Review in The Times, 7th February 2006


Malcolm Hardee Memorial Show
Dominic Maxwell at the Hackney Empire, London E8

THERE are a few rules that a star-speckled benefit show must follow. It must raise money for a blue-chip charity — Amnesty, or something to do with some unimpeachably awful illness. It must overrun horribly, the blather of obscure comics at the start forcing the big names to hare through their material as midnight comes and goes. And the audience must be gracious about every act, who are here out of the goodness of their hearts, not for the exposure, no no.

In breaking all these rules, the Malcolm Hardee Memorial Show honoured its self-styled subject a treat. Hardee died a year ago, aged 55, after falling drunkenly off his boat into the Thames — a premature end to three decades as a comic, agent, talent-spotter and full-time character.

A generation of comics was weaned at Hardee’s Greenwich club, Up the Creek. He was, in the words of the excellent East End comic Ricky Grover, “the most naturally funny man I’ve ever met”.

Hardee’s children, Frank and Poppy, introduced a film that explained why Hardee was a grassroots comedy kingpin. There followed five hours — as scheduled — of the sort of variety this venue was built for, from the well-known (Jools Holland, Jeremy Hardy, Arthur Smith, John Hegley, The Fast Show’s Simon Day) to the bizarre (sister Clare Hardee’s seven-strong can-can combo Can’t Can ’t, the Third Reich-loving crooner Frank Sanatzi).

There were few flops from the 40-odd acts. The surprise guest, Jimmy Carr, host of eight out of ten Channel 4 shows, coped smoothly with a welter of harsh, sweary heckles. In his defence Carr pointed out that whereas he was known for his jokes, Hardee was known for his outsized testicles. Heckler: “His b******* were popular!” Carr: “I don’t know if you watch Channel 4, but my b******* is popular too.”

A victory on points.

Other highlights included Stewart Lee, reworking a routine he first performed for Hardee 16 years ago; the former Squeeze singer Glenn Tilbrook heading into the stalls to perform his early hit, Goodbye Girl, unamplified; and Johnny Vegas, raging at the audience.

Yes, his dyspepsia is predictable by now, as is his refusal to get off the stage, but there’s still something compelling about the way he wastes an audience’s time with quite such fervour.

After five hours, this terrific evening climaxed, bang on time, with a reprise of Hardee’s most famous act The Greatest Show on Legs — three naked men dancing around protecting their modesty with nothing but balloons. A rude, pointless, precarious, hilarious routine. There are worse legacies to have.