-old. The bad news is he wants them back. But enough about me.”

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The day English comedians Malcolm Hardee & Ricky Grover broke into a zoo

(A version of this piece was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

Ricky Grover amid the glamour of South Mimms service station

Ricky Grover in the glamour of South Mimms service station

So, yesterday I was sitting in South Mimms service station on the M25 motorway talking to comedian and actor Ricky Grover about Malcolm Hardee, ‘the godfather of British alternative comedy’.

“Every day I spent out with Malcolm,” said Ricky, “there were always two or three near-death experiences. And that’s not an exaggeration.”

“I know,” I laughed. “I went out on the Thames with him on his boat twice. We could have died both times.”

“That was just part and parcel of Malcolm,” laughed Ricky. “Do you know we once broke into a zoo?”

“No.”

“Years ago,” Ricky said, “I bought a new car. I was really pleased. It was the first brand-new car I’d ever bought. A Toyota RAV4. I drove round and showed Malcolm and he said: Oy Oy That’s alright, innit? My mum wants to learn to drive. Would you teach her to drive?

“So I said: Course I will. When do you wanna go?

Now, he said. So this first day of getting my car, we drove to Deal on the Kent coast, where Malcolm’s mum lived.

Joan & Malcolm Hardee

Malcolm and mother Joan

“When he’d said ‘learn to drive’ I’d thought he’d meant she’d had a few lessons. But she was brand spanking new to it – like she went to get into the passenger side.

“This was a new car. You know what it’s like when you get a new car? You’re worried it’s gonna scratch and all that. All that went out the window. I didn’t care. I thought Oh. It’s Malcolm. I’ll just go with the flow. By the end, we was missing things by inches, going down weird alleys and things.

“So I drop his mum back home and, on the way back to London from Deal, Malcolm asked: Do you wanna go to the zoo? Right out of the blue, as Malcolm did.

“I said: Yeah, alright.

“He says: It’s not a normal zoo. This bloke let’s all the animals walk about free and you can stroke them…

John Aspinall?” I asked. “He had an animal park near Canterbury.”

“I dunno,” replied Ricky, “but we go to the zoo and it’s closed, so I said: Oh, that’s a shame! And Malcolm says: Don’t matter. It’s alright. He took his coat off, threw it over the barbed wire at the top, climbed over and let me in through the turnstiles. He said: It’ll be alright, I know the bloke who owns the place. He didn’t – obviously.

“So we start walking through the middle of this zoo and, after a few minutes, it hit me again what he’d said: It’s not a normal zoo. It’s a zoo where the animals just walk about. And Malcolm had that ridiculous walk. He looked like an animal himself, didn’t he? He was like a smaller version of a Bigfoot. You remember he had that weird walk?

“So I thought: If them animals see us, he’ll be alright. Because Malcolm didn’t give a fuck about anything. I thought: If an animal sees us, Malcolm’s gonna be alright and the animal’s gonna be on me.”

“Because,” I said, “Malcolm wouldn’t be scared but you would be?”

“Not only that,” said Ricky, “but because I’m the lumpy one. More flesh. More meat. I’m a better deal. They’ll get a good couple of days of eating out of me. They’d only get a half hour out of Malcolm.

“I’m walking through there and me arsehole went a little bit and then Malcolm shouted Oy! Oy! – I jumped out of me skin but I’m trying to act brave. And Malcolm’s seen a silverback gorilla, hasn’t he? A great big silverback. And he says Oy Oy to it, calls it over and shook hands with the silverback and the gorilla’s hand must have been five times bigger that Malcolm’s. It only had to give a jerk and it’d pull Malcolm’s arm right off his body.

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

A silverback gorilla in its natural environment, not in England

Oy Oy… Oy Oy goes Malcolm, like he’s saying Hello to it and he says Come over! Come over! to me.

“So I go over and I think I don’t really fancy shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. You can’t reason with a silverback – it ain’t gonna make no difference.

“So I say: No, it’s alright, Malcolm. I’m alright for a minute.

