Seasons greetings! Double busy leading up to Christmas with lots of cultural stuff going on so I’ve consolidated all my viewings, derring-dos and reviews of last week into one manageable post. Enjoy!
**Contains mild spoilers**
BILL BURR – I’M SORRY YOU FEEL THAT WAY (2014) – (NETFLIX)
The Massachusett’s born fortysomething everyman comedian is an absolute straight-talking joy. He sails close to controversy on many occasions giving political correctness no mind at all. But it’s not shock for shock’s sake but rather well thought out and cutting rants covering domestic violence, plastic surgery, guns and the cult of celebrity. I particularly love his cracking-take-no-prisoners-delivery and he is very adept at imaginary on-stage conversations which are relentlessly hilarious, hitting his targets full in the face.
DR WHO – THE MIND ROBBERS (1968)/SEEDS OF DEATH (1968)
From the 6th season of the classic science-fiction serial, with Patrick Troughton as the eponymous time-traveller, these two episodic stories find PT on great form with Zoe and Jamie as his companions. The villains of each piece are The Master (not that one) of the Land of Fiction and The Ice Warriors in Seeds of Death. The latter foes are particularly nasty pieces of work although they do find themselves undone if you turn the heating up a bit. Troughton is a fantastic Doctor playing the fool while hiding a devious mind as he allows the enemy to think they have the upper hand before prevailing victorious.
DR WHO – SEASON 7 (inc. DAY OF THE DOCTOR)
I’ve really enjoyed Matt Smith’s final season as the Doctor and some of the episodes have provided some cracking televisual entertainment. Some of the concepts and plot twists, I must admit, I found initially baffling but that was because the writing was so fast-paced and spirited. But overall Steven Moffat and his whole production team deserve credit for a fun, funky and very dark (where Amy and Rory were concerned) season which also introduced a sparkling new companion in Clara (Jenna Coleman).
Personal highlights for me included: Asylum of the Daleks, The Angels Take Manhattan, Cold War, Hide and the 50th Anniversary episode The Day of the Doctor which had THREE Doctors and a history-bending game changer. Brilliant to see John Hurt appear as The War Doctor and Tennant return also. I am very pleased too that I have watched the Time of the Doctor too and I am finally onto Peter Capaldi’s Time Lord; which is how this latest obsession began.
This obsidian painted comedy about family grief features Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Hesher: a crazed-heavy-metal-anti-heroic-outsider-mentalist. Hesher crashes into the lives and the house of the Forney family as they attempt to get over a recent death. And while he seems to be a negative reality void sucking the life out of them he kind of becomes an anti-angel providing some kind of weird and wonderful family therapy.
It’s a difficult film to get into initially as it’s quite bizarre but ultimately it’s got a great little black heart of gold showing that togetherness will overcome. Despite an A-list cast including Natalie Portman it’s very much a low budget-under-the-radar gem with a loud heavy rock soundtrack.
PAUL FOOT – SECRET CHRISTMAS COMEDY SHOW 2014
Myself and Brett Sharpe have formed the Dr Who-Paul-Foot-Spurs-Supporters Fan Club. It’s very niche but inclusive club which anyone can join if they like those particular cultural phenomena. Our inaugural Christmas outing was to a secret location in London and involved seeing the master of merry mirth — Paul Foot — putting on his own little show for his fans or connoisseurs as he calls them. It was an incredible show made all the more marvellous because it was in an intimate venue above a pub. I cracked up throughout as Foot treated us to some of his greatest comedy hits including: RADA story; EUROSTAR story and how to get REVENGE on BED & BREAKFAST LADY.
RETURN OF THE JEDI (1983) – BFI SCREENING
Here’s a surprise: I love Star Wars! Not the prequels but the original films. I saw them all at the cinema and they are three of the most perfect piece of entertainment one could hope for. They captured the imagination of a wide-eyed seven, ten and thirteen year boy (that’s me!) when each of the trilogy was released. With their: spaceships, creatures, heroes, mercenaries, droids, monsters, light-filled swords, noble Knights protecting the Empire and rebels battling gigantic Death Stars – WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE! I watched the final film in the trilogy at the BFI Southbank’s majestic cinema NFT1 and Return of the Jedi looked wonderful. I laughed, gasped and cheered in all the right places as Luke, Leia, Chewbacca, Han Solo etc. fight and defeat the Dark Side in a galaxy far, far away.
