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The art and psychology of heckling comics and throwing objects at them

Malcolm Hardee – known for running notorious comedy clubs

Exactly 14 years ago tonight, comedian Malcolm Hardee drowned in Greenland Dock in the Rotherhithe peninsula, London.

He maintained his principles, even in death.

When his body was raised from the dock several days later, he was still clutching a bottle of beer.

Malcolm was famed for spotting and helping talented comedians at the start of their careers. He was also known for running and hosting the Tunnel Palladium club night – a Sunday evening show with good professional acts but also an ‘open spot’ section so dangerous for new acts to perform in that aspiring comics would sometimes travel hundreds of miles to see if they could survive an audience known and feared for its razor-sharp heckling.

After the club was raided and closed by the police for drugs offences (NOT on one of Malcolm’s nights – he only did Sundays) he opened Up The Creek comedy club in Greenwich where, initially, the hecklers continued their trade.

Here, I chat to one of the Tunnel’s most effective hecklers – Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin.


Gordon Breslin – a taste for heckling

JOHN: You got a taste for heckling at the Tunnel club…

BRES: Well, before that, me and a friend used to go to Speaker’s Corner on a Sunday afternoon and absorb some of the heckling of speakers that was going on. I remember heckling the Reverend Donald Soper on occasion, when he was preaching there. That’s where we cut out teeth.

JOHN: Did Lord Soper take it well?

BRES: He did indeed. He was a very nice gentleman. After that, though, we discovered the Tunnel club.

JOHN: You were regulars.

BRES: Yes. And the heckling was quite good fun. To start with, it was limited to the open mic spots.

JOHN: But all heckling is surely cruel and nasty.

BRES: Sometimes it is cruel and nasty but sometimes an act just needs to go if they’re not very good.

JOHN: But these poor, sensitive people have spent months refining their act…

BRES: Well, being heckled is how they know it needs more refining. If an act is really bad, something should be done apart from walking out. I think audiences have become too tolerant of bad acts these days. Back in the Tunnel days, it could be quite rude – “Get off! You’re shit!” This was 1984 to 1989.

But word got out about the heckling there and it got progressively more ermmm… ‘aggressive’ I guess is the word.

JOHN: Well, I guess throwing beer glasses at the acts is aggressive.

BRES: Yes, but people like Simon Munnery were cutting their teeth there and he didn’t mind a bit of heckling. There used to be a very good heckler at The Tunnel called The Pirate…

JOHN: I think Malcolm told me The Pirate was a stockbroker who retired early to Spain with lots of money.

Mike Myers (left) and Neil Mullarkey perform at Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club in 1986 (Photograph by Bill Alford)

BRES: His great one was… A comic would make his best joke of the night and The Pirate’s voice would be heard saying “Oh larf… Oh larf… Oh larf,” which would just floor the comedian. Some of the heckling was very very funny.

JOHN: And the best heckles are…?

BRES: I think the art of the heckle is… A heckler wants to make a funny gag and make the audience laugh and perhaps even get the biggest laugh of the night and – not necessarily make the comic feel small, but – make the comic appreciate the heckler’s one one-liner as well.

JOHN: Surely it is just solely to make the comic feel small.

BRES: Well, in a way. But the comic has the right of reply, so he can make the heckler feel even smaller. A lot of people don’t want to sit in the front rows because they don’t want to be picked-on by the comic. Let’s get it into perspective. For me comedians, if they are any good, will always pick on the front row. So they have more than ample opportunity to get their retaliation in first.

JOHN: So heckling is the audience picking on the comedian, not the comedian picking on the audience.

BRES: Exactly. That’s the one. As long as it’s fair and just. At The Tunnel, some of the comedians would come on looking nervous and, before they’d even said a word, the first thing shouted out was: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then someone else would take up the cry: “Maaallcolm!!!” Then the whole audience would end up shouting “Maaallcolm!!!” and, before the comedian had even said a word, it was not unknown for the act to walk off without even doing a joke.

JOHN: And the audience would sometimes call out for a taxi…

BRES: Yes. “Cab for (the comedian’s name)!” Those were the regular heckles. But then it got a bit overtaken by… Well, a bit violent, I should say – Throwing things and it… it got… erm… too bad. There was an incident where Clarence & Joy Pickles (Adam Wide & Babs Sutton)… I think it was a beer crate or something like that was thrown at them – something quite chunky…

JOHN: Malcolm told me he wasn’t the compere that night. I think he was maybe at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Malcolm made a mistake in giving a copy of this letter to each member of the Tunnel club audience

BRES: I think she sustained a cut – Joy Pickles. So, the following week, there was a letter to the audience from Tunnel Arts – which was Malcolm – asking all members of the audience to “refrain from throwing anything at the stage… The Tunnel Club is noted for its witty heckling and appreciation of a good act. Let’s not spoil it by behaving as animals. It is coming to a point where a lot of good acts are thinking twice about performing here (quite rightly so) and this means that your enjoyment will be impaired.”

A copy of this letter was put on every seat in the Tunnel club and, of course, when Malcolm came on stage, he got bombarded by people throwing screwed-up letters and paper aeroplanes at him. So the letter became a surreal heckle.

JOHN: My memory is that, sometimes, they didn’t just throw beer glasses at the acts; they sometimes threw half-full glasses so there was beer all over the place too.

BRES: Well, it was probably quite watered-down beer. 

JOHN: The heckling-off of acts was quite effective.

BRES: Yes. Sometimes self-defeating. Sometimes you might have seven or eight acts and the show would be over in half an hour because everyone had been heckled off – sometimes even the good ones.

Jools Holland (left) with Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel club in 1985 (Photo by Bill Alford)

JOHN: Malcolm told me that, after the trouble with Clarence & Joy Pickles, he had to make it a members-only club and he then discovered lots of the audience were not local. They were coming through the Blackwall Tunnel from north of the Thames and a lot were very highly-paid, highly-educated City workers, which was why the heckling was of such a high standard. I think someone was once heckled off in Latin and looked a bit surprised.

BRES: Yeah.

JOHN: What was your job at that point?

BRES: (LAUGHS) I was a Lloyds underwriter, working in the City.

JOHN: So basically it was up-market scum causing the problems.

BRES: Exactly. (LAUGHS) But I am from humble beginnings. I guess the Tunnel club had a timely demise and we were then a bit bereft of anywhere to go. We tried out Jongleurs club in Clapham, but the comedy was never great there and we weren’t allowed to heckle. We were physically told-off by bouncers. Luckily, Malcolm then set-up Up The Creek in Greenwich, which didn’t have the same notoriety as the Tunnel.

