FESTIVAL COMEDY | Character Comedians Anna Mann

Lee Nelson

Described as ‘the essence of the Fringe: she lives, eats and breathes Fringe’, Beak is based on some arch practitioners of ‘the craft’ that Thom has met through her years working in devised and alternative theatre. But she freely admits that she’s taking the piss out of herself as much as anybody else: ‘some of the exercises I’m doing in the masterclass are things people have asked me to do over the years during daft auditions.’ While Thom’s inspiration can be gleaned from her time at the legendary Lecoq School in Paris (‘on my hands and knees trying to be a spider’), Simon Brodkin (Lee Nelson) is a few miles further from his ‘cheerful chav’ character. Brodkin uses fellow doctor-turned-comedian Harry Hill as an example of blurring the lines between not only characters and real people, but stand-up and character comedy, too. ‘That’s not his real name, that’s not how he talks or what he wears, yet people would argue that he is a straight stand-up comedian,’ states Brodkin. ‘Do straight stand-ups always tell the truth? No, because they’re trying to eke out a joke. I guess it’s a sliding scale of truth.’ 44 THE LIST FESTIVAL 3–10 Aug 2017

‘I’m naturally quite awkward without the mask of a character’ Pointing out that people tend to believe what they’re presented with, Brodkin recalls some near misses he’s experienced while mistaken for ‘Lee Nelson’ (including being threatened with a knife while pretending to grafi ti someone’s van), but doesn’t think this confusion is necessarily a bad thing. ‘I think it’s a compliment. I’ve always loved character comedy when you feel like you’re watching another person in front of you, rather than the performer behind the character.’ A great performer is not just drawing from their own personality to l esh-out a character, but is also able to address an audience without all eyes on the ‘real’ person. Despite having years of performing behind him, Michael Stranney (whose Daniel Duffy is a country bumpkin from rural Northern Ireland) was recently at a loss when asked to do a best man’s speech. ‘Paradoxically, it’s very much against the grain for me to stand up in front of an audience. I’m naturally quite awkward without the mask of a character, without those rhythms and beats. Having a character is a mask I can don that allows me to be funny.’