Being a comedian is all about running blindfold into trees and wearing socks?

In my blog yesterday, performer/showman Adam Taffler was talking about co-running a week-long course with performer Dr Brown in which people were encouraged to run down hills while blindfolded and feel goats. When I talked to performer Martin Soan about this today, his reaction was:

Martin Soan acting sensibly this morning

Martin Soan acting sensibly away from trees this morning

“Well, that’s fairly normal, isn’t it?”

“I have never felt a goat,” I told him. “Have you?”

“Being brought up in East London,” he replied, “we didn’t have much access to goats. Perhaps I would have been more successful if I had felt a goat in my childhood.”

“But what,” I asked, “are you going to learn about comedy by putting on a blindfold and running down a hill?”

“It’s not about that,” argued Martin. “It’s about releasing yourself and your imagination and, above all, giving you confidence about yourself. As we both know, that’s what comedy’s all about. It’s all about going out there with confidence. If you haven’t got the confidence, no matter what you do, it’s not going to work.”

“So have you ever run down hills blindfolded?” I asked.

“Yeah,” said Martin. “Yeah. When I was a kid.”

“In London?” I asked.

“Yeah, we had hills in London, mate,” laughed Martin. “Sometimes, I used to blindfold myself and run into trees intentionally. Hackney Downs, Hackney Marshes – there were loads of brilliant hills there. Sometimes I used to tie my feet to a bicycle and go down what we used to call The Tits… Please don’t put that in your blog or, at least, find a PC way of putting it… There were these enormous two hills called The Tits and, at the bottom – right at the very bottom – we used to put a brick and the whole idea was to avoid the brick because, if you hit the brick, you were off your bike.”

“Or off your trolley,” I suggested.

Wanstead flats - scene of some arrow escapes

Wanstead flats – scene of some arrow escapes

“Another brilliant thing we did,” continued Martin, “was to make our own bows and arrows, go over to Wanstead Flats (a large open area in East London) with these really sharp sticks as arrows, point them directly up in the air and fire them and just cover your hands over your head and see how near the arrow got to you. The one who had the arrow fall nearest to them – or hit them – was the winner.”

“Would you recommend this sort of thing for comedy workshops?” I asked.

“Probably not,” said Martin, “but I’ve carried on doing that sort of stuff all my life. And this is a serious thing I’m saying now. I HAVE carried it on – just being stupid, just being ridiculous. What you need for all comedy genres – including political satire – is confidence and it sounds to me like that’s what those Dr Brown/Adam Taffler workshops are all about. It’s all about having fun, releasing your inner child and gaining confidence.

“When I saw The Short Man With Long Socks, I don’t think Britain was ready for him in terms of the comedy scene, but I do honestly think that now… I’ve been wanting to book him now for over eight years or more. Not managed it yet. Almost managed a couple of times, but he cancelled.”

“How tall is The Short Man With Long Socks?” I asked.

“Short,” said Martin.

The sock on Martin Soan’s right foot today

A short sock on Martin Soan’s right foot photographed today

“And what does he do?”

“Well, there are three sections to his routine,” explained Martin. “It’s him getting ready to ‘go out’… him ready to go out… and then him out. That doesn’t really explain his act, but…

“So is he a mime act?” I asked.

“I suppose he is in a traditional sense,” said Martin. “in that he doesn’t talk. There’s no story or narrative to it. He’s not a skilled mime artist. He just doesn’t talk. He’s more of a performance artist, really.”

“So why is it funny?” I asked.

“Why is anything funny?” Martin shrugged. “There were a lot of people who found it funny; I found it hilarious; there were some people who didn’t find it funny at all on the night. I’ve only seen him once – at the International Mime Festival in Moers about ten or twelve years ago.

“After we saw him, me and Vivienne (Martin’s wife) started getting excited and talking about We would really love to open up a club where we have these ‘different’ acts on.”

“So The Short Man With Long Socks inspired you to start your Pull The Other One club? I asked.

Martin and Vivienne Soan - inspired by one man and his socks

Martin and Vivienne Soan – inspired by one man and his socks

“He most certainly did,” agreed Martin. “I would say, at this point in time… I would say he is my top, all-time favourite act. He encompasses everything that I’m really very fond of.

“There are two things which are going to make me laugh in comedy. One – I’ve got to like the act: if I don’t actually know them personally, I’ve got to imagine I will like them. And then it’s also got to be surreal, anarchic or something like that to grab my attention.

“The Short Man With Long Socks is all that and more.

“You blogged a while ago about me wanting to get away from the traditional comedy that’s going on now and become a performance artist with a sense of humour. Well, now comedy, thankfully, is breaking down in Britain. It’s not just purely about stand-up. There’s a lot of clowning and mimes and performance art acts who are part of the new comedy scene.”

“But Dr Brown,” I said, “just comes on stage and does nothing, doesn’t he? He just looks at the audience.”

“Does nothing?” said Martin. “I suppose you could say that but, then, I would go along to a lot of male-dominated stand-up comedy and they come on and do a lot of nothing. It might include a lot of words, but what’s the substance? They might do incredibly well-crafted jokes and acute observational material but, y’know… you get full-up with stuff.

“For a long time now I’ve been desperate for other aspects to be brought into the world of comedy and for it to be a lot more imaginative, free, crazy, surreal, anarchic – all those things… Dr Brown doing ‘nothing’ on stage is debatable, isn’t it? When I see Dr Brown on stage, he may not appear to be doing much but there’s certainly a lot going on in my head. He’s creating stuff in my head – just like really good stand-ups do.

“A really good stand-up can suddenly open you up and transport you to other worlds in your head: new narratives going on in your head. That’s the sort of comedy that I like.”

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