Tag Archives: Vivienne Soan

The early days of UK Alternative Comedy… with Alvin Stardust?

Vivienne and Martin Soan breakfast in Leipzig

Vivienne and Martin Soan breakfast in Leipzig

Yet more memories of the early days of British alternative comedy, this time from Vivienne and Martin Soan who run the Pull The Other One comedy club in London and Leipzig.

People say if you can remember the 1960s, you were not there.

Perhaps the same can be said for the early days of alternative comedy in the 1980s.

“He was a black cab driver,” Martin began.

“An Afro-American?” I asked.

“No, he was the driver of a black cab,” said Martin with, I thought, a hint of weariness.

“Anyway,” said Vivienne, “what he used to do was drop off comedians as fares. That is how he got to know all the clubs and then he started doing open spots himself.”

“He came on stage,” said Martin, “and all he had was a glove…”

“He was naked?” I asked.

“He used to come on stage,” said Martin with, I thought, a hint of weariness, “fully-clothed and wearing a glove. It was a pastiche of sorts of…”

Alvin Stardust and his glove in the glory days

Alvin Stardust & his glove – or maybe it was Michael Jackson

“…Alvin Stardust,” said Vivienne.

“…Michael Jackson, I think you’ll find,” said Martin.

“Anyway,” said Vivienne, “he had a glove with studs all over it.”

“Rhinestones,” said Martin. “Rhinestones. He didn’t really have an act but he had rhinestones and, at some point, he would get a CD played and he did some sort of naff Michael Jackson…”

“He just used to stand and stare at people,” said Vivienne.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “He was bad. Every now and again, depending on where he was in London, he used to drop off his fare, run into a comedy club and say Can I do an open spot? Very often, they’d tell him to Fuck off! because they’d seen his act before. But me and Vivienne were doing this gig…”

“No,” said Vivienne, “I don’t think you were there, Martin…”

“Oh no,” said Martin. “I wasn’t.”

“I told you about it,” said Vivienne. “It was a feminist gig at the time of Women Only and I was playing with a band called Sax Machine in a pub called something like The Pied Bull in Camden”

“Islington,” said Martin.

A black cab racing through London with no sign of a glove

A black cab racing through London with no sign of any glove

“Angel,” said Vivienne. “It was very well known. All the people in there were women, but some of them looked like blokes.

“Oh! I was playing with a band called the Nine Bent Bob Notes or something like that. And suddenly this guy stormed in and he looked slightly confused as his eyes went round the room and he felt there was something different but couldn’t quite work out what. He got onto the stage, got his glove out and practically got lynched by all these women shouting Get off! Get off! He shot one look at me – because he knew me – pleading with his eyes but, like Judas, I turned away. He literally got dragged out by his feet.”

“He stopped performing,” said Martin, “and we all forgot about him – he was a flash in the history of alternative comedy. But, years later, I was coming out of somewhere and – a very rare occasion – I had some cash and flagged down this black cab in fast-moving traffic. It screeched to a halt and the cabbie yelled Jump in! Jump in!

”I warned him: I’m going South of the River.

Brilliant! he shouted. You don’t remember me, do yah!… I’m The Glove! I’m The Glove!

“He took me all the way home, god bless ‘im,” said Martin. “I asked him: Do you want to come in for a cup of tea?

Nah, he said.

How much do I owe you?

For you, nothing. Just remember… Tell them – You got in a cab with The Glove! You got in a cab with The Glove! and he screeched off down the road. I’ve never seen him again.”

“And all that,” I said, “had nothing to do with Alvin Stardust.”

“Well, it was Alvin Stardust’s glove,’ said Vivienne.


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Last night I saw a woman sing with her hand up several dead animals’ heads

The queue stretch along the tunnel last night

Queue stretched along a tunnel while dead animals warmed up

Last night was surreal.

Well, there is surreal and then there is pure gimmickry.

I am not sure which I saw last night.

Pull The Other One comedy club runner Vivienne Soan and I went to see a variety of dead animals sing and perform in The Vaults, which are in an extraordinary officially-graffiti-encouraged tunnel under Waterloo station in London.

The event was artist Charlie Tuesday Gates’ allegedly ‘private’ view and stage performance of exhibits at her Museum of Death.

