This article is from 2006.
In the sea of comedic froth at this year’s Fringe, two of the big rollers standing out from the foamies are Simon Brodkin and Luke Wright. Brian Donaldson hangs ten with the new wave.
In a festival dominated by comedians dressing up like Jesus and/or chatting about their amusingly bleak childhoods, you are always on the look out for something a bit different. So, how does a tall Essex performance poet who slam raps about crap Laureates from the early 18th century or a small doctor from London who deconstructs the comedic process while slowly browning up before our very eyes sound to you? Neither of those things can be seen every day, and the Fringe, if not the broader comedy world, are all the better for it.
But let’s get that potentially thorny issue out of the way first. Simon Brodkin has a quartet of characters in his show, Everyone But Himself. There’s Chris Young, the insensitive rep from Third Choice Holidays who does his utmost to polish life’s turds but gets it all horribly wrong; trustafarian Hugo Victor-Grant is a Bush-hating Africa-head who probably couldn’t find it on a big map of Africa; Lee Nelson is the kind of violent-happy greased-hair chav geeza you would happily leave the country to avoid, never mind cross the street; and finally, the afore-hinted Dr Omprakash whose attempts at reassuring terminally ill patients are a killer. ‘The character came about just like any other - he was a person I had encountered on the day to day dealings on the ward,’ explains Brodkin. ‘Sure, he has a different skin colour, but all the characters are equal members of British society. If anything, he is perhaps more empowered than someone like Lee Nelson who is a poor working class person who suffers and continues to suffer in today’s society.’
For performance poet, Luke Wright, what you see is pretty much what you get. As a member of ‘poetry boyband’ Aisle16, Wright already has a strong cult following which will only rise now that he has branched out onto the solo stage with Poet Laureate, where he is getting it wonderfully right with his multi-media odes to Olympics and meters about Motion. But unlike the eruptive schisms that lead most pop idols to go it alone, Wright’s reasons for branching out from Aisle 16 are less hysterical. ‘The plan had been to do another theatre show next year, but since then Ross Sutherland has decided he wants to concentrate on being an academic and a serious poet and Joel Stickley has just signed a book deal. We’ll still tour, but having done this solo show it’s made me grow as a writer.’
And while he confesses to finding poetry in everything he sees and having lyrics of other people floating around his head at all times, he knows that a second set of eyes is crucial to the creative process. ‘I might send things to my girlfriend who is an editor. As I’m a performance poet, I’ll drop a syllable here and there to make it more interesting rather than just perform to the meter as it would just be “de dum de dum de dum”. But when she looks through it, she’s like: “your syllable count is out here” and puts the red pen through it and sends it back.’
Whether Brodkin has that kind of help/hindrance is not clear but he certainly has some major endorsement from the kind of people you want to be able to quote on your publicity material. Harry Hill has pronounced him to be ‘the funniest new act in years’, and, you know what, the big-collared semi-surrealist is spot on. ‘A promoter saw me at a tiny open spot in London and he originally thought that I actually was Lee Nelson,’ recalls Brodkin. ‘Then the next time he saw me he realised what I was doing and was less scared to approach me. I was then asked to play this amazing gig where Harry Hill was playing. There was a rather rowdy crowd at this cocktail place and they started throwing lemons.’
We can only speculate about what Andrew Motion would toss in Luke’s direction should he pop in to see the show during his imminent visit to the Book Festival. One particularly cutting section features the current Poet Laureate’s rubbish attempts at trying to connect with the young folks through his regrettable rap poem for Prince William’s 21st birthday. ‘I don’t expect Andrew Motion gives two figs about what I do,’ reckons Wright. ‘I didn’t want the show just to be a whole thing on Andy Motion because he has done good stuff and he has tried to do a bit of modernising but maybe not enough. The main thing is that we shouldn’t have a Laureate that is attached to the Royal Family because it makes it seem a bit out of touch. People might feel the same way about poetry, that it’s this old dusty thing, though at least now you have John Cooper Clarke on the school syllabus.’
Whether the ‘Character Comedy of Simon Brodkin’ will ever make it into the classrooms is quite another matter. Though many comics of that genre could learn a thing or two about those awkward moments when you have to switch from one character to another. Rather than disappear offstage while a bit of music or recorded dialogue tries to distract the audience from the frantic gear change going on behind the curtain, Brodkin makes the costume switch an inherent element to the performance and the show. ‘I guess you start with the age-old character comedy problem that you can’t edit out like you could on TV, so you either scarper off stage or chuck on a couple of key little things like a wig or a scarf. What I’m aiming to do is to fit into their bodies and really try to become as much as possible that character so I didn’t want to just slip into something token, I wanted to really get “changed.”’
So, in a twist of genius, Brodkin chats to us about what he is doing and revealing the mechanics of character comedy while making it both very funny and thought-provoking. ‘I just started experimenting and tried to become a proper smart aleck. The aim is just to make people laugh, though if you can do that with a bit of a clever tinge, then all the better.’ Luke Wright and Simon Brodkin: both big, clever and funny.
Simon Brodkin, Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 28 Aug, 5.55pm, £8.50-£9.50 (£7-£8); Luke Wright, Pleasance Dome, 556 6550, until 28 Aug, 4.10pm, £8-£9 (£6-£7).