Tag Archives: Stewart Lee

John Dowie on Bowie, Bolan, bicycles, drinking, drugs, poetry, prose and book

John Dowie is not an easy man to describe even without a hat

I worked on the children’s TV series Tiswas with John Dowie’s sister Helga.

His other sister is writer/director/actor Claire Dowie.

John wrote an original short story for the Sit-Down Comedy book which I compiled/edited with late comedian Malcolm Hardee.

But John Dowie is not an easy man to describe. 

He is a man of many hats.

Wikipedia currently describes him as a “humourist” and says:

“Dowie was among the inaugural acts on Tony Wilson’s Factory Records label. In 1978 he contributed three comedic songs to the first Factory music release, A Factory Sample, along with Joy Division, The Durutti Column, and Cabaret Voltaire… As a director, he worked on Heathcote Williams’ Whale Nation and Falling for a Dolphin, as well as directing shows by, among others, Neil Innes, Arthur Smith, Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden, Simon Munnery and the late Pete McCarthy… His children’s show Dogman, directed by Victor Spinetti, was described by the Daily Mail’s Jack Tinker as the best show he had seen in Edinburgh that year. Dowie went on to write and perform Jesus – My Boy which was performed in London’s West End by Tom Conti.”

Basically, John Dowie has been about a bit and is unclassifiable but wildly creative. 

We had this blog chat to talk about his new book, The Freewheeling John Dowie, the Stewart Lee blurb quote for which reads:

“Great cycle of life and love and death”

“In the ‘70s, John Dowie invented Alternative Comedy. At the end of the ‘80s, he abandoned it. In the ‘90s, he sold all his possessions and set off to cycle around Europe indefinitely, meaning Dowie’s love of Landscapes and Life is matched only by his hilarious hatred of himself and others.”

Author Alan Moore adds: “This appallingly funny and delightfully miserable man delivers hard-won insights into the great cycle of life and love and death from the vantage point of a great cycle… I genuinely cannot recommend this cornucopia of middle-England majesty too highly.”

Alas, in our chat, I started off with good intentions, but, as I tend to, meandered…


DOWIE: This book my first prose work.

FLEMING: You did wonderful prose for the Sit-Down Comedy book.

DOWIE: That was a short story. This is my first full-length prose work aimed for the page rather than the stage.

FLEMING: So why now?

DOWIE: When you’re riding your bike in a quiet place – pootling along a country lane or whatever – your mind wanders and you enter strange thought patterns you don’t expect to enter and I like that and I thought: This would be a nice way to tell stories, just gently ambling along with twists and turns.

FLEMING: Picaresque?

DOWIE: Is that the word?

FLEMING: I dunno.

DOWIE: Picking a risk, I think, is what you’re saying.

FLEMING: How has the book done?

An early John Dowie Virgin album by the young tearaway

DOWIE: Hard to tell, but I think it’s doing OK. It only came out in April. I check the Amazon sales figures approximately every 47 seconds. It started at around 45, then Julian Clary Tweeted about it and it went straight up to Number 3. It’s doing OK now. There has never been a massive demand for my work. The world has never beaten a path to my particular door. As long as it sells slowly but consistently, that’s fine.

FLEMING: Did you find it difficult to write?

DOWIE: It was for me. What I was more used to in writing verse or jokes was getting feedback from an audience. When you write prose for the page, you have not got that, so it is very difficult to judge.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between writing for poetry and prose?

DOWIE: No idea. I would not say I write poetry – I write verse.

FLEMING: What’s the difference between poetry and verse?

DOWIE: I think poetry takes more time to understand or is more difficult to understand.

FLEMING: So writing verse it dead easy, then.

DOWIE: Well, comparatively easy for me, because my stuff always rhymes. Use a rhyming pattern and you’ve got a way of telling a story.

FLEMING: So you see yourself as a writer of verse and…

DOWIE: Well, I only wrote it when the kids were little.

FLEMING: To distract them?

DOWIE: As a way of punishing them if they were not behaving well.

“Do you want me to read you one of my poems?”

“No! No! Please don’t do that to me, daddy!”

