Birmingham Comedy Festival
London based trio ‘The Midnight Beast’ have been delighting YouTube audiences with their own brand of comedy music, high jinx videos and well played parodies. With enough hits to populate a small country, a successful E4 series and a current tour underway. I sat down with the guys to talk triple bunk beds, dirty pigeons and why they should be scared of Hollywood legend Will Smith.
Comedian Kevin Precious wants to take us back to our school days, making use of the teaching skills amassed as an RE teacher. Having completed a successful run of packed out shows at the Brighton Fringe 2010 (first four outings) – and further tightening proceedings up at the Camden, Kevin is back with a fourth helping of his show “Not Appropriate” which will tickle anyone who has ever taught or – for that matter – been to school. Reluctant to reminisce on my “wonder years”, I hesitantly had a chat with Kevin as he prepares for tomorrow’s show.
How would you compare your comedy career with your previous experience as a teacher?
Comedy is easier, definitely, if you know what you’re doing. People have paid to see you and expect you to justify their faith in their investment. A group of kids – particularly with regard to my subject, RE – are there under duress; it’s more of a challenge to control the situation and offer something of interest.
Are a lot of your former students fans?
I’ve had a few turn up here and there, making approving noises. But I think it’s a matter of taste, and they would probably prefer someone nearer their own age talking about matters relevant to them.
You also have a fair bit of experience as a musician. How did that compare to the comedy circuit and which do you prefer?
You’ve done your research. Like most people, I probably engage more with music on a day-to-day basis than comedy, and it has a far deeper effect (on me). One of the attractions of comedy is the autonomous nature of the job. In bands, you can pretty much guarantee personality clashes and, usually, at least one almighty pain-in-the-backside to deal with; if there wasn’t such a person in any given situation, I’m sure I could fulfil the role.
How did you get involved in the NME pop quiz and how did this lead you into the world of comedy?
I used to run a pop quiz in Camden in the mid-90s just as everything was becoming Brit-Pop, and as a consequence, all manner of band/industry/journo types used to turn up; which in turn led to the NME job. The laughs I got by making spontaneous remarks in relation to the proceedings suggested there might be a route into comedy. However, comedy is a lot harder than hosting a pub quiz and as much as anyone can get laughs from the writing of humour, the real deal is in being able to perform.
You are also co-founder and regular MC for Barnstormers Comedy. Tell us a bit about that and what kind of nights we can expect there? There are some great acts lined up.
We promote shows in Arts Centres and Theatres and the customer can therefore expect quality in an environment conducive to that.
Comedians always have hilarious stories to tell but also horror stories. What is the worst heckle/occurrence you can remember at a gig?
The worst gig was undoubtedly a freebie media/awards event at the Dome in Brighton; with loads of free alcohol as well. A horrible death in front a huge crowd of beer-soaked individuals who had been corralled there on the basis of the freebie; the worst aspects of human behaviour akin to the ‘All You Can Eat Buffet’. My fault for not seeing right through it but it does put me in mind of the famous Bill Hicks line about people in marketing and advertising killing themselves.
Coming back to the present. What can you tell us about your solo show “Not Appropriate” without giving too much away of course? I hear it delves into your experience as a teacher?
It’s all about teaching, along with some of my own experiences as a schoolkid. Subject matter includes the Staff Room, Parents’ Evening, the School Trip, Teaching RE/PSE, Ofsted, Political Correctness and Assemblies.
What would you class as your greatest achievement so far as a comedian?
I’m not sure the term ‘greatest achievement’ would apply but I’m pleased with this show, and the fact that I’ve been able to get it out there, without having to spend a fortune in Edinburgh; but then it’s niche, darling. It was great doing it at the Hull Truck last year to a sell-out crowd in my hometown. There’s been a couple of real blinders at the Old Joint Stock Theatre (Birmingham) previously as well; that was a good feeling.
What about your own comedy kicks? Of all the up-and-coming comics on the circuit who do you think deserves to make it?
Favourite stand-ups include Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor, Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, Chris Rock and Doug Stanhope. I don’t know about up-and-coming but my favourite circuit acts include people like Jeff Innocent, Hal Cruttenden and Liam Mullone. They all do social-related themes, politics with a small ‘p’, class-related stuff etc…
As a final note. You have said the following: “Fame is fleeting; obscurity lasts forever”. What made you say this?
