Tag Archives: Torture Garden

Sara Mason: How will she follow-up her banned “Beginner’s Guide to Bondage”?

Exactly one month ago, I posted a blog about how performer Sara Mason had lost her Leicester Comedy Festival venue next February because, after the programme had been printed, the venue owner decided he did not want her Beginner’s Guide to Bondage show to soil his floorboards.

I asked Sara this week about the effect of the blog.


SARA: It had a wonderful effect. First of all, I was interviewed in the Leicester Mercury. Then I got on BBC Radio Leicester. And then Big Difference managed to book me into Just The Tonic at The Shed for the same slot on the same night – Valentine’s Night at 9.30pm. Then another venue owner who had been ignoring all my emails rang me up and offered a venue – too late. So clearly notoriety in your blog had an effect. Meanwhile, this week, I am doing A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage at Kentish Town in London – this coming Friday and Sunday.

Sara’s show CAN be seen in Kentish Town in London on 14th and 16th December

JOHN: So people who don’t want to traipse to Leicester in February can see it in London this week.

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe again next August?

SARA: Yes.

JOHN: What are you doing with it between February in Leicester and August in Edinburgh?

SARA: I might do it again in Brighton in May. But I also have a new idea I would like to do.

JOHN: Oooh…

SARA: An Intermediate Guide to Bondage would be interesting, because then I could look at the oddities that people have, like mummification and the…

JOHN: Whoaa! What?

SARA: Mummification with cling film wrap. À chacun son goût.

JOHN: This is not for beginners?

SARA: Well, in A Beginner’s Guide, you would not really want to cover the more out-there fetishes. Even a Pony Boy or Pony Girl might be a bit too much.

JOHN: Whoaa! again.

SARA: A Pony Boy. You put a bridle on them and, hopefully, a butt-plug with a tail and then you ride around on them or make them pull your carriage.

JOHN: Why ‘hopefully’ a butt-plug?

SARA: Well, because not everyone wants a tail butt-plug. They have a bit in their teeth and they go Neeeiiiggghhh! Neeeiiiggghhh! You crack the whip as you ride them. Neeeiiiggghhh! Whinny! Whinny! all that sort of stuff. It’s hardcore. It’s a bit more than anything in The Beginner’s Guide to Bondage.

JOHN: If you are teaching people about bondage, should there be ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels? 

SARA: Possibly.

JOHN: Would there be a third show after A Beginner’s Guide and An Intermediate Guide?

SARA: An Advanced Guide? Well, some of these fetishes are more understandable and approachable than others. Some are more for the diehards. Mummification, I think, is quite funny. And then, of course, there are rubber fetishes.

Angelic Sara Mason at the Soho Theatre Bar

I told you about going to Torture Garden and a couple came in, both dressed up as frogmen or women. They were completely encased in rubber from head to toe. One was tall; one was short; but it was impossible to tell which was the man and which was the woman.

JOHN: With flippers?

SARA: Yes. And, after a moment, they opened a little zip in their crotch, mounted a stirrup table and began copulating. The noise was squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak squeak-squeak like a very squeaky bed. Not very frog-like. That would have been more…

JOHN: …riveting?

SARA: Yes. But the amazing thing was I still couldn’t tell which one was a boy. After a while, they climbed off and zipped themselves up. I had to stop and just laugh. It was one of the funniest things I had ever seen.

JOHN: Why have you got a bit of rubber on your finger? Is that a fetish?

SARA: No.I have a poorly finger. It is kinesiology tape. It has a stretch to it and is good for inflammation but I think I have arthritis, which is neither sexy nor mistressy, though luckily it is my left hand.

JOHN: A big relief for us all. In A Beginners Guide, you play the role of Mistress Venetia. Are you developing that character?

