Odd UK comic acts: teddy bear torture and the man who ate his own brain

Comic investigator Liam Lonergan

Comic academic Liam Lonergan

Starting last week, I have posted three extracts from a chat I had with Liam Lonergan for his BA (Hons) course in Creative and Media Writing at the University of Portsmouth.

This is final extract:

__________

John: In the 1980s you went to alternative comedy shows and got a stand-up bloke talking about Margaret Thatcher. You got a juggler. You got a man who came on and read awful poetry. And you got a man who came and set fire to his hair or something. Lots of variety.

Whereas now if you go to a comedy club it’s stand-up followed by stand-up followed by stand-up followed by a bigger stand-up.

Liam: Variety is sort of dead, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. So you’ve got, like, five people all basically doing the same thing and there actually isn’t any variety on the bill, whereas the original alternative comedy actually had variety. The last two years at the Edinburgh Fringe I thought the funniest acts were mostly listed in the Cabaret section.

The last two years – possibly three years – there’s been a Cabaret section separate from the Comedy section and I’ve seen quite a lot of the shows and a lot of the funnier shows have actually been the cabaret section shows and not the comedy section. In the Comedy section they’re either doing straight stand-up or they’re doing quite good storytelling or they’re doing “I’m a student being wild and wacky”. God help us! If you ever see the word ‘wacky’ or ‘zany’ in a listing, avoid it like the plague.

Liam: That’s it. Toxic.

John: Whereas, in the Cabaret section, just weird things are going on. And very, very funny.

Liam: I didn’t know whether, within the dissertation articles I’m doing, to incorporate comedy revue and local theatre as well because there’s lots of that going on…

John: Small comedy clubs are closing and people are getting less interested in new comedy. You can see the big comedians with guaranteed quality in a big venue like the O2.

So why should you go to a small comedy club with acts you’ve never heard of? Acts who may be good but you’ve never heard of them so it’s a matter of luck. And, if you go to a comedy club, you’re going to get five or six people doing the same thing: stand-up. Whereas in the 1980s and early 1990s you got variety so you’d no idea what you were going to see. I mean, you would get Chris Lynam coming on and sticking a firework between his buttocks and they’d play No Business Like Showbusiness. Now THAT is entertainment.

There used to be an act who just came on and tortured teddy bears. There was a wheel of pain and the teddy bear got strapped to the wheel of pain and got tortured. Someone told me the guy is now a social worker in Tower Hamlets.

That’s what we want. That’s entertainment. Have you seen Hannibal? The sequel to The Silence of the Lambs?

Liam: The sequel to the film? Yes. Yes I have.

John: He eats someone else’s brain while the guy is still alive.

Liam: Oh, yeah.

John: There used to be a variety act in the 1980s or 1990s – someone told me he was a psychiatrist, I don’t know if he was – and he used to go round the comedy clubs with an act and the act was that he wore a fez and he had a spoon and he used to eat his own brain. He put the spoon inside the top of the fez and brought out grey stuff which he ate. And, as he ate different parts of his brain, different parts of his ability to communicate and to function disappeared. So he’d eat one part of his brain and he’d keep talking to the audience all the way through, then he starts twitching. So then he eats another bit and his speech starts to slur or the words get mixed up. It was simultaneously funny and very unsettling and scary because it like a flash forward to your own senility. You don’t get many of those type of acts anymore.

Liam: It’s a shame that’s dead because that’s the kind of stuff I’d… the audience reaction to that would be so mixed. It would be so…

John: You couldn’t altogether say it was funny but it was unsettling all the way through. It certainly wasn’t straight stand-up.

Liam: But that’s what I love. That’s what I…

John: Last year I sat through an entire evening of BBC3 comedy. There were four shows in a row. Not a titter. And I was sitting there thinking These people are sitting there trying to write a series of funny gag lines and that’s not really…

Liam: I think weird stuff can tap into humanity and the visceral reactions a lot more than the clever stuff.

4 Comments

Filed under Comedy, UK

4 responses to “Odd UK comic acts: teddy bear torture and the man who ate his own brain

  1. keith martin

    I dont even smile or titter at most of the comedy – comedy? – shows at 6.30pm on Radio4

  2. I worked with the guy who ate his own brain at the Walcot Festival, run by the Bath Arts Workshop. He was part of a quite heavy performance group, whose name I don’t recall. Ralph from BAW would know. The guy played it so straight and subtly, a very clever piece.

  3. The teddy bear guy is Steve Murray , he is actually the head of arts and events in Tower Hamlets . . .. i remember the brains guy, what was his name?

  4. Paolo

    I seem to remember John Sessions doing that eat my own brain routine. It was impressive but something about Sessions didnt agree with me, he exuded a verbosity that i found grating.

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