Well, never having been famous I suppose that’s speculative. Either way, we’re a long time dead, and I think, if anything, it serves as a reminder to focus on those things that are important. As well as the obvious family and friends, that would have to include crafting good work and finding an audience for it; as opposed to getting caught up in the whole modern phenomena of ‘celebrity’ and mass acceptance. The pursuit of ‘fame, for fame’s sake’ is a bit of a fool’s errand, I believe. Still, a bit of recognition wouldn’t go amiss, especially if there were few more coffers involved.
You can catch Kevin tomorrow at The Old Joint Stock Theatre in Birmingham as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival. All ticket info can be found here.
Steve Lilly is an award winning graphic artist from Birmingham. His artwork is becoming increasingly more collectible with many original pieces featuring in private collections. Right now, his order book for commissions and events stretches into next year, having recently signed an exclusive merchandising contract with the Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford. Lovers of the comedy icons of yesteryears will love his pieces to bits, and both the official Laurel and Hardy Museum and the official On The Buses fan club stock Steve’s limited edition prints, mugs and collectors cards. He also has strong ties to the Tony Hancock Appreciation Society, the Birmingham Comedy Festival and numerous other comedy related groups and fan clubs. Further a field Steve’s interpretation of Boris Karloff playing the part of Frankenstein’s Monster sits majestically in the official Karloff gallery run by direct descendants of the iconic actor.
Next month his “comedy classics” artwork will be featured as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival so PPSF decided to have a chat with him to find out just how much time and dedication goes into each and every one of his portraits.
I have read that you started painting from a tender young age. What was it that fascinated you so much about art or was it something that just developed naturally?
My first recollection of being “struck by art” came at junior school. A couple of students were asked to create a mural of a steam train rolling through the countryside on the classroom wall. I thoroughly enjoyed the task which lasted weeks and excused me from endless, tedious lessons, and, to cap it all, I was rewarded with a book voucher…Thanks Miss Williams.
I used to sit and sketch with my Dad and enter all the colouring competitions in the local papers. One such competition left me traumatised for weeks – a colour between the lines competition in the Birmingham Evening Mail’s Chipper Club. I was over the moon when I won a trip to Dudley Zoo to meet the new attraction; a dolphin. As an animal lover, I was really enjoying the day until the promoters made me sit in a little rubber dingy, in the dolphin pool, in front of a large crowd of onlookers. I never knew dolphins could move so fast. The most terrifying part, however, was when the dolphin dived under water with me still in tow. I had no idea how deep the pool was and was convinced I was going to drown in Dudley Zoo’s dolphin enclosure in front of my Mom, Dad and a crowd of total strangers.
So you could say you dived in at the deep end. Despite such a terrifying encounter you weren’t put off and carried on developing your style. Now, your style is definitely unique in the fact that you create pencil rendered artwork. What is it about this style that fascinates you so much?
It is an ideal medium for expressing texture and detail. Although my portraits take many hours to complete and are much slower to create than a painting, there is an immediacy about the graphite medium that I love. You pick up a pencil and as soon as it touches the paper you’ve left a mark. There’s no mixing on the palette or cleaning of brushes, no waiting for paint to dry. You can get so much character and feeling from a tonal drawing. It’s a bit like watching an old black and white Universal horror movie. How atmospheric and spooky were they?
That’s right, you are quite the horror junkie, having drawn a number of iconic horror characters. That said, you have an extremely varied portfolio ranging from animals, transport, the aforementioned horror icons, music icons to comedians? Is there anything you don’t draw and how do you decide on your next piece of art?
I carry an open mind and view every work as a new adventure. New subject matter brings fresh challenges, and, unless the object of study is something I disagree with ethically, I’m happy to take on the challenge. I love natural history, especially British wildlife, so you won’t find things like country pursuits and fox hunting in my portfolio.
Often my next piece of art is chosen for me as I undertake commissioned portraits; well over half of these are for dogs. On the rare occasion I get to choose my own subject matter. It will invariably be the next piece in the Comedy Classics series. I just can’t seem to leave this subject matter alone. It keeps pulling me back in.