SPURS Vs NEWCASTLE – CAPITAL ONE CUP QUARTER FINAL
I went to White Hart Lane to watch Spurs against Newcastle in the Capital One cup and what a terrific performance they put on. It was tight for a while against an under strength Toon – who had been in good form in the League – but a mistake from their young keeper allowed Bentaleb to score the first. Chadli made it 2-0 with a fine run and shot before Kane and Soldado finished the Northerners off! The great news is we got Sheffield United in the semi-final so MUST have a positive chance of getting to the final at Wembley. Since this game we also beat Burnley 2-1 at home so allied to our last-gasp win against Swansea the Pocchettino’s Spurs are on a grand roll for now.
ST VINCENT (2014) – FILM REVIEW
I love Bill Murray. The guy is a comedy legend and general all-round media eccentric. He’s been in some terrible films and some classic movies. The one over-riding consistency in all his movies are he is ALWAYS brilliant. In St Vincent he plays a curmudgeonly scoundrel who sleeps with hookers and drinks himself unconscious. When Melissa McCarthy’s single mother Maggie and her son Oliver move in next door Vincent becomes an unlikely babysitter to the boy. It’s an okay film which promises much dark and bittersweet humour in the vein of Bad Santa (2003).
However, while Vincent starts off as a bit of a scumbag he is redeemed far too easily for my liking and while the script is very witty it runs out of steam just past halfway and even Murray cannot save an overly saccharine and sickening ending. Also, Naomi Watts is wasted as an offensive stereotypical Eastern European prostitute while McCarthy is criminally underplayed given very little to do. A disappointment overall as all the plot strands are resolved easily and without any real comic or dramatic thunder.
LEICESTER SQUARE THEATRE GIG – (11/11/14)BY PAUL LAIGHT
**VERY FEW SPOILERS**
If someone put a gun to my head and asked me who my favourite living stand-up comedian was I would probably have to say Stewart Lee. Obviously the likelihood of someone putting a gun to my head asking my favourite comedian is silly. They could point it at my knee and I would tell them. In fact they wouldn’t need a gun. Anyway, through sheer consistency of quality comedy product he’s created over the years, for me, he’s a national, regional and local treasure.
A week or so ago on the 11th November 2014 I went to one of his Room With A Stew (work in progress) shows as Lee road-tested material for his BBC TV show – Comedy Vehicle – Season 4. The audience also received — as he mentioned a number of times during the night — a free DVD copy of – Comedy Vehicle – Season 3.
Having dabbled with stand-up comedy myself to various degrees of failure it was terrific to see a master trying to make material, not far out of the brain and on the page, work. The first half-an-hour-or-so he delivered a funny routine about Islamaphobia before battling through a more personal piece about Urine.
New comedy material is a tricky beast. The comedian becomes a kind of blind tailor measuring and making a new suit not knowing whether the material is going to fit the customer or not. Thus, you trim and adjust and stitch and cut away until you find the bits which work and get rid of those that don’t. Sometimes the seams just split and the suit lies in tatters on the floor. What comedy has to do with clothes I have no idea: I’m just saying it can be tough is all!
Stewart Lee appeals to my pedantic, grumpy and meta-intellectual side. He challenges me mentally and his thought-provoking material works on many levels. On this night I could sense Stewart Lee at odds ever-so-slightly with the material, the cogs of his mind willing it to work as he listened to the audience for their reaction. His trademark beration of us for not “getting it” was a feature throughout; in fact he used it to re-energise the room on occasion. Overall, it was a great night and a pleasure to see him at work. Lee’s Comedy Vehicle has been a must-see on BBC2 for the past few years and will continue to do so based on tonight’s work-in-progress show.