SARA: I am thinking of making her an agony aunt because, at the end of my show in Edinburgh this year, I did suggest that, if anyone wanted private lessons, I could oblige. And quite a number of girls did approach me to say they would like private lessons in domination. They wanted to learn to be a bit more ‘dom’. So that was intriguing because I had put it in as a bit of a joke but, in fact, I did have a few takers. There probably is a niche market out there for ladies who want to learn the business.

JOHN: Any other offers to audience members?

SARA: I have offered free fistings to any Brexiteers in the audience.

JOHN: So what is Mistress Venetia’s character?

Sara as “lovably dotty” Mistress Venetia

SARA: She is a ‘dotty’ dominatrix.

JOHN: How dotty?

SARA: Well, she’s lovably dotty.

JOHN: She dots the eyes and crosses the tease?

SARA: She’s a bit dotty because some of her ideas are really quite ‘out there’.

JOHN: The show is billed as comedy. Is it comedy because you put in lots of jokes or because what you are talking about is not quite as serious as the customers think?

SARA: I think what they do IS quite funny. A lot of it is very funny.

JOHN: But, in the real world, the men being dominated presumably don’t think of it as being humorous.

SARA: There can be a lot of laughter in the dungeons. If you don’t like laughing, you wouldn’t enjoy a session of domination with me.

JOHN: …if you were a real dominatrix and not a performer.

SARA: …if I were a real dominatrix and not a performer. (LAUGHS) I think you use your own personality no matter what you do. Mistress Venetia is dotty and quite funny. If you approach domination and say this is a very frightening, traumatic, torturous thing then, OK, I am not gonna wanna play with you. You are not my type of playmate. My type of playmate wants excitement, joy and doesn’t mind if I take the piss out of him.

JOHN: Sometimes literally.

SARA: Exactly. In the show, Mistress Venetia says she doesn’t mind the occasional golden shower. It can be quite refreshing. But scat is a kink too far from me. I don’t judge anybody for whatever their fetish is. Everybody has the right to whatever sexual expression they want and, certainly, if you’ve never tried something, you have no right to judge about it.

There are certain things that are not my cup of tea but good luck to the people who want to do them. Scat is not for me.

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A wee chat about what it is like to live as a married man in women’s clothing

Sandra Smith: a woman of many costumes

Sandra Smith: a woman of many costumes

Last Saturday night I went to fetish club Torture Garden’s Love Hurts Valentine’s Ball, at Elephant and Castle, with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith.

I posted a blog about it.

Here Sandra Smith, too, shares a memory.


While John went to change into his outfit, I got into conversation with a man who was dressed in female attire.

She said her name was Katie.

We chatted at the foot of the stairs for a while, then moved into one of the rooms to continue our conversation.

Katie told me that she was 44, with a degree in Analytical Chemistry.

She had started to wear women’s clothing on hitting puberty, a time when she had wanted to get a girlfriend but couldn’t.

I suggested maybe cross-dressing was an unusual reaction to that.

She laughed and said: “Yes, I suppose it was.”

Katie said that she loved her wife, wanted to have sex with her, but felt neglected and shut-out after the children were born. Her wife always had some excuse not to have sex.

I suggested that she probably IS tired with two young children.

Katie brushed this aside.

I asked Katie what cross-dressing made her feel like and what it gave her.

She said that, when dressed as a woman, she loved the attention that she got from men. It made her feel desired, an affirmation of self.

This had led to many sexual encounters with men.

I asked her what sort of man was she attracted to.

“Anyone that will have me, really…”

We laughed at that.

“…although I do like black men,” she continued, “I wonder if women are attracted to men that cross-dress – in a sexual way I mean?”

“I’m sure there are those that are,” I replied.

Katie also mentioned that she loved looking feminine, would love to have breasts and some work done on her face to feminise it even more.

A year ago, she told her wife about her need to cross-dress and her sexual encounters with other people. This naturally had not gone down very well. But she feels that they are moving on a bit now, after much discussion.

Her wife has gone from saying about her feminine underwear: “I’m not touching those!” to “Are these yours or mine?”