You have received praise from people in high places, particularly in the comedy and horror industry? Who’s praise would you say was most memorable or made you feel particularly appreciated?
I think this would be a toss of the coin between David Croft and Jeffrey Holland. I was fortunate enough to meet David at the Dad’s Army Museum shortly before he passed away. The man is a legend of British comedy. Jeff is such a great actor and genuinely nice bloke and gave me endless inspiration and encouragement when I was toiling on my Hi, De, Hi rendition (he’s also a talented artist in his own right).
A lot of your work features characters from cult vintage shows such as Dad’s Army, Laurel and Hardy, On The Buses and Hi, De, Hi. Is there still a big cult following for anything related to these shows?
Surprisingly these classics seem to have stood the test of time. Dad’s Army has its own official museum in Thetford, while Laurel and Hardy have a number of museums and numerous fan clubs throughout the world. The official On the Buses website has had over a million hits (How popular is that?). I’ve been to numerous conventions including On the Buses, Hi, De, Hi, Laurel and Hardy and Tony Hancock and they are always well attended.
I hear your first foot in the door, which lead to your first comedy drawings (Dad’s Army), was hidden in a “Trojan horse”, if you’ll pardon the pun. How did that opportunity come about?
I put a flyer on the notice board while at my “day job” stating that I worked to commission and promptly received my first paid job – A lady in one of the offices wanted a portrait of her horse. When the work was finished, she made sure it was passed round the building. I was then commissioned to create a “café warming present” by a work colleague who’s friends were opening a café in Derbyshire. It was originally named Godfrey’s and the new proprietors, being big Dad’s Army fans, decided they wanted to keep the name. I was commissioned to create a large group portrait of the Dad’s Army cast with Godfrey as the centre of attention and was given a free artistic rein. I enjoyed the job so much I wanted to do another for myself and, with the support of a local gallery, went to work on Dad’s Army mkII. Luckily for me the gallery loved the work and we agreed to do a limited edition print run from the original artwork and from these beginnings the series evolved.
Your endeavour is to capture the “expressions and mannerisms that are so characteristic of the people I am trying to portray”. Surely it must be an ordeal trying to bring out such traits in your drawings. It must be an extremely cumbersome process studying your subjects before putting pencil to paper. Could you go through the process of how you bring a character to life on paper? A fine example is your portrait of Delboy from Only Fools and Horses. In this drawing you include three completely different facial expressions and they sum him up exactly.
The first stage is the most fun. I just sit and watch hours of DVDs on my computer, studying the characters and capturing freeze frames of expressions that I think are reminiscent of the person I am to draw.
I will use DVDs almost exclusively for the reference stage as I prefer to arrive at my own expressions rather than using ready made publicity photos that have been seen over and over. Inevitably I will end up with hundreds of images that are then whittled down to just a handful. Once the final reference material is arrived at I draw up a number of thumbnail sketches for tonal and compositional experimentation. I try to ensure there are not too many dark tones next to each other and it is important to get the expression of the characters in the right place on the page so that they interact with each other and tell a story. Due to the large and intricate scale of my work I usually draw a grid across my final thumbnail then scale it up onto the final sheet, before doing the under-drawing, to make sure all the major compositional points are in the right place. For the under-drawing I lightly recreate my thumbnail to the scaled up picture. I then call on my reference material and start pencilling in details: faces, expressions, clothes, background elements etc. Once the under-drawing is in place I will know if the picture is going to work or not.
Now is the point of no return, as I make deeper, hard to erase marks. I start putting in the darkest tones with 9B and 6B soft graphite pencils to see if the dark/light balance is right, before painstakingly cross-hatching with half millimetre thick H, HB and 2B leads to bring the mid-tones and facial details out. Then I just begin building up and blending. As I work I am frequently altering little bits here and there, tweaking and deviating from the original concept. I am very slow – I pay too much attention to detail. No two pictures are the same and I draw (pardon the pun) on a range of techniques: tools range from thick graphite sticks, which can be shaved and blended into the canvas with cotton wool for large areas of dark tone, mechanical pencils with the finest of points for detailed work, putty rubbers that can be pulled into different shapes to lift out highlights, scalpels, wire wool, chalk, charcoal have all been employed at some time or other. I have even used tea bags on one picture that needed a sepia tint. Each new portrait always has some element of experimentation.
