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Punny Darren Walsh’s Cheep Laughs

Not just puns, but drawings... Cheep Laughs

Not just puns, but Darren’s drawings

“You must be a nightmare to live with,” I told UK Pun Champion Darren Walsh yesterday.

“Yes,” he agreed. “My poor girlfriend. I wouldn’t want to be her. Being the girlfriend of a comedian is hard enough, but being the girlfriend of a comedian who relentlessly puns is worse. We’ll be eating bread and I’ll be trying to get a rise out of her: but that’s the yeast of her worries.”

“Other girls,” I said, “want their boyfriends to be more interesting. She would probably prefer to have one who’s duller. She probably wants to make you into a gardener or something.”

“Make me into a gardener? said Darren. “That’s a cheap dig. Soil you could think of?”

Today, Darren publishes a book entitled (appropriately for a pun champion) Cheep Laughs.

It is published by Century, part of Random House, the biggest publisher in the world.

Cheep Laughs: Darren Walsh’s book launch on the River Thames last night

Cheep Laughs: Darren Walsh’s book launch on the River Thames last night

Perhaps also appropriately for a pun champion, the book launch last night was on water – the River Thames.

“Why not a self-published book?” I asked Darren. “Random House is the Big Time.”

“Just luck, really,” Darren told me. “Tim Vine did a joke book which did incredibly well but he didn’t want to do another one and that paved the way a little bit because they were looking for something similar. I was going to self-publish my book and then Random House got in contact after they read about me winning the Pun Championship. They asked me if I wanted to make a book and I said: I’ve already made it. I walked into their office with an already-printed prototype and that was it.

“Because I’m such a geek, I had all my gags on a massive spreadsheet with a grading system from 1 to 5 – good to bad – everything categorised – for 2,000 jokes. So, when they said What are your best jokes? all I had to do was search by Top Quality ones and just give them that.”

“So it all went smoothly?” asked.

“Except that, when I signed the contract,” said Darren, “I posted it to them and they did not receive it. I had to send them another copy. Then I realised: Maybe it’s the address. I was sending it to Random House and maybe the postman just delivered it to a random house. That’s true. It went missing.”

“Do they just have European rights?” I asked.

Dyslexic Darren purveyor of pure puns

Dyslexic Darren purveyor of pure puns for public perusal

“I’m actually not very good at reading contracts,” said Darren. “I’m dyslexic, but I didn’t know until I did a test when I went to university. I was thrown out of university because I got drunk and impersonated the Course leader. Before that, I was just failing everything. I failed all my GCSEs. I can’t write anything. My friend Leo Kearse says if I write anything longer than a pun, it just reads like a retarded farm worker giving a witness statement. I’m no good at writing long things. The PR person at Random House has asked me to come up with ideas for features we can send to newspapers that I can write and had to say I can’t write properly.”

“Will you do a second book?” I asked.

“It depends how well this one does, but the second book is pretty much written because I’ve got over 2,200 jokes… 813 are in this first book along with about 300 drawings. The second book is already half-written jokes-wise. I just need to do more drawings.”

“What were you like at school?” I asked.

“I was always drawing and making loads of music; those were the two main things at school. I used to make lots of electronic music. I guess you could call it electronica.”

“That sounds,” I said, “like it comes from a different part of the brain.”

“Not really,” said Darren. “A lot of the people who like puns are musicians. The majority of people who come up to me after gigs and say I like that play the guitar or something like that. I think music and puns are not totally disassociated.”

“Supposedly music and mathematics are connected,” I said. “Maybe with music and puns you are connecting separate isolated notes and words and spotting some way they will connect.”

“I dunno,” said Darren. “But I would say there’s definitely a link between music and puns.”

“So you are a songsmith?” I asked.

“A lyricist? No. I don’t write songs; I make electronic music. People who are musicians and who like puns… That doesn’t come from the lyrics but from the music. I think composing must be a similar part of the brain.”

On YouTube, there is a video of Darren at the World Pun Championships

“So are you a frustrated muso?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’d say there’s quite a lot of frustrated musos on the comedy circuit. The puns are one thing, but the animations and video comedy elements are stuff I’d also like to get off the ground.”

“Your day job is working as a  a freelance animator,” I said.

“Yes,” said Darren. “A lot are online ads. And I’ve now got a lot of comedy videos on Vine and my own YouTube channel. I’m starting to hone my animation skills into my comedy now; I thought I might as well.”

“How do you write your puns?” I asked. “Do you sit down for an hour every day?”

“No,” said Darren. “If I sit down, nothing comes out. I’m constantly writing jokes. I just get my phone out and write them down. I’m constantly thinking them. They just come into my head. There’s no wiring process; I’m just always on. If I’m on my bike – which is where I get most of my ideas – I’ve got a clamp to attach the phone so that, if I get an idea, I can just type it in.”