“You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time…”

It was just a thing to do for a while. You don’t have to stick to the same thing all the time. Luckily, for me, this has never included doing mime. I did do a couple of mime sketches in my youth, but they weren’t real mime.

FLEMING: What sort of mime were they?

DOWIE: Well, it WAS doing things without words, but it wasn’t being a ‘mime artist’ and being balletic about it.

FLEMING: Mime artists seem to have disappeared. They call themselves ‘clowns’ now and go to Paris and come back and stare at people. I only ever saw David Bowie perform once…

DOWIE: … doing mime… Supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex… I saw that too.

FLEMING: I loved Tyrannosaurus Rex; not so keen on T Rex.

DOWIE: I’m a big Tyrannosaurus Rex fan.

FLEMING: Whatever happened to Steve Peregrin Took? (The other half of Tyrannosaurus Rex, with Marc Bolan.)

DOWIE: He choked on a cherry stone and died in a flat in Ladbroke Grove.

FLEMING: A great name, though.

DOWIE: He nicked it from Lord of the Rings. Peregrine Took (Pippin) is a character in Lord of the Rings. Steve was his own name.

FLEMING: Steve Jameson – Sol Bernstein – was very matey with Marc Bolan.

DOWIE: They went to the same school. Up Hackney/Stoke Newington way… Marc Bolan was a William Blake man.

FLEMING: Eh?

Warlock of Love: “It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written”

DOWIE: Well, I’ve got Marc Bolan’s book of poetry: The Warlock of Love. It’s very unlike anything else anyone’s ever written. That may be a good or a bad thing.

FLEMING: You have an affinity with William Blake?

DOWIE: Not a massive affinity other than he was a one-off.

FLEMING: He was a hallucinating drug addict.

DOWIE: Well, we’ve all been there. And we don’t necessarily know he was hallucinating. He might have been supernaturally gifted.

FLEMING: Now he has a plaque on a tower block in the middle of Soho.

DOWIE: Well, that’s what happens to poets, isn’t it? Plaques on buildings. I like his painting of the soul of a flea.

FLEMING: I don’t know that one.

DOWIE: There was a girl standing next to him and she said: “What are you doing William?” and he said: “I’m just sketching the ghost of that flea.”

FLEMING: Does it look like the soul or ghost of a flea?

William Blake’s soulful Ghost of a Flea

DOWIE: A big, tall, Devilish type figure.

FLEMING: Are you going back to comedy in any way?

DOWIE: Well, it hasn’t gone away. There’s lots of comedy in the book.

FLEMING: On stage, though?

DOWIE: What I don’t like about actual performances is that they hang over you all day. You are waiting for this bloody thing to happen in the evening and you can’t do anything until it’s over but then, when it’s over, all you wanna do is drink.

FLEMING: I think that might just be you.

DOWIE: No, it’s not just me.

FLEMING: Performing interrupts your drinking?

DOWIE: (LAUGHS) Most days I can start drinking when I get up. I don’t have to wait till half past bloody nine in the bloody evening.

FLEMING: Have you stopped drinking?

DOWIE: I drink a bit, but I try to keep it outside of working hours which is why (LAUGH) I’m not so keen on gigging.

FLEMING: You going to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

John will be in North Berwick, near Edinburgh, during August

DOWIE: No. But I’m doing Fringe By The Sea at North Berwick.

FLEMING: Ah! Claire Smith is organising that – It’s been going ten years but she’s been brought in to revitalise it this year. What are you doing? A one-off in a Spiegeltent?

DOWIE: Yeah. A 40-minute reading from my book and then a Question & Answer section.

FLEMING: What next for creative Dowie?

DOWIE: I’m waiting to see what happens with the book.

FLEMING: It’s autobiographical. Will there be a sequel?

DOWIE: Depends how long I live.

FLEMING: At your age, you’ll die soon.

DOWIE: I’m not going to die soon!

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Cally Beaton: How to recover an award nomination by revealing another oddity

The second blog

A couple of days ago, I wrote the second of two blogs about Cally Beaton and others claiming to have won an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award at the Edinburgh Fringe.

