Through poking fun and provocation, Birkenhead's George Cottier insists that there's a difference between 'comedy' and 'funny'
Way back in twenty oh six, a young upstart from Birkenhead brought his disjointed, intentionally awkward act to the final of the Beat The Frog World Series at The Frog and Bucket on Oldham Street in Manchester. A dark horse who abruptly walked off stage when he felt he was done, he was crowned the winner and moved Chortle’s Steve Bennett to describe him as ‘strikingly original’ and ‘definitely an act worth seeing more of’. But only five years later, George Cottier was kicked off Bennett’s UK comedy guide website and allegedly branded a ‘fucking twat’ by the man himself.
Cottier doesn’t really like comedy as such, or anyone involved with what he describes as a "toxic" industry. That’s not to say he doesn’t like them as humans, just everything that they stand for. "Comedy nights generally are bad, they’re bad for the human soul," he says. "The whole format is just bizarre; 'oh let’s go out and sit quietly and watch another man tell us about his laundry or how his toaster broke.'"
Cottier scratches beneath the surface of comedy to find what is funny – those indescribable moments when something creates laughter without it just being a cleverly strung together collection of anecdotes and catchphrases. He waits for what is funny to come to him, rather than trying to craft a gag about his daily trudge through existence: "It’s a horrible artifice," he continues, "and only fun to really think deeply about how you can mess with it, do something genuinely exciting. If you’re just going to go up for your own vanity or talk about who you hate then what’s the point?"
It is this attitude that led Cottier to the forums of Chortle – a space where backslapping is a must. For those unfamiliar with Chortle, it is a website largely set up for testimonials from comics or promoters waxing positive about each other – a format that Cottier felt he could play with. He started leaving comments about certain acts, saying they were bad and that he was ‘the best comedian’, upsetting the apple cart by stating that comedians had kicked dogs in his presence, or bought people food, or told a fat person to stay away from them. This was not taken in the lighthearted and satirical spirit in which it was meant, and people began to get annoyed at this young comic seemingly ruining their reputation. Though Cottier was only using the site to amuse himself and others – which was surely its raison d’être – a non-existent spat with Matt Price Comedian ended with Cottier’s removal from the site and Bennett’s rather sweary epithet.
It's always been evident that Cottier’s particular style and demeanour would not fit in with the usual comedy crowd, so often a circuit of middle-aged white males complaining about their wife and mortgage. He longs for something more substantial, and yet indescribable. Being ‘banned from comedy’, as his website puts it, is exactly the reaction he wants; he seeks to elicit raw emotion, almost vitriol, for his actions. In achieving a reaction of honesty, Cottier has done his job – something different – and it is this attitude that leads him to perform at more ‘alternative’ nights, though he is loath to use the word: "Alternative to what? Everything's the alternative to something."
A recent performance at Three Minute Theatre’s SOS saw Cottier perform a play he had written in his head a few hours before, taking the stage with people he physically pulled out of the audience to enact ‘I love you and we’re in the park’. He left the stage abruptly after three minutes, and then bellowed for the remaining 'actors' to "get off the stage". Nobody was quite sure what they had just seen, but they knew it was funny. In the past, Cottier has simply gotten up on stage with a camera and a timer and taken promo shots of him pretending to do a gig, posing in classic comedy poses like scratching his head, being irate about politicians, being heckled and then putting said heckler back in their place. All the while not actually doing the gig. "Yeah, I’ve not been invited back to that gig, the audience found it funny but the promoter didn’t," he comments. "I was supposed to be doing 25 minutes, but I was only there for about six." At another gig he came out and just threw sweets into the audience. "It was amazing, they all looked really happy."
Cottier’s brand of abstract and surreal comedy lends itself best to a room he can control. He believes people are "unwilling to embrace the chaos" of life, and wants to create situations where people have to react – and where better to find a home than on that chasm of chaos known as the internet? Cottier’s videos have garnered praise and revulsion alike, viewers never sure what they’ve taken in but aware that they have felt something. His Dinosaurs song has achieved a cult following in Chile, with him finding himself branded ‘el mejor humorista’, and his video about Jesus set to Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round has been part of an art exhibition in Greece quoted as ‘a very simple idea of a contradiction between the visual and the sonic constantly finds its balance between a synesthetic adherence and a blasphemous symbiosis’. In February 2013, Cottier and his writing partner Liam Bolton produced, directed, and starred in their own short web sitcom, Danger Precinct, starring fellow surrealists Phil Ellis, Lee Fenwick and Peter Slater. (He also composed the show's music, and created the intentionally shonky special effects that give it its eerie charm.) Danger Precinct is somewhat akin to Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! in that it takes on the guise of a police procedural with lines that could have been taken directly from a real show, but is skewed with awkward characters suffering their interactions. A second series is written and ready for production in the new year with the continuation of the Jean Hamm case.
There is no higher goal of getting on to TV, however; Danger Precinct simply gives Cottier a further platform to make himself and his friends laugh. "Why be on TV? It’s just appalling," is his conclusion on the slowly redefined medium of television. Rather, YouTube is as much Cottier’s home as the real world, and his obsession with ‘YouTubers’ such as James Cotter (for whom he has written a poem entitled The Actor), Daniel Hutchings (who made an appearance in Danger Precinct as an insane criminal locked in a virtual-reality prison) and especially the Christian librarian Beckie0 (who forms the base of one of his videos) bleeds into his work.
Happiest when confounding people, Cottier’s favourite piece of stand-up is Tom Green’s appearance on a cruise ship while he was in his pomp. Green comes on stage to rapturous applause from an audience hoping for a classic comedy set only to deliver a serious of bizarre, incoherent sounds and non-sequiturs, while the audience slowly leaves. "Just the wild presented to you," Cottier marvels. "Eventually he has to be removed, and as they’re dragging him out of the club he thanks everyone. It’s the best stand-up performance in the world. Ever. Nothing will ever beat that. It’s pure funniness.
"There’s an antithesis between comedy and funniness," he continues. "Comedy is this superstructure, and funniness is what’s going on beneath it, like tectonic plates… so when someone’s being purely funny but not delivering comedy, people are terrified by it. Nobody wants to be confronted with something that’s truly funny, because it would just fuck with your head." The idea of true funniness is what keeps Cottier going, keeps him creating – and although it's a quest he may never complete, it will be fascinating to see where it leads.
George says he does 100 gigs a week but prefers not to tell people when and where. However, he can confirm that he gigs at SOS, Comedy Balloon, Hot Water Comedy and Comedy Centralhttp://www.georgecottier.co.uk