If you’re not a fan of Stewart Lee and you like comedy that’s slightly more thought-provoking than material about the difference between cats and dogs then check out his website which contains information about ALL his full length shows, TV appearances and stuff from his brilliant Comedy Vehicle Television show.
PAUL FOOT’S HOVERCRAFT SYMPHONY IN GAMMON SHARP MINOR (7/11/2014) REVIEW
“I decided to have a go at stand-up comedy in a little bar. I did not have any jokes. Amazingly, it went well and I resolved on the spot to become a professional entertainer. 17 years later, I became an overnight success.”*****PAUL FOOT*****
Friday just gone began a busy time of watching comedy shows for me. It wasn’t planned that way but many of the funny people and shows I wanted to see happened to be on in the same period. First off was surreal jester Paul Foot, then on Sunday, Tottenham’s abject loss to Stoke in the Premiership provided much mirth. Not. Tonight, I am going to see the brilliant Stewart Lee; tomorrow, theatrical extravaganza Book of Mormon and finally, on Friday, bitter comic misanthrope Andrew Lawrence.
Paul Foot burst on the comedy scene many moons ago winning one of the BBC New Act Talent Thing Competitions and that. I recall there being someone called Peter Kay who finished second in the competition but not sure what happened to him? Then when I started doing a bit of stand-up comedy myself I ran my own night at the aptly named Comedy Pub near Leicester Square. It was a very small new materialish night and the wonderful Paul Foot headlined on a couple of occasions. I was a crap promoter really but had some fun nights and always wondered why Paul Foot wasn’t on television more as he genuinely has – what is known in the business – “funny bones.”
That was in say 2009 I think but more recently though he has appeared on a few panel shows such as Never Mind The Buzzcocks and Would I Lie To You plus the wonderful Alternative Comedy Experience. Further, his constant gigging and secret shows have allowed him to build up his own audience of fans; or as he calls them “connoisseurs”. Thus, I was pleased to see his latest show at the Bloomsbury Theatre and experience more of the hilarity I saw at the Comedy Pub but on a much bigger stage. Well, it actually had a stage; unlike the Comedy Pub.
Paul Foot is a marvellous, clown, eccentric, misfit who plays himself in almost every show he’s in and very funny he is too. From the moment his voice squawked from off-stage I was laughing; opening the show with a poetic chaos that breaks with the conventions of the traditionally slick club comedy night.
Humour comes from all directions: his surreal flights of fantasy; his low-to-high pitch Home Counties drawl; his silver-shoed, mullet-haired appearance; plus the way he prances around the stage resembles a dressage horse on hot coals or a featherless bird flapping, yet failing, to take off. All told Mr Foot is a verbal and physical joy to behold.
As he gambols around the Bloomsbury stage he surprises the front row with some break-the-ice “mounting” a fan’s chair; before unleashing some brilliantly silly observations, stories and what he calls “disturbances”. To those unfamiliar with Foot’s work it could seem like the mad ranting’s of a fool and in some ways it is but at its’ heart his comedy is very well designed and structurally sound.
Indeed, within the flights of fancy there are some excellent observations around religious chancers; landlady bed and breakfast etiquette; and the perils of platitudes which may leading to snake invasions. What I love most about Paul Foot is his absolute conviction and passion to the routines; in his mind these events are real and thus I believe him. Overall, I genuinely nearly pissed myself laughing during this show so do try and catch him if you can in your lifetime.
This year I did a little comedy show at the Brighton Fringe Festival with fellow comedian GWILUM ARGOS. I also thought it would be fun to film the whole process and edit it into a, hopefully, funny documentary. The editing process was long and laborious but I have finally finished the bastard and here it is. It is not intended to reinvent the wheel formally speaking but I hope it will be something amusing to look back on in year’s to come.
PAUL LAIGHT and GWILUM ARGOS star in a humorous documentary filmed and edited in 2014 as they prepare, rehearse and perform their comedy show at the Brighton Fringe Festival (2014).
