Tag Archives: Matthew Highton

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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Weirdos comedy duo explain to me the importance of chickens in war – and how not to get their asses sued off

AdamLarter_MatthewHighton

Adam Larter (left) & Matthew Highton look normal this week

I got an e-mail from Adam Larter of Weirdos Comedy. It said:

“Over at Weirdos’ Towers, we are gearing up for our big Christmas charity show – last year’s raised over £4,000. I haven’t started any publicity for this year’s show yet. Would you like to do something about it in your blog?”

So I met Adam Larter this week, with his co-writer and co-director Matthew Highton.

“It’s a Christmas pantomime…” I started.

“Oh no it’s not,” said Adam. “It’s at Christmas and it’s a play, but it follows none of the traditions of pantomime.”

“Do you dress up as a woman?” I asked.

“No,” said Adam.

“I’ve lost interest already,” I told him.

“There’s very little dressing up as women this year,” he told me. “Only one small scene.”

“Pity,” I said.

“But we do have actual women in our play,” added Matthew.

“You’ve gone one better than Shakespeare, then,” I said, perking up, but then I remembered: “You did a pantomime last year – Hook – which I saw you preview at Pull The Other One and it was… it was… it was… ermmm… interesting.”

“Oooh!” said Matthew with a tinge of despair in his voice, “you saw that one.”

“You saw the drunken rehearsal,” said Adam. “Would like to apologise for that one, Matthew?”

“Why me?” replied Matthew.

“That,” I said. “was what I thought when I saw it. Why me?… So, this year, what’s the subject?”

“The Colonel,” answered Adam. “It’s based on the life of a famous chicken proprietor. Some people have drawn similarities between him and some famous branches of a certain fast food restaurant chain.”

“And are there any line drawings of this Colonel’s face visible in the production?” I asked.

“No,” replied Adam, “ because that would be a logo.”

“But a live representation of this famous Colonel does appear in your show?” I asked.

“Yes,” replied Matthew, “there is a famous Colonel appearing. We’re going to have a big sign at the beginning to say that any likeness is coincidental.”

“Any likeness to whom?” I asked.

“To anyone,” said Adam.

“It’s a war epic,” said Matthew. “A war epic about love and chicken.”

“Lots of chicken,” added Adam.

“Fried chicken,” explained Matthew.

“Lots of it,” emphasised Adam. “And finding out about a certain secret recipe. How it came about and what it is… It’s an underdog story.”

“Any musical numbers?” I asked.

“A few,” admitted Adam.

“Adam has a penchant for adding songs to his shows,” Matthew told me.

“It keeps the pace up,” argued Adam.

“And it fills time,” said Matthew.

“That too,” said Adam.

“This is a scripted and plotted narrative production?” I asked warily.

“Yes,” replied Adam.

“But,” I pointed out to him, “you’re a mad, surreal, kick-over-the-traces, throw-away-the-rulebook kinda comedian.”

“Yeah,” said Adam. “But this is where Matthew and I work well together. I believe in complete and utter madness and Matthew believes in this horrible word called structure. He insists we have plot and characters and development and I insist that, every now and then we have something completely insane.”

“In my defence,” said Matthew, “we do have those rules, but they’re hard to recognise at times.”

“How do you write together?” I asked.

“My whole process when Adam had done a bit of the script,” explained Matthew, “was to go back through and try to piece together what bits were missing. Adam has a real talent for writing a very good bit but not linking it to the bit that came before.”

“It has worked out,” said Adam.

“When is this extravaganza being staged?” I asked.

“It’s at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club,” Adam told me.

“December 16th to the 20th,” said Matthew, “with the 19th off, because we couldn’t get it. “In February, we’re taking it to the Leicester Comedy Festival. We don’t want it to just die after Christmas. It’s not Christmas themed.”

“Just feelgood,” said Adam.

“Why stage it in Bethnal Green?” I asked.

“It’s the nearest venue to my house,” explained Adam. “The main Weirdos nights are based in Stoke Newington, but the room in Bethnal Green has a giant lit-up heart in the background. And there’s more space.”

“Essentially,” said Matthew, “Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club has the space of a theatre though the chairs of a social club. The people we have in the show are extremely talented oddballs – Ben Target, John Kearns, Pat Cahill, Ali Brice.”

“How many people are in it?” I asked.

“About twelve,” said Adam. “Or fifteen. Or something like that.”

“And there are southern American accents in it,” added Matthew.

“A lot of accents,” agreed Adam. “Though not necessarily the ones you expect. By December, they’ll be completely different. I think it’s fun to bring a big group together. You don’t know what going to happen. There’s a couple of drama students between us, but we’re not from that background.”

“Twelve or fifteen sounds a bit vague,” I said. “Any women?” I asked.

“Yes,” they both said simultaneously.

“Name a few?” I asked.

“Beth Vyse, Marny Godden,” said Adam.

“A black person?” I asked.

“Ermmm, no,” said Matthew.

“A crippled person?” I asked.

“We don’t see race or colour,” said Matthew.

“Crippled person?” I asked again.

“We only see Weird or non-Weird,” said Adam.

“Though usually,” admitted Matthew, “someone does get injured during the production process.”

“Last year,” explained Adam, “someone got beaten and pelted with eggs.”

“Audience reaction doesn’t count,” I said.

“Marc Burrows had his hat broken last year,” said Adam.

“His hat?” I asked.

“His hat,” repeated Adam. “There were some quite intense fight scenes. One thing we did not really rehearse last year were the fight scenes.”

“I got whopped over and over with a sword,” said Matthew. “I was raw.”

“There you go,” said Adam triumphantly.

“Any fight scenes this year?” I asked.

“It’s a war epic,” Matthew reminded me.

“It might feel a bit like Saving Private Ryan,” said Adam.

“In Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club,” I said, “with a giant lit-up heart in the background.”

“Yes,” said Adam.

“This is WW2?” I asked.

“We do all the WWs,” replied Matthew.

“We’ve gone for the pair,” said Adam. “Some people said it would be too ambitious to fit two World Wars into one play. But we’re asking the questions that everyone else is afraid to ask.”

“Which are?” I asked.

Where was chicken in this war?” replied Adam. “Where ARE the chickens?

“Historical accuracy.” added Matthew, “was the key for us. Months of research.”

“Are you sponsored by any chicken retailer?” I asked.

“Not as such,” said Adam, “but we’re raising money for the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children.”

“That’s it, then,” I said. “Interview over. Thanks very much.”

“That’s good,” said Adam. “I have props to make: I have to go paint some lemons.”

Adam Larter with Weirdos

Adam Larter with friends (from the Weirdos Facebook page)

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Filed under Comedy, Surreal, Theatre