Generations come and go.
Tommy Ramone, drummer with American punk band The Ramones, died of cancer yesterday, aged 65. So it goes.
I think I met Malcolm Hardee – the ‘father of Alternative Comedy’ around 1985 or 1986. He died in 2005; so it goes.
My eternally un-named friend met Malcolm a few years before me.
But Steve Byrne, artistic director of the Interplay theatre company in Leeds. first saw Malcolm perform in 1976.
“The first time I saw Malcolm,” he told me this week, “was in a production of Alice in Wonderland. He was the caterpillar on a toadstool that wobbled.”
“Was he a hookah-smoking caterpillar?” I asked.
“Yes. He would just stop in the middle of his lines and talk to the audience and say: I was having a wash and… and you’re not supposed to do that in theatre. You’re supposed to say the lines that have been written down by the great and good. But not Malcolm.
“It was one of those shows that – when you are young Second Year drama students who take themselves a bit too seriously – you look and you say: Oh, but they’re playing to the crowd now! They’re laughing with the audience! they’ve broken it all down! Oh the fourth wall’s gone – All that sort of shit.
“I was a student at Goldsmiths College and this girl who was a couple of years older than me, in her last year, directed this version of Alice in Wonderland and she’d got Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan in the same show and I went along on that Sunday afternoon and I thought: Oh, they’ll never do anything!
“I remember looking back at it years later and laughing with Malcolm about it, telling him:
“I thought you were a tosser, a fucking no-hoper. I thought you had no skill, no talent… And I got it totally wrong.
“It was a funny time before Alternative Comedy came round, when nobody really knew which way the land was going to go. I remember people at Goldsmiths saying: We should do more of a cabaret style show. Will that work? Do people want to relax? Less of an audience that’s sitting there reverentially watching something?
“And then suddenly, almost overnight, you’ve got the Comedy Store in Soho in 1982. And there were people like Pookie Snackenburger.”
“They were music weren’t they?” I asked.
“They were music, yes,” said Steve. “but they did strange little things.”
There is a video on YouTube of them performing Just One Cornetto.
Steve Byrne told me: “The guy who ran Pookie Snackenburger was called Steve McNicholas, who I went to college with, and he went on to do Stomp.”
“And comedy manager Addison Cresswell’s brother was also involved in that,” I said.
“Yes. Luke Cresswell. Luke and Steve McNicholas came together after I left college. We’d all bashed a load of bins around and some advertising executive went by and said I want to make an advert of that.”
“An ad?” I asked.
“A Midland Bank advert.”
“And that was the beginning of the Stomp stage show years later?” I asked.
“Yes. But it was all bubbling around. All these people trying to look for different ways of doing things. It was a funny time. Musically, it defined itself very quickly after 1976 because you suddenly had punk. I remember being at Crossfields Festival at Deptford in 1976 and I was wide-eyed with all this music. There was Squeeze playing downstairs on the grass and there was ATV – a bank clerk called Mark Perry started a band called ATV and invented the first punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. It was a funny time and I was sometimes in those things and I was sometimes just observing it and Malcolm was around too.”
The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given annually at the Edinburgh Fringe.