“You’re a dangerous man,” I said.

“Yeah. What could go wrong while cycling round London?”

“Your full show at the Edinburgh Fringe wasn’t just verbal puns, though,” I said. “There was a lot of variation: visual puns, drawings and everything. But it only ran half an hour.”

Darren Walsh - not just words

Darren – not just words

“Even though I mix it up a lot,” explained Darren, “I think half an hour is enough. Listening to puns is a bit like sitting a maths test. Puns are basically just word puzzles. The brain of the person sitting in the audience has to figure out what the punchline is. If you have an hour of that, it’s very exhausting, no matter how good the puns are.

“I have an hour of material now, from doing two completely separate half hour shows. But, personally, I don’t think I’ve got an hour show. If you stuck the two together, all you’d have is an hour worth of gags, which is not what I want. I am going to do an hour show at the Fringe next year, I just need to work on it. Not just an hour of jokes. There will be a story or… It’s something I have to figure out before next August.”

“A lot of people break through with an autobiographical show,” I suggested, “but that’s quite difficult to do with puns.”

“Anything’s possible with puns,” said Darren.

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“I’ve been mixing with weird people all my life – musicians, comedians, actors – They’re all f***ing cranks.”

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

David Tuck’s photo was ‘cartoonised’ by Brian

Brian Damage and his wife Vicky de Lacy perform musical comedy as Brian Damage & Krysstal and have run Pear Shaped Comedy clubs in London, Edinburgh and Sydney. At the moment, the club is weekly in Fitzrovia in London.

But Brian also paints and, in fact, created the image I use for the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards (based on an original photograph by David Tuck). So I thought it would be interesting to write a blog about Brian Damage the Artist rather than Brian Damage the comedy performer/club runner.

“Have you been painting all your life?” I asked him yesterday afternoon.

“No. I stopped when I was 19.”

“Why?” I asked, thinking I might have chosen the wrong subject to chat to him about.

Brian started selling cartoons to Tit-bits

.

“Around then,” he told me, “I took to cartooning and had about 16 published in Tit-bits magazine. And then, for some reason, I just stopped.”

“Why?” I asked.

“No idea..” he said.

“So when did you rediscover the joy of Art?” I asked.

“In 2010.”

“Why?”

“I can’t remember. But I know it was 2010 because I was extremely interested for two years and I’ve hardly painted at all this year.”

Oh dear, I thought, with a sense of impending doom.

Brian Damage at home with his painting

Brian Damage was at home with his painting yesterday

“I’ve only just managed to get the website up,” said Brian. “It’s taken me three years to put the website up.”

“Why did you start painting?” I asked.

“Originally, when I was a kid, because I was really into Dali and surrealist stuff.”

“But you don’t do surrealist stuff yourself.”

“Roses” by Brian Damage

“Roses” – by Brian Damage

“I did then,” said Brian. “My dad… His idea of tidying up was to start a bonfire. He’d see my paintings lying around and burn them. He would burn clothes and everything.”

“Why?”

“Anything he saw lying about, he’d say: Right! I’m tidying up today! But you might not necessarily be there when he was tidying up.”

“So there was a lot of arson around when you were a kid?”

“Yeah.”

“Why did you start painting again in 2010?” I tried.

“I can’t remember,” said Brian.

“So you’re a frustrated painter?” I asked.

“Yes. Art was the only thing I was good at at school.”

“Fatties” by Brian Damage

“Fatties” – by Brian Damage

“But you got into music when you were…?”

“About 17 or 18 or 19. I can’t remember. My mum and dad were already musicians; they used to play in pubs.”

“Why did you move from music to comedy?”

“Because I was never a great singer or drummer or guitarist, but I could do jokes.

“I started as a drummer and I was working as a musician up until I got married for the first time when I was 24 and my then wife told me: It’s time you grew up and acted your age and stop doing that horrible music and you should get a proper job. I was playing in my mum and dad’s band at the time. That was weird: dumping working with your own mum and dad to get a ‘proper job’.

Brian with two of his works. The one on the left is of his father)

Brian with two of his works. The one on the left is of his father

“So, for a while, I got a job in the warehouse of a company in Highbury, humping around boxes of mattress handles for export to Nicosia via Famagusta.

“Then I got another job and kept being promoted and, after two years, I was the manager of a Burberry shop in Lower Regent Street.”

“And then you left your first wife and moved into comedy,” I said.

“Well, with music,” Brian explained, “you can go sit in a corner, play and be ignored and everybody’s quite happy with you. That’s your job. I never wanted that. I did not want to be background.”

“So with comedy, you got more attention?”

“Yeah, as a drummer I always wanted to be out the front showing off on guitar; I did not want to be at the back.”

