Comic fashion is varied and personal. For some it’s a lucky t–shirt. For others it’s a conscious attempt to present a certain image. A comedian’s set is as intrinsically about their personality as it is about their material, of which clothes can be a very powerful reflection. Does a rumpled suit or bare feet on stage represent the person behind the jokes? Or is it all a costume?
Eddie Izzard famously wears women’s clothes onstage. But then, he wears them offstage, too. Where is the line between his personal dressing choice and his costume? And even if your idea of dress involves a jumper with holes in it, does this become elevated to costume status by virtue of your being onstage at the time, and thus being the object of an audience’s judgment? Take someone like David O’Doherty, tiny keyboarded king of musical comedy whimsy. There’s a man who looks as though his mum cuts his hair with a bowl and a pair of blunt shears, who wears shabby, comfortable clothing. His wit is self deprecating and modest and it would be easy to conclude that his fashion sense is nothing more than a reflection of his personality. But are his clothes in fact just like his undersized keyboard, a carefully contrived prop to go with a projected persona?
As he’s so busy with his upcoming show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival, we’re unable to get hold of O’Doherty, so we speak to Siân Bevan (who is delaying writing her show until after musing on what she might wear for it). For Bevan, dress is all about comfort. She started out doing gigs in bare feet, drawing enormous comfort from the sensation until she developed a quite sensible fear of broken glass and rabies. She also wore jeans until realizing that she enjoys wearing skirts more than anything, because it enables her to ‘prance more effectively’. For her, how clothes make you feel in yourself helps you to be a better performer, but she acknowledges too that people will judge you no matter what you wear, so it is perhaps inevitable that your dress becomes a costume.
“But once you realize that,” says Bevan “you can use it to subvert people’s perceptions of your personality. Like Sarah Millican, who dresses like an office working girly–girl and talks about sex and relationships and all sorts of filthy stuff. It’s a conscious subversion of how we are supposed to view women.”
In comedy as in life, we are judged by our fashion choices, especially when we are standing on stage, where an odd tie or crease can become screaming signifiers. The comedian in the dirty shirt or the prancing skirt might not see it as a costume, but the audience, even only subconsciously, will.
See their shows at the Glasgow International Comedy Festival
David O’Doherty: It’s David O’Doherty Time!, 13 March, 8pm, The Stand.
Sarah Millican, 19 March, 8pm, The Stand
Siân Would Like You to be Happy (But Knows You Probably Won’t Be), 18 March, 8:30pm, Universal