Tony Law at New Greenham Arts, on Thursday, September 22
I SAW the Marmite effect in action at Tony Law’s show last Thursday - I loved him, my plus-one hated him, and we could see the rest of the audience split among similar lines into the laughs and laugh-nots.
Well, “hated” is too strong a word, as Law’s surreal deconstruction of the craft of comedy didn’t elicit the barely-concealed anger with which my companion (a different chap) responded to a performance by Wil Hodgson during the Newbury Comedy Festival a few years ago. But barely a smile was raised from this particular guest last week, while I was more than happy to relax and enjoy the magical mystery tour of Law’s mindwarping musings.
Law dresses like a 19th century polar explorer (the only surviving one, he propounded, to be doing stand up comedy; the others having formed the bands Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons), sounds like a lumberjack (he is indeed, Canadian), and picks apart his own act using the schtick that he isn’t a terribly skilled comedian, when actually he quite clearly is as savvy as they come.
Law’s themes are fairly random, although nature pop up in some of its strangest forms throughout the show - who would win a fight between a shark and a bear (you have to paint the shark as a salmon to get the bought started), adopting a prostitute panda, and how trees are great gossips. His self-styling as a “dangerous” comedian was applied with a reasonable dose of irony, but his act certainly never fell below the bar of “mild peril”. Law appeared fully aware that his performance was likely to divide his audience, a risk raised exponentially by the smallish turn-out for his Newbury gig. This didn’t seem to worry him - in fact, I rather suspect that he revels in such diverse reactions.
I suppose some of the appeal (for those, like me, that do laugh at him) is that audience members can feel awfully smug and clever if they “get” him, over those that don’t. Whereas those that don’t laugh are in fact more confident in their own intelligence, and therefore don’t need the validation. I don’t care - I’m quite happy to be made to feel clever, so Law’s act works for me, and so yah-boo to those erudite brainy types who can rise above such ingenious verbal trickery.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, September 29, 2011