JOHN: I think the brothers who co-owned it with Malcolm told him after a few weeks that he couldn’t allow heckling and throwing things. Though I do remember some open spot act who got up on stage and started reading poetry. He was a bald man and you could see the blood trickling down his forehead after something was thrown and hit him.

BRES: I was there when Eddie Shit was performing. He came on dressed as Freddie Mercury and was singing songs by Queen with all the lyrics changed to refer to shit. I was sitting down the front and we were getting things passed to us from the back – including glass ashtrays – to throw at him. Which, obviously, we never did.

There was one occasion when an act which really was shit had been using a real frozen chicken and they ended up throwing this frozen chicken at the audience. The audience kept it then, slowly but surely, it made its way down the front. It came to me and I remember getting up on stage and offering it to Malcolm and I think I started up the chant “Shag the chicken! Shag the chicken!” which the whole audience took up.

So Malcolm got his knob out and duly obliged. 

That was quite amusing.

JOHN: Did you make friends with the other hecklers?

BRES: Yes. And some of the acts as well. It wasn’t all animosity. Simon Munnery, Martin Soan, Boothby Graffoe, Rich Hall. We would leave the good acts alone and they would leave us alone.

JOHN: Mostly, I thought the hecklers at Malcolm’s clubs were firm but fair.

BRES: I would like to think that.

JOHN: Part of the training process for new comedians. You don’t get much heckling nowadays.

BRES: The demise of heckling is down to the extra tolerance we have nowadays, even for bad acts. There are hidden boundaries these days. There’s too much respect for comics these days. Performers don’t know how to give a riposte and, as a heckler, you don’t want to show them up. It would just stump them.

JOHN: Isn’t that the point?

BRES: Not always. The next generation should learn what “Maaallcolm!!!” means.

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More comics’ comments on the death of the godfather of UK Alternative Comedy

Malcolm Hardee on his boat (Photograph by Vincent Lewis)

Malcolm Hardee’s birthday was yesterday in 1950.

He drowned on 31st January 2005.

A few days after his death, I set up an online page where people could post memories of him. 

Yesterday I re-posted the first of those memories by fellow comics.

They continue here…


ALAN DAVIES, comedian – 7th February, 2005

The Tunnel Club in early 1989. I was an open spot. I was 22 but I looked about 12. Malcolm looked worried for me: 

“You’re not going to wear that shirt are you? They’ll take the piss out of you your first line.”

He introduced me.

“Stone him!” they shouted. ”Crucify him!”

Before I could do my first line, someone asked what I was drinking. I held up my glass and said, “Directors”. Then I made a joke about my shirt and did some material before I could get booed off.

At The Tunnel, if you survived the open spot they’d slap you on the back and cheer you loudly. It was that or humiliation. No middle ground.

Malcolm said, “I’ll book you,” which was fantastic for me, just starting out. “By the way,” he said, “it’s not Directors. The landlord’s done a deal with Whitbread, even though it’s a Courage pub”. 

The following month, I did a full spot and soon after the pub was raided and it was over.

Up The Creek was great and I played it a lot but The Tunnel was special – the hardest gig. If you went well they’d virtually chair you off but, if not, a humming noise would start and gather volume as more joined in… ”Mmmm…” louder and louder.

Malcolm would hurry from the back bar. 

“MmmmmMALCOLM!” was the signal for him to rescue the turn.

One night there was a juggler who tossed clubs into the audience inviting them to throw them back.

“Oh no,” said Malcolm,”I’ve only just got them to stop throwing stuff.” The first club nearly took the juggler’s head off but he caught the second and was granted a wild ovation. 

Malcolm gave me loads of gigs, including one in Bungay which I drove him to as he consumed an enormous curry alongside me.

There were stories all the way there and all the way back.

He was the one-off’s one-off.


ALEX HARDEE, Malcolm’s brother – 7th February 

I had just met a new girlfriend, who had never been introduced to any of my family before. She was from quite a well to do family, and I was quite nervous of her meeting Malcolm.

Unfortunately, it happened to be at Glastonbury where the meeting was to take place, so I dragged her backstage to the Cabaret Tent, and said, “Malcolm, this is Claudia,” at which he whipped his genitalia out and said, “Look at this Ultravoilet knob,” as he had painted it earlier with Ultravoilet paint.

A shocked look came across her face and he responded, “Don’t you worry. You should see my wife’s mouth.”

Of course, I am not still with her.

Will miss you loads. The world is a sadder and less colourful place without you.


MATTHEW HARDY, comedian – 8th February

October 2, 1992. I landed alone in the UK, straight from having lived my entire life under Mum & Dad’s working class roof in the sunny Aussie suburbs. A mate who’d been overseas showed me a copy of Time Out and, though I’d only done six open spots in Oz, I decided there was more opportunity in England. Saved money for a one-way ticket cos I was impatient. 

Many calls down the then ‘cabaret’ listings got me nowhere, until Malcolm answered at Up The Creek. My old man had verbally forced me to agree on keeping a diary, despite me saying it was for poofs. The diary entry from Nov ’92, upon meeting Malcolm in the Lord Hood on a Sunday Creek Sabbath, reads: “This weird bloke called Malcolm gave me a gig, met me in the pub next door beforehand, got me to buy him a pint, then told me I’d be shit, but not to worry. Unfortunately he was right, but I’m not worried cos he gave me another gig anyway”. 

Soon he arranged accommodation and a welcoming woman’s number. Hardee hospitality.

Years later, 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!

R.I.P mate.


SIMON DAY, comedian – 8th February

He was my friend, my agent, father figure, dodgy uncle, wayward best mate. He ran the two best comedy clubs of all time. He had a humanity and gentleness which he tried to hide. Above all he was the king of comedy. They don’t make them like that any more. In the end he swam away with his underwater bollocks. Thankyou.


STEVE GRIBBIN, comedian – 9th February

As the man who launched the infamous Tunnel Club, one the two best and fiercest comedy clubs in the whole fucking world, Malcolm deserves to be justly celebrated, but those of us who knew him well will recall his love of a prank and a practical joke, which often shaded into criminality!

One time we were in Aberystwyth University and had to change in the kitchen. Malcolm saw a huge 15 foot square block of cheddar cheese in the fridge. Without a moment’s hesitation, he said: “Oy Oy… let’s have it!”

It took five of us to carry it into the white Ford Transit van that Malcolm had ‘borrowed’ off Greenwich Council. 

The next day a very irate official from Aberystwyth University rang up Malcolm screaming abuse down the phone. 

“You thieving bastard, I know it was you!”

Malcolm denied all knowledge, ending the phone-call with the immortal words: “Sorry mate, got to go now, me cheese on toast’s ready!”

For every tear of sadness that’s shed for his untimely demise there will also be an accompanying one of laughter. Malcolm was like that.