“And I look round and I think: What the fuck am I doing? I’m in the middle of a zoo almost shaking hands with a silverback gorilla. And I started stepping out, trying to walk towards the exit. And I could hear all these growls in the bushes.

“Anyway, I got out and we managed to get home. But that was just an average day with Malcolm. When I got my car home, it looked like it had been to Afghanistan, because Malcolm’s mum had been driving it. It was splattered with mud and scratches. Typical Malcolm. It was a white car.

“My wife Maria looked at it and went: What’s happened? 

I’ve just been out with Malcolm, I told her.

Oh, she said.

“What I loved about Malcolm was he had funny bones. There are gonna be so many people at the Edinburgh Fringe this year – like always – really working at becoming funny. With Malcolm, he started off funny and ended up being on the stage rather than getting on the stage and trying to be funny.”

“As soon as I met him,” Ricky told me, “I clicked with him and the reason was he wasn’t like a normal person. Normal people drive me fucking mad. Not many people got much out of Malcolm except Oy Oy. But I think Malcolm opened up to me a bit. He told me things I’d never say that were quite deep. He had a really lovely genuineness about him.”

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee on the Thames (photo by Steve Taylor)

“Everybody,” I said, “tended to say Malcolm’s act was his life.”

“His act was shit, wasn’t it?” said Ricky. “His actual act was shit, but he was SO funny.”

“Well,” I said, “he only had about six jokes which he told for about twenty years.”

“I went to the Edinburgh Fringe with him,” said Ricky, “when I’d been doing comedy about six months and the shows were really badly organised – obviously. No advertising. Just giving out flyers to anyone in the street, so most of our audience was foreign. They didn’t have a clue what we was talking about. They were just sitting there staring at us.

“It must have been the worst show on the Fringe. It was Malcolm, me and The Bastard Son of Tommy Cooper and the show climaxed with the Dam Busters theme music playing and us standing there in black bin-liners, back-to-back, going round in circles holding little wooden planes on sticks. The planes were painted with ultra violet paint, but it wasn’t totally dark and the audience could see us: just sixteen foreigners who didn’t speak English staring at us performing with ultra violet planes not in the dark.

“It was just shit and, after we’d done about three shows, I told him: Malcolm, I don’t think I want to do comedy. I’ve tried it and I think I’ll go back to doing what I was doing before, just messing about. I can nick a living. This alternative comedy thing isn’t really for me. 

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (pholograph by Steve Taylor)

Malcolm Hardee with Jo Brand (photograph by Steve Taylor)

“Malcolm said: Listen to me. I’ve spotted some of the biggest talent in this country. And he rolled off all these names. Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Paul Merton… all the names. He said: I was the one who spotted them. I was the one who found them. I was the one who told people about them.

“And he said to me: You’ve got something a lot more special. You’ve got a lot more layers. You’ve got a lot more gears. You are going to be absolutely massive. 

“So I was really enthralled in the moment. Can you imagine? A young comic, six months in. And I said Do you really mean that? and he said No. Of course I don’t.

“And I pissed myself for about twenty minutes. I couldn’t stop laughing and I still laugh about it now. And whenever I start taking myself seriously, I always think of that because it brings it all down to earth.

“I remember telling Jo Brand about it and she really laughed. Because what happens is you can get so wrapped-up in the importance of it all and what you think you can achieve but no-one knows. No-one knows what will happen.

“You know and I know there are shit people who make it massive and there’s people we both know who should have their own series on telly who never get the chance. Like everything else in this world, most of it is all corrupt. It’s not how it should be. So I think you’ve got to just enjoy the journey. Enjoy what you’re doing the best way you can – and that’s what Malcolm did. It was such a laugh being with Malcolm.

“When you said he only had half a dozen jokes, when we went to Edinburgh, he was already twenty years into doing them. There was a group of firemen used to come and watch him in Edinburgh – and, every year, they used to piss themselves like it was the first time they’d ever heard the jokes.