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house

Charlie Tuesday Gates’ dead bird house + nose

A very, very large audience was hanging around and queuing outside the venue for about half an hour after the billed start time because, according to the security guy on the door “They’re warming up inside.”

This is not something you necessarily want to hear about performing dead animals.

According to the tease by Saatchi Art, who know a thing or two about ‘bigging-up’ Art: “Despite never describing herself as a taxidermist, Charlie Tuesday Gates was instrumental in bringing this previously dark art into the mainstream with her pioneering performance series, D.I.Y Taxidermy LIVE!”

Charlie Tuesday Gates is a vegan.

The come-on for the show went:

Vivienne watched an ‘animaal-ation’ film last night

Vivienne watched a 21st century fox ‘animal-ation’ art film

“Gates’ first solo show since retirement transports you into a fantasy underworld where beauty and death collide with nostalgia and borderline insanity… Controversial ‘animalation’ video pieces will also be screened and a special live performance of Gates’ Musical: ‘SING FOR YOUR LIFE!’ in which real animals are manipulated by hand to perform, sing and dance in a bizarre talent contest: a cross between X-Factor and Pet Rescue…. Where the recently deceased compete for the chance to live again.

“Her fashion brand ‘Mind Like Magpie’ provides the perfect complement to her sculptural work: wearable art that will be showcased alongside the exhibition… Pieces have been commissioned for Elton John, Beyoncé and even appeared on the holy head of Cara Delevingne.”

So there were the exhibits last night…

…and then there was the performance.

Charlie Tuesday Gates

Charlie Tuesday Gates – hand up dead beast

Basically Charlie Tuesday Gates sang while her hand was inside the heads of dead, skinned animals, moving them as if they were doing the singing… and a man manipulated the fore-legs of the dead foxes, badgers, dogs etc. He used sticks attached to the limbs. It was a bit like some Muppet musical staged during the Weimar Republic with disembowelled dead animals.

Someone in the audience told us: “You know, she normally gives live skinning demonstrations during her shows?”

We didn’t.

Is it Art or is it gimmicky?

Is it Art or just a gimmick? People thought Art.

According to the publicity: “Working with audience participation, she skins and stuffs an animal using only the most basic ingredients: salt, sanitary towels and Shake n’ Vac.”

There has been talk of Charlie Tuesday Gates appearing at one of Vivienne & Martin Soan’s Pull The Other One shows at Nunhead, in London.

I said to Vivienne after the show, as we left through the graffiti-festooned tunnels under Waterloo station: “You should maybe put her on at Pull The Other One in Leipzig. It might remind them of Berlin in 1936. When is your next Leipzig show?”

“June the 7th,” said Vivienne.

“Have you any locals on the bill?” I asked.

“We have Felix & Jander, a couple of local artists in Leipzig. Jander is a mathematician and an artist. He is going to give a lecture to the audience on mathematics.”

“Is he a fine artist or a performance artist?” I asked.

“A performance, fine and mathematical artist,” replied Vivienne.

This did not make things any clearer.

But, perhaps, I would not have it any other way.

Last night was surreal.

That is good.

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Comedy gold from a herd of cows and a woman doing mathematics in Spanish

In several past blogs, I have extolled the joys of going to Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South East London. The format is basically a variety show filled with very bizarre acts with one token stand-up comedian – usually a Big Name – to draw people in.

On Friday, I am going down to – as far as I understand it – mill around and generally get in the way of Vivienne and Martin Soan as they set up for a special 10th anniversary Pull The Other One show.

Martin & Vivienne Soan at home yesterday

Martin & Vivienne Soan relax at home in London yesterday

“Is it really ten years of Pull The Other One?” I asked them yesterday on Skype.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “We bought the van ten years ago and did a tour of village halls.”

“In 2004,” explained Vivienne, “we used to visit our various relatives, which took us to places like Herefordshire, Oxfordshire, Norfolk and Huddersfield. And, because we could never afford to go anywhere unless we worked, we would put on a show in the local village hall to subsidise our journey. Our shows were called Soan Alone which was Martin assisted by his wife – me.”

“Do you,” I asked, “think it might have been mis-titled as Soan Alone?”

