Tag Archives: The Iceman

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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AIM – The end of the Iceman’s live act? + Van Gogh and the boxing kangaroos

The Iceman holds a Christmas card inside the Festival Hall.

Iceman holds a Christmas card inside the Royal Festival Hall. (And why shouldn’t he?)

At the beginning of December last year, I received 10 e-mails and 22 JPEGs of paintings of blocks of ice from my speciality act chum The Iceman. His stage act involves melting blocks of ice. That is his entire act. I blogged about it.

He said he was now calling himself AIM – Anthony Irvine Man – and suggested I should write a new blog entitled:

THE PAINTER FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE ICEMAN BREAKS/DOUBLES VINCENT VAN GOGH’S RECORD, SELLING 2 PAINTINGS IN HIS LIFETIME.

Since then, we have had a chat about it. We met in the Topolski Gallery/Bar under Waterloo Bridge in London.

“You told me the man who bought your painting,” I said, “was going to explain why.”

“Yes. He wrote to me,” said The Iceman, taking out a piece of paper. “He says: The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and…”

“Cheap?” I suggested.

One of The Iceman’s acclaimed paintings

“Honest, charming and fascinating” – his faux-naïf paintings

“No,” said the Iceman. “I got him into three figures…The paintings of The Iceman are honest, charming and fascinating. He is an artist whose practice has developed at a glacial rate over a lifetime and each act seems considered but not over-thought. His fixation on ice, the melting process and how that relates to him – his life experience – in a symbolic way – is intriguing and perhaps even deep…

“He wants to buy a second picture. He says: The faux-naïf handling of paint is suggestive of Basquiat or perhaps Dubuffet and art brut. In any case, it is defiantly anti-slick or perhaps anti-consumerist. It is refreshingly populist work, like a kind of ascetically-charged graffiti, piquant piracy, shades of Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

“So you are at last being properly considered as a serious artist?” I asked.

“Yes. I feel it’s time to do a proper exhibition. I’ve done about 137 paintings now. They need to be displayed en masse. I have finally found my métier. I think I am just going to keep producing. My subject matter is rather consistent.”

“Blocks of ice,” I said.

“Yes,” said The Iceman.

“So are you not going to do live performances any more?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. I never realised I was a painter until this late in life.”

“If Hitler had realised his destiny was to be a painter,” I suggested, “we wouldn’t have had all that trouble.”

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman hard at work in his outdoor English studio in 2014

“I am thinking,” said The Iceman, “of increasing production: doing one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.”

“Won’t that devalue your unit retail cost?” I asked.

“You are right,” mused the Iceman. “Maybe I should slow production down instead.”

“All your paintings are based on photographs?” I asked.

“Yes. Stills of my blocks of ice. Or stills of moving pictures of my blocks of ice. I could not paint without the photo.”

“Why not?”

“Actually,” he said thoughtfully, “that might be my next series of paintings. The imagination series. I think I have developed my own style.” There was a long pause. “I don’t know what my style is, but it is recognisable. On my website, I’ve got every painting I’ve ever done. I sold one photo off my website – Block 183 – so, technically, I have sold two pictures: one was an oil painting and one was a photograph.”

“You are on a roll,” I said encouragingly. “How have you survived financially?”

“I work with teenagers,” said The Iceman. “It’s educational work. Helping them realise their potential. But I don’t play football.”

“Ah,” I said.

“I have done some odd things,” The Iceman continued. “I did a boxing kangaroo act. I was the referee in a duo with a live kangaroo. Circo Moira Orfei in Italy. She was a fading film star. I had to go round saying Cugino! Cugino! Her cousin was called Filippo.”

“Did you live in a tent or in a caravan?” I asked.

“I lived in a truck with the kangaroo – there was a partition. We had a kangaroo and then collected a younger one from the airport, so I ended up living in the truck with two kangaroos. The poor young one got a lot of rollicking from the older one.”