STEVE DAY, deaf comedian – 9th February

Malcolm helped me more than anyone else in my comedy career and when no-one else was interested. It used to be three good open spots at The Creek then you got a paid half spot – none of this perpetual open spot and competition rubbish. 

I had only done two when this happened – :

“The next bloke is a deaf bloke. I know he really is a deaf bloke cos I offered him a paid gig, but he didn’t hear me. So here he is for free… Steve Day”


IVOR DEMBINA, comedian – 9th February

Affectionate tales of Malcolm’s thieving abound, yet here’s one of an attempt of mine to steal from him. 

When I first saw Malcolm compere at his club, the Tunnel, I was so impressed by everyone’s reaction that I decided to ‘borrow’ his style of showmanship for my own comedy club in north London. 

My theft was doomed to failure because I wasn’t nearly as funny as Malcolm nor blessed with his gift for making strangers love him. 

My fruitless larceny taught me a painful lesson: as in comedy as in life, be only yourself, say what you think, do what you feel and stick to your guns. 

Malcolm Hardee was the living embodiment of that lesson and it’s a profound sadness to me that I never had the opportunity to thank him before he died.


KEVIN McCARTHY, ‘THE MAN WITH THE BEARD’, comedian – 10th February

For starting me off in this business – I thank you.
For giving me my name – I thank you.
For bouncing countless cheques on me – I forgive you.
For owing everyone on the circuit at least a tenner – I forgive you.
For swallowing a two bottle decanter of vintage port in one go and then redecorating my car with it – I forgive you.
For turning up at a meeting at the BBC as my manager with gravy down your tie and looking like a sack of shit – I forgive you.
For dying aged 55 – …


CHARLIE CHUCK, comedian – 10th February

I met Malcolm and played Up the Creek in 1990.

A man was sat on the steps with his head in his hands. 

I said to Malcolm: “What’s up with him?” 

He said: “it’s Jack Dee. He’s on next”.

Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Simon Day, John Thomson, Bill Bailey, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Mark Lamarr, Boothby Graffoe, Bob Mills & the rest, you know who you are. Without Malcolm, The Creek and his pioneering, it may never have happened for some. He got the media to his club, he could have signed many a comedian, could have exploited them and made money out of them. Malcolm was not that kind of man.

He was deeper and kinder than you know.

For me, Malcolm saw me and pulled me out of a bolt hole in Nottingham. I auditioned for him re TV at that time. I didn’t have a clue.

He put me on a show called The Happening with Jools Holland. I died on my arse. I should imagine Malcolm felt bad about it. He took a chance on a twat like me. He said to me: “I’ve got Vic Reeves on at the Creek on 15th November; meet him”. The only Reeves I’d heard of was Jim Reeves. So, instead, I didn’t listen & played the Sandiacre F.C in Longeaton, Derby. Where?

During the Edinburgh Festival, at half one in the morning two men were locked out of a car; the only place open was a bread shop. They went in and borrowed some baking implements to break into the car. It was so funny. Me and Malcolm howled.

Anyway, fuck it!

Joke No 1. Malcolm told me he had a terrible day; he woke up at 9am and a prawn cocktail slapped him in the face. That was just for starters.

His memory will live on.


SIMON MUNNERY, comedian – 11th February

I first met Malcolm when I was doing open spots at The Tunnel. I’d been booed off before, but never booed on. I loved the place, and I loved Malcolm. I remember two blokes chatting in the toilets. 

Says one: “It’s been a good night.” 

Says the other: “Yeah. But if Malcolm gets his bollocks out it’s going to be a great night.”

And that was true.

I regarded Malcolm and his wife Jane as my adopted parents and one night they dropped in to my flat in Stoke Newington. Malcolm was drunk – hold the front page – and after a bit had to go to the toilet. 

Malcolm used to steal – hold the front page – particularly from bathrooms. I knew this, Jane knew this and we could hear him crashing about in an exaggerated fashion for ages. 

When he at last returned I said, “Alright Malcolm, what have you nicked?” and he goes “Uh… uh… sorry,” and gets out this tiny pot of my girlfriend’s aromatherapy oils.

But it was too quick. 

I said “Yes; and what else?” 

He goes, “Oh, sorry,” and gets out another. And so on, and so on until, half an hour later, the entire contents of the bathroom were spread out in the living room and he swore there was nothing else. 

Later, we were helping him down the stairs when I noticed an overpowering smell. 

“What’s that smell?” I asked. 

He had emptied a bottle of perfume over his coat.

… TO BE CONTINUED …

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My Comedy Taste. Part 2: Eccentrics, anarchy and performers’ mad minds

In 2017, oft-times comedy festival judge and linguistics expert Louisette Stodel asked me about my taste in comedy.

I posted Part 1 of this chat yesterday.

Here is Part 2…


LOUISETTE: So you don’t like actors trying to be stand-up comics…

JOHN: To an extent. I am also allergic to a lot of character comedy. I don’t like character acts in general, though I do like some. I think the closer the ‘character’ is to reality – to being like a real person – the less I like it. But, if it’s a cartoon character – Charlie Chuck is a perfect example –  I like it.

I adore Simon Munnery; he can be very surreal, but I didn’t like his early Alan Parker, Urban Warrior character – It was too close to reality for me.

LOUISETTE: You mean realistic.

JOHN: Yes. I have met people who really are pretty-much like that. When I was a researcher for TV shows, I got typed for finding eccentrics and bizarre acts. I would find genuinely different-thinking people who did odd things and usually lived in provincial suburbia, bored out of their skulls with the mundanity of their lives, unable to unleash their inner originality and unconventionality.

So, if I watch a performer pretending to be eccentric, I think: Why am I watching someone faking a ‘performance’ when I could be watching the real thing? You can see in their eyes that these performers are not the real thing. They are sane people trying to be, to varying extents, oddballs they are not.

Well, all good comedians are, of course, mad to an extent.

LOUISETTE: They are not all mad.

JOHN: They are all unconventional thinkers or they have some personality disorder. The good ones. And I think one of the reasons I like watching comedy is I like watching some of the bizarre characters which a lot of comedians genuinely are. I don’t like people pretending to be odd characters, but I like watching people who ARE… well, a bit odd. They are the good comics for me.

There is maybe a difference with pure gag-delivery acts like Jimmy Carr, Milton Jones and Tim Vine.

LOUISETTE: But, getting back to character acts…

JOHN: If someone does a character act, they are pretending to be someone else, which is what an actor does… rather than being themselves or some version of themselves, which is what a modern comedian does. So, if I can watch a comedian – let us not mention Lewis Schaffer – with bizarre character traits, I am happy. If I watch an actor pretending to be a bizarre character but not being themselves, I am not really that interested because I can go out and find the real nutter.

