Tony Law on comedy, dogs and mental health

Feature by Craig Angus | 08 Feb 2016

Tony Law's Frillemorphesis was one of The Skinny's highlights of the Fringe, but off-stage it was a testing time for the comedian. Now on tour, Law speaks candidly – and with good humour – about his experiences. 

Anyone who thinks Tony Law’s exuberant stage persona is actually just a construct, and that the real Tony Law is the shy and retiring type, need only attempt to call him. After three tries in which the ringing is replaced in its stead by those familiar, animated Anglo-Canadian tones – “Leave a message for TONY LAAAAW!” – a text comes through: "Ready".

“Sorry about that,” says Law, “I’m walking my giant black German Shepherd, and I needed both hands because he does massive shits.” And he laughs, a booming, infectious pronouncement of joy, and the first of many.

But there’s more to that laugh than appears. Law is touring his show Frillemorphesis, after what we're surprised to learn was a personally challenging Edinburgh Fringe run. Entertaining 200 paying customers each day for most of August, Law found himself only doing so while surfing a wave of maniacal frenzy. It turns out he was going through a hard time, abusing alcohol and suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness.

“I was pretty much rock bottom and out of control when I did it [Frillemorphesis] in Edinburgh,” Law says. “I went into rehab in September, so I’ve basically spent the last three months recovering from all sorts of things – levelling out, going to see psychiatrists.” He pauses again to laugh, before adding with veritable warmth: “Anyway, I’m healthy and normal for the first time since I was about 17.”

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A genuine sense of optimism permeates our conversation. Law calls his journey “some fuckin’ Disney shit”. In truth, while the compelling tale of personal redemption – climaxing with personal and professional epiphanies – might fit Law’s Disney template, his interpretive dance digressions and surreal equine flashbacks would stop it becoming the sort of feelgood comedy you watch with the family. 

It’s fair to say Law has a renewed sense of purpose this year, and that his experiences have impacted upon both his current show and his aspirations going forward. Speaking about the new, improved Frillemorphesis he says: “I have so much more time on my hands now, so I might as well write something, rather than turn up and just say, [growls] ’Oooh, got away with that one!’ I still have mania – as you can tell – but I think a lot of the show seems to be developing real themes that come from reaching 46 and finally realising what life is about, and being actually happy rather than pretending.”

Law’s disarming honesty extends to his own struggles with mental health. He acknowledges that the mania is something he’ll always carry, but that he’s not alone with that. “Every single one of us has a mental illness, haven’t we?” he says. “And I think definitely it is easier to deal with, the stigma isn’t being attached and people are able to say, ‘Oh fuck, that’s what I was struggling with’ – that’s a great liberation for scores and scores of people. You can tell I’ve been through a lot of therapy because everything I say is so frickin’ positive!”

He’s still unmistakably Tony Law though, going off on tangents about Wolfy, the aforementioned pooch, and at one stage pitching a panel show set in a moving truck, driven by Law, where the questions are all based on whatever town the said vehicle pitches up in. “I want barbarous audiences!” says Law, then he’s off to walk Wolfy the German Shepherd again, something he says is a continual source of amusement: “Sometimes I can’t put my finger on it, but I find myself just really laughing at him playing. He reminds me of the big black dog of depression. So I look at him and I just feel a little better.”

Tony Law: Frillemorphesis plays The Lowry, Salford on Saturday 20 February; The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen on Thursday 10 March; and The Stand, Glasgow – as part of the Glasgow International Comedy Festival – on Friday 11 March.