By Dave Woodhall.
Comedian Simon Munnery is a regular on TV and radio, perhaps best known for his Alan Parker character. Currently on his first nationwide solo tour, Simon plays the mac centre at Cannon Hill on 29th April. We spoke to him as he was walking the streets of Kendal in what passes for the rush hour in the wilds of Cumbria. “It’s beautiful up here – sunny, warm, quiet, I’m hoping to get some passing hikers at tonight’s show.”
You’re also setting up an international tour of Bedford. How’s that going.
“Er, not very well. The idea is to play as many gigs in Bedford as I can, but it’s not been too good. I’m up to twelve so far, one of them pulled in a crowd of 100 but on the other hand another got 15 into a rugby club. I can’t say I’m Big in Bedford yet.”
We’ve got a Conservative government and spending cuts again. Will this lead to a new wave of political comedians as we saw in the eighties?
“You’d think so. I don’t know what the next comedy will be like, but with a right-wing government there should be some political comedy coming out.”
And the return of Alan Parker – Urban Warrior?
“Inevitably. Just like the moon returns every day, so the old stuff returns every ten years.”
What’s Alan been up to since he’s not been on radio?
“Hiding in the woods, I believe. Alan Parker – Eco Warrior.”
Self-Employed is your first solo national tour. Is it a challenge?
“Not really. When you’re doing stand-up a tour is just like a collection of gigs except the flyers are a bit different. It’s an hour of honed material about life, death, children and the world performed by a man wearing a suit, and featuring a 15 minute conceptual restaurant sketch.”
You were called a genius in the Guardian a couple of months ago. If it had been in the Daily Mail would you have been happy?
“It’d be an insult. I’d think I was doing something wrong. The Guardian do get a bit trigger-happy with words like ‘genius;’ it’s not something I’d cling to. The best compliment I ever received was at Edinburgh last year. I was in a pub at six in the morning when this guy came up and said ‘Weren’t you on stage earlier?’ I said I was and he replied ‘You’ll do’.”
Comedy’s been the new rock’n’roll for the past twenty years. We now have comedians, even comparatively unknown ones, doing big arena tours. Do you think it’s reached its prog rock stage?
“That’s an interesting point. I was in Glasgow recently and a couple of taxi drivers were saying they’d been to big shows and bought DVDs and they weren’t really that good, so maybe. Then again, someone will do a big outdoor stadium soon. Peter Kay, probably”
Is it possible to make that sort of show work? How do you get any kind of audience reaction when you’re on a stage so far away from them?
“Again, it’s an interesting one. It’s important to hear the audience. I was at a gig at Wembley Arena one time and I could hear laughter but I couldn’t tell where it was coming from. No-one in the block around me was laughing. It’s not necessarily the size of the venue that’s the thing, though. I’ve been touring with Stewart Lee, playing the old theatres with a thousand seats and they’re perfect, you almost don’t need a mic because they were built for variety acts to interact with the audience in the days before amplification. Then you get the new places built with music in mind and the noise just goes straight out so you don’t hear anything coming back to you at all when you’re on stage. There’s no echo, the audience is so far away. You need intimacy, you have to be able to hear the audience.”
The mac, where you play at the end of April, is a new venue. Any worries about that?
“No. I’ve done Birmingham a few times and it’s always a good place to play. Well, except one night at the Glee Club. I used to do this act that started with me performing for ten minutes with a bucket over my head. It worked on the Thursday, but for some reason the Friday night audience was totally different. They started heckling, and when you’ve got a bucket on your head you can’t tell where it’s coming from. I hoped they might shut up when I took the bucket off but it got worse. I think I got one laugh all night. Then I went offstage, I intended to just sneak out but I went to the bar and this bloke came up and said ‘You’re shit.’ I stood there and he carried on. ‘Aren’t you going to react?’ I couldn’t, and I couldn’t just leave then, either. I went back to the dressing room and carried on drinking. I’ll bring that bucket back one day. I’ll make it work.”