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The very interesting Thom Tuck sings The Mountain Goats and I’m convinced.

On Friday this week, there is a show at the Vault Festival in London titled THOM TUCK SINGS THE MOUNTAIN GOATS.

The billing for the show reads:

“A barely known comedian (“increasingly melancholy” The Guardian) sings the songs of a band you probably don’t listen to. A phenomenally stupid idea. Total sellout Edinburgh Fringe 2017.”

Thom Tuck is a very interesting man so, obviously I had to ask him several questions. As is my wont, I tended to meander a bit. Well, OK, a lot.

JOHN: So why are you doing this show?

THOM: I fell into a hole by getting into The Mountain Goats – the best band you’ve never listened to. They are so good.

JOHN: Do they sing jolly, feel good songs?

THOM: They’ve got two styles of songs: sad and very sad. Well, three types: sad, weird and angry. New Chevrolet in Flames is about a couple who take a car for a test drive, park it behind a school and set it alight.

JOHN: So the attraction of The Mountain Goats is…?

THOM: John Darnielle is just a brilliant storyteller. The first few albums are just him with a guitar and a Panasonic boombox and they’re all first or second takes. Phenomenal stories. And then, when he decided to write about his own life it got even better. There was a concept album about loads of druggies living together in a house… then an album about his abusive stepfather.

They released a single last week. It is sort-of about a dragon.

The last record was about Goths getting old and it includes a song about The Sisters of Mercy and their lead singer – It’s called Andrew Eldritch is Moving Back to Leeds.

JOHN: And you yourself were born in…

THOM: Leeds.

JOHN: And you feel Yorkshire…

THOM: Yes. There’s a Bill Bryson quote: You never feel so much a part of your own culture as when you’re surrounded by people who aren’t.

JOHN: You were brought up in…

THOM: Egypt, Sri Lanka, Denmark, Malawi, Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

JOHN: How did Denmark get in there?

THOM: My (English) dad worked for Danish firms – Krüger, an engineering firm, and DANIDA, the Danish international development agency.

“Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’”

JOHN: Did being brought up in all those countries screw-up your brain about who you are and where you’re from?

THOM: Well, it had an effect. I don’t know about ‘screwed-up your brain’… That was just the way it was. I wasn’t anywhere longer than 18 months before Bangladesh. I was in Bangladesh for six years – aged 10-16.

JOHN: The formative years.

THOM: Yes. I made friends pretty quickly, because I had to. I’m quite good at that first bit,

JOHN: Do The Mountain Goats know you are doing this show?

THOM: Well, I did it before, at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2017, for Mark Watson’s Festival of Bad Ideas and John Darnielle knew about that one.

JOHN: Are you taking it back up to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?

THOM: Probably. I did it sort-of unofficially last year – about 17 shows. I just put on Instagram: I’M GOING TO DO IT NOW! and went to Bob’s Blundabus and started playing in the shed.

JOHN: And you have formed a band to do this show.

THOM: Yes. The Hospital Bombers – named after a line in the Mountain Goats’ song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton:

The best ever death metal band out of Denton
Never settled on a name
But the top three contenders after weeks of debate
Were Satan’s Fingers and The Killers and The Hospital Bombers 

And all the band except one are obsessives about The Mountain Goats as well.

Thom and The Hospital Bombers’ possible set list for the show

JOHN: So this could be the start of a new career for you: singing.

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: But you’re a serious actor, really.

THOM: Well, the last big job I did was in the play Brexit.

JOHN: And you did Death of a Salesman.

THOM: Yes, two years ago. That was a torrid time. The lead actor died in tech rehearsal (three days before the play was due to open). Tim Pigott-Smith. So the first three weeks were cancelled.

JOHN: Had you wanted to be an actor originally?

THOM: I think so. But I always got cast as the comedy part in plays at school.

JOHN: I always think you went to university at Oxbridge, but you didn’t.

THOM: No. I went to Edinburgh University.

JOHN: Why?

THOM: Because, when I was 17, I went to the Edinburgh Festival and thought: Oh! I’ll come to university here, please!

JOHN: You studied…

THOM: Philosophy. I’m very glad I did it: I think I’m a better thinker because of it.

JOHN: But that’s no help in comedy, is it?

“Philosophical about things over which you have no control”

THOM: Well, just in life. Being able to remain philosophical about things over which you have no control and seeing logical flaws in things and fallacies in arguments.

JOHN: Seeing through bullshit.

THOM: Yes. I started doing Philosophy and Economics and that’s a bad pairing because, if you do them together, you realise Economics is false. It’s based on myriad assumptions and, time after time, these assumptions are not held up. Economists think they’re scientists and they’re fucking not.

JOHN: What are they?

THOM: They’re social scientists. They consider themselves on a par with mathematicians and they’re just not.