“Viv and me,” said Martin, ignoring me, “wanted to go to the sort of club that we wanted to be at but, what with us having children, we couldn’t get out and about so much so we decided to create our own club. The Ivy House in Nunhead was then an almost sad pub which only had two or three people in it, but had a wonderful back room with gold lamé curtains and was just crying out to be the kind of club we wanted to go to. When we saw it, we thought We would love to come here to be entertained, but that wasn’t going to happen, so we started our own club there.”

“Having been out of the loop for so long with child care, though,“ said Vivienne, “we didn’t know all the extraordinary, mad, surreal, off-the-wall, bonkers acts that were around.”

“Although,” said Martin, “I don’t think there actually were many around then.”

“No, maybe there weren’t,” agreed Vivienne. “Not like there were when we did the Ghost Club back in 1992.”

Martin Soan as Miss Haversham last night

Martin in costume as Miss Haversham (The chair is part of his costume)

“The Ghost Club?” I asked.

“That was fanTASTIC!” said Vivienne. “It was in Noel Faulkner’s Comedy Cafe. Patrick Marber was the compere. It started off every week with a dance troupe of housewives with ironing boards and washing machines and other everyday household items, but done as a dance routine in the dream sequence of a rather weird birdwatching cyclist nerd, which was Martin.”

“So it had an element of reality,” I said.

“And,” continued Vivienne, ignoring me, “at the end of the dance routine, Martin would say I made that up myself.

“We used to have herds of cows passing across the stage,” said Martin. “The concept of the Ghost Club was that the Comedy Cafe was at the intersection of two spiritual ley lines and, on certain nights at certain phases of the moon, all the ghosts would come out of this vortex… all the acts who used to perform in the music halls around the East End of London.”

“It just so happened,” said Vivienne, “that it was also on the path of a man who used to herd his cows into town in medieval times. So the cows used to come through as well.”

“Was it difficult to find performing cows for the show?” I asked.

“No,” said Martin. “I built life-sized ones that slowly moved across with a soundtrack of the moo-ing.”

“And we had white table-cloths on all the tables,” said Vivienne, “with lots of crayons and pencils and people used to do artwork on the tablecloths and, at the end of the evening, we had an art critic who would appraise the drawings and we would auction them, which used to subsidise the next show. At that time, in 1992, I was pregnant with our second daughter Sybil and, after that, all our creative activity sort-of went on hold.”

“Anyway,” said Martin, “ten years ago, we went local and went to the Ivy House.”

“Actually,” said Vivienne, “first of all we did Hooper’s Bar and that’s where Pull The Other One’s core of DJ Ratsmilk, Go Diddely and Vincent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) were created.”

Vincent Figgins (left) and Martin Soan

Vincent Figgins (left) and Martin Soan at Pull The Other One

“Vincent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) goes back that far?” I asked.

“Yes. We had to create our own acts,” explained Martin, “because we didn’t know if we were good enough to run a club so we wanted to keep it in-house. And also we didn’t have the contacts then, having been out of the loop with children for all those years.”

“Vicent Figgins (the Edwardian animal impersonator) is a relation, isn’t he?” I asked.

“My nephew-in-law,” said Martin. “We had him and we had a Spanish lady called Rosa Navarro who did mathematics in Spanish… and Mr Julius, who was me in a fluffy shirt as a dance instructor who used to try and teach everyone the lumbago – I would go De-de-de de-de-de dah-dah. De-de-de de-de-de. Ooh-aahh! Right down here. It gets you right down here. Lumbago! De-de-de de-de-de dah-dah. De-de-de de-de-de.”

“And then,” said Vivienne, “there was The Poet Lorry-at, who just wore a lorry on her hat.”

“… and the beginning of River Dance,” added Martin.

There is a clip of Vivienne Soan introducing Martin’s River Dance routine for Pull The Other One at The Ivy House on YouTube.

“The Ivy House shows,” said Vivienne. “started on a Thursday night.” She turned to Martin and said: “Shall I tell the truth here?”

“Yes,” said Martin.

“It started,” said Vivienne, “on Thursday the 13th 2008 at The Ivy House.”

She gave no month.

Stewart Lee: one of Pull The Other One’s token comics

Stewart Lee – one of Pull The Other One’s token stand-ups

“And,” said Martin, “that’s when we decided to start booking one solid seat-filling act like Nick Revell, John Hegley, Simon Munnery, Omid Djalili, Jo Brand, Stewart Lee, Arthur Smith or whoever, supported by a lot of unusual acts – some of them us – and booking one big speciality act. Out of that came The Obnoxious Man (Tony Green) who is appearing this Friday… and The Gates of Hell.”