On Facebook, Alex Petty of the Laughing Horse Free Festival asked: “Could you draw a flow chart of your blog? Even by Edinburgh standards it’s all a little complicated!”

And Martin Walker from the On The Mic podcast, asked: “Is this article a parody of a Stewart Lee sketch? I think it’s a parody of a Stewart Lee sketch. You know, that um, a parody of a sketch by that Stewart Lee. You know the one, it’s a parody, you know, of that Stewart Lee. The one where he, you know, keeps saying the same thing over and over again.”

Beware of what follows, Martin.

The story so far…

2016 show did win a First Minute Award

Cally Beaton’s publicity for her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show Super Cally Fragile Lipstick claimed that she and her show Cat Call (with Catherine Bohart) had won “a Malcolm Hardee Award” last year. She/they/it had not. In fact, she/it had won an unconnected First Minute Award from TV producer Edward Hobson who gave the prize for the show with the best first minute. (He left after seeing the first minute of each show.)

So I thought: This could be worth a Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award nomination, because Cally is pulling a cunning stunt to plug her show this year. There was the added irony that pretending she had won a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award might actually get her a Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award.

But then her publicist(s) claimed that it was all a misunderstanding not a cunning publicity stunt.

This screwed Cally’s chance of being nominated for a Cunning Stunt Award – a mistake is not a stunt – although there was a slight chance that, if she had knowingly conned her publicists into the incorrect claim, that was a cunning stunt and she might still be a contender.

Yesterday, Cally seems to have re-inserted herself into the running for an increasingly prestigious nomination. Here is the correspondence.


CALLY
I think if I were to come clean about the fact that I wasn’t on stage during the award-winning first minute of Cat Call, then the Cunning Stunt nomination and indeed potentially award is mine…

JOHN
If you really were not on stage in the first minute of Cat Call and yet won the First Minute Award, that would be glorious. Especially if you used last year’s First Minute Award win to publicise this year’s show.

CALLY
Only Catherine Bohart, Edward Hobson and I know whether I was really on stage that fateful first minute… I’m quite sure that would be Edward’s recollection… My memory is that I was in the loo.

JOHN
I suppose the idea of audience members being present is too ridiculous a supposition at the Edinburgh Fringe?

CALLY
Both audience members that day were legless.

ED HOBSON
It is true. When I went to see Cat Call, it was a double-header with Catherine Bohart doing the first half hour followed by Cally Beaton doing the second.

I went for the first minute, saw Catherine Bohart for sixty seconds, thought it was great and shortlisted the show. During the judging session, I re-listened to the recordings of the finalists’ first minutes I had recorded and decided that show was the funniest. Consequently Cally Beaton’s show won without me ever seeing her on stage.

Only after meeting them again at the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards ceremony did I realise they were not a double act.

I still stand by the decision.

The First Minute Award is the premier comedy award at the Edinburgh Fringe that judges a comedy show in less time than it takes Martin Soan to get his cock out.

My fiancée arrives in the UK next Wednesday

Very excited.


Cally’s Fringe show this year. Worth a Cunning Stunt?

Whether any of this is true or not is irrelevant. To quote Malcolm Hardee: Might be good. Might be shit.

Claire Smith of the Scotsman and the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards judging panel told me that Cally was inspired to start performing comedy when Joan Rivers told her to “get her ass on stage”.

“Is this true?” I asked Cally.

“Joan Rivers? All true,” she told me. “Her lesbian assistant developed quite a crush on me too. Other Hollywood ‘A’ listers who told me to try comedy include Amy Poehler & Kevin Hart.”

My head is starting to swirl.

Truth? Reality?

I live by the guiding thought that the more unlikely something sounds the more likely it is to be true.

Cally has two children.

On Facebook, she posted:

“For last year’s show, I bribed Offspring No 1 with a Nando’s to do material about him. Later today, we are off to negotiate this year’s show… over cocktails & a three course meal at Wahaca.”

Beware of people claiming awards…?

Did I mention that I am, myself, a multi-award-winner?

When I was around 12 years old, I won a prize from Brooke Bond Tea for my handwriting.