“How long were you with the kangaroos?” I asked.

“A couple of months. I had to run away on Christmas Day.”

“Why?”

“I had a fracas in the audience and the acrobats were angry because it was at the moment of their ‘death-defying balance’ and so they were all out to get me because I caused them to stumble. I ran away and they ran after me running away, but they didn’t catch me.”

“It’s not their area of expertise,” I suggested.

“I suppose not,” said The Iceman.

“Tell me more about the boxing kangaroo,” I prompted.

A kangaroo boxing poster from the 1890s

A proud tradition – a poster from the 1890s

“We did the routine in a proper boxing ring and we knocked each other out – the other guy, Filippo, and me – quite a slick physical banging routine. Then I had to get the kangaroo by its tail and drag it into the ring. The first day, one of the roustabouts from Morocco tripped me up and I fell on the kangaroo’s bottom, which got a big laugh. Once the kangaroo was in the ring, I was supposed to give him his mating call and irritate him and dig him in the ribs. Then he gets angry and tries to get hold of Filippo.”

“Why didn’t he try to get hold of you?”

“Because Filippo was teasing him as well and he was more experienced in annoying the kangaroo.  Filippo told me I was too kind to the kangaroo in the ring. The poor thing had boxing gloves on, so it looked like he was boxing but he was trying to grab Filippo round the neck. Sometimes, he would get him round the neck and one of my jobs was to release the forepaws if the kangaroo was really angry. If the kangaroo was really, really angry, he might hold onto Filippo with his forepaws and kick him to death with his hind legs. Kangaroos have very strong hind legs but their forepaws are less strong.”

“You did this job just for kicks?” I asked.

“There was a lot of comedy,” said The Iceman, “because he would kick Filippo and I, as referee, had to tell the kangaroo off.”

“You never got kicked?” I asked.

“Not seriously. His irritation was more directed at Filippo… I have slightly mixed feelings talking about all this. It is quite sad when you think about it. But I was young. The animals I felt sorriest for were the tigers. The circus had elephants who killed some of the people.”

Death defying circus stunts were common back in the day

Death defying circus stunts were common

“In the audience?”

“No, the people looking after them. But the tigers just went round and round. Terrible conditions, really. I’m not really very pro-circus, animal-wise. Looking back, it was all a bit sad, really. That image of the tigers is the one that haunts me most. They had gone mad and were going round and round and round.”

“You toured with this circus?” I asked.

“Not for very long, because I had to run away from the acrobats.”

“When was this?”

“Around 1980.”

“When circuses were circuses.”

“Yes. So many animals. Birds, vultures and incredible trapeze artists. There was a clown who played the saw. Every cliché.”

“Why were you working in this circus?” I asked.

“I used to go to clown workshops at the Oval House in London. To me, to be a proper clown in a big circus was my apotheosis. Is that the right word?”

“I have no idea,” I said. “Why an Italian circus?”

“Because I met the mother of a clown. His father had died in the ring.”

“Killed by an elephant?”

“I have no idea. It seems unlikely.”

“That was your only circus experience?”

“Yes. I moved on…”

“To…?”

“Experimental theatre. In those days, there were a lot of small-scale touring theatres.”

Iceman painting - “I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“You should paint kangaroos,” I suggested.

“No. Only ice blocks. That’s my genre. To depart from that would spell doom. Each picture I have done is unique.”

“They are all blocks of ice,” I pointed out.

“But they are each unique,” said The Iceman. “I have never painted anything without quite a strong feeling.”

“Quite a strong feeling of…?” I asked.

There was a pause. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “That is a very good question…. Maybe a feeling of bringing something alive long after the event when it existed.”

“Giving eternal life to a transient thing?”

“That could be it,” agreed The Iceman.

“Let’s assume it is,” I suggested.

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Are North Korean cyber attacks now targeting fringe comedy acts?

