Tag Archives: Florence Foster Jenkins

Is David Mills the Dolly The Sheep of Dave Allen, Bob Newhart & Gore Vidal?

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?”

“Seventeen years.”

“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.

“If you’re not British,” said David, “you only get so far here. Look how long Tony Law’s been at it and yet he can’t get that regular spot on a panel show. The last one to manage it was Rich Hall.”

There can only be one David Mills in the UK

“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.

Florence Foster Jenkins led David on…

“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.”

David Mills (left) and Gore Vidal – brothers under the skin?

“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?”

David with Gráinne Maguire and Nish Kumar on What Has The News Ever Done For Me? in Camden, London, last week

“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.”

He’s not like Max Wall or Frankie Howerd…

“In British comedians,” said David, “I thought Max Wall was super-brilliant. And I love Frankie Howerd.”

“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)

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David Mills, chic gay comic with a nose for pussy, gets chatty about PrEP etc

Next Wednesday, American comic David Mills starts The Mix – the first in a monthly series of chat shows at the Phoenix Artist Club in London.

“You’ve got a bit of previous with chat shows,” I said, “with Scott Capurro and then with Jonathan Hearn.”

“And,” David told me, “I had a chat show with another comic in San Francisco maybe 20 years ago – Late Night Live – with this hilarious woman called Bridget Schwartz.

“She has since given up comedy. A great loss.

“We had big local San Francisco politicians, some of the big newscasters and drag queens – the same sort of thing I’m trying to create here. Not just people from the comedy world, but people from politics and culture and newsmakers.”

“So The Mix will not be all comics?” I asked.

“No. That’s why it’s called The Mix, John. Next Wednesday, we will have comic Jo Sutherland and the writers of Jonathan Pie – Andrew Doyle and Tom Walker who plays Jonathan Pie – and London’s Night Czar Miss Amy Lamé who will be talking about the night-time economy.

“For the second show on 19th April, we are currently negotiating to get a controversial politician and we already have comic Mark Silcox and Daniel Lismore, who is the current reigning Leigh Bowery of the world – like a crazy creature who has come out of some couture closet. A sort of Art Scenester. I don’t want it to be all comics. It’s The Mix.”

“Are you taking it to the Edinburgh Fringe this year?”

David Mills in his photograph of choice

“No. I won’t be playing Edinburgh this year. I’ve been going back to the US a lot – more regularly – so I haven’t been spending time writing a new show. I’ve been gigging in LA, gigging in New York, also I have family out there. Trying to make my way. But it’s a bit of a challenge to make your way in LA if you’re only there for two weeks every three months.”

“You could,” I suggest, “get a position in the Trump administration. He’s running out of people to nominate. Do you know any Russians?”

“There was Denis Krasnov,” said David.

“He seems,” I said, “to calls himself Jack Dennis now.”

“He’s the only Russian I know,” David told me. “He used to be on the circuit in London, then he went to New York. but I don’t think he can get me into government. Well, I don’t want to be in the Trump administration, but I’d work for Milania – perhaps as a stylist or a gay best friend.”

“You are in bigtime Hollywood movies now,” I said. “Florence Foster Jenkins. What part did you play?”

“The gay friend.”

“A lot of acting involved?” I asked.

“It was a real stretch for me, John, because… I don’t have friends. For research, I had to hang around with people who have friends and let me tell you – I don’t know if you know anything about friends, but – they’re a lot of work. There’s a lot of lying involved. Lots.”

“Where was Florence Foster Jenkins filmed?”

“All over. North London, West London…”

“It was supposed to be New York?”

“But filmed in the UK, which is why I got the job. They needed an American gay friend in London. So there’s basically me or Scott Capurro and Scott wasn’t around.”

“Stephen Frears directed it,” I said. “Very prestigious. So you might appear in other films.”

“Well, I’m in the short Robert Johnson and The Devil Man directed by Matthew Highton and written by Joz Norris. Guess who plays The Devil Man.”

“Joz Norris?”

“No. They needed someone with a suit. Who looks good in a suit?… I always get those parts. When Tim Renkow did the pilot for A Brief History of Tim, they thought: We need some guy in a suit… Who?… David Mills! – so I played the part of ‘Guy in a Suit’.”