Even more cumbersome than I had thought then! As your work involves various pencil layers, do you often suddenly decide something is not right and go back to square one or does it run smoothly most of the time? Are mistakes undoable in this kind of artwork?
It’s imperative that you get the under-drawing correct before you go rushing in with a heavy hand and dark pencil so pay close attention to your reference material and you won’t go far wrong. This is the stage when mistakes can be undone as the line is only light. Once the initial drawing is done I leave it lying around for a week or so and keep looking at it until I feel happy nothing needs amending. Then it’s in with the heavier and bolder lines where mistakes are hard to rectify.
Is there anyone or anything you have tried to draw and just can’t seem to get what you intended?
I’ve been lucky so far, apart from one disaster….. fatally on the drawing board was the Carry On team. Due to my methodical approach and painstaking research, each picture takes months and months to complete. It must have been around 3 o’clock in the morning. I had finished 11 of the 12 characters and was well into Barbara Windsor, the 12th and final character, I was that tired and I accidentally spilt vodka and lime on her. I was devastated and ended up destroying it, but, as they say, “every cloud has a silver lining.” Carry On was revisited a couple of years later and I think I did a much better job of it.
I’m sure Barbara didn’t mind as she’ll have had plenty of vodka and limes spilt on her at the Queen Vic.
You said that you don’t often get to choose your projects. What would you say was the strangest request for a drawing that anyone has made to you?
Possibly John Denver with Kermit the frog perched on his shoulder, closely followed by a prototype for a shopping trolley.
As I said, you draw everything and everything. What do you have in store this year?
Regarding comedy, Allo, Allo has made it to the actual “doing it” stage but this will probably take a year to complete in between other commissioned work. My work always plays second fiddle. I’m hoping to get a smaller piece depicting James Finlayson finished in time for the Birmingham Comedy Festival. I’m starting to panic a little on this one as I’m such a slow worker. You just can’t rush these things.
You can catch the Steve Lilley’s Comedy Classics exhibition as part of the Birmingham Comedy Festival at Artfull Expression,23/24 Warstone Lane5-27 October. Opening hours: Mon to Fri 10.00 to 16.30 / Sat 10.00 to 16.00
Hip-hop and Ireland; two words practically antonymous with one another. Not if Dublin born Rob Broderick or ‘Abandoman’ has anything to do with it. Along with his partner James Hancox, they have won both Hackney Empire New Act of the Year and The Musical Comedy Awards in 2010. Combining comedy and music for sketches that are basically improvised, and, as we found out, usually incorporate the audience throughout, they have new cards to bring to the table. Thank God for that. I seriously can’t take any more McIntyre (everyone knows it’s cool to knock him).
They are regulars on The Now Show and The Chris Hawkins Breakfast Show and have performed alongside or opened for the likes of Mickey Flannigan, Jimmy Carr and Ed Sheeran. They sold out their full run at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, so it’s good news to hear they will be performing at the up and coming Birmingham comedy festival. So, we gave Rob a phone-call for an interview and naturally, squeezed all of the juiciest information out of him.
So Rob, how did the idea come about?
Well, when I was younger I was a massive fan of hip-hop. When I was 13 I got given a hip-hop CD by an older kid. I just loved how verbose it was. It was so different to everything I had previously experienced with music. Everything on the radio was quite sanitised, the language was fit for families and there was virtually no hip-hop. I grew up confidently doing bits here and there. When I was 16 I had a hip-hop band briefly and we did the school battle of the bands. We covered ‘Gangster Rap’ which was huge at the time and that does look ridiculous coming from the voices of two Irish middle class 16 year olds! Then I moved to England and fell in with a rapper called Jonzi D. We toured the country at Jonzi’s direction and that really built up my confidence to start rapping.
Have you ever thought of making your own name for what you do?
I used to call it folk-a-hop! When I started out I was a one-man-band and I used to sample a lot of folk music. To be honest, hip-hop samples from so many different genres that it just falls under the hip-hop banner really.
How do you keep yourself focused under pressure?
I warm up for it. I freestyle. If I’m doing a show at nine, I’ll start free-styling with a friend at about eight. I’ll go on at nine and my brain is usually quite warmed up by that point. It’s probably the easiest way. And it’s something I enjoy doing. I listen to a lot of music during the day and my brain in a way plays its own lyrics. I start free-styling over the track, so it’s something I do anyways.