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman is not really a technologically advanced act

I thought I was over my flu of last week but I slept all day yesterday, so my body obviously knows something I don’t.

Which could explain the brief blog yesterday and today.

But I am not alone in my woes.

Last night, I got a plaintive e-mail from the iconic – or ice comic – cult act The Iceman. It read:


Someone external hacked into my website and obliterated it and even activated “no” search engines.

Have you ever heard of this sort of thing happening other than to big corporations!/governments?

It must have been quite a determined person.

Have I a cyber space enemy?

Or a game player?

Or could it be my server/host? – They seem to think it is me who might have compromised my details but I don’t think I ever have.

Could it happen from not signing off on dashboard? Ice-ertainly would be interested to know your opinion. There is a possible blog! ICEMAN UNDER ATTACK!

Paradice almost lost - The Iceman’s website cyber attacked

Parad-ice almost lost – The Iceman’s website cyber attacked

The website is more or less back to normal (for a fee) but it was traumatice for me and I took it very personally.

Do you think my host is liable? – I do pay an annual fee to them.

Production of painted ice blocks has slowed down because of weather conditions in the studio.


The good news for The Iceman is that snow is forecast for today and, at the weekend, an Arctic wind should be sweeping through the British Isles causing a horrendous wind chill factor.

PS. No, of course North Korean cyber attacks are not now targeting fringe comedy acts.

I blame the remnants of flu for this sort of headline.

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Performance artist The Iceman – now as successful as Van Gogh in his lifetime

The Iceman has had several brushes with fame

The Iceman had several brushes with fame during his career

Via Skype, I talked to my chum the legendary – some might say semi-mythical – British alternative comedy / performance artist The Iceman.

“You were kind enough to show some interest in my paintings,” he said.

He has been melting and numbering blocks of ice on stage around the UK for at least 30 years.

I first encountered him when I auditioned acts for The Last Resort With Jonathan Ross TV series in 1987.

For almost that long, he has been taking Polaroid photographs of his blocks of ice and trying to sell signed faxes and photocopies of the Polaroids for surprising amounts of money.

To varying effect.

Now he has a new artistic idea.

He has started to create oil paintings of the Polaroid photos of his blocks of ice.

“You recommended an art gallery in London,” The Iceman told me. “I mentioned that he probably heckled me at the Tunnel Club and he ignored my e-mail.”

“Why have you decided to become a fine artist instead of a performance artist?” I asked.

“Has the interview started?” asked The Iceman.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. “Why are you wearing a large hat?”

“It is meant to make me look like a painter,” said The Iceman. “I thought you might be interested to compare an original Polaroid…” (He held up a photocopy of a Polaroid)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 Polaroid

The Iceman holds aloft the Polaroid of the original Block 220

“…with a painting.” (He held up a painting.)

The Iceman holds up Block 220 painting

Iceman holds aloft the painting of the Polaroid of Block 220

“That is Block 220 –  the most recent block I painted. Do you see any resemblance?”

“I can’t afford it,” I said. “How much is it?”

“It is not for sale,” said The Iceman.

“Why is it not for sale?”

“It is an original,” said the Iceman. “I am not sure I am happy to sell the originals. The National Gallery or Tate Modern might want them. So, a bit like the Polaroids, I will only sell signed copies of the paintings.”

“Perhaps,” I suggested, “you could take Polaroids of the paintings and sell the Polaroids of the paintings of the Polaroids of the original blocks?”

“Did you hear about the probe landing on the comet full of ice?” asked The Iceman.

“Yes,” I said. “Has anything landed on you?”

“My hat,” said The Iceman.

Mr Methane in his artistic hat and bow tie

The Iceman talked in his hat and bow tie with attendant duck

“Is the bow tie,” I asked, “there to make you look artistic as well?”

“Y-ice,” said The Iceman. “I am finding my sound quality is not very good.”

“With the bow tie?” I asked.

“With Skype,” said The Iceman.