Most weekends, she tolerates Katie going out as her female self, but Katie changes at a friend’s house. Her wife doesn’t feel that she can tell anyone about the situation, so only has her husband to talk to. She wants to keep the marriage going but the way forward isn’t clear, even though Katie has suggested they continue in an open marriage.

Katie adopts her male role during the week and at work and feels that nobody knows about her other life, apart from the other like-minded people that she socialises with.

I felt a bit sad for them all: caught in a situation that seems to me to be so difficult emotionally.

Katie doesn’t want to talk to anyone formally at the moment, but this may change.

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My night dressed as a woman at a fetish club: what happened at end of the night

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE EASILY OFFENDED

Do I make a good woman? Is the jury still out?

Do I make a good woman? Is the jury still out?

Comedian Will Franken cross-dressed as a woman for six months last year. I only did it for seven hours on Saturday night.

On Sunday morning, I got a text from Sandra Smith, this blog’s South Coast correspondent, saying: “It’s the first time that I’ve ever walked into a pub with my tights around my ankles.”

A couple of months ago, performer Frank Sanazi (he sings like Frank Sinatra; looks like Adolf Hitler) asked me to come and see his new singing act ‘Elvis Corpsely’ – Elvis Presley back from the dead. He told me he was performing it for the first time at Torture Garden, the monthly BDSM fetish club.

And so he did this weekend, on Valentine’s Night (well, 9.00pm Saturday to 6.00am Sunday).

I went to Torture Garden maybe twenty years ago with comedian Tony Green. I blogged about it in 2011.

Tony knew Sophie Seashell, who had booked bizarre acts for that night. The Tiger Lillies performed. As did the extraordinary Andrew Bailey. In the cabaret section, it felt like they were trying to re-create a feel of the decadent Weimar Republic nightclubs in Germany between the Wars.

This year, I thought of going dressed formally

This year, I thought of going dressed formally

Twenty years ago, as now, Torture Garden had a dress code. Tony Green, wearing a white straw hat, a rather louche suit and looking a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who. was told by the Torture Garden doorperson: “You’re OK. You look perverted.” Alas, my loud, hippie Indian-style shirt was not deemed a suitable costume. The people on the door conferred and suggested I take my shirt off so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front.

With that, I was allowed in.

Since then, though, the dress code has been tightened, if that is the word to use.

Now the rules read:

You can’t wear a fetish top with normal black trousers or vice versa, we do not allow jeans, even black ones, no suits, no camo, no cotton underpants, no regular party dresses that you could wear to any club, no normal black trousers that you could wear anywhere and although full theatrical costumes are fine, cheesy fancy dress is not. Dresscode is enforced throughout the night. TG is a home for people that want to express the most extreme version of their fetish fantasy alter ego, so take this opportunity to push your boundaries.

BDSM and fetish are not my thing. I am quite happy with a picture of Baby Spice and a peach. So my wardrobe does not include anything remotely suitable.

So, on Saturday afternoon, I found myself in the car park at Beckenham railway station as Frank Sanazi handed over to me a long leather Gestapo coat – genuine, from the 1940s – and a small hand whip.  He had temporarily lost his Nazi armband down the back of a bookcase in his living room.

With legs like these, I could have a second career

With these legs, could I have a second career?

This was my fallback costume. But I also know comedian Sara Mason, whose Edinburgh Fringe show this year will be called A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage.

Which is how I found myself in her bedroom in Fulham at teatime. She was – for reasons I did not ask – particularly keen that I should go in drag.

So I tried on various shoes, stockings, panties, black tops and wigs. Sara seemed unsettlingly keen on dressing me in a variety of things, though I did stop at the offer of a butt plug.

I was going to Torture Garden with this blog’s South Coast correspondent Sandra Smith, also not a BDSM fan, who, while I was trying on my flattering fishnet tights in Fulham, was glueing studs onto her black jacket in Brighton.