The Birmingham comedy festival – what can people expect?
Well, as well as the shows always being lyrically new, the style of the show is also new. It’s a show that we built for Edinburgh this year. It’s a one hour musical with a narrative, but all of that is built on the people I meet in the crowd. Its gets sillier and sillier as it goes on which I really love.
Who would win a rap-battle between you and the Sheeranator?
It depends who’s judging. If it was fans of pop music, no matter what I did, Ed would win! Truth be told, I’m not the most aggressive of men, so I struggle to seriously battle rap with anyone. I toured with a battle-rapper for a musical and one of the guys on the tour I shared a changing room with. We tried to battle each other but I’m quite a genial dude, so I’d be like ‘you can’t rap at all, but last night you were incredible!’ So I’d probably start rapping to Ed about how ‘Lego House’ is actually a great song. It could go either way. We’ll try and make it happen.
How did you end up working with Ed in the first place?
Originally we were in a room together with his cousin, who is a comedian. We were on the same bill but didn’t say hello to each other. And then in May 2010 there was a guy called Dan Tsu who put together a hip-hop show for the free festival in Brighton. There were four members and one of them was Ed. He’d just toured with Nizlopi and I thought he was brilliant. He was going around and meeting people, there was huge interest in the stuff. We were aware he was getting bigger and bigger. We saw each other at various festivals over the next 12 months and he invited us to come on tour with him. It amuses me to no end that in 2010 the dude was doing shows for free in Brighton and now he’s playing for the Queen! His skill-set has been built since he was 11, releasing his own EP’s and he’s written so many songs. It makes sense that people are now recognising him. It was interesting touring with him because we’d see him going out in front of five thousand people every night and he was so relaxed. I think a lot of people would find that quite stressful.
Are there any plans for you to release an album?
Yeah. I mean, no. No there aren’t. But there are plans for me to try! I’ve been writing for the last year; song ideas. But I really enjoy the nature of improvising, going onto a stage and going ‘here’s a song, see you later song!’ I love it. I adore it. I adore the idea that the song comes, it’s executed and it’s gone. The idea of sitting down and working on a song again and again until it’s done, that doesn’t suit me. Everyone has different natural abilities. Some people are better writers, some people are naturally more inclined to freestyle and I’m definitely the latter. I don’t know what my album would be. I don’t know if it would be a mess, but I’d like to give it a try.
What are the plans for the future?
There are a few TV ideas that are being discussed at the moment, but I’d really like to write another musical. I really enjoy the process. The last piece wasn’t a comedy. It was more of a drama and I’d love to write a hip-hop comedy that is theatrical with lots of other rappers in it. At Edinburgh I saw something similar. It was a hip-hop adaptation of ‘Othello’ and I really enjoyed it. It was really good.
Personally, I’m looking forward to that. If you missed the duo at the Edinburgh Festival then you’re lucky enough to be able to catch them at the Birmingham comedy festival from the 5th of October. And occasionally they pop up on various TV shows. Here’s to hoping they get their own one day!
Jake Taylor for PPSF, signing off.
British comedian Simon Evans is well established in the UK and has a number of television writing credits for shows such as Not Going Out, TV Heaven Telly Hell, The Big Breakfast, 8 out of 10 cats and many more. He has also made many television appearances, most notably as a team member on Mock the Week, performances on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, The Comedy Store (Ch5) and Dave’s One Night Stand.
Simon is also an Edinburgh Fringe Festival veteran having performed hour long one man shows since 1999 up until 2003, returning again in 2010. He performed at this year’s festival with a brand new hour long show, Friendly Fire, which he will also be taking to Birmingham Comedy Festival on the 9th of October.
I had the privilege of talking to Simon Evans via phone and it was without a doubt incredibly informative; having seen many of his performances on TV, as a comedian he really does have a presence about him, being a very witty intellectual and with an almost patronising manner to his audience on stage you would be quick to think that this is actually his real life persona. How wrong you would be. Of course, Simon is definitely an intellectual but in no way is he patronising, nor does his ‘educated’ accent that you hear on stage even make its presence known. Talking to him I could tell he was a very humble and pleasant man.
