The boyz from K One were fitted out in matching white suits, with those cute, comic-type haircuts that are all fringe and no substance. They were busy signing autographs after a performance in Taipei's fashionable Ximending when Hartley Pool bounded onto the stage in his buttoned-up dayglo orange corduroy shirt, jeans pulled up tight to his crotch and hair slicked down.
He greeted the audience as if he was the star of the show and started shaking hands with the band members, whose fake smiles dissolved into looks of real irritation very quickly. Hartley Pool knows how to get under your skin and as a result makes everyone slightly uncomfortable. On a good night this makes him funny, but sometimes he falls flat and this was one of those times. It was hilarious.
His joke in Chinese about iced tea (he speaks no Chinese) got no laughs, just blank looks from the mass of teen groupies, and the K One security detail managed to usher him off stage before he could do any further harm to the boyz' reputation.
According to his bio, Hartley Pool (Hartlepool is a dour town in the north of England, John Anderson is the real name) began his career as a stand-up comedian by reading poetry to "hundreds of people in Budapest." Since then, he has failed a BBC talent contest, bombed at the Comedy Store, where he slowly walked onstage to Eminem's Lose Yourself, and has taken his act on a world tour, appearing in just Taiwan so far.
"I met a Taiwanese girl [in England] and wanted to be with her. You can't live on a phone relationship. I've had lots of phone relationships in the past that didn't work out and this seemed like a good one," the self-deprecating Hartley Pool said over a coffee.
The experienced teacher-trainer has a style that is reminiscent of the alternative comedian Vic Reeves, and his sense of humor can be hard to catch, especially if you're not from England. His jokes are along the lines of, "If a person says, `I have a bone to pick with you,' what does a jellyfish say? `Blublublublublub.'"
He's also a bit like Tommy Cooper in the way he can make people laugh without cracking a joke, or even by losing track of what he was talking about. He admires Steve Coogan and doesn't tell gags with a punchline so much as wrap you up in the world of one of his comic personalities.
One of his creations, "Corky Clarkson is the only person who can hold his own against the [audience of British MRT] engineers because they heckle him all the time. For some reason they started singing Puff the Magic Dragon at one gig, but I managed to get back at one of them by calling him a ginger, short-arsed cunt," Hartley Pool said.
"Then there's Randy Borehole, who's a pervert, who's trying to get people to join his club. And by the way, we'd love to have you, though you're probably a member already. There's also a priest who does exorcisms, pretty unsuccessfully, he kind of beats the ghosts out of people. Sir Bernard Flowers is an octogenarian who does long, rambling talks at the Australian Men's Institute about his encounters with prostitutes."
Hartley Pool's new show Ha, Ha, Hartley's Here is at The Living Room this Saturday, from 7:45pm to 10pm. Aaron Turner, Zach Touzin and Chris Garvin will be providing alternative comedic input. Hartley Pool will be doing stand-up and sketches. He may or may not breakdance but will definitely make contact with a psychic cat. Entrance is NT$100 and there's a two drink minimum cover.