Comedian Simon Munnery lives on my railway line.
Well, not ON my railway line. That would be surreal. But he lives near Bedford, just north of London and I live in Borehamwood on the NW edge of London. We have bumped into each other a couple of times on Thameslink trains.
Last night I chatted to him at the Comedy Pub in London, just before he appeared on Phil Kay’s always-fascinating monthly Goodfather Comedy show.
“So,” I said to Simon, “next Tuesday you’re at the Leicester Square Theatre for ten nights with a show called Simon Munnery – Fylm. Is that the same as your 2012 Edinburgh Fringe show Simon Munnery: Fylm-Makker and your 2013 one Simon Munnery: Fylm?”
“Same format,” he said. “Different material.”
“So it was…” I started and then interrupted myself. “What have you been doing with your hand?” I asked.
He had grey-black marks on each of the knuckles of his right hand.
“Putting coal in a fire,” he said.
“Your own or someone else’s?”
“You’ve moved,” I said. “You live in rural tranquility now.”
“Except horses,” said Simon. “Horse boxes.”
“Horses or horse boxes?” I asked.
“Mainly horse boxes,” he replied. “I’d say ten-to-one horse boxes. You see a horse every so often but, despite having legs, they’re driven around. That’s how they live.”
“You’re not really a rural person,” I said.
“Turns out we are,” said Simon.
“Where were you born?”
“Edgware. But gradually, due to economic forces, we’ve been slowly moving out of town. We rented just outside Bedford for a long time and then my wife was given some money and I saved some and we put it together and bought a house.”
Simon and his wife tried for several years to have children but failed. Then he got testicular cancer and had to have one testicle removed. Shortly afterwards, his wife became pregnant. He has said on stage that he thinks the testicle was holding him back.
“Every time I meet you,” I said, “you seem to have more children. How many now?”
“Three children, one house, one wife, one dog… one future, one country, one leader, one Reich… no… One dog. His name is Leo.”
“Leonardo da Vinci. My daughter named him.”
“At what age?”
“Two years ago, when she was eight.”
“You have a very cultured daughter.”
“I don’t think she knew who Leonardo da Vinci was. She might have thought he was Leonardo di Caprio.”
“So,” I said, “Fylm…”
“It’s pronounced Fylm,” said Simon, pronouncing the Y like the vowel in Fie or Why. “Fylm. If it was pronounced film, that would be the same as film and you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two.”
“Between film and film?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Simon.
“The last time I saw you,” I said, “you were measuring the seats at the back of the auditorium in the Leicester Square Theatre.”
“That was for my box,” said Simon. “Before, I had a lot of trouble getting my box in there for the show and it was very uncomfortable. I use a box as a device, like a lever. A simple device which allows me to either film myself or, by changing the lighting, film the table in front of me. It requires a box round the camera and a half-silvered mirror.”
“You sit at the back of the audience during Fylm,” I said. “So they never see you.”
“At the beginning,” said Simon, “I do explain You won’t see me any more just to get that out of the way and then I go to the back.”
“And then you should switch on a recording and leave the building and go home,” I suggested.
“I wonder if that would work,” said Simon. “I don’t think it would.”
“I think it might,” I said.
“Well, one day I’ll try it,” said Simon, “but, to me it’s more like you can learn something from talking through a camera and talking visually.”
“You or the audience can learn something?” I asked.
“Me,” said Simon. “How to communicate with an audience visually. You can learn something about stand-up by doing stand-up. You can learn something about making film or visual stuff by making visual stuff in front of an audience and see what they like and don’t like.”
“Do you want to get into film making?” I asked.
“I am making live films by doing the show.”
“You can’t have live film,” I said. “Film is film is recorded.”
“No, that’s what I mean,” said Simon. “It’s a new word – Fylm – it is a live film.”
“So it’s pronounced Fy-lm,” I said, “because it’s a combination of ‘live’ and ‘film’?”
“As I say in my show,” Simon continued, “the camera amplifies the face in the same way a microphone amplifies the voice and it’s an instrument that should be used by live performers. That’s my theory. Most comedians speak through a microphone which translates their voice into an electrical signal which goes through an amplifier and a speaker and it comes out louder. It’s a kind of distancing device. There is something odd about it.
“So what I’ve chosen, in addition to the microphone, is to speak directly into a camera. The camera is connected to a video projector which projects my face onto a screen in front of the audience. So, as well as hearing me amplified, you also see me amplified. It allows me to use my face to do very tiny motions… (Simon laughed)… But let’s not talk about that!… very tiny motions of the face.”
“Isn’t,” I suggested, “communicating with the voice and face rather similar to performing live in a small room?”
“But there’s something odd about performing with a microphone,” argued Simon. “It takes your voice, puts it through a machine and makes it louder from a different place. The camera does the same thing but visually.”
“So,” I said, “you’re saying you want to do something you can’t do live on stage, which is to be seen and heard by the audience?”
“The camera amplifies the face,” said Simon, “the same way the microphone amplifies the voice. So, obviously, I can be seen live on stage and comedians do quite big things and pace around the stage and what you’re actually watching in the audience is that canvas, that shape. The performer has to fill that space or be very very still. But what you’re watching is a big canvas with a curtain and a stick figure moving around. I’m saying there is more you can do within that canvas. For example, a big face. That’s more of a communicating thing than a tiny face. An amplified face can communicate more – and more subtly – I think.”
“And why is it different every show?” I asked.
“I forget bits,” laughed Simon. “Or I put new bits in or try things. It’s quite exciting every time I do it. Some bits are quite seat-of-the-pants anyway.”
“Are you going to do more shows like this?” I asked.
“Every show’s a new one,” said Simon.
“Is there a narrative?” I asked.
“No. Just load of stuff slung together. There might be a narrative. Bits fall out. Bits come in. Maybe there’s a narrative. Might be. Might not.”
There is an extract from the DVD of Simon Munnery Fylm Makker on YouTube.
… CONTINUED HERE …