We talked about his experiences at the Fringe Festival and delved into other topics which included his on stage persona and how YouTube has served as an advantage or a stumbling block for comedians.
So Simon, How was Edinburgh?
“Edinburgh was great, I had a sold out run which was the first time I’ve had that which was very rewarding and it was quite unusual I’d have to say.’’
In what way was it unusual?
‘’I think because many acts were struggling to get as many people as they would have normally hoped for, so I was told. I mean, I was there 2 years ago and I was quite up and down with 20 or 30 on a Tuesday or Wednesday but managed to get a full run this time round which was brilliant. Of course, it does make a huge difference with how you feel about the show and the whole experience really. I mean, most people associate going to Edinburgh with how important it can be for your career and invoke your material but it can cost an awful lot of money and can be very dispiriting when you have put in a lot of hard work in trying to develop a show and you see a handful of people confused as to why they’re there in the first place. It makes it all that much different when you’ve got a packed house every night.’’
So would you say that you have had encountered a huge loss in money during your times at Edinburgh?
“Yeah. I wouldn’t say I have lost that much but a number of acts have literally had to catch up with their earnings after the Edinburgh Festival and there are certain agents and companies that spend a lot more of their money on promotion than mine do and I’m grateful to them for keeping things pretty tight. I’ve come away from Edinburgh usually maybe 2 or 3 grand down at the most which is not what you want from the months of hard work but it’s obviously not the end of the world. I do know acts that have come away 10 or 15 thousand pounds out of pocket and that’s very, very hard.’’
Yeah. I remember hearing a similar thing like that happening to Richard Herring.
“Yeah. He now makes money when he is up there, I’m sure, but he’s slaved away as a lot of acts do for many years at Edinburgh trying new material, new shows or occasionally old shows and gradually you do move into profit as it’s a long, hard business. Then there’s other acts of course whose lives move along very quickly and before you know it they are doing a week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre at £30 a ticket for 10,000 people. I have total admiration for them but that’s not the story for most of us.’’
I do believe it varies for most people which can be unfortunate.
“Well, it’s the name of the game. When I got into it 15 years ago I honestly wasn’t thinking about it as being a career at all. I thought of it more like an extreme sport. I was truly in it for the adrenaline rush and I didn’t intend to do it professionally. I didn’t think anyone would pay me and was really shocked when I realised that I was starting to earn more doing Stand up Comedy than what I thought I would be doing for a living. I think then and now there has always been a pyramid structure. There’s always been an understanding that there are only a few people right at the top of the tree that earn masses of money and have a really amazing lifestyle and amazing opportunities that come out if it. You get to travel the world, get to appear on TV you know and that remains an incentive for the rest of us, Ha-ha!
But, there are many more you don’t see who aren’t experiencing that or maybe experience it for a week or a month or so. I think very few people who have been doing it for any length of time can really understand what it’s like. It could be more like envy or resent really. You probably think ‘Is he that good. Really?’ but, by and large, you realise it’s what we are all striving for and you’ve got to go ‘Good luck, Mate.’ I started in the late 90’s and I think, since then, it happens to all of us. Programmes like Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo certainly help more young comedians into being more mainstream acts when they may have been considered alternative.
It’s the same way like if an underground indie or alternative band breaks out and becomes huge and they start filling out stadiums so it has all changed drastically, which is fine.’’
In terms of how it has all changed with YouTube making it more accessible for people to view stand up Comics online, do you reckon it’s had an effect on the live circuit?
“Well I don’t think it’s just very much from my perspective, I’ve got a few clips on YouTube but if anyone was making illiterate recordings of my stand up in a live environment then putting them online without my permission I would be angry about that but that’s the thing that’s changed in the fact that you can’t do anything about it. However, I think all that’s happening mainly on YouTube is that once you put something on the telly people will then put it on YouTube. In all honesty, I think it’s done me good really , having appeared on the Comedy Gala and McIntyre’s Roadshow. They are very good promotional tools, largely because of YouTube, you know. There was a time for comedians when you could develop a good strong 20 minute set and it would just last you for years because it would never be on telly and it would never be on YouTube and it would stay fresh enough in the clubs and you would never have to write again. I guess I did fall into that trap for a while. I used to have a 20 minute set that didn’t change and as a result I think I went dead behind the eyes. As a result, I do regularly turn over more stuff and write more frequently and certainly aspire to do a new hour every year and get back up to Edinburgh with it. Well, I do an hour and a half now. That’s what the job should be really – responding to the world around you, regularly, rather than creating a little monologue that you can travel with and won’t need any tinkering with. It’s a lovely idea but it’s something of the past now.
