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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On-stage is another matter.

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

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

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

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

Boy, did they enjoy Earl Okin.

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

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

Now…

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

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

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

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

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

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

By this point, I was crying with laughter.

Non-PC?

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

Trust me. You had to be there.

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

“Does anyone have any questions?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is a Pull The Other One video HERE

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Memories of Hanoi twenty two years ago – and the woman with the robin redbreast face

I received an e-mail today from a friend who is in Vietnam for business. She is staying at a 6 star resort near Hoi An, south of Da Nang.

“I did a double take in Hanoi,” she wrote, “when I saw the brand new, enormous and heavily branded Hanoi Hilton near the main square.”

Apparently the new Hanoi Hilton hotel is opposite the Opera House. I was in Hanoi in November 1989 and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ I passed was the original one – the notorious Hoa Lo PrisonI recognised its crumbling colonial front from photos. I asked my guide: “What’s that building?”

“I don’t know,” he said, straight-faced, but with a twinkle in his eye which meant we both knew we were playing a game. I kept a diary when I was in Hanoi in 1989. This is an extract:

THURSDAY 30th NOVEMBER – HANOI

Out of my window, there’s the constant sounds of car and moped horns tooting intermingled with the sounds of cheap engines.

The hotel is a simultaneous mountaineering and orienteering expedition… along endless corridors, up endless stairs, through a darkened room with a hidden comedy step to trip the unwary and finally through a half-darkened fire escape landing. The room is small but just about OK (no wardrobe or drawers) and the shower room looks like it’s seen better days at Auschwitz. But I call it home and it’s interesting to see what East Germans consider an international hotel. (There is a big East German group here.)

Nightlife in Hanoi is quite something. Bright white lightbulbs and shops are open everywhere in what I think is the main shopping street. It’s a bit like a cross between Earls Court Road on a Saturday night and a 1950s American Graffiti street with cruising. I did see three little old wrinkled ladies curling up inside blankets in a shop doorway. One cafe was doing a roaring trade because it was showing Thai rock videos. And children were playing everywhere. Children of all sizes. This was at about 8.45pm.

Teenagers listen to American rock music everywhere. It must be strange for their fathers and grandfathers.

They fought the French in the 1940s and 1950s and defeated them.

They fought the Americans in the 1960s and 1970s and defeated them.

But they lost the peace.

Now their children listen to US rock music.

FRIDAY 1st DECEMBER – HANOI

I now have a new hotel room with television (my first in Vietnam). This is probably a result of changing money with the driver and an excessively expensive $50 trip to Halong Bay. The guide is now paranoid about me telling anyone:

“This is still a Socialist country – like Russia, da?”

He keeps absent-mindedly saying “da” instead of “yes”.

People are mostly ignoring me in the street. I think I have now worked out the economics. Beggars ask locals for money but don’t ask me. They think I am a Russian. Everyone thinks I am a Russian. The Vietnamese have no time for Russians because (a) they don’t smile and (b) they have no money. No-one wants roubles only dollars and, even if they did want roubles, the Russians don’t have spare cash.

The problem with using travellers cheques is the US economic embargo on Vietnam – US companies can’t trade with the Vietnamese. My Hanoi guide tells me credit cards are “many many years” away because there are very few computers in Vietnam.

When we passed the very flash Opera House, he told me it was intended for the people, but only the very rich can afford it. This implies there is a group of very rich (as opposed to just very privileged) people.

At lunchtime, I took a walk and met Hanoi’s equivalent of a bag lady in ragged-sleeved jacket. The bottom half of her face was entirely red. Her face looked like a robin redbreast. Brown top half. Red bottom half. I think she must have been knocking-back some particularly brutal local equivalent of meths. She muttered (and probably cursed) at me, then staggered away.

I missed a photo opportunity this afternoon: two Russians buying blue jeans in the Hanoi equivalent of Oxford Street/Petticoat Lane. Further on, another Russian was toying with the idea of buying a Sony Walkman, insisting the shopkeeper put a cassette in it to test the sound quality.

I’m getting obsessed by the Russians. One TV channel at teatime had three particularly dreary Russian cartoons followed by their equivalent of Tomorrow’s World – Programme 2 – The Wonderful World of Computers. The Vietnamese channel carried a programme about a factory.

I had dinner tonight with the two Hong Kong Brits I met in Da Nang plus a couple of Canadians. When he was in Da Nang, one of the Canadians had a T-shirt printed saying in Vietnamese:

I AM NOT A RUSSIAN

He lives in an apartment in Calgary with a one-metre long iguana which, he says, craps in a sandbox behind the television set. He feeds it on cat food and says it can sense when he is about to go away because it pines and goes off its food. The iguana has its own dead tree in the apartment, so it can climb occasionally. It normally sleeps on its own heated pad although once the Canadian found it curled inside his pillowcase. The only problem is it likes to climb up the Canadian’s leg and has sharp claws. In the same apartment block, a neighbour keeps a pet boa constrictor.

I must remember to avoid Calgary.

The Hong Kong Brit told me he used to keep a pet monkey in Lagos; one of their neighbours in Hong Kong keeps a baboon which has a habit of flushing his toilet in the middle of the night.

I think I am beginning to hallucinate.

All I want is to find someone who can juggle cooked spaghetti on television for one minute.

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