And, in 2010, Fringe Report gave me an award as Best Awarder of Awards.

All true.

Would I lie to you?

There is a blog about how to genuinely win an increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award HERE.

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How comic Malcolm Hardee’s pissing on a penguin saved The Iceman’s life

Art lover Maddie Coombe invests in another great artwork

Almost a week ago, this blog reported the shock news that, measured by sales of his paintings during his lifetime, The Artist formerly known as the IceMan (AIM) had sold three times as many paintings as Vincent van Gogh.

Further startling news reached my Inbox today – The Iceman/AIM has now sold another painting (numbered RFH 28) based on the block of ice he melted in the foyer of London’s Royal Festival Hall during Stewart Lee’s Austerity Binge: At Last! The 1981 Show which was held there in (yes it was) 2011.

The purchaser of the new painting, once again, is discerning art appreciator Maddie Coombe. AIM tells me the picture shows “the Iceman using superhuman strength to lift the Big Block.”

He tells me that “Mia Ritchie still thinks it could have been painted by a three-year-old.”

Mia Ritchie is a top netball player who, AIM tells me, “plays for England and has a robust and see-through attitude to art.”

Perhaps even more newsworthy is The Iceman/AIM’s revelation of his painting of the increasingly prestigious but sadly dead comedy legend Malcolm Hardee.

Late comedy legend Malcolm Hardee pisses on a penguin while The Iceman bravely performs at The Tunnel Palladium

“It is a picture of me,” says AIM, “at Malcolm’s famous Tunnel Palladium venue. Malcolm is pissing on The Iceman’s penguin…

“I think it was to distract the audience and save The Iceman’s life when things got riotously confrontational. He was aiming for my stuffed and sweet small penguin – my iceistant – who had innocently exacerbated hostility in some sections of the audience.

“The Iceman’s performance art seemed to unintentionally provoke the well-known hackles of the Greenwich audience. A minority in the famous Tunnel audience, though, did appreciate The Iceman’s art and even understood it and were even entertained by more than one ice block

“Do not be fooled by the irate standing spectators in the painting – nor by the flying beer glass – The Iceman had much fear but put his art first – even before his personal well-being.

“Another famous Iceman block at the Tunnel Palladium was a LIQUID one – the block melted on a summer evening in a traffic jam in Blackwall Tunnel. The bus driver was neither amused by The Iceman’s icequipment nor by the puddles ensuing from the melting block. He did not realise the privilege of seeing the warm-up process. The passengers were slightly more appreciative – in fact, they were a more empathetic crowd than the actual Tunnel fraternity.”

There is a video on YouTube of The Iceman almost – but not quite – performing at the Hackney Empire in London during a Malcolm Hardee tribute show in January 2007.

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Comic performer-turned-painter The Iceman suddenly outsells Van Gogh.

The Artist formerly known as The Iceman: a brush with fame

I have blogged before about the comic performance artist legend that is The Iceman. The last couple of times he has cropped up, it has been as a fine artist (I use the words loosely) not a performance artist. As a stage performer, he has been described as:

“…a living saint” (Stewart Lee)

“…incredible” (Mike Myers)

“A figure of mythic proportions” (Independent)

“inexplicable” (The Stage)

“shit!” (Chris Tarrant)

“brilliant” (Simon Munnery)

“truly a performance artist” (Jo Brand)

AIM’s painting of Jo Brand (left) understanding The Iceman

He sent me an email this morning asking if I wanted to write another blog about him because he feels my blog-writing style has “sort of subtle undercurrents where sarcasm meets genteelness” and, where he is involved, has “a mixture of awe, bafflement and sneaking respect.”

Those are his words.

He added: “I think you should keep it short and pithy. Do you do short blogs? As my sales increase I am going to keep you very busy indeed so, for your own sanity, it should be more like a news flash.”

Eddie Izzard/Iceard (left) upstaged/icestaged by The Iceman

The Iceman – who now prefers to be called AIM (the Artist formally known as the Ice Man) – measures his fine art success against van Gogh’s sales of his art during his lifetime.