This is a mixture of sketches, podcast, trailers, interviews, stand-up performance etc. The video is intended for promotional and non-profit making purposes. It is a historical document recorded for a laugh and posterity and possible insight into the creative process.
Comedy material written by Paul Laight and Gwilum Argos. Original songs written by Gwilum Argos.
Other songs/music used by kind permission.
The Rock and Droll Experience was shot and edited by Paul Laight.
NEVER EVER BLOODY ANYTHING EVER! THE GENIUS OF RIK MAYALL & MR JOLLY
**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS YOU BASTARDS**
The passing of comedian and actor Rik Mayall was a ruddy shame. Of course I didn’t know the guy but from a cultural point-of-view here was a comedian, actor, raconteur, writer and clown who I grew up watching on the tellybox and escaped into fits of laughter just at his merest look, gesture, rant, pratfall and frying pan in the face. So when I heard of his death I was disappointed because he was dead. And would never be alive to perform again. That always positive energy was gone.
I myself have attempted stand-up on a lower-runged level of the comedy circuit and while you can obtain laughs through trial, error, gigging, experience, writing actual jokes blah, blah, blah etc. but what you can’t be taught is actually being funny. You’ve either got it or you haven’t. And Rik Mayall didn’t just have funny bones; he had funny eyes, ears, hair, nails, feet, hands, heart, spleen, blood etc. You get the picture: HE was fucking funny!
Kevin Turvey, Lord Flashheart, Richard Richard, his many Comic Strip performances, Alan B’stard, Drop Dead Fred, The Dangerous Brothers etc. were some of the many varied comedic performances Rik Mayall delivered. He could do clown, mania, slapstick, psycho, pathetic, sleazy, satirical, violence, arrogance, low status, high status, eloquence, sarcasm, smarm and many more. Like an overgrown demented child he could run amok, shout then whisper, go dark and then lighten up in a moment. And it was just so bloody natural.
Arguably his crowning performance was as Rick in The Young Ones, a surreal, punkish yet somehow still traditional situation comedy centred around four lazy students who essentially fail to get on whatsoever but still form a dysfunctional “family” unit. Rik was the spoilt mummy’s boy with inklings of anarchic desire yet with a penchant for Cliff Richard records. He was a spotty, poetry spouting virgin prone to bouts of rage and snivelling sycophancy and sneakiness with an anger toward authority and revolutionary ideals but neither the backbone, physical power or bottle to actually do anything that may bring a government down. He was basically a cowardly, hysterical child who happened to be hilarious at the same time.
The Young Ones was a defining comedy for me when I was growing up. I’d never seen anything like it. And ever since I have sought out such programmes containing profanity, imagination, stupidity, slapstick, satire, surrealism and above all else human beings trying and failing to get on with each other. I have subsequently found this in shows such as South Park, RedDwarf, Blackadder, The Day Today, Alan Partridge, The Office, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia to name but a few. However, for the remainder of this piece I want to pay tribute to — if you put a gun to my head — my favouritest thing that Rik was in ever! One of the funniest 50 minutes of comedy ever committed. The Comic Strip film: MR JOLLY LIVES NEXT DOOR!
The Comic Strip Presents: erupted from the sordid strip joint stages of Soho or more specifically the original Comedy Store. Alumni included: Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French, Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, Peter Richardson, Jennifer Saunders, Alexei Sayle with frequent appearances by Keith Allen, Robbie Coltrane and many more comics who would become household names over the years. Anarchic, punkesque and anti-establishment in approach they were a hurricane of creativity challenging the comedic hegemony and what was considered to be the apolitical, sexist, politically incorrect and old-fashioned performers of the day.
From the stage they marched into our living rooms on the newly founded Channel 4 in 1982 (way back when C4 produced challenging programming) and over the years produced some wonderful and wacky short films, features and shows which satirised everything and anything from: literature, film, television, politics, music, war, fashion, sport, law etc. The Comic Strip Presents: were a staple for alternative souls and any new episodes were greeted with joy in the mind of South London latchkey-TV-addicted kids like myself.
