Shortly after chatting with American comic David Mills in London, I met my eternally-un-named friend, who is a fan of David’s sophistication.
For some reason, I said to her – it may have been some after-effect of the flu – “And did that dark Satanic Mills walk upon England’s mountains green?”
“Not Satanic,” she corrected me. “Sardonic.” And she is, of course, right.
“Americans!” I said to David when we met at Soho Theatre. “So appallingly upbeat, so depressingly, eternally optimistic.”
“Don’t tar me with that brush!” David shot back.
Have I mentioned before in this blog that I have a shit memory? And there is now the continuing post-flu vagueness to add to my innate vagueness.
“Have I never done a full blog on you before?” I asked David.
“No,” he told me. “I have sort-of flitted in and out your blogs. I have been a bit player in your cyber life…”
“When did you come to the UK?” I asked.
“2000… The point is I am not 22. I had other lives prior to the one I have at the moment. I was the only person who said I was going to leave the US if George Bush got elected who actually did.”
“So was that your reason for coming here?” I asked.
“No. I came over in a different career in a whole different world and just stayed.”
“What was your career before?”
“And it was what?” I asked.
“Too tedious to get into,” replied David. “So I’m not going to. It was literally another life. I was a different type of person. Do you know how long it’s taken me to put that behind me?”
“How often I have heard you say that,” I told him. “What were you into? Business? Sex? Espionage? Butter-sculpting? International drug-running?”
“None of those things,” said David. “It was super-uninteresting.”
“You are an international man of mystery,” I said.
“I’m not going into it,” said David.
“I can keep this going for hours,” I told him.
“I was doing something else,” said David, “and had a breakdown and stopped doing that.”
“You had a breakdown?”
“No. I was being hyperbolic… Alright, I went off the grid and lived in Lewisham.”
“No,” said David. “Of course not. That is ridiculous. I certainly did not live in Lewisham. Anyway, I had been an actor and cabaret act and stand-up in San Francisco in the 1990s and then moved to New York to be a big star and was a huge failure and then stopped performing and got a professional job and that brought me to London and I did that career for about eight or ten years.”
“And that career was?” I asked.
“The other one,” said David. “But finally I decided I needed to get back on stage, because I was having a breakdown – a ten-year-long breakdown. So I got back on stage and the rest is herstory.”
“So,” I said, “you left the US, the place where all showbiz people dream of ending up…”
“I would like to have a career over there,” said David, “but it’s a weird, weird place. Super weird. Super fundamentalist. And, in terms of unspoken rules… You put a foot wrong in the US and they come at you.”
“But,” I said, “you’re talking about the middle, aren’t you? The coasts are more European. The East Coast, anyway.”
“Yes and no,” said David. “Compared to the middle, yes. But there are plenty of restrictions in comedy on what you can and can’t talk about. There’s a lot of consensus in the US. They talk about being divided. The truth is there’s tons of consensus. Anyone who has been there two weeks… they have all signed-up to this American vision. You can be in Britain for generations and you’re still not British.”
“Really?” I asked, surprised. “I think the opposite. You go down the East End in London and the son of some West Indian immigrant couple is talking like Hello, luv, ‘ow are you? to people and he’s become British after one generation. In America, there’s the Italian areas, the Swedish town, the German town, the Jewish thing…”
“There is that,” admitted David. “But they all believe the same shit. And, in the US too, no-one retains their accent. They become an amalgam of American. If they’re in New York for two weeks, they’re saying: I’m a Noo Yoiker! Here, when do you ever really become a Londoner?”
“That’s not true,” I argued. “Almost no-one in London was actually born in London.”
“Tell that to an East Ender,” said David.
“They’re all from the Indian sub-continent!” I told him.
“The point is.” said David. “The point is, let’s focus, John. I have a show happening here at the Soho Theatre from the 3rd to the 7th February. Me. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas. Me and my band.”
“Yeah. Rock band. The Memes.”
“How many Memes are there?” I asked.
“Male?” I asked.
“One of them. I don’t see what gender has to do with it. There’s a guitar and a keyboard. We’re very stripped down.”
“That was my next question,” I said. “And this is what? A sophisticated 1950s Monte Carlo style cabaret show?”
“More 1970s scuzzy New York basement,” said David. “Because that’s me.”
“But you are Mr Sophisticated West Coast American,” I argued.
“There’s going to be sophistication,” said David. “Don’t worry. But I’m mixing it up. I’m sort-of bored with cabaret land. There will be some of that, but it’s gonna have an edge.”
“What sort of an edge?”
“Rock ’n’ roll.”
“You’re going to be wearing a leather jacket?”
“No. I’m going to look dynamite, don’t worry. The suit is the act, let’s be honest.”
“It’s a great act,” I said.
“It’s a great suit,” said David.
“And you are going to sing?”
“My version of singing. And jokes. Don’t worry.”
“Why is it called Don’t Get Any Ideas?” I asked.
“It’s a threat. I’ve got edge. Take a look at me. I’ve got edge.”
“When you started off in the US,” I asked, “were you always this sophisticated on-stage guy?”
“I always liked Dave Allen’s style,” explained David.
“Dave Allen?” I asked, surprised.
“Well, a stool and a suit. That sort-of says it…”
“You saw Dave Allen in the US?”
“When I was growing up, they showed his old British shows on PBS. I was influenced by him. And people like Paul Lynde, who was a big US homo in the 1970s. He was like – I don’t want to say Kenneth Williams, but… He had this sort of bitchy kind of homo humour that was not overt but was certainly there. And I liked Stephen Colbert a lot. He didn’t wink with the jokes. He just told them in character and the audience had to get the fact he was joking. In the 1990s, he was around being funny as an actor.”
“This Soho Theatre show Don’t Get Any Ideas is going to be your Edinburgh Fringe show this year?”
“Edinburgh will be a version of this. I’m a topical comic, not political, so the topics change. Let’s focus, John. My show here at the Soho Theatre from this Tuesday coming to Saturday. David Mills: Don’t Get Any Ideas.”
“Your mysterious previous career was not selling double-glazing?”