Wisecrackin’ Mindsqueezin’ Behemoth - Big time
This article is from 2008.
Their first stage meeting involved simulated copulation. John-Luke Roberts and Nadia Kamil now make beautiful music in their Behemoth sketch guise. Brian Donaldson hears about the pair’s celebrity fans and those nasty critics
‘The full title is actually The Wisecrackin’ Mindsqueezin’ Funbuzzin’ Wowfeelin’ Point Missin’ Innovatin’ Cop Killin’ Bridge Burnin’ Nick Griffin Zing Flingin’ Behemoth.’ Nadia Kamil is keen to set the record straight and to test the agility of her memory as she talks on a mobile phone belonging to her comedy partner John-Luke Roberts, while seeking a quiet corner at the Latitude Festival in mid-July. Then, they’ll be preparing to do some routines at Robin Ince’s Book Club. In Edinburgh they will be following up their (if I may be so bold as to add a couple more) refreshin’ and audience participatin’ sketch show, Gently Progressive Behemoth, which featured figures such as a critic called Anne Bancroft and the Ziggy-era David Bowie, played by Kamil but whose arms were operated from behind in a Whose Line stylee by Roberts.
It all sounds a little bit Reeves and Mortimer, with a touch of Mighty Boosh and a whiff of Noble and Silver thrown in and, as Costanza and Seinfeld once said, ‘not that there’s anything wrong with that’. Vic’n’Bob are indeed mentioned by the pair as being among their favourite double acts, while also getting a namecheck are Laurel and Hardy, and Fry and Laurie. ‘We’d like to go on as long as them,’ says Kamil. ‘Then I could star in House and Luke could be an overweight gay man.’
The Behemoth story begins at Cambridge. ‘I remember meeting Luke but he didn’t remember me at that time,’ says Kamil. ‘We were doing The Virgin Smoker [a showcase for students to try out their own routines]. I was due on last by which time he had buggered off. Then we were in a play together and I said, “You did a sketch: very nice, very good, very funny, well done”. And he had nothing to say back to me.’
Roberts does recall the first play they did together: ‘Marat/Sade, where we had to simulate some kind of copulation on stage and then we started writing sketches together.’ This fruitful collaboration produced Staggered Spaces, a physical theatre show (with puppetry) about a fractious relationship, which came up to Edinburgh in 2006, extending its Fringe run no doubt aided by celebrity endorsements from David O’Doherty, Josie Long and Richard Herring. ‘It’s certainly nice to have when it’s people whose opinions you respect,’ says Kamil.
The impression that comes across from the Behemothers is they have less than respect for some critics. On his MySpace, Roberts briefly chides an online reviewer who gave his stand-up set from 2005 the thumbs down, while he can still remember ‘word for word’ a slating he and some former sketch pals got when Roberts first appeared at the Fringe aged 16.
Then there is Anne Bancroft in Gently Progressive Behemoth, rising from the dead to play a pompous arts correspondent. Kamil explains: ‘One of my favourite quotes about criticism is the one from Steve Martin before he got shit: “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”. Criticism of the arts is a really peculiar, really human thing and in a way it makes us all very civilised. But then you get someone doing it poorly and not being able to express an opinion; I find that quite amusing.’
While the verdict on this year’s absurdist anarchy is just around the corner, one key question is still in the air: why a behemoth? ‘We just thought it was funny to have a massive thing that would move forward very slowly,’ recalls Roberts. ‘In and of itself it’s really not that funny. But maybe that’s our ethos.’
Wisecrackin’ Mindsqueezin’ Behemoth, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 668 1633, 3–25 Aug (not 13), 5.30pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews until 2 Aug, £5.