The Comic Strip collective produced too many hilarious shows to mention but my favouritest ever is Mr Jolly Lives Next Door! Written by Mayall and Edmondson they presented two drunken, idiotic morons derived from their Dangerous Brothers’ stage personas. Together they are DREAMYTIME ESCORTS: alcoholic, depraved, sleazy con-artists with little or no redeeming qualities whatsoever; other than arguably perhaps they cause themselves more damage than others. Mr Jolly is a masterclass of violent slapstick, stupidity, sight gags, demented cameos and also some very well written jokes too.
It begins with our unnamed “heroes” helping the police with their enquiries relating to Fatty: a now dead client. Dreamytime Escorts then get confused with their mysterious-assassin-lunatic neighbour Mr Jolly (the hilarious Peter Cook) and somehow are involved in a plot to “take out” Nicholas Parsons; as arranged by demented gangland boss Mr Lovebucket (Peter Richardson). And the whole thing is directed by Stephen Frears – yes THAT Stephen Frears. The same one who directed The Grifters (1990), The Queen (2006) and Dangerous Liaisons (1988) etc.
So with a deranged story — which I think may have influenced another moronic classic Dumb and Dumber (1994) — on the go the audience is driven along on a wave of anarchic fun and alcohol fuelled insanity with Rick and Ade having much fun while they’re at it. The scenes where they torture the Japanese client and get so drunk they end up in the toilet screaming at each other — having “borrowed” Mr Lovebucket’s £3000 to kill Parsons — are a senseless joy. The drunken nonsense is ramped up even more when they take Quiz Show host and TV celebrity Nicholas Parsons to the Dorchester on a night out; Parsons believing they are competition winners when in fact the “Escorts” have accidentally run the real winners off the road and killed them in a fiery blaze.
To a teenager the sheer pace of the lunacy was a thing of beauty and even now when I watch Mr Jolly the chaotic nature of the scenes at the Dorchester at Parson’s house are packed full of physical performances, celebrity in-jokes, stupid sight gags such as the tattoo which Ade thinks has been put on backwards when he looks at it in the mirror. I marvel at the comic timing, sheer energy and controlled mayhem on show. The next day they suffer the grandest of hangovers and when Mr Lovebucket calls in his debt the two drunks must actually kill Parsons. What follows is live action cartoon violence of a side-splitting variety with Rik getting a hammer over his head and Ade holding on while two grenades explode.
Cue a finale which involves a crazy car chase, Rick shitting himself, Dreamytime Escorts van ending up in a skip, Mr Jolly murdering Parsons to the tune of What’s New Pussycat, exploding tonic water and Peter Richardson’s Lovebucket uttering the immortal words: “WHAT IS GOING ON!?” before the whole premises blows up. What you have are Stooges like physical humour combined with Loony Tunes style cartoon violence. There is little satire and no subtlety but it is uproariously funny. We end with Ade and Rick walking down Camden Lock canal before Mayall pushes his partner-in-grime in the water for no reason. And that is what is so great about Mr Jolly: it has no underlying meanings or any depth. It’s stupid and violent and loud and ruddy funny. Rick Mayall was all of these too and much much more and I thank him and Ade for giving us this crazy masterpiece.
I started in comedy in 2008 not with any grand designs of being famous or having a career but just to try a different creative experience. Plus, having come from a screenwriting background I wanted to try performing in some way. And I thought it might be a bit of a laugh. I’ve had ups and downs but it has been great fun and I’ve met some brilliant people on the comedy road. Now I’m doing my first Fringe Festival show in Brighton with guitar hero Gwilum Argos!
Our show is called ROCK N DROLL. It takes place at the Laughing Horse, Hobgoblin, 31 York Place, Brighton and kicks off at 10.30pm.
For a laugh we’ve done some lo-fi promotional videos and here they are!
LIFE’S A BEACH
Paul and Gwilum went to Brighton to check out the sights.
PAUL AND GWILUM GET REJECTED
Gwilum and Paul tried to get Previews for their Brighton Shows
GWILUM AND PAUL DISCUSS THE SHOW
Paul and Gwilum discuss the merits of doing a show in Brighton.
