Driver, bodyguard, agent and crook...

Alternative comedy character Wizo dies

Paul Wiseman, one of the more peculiar figures from the early days of alternative comedy, has died in Australia

He died yesterday at the age of about 56, following a battle with pancreatic cancer. 

Wiseman – widely known as Wizo – was a childhood friend of Malcolm Hardee, smalltime crook and sometime comedy agent.

Some of those who knew him in the early days have paid tribute to him as a ‘loveable rogue’.

Comic Steve Gribbin said: ‘Wizo was a larger-than-life character who brightened up any social situation he was in.

‘He had his faults, but I would just like to remember him as the wise-cracking Wiseman with a warm and generous heart and a lust to seize life by the lapels and yell, “Do you want some?"

‘He deserves a place in the history of comedy in the UK, if only because he was there or thereabouts when that whole alternative comedy explosion happened.’

Mark Thomas struck a more cautious note, sayying: ‘If you described him as a lovable rogue you would have to say that he was a hedonist, a chancer and a rogue first and foremost. The lovable part, much as it was there, came a definite second.’

Karen Koren, boss of Edinburgh’s Gilded Balloon venue added that he was ‘a larger than life character who we all loved.’

Agent Vivienne Smith, who got her start in comedy after working for Wizo, said: ‘He was loveable and incredibly creative with the truth - but fantastic fun to be around. He was irreverent about the industry but respectful about comedy. I’ll always remember him with a big smile that’s for sure!’

Wizo grew up around the corner from Hardee in South London, and they became partners in crime, stealing silverware and cars – at one point nicking a Rolls-Royce they thought belonged to Government Minister Peter Walker.

When Hardee took up comedy, Wizo became a roadie, driving his group The Greatest Show On Legs (with Steve Bowditch, Martin Soan) and the double act Skint Video (Steve Gribbin and Brian Mulligan) around the country.

However, he did not always take his duties seriously. Gribbin recalled: ‘do recall that on the second gig of the tour in Oswestry, after a bout of drunken car-leaping (a game which Wizo claimed he had invented) that Wizo broke his arm so all the driving had to be done by Martin.’

Wizo started telling jokes as he set up the microphone, and went on to appear in sketches and even on TV programmes like The Tube with his more established friends.

In 1985, Wizo became the driver, tour manager and fixer for Off The Kerb Productions, driving Skint Video, The Vicious Boys, Mark Thomas, Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy, Jenny Lecoat among others.

Gribbin again recalled: ‘He saved our arses on some pretty hairy occasions. On one gig at Newcastle university we'd upset the very macho Rugby Society and were barricaded in our dressing room for our own safety. Wizo held the corridor outside with a toy cricket bat, managing to stave off quite a few drunken rugger buggers with the cry of "Come and get it!”, until the police arrived.

‘In 1986 Wizo was the main tour manager for The Red Wedge Comedy Tour featuring ourselves, Mark Miwurdz [latterly Mark Hurst], Sensible Footwear and Craig Charles. Once again he was not afraid to enter the fray.

‘I remember one particularly volatile night at Wolverhampton Polytechnic where the National Front had threatened to come down and smash the gig up, but Wizo saw them off. The night ended with him being carried shoulder-high round the building by the students. Which was no mean feat because Wizo was a big lad.

He branched out into stage managing Edinburgh shows and in 1989 he formed his own agency Stage Left with Peter Harris – one-time manager of Eddie Izzard – poaching left-wing comedians such as Gribbin, Mark Steel, Jeremy Hardy and Mark Thomas from Off The Kerb,

However – and to the surprise of few – it was not a success. Thomas said: ‘He was a good bloke to have around but the worst person to choose to manage a performers co-op, which is what a group of us did. We put a man with a nickname of Wizo in charge of the money. Needless to say it went tits up.’

In 1991 after a disastrous Edinburgh Festival and amid a turbulent times in his personal life, Wizo moved to Australia.

He was working for telecoms company Telstra at the time of his death, and his lat main contact with the alternative comedy scene he had once been so close to was in 2005, when he attended Hardee’s funeral.

Mark Thomas said: ‘I wish he hadn't fucked up quite as much as he did, that he had used the goodwill and love that was there for him and that he valued others just a little bit more.’

But he added: ‘Did I like him? You bet. Life was more interesting for him being in it.

Published: 17 Apr 2009

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