Tag Archives: Wibbley Wobbley

Going Pear Shaped: the last night of London’s second worst comedy club

(from left) Brian Damage, Vicky de Lacy & Anthony Miller last night

(L-R) Brian Damage, Vicky de Lacy, Anthony Miller last night

Last night, for the very last time, I went to Pear Shaped in Fitzrovia, the always fascinating (note the careful use of word there) weekly comedy club run, for the last 15 years by Brian Damage & Kryssstal (Vicky de Lacy) with Anthony Miller.

The club is closing because the Fitzroy Tavern pub and its basement are having a big refurbishment lasting, perhaps, a year. Well, OK, the story seems to be that, as part of the refurbishment, the club may be turned into a toilet. I pause while you make up your own joke.

“They’re closing down next month,” Brian Damage told me last night. “They do want us to come back, but that’s nine months away.”

“Have you got another venue?” I asked.

“We’ve found another one,” said Brian. “But nothing settled yet, so I’m saying nothing.”

“If you’re now free,” I said, “you can go to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”

“I’d love – we’d love – to go up to the Fringe,” said Brian. “I miss it. But not running a venue – That’s a whole year of Read the first fucking e-mail I sent you!”

For years, Brian and Vicky used to run the Holyrood Tavern up at the Fringe, including the extraordinary Pear Shaped at Midnight shows where, whenever I went, there was no ‘real’ audience, merely acts watching other acts perform after their own shows had ended. Shows can often be better without an audience of punters. These shows were.

“You met Vicky at the Fringe, didn’t you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he told me, “I was asked to compere a show up there. We met and, one night, I was pissed and I said: We could run this fucking place, thinking it was easy. It wasn’t, of course. I didn’t know Vicky used to run theatres in Australia. I couldn’t run it, but she could.”

With Brian Damage & Vicky de Lacy in 2007

With Brian Damage and Vicky de Lacy in December 2007

“Where did you and I first meet?” I asked him. Memory is not my forte.

“On the Wibbley Wobbley,” he told me. “We ran the new act night there for Malcolm Hardee – we booked the acts.”

Look, it’s not my fault that conversation often turns to the late comic/ promoter/ club owner Malcolm Hardee. After running the infamous Tunnel club and the more respectable Up The Creek, he staged shows in Rotherhithe on a converted German barge, The Wibbley Wobbley.

“Malcolm was,” said Brian last night, “the opposite of all the bullshit and all the crap that enrages me. When I first started doing comedy, I loved a bit of bullshit.”

“And he didn’t?” I asked, surprised.

“Well now,” said Brian, “because of the fucking barrage of shit I have coming at me every single day on Facebook, all the arguing and the bollocks. I’ve got to the stage where I’m thinking I don’t care about any of it.”

“That’s age,” I suggested.

“Well, maybe it is,” said Brian. “But I just don’t care. The things that people are arguing about…  for fuck’s sake. They actually have discussions about Are women funny? Fuck off! I mean, Fuck off! It’s so rubbish.”

“Facebook somehow encourages it,” I said.

“I’m only on Facebook for business purposes,” said Brian. “Thank God I’m not on there as a human being. There’s so much shit coming at me, I’m fucked if I’m going to add to it. Fuck off!”

“The Queen,” I said, changing the subject, “may have to leave Buckingham Palace for six months while they refurbish it.”

“Yes, we could move in there for a few months,” Brian mused.

Last night, the Pear Shaped venue was full.

“Tonight is one of the few nights we’ve had an audience,” Brian told the audience. “I reckon what we should have done over the last 15 years was, every week, say CLOSING DOWN and I reckon that would’ve done the trick.”

Over the last 15 years, enormous numbers of starting-out comics have performed at Pear Shaped, which is billed as “London’s Second Worst Comedy Club”.

The worst one, Brian claims, was the one they ran before the current Pear Shaped. Well, current until last night.

Brian Damage & Anthony Miller read last rites

Brian Damage & Anthony Miller read last rites

One of the acts last night (I have tragically forgotten who) said that Brian & Krysstal’s next club will, by definition, be better because it will be London’s third worst comedy club.

Anthony Miller told the assembled throng: “You have to see it in perspective. The David Lean Cinema in Croydon has as many seats as this room and managed to lose half a million pounds in a year. So, compared to that, we’re slick.”

Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award winner Robert White apparently gave his first performance at Pear Shaped. He was there last night and gave Anthony Miller a farewell kiss. It seemed not to be appreciated.

As always, Brian Damage started the evening by singing the club’s theme song (to the tune of The Flintstones TV series):

Pear Shaped
This is Pear Shaped
Every Wednesday night at half past eight

Pear Shaped
This is Pear Shaped
Loads of comics you can love or hate

Pear Shaped
It’s just a fiver to come in
And we hope
You’ll both be coming back again
to
Pear Shaped
Up to Pear Shaped
Every Wednesday night at half past eight

At the end of the evening, he sang:

I don’t know where
I don’t know when
But it will
Happen again

Here’s hoping.