Later that night I met Pete Cunningham – aka Frank Sanazi – at a pub in Elephant and Castle and he told me: “I’m playing Tel Aviv on the 7th of April.”

“As Frank Sanazi?” I asked.

“Yes,”

“That should be interesting,” I said.

“I’m doing two gigs out there” he explained. “I’m opening for The Producers in Tel Aviv. It’s the first time they’ve shown the film out there. I’m doing my songs as a warm-up for the film. And I’m also doing a burlesque night – they have a dark burlesque night. I was a bit apprehensive at first, because imagine checking in at the airport.”

“It could be a tough gig,” I suggested.

“Well,” he said, “if I can play Berlin, as I did a couple of weeks ago, and last year I did Vienna – why not Israel this year and New York next year?”

This blog’s South Coast correspondent (initials SS) Sandra Smith

Prestigious blog’s South Coast correspondent (has initials SS)

At this point, Sandra Smith arrived at the pub. As she walked in, her tights fell down.

And then we went to Torture Garden.

Just as I found St Peter’s in the Vatican to be a decidedly non-spiritual and non-religious place, Torture Garden was decidedly non-erotic and the punters seemed to have changed in the last twenty years.

In the blog I posted about that visit, | wrote:

There was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.

My memory of twenty years ago was that there were a few decidedly odd people wandering around. Sexual thrills were in the air. Some had come over from Amsterdam for the night.

Frank Sanazi/Pete Cunningham as Elvis Corpsely

Pete Cunningham – now a real dead ringer for Elvis Corpsely

This time, people seemed more relaxed wandering around semi-naked or in bizarre get-ups and there were more of them – 2,000 people in The Coronet, a fairly small former cinema.

But, just as people say that modern Glastonbury Festival-goers are not like they used to be in the 1970s – today they are sometimes like tourists visiting a theme park far-removed from their comfortable suburban lives – so Torture Garden seemed a bit like a theme park where participants dressed-up for the occasion. There was no sexual tension in the air.

Until towards the end of the evening.

Sandra Smith and I were trapped in the venue until 5.00am by a lack of trains home.

Elvis Corpsely in performance

Dug up: Elvis Corpsely in performance

So we were sitting at one of a group of cafe tables by the bar behind the large dance floor, shouting at each other. You had to shout because of the loud, thumping, repetitive music.

Sitting at one of the adjoining round cafe tables was a couple – a young man and his topless girlfriend. And, at another table, a similar duo. All the other tables had similar couples and groups in various states of undress.

Sandra and I, by this point, were rather disappointed by the normality of it all.

Alright, there was a lot of naked flesh, leather thongs, PVC, latex and occasional studded choker collars with dog leads on display. But everyone was terribly polite, well-behaved and very very British and I observed to Sandra that any other bar in Elephant & Castle – or anywhere else in London, really – filled with people in their 20s knocking back large amounts of drink for hours on end, would have been less politely civilised. Our little cafe area was a bit like sitting in a Costa Cafe emporium with actors resting and chatting between takes in a Mad Max movie.

The girl in one of the couples at one of the tables next to us decided to make a thing of showing off her very nice breasts and adjusting her leather or plastic costume. This resulted in an invitation for her and her man to join the couple at the other adjoining table. and, over the course of the next five minutes or so, five or seven other young topless girls meandered over. I think the attraction was her breasts. There was much silent female amiability with the girls canoodling, snogging, kissing/feeling each others breasts and suchlike. All in a strangely innocent, only semi-passionate way.

Somewhere along the way a taller, thin girl was involved and another man sat down at the next table and, as she bent over, aiming her naked buttocks in our general direction, he started to insert his finger into her in what I suppose one might call an active penile impression.

This then continued when she stretched over to put her hands on the seat of a nearby plastic chair and he replaced his finger with a more appropriate length of his body and started making what Shakespeare called ‘the beast with two backs’.

The strange thing was that this uniformly rhythmic movement was an emotionless, almost mechanical, happening. No passion, not real excitement, no eroticism – just a meeting of meat in what William Burroughs called the soft machine.

