Pythagoras; Euclid; Pascal; Pierre de Fermat. All great mathematicians, but little is known of their stand-up.
I’m not sure how good Paul Foot was at being a Mathematician following his graduation in that subject, but his stand-up abilities are without question formidable – and to be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing that.
Looking at my notes from last night’s performance of ‘Hovercraft Symphony in Gammon # Major’ it appears that some of Foot’s random, stream-of-consciousness style has infected my brain. In fact, the most accurate way in which I could review this show would be to type a series of random words and leave it at that.
Weasel, architrave, duck – nope, I just can’t do it.
If you have seen any of Paul Foot’s appearances on television then you will be aware that he is not your average stand-up. If your idea of a good night out at the comedy is Dave Hughes or Adam Hills, and even then you avoid the front row because you don’t want those crazy comedians getting up close and personal, then perhaps Paul Foot is not the comic for you. Or maybe he is. It’s really hard to tell.
Foot’s style is that of barking mad lecturer with mild Tourettes and an inability to remain still for more than a millisecond. He announces himself from backstage and almost immediately breaks the fourth wall by advancing upstage and clambering down to interact with the front row. And when I say ‘interact’ I am not just referring to asking questions about people’s professions.
Foot invites one member to stroke his mullet and then stands astride another. There are diversion to parts of the routine which were supposedly ‘too long’ to include in the show and bizarre tales of evil landladies and Hindus. My brain was getting a full workout from the vast, strange leaps of logic being made on the stage and my jaw hurt from laughing. Beside me my guest was braying like a donkey at every lurch and fit-like spasm from the man on stage, which came as a relief to myself as I had invited them to this show on the strength of nothing other than the fact that my usual comedy companion was elsewhere.
I realise that I am already almost at 400 words and have yet to describe much of the show. This, in itself, is a pretty accurate description of Foot’s show. To say that there are numerous diversions and false starts would give the incorrect impression that there is eventually a ‘beginning’ because I certainly couldn’t pinpoint it. I was too busy laughing.
This is an hour of bafflingly innovative comedy from a guy who really should not be allowed out on his own and I for one loved it. Anyone who can have the audience laughing uncontrollably with the parts supposedly excised from the show has to be worth seeing.
Just don’t sit in the front row.
Paul Foot – Hovercraft Symphony in Gammon # Majoris playing at The Hi-Fi, Swanston Street at 8:15pm until April 19th
In the opening minutes of ‘Words’, Paul Foot does his best to set the audience’s mind at ease. He gives a rough running order of the show’s themes, just to make sure that no-one gets caught off guard. However if, like myself, you haven’t seen a Paul Foot show before, no amount of introductory explanation is going to prepare you for what’s to come. ‘Words’ is frequently surprising, a little bit controversial and very, very funny.
Foot is a unique figure in the world of stand-up. He spasms across the stage in fits and starts, occasionally pausing to wrack his brain and make sure that his train of thought is correct. And it always is. Despite taking some staggering leaps of logic, when Foot gets to the end of his rambling path of argument, you find yourself seeing the sense in views on masculinity and biology that were initially absurd. Foot’s delivery style is hypnotic at times. He draws you with him as he diverts on screeching loops about inane party guests, only to jolt back to the topic at hand with a return to comparative calmness.
‘Words’ is more than straightforward stand-up. Foot’s section of madness is a wonderful kind of surrealist poetry. Words crash into each other to form meaningless phrases that are delivered with total sincerity. It’s a fascinating bit of comedy. The words have no grounding in reality and mean something different to everyone. For four and a bit minutes you find yourself in a room full of people laughing together for unknown reasons. Foot’s ‘disturbances’ are also scattered through the show – hilarious thoughts that feel like they tell an entire story in a sentence or two.
While most of the show is, as Foot points out, carefully written, his quick wit was on display in moments of audience interaction. Stray garbled comments from overenthusiastic audience members inspired a new Q and A section of the show. A lone dissatisfied man voicing his disapproval in the final minutes led to a wonderfully frenetic diatribe on the subjectivity of opinions, resulting in the man walking out, to the cheers of the rest of the audience.
‘Words’ is an incredibly refreshing piece of stand-up from a masterful comedian. You may not always understand what is going on or how you got there, but you will definitely find yourself laughing.