“So why do paintings?” I asked.

“Well,” said The Iceman, “I took the Polaroids to capture a live moment during my non-act so that the blocks lived on, though in a different physical form. So, recently, I thought Why not change the medium? and, although I had no experience of oil painting, I decided to do oil paintings of them. Block by block. I have done 23 so far. I do about one a week.”

“Which is your favourite?” I asked.

“I quite like Block 220,” said The Iceman. “I think some of them are quite moving.”

“That is a little scary,” I said. “All in oils?”

“All reliable?” asked The Iceman.

“All in oils?” I repeated.

“My sound quality is not very good,” said The Iceman. “I thought of doing water-colours – melted-ice-colours – but I think oils suits me best. I have been told water colours are more difficult because all the colours merge.”

“But why paint them at all?” I asked.

Block 202

Block 202 with audience – as interpreted by The Iceman

“I do not want to be pomp-ice,” said The Iceman, “but I think the point I am making is I am just interpreting these blocks in my own way and what I lack in technique and skill I like to think I make up with heart. So I think quite carefully before I paint and then I do it in quite a fast manner.

“It is a bit like my original so-called act. I lacked technique and skill, but I think there was something that I was sharing with the publ-ice. I am hoping sometime soon to have a gallery situation where I have a sequence of Polaroids underneath the paintings. Or maybe above them. And, of course, I would be melting a block of ice in the gallery at the same time. So there would be all types of things happening at once. A live performance, wise sayings and the archive and the more recent interpretation of the archive.

“I have the numbered blocks which I am doing in oils. When I do the adjectival blocks, I might do them in watercolours.”

“Why,” I asked, “are some blocks adjectival?”

“I have not numbered some blocks in sequence,” said The Iceman, “so I have to give them names.”

“What sort of names?”

“Blue block.”

“Why did you call it Blue Block?” I asked.

The Iceman in his studio earlier this year

The Iceman in his studio on England’s South Coast this year

“Bedraggled Block,” continued The Iceman. “Things like that. If people visit the blog on my website, they will see them. At the moment, the only visitors telling me: We can increase your search engine visitors by 400%. Do you get that?”

“For about six months,” I said, “I was getting e-mails from companies saying they could increase my breast size. Penis size might have been a fair comment, but I think my breasts are too big as they are.”

“It is a funny thing, this cyber sp-ice,” said The Iceman. “But I know you are a great networker and you have millions of hits on your web blog, so I am hoping – much as I am talking to you from friendship, of course – that you can help me create some interest in my paintings from the public. I think they have got something.”

“The public?” I asked.

“My paintings,” replied The Iceman.

“Doesn’t,” I asked, “a painting of one block of ice look very similar to a painting of another block of ice?”

Block 215

Block 215 “based on authentice Polaroid of live performance”

“No,” said The Iceman. “That is what is interesting. Every block I paint is startlingly different.”

“Startlingly?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” repeated The Iceman. “The Polaroids do, some of them, look quite similar, but the paintings look startlingly different.”

“In what way?” I asked.

“Startlingly,” said The Iceman. “Visually.”

“Ah,” I said.

Block 282

Block 282 – “Battersice Arts Cicer 4 hour melt with Vladimice”

“The colours,” said The Iceman. “And the interpretation of the audience members. I am not very good at drawing a human figure or face, but I am developing. The paintings come across as quite child-ice in some ways. But maybe succ-ice awaits.”

“How many paintings have you sold so far?” I asked.

“Sold?” asked The Iceman, surprised. “One.”

“That,” I said, “makes you as good as Van Gogh.”

“I think,” said The Iceman, “that I may put people off by saying Pr-ice-l-ice unaffordable and that sort of thing.”

“What sort of prices are we talking about?” I asked.

“I like the painting because it is more thoughtful and reflective than the act,” said The Iceman, ignoring my question. “More intense in an odd way.”