In that respect I do believe YouTube has allowed comedians to get their stuff out there. Good quality does come through just as well as it does on the telly. There are some acts that you are better off seeing live and that’s the same thing with bands as well. They can put things on the internet and tell people not to judge them but you know, you’ve got to get used to that.’’
So would you say that due to so much accessibility to your material via YouTube it has made you a more consistent writer and a sharper comedian?
“Yes it does and I think it makes you a more unique comedian. I do value confidence and smooth delivery. There are comedians who definitely benefit from writing more frequently and don’t particularly cherish those qualities. For instance, Louis CK, who you probably know, is the number one comedian these days and everyone loves him and loves the honesty. I remember him saying that he had a revelation that he had a polished and well tested hour that really served him well in the clubs. I mean, it’s not like he was a completely different comedian or anything but then he saw George Carlin when I believe Carlin was in his 60’s at that time and he was coming up with a new hour every year. Once the hour was on HBO and he’d done his special with it that was it, it was in the can and he would start work on the next one. He said that’s what you’ve got to do and so Louis CK started doing that and he dates his rise to genuine uncompromised super-stardom to his adjustment in his attitude to the writing.
So it definitely works for some people but I do think it’s not just an excuse for thinking ‘I don’t need to craft good material, I just need to get up there and say whatever is on my mind. I just need to reaffirm that I’m a good comedian and I can take material that I have written on the bus and riff it up into 5 minutes of material’ Do you know what I mean? You still need to deliver good material and until that material is ready, you should stick to the stuff that’s good and polished and maybe a bit old because it does make it harder work otherwise.’’
Following up to that, considering you are now writing hour long sets, how do you prepare for that?
“I’m still learning to be honest. I wrote an hour for the Edinburgh Festival in 2010 but that was my first hour for 7 years and at that point I had a lot of material that I had never done in Edinburgh before and I hadn’t specifically written for it. It was written whilst doing my 20 minute sets around the country so 2012 was actually the first I had written anything completely from scratch. I started writing in February of this year, I think, and what I did was have a rough idea of a pre-occupation of what I was thinking about genuinely. I don’t want to artificially construct or contrive a sort of thing that I’m not genuinely interested in. Usually the idea is that you have a dozen routines now and I think how to connect them. Sometimes it’s not immediately apparent and you just have to push it a bit in order to make that connection.
My wife said something interesting. She said she went to see some of her favourite comedians as a regular paying customer rather than a critic and that frequently the theme often deviated quite significantly from what they claimed it was about at all. As long as you have moments in the show where you bring it back with a reference to tie it in then it doesn’t have to be a completely water tight case. You’re not making a speech in the Oxford Debating Union or something. It’s entertainment, but it helps people if you do take it back to the narrative. That’s fine, but you’ve got to make some sort of sense so that they can see that the thing is a whole run rather than just a collection of observations. It is hard though, keeping peoples interests for an hour. Any comedian will tell you that regardless of how cleverly constructed the show is, most of the time comedians will notice audience’s attention weaving from time to time. This usually occurs around the 40 minute mark but it’s not a coincidence when you are in the comedy clubs doing 20 minute sets and such. I remember one of the first hour sets I saw was Adam Blooms back in 1996. He was a very entertaining and energetic stand up but even then, after 40 minutes the audience can get distracted. What he did was just stop doing the stand up and started doing a card trick Ha-ha!’’
Ha-ha! In that instance then, would you have a space in your set for improv or audience interaction?