A heads up – Paul Foot sells merchandise and takes photos up the back at the end of his show, so leave a bit of room in your schedule after this one!
Paul Foot was lovely enough to grace us with an interview on the afternoon before performing at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala
Luke: How does it feel coming back to Australia?
Paul: Nice. It’s my 3rd year in Australia but my 6th visit. I’m well used to it and I love it. It’s a brilliant place.
Luke: All of these were for comedy or were any for pleasure?
Paul: All for comedy. The first time I came here was for the Melbourne Fringe. Having never been to Australia in my life, I went back there again 10 days later arriving back to England to do the Virgin Mobile Advert. So that was extraordinary having never been before. The 3rd time was last year when I came to Melbourne for 4 days for pre-publicity for the Melbourne Fringe. Then I flew back to Britain for 3 days for my Grand Ma’s 93rd birthday and a couple of shows and then flew back to Australia straight away.
Luke: You were like a yo yo!
Paul: Yes, so that was quite hardcore. So within a week I’d been to Australia and back again then back to Australia and back again. My 4th time was to do the Fringe last year and then the 5th time was in January when I came to Adelaide to direct a brilliant sketch group called Gravity Boots. I directed them because I was so stunned by how wonderful they were at the Edinburgh Festival. The 6th time was for the Adelaide Fringe Festival and now I’m here to do the MICF – as well as Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.
Luke: Besides from the size, what’s a major difference between the comedy audiences in the UK and that in Australia?
Paul: The short and boring answer is that there’s not much difference. I go all over the World and I increasingly find that wherever I go, people are the same. Sometimes you may have to adjust a reference. Or sometimes for some reason they laugh at some things more in Australia and lesser in the UK or vice-versa. As a general rule, it doesn’t really make that much of a difference. It’s all the same really. Indeed, when I’m performing on the stage, I’m so kind of in the moment. I’m there doing my thing and I forget where I am.
Luke: You have a loyal fan base (The Guild of Paul Foot Connoisseurs) of which you are the Life President of the Guild – with the badge to prove. Are you planning any special surprises for Australian members of the Guild?
Paul: I always make sure that after my shows, I’ll be available for photos and signings. I’m not an aloof Life President of the Guild and it’s always nice to meet connoisseurs. People often come up to me and tell me that they’re a connoisseur. I love them. They’re all very appreciated.
Luke: For those that are new to your comedy, what can audiences expect when they see you at the upcoming festival?
Paul: Well, my comedy is not mainstream and it’s different to other comedians. Not that I’ve ever planned to make it different. I mean, I just do the type of comedy that seems obvious to me. The kind of comedy that I would go and see if I weren’t a comedian. I think this is what most comedians would do. People say it’s unusual, it’s different. But I don’t plan to make it different – I just do my thing. I’ve been described as a “marmite comic” which you would call….
Luke: A vegemite comic?
Paul: Yeah, a vegemite comic. In other words, some people really like it and others perhaps don’t like it. Although the same applies to all comedians in a certain way. So (in terms of) what to expect from this show, I come on and tell some ridiculous stories that I’ve made up for about 38 minutes, then I do anagrams, then I do something called My Madness where I just say things that don’t even make sense. It just seems like it’s completely random, but it’s a little more planned than that. It’s funny but no-one knows exactly why it’s funny. So it’s comedy on the edge of meaning.
Luke: So it’s a little bit like your first gig?
Paul: It is a little bit like that in a way. My first gig I just made stuff up about fruits. There are some similarities indeed. The other day I was performing in the same city as where I had my first ever gig. Which had been 20 years since my first performance my first gig as a student and it was interesting because clearly, over those years I’ve gained experience and I have changed in some ways, but there was also a sense that after 20 years in comedy, there was also something completely unchanged. There was an essence in what I was doing that I noticed that had been exactly the same as it had been 20 years ago. There’s a sort of shambolic, amateurishness to it that was exactly the same. I’m not a slick comedian. There’s a sort of silliness, a sort of anarchy to it, a sort of madness to it.
Luke: Like organised chaos.
Paul: Yeah, like organised chaos. And that has stayed exactly the same. It will always be like that.
Luke: Are the titles of your shows merely a cunning plan to keep your audiences on their toes?