Getting on stage and making a room full of strangers laugh spontaneously through a joke, impression, improvisation, song etc. is arguably one of the mightiest challenges facing a performer. But for many successful stand-up comedians the thrill of reducing a room to shakes of laughter is not enough; hence why so many have attempted to transfer their undoubted comic and acting artistry to the silver screen. Plus there’s more dough involved in making movies. As a massive fan of both cinema and stand-up comedy I thought it interesting to look at some of the best dramatic performances committed to celluloid by stand-up comics.
Eddie Murphy – 48 Hours (1982)
Before Eddie Murphy single-handedly set about making his very own list of the worst movies ever made he took his raw, rap, crack and pop stand-up persona and committed to screen great performances in Trading Places (1983) Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and Walter Hill’s rock hard-boiled 48Hours (1982). Buddied-up with Nick Nolte’s life-frazzled cop, Murphy was perfectly cast as cool convict Reggie Hammond. Murphy is tough, uncompromising and funny: spitting out classic dialogue such as “I’ve been in prison for three years. My dick gets hard if the wind blows” – with a verve that is sorely missing from virtually all his film output of the last 15 years.
Woody Allen – Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989)
Arguably, Allen’s recent movies have not been up to the quality of his earlier “funnier” films but I like them nonetheless as he has consistently produced work rich with great lines, ideas and characters. In the 1980’s Allen’s films matured and more often than not centred around familial, human and sexual relationships. As well as writing and directing Allen also acted in most of his films using his Jewish, neurotic, angsty persona to comic and dramatic effect. In Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989) he delivers another fine performance drawing out pathos, empathy and pain as a documentary filmmaker who is trying to make sense of life and why we are on this planet. The film is multi-stranded with a wonderful ensemble cast including Alan Alda and Martin Landau on particularly great form.
Whoopi Goldberg – The Color Purple (1985)
Multi-talented Emmy, Oscar, Tony winner Goldberg is one of the most versatile comedian/actors to grace the stage and screen. She developed her abilities at the Blake Street Hawkeyes Comedy troupe where her work and would then be cast in Spielberg’s adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple (1985). While Goldberg would earn an Oscar for her over-the-top turn in potter’s-wheel-ten-hankie-weepie Ghost (1990), but it is her first ever screen appearance which will stay in the memory. Goldberg’s Celie Johnson is a character battered and beaten by life but whom amidst the misery and abuse retains a strength and desire to not let life destroy her. Goldberg brings a tremendous innocence, fortitude and compassion to the part; and considering it is her first ever movie role it is an amazing achievement.
Will Ferrell – Stranger Than Fiction (2006)
Ferrell cut his comedy fangs in The Groundlings, an LA improv group, and would later take his comic creations onto Saturday Night Live. Hilarious turns as hick racing driver Ricky Bobby in Talledega Nights (2006) and more famously as Ron Burgundy – the king of unreconstructed male chauvinist stupidity – in Anchorman (2004) would cement Ferrell’s success as a movie actor. Famous for stupid haircuts, overcharged yelling and screen-mugging Ferrell toned it down as tax inspector Harold Crick in Marc Forster’s moving dramedy, Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Ferrell’s Crick is a lonely individual, a man of routine and commonplace whose life is turned topside down when he hears his every move being narrated by Emma Thompson’s meta-omnipotent author. As he struggles to find ‘the voice’ Crick begins to question his whole existence and this gives Ferrell the opportunity to live a character with depth and emotion hitherto unseen in his previous screen caricatures.
Jamie Foxx – Ray (2004)
While Chris Rock arguably takes the stand-up comic kudos between these two graduates of influential American sketch show, In Living Color, Foxx’s film career has flourished with a series of fantastic movie performances. But it was playing Ray Charles in Ray (2004) that Foxx left Rock’s movie career, in comparison, eating the proverbial dust sandwich. Of course it won him the Oscar but it was more than just an impression of Charles as Foxx gave this musical genius a flawed humanity and pain that moved both the audience and the Academy. Foxx threw himself into the role with abandon musically and dramatically, showing Charles’ darker addictive side as well as his magnetism, humour and incredible drive. Unsurprisingly, the same year, Foxx was also nominated for his sterling work in Mann’s urban noir Collateral losing out in that category to the king-of-expositional-voiceover Morgan Freeman.