“The Gates of Hell?” I asked.

Malcolm Hardee,” explained Martin, “had one of those Billy The Bass singing fish on his boat and I remember going down there and saying Oh, Malcolm, what’s that? I went over to push the button and he said: No! No! Don’t push the button! And, of course, I pushed the button and it started singing and he said: Oh I fucking hate that fish; I fucking hate that fish! Anybody else would have removed the batteries or even the fish, but not Malcolm.

“Everyone who went in there would go Oh, Malcolm! You’ve got one of those! and he would tell them Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! and, obviously, they would press the button. And it WAS very VERY annoying.”

There is a video of Billy the Bass singing Take Me To The River on YouTube.

“So, for The Gates of Hell, I went out and bought a fish crate and it opens up like a pair of gates and, inside are 30 Billy The Bass all singing at the same time. That’s The Gates of Hell… It’s brought on stage by a couple of monks.”

“Obviously,” I said.

“And we’ve taken,” said Vivienne, “Pull The Other One to Macclesfield, Bridport, Axminster…”

“And now Leipzig,” I reminded her.

“…and to The Amazing Mr Smith’s village hall,” said Martin. “Then we got chucked out of The Ivy House and carried on doing Pull The Other One at The Tenants’ Hall in Nunhead, then at The Half Moon in Herne Hill – we got flooded out of there – and now we’re monthly at The Nun’s Head pub which we’re very happy with. It’s nice and it’s intimate.”

Martin & Vivienne Soan + Holly Burn at Pull The Other One

Martin & Vivienne Soan + Holly Burn at Pull The Other One

“So this Friday,” I said, “in honour of the supposed 10th anniversary of starting Pull The Other One, you’re filming it with 5 cameras.”

“That’s right,” said Martin. “The crew are all in their final year at Ravensbourne. Except the director, David Crossman, who used to direct Cannon & Ball’s TV shows.

“They’re making a 25 or 30-minute documentary plus a promo for Pull The Other One and showreels for all the performers. They’re filming me from my loft down to the pub, taking all the gear down there and setting up and basically I want people – comedians – to come down there in the daytime, which is very unlikely, and get in my way and make that part of the documentary a bit more interesting. I’m also trying to get any comedians who know me to phone up from 2.00pm onwards to ask me to build some bizarre prop.”

Martin builds props for other comedians and, to my knowledge, has made at least two vaginas for the Edinburgh Fringe. I think one sang.

There is an old promo video for Pull The Other One on Vimeo.


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Being a comedian is all about running blindfold into trees and wearing socks?

In my blog yesterday, performer/showman Adam Taffler was talking about co-running a week-long course with performer Dr Brown in which people were encouraged to run down hills while blindfolded and feel goats. When I talked to performer Martin Soan about this today, his reaction was:

Martin Soan acting sensibly this morning

Martin Soan acting sensibly away from trees this morning

“Well, that’s fairly normal, isn’t it?”

“I have never felt a goat,” I told him. “Have you?”

“Being brought up in East London,” he replied, “we didn’t have much access to goats. Perhaps I would have been more successful if I had felt a goat in my childhood.”

“But what,” I asked, “are you going to learn about comedy by putting on a blindfold and running down a hill?”

“It’s not about that,” argued Martin. “It’s about releasing yourself and your imagination and, above all, giving you confidence about yourself. As we both know, that’s what comedy’s all about. It’s all about going out there with confidence. If you haven’t got the confidence, no matter what you do, it’s not going to work.”

“So have you ever run down hills blindfolded?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Yeah. When I was a kid.”

“In London?” I asked.

“Yeah, we had hills in London, mate,” laughed Martin. “Sometimes, I used to blindfold myself and run into trees intentionally. Hackney Downs, Hackney Marshes – there were loads of brilliant hills there. Sometimes I used to tie my feet to a bicycle and go down what we used to call The Tits… Please don’t put that in your blog or, at least, find a PC way of putting it… There were these enormous two hills called The Tits and, at the bottom – right at the very bottom – we used to put a brick and the whole idea was to avoid the brick because, if you hit the brick, you were off your bike.”

