So I had a chat with David Mills, the American comic who lives in London, and we had trouble getting fully on-subject.
“My memory is shit,” I said, “and I have forgotten. How long have you been over here?”
“Are you here forever?”
“Well,” David joked, “now all these people are going down in Hollywood…”
“That’s not the best phrase to use,” I suggested.
“…there is,” he continued, “a lot of opportunity for middle-aged silver foxes like myself.”
“British TV?” I asked.
“Maybe,” I suggested, “there can only be one biggish North American ‘name;’ on TV at any one given time. Like you can only have one gay person ‘big’ at any one time – Graham Norton on BBC1, Paul O’Grady on ITV, Alan Carr on Channel 4. Maybe the most to hope for would be one big name American per channel.”
“Mmmm…” said David. “I think they’re happy to have people who come over from America. Every year at the Edinburgh Fringe, there’s always one or two. But the ones who are here… The attitude is: Who wants to listen to an American living in Britain talking about the UK? People want to hear Americans who live in America talking about America.”
“Bill Bryson,” I suggested, “wrote about the UK when he lived in the UK. But, then, he was a writer, not a performer – different audience.”
“And writers have a longer shelf life,” said David. “Stand-ups can come very quickly and go very quickly.”
“Last year,” I started, “you were in the Meryl Streep/Stephen Frears film Florence Foster Jenkins…”
“Let’s not talk about that,” said David. “It’s too long ago. I can’t flog that horse any longer.”
“It must have done you some good,” I suggested.
“Well, that led me on to other things, I’ve had some big auditions with (he mentioned two A-list directors) and (he named an A-list Hollywood star) is making a new film and I went up for the role of the baddie’s sidekick. A great part. But this film – I read the script – is so bad it might become infamous. I thought to myself: I really want this! I really want to be in this! I would love to be in an infamously bad film! That would be so much fun. But no.”
“Are you a frustrated actor?” I asked.
“That’s where I started, but no I’m not – though I would be happy to do more. More and more is being filmed here, because the pound is low, they get a big tax break and the acting and production talent here is so high. I was up for a small role in the new Marvel Avengers film and the new Mission Impossible film.”
“Do you have another film part coming up?”
“Yes. It’s for TV. But it’s Showtime and Sky Atlantic.”
“You have a small part?”
“My part, John, is perfectly adequate.”
“This is an acting role in a serious drama?”
“I wouldn’t say it’s that serious.”
“But you’re acting seriously. It is not a red-nosed, floppy-shoe clown role?”
“I’m playing a version of me, John.”
“Sophisticated, then,” I said. “Suave. What were you in Florence Foster Jenkins?”
“A critic. Well, I wasn’t a critic, but I was critical.”
“You were like Gore Vidal?” I asked.
“I would love to play Gore Vidal,” said David.
“Well,” I suggested, “now Kevin Spacey’s film about Gore Vidal has gone down in flames…”
“My Edinburgh Fringe show next year is called Your Silence is Deafening. It’s about being a critical person. I love people but that doesn’t mean I’m not critical. I am critical and I think that is good. The problem with the world is no-one likes critique.”
“Critical or bitchy?” I asked.
“They are different things,” said David.
“You don’t want to be ghettoised as being gay,” I said.
“No. I really don’t.”
“Your influences are interesting,” I said. “I never twigged until you told me a while ago that you partly model your act on Dave Allen.”
“Well, the act is different, but the look is inspired by him.”
“And you are very aware of the sound of the delivery.”
“Yes. A lot of things I say because I like the rhythm of the joke and the sound of it.”
“Are you musical?”
“No. But, to me, it’s all about precision. When I’m writing jokes or a show, it’s almost like a melody. I write it out and I do learn the words and I repeat the words. A lot of comics find a punchline and there’s a cloud of words leading up to it and those exact words can change every time. For me, that’s not the case. I may deliver it a little bit differently, but the wording is really important to me, because there’s a rhythm that takes me to the punchline.”
“You are a good ad-libber too, though,” I suggested.
“To an extent. But I am more heavily scripted than a lot of acts. Some other scripted acts are contriving to seem off-the-cuff, but there is something about that which, I think, feels wrong. I am trying to refer to a specific style – Dave Allen here and, in the US, Bob Newhart, Paul Lynde, people like that. They went out and had scripted routines and it felt more like a ‘piece’ which they presented, instead of shuffling on stage and I’m coming out with my observations. I aspire to the old school style: I have brought you this crafted piece and here it is.
“Bob Newhart was so subtle and he had such an understated brilliance. He was able to get great laughs out of a short look. So studied and crafted. He developed that. You could put Bob Newhart in any situation and he would bring that same thing.”
“Yes, “ I said, “Lots of pauses and gaps. He looked like he was vaguely, slowly thinking of things. But it was all scripted.”
“And,” I said, “the odd thing about him was that all the Ooohs and Aaahs were scripted.”
“Of course,” said David, “I have to do a lot of shows where I am still working it out, so it’s less crafted, but it’s all aiming towards me ‘presenting’ something. I think a lot of acts are not aspiring to do that. They are aspiring to a more informal kind of connection with the audience.”
(For those who do not remember Dolly The Sheep, click HERE)