LOUISETTE: So what you are saying is you want the person to be the person and you want that person to be nuts. Is that because there is no danger in playing a character, no risk except that the audience might not like it? Whereas, if the person is being themselves and they get it wrong or they go off the rails, there is a risk?

JOHN: I suppose so – like watching a motor race because there is always the danger of a disastrous crash.

I may be like a Miss World contestant. 

LOUISETTE: I don’t think so.

JOHN: But you know how contestants in old-fashioned beauty contests were always asked their interests and they would say, “Oh! I’m interested in people”? 

Well, I AM interested in people and how their minds work.

Most of my blogs are not objective blogs. They have very little of me in them. That is not because I am hiding me. It is because I’m interested in finding out how the other person’s mind works and – because they are usually creative in some way – how their creative juices shape their performance pieces or their life – how their mind creates original end-results. Or – because I sometimes mention crime – how their slightly non-mainstream thoughts work. And, of course, if there are quirky anecdotes in it, that’s great. I am interested in the people and I am a sucker for quirky anecdotes.

LOUISETTE: You say you are interested in the creative process – the thing that makes that person tick both on and off stage – But how do you analyse that? How do you figure out from somebody’s performance – even if it’s very close to the real person – what that real person’s process is?

JOHN: I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I keep watching people perform. If I knew everything, there would be no point seeing any other act.

LOUISETTE: But what are you looking for?

JOHN: I dunno. I’m just interested in how everyone is different. Everyone is different; everyone is unique. There is no end to it, missus.

At a distance, people are similar but, up close, they are, like Charlie Chuck, unique

LOUISETTE: Infinitely different.

JOHN: Yes. It sounds wanky to say it out loud, but people are infinitely interesting, yes. At a distance, people are just a mass of similar heads but, in China, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian all have individual faces. 

LOUISETTE: How does that come into it?

JOHN: I have no idea. I’m making this up as I go along. But, if you read about identical twins, they are usually a bit the same but a lot different. I’m interested in individuality. It’s not nature OR nurture. It’s BOTH that creates infinite uniqueness.

LOUISETTE: I’m still interested in getting at this elementary, basic thing that you are looking for. You do not want things to be off-pat. You don’t want an act to be overly polished. But what about someone like Spencer Jones who has a very well-formed act.

JOHN: Yes, he is interesting because he IS an actor and he IS doing character comedy… so I should not like him, but I do… But, then, he is doing a cartoon character. In no way are you going to find that character working in Barclays Bank or walking along the high street. So I like him, I think, because he is a cartoon character. I think it is mostly tightly-scripted…

LOUISETTE: Yes, that’s why I am asking you…

JOHN: Maybe physical comedy and prop comedy is different. 

LOUISETTE: Is he prop comedy?

JOHN: I dunno. Martin Soan created The Naked Balloon Dance for The Greatest Show on Legs… The Balloon Dance has to be done exactly as it is choreographed.

The whole point is that you never see any naughty bits and therefore the balloons have to be… It looks chaotic, but, if it were actually done willy-nilly – if that’s an appropriate phrase – it would fall apart and would not be as funny.

LOUISETTE: You said it LOOKS chaotic. Do you enjoy that? What you are saying is that, if it looks chaotic but it actually isn’t…

JOHN: Maybe prop comedy and physical comedy are different to stand-up. I suppose with Spencer Jones, you are shocked by the use of the props; the… unexpectedness… This… this falls apart as an argument, doesn’t it? There must be something different…

I like pun comedy: Tim Vine, Milton Jones, Darren Walsh, Leo Kearse to an extent. They are very tightly pre-scripted or, at least, prepared. With puns, if they have a vast number of puns, they can move the order around but the flow, the pacing, the momentum has to be kept going so they need to be highly pre-prepared.

So that’s where my thing falls down. Verbally, pun shows and short gag-short gag-short gag shows like Milton Jones’ have to be very tightly choreographed and the prop comedy shows have to be very tightly choreographed physically.

I know from being involved in Tiswas – the ancient slapstick kids’ show – that, if you do something that appears to be anarchy, you have to organise it really, really well. You can’t perform anarchy in an anarchic way; you have to organise it in advance.

LOUISETTE: Like Phil EllisFunz & Gamez.

JOHN: Indeed. And I remember one Tiswas production meeting, after the show had been going for years, where the producer said: “We have to figure out some way to make things go wrong during the show.” Because they had been going for so many years, all likelihoods were covered-for in pre-production meetings. Everyone was very experienced, very professional and nothing really went wrong that threw everything off course. You could script-in things to go wrong, but nothing ever went genuinely disastrously wrong of its own accord.

LOUISETTE: Which you seem to like…

JOHN: I do like anarchy. I don’t especially want to see a Michael McIntyre show because it will be too smoothly professional. I do prefer shows that are up-and-down like a roller-coaster in an anarchic way. Though, if it involves immense detail like props or puns, then you can’t have real anarchy. The only way to have apparent anarchy with props and puns and tight gag-gag-gag routines is to prepare it all very carefully.

So I am… I am getting schizophrenic here, aren’t I…?

LOUISETTE: You are. But that’s good. I was discussing it with Frankie (Louisette’s son Frankie Brickman) and he asked me if it was unpredictability you like or feigned unpredictability.

JOHN: Maybe if they feign the unpredictability in a very professional way and I don’t spot the fact it’s feigned…

It’s not even unpredictability I like. It’s the cleverness. If it’s clever and a rollercoaster, I will forgive them the bits that don’t work for the bits that do work. 

… CONTINUED HERE

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Comedy critic Kate Copstick on what she likes and giving 1 & 2-star reviews

Copstickeither yawning or orgasming on a tow horse. It is difficult to be conclusive

Copstick in her Mama Biashara charity shop in London, either yawning or orgasming on a toy horse.

Comedy critic Kate Copstick and I are reviving our Grouchy Club chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August and also doing it as a one-off in London on 22nd February during a Jewish Comedy Day. (Neither of us is Jewish, but we are both Scottish and they are paying a fee).

“Initially, I wanted to be an actress,” Copstick told me this week, “because then I would never need to be myself. But I have never wanted to be a stand-up comic.

“Why?”

“Because a good stand-up comic is about being yourself. In the very short time that I did try stand-up, the primary thing that was wrong with me was there was nobody there.”

“Well,” I told her: “You say you didn’t want to be yourself, but you are the most opinionated, apparently-self-confident big-mouth in town. Your reviews are full of your own character. You would admit your reviews can be acerbic?”

“Yes.”