“So have you,” I asked, “lost the urge to melt?”

“I have edged the blocks out, yes. I am still willing to go out occasionally, but something I asked myself quite often is Has the last block already occurred?

I hope not.

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Neil Mullarkey of The Comedy Store Players on 1980s alternative comedy

The Comedy Store in London last night

The Comedy Store, London, yesterday evening

I went to see The Comedy Store Players’ improvisation show last night. They perform twice weekly at The Comedy Store in London. Before the show, I chatted to Neil Mullarkey, one of the founding members, in the dressing room.

“In the old Comedy Store in Leicester Square,” said Neil, “there was no toilet in the dressing room. There was a sink you could pee in. Sometimes a woman would say: I’m going to have a pee; do you mind leaving the room? And we did. Otherwise they’d have had to go all round and queue up with the punters. But now we have a toilet.”

“Most comedians,” I said, “are barking mad, but you’re now a businessman, so you can’t be that mad.”

Neil runs improvisation workshops under the name Improv Your Biz – “using improvisational theatre to enhance people’s skills in communication, leadership and innovation.”

He told me last night: “I apply the skills and ethos of improv to business people, but I don’t consider myself a business person. I still do the Comedy Store Players, but that’s about the only showbiz I do these days. I really enjoy teaching people and looking at how organisations run. I have made my choices and I feel very pleased by them.

“The idea of getting in a car or a train and going to some distant place and doing a gig to some people who are drunk and not that interested and then coming home again does not appeal to me greatly. In how many professions do you want the customer to be inebriated? I can only think of two – gambling and prostitution.

“It drives me mad sometimes when I do a corporate gig and they tell me: It’s cabaret seating. And I say: No, what you mean is it’s catering seating. I tell them: I would like a theatre style, if possible, so the audience can be as close to one another as possible because laughter is social. You need to be near someone else laughing, facing the stage and not at a table where you’re half looking over your shoulder. And I also say: Can I go on before dinner?”

“Why?” I asked.

Because the audience then is not drunk and tired. A friend of mine says the audience loses interest exponentially every minute after 9.30pm. That’s at a corporate gig where they haven’t invested to come and see the show. In a club it’s slightly different because they have decided to come and watch a comedy show.”

“Which audience is more drunk, though?” I asked.

“In the 1980s,” said Neil, “when the Comedy Store Players did corporate gigs and asked for suggestions from the audience, I was shocked by the level of filth the audience would shout out. These were people in front of their boss! But those were the days when there was an unlimited bar, so all social convention went out the window.”

Neil used to be in a double act – Mullarkey & Myers – with Mike Myers, who went on to appear in Saturday Night Live on US TV and to write and star in the Austin Powers movies. There is a YouTube video of Mullarkey & Myers in their 1985 Edinburgh Fringe show.

“The Comedy Store Players started in 1985,” Neil told me, “and around that time I used to host the Tuesday night and Mike and I did a longer 40-minute version of our show. We were on the bill with people like The Brown Paper Bag Brothers (Otis Cannelloni and John Hegley) and then, starting at 10.00pm or 10.30pm was the Open Mike Night and, by 2.00am, it was very odd. You had people with musical instruments talking about their time in mental health institutions.

“An Open Mike night at a comedy club back then did attract a certain kind of strange person. Now they have social media and other places to say what they might want to say. But that’s what the alternative comedy circuit was like in the 1980s. You’d be in some dodgy pub, there would be three people in the audience and twelve people performing and you would split the door take of £3. It was great fun.”

“Sounds much like it is now,” I said. “but there was maybe more of a variety of different types of act back then.”

“There was The Iceman,” said Neil.

The Iceman’s act – as previously blogged about – was simply to melt a block of ice. But he usually failed.

