Wilfredo has been described as a “grotesque caricature of Falstaffian appearance: trousers pulled up to the top of a corpulent stomach, a tight flamenco shirt, a wild black mop wig and a set of prominent prosthetic teeth. Typically, the character will always hold a pint of beer on stage, even whilst dancing and singing. He smokes his way throughout songs, salivating over the audience and musicians while berating them with rich expletives.”
The character of Wilfredo was created by comedian and actor Matt Roper, whose father George Roper was on TV in my erstwhile youth with Bernard Manning et al in the ITV series The Comedians. When I went to see Wilfredo’s Edinburgh Fringe show The Wonderful World of Wilfredo this week, I was fascinated by the number of women in the audience. Wilfredo is a sort of sleazy, greasy singer who slobbers saliva as he talks, yet he has built up a female fan base.
“I don’t understand why women like the character,” I said to Matt Roper. “They certainly wouldn’t be attracted to him in reality.”
“And they certainly aren’t at point blank range,” admitted Matt. “Sometimes I flyer in the streets as the character and, when he’s presented out of context, they certainly don’t want him coming up to them.”
“So maybe,” I suggested, “they like the on-stage character because there’s a willing suspension of disbelief because they know it’s satirical. He’s sexist but they know it’s a joke.”
“I think there’s an outlandish quality to him,” said Matt, “which they find attractive. When I did a preview down in Devon which is kinda my adopted home town area – Totnes – a friend’s mother came backstage afterwards and said The thing I love about Wilfredo is that nobody seems to have taught him the rules.
“If it’s a character you can get away with being ironic. And all the peacenik stuff Wilfredo spouts is very positive; it’s so important. He says Come on you cunts, but I think Wilfredo’s positive innocence – I’m the greatest singer in the world - he believes it’s true… That’s Wilfredo for me.
“There’s a strange innocence about the character which maybe makes him acceptable. He’s slobbering and he’s grabbing his penis and he’s calling the audience cunts but it’s all undercut by a form of charm, really. The charm is the licence. If Bernard Manning were not a real person and was a character, would…”
“Bernard wasn’t charming, though,” I interrupted.
Matt knew that generation of ‘old school’ comics through his father.
“You must have mixed with alternative comedians of your generation,” I said, “who were slagging off your father’s generation of comedians.”
“Yes,” said Matt. “I think Liza Tarbuck used to have that a lot. She’d be at a bar watching comics and people would turn their back on her. The first thing I did was News Revue at the Canal Cafe in the late 1990s and, yes, when Bernard Manning is considered the apotheosis of the Northern comic… that’s pretty hard. ”
“There are a few children of famous comedians up in Edinburgh this year,” I said.
“Yes,” said Matt. “Milo McCabe is here doing a show with his father Mike McCabe who, like my dad, was an old school comic; he’s actually got his dad performing in his show with him. Phil Walker’s here: Roy Walker’s son. And Katie Mulgrew, Jimmy Cricket’s daughter. We don’t know each other but, when we do meet each other, it’s acknowledged that our parents knew each other.”
“Your dad was never really tarred by the ‘old school’ criticism, wasn’t he?” I said. “He never had any of the bad image that Bernard Manning had. People never criticised him for his material.”
“When I watch old footage of him performing,” said Matt, “it’s very much his own laid-back manner. He was a storyteller.”
“Did you always want to be a performer because of your dad?” I asked.
“Well, I was exposed to the business because of him,” Matt replied. “I was always doing impressions and getting in trouble at school for clowning around.”
“All comedians, to an extent, hide behind a character,” I said.
“Well, we’re all hiding behind an alter ego, definitely – even the old school, my father’s lot.”
“Have you ever done straight stand-up?”
“When I was a lot younger,” said Matt. “I stopped when I was around 24 because I had nothing to say. I started when I was about 17 or 18. What does an 18 year old have to say? I might go back to it and I have got things to say, but it’s fun to inhabit somebody else, though I think maybe it’s less ballsy to hide… I think Jo Brand was talking about this re female comics. There tends to be a high ratio of female character comics and she was saying that’s because it’s easier to stand back from it if it doesn’t work if you’re hiding behind a character.”
Matt has been playing the character of Wilfredo for the last five years. It evolved from a a character he played at festivals, singing twisted versions of songs by John Lennon, the Rolling Stones and Amy Whitehouse.
“Are you coming back to the Fringe next year as Wilfredo?” I asked.
“Maybe as Wilfredo. Maybe in some multi-character show. I know you’d like to see that.”
“I just think it would show you have more breadth,” I said. “You do have other characters.”
“Yes,” said Matt, “there’s a performance poet character, but I don’t think the other characters I have would fit in with a Wilfredo audience.”
“How do you sell him when you flyer?” I asked.
“If I am out-of-character, as myself, I stop people by saying Entertainment for the discerning!… If I’m in character, I say: Hey! Hey! Come here! The character is a complete licence to take it as far as I want.”
“He is perversely attractive,” I said.
Matt replied: “Someone Tweeted yesterday: Recommend seeing Wilfredo at The Tron – Funny and disturbingly moving.”
“I still don’t really understand why the character has such a female following though” I said.
“It seems to be,” said Matt, “that there’s a high proportion of women who find funny men attractive and, as far the reverse is concerned, men are threatened by funny women.”
“That’s a whole different blog,” I said. “A whole different can of comedy worms to open.”