He told me that, yesterday, he “nearly tripled/then quadrupled/then quintupled van Gogh’s sales record… but, in the end, I just tripled it as the buyer couldn’t stretch to it…”

‘It’ being an “confidential but significant” sum.

Buyer Maddie Coombe overawed in the presence of the AIM

He sent me photographs of the buyer – “discerning collector” and dramatist Maddie Coombe – who topped an offer by another buyer who desperately tried to muscle-in on the art purchase.

Ms Coombe says: “I bought a very colourful and bold piece of the Iceman’s work. I loved it because of its colour, composition and bold brush strokes. I will keep it forever as a memory of the time I have spent being his colleague – a man unlike any other!”

Comedian Stewart Lee (right) and poet John Dowie carrying The Iceman’s props with pride – a specific and vivid memory.

The Iceman says: “The sale was a formal business agreement born of an authentic appreciation of AIM’s art/oil paintings in a secret contemporary art gallery south of Bath – It’s in a valley.”

Explaining the slight element of mystery involved, he explains: “Being a cult figure I can’t be too transparent with anything,” and adds: “AIM is now painting not from photos but from specific and vivid memories insice the ex-Iceman’s head, resulting in even more icetraordinary imagices.

“One gallery visitor,” he tells me, “was heard to say It looks like it’s painted by a three year old which, of course I thought was a huge compliment.”

AIM’s most recent painting – Stand-up comedian, activist and author Mark Thomas (right) gets the political message of The Iceman’s ice block at the Duke of Wellington’s public house many years ago

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Filed under Art, Comedy, Eccentrics, Humor, Humour, Painting

The difference between comics and comedians. Some are born; some made.

Penny Dreadfuls audio book

Penny Dreadfuls’ audio book

This week’s guest on the increasingly prestigious Grouchy Club Podcast was comedy performer Thom Tuck, whose idea was to come on and plug the two new Penny Dreadfulsaudio book releases. This seemed perfectly simple.

But, as always, comedy critic Kate Copstick and I got sidetracked. For example, in this section…


Kate Copstick and Thom Tuck at the Grouchy Club

Kate Copstick & Thom Tuck eat at the Grouchy Club in London

JOHN: What did you want to be when you were 16? Did you want to be a stand-up comedian and Doctor Who acolyte?

THOM: I’m pretty sure I wanted to be funny. I was always a performer and, in school plays, it was always: Well, you be the funny one.

COPSTICK: Oh good! Well, that’s a good sign! The great Mark Steel said to me that the great comics are the ones who could never have been anything else.

THOM: Yes.

COPSTICK: You say to them: So, what did you want to be?… Comic!… What would you have been if you hadn’t been a comic?… I’ve absolutely no idea. I couldn’t NOT be a comic.

THOM: With people like (Doug) Stanhope and Patrice O’Neal, that’s unavoidable. You ARE a comedian. There’s no…

COPSTICK: Michael McIntyre.

THOM: I think Michael McIntyre is born to be a light entertainer.

JOHN: Ah well, yes…

COPSTICK: (GROWLS)

JOHN (TO COPSTICK): That’s OK.

THOM: He’s very good. He’s a very good comedian, but he’s not a ‘comic’ in the same way. I think there’s a distinction.

JOHN: You mean stand-up…

THOM: Yes, a stand-up comic on the road. Inescapable. There’s no destiny beyond the road.

COPSTICK: Oh, I see what you mean. So, once you’re on telly doing a ‘shiny floor’ show, you are no longer a stand-up comic…

THOM: No, not necessarily. But I don’t think he’s…

COPSTICK: What about John Bishop?… Oh… He obviously wasn’t born to be a comic, because he spent most of his life not being a comic but…

THOM: He was in marketing, wasn’t he?

COPSTICK: Correct.

JOHN: Or whatsisname…

COPSTICK:Jimmy Carr.

JOHN: Yes.

THOM: Well, Jimmy Carr is classically not a born comedian. Not a born comedian in any way.

JOHN: He is a made comedian.

THOM: Yeah.