It was one person who had an emotionless face doing something to (not really with) another person who had an emotionless face. Watching it was like having an out-of-body experience although, obviously, it would be incorrect to use that description for the two participants.

This ended without really ending. It just stopped. It had got nowhere and never was going to get anywhere. Then there was some other unemotional happenings with soft machines, some erect penises being played with by the two men (separately) and, at some point, a wet wipe was taken out and used for no apparent reason. It seemed more for show that for any practical necessity.

I have a feeling the object was to shock two old and presumed dull people sitting at the other table (us). But really, at this sort of event, this was a forlorn hope,

I suppose this was the climax of the night but – ironically – it involved no climax by anyone.

Sandra Smith’s opinion today was: “It seemed a lot tamer than I expected. One thing that did amuse me in that little scenario at the end was the girl in the midst of it all. While one man was fucking her at one end, she was giving the man at the other end a blow job but covered her head with a coat. With everything else going on, she covered her head with a coat! That amused me.”

Personally, I too am mystified why a coat was necessary for this but not the other parts of what I can only call the act.

Which it did seem to be.


For Sandra Smith’s blog about the evening, click HERE.


About a week after posting this blog and after it was mentioned on the Chortle comedy website, Chortle editor Steve Bennett got this comment from Israel:

I wanted to clarify a mistake in a report about Nazi in Tel-Aviv. It was said that The Producers will be shown in Israel for the first time. Well… The Producers is a huge cult movie over here and always have been. You’d be surprised how much the Holocaust in Israel is a common topic for comedy. Since it’s the land of the Jews no one can accuse us at being anti-semitic so we can take it one or few steps ahead.

Steve Bennett commented:

If you can’t trust the word of a man pretending to be Hitler, who can you trust?


There is a video of Torture Garden’s 2015 Valentine’s Night Ball on Vimeo

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“…both dressed in complete rubber frogmen gear with full gimp masks…”

I finished my daily blog on 31st December. But occasional quirkiness continues.

For example, comedian Sara Mason went to Torture Garden‘s Not The New Year’s Ball.

Sara’s Edinburgh Fringe show in August this year is going to be titled A Beginner’s Guide To Bondage (with live demonstrations).

TortureGarden

Yesterday, she told me that, in the couples room at the Not The New Year’s Ball…

“I observed a tall person (I’m assuming was male) and a very short person (I’m assuming was female – though I’ve no evidence for either of these assumptions).

“They were both dressed in complete rubber frogmen gear with full gimp masks with only little eyeholes and they walked around hand in hand and then proceeded to have sex on a gynecological chair in the centre of the room – in the missionary position, through two tiny slits in their suits.

“The squeaking noises of their copulation were quite intense and most distracting. But it was certainly one of the most amusing versions of sexual intimacy that I’ve ever been fortunate enough to observe. Vive la différence!

Photo of Sara by Nathalie Kerrio

Photograph of Sara Mason by Nathalie Kerrio

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Frank Sanazi, hijab stripping and Jesus Christ flying in for Hitler’s birthday gig

Pete covers up a nasty spot on his neck Frank Sanazi

Pete covers up a nasty or potentially Nazi spot on his neck

This blog was supposed to be posted on 1st April, until I realised there might be a credibility problem if I posted it on that date.

I had a chat with Pete Perke aka Pete Sinclair aka Pete Cunningham aka Tom Mones aka Frank Sanazi. Frank Sanazi sings like Frank Sinatra but looks like Adolf Hitler.

“So,” I said to Pete,  “you are going over to Austria as Frank Sanazi to celebrate Hitler’s birthday.”

“Well,” he said, “Kulture Banane,  the Austrian boylesque troupe, have become massive in Austria and have asked me to go over and do my show Das Vegas Nights (Zis Time We Win) on 18th April, two days before Hitler’s birthday. Actually, I only recently realised that Hitler was born on 20th April, which is Aries. That would make him a genuine Arian.”

