Tag Archives: Roald Dahl

The newish comic most likely to become successful? I get sidetracked by Chaucer

Archie at Soho Theatre this week

Archie at the Soho Theatre in London this week

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…?

Archie Maddocks.

Maybe as a comedian.

Maybe as something else.

I blogged about him back in October last year.

I saw him recently in the Amused Moose Laugh Off Awards semi-finals. He got through to the final at the Edinburgh Fringe on 3rd August.

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.”

Edinburgh Fringe show 2014

Maddocks’ & Oliphant’s Fringe show 2014

“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.”

Archie’s Compulsion at the Fringe

Fringe Compulsion: self-punishment & flagellation

“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.”

Archie at the Comedy Cafe Theatre

Archie straddling comedy and theatre at the Shoreditch venue

“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.

Archie Maddocks

Archie – stories not words are precious

“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

Seer Gahwayn and Te Green Kennihte or however it was pronounced in the far-off Middle English days

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.

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Sketch comedy with a weird touch of Roald Dahl living in the Twilight Zone

James Hamilton halfway between the darkness and the light?

The sketch comedy group Casual Violence are staging a ‘best of’ show at the Leicester Square Theatre in November with the title Om Nom Nominous – which is a little odd but then they are a little odd. Especially writer, producer and co-director James Hamilton.

Or not.

Well, OK, he is not weird. But his writing is, which is why he has been nominated the last two years for the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality.

Last year, Casual Violence’s Edinburgh Fringe show was called Choose Death. Not an obvious title for a comedy sketch show. This year’s title was A Kick in the Teeth – the title crops up within the show itself as “All life has to offer is just another kick in the teeth.” Both shows felt like comedy set in The Twilight Zone.

“I thought the show was absolutely brilliant,” I told James Hamilton after seeing A Kick in the Teeth.”

“Oh, thank you,” he said.

“But I had absolutely no idea what the fuck was going on,” I added. “Just like last year.”

“It is a weirder show than last year,” laughed James.

“It is very difficult to describe your shows,” I said. “I tell people to go see them, then they ask me What’s the show like? and I can’t come up with any description which does it justice.”

“We always really struggle trying to come up with a sales pitch to define what the show is,” said James. “Last year was easier. You could say: There’s a serial killer with no arms and there are hit men who are Siamese twins. If you say those sort of things, people laugh. The characters in this year’s show are not as easy to describe in a funny way.”

“The Poppy Man, who you play yourself in A Kick in the Teeth, is very difficult to describe,” I said.

“Not easy to describe in a good way,” agreed James.

The character, who pops up throughout the show, is a strangely evil, threatening seller of Remembrance Day poppies.

“So…?” I prompted.

“The Poppy Man,” suggested James, “is one man’s guilt nightmare for not wearing a Remembrance Day poppy. It’s like a Roald Dahl short story… In fact, I guess the Roald Dahl comparison is probably relevant… In October or November last year, I re-read his Tales of the Unexpected which I hadn’t read since I was a child. I remember reading the stories as a child and that’s where I learnt what taxidermy is… in The Landlady.

“That’s the one where a guy goes to stay in a bed and breakfast and the landlady has had two guests previously and she taxidermied them; you never see them, but it’s implied. It didn’t have a conscious influence on last year’s show, but maybe there was an influence.”

“So maybe you were a psychotic, evil bastard as a kid?” I suggested.

“No!” laughed James. “No I wasn’t! This is the thing. People keep saying to me that they don’t really get why I do the comedy that I do, given that I… One of my best friends said You’re one of the straightest people I know and yet the stuff you come out with is really weird.

“Have your parents got any showbizzy genes?” I asked.

“No,” said James immediately, “Not at all. My dad is an antique silver dealer, which is much less interesting than it sounds.”

“Not in that bizarre vault place?” I asked vaguely.

“Yes! Yes!” said James. “The London Silver Vaults. Yes.”

“I went there for the first time a couple of months ago,” I said, “How weird.”

“Am I going to end up plugging my dad’s business?” James asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Vault 25,” said James.

“He must be white-skinned with large eyes and long white hair,” I said. “Like the Morlocks in The Time Machine. A strange subterranean creature.”

“It’s a really, really weird place,” agreed James. “It looks like a Victorian mental asylum.”

“If you were brought up going down there regularly as a kid,” I said, “it would screw your mind up. You would end up like some evil hobbit.”

“Most people’s shops down there,” said James, “are very layed-out and ornate and glass cabinets. But you walk into my dad’s shop and it’s like a junkyard which I think some people find quite exciting, because it’s like it’s full of mysterious treasures but you’ve got to find them. It’s a challenge.”

“I have a strange feeling I might have gone in there,” I said. “There was a really cluttered one I went into and I had a long chat with the guy in there. He looked normal, though, and he was interesting to talk to. What does your mother do?”

“At the moment,” James said, “she’s doing a bit of antique stuff herself, but really different – antique fairs and that sort of thing. There’s a big antiques interest in the family, but not with me. My mother’s dad also worked in the Silver Vaults.”

“Your siblings?”

“I have a sister who is just a year younger than me and has recently fallen to the antiques trade. My other sister is 14 and wants to be a psychologist. She’s the smart one.”

“You’ve done three shows now,” I said. “Choose Death, A Kick in the Teeth and before that…?”

“The first one was a different format. It was more like a play. A badly-written play. Kate Copstick gave it a one-star review and called it ‘irritating’. Obviously, I feel her review was too harsh, but I also feel the good reviews we got for it were too generous. There are so many things I don’t like about it as a show and it’s the one we don’t talk about.”

“And how do you describe A Kick in the Teeth?” I asked.

“Oh,” said James. “If you like laughing at the misery of other people, you’ll like this. You could describe it as schadenfreude sketch comedy, but that’s not an easy one to lead with. There’s no easy term to describe it.  We had Tales of TragiComedy Sketch Terror on the flyer in Edinburgh, but that’s a bit of a mouthful.”

“What’s the attraction of weirdness?” I asked.

“I don’t think I’m weird!” pleaded James. “I sort of know my stuff is maybe weird, but it doesn’t feel weird to me.”

“Are you afraid that, if you analyse it too much you won’t be able to do it?”

“Maybe,” James said. “At one point, the show was going to be about War; that was going to be the theme. I wrote a full script and it didn’t work, so I chucked 80% of it. The Poppy Man was the only character who stayed. That and the idea of a Battleships game-to-the-death.

“Around Remembrance Day last year, everyone was wearing a poppy and I was joking with my then-girlfriend Remember, remember the 11th of November and just riffing on it and saying there was a lot to remember, because my dad’s birthday’s in November, we had a gig the next week, there’s Remembrance Day, there’s fireworks day…

“Some of the stuff I’ve done before has been much darker and my then-girlfriend was never the kind of person to take offence at it but, for some reason, the Poppy Man thing really touched a nerve with her. I don’t know why, but I found it funny she was reacting in that way. I don’t ever want to do comedy that I couldn’t argue was not offensive.”

“Was not offensive?” I asked.

“I don’t actually want to offend people,” explained James. “If people are offended – fine. It can happen. But I’m not setting out to do that. People could be offended by the Poppy Man, but I don’t feel it is offensive.”

“You must have had interest from TV after the 5-star reviews last year and this year?” I asked.

“Not really, no, “ said James. “I think part of the reason for that is we don’t have PR, we don’t have an agent. It’s basically just myself and another producer trying to make stuff happen and it’s very difficult.”

“Weird,” I said.

“Maybe,” said James.

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