“I try to, yeah. I do really enjoy audience interaction when I get started with it. I do feel like it should be a bigger part of my set but I have a real resistance to speaking to people in the audience because I have a feeling that they really don’t want to be spoken to and I feel very strongly that I shouldn’t pick on a member of the audience then take the piss out of them because they work in I.T. or something. I just don’t think that’s on really. It all seems a bit mean and particularly because my persona is not a warm and trendy one anyway, or at least it hasn’t been, traditionally. I suppose I’m a bit more arrogant on stage so people can sense that and just think that I’m taking the piss but that’s something I’m still working on if I’m honest. I do think it’s a really important aspect to do in long shows. You look at people like Dara o’Briain and Al Murray who are the big kings of doing stuff like the Apollo and regularly on tour. I think Dara gets a tour out of those places at least every two years or more frequently than that, and the reason he can do that and develop material that quickly is largely because of his ability to get stuck into the audience and not alienate everyone and they really enjoy it. I don’t think it’s magic, but there’s a huge mystery to it and it’s one that I need to develop next because I don’t think it’s possible to be able to talk for an hour and a half without any audience interaction as the sound of just one person’s voice for that long can become monotonous, really.’’
Regarding your on stage persona. As it is clearly different to your actual personality, has it gained you any hostility from a crowd?
“Yes, it can do initially, but I used to have a line very early on that you may have seen me do saying ‘This is all very well but where are his eyes?’ It was very useful because I would talk about being posh and make disparaging remarks about Geordies but then I’d use the ‘where’s my eyes?’ bit and the great thing about that was that at that point it was self-deprecating and it made me the butt of the joke. You certainly got a glimpse into my childhood and such and it just brought all the attention to me that way. I’m kind of hoping that the people that come to the shows now have seen me do that bit therefore have already absorbed that aspect. It’s a tricky thing when you’re doing stand up. It’s knowing how much of your audience have seen you do certain bits before, and if they have, then you don’t want to keep going over it with going to other areas of my head like ‘my hair is thinning’ or something like that because that can get tiresome. If you have seen me before then we can just go right, you know who I am now, let’s just crack on.
Having said that, there are people like Al Murray’s the Pub Landlord character who has been wildly misunderstood. Some people take that at face value but he couldn’t be more different in real life than to that character. I mean, Al Murray is a very intelligent and educated man. He knows an awful lot about how the world really works.
Unfortunately, because of the character, people take it at face value without actually understanding the irony.’’
I think the thing I’ve noticed since doing stand up is that because on stage I am a different character and sometimes I think the audience are a bit weary whether to laugh or not because they believe I’m being serious.
“That’s true. I think what you have to do is just trust them and stick to your guns. Don’t break character and push it that little bit further where the audience can actually detect that it surely is a joke. Ideally, the best place to aim for is to be in a position where you can say something mildly appalling, with everyone thinking you are being serious, with laughter becoming slighty delayed, with the audience then realising you are just joking.’’
Simon Evans will be performing his show Friendly Fire on October 9th at Birmingham Comedy Festival.
The Glee Club, The Arcadian, Birmingham B5 4TD
T: 0871 472 0400
£13 / £10 NUS
Doors 7pm / Last entry 7.30pm
This is just part of his autumn tour where he’ll be gracing audiences with his presence at the following venues:
|20.09.12||Tunbridge Wells Trinity Theatre||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £14 (£12 concs).|
|22.09.12||Didcot Cornerstone||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £14 (£12.50 concs).|
|28.09.12||Lancaster Grand||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £12 (£10 concs).|
|29.09.12||Sundial. Cirencester||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £12.50.|
|09.10.12||Birmingham Glee||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £13 (£10 concs).|
|12.10.12||The Dome. Brighton||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £14 (£12 concs).|
|19.10.12-20.10.12||Hen and Chickens.Bristol||Time: 8:45pm. Admission: £13.|
|23.10.12||Durham Gala Theatre||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £13.|
|25.10.12||Skipton Mart theatre||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £12.|
|26.10.12||Exeter Barnfield Theatre||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £12.|
|30.10.12 -31.10.12||G Live, Guildford||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £13 (£11 concs).|
|02.11.12||Leeds City Varieties||Time: 8:00pm. Admission: £13.|
|08.11.12||Cardiff Glee||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £13 (£10 concs).|
|24.11.12||Salford Lowry||Time: 7:30pm.|
|29.11.12||Nottingham Glee||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £13 (£10 concs).|
|08.12.12||Swindon Arts Centre||Time: 7:30pm. Admission: £12.|
You can find out more about Simon Evans at http://www.simonevanscomedianetc.com/