Robin Williams – One Hour Photo (2002)
A running trope in this list finds many of the acts turning their manic comedic persona on its’ head and internalizing the mania or psychosis with understated performances. Indeed, I have read articles which link certain mental states with the comedic mind and in Robin Williams you could not get a more manic, fevered, out-of-this-world performer. After a slow start cinematic success would arrive eventually and I could have chosen Good Will Hunting (1997) or Good Morning Vietnam (1987) or Dead Poet’s Society (1989)as these were great roles for Williams. But in 2002 he took a couple of darker turns in Nolan’s pre-Batman thriller Insomnia and a lower-budget thriller called One Hour Photo. The latter found Williams playing a solitary Photo Technician who takes an unhealthy interest in one particular family. Yet Williams’ character is no ordinary psycho but rather a pained individual longing to be part of a family unit. The actor terrifies the audience with his obsessive nature but at the end the performance humanizes the character rather than making him a one-dimensional lunatic he could so easily of been.
Jim Carrey – Man On The Moon (1998)
Carrey is an absolute force of nature as a stage and sketch performer and brought that dynamic physicality, silly voices and zany gurning to great effect in films such as: Dumb and Dumber (1994) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). As he gained further success he would stretch his acting muscles with more dramatic and riskier roles. He was ideally cast as Intergender Wrestling Champion of the world Andy Kaufmann and (best known for his role in U.S. sitcom Taxi) and also doubled-up by playing Kaufmann’s alter-ego Tony Clifton (with Paul Giamatti.) Kaufmann was arguably the very first anti-comedian; gaining laughs or at the very least trying to get laughs from being deliberately unfunny and antagonistic. Carrey takes on all the incarnations with much skill and humour and rather than be just a very good impression he zones his usual mania, creating a complex character whose life was tragically cut short by cancer. The film was criticized by some for taking liberties with Kaufmann’s life and it was a relative failure at the box office, but Carrey deservedly won many awards and nominations for his diverse performance.
Billy Connolly – The Debt Collector (1997)
Connolly’s performance in Mrs Brown would be the most obvious choice for Scotland’s imperious stand-up comedy legend, however, I’m not a fan of films about the Royal Family and the brutal Debt Collector is more to my taste. The Big Yin is compelling in this grim, gritty thriller inspired by career criminal turned artist/novelist, Jimmy Boyle. Connolly’s working class and artistic background also resonates in the Nicky Dryden character trying to go straight; only to be pursued relentlessly by Ken Stott’s obsessive cop. Connolly’s raconteurial, larger-than-life stand-up style is in complete contrast to the serious character of Dryden who having escaped the mean streets of snooker halls of Glasgow is now a feted figure on the art scene. Stott’s vindictive cop cannot abide Dryden’s success and sets about bringing Dryden down. The scenes between Connolly and Stott are the stand-out in this dark, violent tale which is unflinching in tone and certainly darker than anything Connolly has been in before or since.
Richard Pryor – Blue Collar (1980)
Paul Schrader wrote existential urban Western Taxi Driver (1976) but also directed some compelling dramas. Blue Collar is probably his best film and it is my favourite Richard Pryor performance. Pryor had reinvented himself as a stand-up comedian shifting his persona from likeable TV friendly gag-man to a snarling, coked-up, angry social satirist. He would roughen out the edges of this act to become the slick, effervescent and honest performer who turned the dramas and stories of his life into comedy gold. Pryor would be a natural comic force on silver screen and formed a fine double act with Gene Wilder. However, Blue Collar is the best film I saw him in as it combines the humour, drama and social commentary that Pryor himself included in his act. Set in Detroit it highlights the hypocritical machinations of Union practices at a car plant. Pryor provided some humour but his character shows an anger and energy throughout which may or may not have been fuelled by his Olympic coke-taking. Egos clashed among cast (including Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel) and crew and it shows on screen in a fiery examination of the working class man and his lot.