“So isn’t that cowardly? You don’t want to be yourself as a stand-up comedian to say what you think to people’s faces; but you can acerbic behind a pen”

“Maybe it is cowardly,” replied Copstick, “but, if someone gave me the chance to do a live review show I would happily do that. I happily sit in The Grouchy Club and rip into shows and criticise people. But that’s not stand-up. Stand-up is self-motivating and, the older I get, the more I realise not everyone is remotely interested in what I want to chunter on about.”

“Why are they interested?” I asked. “You clearly are the most influential and feared critic at the Edinburgh Fringe. Is it because you’ve been around so long? – You started in 1999.”

“No,” said Copstick, “I’m a good critic because I’m honest – sometimes brutally. I know what I’m talking about. I can communicate my thoughts well.”

“You say you know what you’re talking about,” I argued, “but you’ve not done stand-up properly. “

“I know enough about stand-up as the audience and about comedy in general. I think it’s a good thing to be able to criticise with inside knowledge but, on the other hand, there is absolutely no point saying: This guy was absolutely dreadful, but I feel his pain and I know what it’s like and, frankly, the audience was dreadful. That is not a valid critique.”

“Are you open-minded?” I asked.

“Very open-minded. Much more than I used to be. I’m happy to give anything a chance.”

“What did you used to be closed-minded about?”

“I used to be much more likely to go folded-armed and pursed-lipped at some free-form craziness. I used to require ‘form’. I used to think: I want to see this is a show. I want to see you’ve thought about this. I want to see you have not just wandered on-stage and are burbling to me.”

“And now you like Lewis Schaffer,” I said.

“Yes. Quite possibly Lewis Schaffer in 1999 might have driven me absolutely crazy.”

“At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe,” I said, “I know you saw Njambi McGrath’s show Bongolicious, but decided not to review it. Why?”

Njambi McGrath - Bongolicious

Njambi McGrath -“Brilliant” Fringe show

“It was listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe Programme and it wasn’t a comedy show. I thought it was a brilliant show, but not a comedy show. In the criminal areas of auto-theft, they call it a cut-and-shunt: you take the front half of one car and the back end of another car and slam them together. She had a strange little 10-minute warm-up at the start and then this EXTRAORDINARILY powerful piece of theatre about the atrocities perpetrated by white colonists in Kenya. I wrote little bits about it elsewhere, where I was not required to put a star-count on it… It was a brilliant show, but was not a 5-star comedy show. It was in the wrong section of the Fringe Programme and it would have been unfair to review it as Comedy.”

“You were telling me at the Fringe,” I said, “what you sometimes do when you write a 1-star or 2-star review of a comedy show.”

“I am hired as a critic,” said Copstick. “I have to say what I think and feel, otherwise I would just be a PR. But I think all performers deserve a fighting chance and I am, after all, only one person. If I really loathe the show, I try to make my review as entertaining as possible and as polemical as possible because I know a 1-star review will sell almost as many tickets as a 5-star review and, if you make your 1-star review polemical enough, people will go Oh my God! I have to see that! because everyone wants to see a car crash.”

“So,” I said, “in a way, a 2-star review could be worse than a 1-star review.”

“What I try to do in a 2-star review,” explained Copstick, “is seed it with combinations of words or even just one word which, if the performer is smart, they can ‘pull’ a quote from that I am happy for them to mis-use.

“The late, usually-great, Jason Wood did a show once which I thought was just appalling. It was lazy, using old stuff – ten years after people had died, he was doing half-baked impressions of them – I was really angry because Jason was a funny, funny, clever, talented guy. I ripped into the show and gave him a 1-star review but, by midnight that night, the Assembly Rooms where he was performing (under its previous owners) had big banners all over the place saying:

“A STAR!” (KATE COPSTICK, THE SCOTSMAN)

Copstick does not mind taking the piss - in this case to her doctor

Copstick likes taking the piss – in this case to her own doctor

“It was brilliant! Brilliant! Just wonderful. I am devastated to say that The Scotsman made him take the quote down. But I thought it was brilliant. If performers can be creative with their show and I can be creative with my review, then why can’t they be creative with my review of their show?

“The FringePig website – which popped up last year and which reviewed the Fringe reviewers – they did a review of me and it was surprisingly accurate. One of the things they picked up on was that now I absolutely love a maverick – Johnny Sorrow, Bob Slayer, for godsake.

“Again, we’re back to honesty and passion. I would rather see Bob Slayer – honesty, passion and drink – than some pointless, say-nothing, manufactured wannabe. Now that comedy has become an industry, one of the things that is wrong is a load of people coming in thinking Oh! I can be the next Jack Whitehall! and they stand up and are a kind of manufactured persona. There’s no real person there.

“Someone like Simon Munnery ought to get a bloody knighthood. He’s been nurturing his crazy since most of the people on stage now were foetuses.”

“You should get back on stage,” I suggested.

“I am peripherally involved in a comedy show at the Fringe this year… as well as The Grouchy Club and The Increasingly Prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show.”

“Are you?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s about assisted suicide.”

“Ah! The Exit guy!” I said.

“Yes. Philip Nitschke.”

Philip Nitschke

Philip Nitschke – ‘Dr Death’ does stand-up comedy

“Are you going to be killed every day?” I asked.

“No, I’m sort-of directing it. Philip is the most wonderful guy, though it’s very difficult to get him into the country because they ask: Have you come in to kill people? – No, I’m coming in to do a comedy show in Edinburgh.

“The show is Philip and female stand-up Mel Moon, who suffers from a horrible endocrine disorder. She joined Exit with a view to topping herself before she turned into a puddle.

“I love the idea, because it’s a way of using comedy to get across an incredibly powerful message. I think you can ‘kick a lot of ass’ comedically or satirically that you can’t do when presenting it straight. So we’re doing satirical sketches. Hopefully I’m also filming a documentary, looking at previews, people’s reactions, the creative process. It’s part of a bigger idea.”

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Laurence Owen – a Pervland pasticher who could have been Harry Potter

Lawrence’s album: Lullabies of Pervland

Not normal actor-turned-comedian-turned-composer-singer

Last night, a well-known agency staged a ’comedy showcase’ of some of their acts. There were around ten acts.

With the exception of one-and-a-half acts, it was a laughter-free zone.

They were actors and actresses showcasing their acting talent without interruption by humour. They were not comedians.

The result of actors trying to be comedians to ‘fill-in’ before they get ‘proper’ acting jobs is almost always a terrible, humorless dog’s dinner. It is usually a Pyrrhic victory of performance skills over comedy.

Which is why Laurence Owen is a joy to behold. His show Lullabies of Pervland has a humdinger of a song about how women’s roles in Disney movies are defined and limited – it has wonderfully complex and intelligent lyrics performed by Laurence to a perfect pastiche of the whole gamut of Disneyesque tunes. He acts as four characters in the song, including a wiseguy bird from, it seems, the Bronx. A wondrous blend of acting, singing, composition and comedy.