“It wasn’t about the jokes. The Number One thing you need to be funny is insecurity. As soon as you think you’ve got something, you’re in trouble. And Malcolm was full of all of that. I’ve seen him have a pop at someone in the audience with cancer and bring the house down and make the geezer with cancer piss himself laughing and feel like a person again instead of an object who’s dying.

“Malcolm had a real good connection with people.

“One thing I’m sad about, though,” said Ricky, “is that I gave Malcolm a wide berth the last couple of years of his life. I still saw him, but I didn’t spend time with him like I used to, because I’ve got an addictive nature, so if…”

“He was on cocaine…” I said.

Wreaths on the hearse at Malcolm Hardee's funeral

Wreaths on Malcolm Hardee’s hearse. The top one was from Ricky Grover.

“Exactly,” said Ricky. “So, if I’d ended up on gear, I wouldn’t have been able to function. It’s hard enough living with the addiction of over-eating, let alone getting into all that as well. Because he went that next step. He didn’t want to make old bones. I think Malcolm went pretty much when he… He knew he was going to go over early…”

Malcolm drowned, drunk, in January 2005.

So it goes.

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A stand-up comedian is like a boxer

Bob Boyton: from punch-lines to punches

A couple of days ago, I blogged about seeing Mark Kelly’s second try-out of his show-in-the-process-of-being-written Stuart Leigh – The Stewart Lee Tribute Act, which took place at Ivor Dembina’s Hampstead Comedy Club. Comedian Martin Soan was also in the audience.

Afterwards, I got talking to comedian-turned-writer Bob Boyton about a novel which he has spent ten years writing and which is going to be published in May. But we got sidetracked into the link between boxing and comedy.

What’s the book about?” I asked Bob.

“It’s called Bomber Jackson Does Some,” he said. “The eponymous hero is a homeless ex-boxer called Anthony ‘Bomber’ Jackson. It’s not autobiographical, but I did do some boxing training while I was writing it. I trained with Mark Reefer, an ex-Commonwealth champion who didn’t become famous despite being a champion. He was good but perhaps not big enough at his weight. A great trainer. Someone who lavished love on his training. And I’ve worked with homeless people for many years, so there’s also a link there.”

“Is it a funny novel?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he replied. “A couple of jokes in it.”

“Why’s that?”

“I don’t like novels with jokes in ‘em,” Bob told me. “I hate when you buy a novel by a comic and he hasn’t really developed enough plot or done enough work on the characters, so he just pads it out with bits of his routine. I think it’s disrespectful of the novel and of fiction. And it’s a bit disrespectful of your act.

“It’s a problem for comedians,” he continued, “that there’s no legacy with comedy. A little bit, maybe, if you’re one of a golden few. I heard Max Miller on record and he was obviously strong and then Jimmy Jones done a lot of his material. But generally, in 150 years time, no-one’s gonna go That’s a great gag, that!… In 150 years time, Jeremy Hardy’s act won’t make any sense.”

“So your novel isn’t autobiographical?” I asked.

“Well,” laughed Bob, “I did research some of the drinking myself.”

“Why did it take you ten years?”

“There were times I just got fed up with writing the bloody thing. I kind of knew there was a story to be told. It is a bit like being a stand-up, thinking Right, I wanna deal with that subject so I’m gonna write a gag about it. It’s just a much longer process with a novel. When I was doing stand-up, I could write a gag and probably try it out in two nights time and then I might keep it in or not. Whereas I found you can spend ten years writing a novel. That’s probably why you need an editor.

“Bomber Jackson is a bloke in his mid-40s. His last big fight was at least 20 years ago… which he fucked-up because he’d been drinking when he should’ve been training. He’s fallen into criminality and those various things that happen to boxers because, if you’re good at hurting people, then you’re worth a lot of money to unsavoury characters.

“He’s just come out of prison and he knows he’s gotta find a different life. He’s done a lot of prison, a lot of small sentences and he goes in search of redemption and I hope the book keeps the reader wondering whether or not he finds it.. right to the end.”

“Why write about a boxer?” I asked.

