Sketch comedy duo The Pin return to 2014 Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Double act of Alexander Owen and Ben Ashenden return to Fringe
This article is from 2014.
The Pin boys tell Brian Donaldson that sketch comedy is just plain silly and lacks importance. That hasn’t stopped them being brilliant at it
If you consider some of the great double acts in comedy history, you might notice a significant disparity in height. Vic Reeves towers above Bob Mortimer; not for nothing did Eric Morecambe continually call his partner Little Ern; and Bernie Winters was constantly having to bend down to get any banter out of Schnorbitz. Yet, The Pin pair Alexander Owen (blonde, 6ft1) and Ben Ashenden (brunette, 6ft2) are almost identical in height: ‘We can buy similar props and coats and we’re never looking down on each other,’ insists Ashenden as though it was some kind of fully planned strategy.
A further curiosity are their forenames, which they share with another double act, albeit one further along the career trajectory: ‘It was a cynical move from Armstrong and Miller to have those names,’ insists Owen while Ashenden claims, ‘at one point we were going to change our name to Armstrong and Miller.’
At this blatant falsity, Owen curtly castigates his stage buddy and flatmate in a way which would be familiar to anyone who witnessed their show last Fringe. Similar to other double acts down the decades, we were led to believe that Owen is the sensible practical one with ambition and verve, while Ashenden is the ditzier, clumsier, oafish one. By the time the hour was done, the playing field had levelled off, with Owen revealed as delusional and equally as daft as his comrade.
This time around though, things are going to be different. ‘Last year there was the whole narrative element that my character wanted us to go to the West End,’ recalls Owen. ‘There isn’t anything like that this year and it’s all just part of this being an hour in our company; it’s just these two idiots messing around. If there’s anything unifying it, it’s that coherency of a childish approach; these two guys are clearly in their mid-20s, so why are they just messing around being so weird?’
Ashenden continues: ‘We found that we could do more if the two guys on stage actually like each other rather than bickering all the time. So we’re playing around with that this year; they’re both idiots but they do actually realise that.’
Originally, The Pin was a trio straight out of Footlights, and strong consideration was given to picking a new name in the light of this numerical change (though Armstrong and Miller was truly never an option). But they stuck with The Pin, just as they have opted not to give this year’s Fringe show any kind of clever and / or funny title.
‘We’d like to say it’s for cool reasons, but it’s more out of laziness,’ confesses Ashenden. ‘It’s just called The Pin, again. Some people will feel that that’s cool. Others will realise that it’s a lack of invention but it’s as much a fear of branding the show too early in case we wanted to take it into a certain direction. But if we had come up with a really funny name we would have gone for it.’
One thing that the pair will be going for is a certain level of intimacy with their audience. Given the cosy room they were in last year, they admit that it would have been more awkward not to have had any front-row interaction. So even though they’ve been upgraded within the Pleasance Courtyard venue system, their involvement with the crowd is more of a lifestyle choice. ‘The act is going more and more into that direction,’ says Owen. ‘In the new show there aren’t any self-contained sketches, everything involves an address of the audience. Last year we would chat, have a blackout, do a sketch, have another blackout; this time it’s incredibly fluid and it’s all very “present”, if that’s not too wanky sounding.’
As with each Fringe that passes, there’s often a call from those who think sketch comedy died with the League of Gentlemen or We Are Klang that it’s on the way back. Or those who are happy with the genre’s development might insist that this year will be even bigger and better for the form. Indeed, good things are being said already about newcomers such as Gein’s Family Giftshop, Lazy Susan and Massive Dad. Whether he’s talking slightly in his clumsy, oafish character or not, Ashenden reckons we really shouldn’t be taking it all quite so seriously. ‘Sketch shows are so, so stupid and artistically have so little merit that it’s hard to string anything together thematically. I mean, we’re giving it a go, but it’s hard to do it earnestly when the material lacks all earnestness.’
As if to prove the point, we have a later email exchange when I ask if anything has recently constituted a ‘real Pin moment’, a recurring sort-of catchphrase from last year’s show. ‘I suppose one instance would be that we were recently sat in the coffee shop we write in, and in walks Harry Styles. Nobody does or says anything. It’s awkward until he leaves. That for us is a classic Pin moment.’
The Pin, Pleasance Courtyard, Pleasance, 0131 556 6550, 2–25 Aug (not 11, 18), 6pm, £9–£11 (£8–£10). Previews 30 Jul–1 Aug, £6.