Fringe Factions: The Political vs The Surreal
"Politics is not a game," said Winston Churchill. "It is an earnest business." But that doesn't mean it can't be the subject of comedy, as Thom Tuck and Josie Long prove; Rhys Darby and Paul Vickers are two men who are very serious about being silly
It seems political comedy and satire has never been more important, or more prevalent. Unrest in the Middle East coupled with grumblings at home and on the continent has ensured politics remains in the crosshairs of our sharpest comedians. Thom Tuck and Josie Long, both Fringe regulars, are two such performers.
Thom Tuck has been involved in Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky’s play Coalition since late last year, and from the first read through was sure he was onto a winner. “Sometimes it’s difficult to judge on paper, but it was obvious this was really funny already,” he says. Tuck plays Rt Hon Matt Cooper MP, leader of the Lib Dems (“definitely not Nick Clegg” he jokes) trying desperately to save the party in the last throes of coalition government.
As Tuck points out, it’s easier to be satirical when times are tough and with a strong supporting cast, including Phil Jupitus and Jo Caulfield, there is little doubt this “farcical imagining of what’s going on” is incredibly pertinent.
Josie Long is looking forward to her sixth solo show, and eleventh Fringe altogether, with Romance & Adventure. Increasingly, Long has become a strong and passionate voice in the world of political comedy, quite simply because she likes to “talk about what’s important.” There is of course a challenge in getting the balance right between conveying an impassioned message and being entertaining, which she describes as “really tricky.” She maintains that balance by approaching the subject in “a light-hearted manner without being too earnest.”
So what would she do if she found herself in charge? “Reverse the NHS bill, close tax loopholes, tax high earners and be more fun!” Now that sounds like something we can get behind.
Clearly the only thing left to do now is vote Long/Tuck 2012.
Purveyors of whimsy Rhys Darby and Paul Vickers return to the Fringe for the seventh and third time respectively.
Darby’s new show, This Way to Spaceship, is a stand-up performance spawned from his book of the same name, which he describes as “a sort of autobiographical sci-fi novel”. Best known as Murray from Flight of the Conchords, his stand up persona is quite different to his TV alter-ego. “There’s a lot of stuff that I do that you wouldn’t link to the character of Murray, so I think, rather than be disappointed, anyone coming to see me should be in for a real treat.”
It was in Edinburgh when Darby first connected with the Conchords. It clearly holds a special place in his heart and when he’s not working in Hollywood he makes a point to perform at the Fringe. “It’s the heart of everything. Comics of the world come together, like a school camp where we can share notes. It’s evolving, like a living organism.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Vickers, who only recently decided to embrace the festival after so many years of actively avoiding it. Twonkey’s Kingdom is a continuation of Vickers’ two previous Festival outings as the story of Twonkey, the half-witch / half-dragon, progresses. He describes this latest instalment, which he believes to be his best so far, as “Lord of the Rings mixed with Phoenix Nights.”
Vaudevillian in nature, the act has evolved into a madcap cabaret. Is there more scope to be experimental as part of the free fringe? “It gives people a chance to learn… you get better at adding and subtracting. A big part of art is editing.”
A huge part too is connecting with the audience. Darby describes the comedian as “the people’s artist” and both he and Vickers bring a surreal edge to an art form that can so often take itself too seriously.