“They’re just boylesque?” I asked. “Not Nazi boylesque in short trousers?”

“Well,” said Pete, “one of the guys – he could be a woman for all I know – performs a hijab act which is basically strip burlesque.”

“You’ve played Frank Sanazi in Berlin, haven’t you?” I asked.

“Yeah. Five or six times.”

“How do they react?”

“The first time I did it, the crowd were a bit…”

“Stunned?” I suggested.

“Well, I was told they loved it, but you can never tell with German audiences. There’s not laugh-out-loud vocal appreciation. When I play to an older crowd in Germany, they can be uncomfortable-squirmy a bit, but the young crowd just find it hilarious. Time has moved on so much they don’t feel part of anything their forefathers did.”

The Awards Show was a rally for the middle classes

Frank Sanazi at the 2014 Malcolm Hardee Awards Show

“I suppose Hitler will never die,” I said. “Malcolm Hardee and I booked The Rockin’ Gorbachev on a couple of TV shows and, of course, his career died when Gorbachev got ousted. But you’re not just a one character act.”

“Yes, I’ve diversified,” said Pete. “I do a lot of straight singing and I have Frank Sanazi and Tom Mones (an old Tom Jones).”

“How is your Vladimir Putin act doing?” I asked.

“I’m not sure if he has legs,” said Pete. “Putin is still very ‘in’ at the moment. As long as he keeps in the spotlight, I’m OK. At the moment, I sing Ukranian Men (to the tune It’s Raining Men) But Crimea River (Cry Me a River) is an obvious follow-up. And then there’s Putin on The Blitz (Putting On The Ritz).”

“Are you doing him at the Edinburgh Fringe this year?” I asked.

“No,” said Pete. “This year I’ve got the Voodoo Rooms to take my whole Iraq Pack show. I’ve got Pete Storm playing Dean Stalin (Stalin singing like Dean Martin) and I’ve written a great song for George who’s going to play Osama Bing Crosby and Saddami Davis Jnr is singing Arranged Marriage to the tune of Love and Marriage:

Ar-ranged marriage
Ar-ranged marriage
To a woman called Fatima Mohammed
This I’ll tell you mother
She looks just like her brother

“I wrote a new song recently for Osama Bing Crosby. He said he needed a song on his own because we were just doing a duet:

I have heard to the Taliban
You are now a forgotten man
Well, dead Jew ever
What a swell party this is

“So I wrote him:

How unlucky can one guy be
They shot her, then they shot me
Like the New York Times said
Ain’t that a shot in the head?

“I’ve never,” I said, “heard you ever talk about getting bad reactions from audiences.”

A singing Hitler - Less offensive than a dead Elvis

A singing Hitler – apparently less offensive than a dead Elvis

“I used to do an act called Dead Elvis,” Pete told me. “I used to come out of this coffin in a mask with worm holes cut out and I did send-up songs: Are You Hungry Tonight? (Are You Lonesome Tonight)… and The Burgers Went Straight To My Heart… those sort of songs. And I got more stick for doing that than I ever have for Frank Sanazi. Because people love Elvis so much they treat him like Jesus. I stopped doing that act because I was getting so much grief for it.”

“And you’re trend-proof,” I said. “because you play the comedy circuit, the cabaret circuit and the fetish circuit.”

“Yes,” said Pete. “There’s a Festival of Sins show this Saturday, a new fetish night. It ran before, five years ago. It was always overshadowed by the Torture Garden but Festival of Sins was possibly the second biggest in London – run by a guy called David de Vynél and he’s re-kickstarting it. It went tits-up when he married the woman he ran it with.”

There is a clip on Vimeo from the Festival of Sins show in 2010.

“I performed at his wedding and the wedding cake was an entire woman just covered in cake: you had to eat the cake off the top of her. It was very well-presented. This guy turned up – the best man – completely stark bollock naked. All he wore were a couple of little bits of tinsel round his penis and a couple of baubles for balls. And he had a massive dong – I think that’s why he went round naked.”

