You can never tell who is going to succeed. Some extremely talented performers crash and burn. Some with minimal talent strike it lucky. (See vast swathes of BBC3.)
So who do I guess is the current reasonably-new comedian most likely to succeed…?
Maybe as a comedian.
Maybe as something else.
I blogged about him back in October last year.
And I was one of the judges at the English Comedian of The Year a couple of weeks ago. Archie was competing but was not in the first three.
“What about talent contests?” I asked him when we met at Soho Theatre this week.
“I completely understand why they’re there,” he told me. “But I really don’t like them. The judging panel could love someone on one night then see them another night and think they’re shit. There’s so many different things go into that one night.
“My ideal way to do it would be to have a final every night for a week and put the comedians in different places on the bill, then take an average score. That would make sense for me in terms of comedy.”
“You’re at the Edinburgh Fringe this year,” I said, “but not in a solo show.”
“I’m not going to do a solo show,” said Archie, “until 2016 at the earliest. At the Fringe this year, I’m one of the acts in Just The Tonic’s Big Value Showcase. And I’m doing a free show called Cookies & Cream with Jamie Oliphant who, surprisingly, doesn’t have a joke about his name. And I’m doing lots of other little things. But not a solo show. I’m not ready.”
“What’s your Unique Selling Proposition?” I asked.
“Probably confidence,” said Archie. “Everyone seems to say I’m stupidly confident for my position. But I’m very at home on stage. Some people have said that to me as a criticism, but how can that be a criticism?”
“I guess,” I said, “you feel comfortable because you grew up in a theatrical family where it was not abnormal to stand up in front of people and do strange things. Do you get stage fright?””
“No, but you can tell I’m nervous if I speak faster. I used to do this pacing thing just cos I wasn’t comfortable standing still and talking. But now I am. I only move when it makes sense to move. Coming to stand-up from an acting background is weird. I think there’s more recognition for acting. When an audience watches an actor, they recognise what that person’s job is. Whereas, with comedy, they’re not quite clear what job the comic is doing.”
“If you’re an actor,” I suggested, “the audience knows you have artificially created that atmosphere in the room but, with a good comic, it feels like they are just chatting to you in a non-artificial way so it feels like they are not performing, just being themselves.”
“I guess,” said Archie.
“You’ve probably,” I joked, “written 15 plays since the last time I chatted to you.”
“I’ve written a few plays,” laughed Archie. “One is going to be at the Fringe. It’s my first Edinburgh play. It’s called Compulsion and it’s about self-punishment and self-flagellation.”
“Sounds like comedians,” I said.
“Sort of,” laughed Archie. “It’s set in the minds of this one man and it’s him compulsively going over whether or not he has been a good person, looking back at memories of when he found himself being ashamed of something. It’s about him kind of descending into insanity.”
“You’re not performing in that?”
“No. I’ve written and directed it.”
“And a ‘serious’ actor plays the part of the man?”
“There’s several of them.”
“Different facets of the mind?”
“Exactly. They are called The Facets. Four of them altogether; one playing the same character throughout; the other three switching between facets and memories.”
“Directing is dead easy, isn’t it?” I said. “You just tell ‘em to stand over there and put more emphasis on a couple of words.”
“It is much harder work than I anticipated,” replied Archie. “It’s the first time I’ve directed a proper production; I’ve directed youth theatre before, but that’s very different. I think it’s something I’d like to do more of later on. It’s interesting to be so much more immersed into a text – moreso than when you are just acting. I feel I am the eyes of the audience and I’m conducting how I want them to see it.”
“It’s like writing,” I suggested. “The way to write is not to think of yourself as the writer but to go round 180% and look on what you are writing as if you are the reader, seeing the words for the first time as they appear on the page.”
“Exactly,” said Archie.
“As a director,” I asked, “did you change any of the pearls of wisdom you wrote as a writer?”
“Yes. Cut words. Cut entire scenes. Added in new scenes.”
“Was that,” I asked, “because you changed your mind or because the actors played it differently to the way you had imagined?”
“A combination of things,” explained Archie. “And we have no budget, so there were some scenes I thought we would be able to pull them off and we couldn’t.”
“Because of scenery and effects?” I asked.
“Scenery and time constraints, because it’s only a 50-minute play. There was originally a scene where they were going to be talking in metaphor about how a man has to use his tools in order to be a good craftsman and how that translates into actually being a good man. It was a nice scene but, in the whole dynamic and rhetoric of the play, it didn’t add anything. I would have had to dress them up in high-visibility building gear. That’s an expense we don’t need. We would have had to build a soundscape for the builders’ yard. So I threw that out. Now we have people in parks, people in showers. Very easy to do just with subtle lighting changes.
“Obviously I found it hard directing my own writing because I’m so close to it – It’s hard to cut certain things and, if the actors dropped a line, at first I would get a bit precious. Oh no – I wrote that for a reason! But, if rhythmically the actors are not getting what I saw and it’s coming out not as I thought it would come out, then I’ll change it around to make it make sense. The exact words are not that important. The story is still being told.”
“It’s like spelling,” I said. “Correct spelling is much over-rated. Shakespeare couldn’t even spell his own name.”
“And he made up words,” said Archie, “No-one complained about that.”
“Did he?” I asked.
“I think he made up the word ‘swagger’ and made up the phrase ‘heart on your sleeve’. Something like 500 words and phrases have been attributed to Shakespeare.”
“I think Roald Dahl invented the word ‘gremlin’,” I said. “You could die happy if you got a new word in the Oxford English Dictionary.”
“This is why,” said Archie, “I get really annoyed with people who don’t like kids who talk in slang. It’s their own language. You can’t be annoyed at that. If you don’t understand it, don’t say You must talk like I talk.”
“Chaucer is unintelligible,” I said. “Have you read Chaucer?”
“Yeah. I love Chaucer. But it’s hard to get through.”
“I couldn’t cope with Chaucer,” I said. “Shakespeare’s within bounds, but Middle English is another language.”
“Sir Gawain and The Green Knight,” said Archie. “Great story, but its readability… phwoah!
“I remember,” I said, “reading some Edgar Wallace novel which was written maybe around the 1910s or 1920s and thinking it was written in a slightly different language from the 1960s and 1970s.”
“Yeah,” said Archie, “Language evolves and people should accept the evolution of it, rather than try to kill it.”
“Presumably,” I said, “English will develop into the world language, but there will be Indian English and Chinese English as well as American English. I mean, Yorkshire English and Glasgow English and Kerry English are all slightly different.”
“There will,” said Archie, “be just be loads of different versions of pidgin English.”
“Which is why it’s a great language,” I said.