Jerry Lewis – The King Of Comedy (1983)
To be able to steal the acting honours from Robert DeNiro at the height of his golden acting period takes some beating. But that is what old-school-crazed-slapstick-movie-mad-man Jerry Lewis did in Scorcese’s dramedy about obsessives. DeNiro is funny, embarrassing and tragic as the bottom-runged comedian but Lewis’ performance as hangdog, lonely and jaded chat-show host Jerry Langford stole the show. Langford, a successful TV presenter, remains at the height of his career but lives a seemingly lonely life with just his work for company. On the surface a decent guy but underneath he’s a jaded workaholic. DeNiro’s Pupkin enthusiastic, aspirational, hero-worshipping comic stalks him and becomes Langford’s own worst nightmare. There are so many painful scenes of toe-curling embarrassment in this movie notably when deluded Pupkin invites himself to Langford’s country retreat. When Langford is left at the mercy of Sandra Bernhard’s unhinged harpy Lewis’ performance is one of raging deadpan as he simmers with rage until he bursts like a pustule on escape and leaps down the road with tape around his ankles like bicycle clips. A truly under-rated gem of a performance and film.
Eric Bana – Chopper (2000)
Australian actor Bana started off in stand-up and TV sketch shows and was a novice dramatically speaking when cast as violent-criminal-turned-best-selling-novelist Marc Brandon Read. Given his comedic background Bana’s rendition is very funny but ultimately there is a dark drama and bloody violence too in the representations of this powerhouse of the Melbourne underworld. His creation is a paranoid, angsty, neurotic monster capable of terrific rage one moment then over-powering guilt the next. It’s a rounded version of a split-personality both interested in robbing drug dealers but also with his own myth, persona and media representation. There’s some terrific dialogue and Aussie banter between Chopper and the various low-lifes he encounters; and some visceral violence, notably when Chopper gets his ears cut off to navigate a route out of jail. The film holds a mirror up to a twisted society which creates celebrities out of killers and those who act outside of the law and it is to Bana’s credit that he makes this monster funny and likeable despite his actions deserving the contrary.
Mo’Nique – Precious (2009)
I wasn’t aware of Mo’Nique’s background as a stand-up comedian when I first saw this heartwrenching drama, but after witnessing her incredible performance I did some research and found she worked her way up from the open-mic circuit of Baltimore to the lofty heights of Best Supporting Actress. Her character Mary Lee Johnson is an emotionally-damaged-dysfunctional-car-crash-human-bully who puts her daughter Precious (equally brilliant Gabourey Sidibe) through all manner of abuse and neglect. As horror after horror befalls the story’s heroine her mother sits on the sofa barking, castigating, demanding; making her life a living hell. It’s a monstrous creation but one which is not without compassion as shown in one of the final scenes in the film where Mary Lee Johnson, in tears, asks, “Who was gonna love me?” And the strength of the performance is that we almost feel bad for this woman. Almost.
Steve Martin – The Spanish Prisoner (1997)
Steve Martin’s film career is quite similar to Eddie Murphy’s inasmuch as his early films matched the brilliance and energy of his stand-up career only to find him moving later to more sub-par-Hollywood-generic-remakes like Bilko. But you can’t blame a performer wanting to make a living and Martin is one of the great Renaissance Men. He also wrote of one of the greatest books I’ve read about comedy: Born Standing Up. As an actor he’s always really funny playing downtrodden man-children or idiots happy to send himself up gaining laughs from crazed anger while remaining totally unthreatening; e.g. Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987). In David Mamet’s The Spanish Prisoner he played against type with a sinister turn in this cold, twisting thriller. Martin underplays throughout with intelligence and handles Mamet’s crisp dialogue with aplomb. It’s a fine film and performance utilising his linguistic skills expertly and I have no Clouseau why he didn’t go darker more often.