COPSTICK: He’s a brilliant…

JOHN: …brilliant…

COPSTICK: … a brilliantly made comedian, yes.

THOM: There are people who, if they hadn’t found work being stand-ups would have been just drunks in a corner.

COPSTICK: Exactly. Stanhope would have been an ugly drunk and drug addict.

JOHN: You can be both, Thom. You can be both.

THOM: Yes… I mean, I don’t think Stewart Lee is a natural comic.

COPSTICK: No.

THOM: He’s a comedian and he has made himself a comedian and he has made himself battle-hardened, but he’s not a natural… If he had ended-up not finding stand-up and becoming a writer, a novelist…

COPSTICK: Well, that is what he wanted to do. He wanted to be a writer.

THOM: I don’t think I am a natural comic either.

JOHN: Actually, I suppose Stewart Lee is a writer who performs, isn’t he?

COPSTICK: Yes, I think Richard Lee is a more natural.

THOM: Richard Lee?

COPSTICK: Not Richard Lee – Richard Herring. Oh my God! I’ve just come up with the perfect comedian! We are going to put them both in test tubes and meld them!

JOHN: Richard Lee and Stewart Herring.

COPSTICK: That sounds like a job for Doctor Who.

THOM: Fist of Fun crossed with The Fly.

COPSTICK: Stewart Lee will just get progressively hairier and hairier and hairier. That’s a recipe for some very interesting…

JOHN: …composite comedians.

Thom Tuck

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Jeremy Corbyn & my beard and the link to Martin Soan’s new free comedy club.

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming?

Jeremy Corbyn? Daniel Craig? John Fleming? A combination?

I am probably going to be Jeremy Corbyn. In a music video for Ariane Sherine’s Love Song For Jeremy Corbyn.

The London Evening Standard’s opinion is that this “steamy tribute” to the great man is “one of the most stirring”. But that “most of the verses are too graphic to be printed in a family newspaper”. The song includes the stirring lines:

One poke from the leader
And you’ll be in Labour

I was conned into saying I would appear in this video, to be shot in July, on the basis it would include “topless” scenes. Alas, these turned out to be not Ariane Sherine topless but the Jeremy Corbyn clone – me – and, because of this, I have been trying to slim down to something more approaching Jezza than Dumbo.

It has also meant I have kept my beard, which I had intended to shave off.

Now, though, the video shoot is going to be in September not July. So I was going to chop off my beard and re-grow it during the Edinburgh Fringe in August. (This has the added bonus I could get up later in the mornings).

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan's hair

Stephen Frost (left) attacks Martin Soan’s hair on stage in 2013

My eternally un-named friend then suggested I should get Martin Soan to cut it off or, at least, cut one half of it – perhaps the left half – and half my shirt and possibly half my trousers.

Thus it is going to happen on the opening night of his new comedy club this Friday night. There is a bit of ‘previous’ here. In 2013, comedian Stephen Frost cut off half Martin Soan’s hair on stage at Pull The Other One.

For over ten years, Martin and his wife Vivienne have run the very successfully bizarre Pull The Other One monthly comedy club in Nunhead (Peckham to you and me, but don’t say that to the natives). Now they are also going to be running another monthly comedy night in Nunhead called It’s Got Bells On.

“So,” I asked him, “you’re going to do this new one monthly and carry on doing Pull The Other One monthly? What’s the difference going to be?”

“Well,” said Martin, “It’s Got Bells On is free and Pull The Other One is pay-to-enter.”

Martin Soan promoting new night It’s Got Bells On

Martin Soan promotes his new It’s Got Bells On

“Why is It’s Got Bells On free?” I asked.

“Because I’m very lucky. Someone who is really into comedy is sponsoring me. He wants to remain anonymous. He’s fronting the cash for it – not a lot of cash, but it means I can pay the acts and have a bit for myself as well. Basically, everyone will get expenses.”

I asked: “When you say ‘free’ it will have a bucket at the end for voluntary audience donations?”

“Yeah. But there will also be 30 tickets behind the bar which you can buy for £1 each in advance to guarantee a seat.”

