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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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Spending Christmas 1998 with Malcolm Hardee in Sarf Eest London

It was 22nd December 1998 and the comedian Malcolm Hardee (who drowned in 2005) was still living with his wife Jane. The record label Beggar’s Banquet were just about to release a CD single by his stepson’s rock group The Llama Farmers. It was two years before the turn of the century, with the Millennium Dome (now the O2 Dome) still a new structure. This is an extract from my diary…

***

I spent the afternoon with Malcolm, who has developed a habit of making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva.

At the end of Malcolm’s road, a house-owner has put a new tiled name on their house: Dome Vista.

“But all you can see from the back windows of his house,” Malcolm told me, “is the bloody great flyover from the Blackwall Tunnel standing at the end of his garden. You can’t see the Millennium Dome. Fucking Dome Vista!”

I had been going to take Malcolm out to lunch but, on the way, as is often the case, he had “a better idea” and we went to the warehouse office of the three brothers who co-own Malcolm’s Up The Creek comedy club to pick up Malcolm’s weekly cheque. Two of the brothers plus wives and five or six staff were having a Christmas buffet meal with lots of seafood and champagne. On the walls of the room in which we sat were drawings of various property developments, including a new Greenwich shopping centre: they already own two existing Greenwich markets.

“He used to live in a mansion next to Rod Stewart in Hollywood,” Malcolm had told me about one of the brothers. When Malcolm tells you a wildly unlikely story, it usually turns out to be true. The more unbelievable the facts, the more likely they are to be true.

“That’s a bit severe,” this brother said of Malcolm’s ultra-close-cropped hair.

“Just had it cut,” Malcolm explained.

“Malcolm,” another brother explained to me, “only has his cut his hair every six months. He lets it grow over six months, so he only pays for a haircut twice a year.”

“No I don’t,” said Malcolm aggrieved and blinking. “I set it on fire at Beggar’s Banquet, in the offices.”

“Why was that?”

Malcolm thought briefly, shrugged and ignored the question. The truth is that he occasionally sets his hair on fire just to have an effect. He set fire to two cinemas in his youth. There has been a lot of arson around in his life.

“It doesn’t catch fire easily but it doesn’t cause any pain,” he mumbled defensively, by way of an explanation about his hair.

“What did Beggar’s Banquet say?” I asked.

Malcolm shrugged and blinked.

“You should make a record like Keith Allen,” I suggested. “You’d get lots of money. Form a group called The Old Lags.”

“I don’t hang round the Groucho Club enough,” he mumbled.

Malcolm recently came back from Australia, where he met his friend Wizo. “Typical,” Malcolm told the brothers, wives and staff over champagne and seafood, “Wizo lost his job the day I arrived and I had to pay for everything. He’d been selling advertising space in the Melbourne Age newspaper. They told him he had to wear a suit, but he got bored and came in one morning wearing a chef’s outfit. They weren’t happy. The good thing about Australia, though, Wizo told me, is that you can be poor quite comfortably.”

Malcolm’s brother, formerly a comedy promoter in Manchester, is now working in Wizo’s old London job – for music mogul Miles Copeland.

“My brother’s throwing a Christmas party for friends and relations,” Malcolm told us. “He tried to charge his guests £70-a-head to come but no-one’s agreed yet, so he’s probably going to invite them for free but have a whip-round for a new washing machine while they’re there.”

The brothers, their wives and staff looked impressed.

After the meal, we drove off to a bank where Malcolm deposited his cheque from the brothers and various other cheques including one for £29 from BBC TV to cover sales to Croatia of a Blackadder episode he appeared in. He was much impressed by the sale to Croatia. He banked about £900 then withdrew £700 and went to a betting shop, allegedly to check if ‘his’ greyhound was running at Catford. Instead, after realising a dog called ‘Oi Oi’ (Malcolm’s catchphrase) had won the previous race and he’d missed it, he bet £50 on a dog at random in the next race… and it won!

“I always win bets on dogs at Christmas,” he told me. “The rest of the year, I lose everything, but I always win just coming up to Christmas.” Then he added unexpectedly: “I part-own a greyhound.”

“You do?” I asked dubiously.

“It’s handled by a bloke who got ‘done’ in the 1970s for greyhound ‘ringing’. He got arrested after he had a very good black dog and disguised it by dying it brown. But, as luck would have it, when the dogs paraded round before the Off, it started to rain and the dye came out.”

This sounded like an urban myth to me.

“Ricky Grover,” I said, “told me a story about the ‘wrong’ dog coming round the final bend at Romford Stadium and someone throwing four footballs onto the track in front of the dogs.”

“Oh,” said Malcolm, never to be out-anecdoted, “I was once in prison with a bloke nicknamed ‘Teddy Bear’. His job was to stand by the rail at various stadiums around the country and, if the ‘wrong’ dog was winning, he would throw a teddy bear onto the track;. The dogs stopped racing, went crazy and tore it apart. His great talent,” explained Malcolm, “was that he could run very fast after he’d thrown the teddy bear.”

After picking up answerphone messages at Up The Creek, collecting mail from a new tenant in his old house in Glenluce Road, attempting to buy his own £7.99 autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake in a Greenwich remainder shop for £1 (they had sold out), visiting the kitsch Emporium shop which sells lava lamps and 1960s memorabilia and buying a Christmas tree from a dodgy-looking man in a car park, we went back to Malcolm’s current home in Fingal Street via Jools Holland’s railway station (to see the top of the mini castle tower he has built) and up a suburban back street to drive past Shangri-La – a corner house the outside of which the owner has decorated.

On the side wall of the house, there are embossed metal horses heads and three large garage doors.

“The anvil’s gone,” Malcolm told me, slightly peeved.

“Has he got three cars?” I asked.

“No, he’s got green astroturf behind them,” Malcolm replied as if that explained it all.

“It’s a strange world,” I said.

“Nah,” said Malcolm, making a wet sound with his mouth, as if tasting his own saliva. “This is South East London.”

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