For the past two summers The Boy has taken Edinburgh by storm with his unusual approach to comedy. On Sunday 23 September he will bring his new show More Tape to the Glee Club in Nottingham. Kristy Guest persuaded him to peel off the gaffer to find out how he made the journey from a small town in New Zealand to the world’s biggest Fringe Festival.
You describe what you do as ‘stand-up without talking’, how does that work?
I never refer to myself as a mime because that brings out the idea of the stripy top walking against the wind, and I can think of nothing worse than watching that for an hour. The way that I write my jokes is the same way that I would if I was writing normal stand-up; it’s the same formulas, punch lines and premises, it’s just that I’m using no words. I use music and props to provide my jokes.
You do use a lot of props in your shows?
The props are just everyday objects. I like this because when the audience go home they can look at what I've used and realise that they can do it themselves. I’ve got a room which is full of what may seem like rubbish to most people but is actually a world of possibilities.
I understand that you started your performance career by shoving your body through a tennis racquet and hammering nails up your nose. How did things come to that?
I was given a magic set as a kid and started learning tricks. After a while I found out that there was a clown in our town so I asked if I could be his apprentice. He taught me juggling and riding unicycles, and then I found out that there was a circus school in the next town. I trained there in various skills like tightrope walking, trapeze, stilt walking, and it was through this that I discovered the Circus Sideshow which got me interested in things like pushing my body through a tennis racquet, eating light bulbs, and walking on broken glass. I then started performing these tricks on the streets.
So, what made you decide to drop all of that and pick up a roll of Gaffer tape?
I haven’t dropped it; I still do these other shows. In fact, I’m heading to Germany tomorrow to push my body through a tennis racquet for a week. After doing street performing for a number of years I worked my act for a stand-up audience on the comedy circuit in New Zealand and Australia, and I won the Billy T James Award in 2005. At that award there was a feeling of people expecting me to do more tricks and talking, so, I decided to surprise everyone by doing a show that had no tricks and no talking at all.
It’s amazing how things develop, isn’t it?
I think half the joy was that it was a very natural evolution. Originally it was a 5 minute routine as a bit of a joke, and then it became 10 minutes, then half an hour, and then I wondered if an audience would watch an hour of it, and it turned out that they would.
In an age where we’re bombarded with bad news, it’s refreshing to find a show in which you’re encouraged to play, have fun, and forget about the world outside.
There are so many comedians out there who have an agenda, who want to say something, have an opinion, and get a message across. I think an audience, at the end of the day, just want to sit down and watch something funny.
Some stand-ups seem to thrive on putting their audience on the spot and using them for cheap gags. What would you say to this?
There’s nothing worse. I was used as a volunteer when I was very young and was embarrassed for fifteen minutes. From that moment on I realised that the audience are the ones that have all the power. They’re the ones who can choose to walk out of a show, so you have to respect them a lot.
What would you say to people who want to come and see your show but are worried about the audience interaction?
If anyone is worried that they’re going to have to do something, it’s usually very straight forward. I know when somebody doesn’t want to be on stage. Most people realise that it’s a very safe show. You’d be surprised with the number of people who come along saying that they could never be on stage, but find themselves there by their own choice, and end up loving it.
Have you had any particularly strange or amusing reactions from people that you’ve chosen?
Most people play along, but the weirdest thing is that a lot of people don’t talk. It’s strange but just because I have tape on my face they don’t talk to me because they know that I can’t answer them. They start miming which I find very entertaining because they have all the facility to talk but they don’t.
You’ve just had a lengthy run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with More Tape. How has that been?
It was pretty spectacular. We went into it with the feeling of the ‘difficult second album syndrome’. There was a lot of pressure to see whether I could do another hour of more of the same, but we did very well. We picked up eleven 5 star reviews and a selection of awards. I couldn’t have asked for a better run.
I hear that congratulations are in order and that you have a new ‘prop’ on the way. Do you think they’ll follow in your footsteps?
Yes, it’s very exciting. Having two performers as parents means we’ll probably end up with an accountant, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing. I would be happy with whatever choice the child makes. I’m sure, if anything, I’ll be the one who ends up playing the most.
Do you have a particular allegiance to any specific tape brand?
It’s funny that you should say that, because I do. I get a tape brand from Australia, it’s called Nashua 357 and I discovered it in 2008 from a technician over there. I now ship it to my parents’ in New Zealand and then my parents send it to me in the UK. In fact, just yesterday I got a box of twelve rolls, so that should get me through the next tour.
Is there anything else that you’d like to tell the readers of LeftLion?
Just come and see the show. It’s really fun. You’ll see a gun fight, I will fight Darth Vader, and I will bring John Lennon back to life.
The Boy With Tape On His Face will perform at The Glee Club Nottingham on Saturday 1 December 2012.
Kristy Guest is a member of The Gramophones.