“And, in comedy, you started doing what…?”

Brian Damage and wife Vicky in 2008

Brian Damage and wife Vicky photographed in 2008

“At the time, I was into mainstream comics like Chubby Brown, Jim Davidson, all the unfashionable ones and I had a big collection of jokes before I started on the comedy circuit: every one was a ‘banker’ – all tried and tested.

“I heard Chubby Brown on the odd tape or video. He was extremely prolific. If you wanted good jokes, you just found the latest Chubby Brown tape and there would be at least ten ‘killers’ on it that you could use for the rest of your life. All the others used to share the jokes, but he was where they all came from.”

“This is in the late 1970s?”

“Yes… Well, I’ve got all the dates muddled in my mind, so I shouldn’t pay to much attention.”

“So you have got newly interested in Art again recently. Why?”

Grayson Perry,” replied Brian. “Have you heard his Reith Lectures?”

“No,” I admitted.

Brian with his painting of Vicky and the real thing

Brian with his painting of Vicky – and the real thing

“When we got my pictures together, I said to Vicky: Look, I can paint, but I can’t talk to people about it. I got into trouble on a website called Redbubble. I had loads of stuff on it – I don’t any more – and people got back to me after I uploaded a picture and said: Marvellous! Marvellous! So vibrant! So blah blah blah blah. And I said: Actually, it’s just a photograph of the paint at the bottom of the dish and I thought it looked interesting.

“They were so pissed-off!

“There’s so much bullshit, but what got me interested again was Grayson Perry, because he doesn’t like the bullshit either.”

“What’s he been saying?” I asked.

“Just basically saying: Yes, Art is great; it’s fun to do, but you’ll be lucky if you don’t get robbed by the dealers… and what makes it valuable and viable… and is it a good idea to get a little piece of dog shit and put a flag on it?

“Is it?”

A self portrait of and by Brian Damage

A self portrait of and by Brian Damage

“Well, it is and it isn’t. But I found myself agreeing with so many of his sentiments. I’ve been mixing with weird people all my life – musicians and comedians and actors – they’re all fucking cranks. And then there’s the Art thing. You go to one of the open nights when all the pictures are up and, if someone says your painting’s good, you have to say their painting’s good and the silences are deafening. I can’t get involved in it. It’s just more cranks.”

“Actors and comedians and musicians and artists are all odd,” I agreed, “but they’re all odd in different ways, aren’t they?”

“Yeah. They’re all cranks and that makes it all interesting but I can’t… I… There’s a friend of mine who used to do comedy and, at some point, his wife said: Why are you fucking around with this comedy? You’re a good artist. Why not just concentrate on your art and get rid of this comedy shit?

“Red Light Distract” - by Brian Damage

“Red Light Distract” – by Brian Damage

“Which he did. So he sends me stuff about the various art installations that he’s involved with. If I were to make a big chicken and put it over there, it would be adored and reviled by various people but the local council would have paid me thousands of pounds to make it if I told them: The colouring of the feathers shows the diversity of nations and brings them all together in a clash of featheringness.

“Well,” I said, “there is a story – which surely has to be apocryphal – about Damien Hirst going to some meeting with people who wanted to commission him and he accidentally trod in some dog shit on the way there. So he took his shoe off, went into the room, put it on the table and told them it was his latest work of art. The story is they believed him.”

“The odd part about it,” said Brian, “is that it is AND it isn’t art.”

“How?”

“Because anything can be Art. Anything at all can be Art.”

“Do you do Art on computers?” I asked.

“That’s what that Malcolm Hardee poster was,” said Brian. “I was trying to figure out how to use the pen in Photoshop.”

“New projects?” I asked.

“You know we’ve put a band together?”

“Eh, no…”

The Wrinklepickers at work

The Wrinklepickers: not exactly hillbilly-bluegrass-rockabilly

“That’s our main project at the moment. The WrinklepickersVicky sings and we’ve teamed up with a double bass player and a bloke who plays pots and pans and a snare drum. The fantasy is I want one other musician who plays the fiddle, mandolin, banjo and accordion – instruments which change the feeling of the band straight away. That’s the fantasy. What I have got is a lead guitarist who hasn’t managed to get to a rehearsal yet. We’ve managed two gigs so far, both in Kingston. The first gig was hilarious without doing comedy. The second one was more serious because about 90% of the songs were original.

“The original idea was hillbilly-bluegrass-rockabilly, that sort of thing. But it’s actually none of those.”

“Instead,” I prompted, “it’s…?”

“They’re influences.”

“Anything online?”

“There is a song called I Love You online which Vicky and I wrote and it’s just the two of us in the garden during the Big Snow.”

“Well,” I said, “with iTunes, you can be successful in all sorts of odd parts of the world.”

“I can avoid success anywhere,” said Brian.

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