Brian Damage bids a fond farewell

Brian Damage bids a fond farewell

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Walking the plank, ten years of comedy awards and cataract operations

Yesterday afternoon, I went to Gordon ‘Bres’ Breslin’s annual get-together for former hecklers at the late Malcolm Hardee’s comedy clubs. There was talk of legendary heckler The Pirate and questions about where he was now. I vaguely remember Malcolm telling me The Pirate had, in his ‘real’ life, been a City of London stockbroker and that, once he made his mint, he retired early and went to live in Spain.

I could be corrected.

Also at the get-together, I got chatting with that wondrous act Frank Sanazi (he sings like Frank Sinatra, looks like Adolf Hitler). He told me a prominent comedy critic had come up to him after a show and said: “You know, secretly, I like your act!”

SECRETLY?

He’s a comedy critic!! Why secretly??

Frank Sanazi – real name Pete – also told me a tale of chatting on the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub with Malcolm (who drowned a few feet away in 2005). Malcolm was lamenting the poor standard of some of the Open Spot acts who appeared there.

“What can I do?” he asked Pete. “They’re shit.”

“You could make the worst ones walk the plank,” Pete suggested jokily.

“That’s a thought!” Malcolm said, seriously.

When we met yesterday afternoon, Pete said that, as was often the case with Malcolm, he possibly took this idea too far by drowning.

With luck, though, Malcolm’s memory will be kept alive by the Malcolm Hardee Awards which I started in 2005 or 2007 (depending on how you calculate it).

Another reason for starting the Awards was that I realised they meant I could get free tickets for any comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe for at least ten years. (I know Malcolm would have approved of this scam.)

I decided in 2007 to get a decade’s worth of trophies made in advance in case I encountered some serious financial embarrassment in the future so the Malcolm Hardee Awards (unlike some other lesser awards at the Edinburgh Fringe which rely on sponsorship) will certainly be awarded until 2017.

Coincidentally, last night, I went to the annual Fringe Report Awards masterminded by the remarkable John Park. He announced on stage that next year – 2012 – after ten years – both Fringe Report and the Fringe Report Awards would stop. A great pity, as Fringe Report encourages theatrical talent on the way up (as the Malcolm Hardee Awards try to do with comedians) rather than awarding trophies to people who are already vastly successful.

Now, I am off to have what I hope is a routine follow-up check-up on my eyes.

Last year, I had two cataract operations.

I hope I’ll be seeing you soon.

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The intangible nature of reality and the man with the (second?) biggest bollocks in British showbusiness

Yesterday, I drove up to see a friend in Cromer, on the North Norfolk coast.

Looking further north, from the end of Cromer Pier, she told me there is nothing until you reach the North Pole. And even when you get to the North Pole… there is nothing.

Well, there’s something, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

The ‘facts’ surrounding “godfather of British Alternative Comedy” Malcolm Hardee can be a bit intangible too. The myths are many, various and often surreal. I read the other day that he once kidnapped the singer George Michael, mistaking him for a George Michael lookalike. Where that story came from I have no idea, but Malcolm would have enjoyed it.

On the way back from Cromer, I stopped off at North Walsham in Norfolk, for dinner or supper depending on where you come from. I suppose I could call it a dinner party, except I’m not convinced such things exist except in Islington. But one thing I’m sure of is that also tucking-in was Vivienne Soan, who runs the monthly Pull The Other One comedy club in Nunhead, South London (this month’s show headlining Jo Brand has, not unusually, already sold out).

The subject of Malcolm Hardee inevitably cropped up.

Malcolm was renowned for having the biggest bollocks in British showbusness. Although, strictly speaking, we are not talking here of bollocks but of scrotum. In fact, in later years, in rare moments of quiet contemplation, he would admit to me that he only had the second biggest bollocks in British showbusiness, following what he told me was an embarrassing tabletop contest with Jenny Agutter’s dad. Whether this is true or not I don’t know, but I prefer to think it is.

When Malcolm drowned in Rotherhithe at the end of January 2005, the story which initially circulated was that he had probably fallen out of a small rowing boat into the water late at night while crossing the maybe 8ft of water between his Wibbley Wobbley floating pub and his house boat the Sea Sovereign.

The story was that he died happy, drunk, clutching a bottle of Budweiser and – it was said, depending on which version of the story you heard – he had anything from £50 to £250 in his pocket – winnings from a horse race or a greyhound race that day.

The story about the bottle of beer was confirmed at the Southwark Coroner’s Inquest.

According to PC Martin Spirito, when Malcolm’s body was found in Greenland Dock, “the male had a bottle of beer clenched in his right hand.” Sergeant Roy Dawson, overseeing the dive, said: “The bottle was held in his right hand. It fell from his hand on the ascent.”

The Coroner found Malcolm had not fallen into the dock from a rowing boat, as people had assumed and had told each other, but had fallen from the quayside while trying to board the Sea Sovereign. I once fell into a neighbouring dock myself, while helping Malcolm take a vacuum cleaner on board his boat. (Don’t ask.)