“Or off your trolley,” I suggested.

Wanstead flats - scene of some arrow escapes

Wanstead flats – scene of some arrow escapes

“Another brilliant thing we did,” continued Martin, “was to make our own bows and arrows, go over to Wanstead Flats (a large open area in East London) with these really sharp sticks as arrows, point them directly up in the air and fire them and just cover your hands over your head and see how near the arrow got to you. The one who had the arrow fall nearest to them – or hit them – was the winner.”

“Would you recommend this sort of thing for comedy workshops?” I asked.

“Probably not,” said Martin, “but I’ve carried on doing that sort of stuff all my life. And this is a serious thing I’m saying now. I HAVE carried it on – just being stupid, just being ridiculous. What you need for all comedy genres – including political satire – is confidence and it sounds to me like that’s what those Dr Brown/Adam Taffler workshops are all about. It’s all about having fun, releasing your inner child and gaining confidence.

“When I saw The Short Man With Long Socks, I don’t think Britain was ready for him in terms of the comedy scene, but I do honestly think that now… I’ve been wanting to book him now for over eight years or more. Not managed it yet. Almost managed a couple of times, but he cancelled.”

“How tall is The Short Man With Long Socks?” I asked.

“Short,” said Martin.

The sock on Martin Soan’s right foot today

A short sock on Martin Soan’s right foot photographed today

“And what does he do?”

“Well, there are three sections to his routine,” explained Martin. “It’s him getting ready to ‘go out’… him ready to go out… and then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but…

“So is he a mime act?” I asked.

“I suppose he is in a traditional sense,” said Martin. “in that he doesn’t talk. There’s no story or narrative to it. He’s not a skilled mime artist. He just doesn’t talk. He’s more of a performance artist, really.”

“So why is it funny?” I asked.

“Why is anything funny?” Martin shrugged. “There were a lot of people who found it funny; I found it hilarious; there were some people who didn’t find it funny at all on the night. I’ve only seen him once – at the International Mime Festival in Moers about ten or twelve years ago.

“After we saw him, me and Vivienne (Martin’s wife) started getting excited and talking about We would really love to open up a club where we have these ‘different’ acts on.”

“So The Short Man With Long Socks inspired you to start your Pull The Other One club? I asked.

Martin and Vivienne Soan - inspired by one man and his socks

Martin and Vivienne Soan – inspired by one man and his socks

“He most certainly did,” agreed Martin. “I would say, at this point in time… I would say he is my top, all-time favourite act. He encompasses everything that I’m really very fond of.

“There are two things which are going to make me laugh in comedy. One – I’ve got to like the act: if I don’t actually know them personally, I’ve got to imagine I will like them. And then it’s also got to be surreal, anarchic or something like that to grab my attention.

“The Short Man With Long Socks is all that and more.

“You blogged a while ago about me wanting to get away from the traditional comedy that’s going on now and become a performance artist with a sense of humour. Well, now comedy, thankfully, is breaking down in Britain. It’s not just purely about stand-up. There’s a lot of clowning and mimes and performance art acts who are part of the new comedy scene.”

“But Dr Brown,” I said, “just comes on stage and does nothing, doesn’t he? He just looks at the audience.”

“Does nothing?” said Martin. “I suppose you could say that but, then, I would go along to a lot of male-dominated stand-up comedy and they come on and do a lot of nothing. It might include a lot of words, but what’s the substance? They might do incredibly well-crafted jokes and acute observational material but, y’know… you get full-up with stuff.

“For a long time now I’ve been desperate for other aspects to be brought into the world of comedy and for it to be a lot more imaginative, free, crazy, surreal, anarchic – all those things… Dr Brown doing ‘nothing’ on stage is debatable, isn’t it? When I see Dr Brown on stage, he may not appear to be doing much but there’s certainly a lot going on in my head. He’s creating stuff in my head – just like really good stand-ups do.

“A really good stand-up can suddenly open you up and transport you to other worlds in your head: new narratives going on in your head. That’s the sort of comedy that I like.”

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What happened to a female comic one night at London’s Comedy Store in 1981

Vivienne & Martin Soan on stage at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne and Martin Soan at Pull The Other One this year

Vivienne Soan currently hosts the always excellent monthly Pull The Other comedy club. She tells me…


It was 1981…Tony Allen was the compere at the original Comedy Store in London and I had been to a very important England v Scotland football match that same day.