“Just to annoy people?” I asked.

“Mmmmm….,” said Pete.

“I went to one Torture Garden years ago,” I said. “I blogged about it.”

“I remember one Torture Garden,” said Pete, “where there was a guy in a cage and he had a Superman-style cape on and nothing else and he was peeing on people as they walked past. The other thing they had was like an iron lung from Barbarella with perspex over it, so you could put your hands in the gloves and feel whoever it was inside.

“And you know those things they have in Post Offices? Big thick latex things that hang down. I think they do it for health & hygiene. They have them in abattoirs – almost see-through plastic that you can push our way through…”

“Your local Post Office,” I said, “is more interesting than mine.”

“Well,” said Pete, “they had these people just chopping meat up. They had carcasses of sheep. I don’t know how they got away with that, because blood was spattering over everybody as they were going through.

“A couple came in when I was performing- I only knew they were a man and woman because of their size and shape. They had full Nazi outfits on and full gimps masks with zips so you could just see their eyes. They sat right in front of the stage when I performed, watched me for about 25 minutes, then stood up, clapped their gloves together and walked out. It was the most surreal thing.”

“Who else is on the bill with you for the Hitler birthday gig?” I asked.

“Jesus Christ is flying over from Glasgow,” said Pete.

There is a clip on YouTube of Frank Sanazi singing Strangers On My Flight.

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A visit to a fetish club and the recent death of a unique British comedy performer

I blogged yesterday about a Pull the Other One show in Herne Hill, South East London, run by Vivienne and Martin Soan.

Before the show, Martin told me: “I’m in the final of a mime competition at the Royal Festival Hall on 29th May. It’s going to be me against France.”

“The whole of France?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Martin. “It’s in honour of Malcolm Hardee because he admired the art of mime so much.”

(Malcolm thought mime was “a tragic waste of time”)

“You’re competing against the whole of France?” I asked Martin.

“Yes. I’ve actually got a real French mime artist to take part and I’m going to win. The contest is rigged because Malcolm would have approved of that.”

“Have there been any heats?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “No heats. But it’s called The England v France Mime-Off and I’ve got through to the final.”

I think he was joking but, with a surreal comedian, you can never be altogether certain.

It was also an interesting night at Pull the Other One because Tony Green was performing in his guise as The Obnoxious Man, whose act is to shout two-minutes of ad-libbed vitriolic abuse at the audience.

I first met him in the early 1990s, when the late Malcolm Hardee suggested I see Tony compere at a now long-forgotten comedy night called T’others at The Ship in Kennington, South London.

A few months later, Tony somehow persuaded me it would be interesting to go to the monthly fetish club Torture Garden which, that month, was being held in a three-storey warehouse in Islington. The top floor was given over to unconventional cabaret acts and Tony’s chum Sophie Seashell, the partner of one of The Tiger Lillies, had booked bizarre acts for the night. That month’s acts included the extraordinary Andrew Bailey.

Torture Garden still exists and, earlier this year, Adolf Hitler singing act Frank Sanazi told me he was performing there, so their taste for the bizarre clearly still remain high.

There was and I presume still is a dress code at Torture Garden and perhaps rather naively, when I went, my concession to fetishism was wearing an ageing hippie Indian-style shirt and colourful trousers while Tony was wearing a white straw hat and rather louche suit and looked a bit like Sylvester McCoy’s incarnation of Doctor Who.

When we arrived, Tony was told: “You’re OK, you look perverted,” but my shirt was not deemed good enough as a costume. The people on the door suggested I take off my shirt so I was naked from the waist up, then take off my black leather belt and tie it diagonally across my chest with the buckle at the front. I think it may have been some personal fantasy of the man on the door.

“If I take my belt off, my trousers may fall down,” I said.

“All the better,” the man replied.

“It won’t be a pretty sight,” I warned him.