Yesterday, though, Vivienne Soan told me another story about the money in Malcolm’s pocket when he died. She and her husband Martin (who long performed with Malcolm in The Greatest Show on Legs) understood there were no £50-£250 betting winnings in his pocket but there were a very very large number of £1 coins because Malcolm had (not surprisingly, if you knew him) raided his own one-armed bandit machine in the Wibbley Wobbley and put all the coins in his pocket.

The weight of all these coins in his pocket would have weighed him down when he fell into Greenland Dock.

Who knows what is truth and what is myth?

Malcolm’s date of death is usually quoted as 31st January 2005. But, in fact, Southwark Coroner John Sampson said at the Inquest: “He was last seen on the quayside outside the Wibbley Wobbley public house at about 6am on Sunday January 30th.”

He was not reported missing until January 31st – because it was not uncommon for him to disappear occasionally – and his body was not found and recovered until February 2nd 2005.

So his date of death is usually quoted as January 31st 2005.

More probably it was January 30th 2005.

But, as Malcolm would have said:

“Fuck it… It don’t matter, do it? There are people starving in Africa… Not all over… Round the edge – fish.”

I would say R.I.P. Malcolm, except that I suspect he would have hated the thought of resting in peace.

Many will be thinking of him on 30th and/or 31st January.

* * * * *

The Malcolm Hardee Awards for comedy are presented annually in August until the year 2017.

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The near-sinking of comedian Malcolm Hardee’s birthday party on 5th January 2002

The late comedian Malcolm Hardee was born on 5th January 1950. He used to put on a birthday comedy show.  This is an extract from my 2002 diary. Malcolm had recently bought the Wibbley Wobbley floating pub in Greenland Dock, Rotherhithe… He drowned a few feet away from the Wibbley Wobbley in 2005.

SATURDAY 5th JANUARY 2002

Charlie Chuck, advertising man Paul (whom Chuck knows) and I went to the first of two birthday parties which Malcolm Hardee is holding this weekend. It was on his new floating pub The Wibbley Wobbley.

When we arrived, Malcolm was dressed in naval captain’s uniform with Russian Convoy medals on his chest. I went to the bow area to say hello to him.

“Go back up to the bar end,” he whispered, “We’re sinking – I’m not kidding – We’re going down.”

And, as we walked back up towards the bar, sure enough, I realised we were indeed walking slightly uphill.

We were all eventually evacuated – maybe thirty of us – and someone suggested the problem seemed to be that they were trying to pump the water out underwater via the pump where water enters.

A fire engine turned up. Then two policemen. Then another two policemen. Then another fire engine. Then another two policemen. And another two. It was a good night for criminals in Rotherhithe. The police were unsmiling and uninterested except when they had chats amongst themselves. The firemen were surprisingly fat. How do they get up ladders?

On the quayside, one theory for the slow sinking of the Wibbley Wobbley was that ice in the recent bitterly cold weather had blocked the pump and a build-up of shit in the septic tank was weighing down the vessel at one end.

The Wibbley Wobbley is not yet insured. No surprise there: neither is Malcolm’s car; and he has two driving licences under different names.

After about twenty minutes, Malcolm told me: “The Coast Guard have arrived. Straight up, a bloke from the Coast Guard has just just turned up because he heard about it. He seems to be in the mood for a party.” We turned and looked at the eight policemen already here. They did not talk to the Coast Guard man.

A well-known comedian was standing next to us with staring eyes, accompanied by a tall dark man who also had brightly staring eyes. Both looked startled at what was happening.

This is no time to be on coke, I thought.

We were eventually allowed back on the ship by the firemen.

Then we were evacuated again and told no-one would be allowed back on again that night.

Then we were let back on board again.

In all, the non-sinking took about 90 minutes.

The eventual explanation was that, indeed, a pipe had got blocked and shit really had built up on board to such an extent that it almost sank the boat and everyone in it.

A simile for many a comedy career, perhaps.

***

POSTSCRIPTS

Malcolm’s friend Deke has continued the tradition of Malcolm’s annual birthday party (well it would be annual, wouldn’t it?)  on the Sunday nearest to 5th January. This year it is this coming Sunday (9th January 2011) from 7.00pm at the Lord Hood pub next to Up The Creek in Greenwich. The event will include performances by Steve Bowditch (ex-Greatest Show on Legs) and a screening of The Tunnel the award-nominated short film about Malcolm’s notorious comedy club The Tunnel Palladium. Deke’s e-mail is dekedecore@hotmail.com … You can see The Greatest Show on Legs – Martin Soan, Steve Bowditch and Malcolm Hardee – perform their Naked Balloon Dance here.

This year’s annual Malcolm Hardee Awards for Comedy will be presented during a special two-hour tribute show at the Edinburgh Fringe – starting at 10.00pm on the evening of Friday 26th August 2011.

There is a Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

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