“Fury is your real name?” I asked stand-up comic Becky Fury.
“So Rebecca Anne Fury? RAF. Like the Royal Air Force.”
“No,” she said. “Like the Red Army Faction.”
In August, Becky Fury won this year’s increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Cunning Stunt Award. She had posted her Edinburgh Fringe show flyer on the dating site Tinder as a commendably lateral thinking way of increasing her audience numbers. She also printed on her flyer that she was a nominee for the ‘Last Minute Comedy Award’.
The used-to-be Perrier Awards were sponsored this year by lastminute.com. So this claim was impressive and, on the night I saw her show, four Canadians had been lured in on the basis she was, they told me, “up for the big Edinburgh comedy award”. But Becky had, in fact, been nominated a while ago in a contest run by the small club based in Hitchin called Last Minute Comedy – totally unconnected to last minute.com. It was an admirably truthful yet misleading cunning stunt.
“So,” I said to her, “as a result of winning an increasingly Malcolm Hardee Comedy Award, you must now be inundated with phone calls from Los Angeles and Las Vegas?”
“When I started doing comedy,” she told me, “I met Tony Allen. And him and Malcolm Hardee never got on at all.”
“Because,” I asked, “they had different versions of how the phrase ‘alternative comedy’ was first coined?”
“Yes. So, since I got the Malcolm Hardee Award, Tony Allen ’s not speaking to me.”
“Why?” I asked. “It’s not your fault you got it.”
“I think he thinks I should have turned it down and maintained my… I think he’s feeling a bit unjustly forgotten.”
“Well, that’s true enough,” I said. “He may or may not have invented the phrase ‘alternative comedy’, but he was important in inventing the concept.”
“He was,” agreed Becky, “and I think Malcolm Hardee deserves credit for being an amazing, anarchic comedy promoter but also Tony didn’t really like Malcolm Hardee because he thinks that Malcolm sold out.”
“How did he sell out?”
“By not being completely pure and truthful to what Tony thought alternative comedy should be.”
“That it should be political. His idea was it should be a revolutionary force for social change.”
“Whereas,” I agreed, “Malcolm thought it should be a load of bollocks – literally.”
“Yes,” laughed Becky. “Anarchic fun.”
“Where did you meet Tony Allen?” I asked.
“At an anarchist book fair and I went to one of his workshops at the beginning of my stand-up comedy career. He mentored me. He sort-of took me on as his sort-of daughter for quite a few years.”
“And didn’t take advantage?” I asked.
“No. He looked after me because I was not in a very good way. He was my surrogate dad figure and he played that role wonderfully. He was really good.”
“Relationships and friendships,” said Becky, “run a course. I’m moving my boat up to near where he lives in Ladbroke Grove, so we will probably see more of each other again.”
“You live on a boat?”
“It’s the freedom and, if you’re going to create interesting art, your art is your life, so it’s difficult to create genuinely interesting alternative work if you don’t live a genuinely interesting alternative life.”
“You want to be a free spirit,” I said.
“I want to be happy.”
“I live on a boat and I work very little and I have a very nice life. I try not to hurt anybody or cause anyone any stress. People should be what they want to be. I am a free spirit. But why do I live on a boat? Because it’s cheaper. I used to live in a squat, but you can’t do that any more.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“Five years. It was very beautiful experience.”
“Just the one squat?”
“Lots of them. We had one in Shadwell that had a circus space in it. A trapeze. A yoga space. The council was going to give it to us, but we had to fill in loads of paperwork and we couldn’t be bothered. Now I think maybe it would have been worth the effort. The council actually offered us a £3 million property. I think it had been an old dairy. They owned it. They said: If you want to turn this into a housing co-op, fill in the correct paperwork and we’re open to the idea. Now it is a traffic wardens’ storage space.”
“Living in a squat,” I said, “suggests an urge to rebel.”
“I went to a private school and could see my life was too narrow and wasn’t interesting enough. I thought I needed to expand my horizons and my life experiences and go a bit crazy in order to create more interesting art. You don’t create interesting art if you’re a nice middle class girl who goes to a private school.”
“You occasionally,” I said, “lapse into poems on stage.”
“I am a poet. I don’t want to be a poet. But I do more paid poetry gigs than paid comedy gigs at the moment. I would like to think my life was poetry, hence the fact I live on a boat. Is that really pretentious?”
“Potentially in print it might be,” I said. “All sorts of things people say change their tone when they’re printed.”
“You lose the intonation,” said Becky.
“Yes,” I said. “How long have you been doing comedy?”
“About five years, but I was quite depressed when I first started. I suppose it was maybe a way of not killing myself. I was just going round doing open mic gigs as a way of keeping myself sane.”
“Surely a wrong choice of career in that case,” I suggested.
“Yes,” laughed Becky, “I don’t think you can say that about comedy: that it’s a way of keeping yourself sane.”
“This was in your drug period?” I asked.
“Yes. I wasn’t very happy and I was taking quite a lot of drugs. So I was going around self-harming on the open mic circuit, doing lots of horrible gigs as an alternative to taking hard drugs and cutting myself.”
“Which you used to do?”
“No. All the cool kids cut themselves, but I’m quite lightweight when it comes to self-harm.”
“Just doing open mic gigs and going with unsuitable men?” I suggested.
“Yes. I need to find a comedian to go out with so I can re-sharpen my comic brain.”
“That’s a terrible idea,” I advised her. “Never go out with a comedian. They’re all mad.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Becky replied. “I don’t care how mad they are. It’s about my career development.”
“But you will also be competing against each other.”
“That’s fine. I will win.”
“Have you been out with a comic before?”
“Yes. Years ago. A long time ago.”
“How many comics?”
“Two. I was very young.”
“You told me earlier that, when you were about 19, you met (COMEDIAN 1) and he helped you.”
“He was a lovely man. He was about 40. He said I was too young for him to go out with. He said it was not a good idea because he was too mental.”
“Well,” I agreed, “he’s spot-on there.”
“He said: You don’t want to waste the best years of your life dealing with me.”
“That’s surprisingly sensible of him,” I told her.
“Exactly,” said Becky. “Isn’t that nice? So he just carried on being a lunatic and left me to get on with my own shit.”
“How did he help you?” I asked.
“By not going out with me.”
“Did he help you professionally?”
“No. Except maybe by not going out with me.”
“This is before you went to university,” I said. “You did drama at university, so you must have wanted to be an actress?”
“No. I’ve always been into comedy. When I first went to comedy clubs, I used to do a bit of chatting up the performers”.
“Only chatting up?”
“And sleeping with them occasionally. I was young.”
“And the attraction was?”
“Women always sleep with comedians, don’t they? That’s one of the reasons why guys like doing comedy. Because it gets the girls. And it got me when I was young and impressionable and when I thought that, offstage, they were like they were onstage.”
“But then…” I prompted.
“Then I found out they were all completely mental.”
“How long did it take you to realise that?”
“But, after that, you chose (COMEDIAN 1) despite the fact you knew they were all mental.”
“Well, I never really went out with him. I had a thing with him. And I had a thing with (COMEDIAN 2) and then I didn’t go out with any more comedians for ages. I decided I should probably go out with sensible people my own age instead. Well, I went with junkies. I wanted people more sensible and mentally stable than comedians, so I started going out with junkies.”
“A wise observation,” I laughed.
“But now,” Becky continued, “I do need to go out with a comedian again. I need to sharpen up my comedic abilities. That’s why I contacted you: so I can get hold of a comedian to shag. Basically, this is a personal ad.”
“How can they get in touch with you?” I asked.
“They can probably find my Edinburgh Fringe flyer on Tinder,” said Becky.