“Disney women don’t have a huge amount going for them after a certain point,” Laurence explained to me. “Their career options are limited and there’s always at least one dead parent – usually the mum  – which leaves these young characters flailing and alone so they can have scary adventures. The Lion King is Hamlet with lions.”

“The thing is,” I said, “you act your Disney pastiche song so well.”

“Well, when I was little,” said Laurence, “I used to be a kid actor. I did various bits and bobs. I was in a film called Wilde with Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde.”

“Heavens!” I said. “You weren’t the one who got buggered?”

“No,” said Laurence. “That was Jude Law. I played Stephen Fry’s son.”

Laurence Owen not Harry Potter

Laurence Owen – not Harry Potter

He also auditioned for the part of Harry Potter.

“I suppose I probably look more like Harry Potter now,” said Laurence.

“So,” I asked, “you wanted to be an actor, not a musical performer?”

“Yeah. I started off as an actor. I was six when I started. I did a costume drama thing for the BBC about nannies – Berkeley Square – and I played a young Brian Blessed in a film called The Mumbo Jumbo which was mad but had a great cast – Sylvester McCoy, Melinda Messenger, John Inman from Are You Being Served?, Richard O’Brien from The Rocky Horror Show, Joss Ackland, Brian Blessed…”

“To have Joss Ackland and Brian Blessed in the same film is quite something,” I said.

“There is a lot of shouting in it,” said Laurence. “I never met Brian Blessed, but they curled my eyebrows up into these big spikes and put grey in my temples, even though I was playing a 10-year-old version of Brian Blessed and I had this one line which I had to deliver in a cod Brian Blessed voice.

“My voice broke when I was about 11 and, after that, I stopped getting work. When I was 12, I looked and sounded about 14 and no-one is interested in that; they want people who can play younger. I went and saw my agent and she basically told me I was not cute enough any more.”

“But you still wanted to perform.”

“Yes. About the same time this happened – about the age of 12 – I started learning the guitar and forming little bands at school and we made little albums. I made my first album when I was 13 and it’s practically unlistenable to, but I’m quite glad we did it. I got into Pink Floyd and things like that – old bands. Throughout my teenage years, I made a load of very over-reaching, quite wanky prog rock things on acoustic guitars.”

There is a video on YouTube of Laurence (centre), aged 18, singing with a band called Freak Kitchen.

“And, all this time, my mum was taking me to the Edinburgh Fringe every year,” Laurence told me.

“Why?”

“Because she loves it. I think this year was her 22nd consecutive year. Never been a performer, just a punter. She’s a champion hobbyist. She’s heavily involved in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, edits The Sherlock Holmes Journal and goes on jaunts across Switzerland to the Reichenbach Falls and all that. She’s learning Japanese now.”

“Why?”

“Because she’s interested in eccentric islands.”

“So she took you to the Fringe every year?”

“Yes. I remember, aged 10, seeing Simon Munnery and feeling Wow! I’ve never seen anything like this before! He was doing his League Against Tedium. I remember being really, really inspired by it.”

“At that point,” I asked, “did you want to be a straight stand-up comic?”

“No. I discovered comedy by accident. I went up to Edinburgh every year for years, then started doing music, went to university in Brighton to study music and had this vague idea I would be a composer for a living. Then I moved back to London and started working in my old school in the music department as a kind of admin slave.

“At the same time, I was also performing slightly humorous shanty-type storytelling type songs with bits of weird, dark humour at these very earnest music nights with singer-songwriters who were whingeing on about their girlfriends. The audience really hated my songs and I was getting really down. No-one was interested at all and I was going to just stop and not bother any more, but my flatmate said: We run a little comedy night. Why don’t you come and try it out there?”

There is a showreel of Laurence’s musical comedy material on YouTube.

“So you started doing music-based gigs at comedy clubs,” I said. “But you were never interested in being a straight stand-up?”

“I’m a bit scared of that,” said Laurence. “I don’t think I quite have it in me. And I don’t really want to be a club comedian. I’m not entirely sure what I want to do yet, but I know it’s fairly cross-genre. Bits of all sorts of performance practices. For the new show, which I’m starting to formulate at the moment, I’m not having any guitar at all. It’s going to be all big backing tracks in the same way I do my Disney song.

“The new show (for Edinburgh 2015) is called Cinemusical and it’s gonna be a show about different aspects of film music, apeing all sorts of different film genres and casting a load of mis-matched characters together in a hybrid. I’m going to cast members of the audience as different characters. There will be a gunslinger Western character, a Lara Croft style Indiana Jones type person.”

Cinemusical_LaurenceOwen

“So,” I asked, “you’re going to do pastiches of Ennio Morricone and Bernard Herrmann?”

“A few years ago,” said Laurence, “I did make a concept album in the style of Ennio Morricone called South of The River – set in South London. It was about a day in the life of a charity fundraiser, going up to people in the street. He was a kind of lonely guy who got through his existence by pretending to be Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name. So, in his own brain, each of these encounters was like a duel and the album was the music which was playing in his head as he was going up to people in the street. It was basically a spaghetti western set inside a man’s head.”

There is a video from it on YouTube – a song called A Moment of Your Time.

“I think pastiche is what I’m interested in. I’ve now got to the stage where I do make a living by performing and composing. I’m a composer for film and theatre.

“At the moment, I’m working for a theatre company called 1927. I think they’re called that because that was the year the movie Metropolis came out. They get a lot of influence from silent films. They have live actors and actresses who interact with projected animation on a huge screen the size of the stage. And they have a live pianist. The show I’m working with them on at the moment is a show called Golem, based on the Jewish folk tale and on the silent film. They have a pianist and a drummer for this one and, to complement the stuff they’re playing live, I’ve made a pre-recorded sound score which goes on around it. It’s being staged at The Young Vic in December.”

“Do you have any urge left to act?”

“I’d quite like to.”

“You should do Harry Potter: The Musical.”

“I’d love to do that.”

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Comedy’s future in London and what is happening in Canada, Japan and Kenya

PTOO last night - Zuma Puma as ‘The Colonel’

PTOO last night – Zuma Puma as ‘The Colonel’

Last night, I got three interesting e-mails and saw the best potential TV series not yet on TV – Vivienne & Martin Soan’s monthly live comedy show Pull The Other One in South East London.

The PTOO format is bizarre acts plus one token stand-up comedian, which I think might be the next step in the future of comedy in the UK.

Call me obsessed but, with the apparent decline of straight comedy clubs and the rise of the Cabaret Section at the Edinburgh Fringe, something feels likely to change.