JOHN: You are very literate. You should be writing novels.

THOM: I’ve started a couple, but I’m not good enough yet. Jess Fortescue and I are trying to write a TV sitcom at the moment.

JOHN: So you’re busy. The Penny Dreadfuls have been commissioned to do another BBC Radio show and you run the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society live shows. 

THOM: Yes, it has been going about 7 or 8 years now. We have one next week – Tuesday 12th February – at The Albany in Central London.

One of Thom’s individually hand-drawn flyers for the show

JOHN: Your publicity for Thom Tuck Sings The Mountain Goats says you can’t sing.

THOM: I’m not a singer. That’s what I said.

JOHN: What’s the difference?

THOM: I have a nice voice, but I’m not very good at hitting the notes.

JOHN: So you sing all the right notes, but…

THOM: …not necessarily in the right order. Yes. If I was to sing in a cappella without any backing, it would sound great but, unfortunately, this is with a band.

JOHN: The Hospital Bombers.

THOM: Yes.

JOHN: And, when you did it in Edinburgh in 2017, it sold out.

THOM: Yes. When we did it for Mark Watson’s shows, it sold out because it was Mark Watson.

JOHN: It still sounds good to me. Do you see the show going further?

THOM: Possibly.

JOHN: Any more singing ahead?

THOM: Long-term, I want to do a particular musical, but I don’t know how good I am. It’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the story of an East German transsexual rock singer. The film is exceptional and the stage version is just a rock concert with a monologue in-between.

JOHN: More singing for you, though… I’m convinced.

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A call for people to poke each other in the eyes at British comedy clubs

Lewis Schaffer – ever scandalous

Last night, I went to a meeting at the long-running Monkey Business comedy club about “the crisis in comedy” where a packed room of comedians, promoters and club owners discussed what most comedy club owners, it appeared to me, seemed to think was no crisis in comedy. But comedians like talking and they can talk entertainingly, so everyone was happy.

Sometimes I have seen comedian Bob Slayer pretend to be drunk on stage. Last night, when I arrived, he was pretending to be sober in the audience. He was very convincing, though he had spent the entire afternoon talking to a brewery about sponsorship.

The “crisis in comedy” seemed to boil down to the perceived fact that box office takings have dropped perhaps 10%-20%.

David Mulholland, who runs the Soho Comedy Club, said: “I read a report about seven months ago that the median household income – the segment of the household income that’s left over for arts and entertainment – had fallen by half. And I have noticed that the amount of effort that goes into getting each person in has doubled. It’s just harder to get people in.”

A former accountant who is now a stand-up comedian and who muttered his name inaudibly (perhaps a good thing for an accountant but certainly not for a stand-up) said wisely:

“I have two clients, fish & chip shops, opposite each other. One is making over £500,000 a year; the other, less than £80,000. One is providing good service and good food; the other is not. Comedy is a business like everything else.”

American comedian Lewis Schaffer’s opinion was:

“I think people can make a living at comedy here in London. But that’s not going to be the case much longer. When I started comedy in 1993 in New York, people were just beginning to not make a living. A few years before, it was a similar situation to this, where people could make a reasonable amount of money. But what happened was, basically, the quality of the performers increased to meet the level of demand from the clubs and then surpassed it. So, in New York, you got a huge number of comedians who were good enough to work in comedy clubs – as we have here.

“But there are too many OK comedians who can go and do any club’s show on a Saturday night. The problem is that the product being put out there is extremely dull and that is not attracting people to come: there’s nothing exciting going on because the quality is set at a certain level.

“Obviously, there’s a limit to what can happen in a comedy club. But I went to see Dr Brown and some punter poked the guy in his eyes. It was mental. But I thought Fuck it! I’ve seen something amazing! I’m not soon gonna forget that shit.

“At the end of the day, in a comedy club, if you don’t do well, you’re not invited back. But it should be something amazing, not just three guys or girls doing the same shit that they’ve done at other places.

“What’s happened is that club owners want repeatability. They should not want people coming out of shows and saying It’s always good. No, they should want ‘em to say Oh my god! Something fucking amazing happened there!”

The mumbling ex-accountant whom I mentioned at the beginning of this blog (actually Vahid Jahangard) had, perhaps, the most pertinent line of the evening.

“One of my clients” he said,” told me If you sell shit, somebody will buy it and, if you make a success of it, then other people will start selling shit.”

Walking back to the tube station after the meeting, I bumped into ever-analytical comedian Giacinto Palmieri.

“What did you think of it?” I asked.

“I think it was one of those occasions,” he told me, “when people get together and try to become a community. The last time I felt the same about the comedy community was, sadly, at a comedian’s funeral… Funerals sometimes do work in building new social bonds, to the point that some people go there to woo the widows.”

“Only you,” I told Giacinto. “Only you.”


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