The Boy With Tape On His Face - If J.K Rowling Can Write Again There's Hope For Me Yet
Sam Wills needs no introduction. His actions speak louder than words. Although he claims it was an accident, there’s no denying that Wills (aka ‘The Boy With Tape on His Face’) has rewritten the rules of silent comedy. He left behind going over and over his lines in favour of scavenging the aisles of his local hardware store in search of the perfect comedy prop. The Boy adeptly blends speechless stand-up (there is a mic on stage), perfectly suited soundtracks, puppetry and extreme audience participation to create a positively unconventional experience. Even if you’ve had the pleasure of seeing him before, you can never know what he’ll come up with next.
Now, on an extensive ‘More Tape’ tour of the UK, culminating in his first ever West End run at the Duchess Theatre, we managed to pull him away from his hectic schedule for a quick chat. Just in case he hadn’t shaved this morning, we swiftly tugged off the tape.
How was The Boy born? Obviously your Circus background must have played a big part in conceiving him but where did the idea for taping yourself up come from? Was it an attempt to move away from the classic white faced mime act?
I had another show that was very talky and I performed that for a number of years in New Zealand. It involved circus sideshow stunts and audience participation, but, after winning an award in 2005, I felt that audiences expected me to just learn more tricks and talk more. I wanted to do something that challenged me so I decided to do a show with no words and no tricks.
Are you a quiet person when not on stage or, once the tape comes off, do you let out everything you’ve not been able to say whilst performing?
I would like to think that I am a quiet person but I am pretty sure that I talk as much as the next person.
I know you are a big fan of what was The Jim Rose Circus. Did you dabble in any of this style of performance? What was it about The Jim Rose Circus that hooked you in?
I started out very early on as a juggler and it was only going to circus school that I discovered the circus sideshow. My other show was very much the shock comedy style – routines that involved eating a light bulb and putting a power drill up my nose were very much what I enjoyed doing to entertain people. I think I got hooked on the fact that by making an audience laugh I could then get them to watch something very strange.
I guess Jackass is about the 2012 equivalent, or maybe you completely disagree with me. Are you a fan?
I think that Jackass very much had it’s place, but it went on a couple of series too long. I was a fan when the ideas and style were new but then it became more about the spin-offs which is when I lost interest.
What really intrigues me, and I imagine everyone else, is the sheer imagination you have. You take the most inanimate, mostly household, objects and turn them into hilarious routines. How many hours a day do you spend at the local hardware store and how many more hours do you spend experimenting with all the objects you find?
I try and remind myself at least three times a day to look at things differently and imagine things. I think that your imagination can be treated like a muscle and you can grow it. When I get new props, sometimes I will buy something just because it has an interesting shape or it just takes my fancy, and then I can sometimes pop it into a suitcase and not think about it until I hear the right piece of music.
One question I must ask! What were you measuring with that tape measure that made you come up with that idea?
In my living room listening to the Days of Thunder soundtrack….That’s normal isn’t it?
I am very much used to having tape on my face. Only once, early on in my silent career, did I have a slight panic attack, but the moment I went onstage I was fine.
Something very important for silent acts is body language. Do you find yourself in front of a Snow White mirror for hours upon end practicing your eyeball rolls and facial expressions or is it something that just comes naturally?
I have never practiced making faces as I find that I am spending most of my time playing with props and listening to music.
Obviously a lot of the laughter comes from audience participation. Do you consider the audience the key to your success?
I love getting the audience involved but am on a bit of a mission to change the perception of audience interaction. Currently, people think that if you get involved with any comedy show you end up just getting embarrassed just for the sake of the comedian getting a laugh. I make sure that the every audience member who gets onstage is treated with respect and also leaves the stage to a massive round of applause as they have helped make the show a success.
Before the show begins, you sit on the stage watching the entire audience come in, one by one. Are you targeting your next victims or is this something of a warm up to put yourself more at ease with the audience?
I think victim is the wrong word as it just enforces the idea that people at comedy shows are targets. I have volunteers as at anytime people can say no to being onstage. I tend to sit there so the audience will actually become at ease with me. It’s a chance for them to see exactly what I look like and for them to come to terms with the fact that I have tape on my face and it won’t be coming off. That way when we start the show we can just get straight into it without waiting for the audience to adjust.
I had a chat with your lovely wife Lili La Scala whilst I was at the Edinburgh Fringe. It must have been great working alongside her for ‘Another Fucking Variety Show’. I caught the show one night and thought it was an amazing format. How much were you involved in the preparation of this show? Did you help her hand pick any of the acts?
She is very wonderful indeed and it was great to be involved with her show. I think we decided to include me in the line up as that way I would be able to see her for some time every evening of the madness that is Edinburgh. The Variety show was completely organised by her as I was rushed off my feet with my own show.
With your wife being in the same professions, it must take its toll on you both. She mentioned she would be taking a show to Sweden so you must go without seeing each other for quite some time. Does absence make the heart grow fonder?
We love having a bit of a crossover in stages and of course it is never nice for either of us to have to go away on tour, but, we both love what we do and we do our utmost to share all the festivals we can.
I was watching videos of you on YouTube and found one of you speaking in an interview. I know it would be virtually impossible to perform an interview with tape on your face, although that would a spectacle worth seeing. Do you prefer to keep The Boy and Sam Wills as far apart in the media as possible or is it something that doesn’t bother you?
I do like to keep quite a bit of my personal life away from what I do and I am even lucky that a lot of people don’t recognise me offstage without the tape. I also think that most of my audience are smart enough to know that this is just a character that I perform. The people who think that I live my life as ‘The Boy’ may need to see a professional for some help.
So you’ve had two major one-man shows now and you’ve also done “The Tapeface Tapes”. Where and how will you be spreading the word silence next?
I will just keep working my way through my list of ideas and I still have few places in the world where I want to take the show.
I know you have a West End run at the end of the year. Any special surprises that we didn’t see in Edinburgh there?
I got to use something for my season in New Zealand that I couldn’t use in Edinburgh as it was way too messy and we had a pretty tight turn around between shows. If I told you what it was it would ruin the surprise but lets just say I get a chance to hit a red button and we will see what happens.
Do you have any plans to bring our other acts, the Prince of Cringe and Spit Roast, to the UK?
Not at this stage as I am flat out working on everything Tape Face. I still have a few plans for some completely different ideas. I guess if J.K Rowling can write another book after Harry Potter then there is hope for me yet.
Full details of The Boy’s tour dates can be found here.
This will be followed by a 3 week West End run at the Duchess Theatre from the 17th of December, 2012 until the 5th of January, 2013.
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To finish with, here’s a great performance The Boy put on for the Royal Variety Show last year. Oven cooking will never be the same again…