Lindsay Sharman compered last night

Lindsay Sharman did it by the book last night

Last night at PTOO, the ever-TV-friendly-faced Lindsay Sharman hosted Cheekykita, who harassed the audience in a crash-helmet, then turned into a black hole… wonderfully acerbic (OK – viciously bitter) musical comedian Kate Lucas (who, last month, was crowned Mercury Comedian of the Year at the Leicester Comedy Festival)… the always wonderfully intense Zuma Puma aka Nelly Scott as a wildly OTT Russian colonel… the Greatest Show on Legs with Martin Soan as a psychotic gay sergeant major… Simon Munnery being superbly funny as the token stand-up (You know, when Simon Munnery is the token normal comedian, everything else has to be SERIOUSLY weird!)… and Darren Walsh being extraordinarily punny (last month he won the first UK Pun Championhips) with lots of surreal visual and audio gags meaning he kept well to the bizarre variety act side of normal stand-up.

Peter Morey drawing as Simon Munnery performed

Peter Morey drew; Simon Munnery performed

While all this went on, artist Peter Morey was drawing his live visual interpretation of the show on the door of the venue as he listened to the acts perform.

The audience included Comedy Store improviser Stephen Frost and new comedy entrepreneur and showman Adam Taffler.

For once in my life, I felt trendy.

Then I went home.

I have no idea who this man is

This man is in Vancouver. I do not know him.

There was an unexplained e-mail from this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent Anna Smith. She is currently working in a bookshop in Vancouver. There was no text in the e-mail, just an attached picture. The e-mail was titled Finns and Doukabors have visited the shop. I have no idea what this means.

According to Wikipedia, the Doukabors were a Russian religious sect who emigrated to Canada in the 19th century to escape persecution by the Tsarist authorities. And, according to the 2001 census, over 131,040 Canadians claim Finnish ancestry.

I have no idea what relevance either of these facts may or may not actually have to anything else.

Then I opened an e-mail from British comedian Bob Slayer who, among many other things, used to be a horse jockey (unlikely but true) and managed Japanese rock band Electric Eel Shock (who are descending on Britain next month).

They provided some of the music for the movie Killer Bitch, in which one of them got killed by having a fish rammed down his throat. One of the movie’s online samplers uses their music. (Do not view this adult material if you can ever be offended by anything and – really – NB do not buy from the website named at the end, only from reputable retailers.)

A week ago, Bob Slayer flew to Japan. I had no idea why. Last night’s e-mail explained:

The reason why we are here is our friends Kaori and Jamie are getting married. Kaori was in a London-based Japanese two-piece band called Yumi Yumi. They both helped me out lots in the early days of managing Electric Eel Shock. After that band, Kaori joined Mercury Award nominated The Go Team as guitarist, keyboardist and occasional vocalist. Jamie was the bass player.

DAY 1 – We arrive in Kumamoto after 24 hours travelling. We took a flight from London to Tokyo then several bullet trains. Some of them were even the right ones. The highlight of the wedding food is a plate of raw horse meat, a local delicacy. I will never watch the Grand National in the same way again.

Day 3 – Where did day 2 disappear? A booze and a jetlag fug?

Day 5 – Today we are in Settsu-shi, near Osaka, at the house of Aki Morimoto otherwise known as front man of Electric Eel Shock. He has produced a little boy since I saw him last and Taira (3 years old) and I bond over sword fighting and cartoons of Anpanman, Japan’s most popular anime for kids, where all the characters have heads made out of different flavoured breads. I also build a 7 foot Lego tower.

Day 6 – Osaka’s speciality food is takoyaki and okonimaki – octopus batter balls and a savoury pancake made with chopped cabbage. Both are covered in mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce. It seems that, although Japan spent a lot of its history closed off from the outside world, some imports had a big influence 150 years ago. Barbershop poles are red and white and the Japanese word for suit is ‘Savillrow’.

After this, I opened an e-mail from comedy critic Kate Copstick, currently in Kenya. She told me:

Hoping to be boarding a plane to Britain this time next week, barring any intervening ghastliness.

I am on one crutch and reasonably mobile.

All in all it could be worse.

I think – unusually – she may be under-stating the case.

But that is another story.

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The iconic comic Iceman grasses me up after stealing a duck and remembers TV shows & a tent vibrating at Glastonbury

Yesterday’s blog was a chat with bizarre comedian or performance artist – take your choice – The Iceman. This is the concluding part of that conversation.

The Iceman told me: “My latest development is filming my own wise sayings…”

“That sounds good,” I said.

“… with my duck.” he added.

“Has it surfaced online?” I asked.

“Yes,” said The Iceman. “It’s on YouTube.

I had no knowledge that this duck had been nicked from Southampton

From Southampton hotel to metal tank: sad descent of a duck

“My plastic duck comes from a hotel in Southampton when I think you booked me on a show,” said The Iceman.

“It was probably Prove It with Chris Tarrant?” I asked.

“I sent a letter to the hotel,” continued The Iceman, ignoring me. “I told them I had borrowed their duck.”

“You stole the duck?” I asked.

“I borrowed the duck from a hotel bathroom in Southampton,” admitted The Iceman, “while I was doing a TV show for you.”

“So,” I said, “you’re grassing me up as an accomplice before and after the fact?”

“You’re implicated,” said The Iceman.

“No-one likes a grass,” I told him. “How did you get into performing with ice anyway? I’ve forgotten.”

The Iceman looks through his block of ice in 2011

The Iceman looked through his ice in 2011 and saw what?

My website,” said The Iceman “has got a lot of what you might call ‘stuff’ connected to it. But it’s a bit arbitrary. What was the question?”

“When did you first think to yourself: I know what is going to make me famous and rich. I will melt ice on stage.

There was a long, long pause.

“Was fame and wealth my aim?” The Iceman mused. Eventually he said: “I think it was an attempt to publicly share my own feelings.”

“About…?” I asked.

“About my situation…” said The Iceman. Then he paused. “And my planetary life,” he continued.”

“Which is or was?” I asked.

“That’s why the audience started saying Deep! Deep!” said The Iceman.

“Did you study Marcel Duchamp?” I asked.

“I’ve always been aware of him, but I’m not sure he’s my main influence.”

“Who is?” I asked.

“This is the duck from Southampton,” said The Iceman

“This is the duck from Southampton” –  The Iceman via Skype

“This is the duck from Southampton,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question and holding up a Polaroid photo. “Do you remember that show?”

“Not specifically,” I said. “Describe what you do in your act – for people who have never seen it.”

“It’s not really an act,” said The Iceman. “I do it for real.”

The Iceman tries to melt a block of ice on stage in various increasingly desperate ways.