“Well, I have a bit of a guilty pleasure. I’m a boxing fan and I’m drawn to it because they are very much like comedians. So I started off… I don’t think it lasted very long but… It was a kind of a metaphor for when I gave up stand-up…. You do it on your own. It’s not like football, where you can blame other team members.”

“Fighting the audience?” I asked.

“Well, not so much fighting but, it’s you – if you win, it’s great. And, if you lose…”

At this point, Ivor Dembina was passing by and heard what we were talking about.

“The thing about comedians,” Ivor said, “is that we’ve all seen each other die the death on stage – everyone. However good you are, however famous, we all know you’ve been there. So there’s that kind of gut respect. And, with boxers, even though they’re competing, they all know they have put themselves in that same position of being humiliated. So there’s that kind of bottom line respect.”

“I remember,” I said, “Ricky Grover (boxer-turned comedian and actor) “told me that, when you box, all that matters is that you don’t humiliate yourself. Humiliation is the worst thing.”

At this point, Martin Soan passed by.

“I’ve based my whole fucking career on being humiliated,” he said as he passed.

“Every comedian…” Ivor continued, “All of us – We’ve all died the death. We all know what it’s like. You never forget that. And you respect other people because they go back. Even though they got booed off, they went back and had another go. You respect them. It’s the same with boxers. A boxer can take a really bad beating, but he’ll go back and fight again.”

“That’s right,” agreed Bob. “Not many boxers gave it up because they lost. The business might have given them up in the end. But either they’ve made enough money and they’ve realised they want to go out somewhere near the top. Or they just can’t get any fights.”

At this point, Bob and I gave up talking about Bomber Jackson Does Some. The conversation moved on and people talked about Malcolm Hardee, Ian Hinchliffe and pissing in wardrobes. I must have another chat with Bob Boyton about his novel at some point before it is published in May.

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When people ask that British breaking-the-ice question: “What do you do?”

On Wednesday night, BBC2 will screen the first in a new series of that extraordinary TV comedy Rab C Nesbitt, written and created by Ian Pattison.

Last week, I asked Ian if there was something he would rather do instead of another series of Rab C Nesbitt.

“Instead of?” he replied. “Why not ‘in addition to?’ I’ve now finished writing my fourth novel and have written a screenplay based on my third. My novels, of course, don’t sell. I advised the publisher of my last book to put Ian Rankin’s name on the jacket on the basis that IR would never notice my sidled addition to his oeuvre as his stuff takes up all the shelves in Waterstone’s and most of the cafeteria.”

I suspect most fans who watch Rab C Nesbitt do not think of Ian primarily as a novelist. And most people who admire his novels do not think of him primarily as a TV comedy scriptwriter.

Pretty much throughout my life, Whenever people ask that first perennial British breaking-the-ice question, “What do you do?” I have immediately got into trouble, because I have never really known the correct answer.

Sometimes I say, “I have bummed around a lot,” which is probably closer to the truth than anything.

I suspect as a percentage, more than anything, I have probably sat in darkened rooms editing trailers and marketing/sales tapes. But, when I have said that, people have thought I was/am a videotape editor, which I never have been – too technical for me – I was called writer or producer or director or whatever the union or company felt like at the time – or whatever I wanted to make up for a nameless job – and, once you get into mentioning “I do on-air promotions”, you open a whole can of befuddled misunderstanding.

“Do people do that?” is a common response.

So, over the years, different people have thought I do different things, real or imagined, depending on what I happened to have been doing – or what they thought I was doing – at the exact moment I first met them.

TV research is one. Editor of books is another. Manager of comedians is one that always amuses me.

This sprang to mind on Friday, when I saw comedian Owen O’Neill ‘storm the room’ as the saying goes at the always excellent monthly Pull The Other One in Peckham.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy, I suspect, see him as “just” a stand-up comic which, of course, is far from the truth. If they know a bit about comedy, they may know he has performed at over 20 Edinburgh Fringes and been nominated for the Perrier Award.

They may know he acted in the high-profile stage productions of Twelve Angry Men, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Odd Couple.