“I remember,” said Neil, “being at Banana Cabaret – a vast space – and there were three people howling with laughter at The Iceman – me, Mike Myers and Ian McPherson – all performers. All the ‘normal’ people were thinking: Where’s the entertainment in this? What’s going on? What’s the point? It was just brilliant, wonderful. It was such a riposte to showbiz smoothness and slickness that it was a joy to behold.”

“Did he have the repetitious music?” I asked.

I can’t realise you love me,” sang Neil enthusiastically. “And the sounds. Shhh-wssshhhhh. With the thunder and the rain. And then, after about 15 or 18 minutes it was I can’t realise you love me – But I don’t love you! – What?

“That was a joy to us. A joy. Because we had seen boring, hack performers.”

“Even then?” I asked.

“When I started in the 1980s with Mike Myers and Nick Hancock and occasionally on my own,” said Neil, “there would be a room above a pub and the other acts were weird non-professional stand-ups in their work clothes. Mike and I had rehearsed and put on different clothes to do the show. We did theatrical sketches that asked you to create the fourth wall.

“I remember one time in the mid-to-late 1980s seeing this very talented young guy – an open spot – who had incredible stage presence doing characters. He ran offstage between characters to change his costume and he had his manager with him. A manager! I had not heard this idea of having a manager. Surely you just turned up and took the cash? The act was a man called Steve Coogan.

Neil in the Comedy Store dressing room last night

Neil in the London Comedy Store’s dressing room last night

“Now there are people who were born after I started who leave university or college and say I want to be a comedian and they have a manager who will give them £50 a week and get them on the road and they can get better at their job and make a career. That was unheard-of in my day.

“When I started, there was The Comedy Store, Jongleurs, the Earth Exchange, a few student gigs and CAST New Variety. So there wasn’t much chance of making a career of it until, gradually, people like Off the Kerb and Avalon started opening up the idea of student shows and clubs outside London.”

“Aah! the Earth Exchange,” I said, “there’s the story of some act who threw meat at the audience and was not booked again.”

The Earth Exchange in Archway Road served only vegetarian food and the room was so tiny it felt as if the performers were almost sitting on your table.

“Steve Bowditch of The Greatest Show On Legs,” remembered Neil, “used to do a show called Naff Cabaret with a guy called Fred and the story is that, at the Earth Exchange, he pulled a top hat out of a rabbit.”

“Presumably a stuffed rabbit?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Neil. “It was one of those stories you hear.”

I think both of us hoped it was a real rabbit.

I asked Steve Bowditch about it this morning.

“Did you really pull a top hat out of a rabbit?” I asked him.

“Not that I remember,” said Steve. “But I might have done…”

Memory fades after a career in surrealism.

Neil also remembered: “They had a toilet onstage – Naff Cabaret – a toilet! and there would be showbiz music and – Ta-Daaah!! – they would pull a sausage out of the toilet as if it was a poo. Freud would have applauded this because comedy is We’re laughing at death and poo is death. Scatology is our escape from the inevitability of mortality.”

“I didn’t go to Cambridge University like you,” I said, “so I’ve not heard the idea that Comedy is laughing at death before.”

“Who knows?” said Neil. “Something like that. I haven’t read it myself, but I’m prepared to quote it. Why do we want laughter?… Is it to purge ourselves of the dark thoughts we have – and so the clown, the jester, the comedian brings out the darkness and makes it somehow acceptable?

Howard Jacobson writes wonderfully about how Comedy should be gritty and earthy and bring out all the snot and filth, because that’s its job. I dunno that I agree with that, but I can see there’s a role. You could say Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr are bringing out all the stuff that we dare not speak in regular discourse and making it entertainment, making the world somehow cleansed or purged.”

… CONTINUED HERE

ADDENDUM

Comedian Nick Revell tells me that the ‘Top Hat Out Of The Rabbit’ routine was done by Lumiere and Son in their 1980 show Circus Lumiere… and the act banned from the Earth Exchange for throwing meat was The Port Stanley Amateur Dramatic Society (Andy Linden and Cliff Parisi).

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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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