“All the better,” the man replied.

That’s the good thing about sado-masochists – they always see half a glass – although whether it is half-full or half-empty depends on their particular tendencies.

I was not reassured a fetish club was my scene, but it was certainly interesting. I think Americans take to such things much more wholeheartedly – there was a look in the more outrageously dressed (or un-dressed) people’s eyes at Torture Garden which made me think a strong British sense of irony and an active sense of the ridiculous don’t gel (if that’s the word) with wearing outlandish sado-masochistic costumes for sexual thrills.

Tony Green took in his stride such things as a slightly-self-conscious naked fat man ‘walking’ his wife like a dog on a lead. She was scrambling about on all-fours and I think her knees were playing up a bit. Presumably in suburbia there are carpets.

At Pull the Other One, Tony told me things are looking up for him at the moment as he is performing in the play Reign at 4th Floor West Studios in Commercial Road this week. Tony is a man never short of an interesting story.

When I mentioned that Pull the Other One has more than a touch of Andy Kaufman’s experimental anarchy about it, inevitably, Tony had an Andy Kaufman story.

He told me of an evening in the early 1980s when Comedy Store founder Pete Rosengard phoned up Andy Kaufman, who was in London, and persuaded him to come down and perform at the Store. Andy appeared as his ‘women’s wrestling champion’ character, challenging any women in the audience to wrestle him on stage… and was gonged off. This was the early 1980s and Tony himself led heckles of “Fuck off, you sexist pig!” perhaps not unconnected to the fact he himself had been gonged off earlier.

Andy Kaufman was not amused.

Tony also told me sad news which I had not heard – that the extraordinary performance artist and comedy performer Ian Hinchliffe drowned in Arkansas around two months ago. He was there with his American partner and, the way Tony told it, Ian was fishing in a boat on a lake with a 94-year-old friend. They caught a whopper of a large fish, both got excited, both fell out of the boat and the 94-year-old man survived but Ian, 68, drowned.

Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake (Malcolm drowned too, in 2005) quoted an anecdote about Ian Hinchliffe and Ian was not amused because his surname was mis-spelled ‘Hinchcliffe’ – not surprising as, even though I wrote the manuscript, publishers Fourth Estate never showed me a proof copy and the result was a plethora of mis-prints throughout the book.

I had not met Ian at the time the book was published but I met him later and he was most certainly a one-off. We exchanged slightly odd Christmas cards for a while although I hadn’t seen him for years.

The reference to him in I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake is below (with the spelling of his name corrected):

__________________________________________________________

Some acts, of course, are just too weird to ever make it. Like Ian Hinchliffe.

I heard about him years and years ago, even before I started with The Greatest Show on Legs. Someone asked me:

“Do you want to go and see this bloke called Ian Hinchliffe who eats glass?”

I never went to see him but, years later, I bumped into him when he was in his fifties and saw him in various pub shows where he threw bits of liver around. He was, he said, a performance artist and in one part of his act he pretended to disembowel himself. He had liver and bits of offal in a bag that he pretended was coming out of his stomach. Then he started throwing it at the audience.

One show I saw was in an East End pub with a particularly rough landlord. The liver and offal flew right over the audience’s head, hit the landlord and knocked the optics off behind the bar. The landlord came over to beat him up and Ian Hinchliffe jumped out of the first floor window. He landed on the landlord’s car, putting a big dent in the bonnet. He didn’t perform at that pub again.

At another gig in Birmingham, a member of the audience got up halfway through and left. Ian Hinchliffe stopped the show and followed him home. Quite what the audience felt, I don’t know.

__________________________________________________________

Tony Green tells me an Ian Hinchliffe Memorial Day is being organised on Saturday 2nd July, probably starting around 2.00pm, at Beaconsfield arts studio in Newport Street, SE11 which will include Tony Allen’s Jazz Tea Party and a host of prominent early alternative comedians.

If the day is anything like Ian Hinchliffe, it will be truly original.

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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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