But I first met Owen off-stage in 2003 when Malcolm Hardee and I were commissioning Sit-Down Comedy for publishers Random House. It was an anthology of writing by comedians – not to be confused with the phrase “comic anthology” because a lot of the short stories are very, very dark (a glimpse, I suspect, of what lurks in many comedians’ minds). The book should have been called Sit-Down Comedians, but publishers’ mis-marketing of their own product knows no bounds.

Owen wrote a story The Basketcase for Sit-Down Comedy: a particularly dark and moving tale. His short film of The Basket Case (which he also directed) won him the award for Best Short Fiction movie at the 2008 Boston Film Festival in the US and Best International Short at the 2010 Fantaspoa Film Festival in Brazil.

Most people who see Owen perform comedy probably do not know this. Most probably do not know his first feature film as writer Arise and Go Now was directed by Oscar-winning Danny Boyle or that his play Absolution got rave reviews during its off-Broadway run or that he co-wrote the stage adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption currently running in the West End of London.

I suspect if a literate alien arrived from Alpha Centauri and looked at the facts objectively, Owen would be described not as a stand-up comic but as a playwright who also performs comedy (his plays are many and varied).

You get typecast as being one thing in life no matter how much you do.

In the last couple of months, comedian Ricky Grover appeared in BBC TV soap EastEnders; and the movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster, which he wrote and directed, was released.

What do you call people like this?

Well, in Ricky’s case, you obviously call him “Mr Grover” and treat him with respect.

He also wrote for Sit-Down Comedy and I know his background too well!

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Why I was dragged into a cellar in Essex and a gun shoved into my mouth

The first time I met Comedy Cafe owner Noel Faulkner was shortly before I got dragged down into a basement in north east London and had a gun shoved in my mouth while former boxer, hairdresser, comedian and now EastEnders actor and film director Ricky Grover shouted at me, “You’re a fucking cunt! You’re a fucking cunt! I’m gonna fuckin’ blow yer fuckin’ head off!”

He was not a happy man.

In fact, he had ‘lost it’ – his eyes were blazing at me, his voice had gone up in pitch, he was sweating and shaking with uncontrollable anger.

Noel Faulkner was supposed to be directing a documentary at the time, though I think he and the crew were left upstairs when I was dragged downstairs.

Your memory strangely forgets some details when you are being threatened with a bloody death by a large man who knows from professional experience how to hurt people.

In the sadly largely-reviled movie Killer Bitch, I played the part of a charity collector who was, I felt, unfairly gunned-down in the street while collecting money on the pavement for Help For Heroes. I was shot in the face by a rather grumpy character played by Big Joe Egan (although, off-screen Big Joe was extremely charming and I am sure will go far on Irish charm alone).

I am, alas, not in Ricky Grover’s new movie Big Fat Gypsy Gangster – a major casting blunder by the normally spot-on Ricky – but I was in a showreel version he shot several years ago to raise money for the project. At that time and, indeed, until very recently the movie project was called Bulla: The Movie and I played the part of a bank manager who was, I felt, unfairly brutalised by Ricky’s character Bulla.

“Can’t I play a more sexy role?” I asked Ricky at the time. “Is there no dashing romantic role for me?”

Ricky replied with, I felt, unnecessary honesty: “I’ve always thought you looked like a bank manager, John.”

I tried to take it as a compliment.

So that was how I ended up in the basement of a disused bank on some suburban Essex high road in north east London with a gun being stuck in my mouth – I think it might have been Woodford Green.

I have never seen the footage, but I think I carried it off with the style for which I am known.

The character I played is not in the actually-shot version of the film, although there is a brief similar scene in a bank vault towards the end. Perhaps Ricky is saving me for a romantic role in his next film.

But there is the thought lingering in dark recesses at the back of my mind that perhaps he cast me because he had always wanted to degrade me and stick the barrel of a gun in my mouth.

There are worse things which can happen to you in the wonderful world of film making.

Noel Faulkner has been replaced by an American.

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