“So it’s the Bob Slayer ‘Pay What You Want’ model from the Edinburgh Fringe,” I said. “Is there any difference in the type of act or the headliners at the two clubs?”

“I don’t know what you call headliners now. I’m moving against ‘celebrity’ because it muddies the water yet again. Comedy should be whether you like it or not – nothing to do with whether people have been on TV or not. But everything still hinges on whether they are ‘famous’ or not.”

“Your Pull The Other One shows,” I said, “are usually full up and the format, as I understand it, is that they are all variety acts plus one stand-up comedian who is usually a ‘Name’.”

“That’s the way it works out normally, “ said Martin, “but it’s not a rule. Variety is the key. I wanted to put on a free night and now I’ve had this glorious offer of it being funded by an anonymous sponsor.”

Dr Brown and an audience member at PTOO

“I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic” (Photo of Dr Brown at Pull The Other One)

“Why did free-to-enter shows attract you?” I asked.

“With it being free,” explained Martin, “we don’t have to fulfil any audience expectations. Acts can be more free with the type of material they do. I want to edge the club back towards being far more anarchic – as it used to be. I am going to feature a slot a bit like The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green). I have Brian Sewer to fulfil that role in the first week. He’s an art critic.”

“Ah,” I said, “a piss-take on Brian Sewell? Who is doing that?”

“Ed At Last.”

“So the idea with It’s Got Bells On,” I asked, “is that you would not have one big name?”

“Well,” said Martin, “if Stewart Lee wanted to try out 10 minutes of new material, he would be just the same as anyone else on the bill. He would get 10 minutes and his expenses.

Stewart Lee (left) behind-the-scenes with Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

Stewart Lee (left) and Martin Soan, backstage at P.T.O.O.

“I’ve got Stewart Lee booked on at Pull The Other One on the 9th September and I must be getting two e-mails a day saying Can I get tickets? Can I get tickets!

“I’m getting frustrated by this celebrity-bound comedy and the way comedy is being used yet again.”

“It seems now,” I suggested, “that people will pay to see an act they have seen on TV, but lots of venues are doing free shows with unknown acts who do not get paid to perform.”

“Yes,” agreed Martin. “It’s not that I disagree with free venues, but I think people need to get paid for what they do.

“Now venues are starting to refuse to pay artists, basically. We have gone backwards. I remember the days in the 1980s when bands used to have to pay to play. I was involved with bands through my wife Vivienne. There was one particular pub which was absolutely notorious. They charged all the bands something like £50 to use the PA.”

“In the 1980s?” I asked.

Vivienne and Martin Soan

Vivienne and Martin Soan – Campaigning comedy couple

“Yeah. And the band would get some percentage of any tickets. But, basically, very few people bought tickets. You were allowed two guests and the audience was just other bands. So the poor band that went on last played to no-one.

“I got quite political about it and helped start an organisation called Community Music and basically the practice was stamped out over a few years.

“Now with comedy, though, that seems to be happening again. Venues not paying the acts.

“There are very few venues where you have to pay to play but, nonetheless, considering it’s such a small business compared to bands – it’s just people coming along alone or with props – they just need a microphone and the overheads are cheaper – the venues are not passing the profits on to the performers. I know the overheads of venues are high. But, if they didn’t have this comedy going on in their pub, then they would be down on their takings. At one place I ran a comedy night, on my average night, the bar was taking maybe an extra £3,000.

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now."

Martin Soan (left): “I know the business from all sides now.”

“I know the business from all sides now. The first guy who ran the Old Nun’s Head where Pull The Other One ran shows – Daniel – was very open about how he made his money and how much he needed to get. He was dead straightforward, put his cards on the table and I knew exactly where I was, which I appreciated. That enabled me to project a plan to make the club viable. And the new guy running the Old Nun’s Head is very straightforward too.”

“So you will be running monthly pay-to-enter Pull The Other One shows at the Ivy House in Nunhead… and monthly ‘free’ It’s Got Bells On at the Old Nun’s Head in Nunhead.”

“Yes.”

“Any more shows in Leipzig?” I asked.