“Has the act changed over the years?” I asked.

“It’s got more reflective.”

“The ice?” I asked.

“The act,” said The Iceman.

“How?” I asked.

“More thoughtful,” said The Iceman.

“How?” I asked.

“At the Royal Festival Hall,” explained The Iceman, “I sat with the block of ice. Reflecting.

This week The Iceman showed me the ultimate aim of his acts

This week The Iceman showed me the ultimate aim of his acts

“Originally, the act was pretty straightforward: I put the duck under the ice and tried to use lots of different agents to melt the ice. I was the catalyst. Breath, friction, de-icer sprays, salt, money, a blow-torch, hammer, chisel, explosions… and the duck would usually still be not afloat. So, in a way, the whole thing was a study in failure. But then, as Simon Munnery said, we all knew the block of ice was going to melt in the end, so I could not help but be ultimately successful.

“Now, though, it’s… well… slower, really. There’s less emphasis on trying to melt it. I’m just being with the ice while it melts.”

“So basically,” I said, “the act is developing towards a point where you are going to sit by a block of ice and not do anything.”

“Yes,” agreed The Iceman. “At the Royal Festival Hall in 2011, I read the Financial Times while sitting next to the block of ice.”

“And did reading the Financial Times help?” I asked.

“Well, I think people thought I was trying to make a point,” said The Iceman. “The theme of Stewart Lee’s show there was Austerity. On my website, there’s quite a few photos of the block at the Royal Festival Hall and you’ll probably notice, if you’re kind enough to visit, that, in some of them, I’m looking very reflective. Very thoughtful.”

The Iceman with his ice and duck at Royal Festival Hall, 2011

The Iceman reflects with ice & duck at the Festival Hall, 2011

“What were you actually thinking?” I asked.

“That’s difficult to decipher,” said The Iceman. “Thinking about things like the history of the Universe. Have you read that they’ve just spotted some evidence of the original Big Bang?”

“I didn’t really understand it,” I said. “It seemed to say that everything expanded very quickly, faster than the speed of light. That’s what any Big Bang does, isn’t it? Did you understand it?”

“I’ve got a feeling I was there at the beginning,” said The Iceman. “I think we all were.”

“Well,” I said, “bits of us were. And we’ll all be there at the end. The Sun will expand and explode and everything will be stardust. We are stardust.”

“Do you sing?” asked The Iceman.

“No,” I told him.

“You’ve made Malcolm Hardee into more of a star than he was when he was alive,” said The Iceman. “He was a very funny man. I don’t think he ever reckoned me, though he was kind enough to book me.”

“Did he not reckon you?” I asked, surprised.

“Perhaps he did,” said The Iceman. “He did book me once on The Tube with Jools Holland.”

“Did the rock music fans of Newcastle like you?” I asked.

Singer Morrisey: a man who enjoys a good laugh

Singer Morrisey is a man who enjoys a laugh

Morrissey was on the show,” said The Iceman. “He showed a distinct lack of interest.”

“Well, that’s Morrisey,” I said.

“Morr-icy,” mused The Iceman. “He was probably admiring me without realising it. Tell me if you’re bored…The block never stayed up on the platform.”

“When?” I asked, genuinely confused.

“When I did my act,” said The Iceman. “It always collapsed. I always refer to the one at The Tunnel…”

“Malcolm Hardee’s Tunnel club?” I asked.

“Yes,” said The Iceman. “I got stuck in a bus in the Blackwall Tunnel under the River Thames and the block melted so, when I put it on the platform at the club, it was just a bucket of water. So I went home quickly. The audience had a reputation for throwing things at the acts.”

“Your act was very time-sensitive.” I said. “When I booked you on TV recordings, you had to do the act at the appointed time and no later.”

“I was amused by your organisation of the Hackney Empire show,” said The Iceman, “because, on your schedule, it said Ice block arrives at stage door at blah blah time… It made it into an epic event.”

“There was no point being late,” I said, “because your act would have disappeared.”

“Dice-appeared,” said The Iceman thoughtfully. “Only the second half of my Hackney Empire act is on YouTube. But I quite like that, because the ice block is moving around in the audience.”

“You must have played the Glastonbury Festival?” I asked.

“Yes I did,” said The Iceman. “In the Cabaret Tent. I was the only person at Glastonbury to have an electrical source in order to have a fridge for my block of ice.”

“Did the Glastonbury audience appreciate your act?” I asked.

“I think they were a bit stoned. It was an interesting experience. I seem to remember Malcolm Hardee’s tent moving a lot when he was – what’s the phrase? – I suppose ‘bonking’ is the polite word. I have this image in my mind of a tent vibrating near my fridge.”

“What do you do for the rest of your time?” I asked.

“I work very hard and I have a proper job. I want it known that I do a proper job and I am in a long-term relationship and I can hold down a relationship with The Icewoman. People often think I’m disturbed.”

“Do you want me to quote that?” I asked.

The Iceman says he is “frighteningly sane"

The Iceman is keen to emphasise he is “frighteningly sane”

“I’m frighteningly sane,” said The Iceman and then laughed loudly. “I like that… Frighteningly saneI want you to quote that.

“I do do a lot of research on human beings. I work with quite a wide range of human beings, especially teenagers. It’s interesting for me to assess human behaviour. It feeds my work.”

“So,” I asked, “I can say in the blog in print that you do other things? That you’ve got a job.”

“Yes.”

“Even if I don’t know what it is.”

“Yes, I’ve got a job and it’s worth a few bob,” said The Iceman. “I used to say that in the act. After all my efforts trying to melt the block of ice, when people were not really laughing, I used to say Well, at least I’ve got a job! and they would laugh at that and then I’d say It’s worth a few bob!  That’s actually from the act. Do you see it as an act?”

“I see it as a lifestyle choice,” I said.

“Yes,” said The Iceman, “I’ve stayed with it. And, in one way, that’s a curse., because I can’t really develop it much. People tend to think Once you’ve seen the ice block, you’ve seen the ice block. But I think there’s a certain consistency about repeating the process. Though I’ve got bigger gaps these days.”

“Bigger gaps in what?” I asked.

“Between performances,” said The Iceman.

“What number of blocks are you up to now?” I asked.

An iceberg - more hidden below the surface than above

With an iceberg, more is below the surface than is seen above. Thus too with The Iceman? Or is he just having a good laugh?

“I used to be very meticulous in documenting it,” said The Iceman. “And then I think I threw my documentation away.

“So there’s a lot of controversy for art researchers about what number I’m up to.”

“Perhaps you should start again,” I suggested. “Start at 1001 like the carpet cleaner.”

“A new blank sheet,” mused The Iceman.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes,” said The Iceman. “Start again… N…ice…”

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