It was the match where the referee jumped over the ball.

I had been given free tickets and was sort-of fired-up from having sat with the Scots and cheered the English.

I had been in Europe for the past four years with Action Theatre and the queue to get into the lift at the Comedy Store had proved too tempting for the performance hostess that had been maturing within me. I worked the crowd before they got into the venue and so, when I stood up and took the mike after Tony Allen, I challenged the audience to “do better”… I had no doubts…The audience were on my side and I ‘stormed it’ (as an open spot) with a mixture of real life stories and old playground jokes.

My opening line was good. I had been sitting in front of a persistent heckler and said I had taken the stage to get away from him.

After the show, I was invited back by Don Ward (the Comedy Store’s owner) to do three weeks.

After the second week, it was whispered in my ear by the other comics that this was ‘alternative comedy’ and I could only perform original material.

“I’m a performer not a writer,” I proclaimed and they all turned away.

The third week, there was great excitement as the new-born Channel 4 was coming in to have a look.

There was a buzz …. “They are very interested in you,” I was told.

I bounced onto the stage, hit my head on the gong and told my caterpillar joke which ends in “I bin sick”.

At this point, Ben Elton turned the mike off and closed my set with the words: “I’m sorry, darling, you can’t tell jokes like that. We cannot allow you to perpetuate the myth of the dumb blonde”.

I left the night with my head between my legs.

I didn’t venture back on a comic stage until 1991.


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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.


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.


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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Variety is not dead in Britain – not with the Royal wedding of William and Kate AND Pull The Other One

I saw a repeat of The Story of Variety with Michael Grade on BBC TV recently. The argument was that variety is dead. Michael Grade (unusually) was wrong. Two things yesterday proved this to me: the Royal Wedding and a monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, home of Only Fools and Horses – no connection with the Royal Wedding.

At school, I took British Constitution for ‘A’ Level so i am a very strong supporter of the institution of a constitutional monarchy, but I have absolutely no interest at all in the soap opera of the Royal Family. If left to my own devices yesterday, I might have switched on BBC1 to see the RAF fly-past at the Royal Wedding and perhaps I would have watched the drive back from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace in case anyone got assassinated.

As it was, I was with a friend who is a feminist republican. (Note, if you are an American reader, a republican is almost the opposite of what you might think: more left wing than right wing).

Of course, like almost all British republicans, she is obsessed with reading about and watching the Royals and following the soap opera and I had to sit through the whole thing on TV.

We had recently sat through Lindsay Anderson’s surreal movie If…. together and yesterday, when it got to the marriage bit where camp-looking churchmen in kitsch golden dresses were intoning sleep-inducing words and the congregation was awash with politicians, Royals, the upper classes and Elton John, I half expected Malcolm McDowell to appear high up in the Abbey among the gargoyles desperately firing an AK-47 at the congregation who would flood out the doors of the Abbey into Parliament Square where mortar bombs would explode.

Perhaps my mind wandered a little.

But men intoning the word of God in funny costumes always stimulates the surreal nodes in my brain.

My friend did make the interesting point that, apart from Kate Middleton, the colourful service was an entirely male affair apart from two nuns sitting to one side dressed in drab grey among the men in bright colours and the presumably-repeatedly-buggered choirboys in white surplices. It looked to me like the two nuns had been hired from Central Casting. One was unnecessarily tall and the other was unnecessarily small. It was like watching that classic comedy sketch where John Cleese is upper class and Ronnie Corbett is working class.

I am Sister Superior; I am taller than her and nearer to God… and I am Sister Inferior; I know my place.

Even when they sat down, the tall one was twice the height as the small one – that never normally happens. I began to fantasise about special effects and trapdoors in the pews.

The real pisser for me, though, was that the BBC TV director managed to miss the shot of the Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane flying down the length of The Mall. That was the only reason I was watching the thing – other than the possibility of visually interesting assassinations – and it was almost as bad as ITN missing the Royal Kiss on the balcony when Charles married Di.