“Yes, in November. Bartushka, who is from Berlin but you saw her in Leipzig, wants to work with us over there.”

“Remind me of her act?” I asked.

“She is…” Martin started. “She… It is very difficult to categorise her. She is cabaret-inspired, very charismatic…”

“Much like Pull The Other One,” I suggested. “And, I guess, It’s Got Bells On.”

I may revise my opinion after I get half my beard, hair, shirt and possibly trousers chopped off on Friday.

It’s Got Bells On - free comedy

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The most entertaining British funeral of the last 115 years – an audio recording

Funeral wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

Some of the wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s odd 2005 funeral

Whose are the greatest British funerals of the 20th and 21st centuries?

Well, there is Queen Victoria’s in 1901, Sir Winston Churchill’s in 1965 and Princess Diana’s in 1997.

But, for sheer entertainment value in the last 115 years, surely not one can compare with the funeral of comedian Malcolm Hardee on 17th February 2005. He drowned, drunk, aged 55.

The printed invitation to and running order for the religious service in St Alfege’s church, Greenwich, was headed:

YOU LUCKY BASTARD!

The invitation to & running order for Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The invitation to Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

The Daily Telegraph ran a news item on the funeral the following day (yes, it printed a review of the funeral) which was headlined: Funeral at Which the Mourners’ Tears Were Caused by Laughter.

The review said: “Rarely can there have been so much laughter and irreverence at a funeral service and rarely can it have been more appropriate”.

The Sun also ran a review of the funeral, headlined Dead Funny – Comic Mal’s Wacky Send-Off pointing out that “instead of a wreath on his coffin, pals placed a lifebelt and an L-plate. in church, the congregation leapt to their feet and applauded as if he was taking to the stage one last time. they included comics Vic Reeves, Harry Hill, Johnny Vegas, Phill Jupitus, David Baddiel, Jerry Sadowitz and Keith Allen.”

In the ten years since Malcolm’s death, his funeral has been oft-talked about but never repeated. Well, one doesn’t with funerals.

More wreaths at Malcolm Hardee’s funeral

More sentimental wreaths at the  funeral

As comedy critic Kate Copstick is still stranded in Kenya with a non-functional computer and a dodgy mobile phone, the Grouchy Club Podcast this week has posted the uncut audio of Malcolm’s funeral service. It includes tributes by Jo Brand, Jools Holland, Stewart Lee and Arthur Smith and lasts 75 extraordinary minutes – especially extraordinary because the laughter, cheers and applause are happening during a church service. The running order is:

Vicar intro
Hymn: All Things Bright and Beautiful
Arthur Smith
Steve Bowditch
Vicar
Hymn: For Those in Peril on The Sea
Frank Hardee (Malcolm’s son)
Stewart Lee
Vicar
Jools Holland
Arthur Smith
Jo Brand
Arthur Smith
Al Richardson
Arthur Smith & Vicar
Owen O’Neill
Alessandro Bernardi
Vicar
Quotations from, among others, Deke De Core, Steve Frost, Alex Hardee, Clare Hardee, Chris Luby, Martin Potter, ‘Sir Ralph’, Arthur Smith, Martin Soan and Paul ‘Wizo’ Wiseman
Hymn: Jerusalem
Blessing
Coffin out (worth listening to)

This year, the three annual increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards given in his memory…

The Malcolm Hardee Awards, with ‘Million’ award in middle

The Awards for comic originality, best cunning stunt and for ‘act most likely to make a million quid’

…will be announced and presented during the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – two hours of bizarre and original variety – in the Ballroom of The Counting House in Edinburgh on Friday 28th August, 2300-0100.

The judges this year are:

Marissa Burgess
Kate Copstick
John Fleming
Jay Richardson
Claire Smith

Comperes Miss Behave and Janey Godley will host the bizarre and original variety acts and the World Egg Throwing Federation will supervise the Scottish National Russian Egg Roulette Championships featuring star comedy names.

The 75 minute audio recording of Malcolm Hardee’s funeral is on Podomatic and iTunes.

On YouTube, there is a 10-minute video tribute to Malcolm, produced by Karen Koren:

 

 

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