This week marks the end of an era in this particular part of South East London. For Friday brings the last ever Pull The Other One, the best Nunhead-based comedy night you’ve probably never been to.
Yeah yeah yeah…Comedy nights come and go, don’t they? Well, Pull The Other One was unlike anything you’ve ever witnesssed or experienced. You think a comedy night is three blokes + compere + mildly amusing satirical observations? PTOO bore the same relation to that sort of affair as The Beatles to a skiffle band. ‘Anarchic cabaret’ is the glib phrase they used themselves in their promotional material. It’s close, but it doesn’t fully do justice to the sheer breadth this cavalcade of silliness spanned over the years.
PTOO specialised in character comedy. You’d rarely come across out and out gag merchants. Instead its bread and butter was the bizarre, the ridiculous and the plain daft. I have seen women having onstage nervous breakdowns, eating lettuces, men with the testicles out, men pretending to be frogs, Phil Kay singing his entire set. You name it, it’s happened. Much of its appeal lay in its whole ‘anything could occur in the next two and a half hours’ feel.
Its originators, the ringmasters of this circus of the surreal were Martin and Vivienne Soan. When I first started coming around 2011, Vivienne would be the compere, while Martin loitered at the back and attempted to cue the music for each act. (Indeed Martin’s inability to provide the right music at the right time for the right act has long been a much-loved feature in itself.)
Part of its success was also the intimate setting – upstairs at the Nun’s Head, a cramped room, capacity about 60 with a tiny orange-lit stage, decorated with the kitsch porcelain animals Martin wheels in especially for every PTOO. It was like you were in someone’s front room. And that perhaps was its key – you felt part of a family. There (literally) wasn’t distance between the crowd and the performers. You willed and hoped them to be good, and more often than not they are. If not, so what? They’d be something equally daft and outrageous on after the break. PTOO has always been mercifully free of the ‘I’ve paid my £10 so you better make me laugh’ mentality that affects other comedy clubs.
If you’ve been you’ll know. If you haven’t, ask for the stories. I hope the Soans reconsider and this is merely a Sinatra-esque ‘retirement’ (I find it hard to believe Martin will be able to give it up completely) but for the moment we have to take them at their word. Farewell Pull The Other One. You made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh, until I cried, until it was painful and for that I thank and salute you Martin and Vivienne.
The last Pull The Other One is on Friday 29th June at the Old Nun’s Head, Nunhead and is, unsurprisingly, SOLD OUT.