Terry Alderton - Escaping Comedy Cul-de-sacs
Terry Alderton is one of the most original and inventive comedians working today. He had some success in the past with a more traditional comedy style but he was growing ever more frustrated with his lack of what he calls ‘punk’. One night in 2005 it became too much and for no apparent reason he decided to let two voices speak out from inside his head. He took to turning his back on the audience for a while to let his inner voices riff about the gig, his own material and indeed the audience themselves. He would then come back and face the crowd from time to time as himself, before going back to the voices for their blunt analysis of how things were going.
After the gig he knew that he had made some kind of breakthrough and since then the voices have become an integral part of his act. Although he says he doesn’t necessarily want to be stuck with them forever, for the time being they are serving the purpose of allowing him to be as creative on stage as possible.
He told us that although he loved what he called ‘anti-comedy’ acts like Steve Martin, he realised he had turned into a Barrymore-like Mr. Saturday night entertainer, whereas he wanted to be more like a Steve Milligan type loon.
He set out to become a unique comedian and had turned into a celebrity prime time actor. It was when appearing in programs like London’s Burning and realising that he didn’t want to be there he knew something wasn’t right. Only when his agent told him to concentrate on doing what only he can do, being a comic, is where the artistic renaissance was inspired from.
He has got to the point where, although he does have some prepared material, when he walks on stage he throws it all up in the air and goes into a stream of consciousness mode and let’s it fall where it falls. It is his desire just to BE funny rather than just saying funny things that creates the magic he strives for in every show.
Even during his last Edinburgh show where he tied the seemingly off the wall madness all up with a cohesive ending, which the audience very much appreciated, he felt was too restrictive and formulaic. So on his latest tour he is setting out to do an extended club set rather than aim for any particular resolution.
He does admit that it doesn’t always go according to the ‘non-plan’ and indeed the brutal honesty of the voices can sometimes hinder the show. For instance, the night before we chatted he was performing in Brighton and, for whatever reason, the audience weren’t really going with it and so the voices commented on that and it made the situation more and more awkward. Fortunately he had a bit about licking his own elbows which had a musical cue that dug him out of that particular comedy cul-de-sac.
He says that although he cares about being as professional as possible, if he cared too much he couldn’t do what he does. He goes onstage prepared to ‘tank’ and if the audience can go with the moment they can almost will him to get to places of comic euphoria that would not be possible otherwise. So, he feels like both he and the audience have done it together and he accepts that just like a boxer, there will be nights when although you are punching, you do not always hit the target as well as other nights.
It was another one of Terry’s comedy heroes Eddie Izzard, who when they shared the stage at the Comedy Store in London, also gave him a big nudge in this madcap free wheeling direction by encouraging him to go on tour. The restrictive environment of a comedy club where promoters want guaranteed laughs was not serving Terry well at that point and Eddie advised him to ‘burn bridges at the Store, go and build your unique voice and when you do, they will come to you as you will have become Godlike.’ Or as Terry put it ‘shit or bust’. Fortunately, it worked out for him and he is now far from being consitipated.
Another place where Terry feels free to be as wild as he can onstage is the recently restarted Establishment club in Ronnie Scott’s. They have many kinds of performance acts on there which embody the punk ethos which Terry feels is missing in comedy circles these days.
Even the intense atmosphere of the Edinburgh Fringe’s Late’n’Live show he feels is somewhat manufactured these days, although when he plays there he still tries to take live up to the danger element by being as off his head as he can be and being quite drunk usually helps.
I asked him if he had performed Set List, thinking that the improvisational nature of it would be up his street but he felt that even that was a bit like being shackled. The second time he performed at the Galway Festival he did it on his back using his shoes as his mouthpieces. Fortunately every premise that came out was perfect and he got the biggest compliment of his career from the originator of Set List, Paul Provenza, who said, ‘You are punk, man’. Terry thought, ‘At last, I’ve made it’. So if he does it again in the future, the shoes will be front and centre again. It seems he needs to be that bit further out than most, even in extreme situations.
It is this punk attitude which makes Terry question the rules and then go out of his way to break them. Turning his back on audiences for sometimes up to two to three minutes while the voices talk to each other is potentially a very risky thing for any performer to do but he asks, why not? ‘Why can’t you be racist or homophobic, who says you can’t? The audience will probably hang anyone who does it wrong but the only rule in comedy should be timing. One, two, three, boom!’
A few years ago people were clambering to try and get jokes about religion banned and he thinks if you are not offending as a comic, you are not doing your job. ‘You are not cracking eggs to make friends and to have a group of people telling me I can’t take the mick out of stories about talking snakes, that if you told in a pub in 2013 you would get ridiculed for, then there is something wrong with the world. The only problem with being an atheist is you dont get many holidays.’
Someone on Twitter accused him of going Zeitgeist because he had recently started talking about money and the value we give things. He would love to do gigs for free because he feels he could be even more honest but also realises that if people pay money then they invest more emotionally in the show but at the same time if we all lost everything apart from our dwellings we could all just relax and get to know each other better.
I think this is what Terry is ultimately doing with his comedy. He invites people into his own mind with all its flaws and idiosyncracities, so that he connects with them on as deep a level as possible. He is striving for those moments of magic that can only happen when we let down our guard and accept ourselves and each other without judgement. An overly analytical mind would probably not go for Terry’s comedy too much as they would be looking for structure and cohesion while he fights against that to look for random connections and the magic in the moment.
After 911 he went into a bit of a breakdown and since then he doesn’t watch news or read the papers. His description of a newspaper is ‘Bad news, bad news, advert, bad news, advert, bad news, pretty girl, bad news, advert, sport.’ On the one hand you could say his act is far from political, but it is perhaps this irreverent attitude that is a statement in itself. Although he does say that maybe he will go down that path more in the future as he hates to be pigeonholed, if he does it will never be boring politics but rather politics from him unloading his own mind. It wouldn’t be about being right or wrong, but rather just about how he sees it. It is comedy after all and not a forum.
Terry is currently halfway through his UK tour and if you go and see him you can be rest assured that no-one else see things the way he does, or indeed his voices.
Check out his website at www.terryalderton.com
Here’s a clip of Terry appearing on Dave’s One Night Stand.
The Full interview can be heard below or over on our Soundcloud page.