The Colour Ham: Seriously Silly

The Colour Ham tell us about reinventing the sketch show, and their new residency at The Stand

Feature by Vonny Moyes | 06 Jan 2014

The insuppressible creep of digital convergence is pillaging culture. It’s robbing us of scarcity, and that’s the problem, you see. Things that were once rare and sacred are a few passive clicks away. But what does this have to do with comedy? Well, everything, if you think about it. How do we mine our laughs now? The internet. It's become a Hickman line, bypassing the joy of discovery, delivering a steady dose of mediocrity to sate us. The glut of mildly-amusing is boring us; incubating a quiet dissatisfaction, while mutilating laughter as we know it. Chronic overexposure is anaesthetising us to the very thing we need most; our sense of humour. What do you do when there’s nowhere left to go online? You need to get out. 

"Do you want to see something?"

In the company of three unlikelies, behind a veil of  hard earned condensation in Edinburgh’s German bakery, ten eyes watch an unremarkable wicker chair. On the padded cushion sit a pair of freshly plucked spectacles. There’d be nothing special about them either; if they hadn’t just moved and  stood to attention. Under Kev’s out-stretched hands, the furniture has become a ouija board. None of us know quite what to say.

Taking refuge from a dreich Friday, I drink coffee with a magician, a mentalist and a comedian. An unusual coterie; these lot tend to move in their own herds. As an outsider looking in, it seems remarkable they’re even friends, let alone creating something as a unit. And not just creating – after sell-out runs at two Fringes, five-star reviews they've earned a prestigious residency at The Stand, Glasgow; a recognised barometer of comedy talent. They’ve conceived something quite special, and unlike anything you've seen before. 

Kevin McMahon, Colin McLeod and Gavin Oattes – a reformed physicist, ex-forensic scientist and a one-time primary school teacher are The Colour Ham. Sounding part Discworld, part Python, I question the name, but am denied the anecdote for now. Instead I’m told of the logistical implications of a wife set to give birth, and the trouble with doing magic with a broken arm.

K: “My daughter was born a couple of weeks before the Fringe started.”
G: “Great – it was really good timing.”
K “I broke my arm as well, so it was a really interesting month for me.”
G: “Kev’s wife used to do our tech for us too, so she let us down this year.”
K: ”I know, I was particularly disappointed at that.”

These three are on a mission to boldly reclaim laughter. To reinvent the comedy show. To take what you think you know about magic, comedy and mentalism, destroy it and rearrange it in a way that just hasn’t been done yet. They’ll contact your dead pets, re-enact your first kiss, and rewrite Pinocchio through the medium of a military crotch. All three are keen to talk, and I’m soon initiated into their very particular brand of nonsense. The sort of thing that’s comfortingly reminiscent of the best of Vic and Bob, yet distinctly their own. We talk about Gaelic TV presenters in the same breath as the politics of portraying Cilla Black with special needs; but it all makes perfect sense. The thing that strikes me most about them is just how much they believe in what they’re doing. Of course, everyone wants to hit it big. Every person who’s ever thought ‘fuck it, I’m doing this’ and defiantly chased a dream has believed they were good enough. Though, somehow, there’s almost a lightbulb moment here. A glimpse of something indescribable that makes you think they might just be on to something.

K:“We do push the limits a bit, but it’s all very good natured. When we deliver comedy that’s quite close to the bone, it’s always done in a nice way. We do have a lot of questionable sketches on paper, but when you see them live you understand the good-heartedness behind it. We have debates about how far we should go, where the line is, is there a line…”

C: "You want to be doing something different. You’ll come up with something and think ‘no one’s ever done that before,’ and then you think ‘maybe there’s a reason for that...’”

They are warm, and passionate. All three are instantly likeable; the bond between them is brotherly and I chuckle as they comfortably tear one another apart. Separately, they’d do well; Kevin and Colin already have their disciples from their forays in the magic world, as does Gav from his previous incarnation as a stand-up. What’s really interesting is that despite a decent chance at self-derived success, they’re doing this together. Eschewing the easier option in favour of an idea. A spark of ingenuity. That doesn’t happen so much. We're a world away from the nebulous 80s that hit us with more alternative comedy than we could handle. Since then things have mellowed, so it's really exciting to catch something that rejects the status quo, and is proud to be completely unique.    

C: “The difference between what we’re doing is that we try to get the balance just right; it’s obviously comedy driven, but the moments of amazement – the gasp moments – are unlike any other sketch show where you’re just going to laugh start to finish. Sure, we want that as well, but what we can offer that no one else can, are those moments where you’re just left absolutely speechless.”

These days, it’s not enough to just stand on stage and do a variation on a theme we've all seen a hundred times, from a hundred different acts. The only way anyone can hope of connecting with an audience these days is to reach out – often literally – and grab them. You’ve really got to scream with every fibre of your being for anyone to take the blindest bit of notice. Then, you’ve got to hold their attention.

G: "It is extremely silly at moments, but all of sudden, from a moment of real stupidity, there is an incredible ‘wow.’ For our finale this year, the three of us turned into three children, in less than half a second. Literally, three seven-year-old boys stood on stage and finished our show for us."

Let’s just admit it; we’re all bored. We need something new, even if we don’t quite know what that is yet. ‘The secret to humour is surprise,’ Aristotle once said. It’s the not-so-secret ingredient. The Colour Ham know this, and are juicing it. Maybe this is what we all need? A real surprise. A chance to indulge that irreverent idiocy we’ve absent-mindedly neglected in recent times. These three are pioneering a new standard of funny, and forging something memorable; the sort of thing you'll tell your friends about.

K: ”It’s not just ‘all about the comedy;’ it’s about the experience for us. It’s everything from the moment you walk in, to the moment you leave. From the introduction we have, to the tunes we have, to the filler songs. We spend a lot of time on that so that when you’re seeing it, it’s almost a theatre show. There are a lot of special effects, so it has to be well produced, as well as being a comedy show.”

There’s no doubt that they want it enough; the truth of it is that we need them as much as they need us. We’re not going to find the antidote to modern living on telly; not while the likes of panel shows and Britain’s Got Talent have set the bar for acceptable mediocrity. We, intrepid thrill-seekers, must go out and find the cure ourselves. We need to lighten up. To remember that silliness is good for the soul. The Colour Ham want to make you happier for the cost of a few quid. Who can say no to that? The only thing for it is to ditch your sensibilities. Put on your coat and step out. Grab a bite, actually see a show. Have this crafted, irreplicable experience. And hey, you just might enjoy it.

Comedy is the new rock and roll, folks, and this band are on the verge of something great. See them while the tickets are still cheap. 

Ham Stand, The Stand Glasgow, monthly from Wed 22 Jan, 7.30pm, £5 or less