Everything else was so impeccably stage-managed, I couldn’t understand why they missed the shot. I particularly loved the trees and random greenery inside Westminster Abbey though I found the chandeliers distracting. I don’t remember chandeliers inside the Abbey. Did they come with the trees as part of a special offer from B&Q?

The Royal Wedding guests included Elton John, an invisible Posh & Becks and the distractingly visible two nuns.

In the evening, I went to the monthly Pull The Other One comedy show in Peckham, which similarly attracts performers who come along to see the show but not to participate. This month it was writer Mark Kelly, actor Stephen Frost and surreal performer Chris Lynam. As I have said before, you know it is a good venue if other performers come to see the shows.

Pull The Other One is not a normal comedy show in that its performers are almost entirely speciality acts not stand-up comedians. If you need a break from reality, I recommend Pull The Other One as a good place to go. And the compering is usually as odd as the acts.

With Vivienne Soan on tour in Holland, the always energetic Holly Burn – the Miss Marmite of Comedy as I like to think of her – compered with Charmian Hughes and the latter performed an Egyptian sand dance in honour of the Royal wedding. Don’t ask, I don’t know, but it was very funny.

Martin Soan, Holly Burn and massed wind-up puppets performed Riverdance.

The extraordinarily larger-than-life Bob Slayer surprisingly did balloon modelling and unsurprisingly drank a pint of beer in one gulp.

Juggler Mat Ricardo (to be seen at the Edinburgh Fringe this August in the Malcolm Hardee Awards Show) still has some of the best spesh act patter around.

Magician David Don’t – who had variable success last month when he used blind-folded members of the audience throwing darts at each other – unusually succeeded in an escapology act involving a giant Royal Mail bag, although it’s the last time I want to see a banker with no clothes on and a Union flag coming out of his groin.

Earl Okin did wonderful musical things with his mouth.

And, to round off the evening Matthew Robins, with ukulele and accordion accompaniment, performed a shadow puppet story about murder and mutilation and a visit to the zoo. It is rare to see a shadow puppet show about someone getting his fingers cut off with pliers, his sister hanging from a rope and the audience spontaneously singing along to “I wanted you to love me, but a snake bit my hand…”

But it is more interesting than watching the Archbishop of Canterbury with his grey wild-man-of-the-desert hair wearing a gold dress and a funny pointy party hat in Westminster Abbey.

Pull the Other One – on the last Friday of every month – is never ever predictable and Stephen Frost, keen to appear, lamented to me the fact it is fully booked with performers until November.

Most interesting line of the evening – of the whole day, in fact – came from Earl Okin, who pointed out what a historic Wedding Day this was…

Because it was exactly 66 years ago to the day when Adolf Hitler married Eva Braun.

“It doesn’t bode well,” Earl said.

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Comedy, burlesque and going OTT at PTOO with a naked Irish Riverdance in Peckham, London

There seem to be two separate ‘circuits’ in London at the moment: the amorphous alternative comedy circuit and the burlesque circuit. The latter seems to meander from stripper-type-tease to glimpses of old-style variety to fetish-style stuff with more than a nod to Berlin cabaret between-the-Wars.

Most of the straight comedy shows nowadays are a just a string of stand-ups with maybe, occasionally, an odd act thrown in. Vivienne and Martin Soan’s monthly Pull The Other One club in Nunhead (that’s Peckham to me and you) is clearly not burlesque; but it is not one of the amorphous straight comedy nights either.

It is old-style variety mingled with comic performance art plus usually one big-name straight stand up. It is never short of the unexpected and bizarre, so it’s no surprise that Pull The Other One regulars Bob Slayer and Holly Burn both appear in the April issue of Bizarre magazine as New Alternative Comedy Heroes.

The average Pull The Other One show does not exist and it is a sign of how unusual it is that it has always attracted comedians to its audience. Last month Boothby Graffoe was there in the audience just to enjoy it; this month it was Stephen Frost.

The Big Name stand up on the bill last night was multi-talented Omid Djalili, a man who can move with nary a blink from appearing in Gladiator, The MummyPirates of the Caribbean and James Bond movies to club gigs on the London comedy circuit to playing Fagin in Oliver! at the London Palladium and having his own TV series on BBC1. His career is almost as variety-filled as a Pull The Other One show.

