Date Of Birth: 05/01/1950
Date Of Death: 30/01/2005
Malcolm Hardee was one of the most colourful legends of alternative comedy.
He was best known for running some of the toughest clubs in London, especially the notorious Tunnel Club at Rotherhithe, where most of today's biggest names died in front of the aggressive crowd. More recently, he ran Up The Creek in Greenwich.
He died on January 31, 2005 - falling off his dinghy as he made the late-night trip from the pub he owned, the Wibbly Wobbly, to his houseboat on the other side of the dock in Rotherhithe, South East London.
As a performer, he was known for getting naked at every opportunity. He was the founder of the Greatest Show On Legs balloon dance troupe, and used to do a unique impression of Charles De Gaulle, using his penis as the nose.
He was a much-loved regular at both Glastonbury and the Edinburgh Festivals. On one occasion he drove a tractor through a show in a tent, and on another he daubed his genitals with fluorescent paint and performed a bizarre juggling act. Another year he wrote his own glowing review for The Scotsman, posing as critic William Cook, and they published it.
He had a unique approach to hecklers urinating on them on more than one occasion but encouraging them when it came to new open mic comics he was introducing.
He took to comedy after a number of run-ins with the law, including arson and stealing a Cabinet Minister's Rolls-Royce.
The title of his autobiography reflected one of the less serious incidents: I Stole Freddie Mercury's Birthday Cake.
Hardee was born in Lewisham, South London, on January 5, 1950, the son of a tug-boat worker on the Thames.
At school he became involved in petty criminality, stealing Coke from the local bottling plant, burgling a pawnbrokers and setting fire to the Sunday school piano because he wanted to see 'holy smoke'.
In the late Sixties he was a mobile DJ, going by the name of Wolf G Hardee, in between stints at various detention centres. Over the years, he was jailed for several offences, including cheque fraud, break-ins and for escaping custody.
In 1977, he came out for the last time and decided to go into showbusiness, joining with Martin Soan to form the Greatest Show On Legs at the time, an adult Punch and Judy act.
It got them a regular booking at the Tramshed in Woolwich, alongside the likes of Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson. Soon afterwards, the Comedy Store opened in Soho, and they became regulars there, too. Their breakthrough came in 1981, when they did the balloon dance on Chris Tarrant's OTT.
Malcolm Hardee Videos
Malcolm Hardee Awards Gig
Tricky thing about anarchy – it can be quite hard to organise.
Malcom Hardee achieved it at The Tunnel and Up The Creek by being the conduit for the audience; a shambolic Lord of Misrule who said what they were thinking when he admitted the weird and wonderful new acts he was introducing ‘could be great; could be shit’ And although his compering skills were minimal, he had superhuman charm, and a willingness to do anything for a laugh.
That ambiance was largely lacking in this gig in his name – part tribute night, part showcase for acts championed by the awards set up to honour him.
Suitably disorganised compere Bob Slayer’s heart was in the right place – wandering into the audience for his links, subverting the big showbiz intros and downing a couple of pints in one – but he was largely lacking empathy for the room. His form of chaos involves creating an awkward atmosphere, with long pregnant pauses and creepily soliciting kisses from the women. His attitude was less Hardee’s dismissive ‘fuck it’ and more a ‘fuck you’, and it’s a big difference.
Hardee also encouraged sharp-witted heckling, but opening act Robert White showed no such grace. Whenever a punter got a laugh from a smart-arse reply to a question he posed, he’d bite back with an inelegant C-bomb. And ‘I will rape you’ is a constant threat to any dissenters.
White won the Malcolm Hardee Award for comic originality at this year’s Fringe, though if you considered some of the innuendos from his set – such as ‘Get your hands off my organ!’ – originality might not be the first word that springs to mind.
However it’s his nervously effervescent delivery – a gushing stream of puns and musical stings, transmitted through the static interference of his Asperger’s-syndrome twitchiness – which is what makes him stand out.
The set is obsessed with sex and orifices, with audience participation revolving around his predatory advances, though it is more rewarding when it raises its sights above the belt. White’s a good punster, and a talented improviser, able to ad lib a song in response to a minor audience disturbance – and these talents can surely be put to better use than making himself a 21st century Julian Clary. But the jumpy energy of the set is compelling.
Second act was Lewis Schaffer. You’ve heard of the concept of the self-hating Jew, now meet the self-destructing one.
With his fast-talking Brooklyn patter, his shtick is to belittle the Brits, thus pandering to the audience’s modest opinion of their own country while playing up to their stereotype of the arrogant, ignorant, loud-mouthed Yank. It’s a combustible mix, flirting with the risk that the crowd will hate him, yet tempered with the revelations that he’s a loser, too – displaced from home and unable to make a success of his career.
It goes down well. There are some strong jokes there, and the relentless rhythm of his tirade pushes the material hard. But then he loses confidence in it, and starts to question himself, becoming openly exasperated at a set that was actually going well. He ploughs on, again with some solid writing, but the wobble broke the spell and it’s a struggle to end anything like as strong as he started, even though the manipulative final gag is viciously funny. But there seems to be something in him that enjoys that stuggle, so the entertainment comes in watching him teeter.
Malcolm Hardee’s old buddy, now the voice of the stomach in the Yakult ads, Arthur Smith closed the show, with a routine that didn’t exactly prove a boost for flagging energy levels. As expected, he trudged through a selection of tried-and-tested old gags – plus a couple of great new ones too, especially the one concerning the Prime Minister’s nadgers.
Tiring of this, he decided to lull us into somnolence with a little poetry and a soporifically dull story backed by a suitably languid soundtrack. This might have been wonderfully subversive had the room not already been feeling low on energy. In fact it simply presented him with more of an uphill struggle (this seems to be a recurring word for the night) when he wanted to inject a bit of life into things with his version of ‘Arthur Smith’ And His Amazing Dancing Bear.
Still, if there’s one thing guaranteed to get an audience going – still after all these years – it’s The Greatest Show On Legs, the alternative cabaret troupe Hardee formed with Martin Soan at the beginning of his – let’s call it a career. Soan returned with the infamous balloon dance, while Chris Lynam ended the night with his personal Fireworks Night special, placing the Roman candle where the packet don’t advise.
Always a blast and, by all normal wisdom, that would be the end of the show, but Slayer blethered absent-mindedly on for a good five minutes apropos of nothing, ending on a whimper rather than a bang(er) – but strangely appropriate for this frequently moribund night.
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