Paul: What people cannot expect from the show is seeing any reference to Kenny Large. It was quite funny at one of my shows in Adelaide. The show had gone really well and there was a man perhaps who was in slightly the wrong place – it wasn’t his sort of night. And at the end he complained quite angrily that he hadn’t learned anything about Kenny Large and the rest of the audience were just laughing at his complaint. And I was saying, if you wanted to learn something about Kenny Large, you’ve come to the wrong place. It’s just a cunning attempt.
Luke: Which comedian inspired you to get into comedy?
Paul: The answer’s none really. Some have DVDs of their favourite comedians and know everything about comedy. I’m the opposite. I’ve never really known much about comedy on the level of who’s doing what. I know about the mechanics of comedy, how it works, the stage craft and all that stuff that you need to know. When I did my first gig, I didn’t really understand how comedy worked. I didn’t even understand at my first gig that comedians that basically prepare jokes. I just thought that all comedians just got on stage and made it up. So when I when I did my first gig, I just made up absolute nonsense. I mean, I quite liked Tommy Cooper who was a real British genius. Some comedians will say that it was “So and so” who inspired me. I wasn’t really inspired by anyone and only really went into comedy and show business on a whim. I just thought it could be more interesting than being an accountant or something. I just do my own thing.
Luke: Nowadays, do you get influenced by any comedians?
Paul: Without being rude, I attempt to not be influenced too much by other comedians. I don’t watch too much other comedy. I just do my own thing. I create as much as possible in an artistic vacuum.
Luke: What has been your most prolific source of new comedic material?
Paul: The stuff I’m doing now is so abstract and so bizarre that, in fact, normal things don’t really provide inspiration. People often go and find some situation at a party and say, “Hey, are you going to put this in your act?”, or some will say, “Ough, we’re craaaazy. Do you want to put this in your act?”. Not many comedians are going to use that sort of material because it’s not that interesting. Not me anyway. The comedy I do is so ridiculous with it just based on putting together weird words and ideas. Things do influence it – just not in a direct way. For example, there may be a word you say in this interview, it may go around my head and it may come out in 15 years’ time in some bit. But there’s certainly no direct correlation.
Luke: Can you talk about any upcoming projects on the boil?
Paul: Yes, there are a few TV projects going on in the UK and I shall be making a DVD when I get back in May. It will be my first proper DVD.
Luke: In terms of getting some of your material out there via the Internet, do you think the future resides in YouTube or Podcasts. Or otherwise!
Paul: Well, I do both. Both have a different quality. With Podcasts, you can kind of ramble on because people are probably listening to you while they’re doing other things. There’s a little more space and time. However, with videos you tend to be a little more immediate.
Luke: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen on the tube in London?
Paul: The great thing about the tube is that no-one takes any notice of anyone. Everyone on the tube prides themself on ignoring others. I think the strangest thing I’ve seen was a man wearing a dress with everyone totally ignoring him. I guess there are also the times when people have totally ignored buskers or really obnoxious drunk people who were shouting nonsense. Everyone just pretends they’re not there. I like the tube. Anything could happen and no one would notice.
Luke: Okay, besides from planking Korean Harlem shakers, what is your prediction for the World’s next stupid, mindless Internet craze?
Paul: The next Internet craze will be staring. You’re on the Internet, then I watch you looking at the Internet. And then someone films me watching you looking at the Internet. Like an endless mirror. And then everyone is watching videos of other people watching other people on the Internet. And then eventually, one day after many years, we discover what you were looking at on the Internet. And then when we find this out, the Internet ends. This will be the quest to find the last page of the Internet and it will all spiral in on itself. That will be the next craze on the Internet.
Paul Foot will be performing his show Kenny Larch is Dead at The Hifi Bar
Melbourne collective Little Picture Box have been busy producing “Backstage” at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.
Headed by Amanda Reedy, Little Picture Box and her team have produced a couple of seasons of Channel 31′s Studio A and have also produced comedy short films and sketches for online.
The “Backstage” project is a collaboration between Reedy, her team at Little Picture Box and comedians Tommy little, Dave Thornton and Nat Harris. They’ll be producing exclusive online content including interviews, sketches and other funny stuff during the festival plus a half hour Comedy Festival special to air on Channel 31, April 14 at 8.30.
There’s a bunch of videos online now including Tommy Little interviewing Tom Green, Frank Woodley, Tom Ballard, Paul Foot and more. Here’s a few of our fav’s. You can check out more on Little Picture Box’s YouTube Channel.