David Mills & Tim Renkow in BBC3’s A Brief History of Tim

“Yes,” I mused. “Who wears a suit? So it’s either you or Lewis Schaffer. Strange it’s always you that gets the sophisticated parts and not him.”

“That’s because he doesn’t wear a sophisticated suit,” said David. “I love Lewis Schaffer – I’m not tearing him down, right?…”

“But?” I asked.

“…he would tell you as well,” said David. “It’s sort of a shabby suit.”

“Though he would be less succinct telling me,” I suggested.

“…and shiny,” David continued. “The suit. He’s had that suit for about 15 years. I try to keep mine up-to-date.”

“What else is happening in your life?” I asked.

“I’ve got a solo show – David Mills: Mr Modern – at the very chic Brasserie ZL near Piccadilly Circus on 23rd March.”

“Why is it called Mr Modern?

“Because it’s about modern life… and about me.”

“You do have your finger in a lot of pies,” I said. “If you see what I mean.”

“I find myself increasingly on TV talking about cats,” replied David.

“Why?” I asked.

“I did a thing called LOL Cats on Channel 5. They show videos of cats, then turn to a comedian who tells jokes, then they go back to the video and then back to the comedian. It’s a ‘talking head’ thing.”

“Are you an expert on cats?” I asked.

David admitted: “I know very little about pussy…”

“No,” said David. “I know very little about pussy. But I seem to have a nose for it. And LOL Cats went well, so they had me come back to do LOL Kittens.

“The guy at the cafe I go to every morning asked me: What were you doing on TV talking about kittens? And someone at the gym said: Why were you on TV talking about cats?”

“Cats then kittens,” I said. “They will have to diversify into other species.”

“There are still big cats,” David suggested.

“Have you got cats?” I asked.

“No.”

“Too difficult in London?” I asked.

David shrugged. “I’ve lived in London longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my entire life. 17 years I’ve been here. Sometimes, I have lived in London longer than most of my audience have been alive. Often they are students or other people aged under 22.

“There’s a risk with younger audiences that they won’t get my references, they may only have been in London six months and they may tend to be scared of anything remotely edgy.”

“Student audiences at the moment,” I said, “are very right-on PC.”

“It’s something,” agreed David, “that’s endemic across a lot of clubs where young people are the primary audience. They are very nervous about jokes that touch on any sort of identity issues – unless you are taking the ‘accepted’ position. I always try and tweak my audiences a little bit. Having come from a world of identity politics and having been through certain battles and marched on certain marches, I feel I have some justification to joke about that shit. But these people don’t have a sense of humour about sexuality or gender or race or…”

“Surely,” I suggested, “YOU can do gay jokes in the same way an Indian comic can do Indian jokes.”

“I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now,” says David.

“You can,” said David, “if the target of your punchline is heterosexuality. But not if the target is homosexuality. Even if you ARE gay.”

“So,” I asked, “if I were a Scots or a Jewish comic, could I not safely joke about the Scots or the Jews being financially mean?”

“I think you can,” said David, “but I do think it’s more charged when it comes to sexuality right now. Particularly around gender. Gay comics invariably wave the rainbow flag.”

“You’re saying they can’t make jokes about,” I floundered, “I dunno, retro jokes about…”

David said: “It’s not retro to be critical, to have a critical take. It IS retro to be calcified in your position and unable to hear any criticism.”

“So you couldn’t,” I asked, “do a cliché joke about camp gays?”

“I wouldn’t want to. What I would want to joke about is the oversensitivity of the gay world and there is not a lot of interest in that at the moment.”

“What sort of jokes would you want to tell and can’t?”

“I do jokes about a drug a lot of gay men take – PrEP. They take it in order to then have un-safe sex – they don’t have to use condoms. It’s sort of a prophylactic for HIV. So I say: Of course I’m on PrEP. I am a gay white man. I demand a portable treatment for my inability to control myself. And You’re not getting your money’s worth on a gay cruise unless you come back with at least one long-term manageable condition. I try to collect them all.

“With those sort of things, people are thinking: Hold on! Are you making fun of people with HIV? It’s as if there is no ability for people to laugh at themselves.”

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