I missed most of last night’s show because main speciality act Paul Morocco had got cut down earlier in the day with a very serious stomach bug and couldn’t appear – well, it’s a tribute to his professionalism that he would have appeared if Vivienne Soan had not been able to find a fill-in sharpish. But Paul’s amazing act includes juggling, a lot of bopping around and blowing/juggling multiple ping pong balls from his mouth. This is not ideal if you have a serious stomach bug and just want to lie in bed and die with the pain.

So I missed most of last night’s show because I was picking up and driving my chum Melbourne-based Irish fiddle-playing comic vagabond Aindrias de Staic from the West End to Nunhead after he appeared in two performances of Woody Sez at the Arts Theatre in London’s West End. Aindrias is not so much jet-lagged as show-lagged. He is over in London to appear in Woody Sez until 2nd April – another two shows today – and tomorrow he performs his one-man show Around The World on 80 Quid at the Pleasance Theatre in Islington.

So last night, at 9.35, we were legging it to my car to get to Pull The Other One in time – parking mid-evening on a Friday in the West End had not been fun.

Aindrias decided in the car on the way to the venue what he was going to do: mostly stand-up stories with an inkling of fiddling… but, when he actually got there and realised the measure of the audience, changed it all.

He gave them a bit of a foot-stomping fiddle, then a bizarre story and a couple more musical items.

Well, that doesn’t quite do it justice.

He had had a 20-second chat with Martin Soan before he went on and they ad-libbed what then happened.

Aindrias was interrupted during his second diddly-aye foot-stomping Irish fiddly piece by Martin Soan – totally naked, of course – Riverdancing in from the wings behind him and, trust me, Irish dancing in the nude is a particularly visual entertainment.

There’s a lot of flopping up and down going on.

When this went down very well with the audience, Aindrias called Martin back on stage to do a reprise “bollock dance” to the Jew’s Harp accompanied by a rather dubious song which Aindrias improvised.

Aindrias called what was happening “gyp-hop” – a musical combination of gypsy and hip-hop.

Watching this, Stephen Frost said to me: “If only Malcolm (Hardee) were here to see this.”


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I have seen some unexpected acts in my life but I had never seen what I saw last night… I am still shocked.

This morning, I used the Listen Again button on the BBC’s website to hear Boothby Graffoe being interviewed on yesterday’s Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman (it’s 18 minutes in, but is only available online in the UK if you are reading this within seven days of me writing it).

He was on the Radio 2 show to plug his new music album Songs For Dogs, Funerals (the comma really is there – don’t ask) and his UK comedy tour, which starts next Tuesday.

I knew he was the only comedian named after the small Lincolnshire village of Boothby Graffoe but, until he mentioned it on the show, I hadn’t realised this meant he was also named after the second largest site in Europe for testing genetically-modified food. Now there’s a thing.

I listened to the Radio 2 show this morning because I bumped into Boothby last night when I went to Vivienne & Martin Soan’s always extraordinary monthly comedy club Pull The Other One in Nunhead, South London. You know a comedy gig is good when other comedians go to see it even when they’re not on the bill and Boothby just went along to see Pull The Other One before he went back home to Leicestershire.

If I were using glib phrases – which, of course, I wouldn’t dream of writing – I might say it turned into an evening of unexpected revelations.

After the show, I was chatting to Martin Soan and, despite the fact I’ve probably known him since around 1990, I never knew he wrote several sketches for Spitting Image at the height of their TV success.

It was no surprise, of course, that, during the actual Pull The Other One show itself, Bob Slayer enticed a woman from the audience onto the stage and ended carrying her off over his shoulder.

What was unexpected was the climax of Mat Ricardo’s act. He is billed as a juggler, but is more than that and he introduced the final highly-visual thing he did as “impossible”… as indeed it is, but he still did it.

After Mat’s act, there was an interval and one of the other acts – smiling broadly – just looked at me and said: “Jesus!”

Another said to me: “Jesus! I have never seen that done before.”

The Lord was being invoked quite a lot after what we saw. I was and remain so shocked by what he did that I am going to pay to go to see his full live show Three Balls and a Good Suit next week in the hope he does it again.

What he did involves a table and a tablecloth and – no – it is not at all what you think.

There is seldom anything new under the sun – but I have never heard of anyone else doing what I saw and I have certainly never seen it before.

I can’t believe I did see it.

And I have seen a lot of acts.


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