FEATURE SCOTTISH COMEqu V
Scottish comedy is alive and well and not all of it is living in London. Mark Fisher picks up on some healthy trends in the local stand-up scene.
n the South, Arnold Brown, radio star, Perrier Award-winner, original mover in London’s legendary Comedy Store, Jewish, Scottish and, as his patter used to run, ‘two racial stereotypes for the
price of one’. In the East, Karen Koren,
comedy entrepreneur, creator of McNally’s, the Gilded Balloon and the Counting House, and responsible for organising some ofthe biggest laughs in Scotland over the past eight years. In the West, Parrot, founder member of the Funny Farm, fast-talking gag-merchant, host of a new comedy club in Greenock and up-holder of the have-jokes-will-travel school of stand-up. And all around us, across the ether, Gerry Sadowitz, trickster, gobshite, once banned by every university in Britain and the man behind the sparkiest show on telly.
It’s Sadowitz who’s causing a stir in the comedy establishment just now. His series doesn’t compare to seeing him at his live and dangerous best, but even on the small screen his manic energy, his tangible sense ofthe audience, his relentless comic venom, knocks spots off so much pallid TV comedy. Karen Koren remembers him hanging about McNally’s, her first comedy venture, in the mid-805 when he was barely more than seventeen and too modest to take to the stage despite earning an increasingly high
reputation at the Gong Nights through at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. ‘He’s actually so quiet,’ says Koren, who has a pet theory that the best comedians are also the nicest people off-stage. ‘He is an absolutely lovely guy. And as he said on the show, he doesn’t insult anyone in particular, he just insults everyone.’
Arnold Brown, domiciled in London since his pre-stand-up accountancy days, recalls Sadowitz’s difficult two years of travelling down to gigs in the capital by bus from Glasgow, and agrees that it takes a warm-hearted person to make a good comic. ‘1 think it’s the vulnerability aspect,’ says Brown in his unmistakable warm Glasgow rasp. ‘Even though Gerry is so vitriolic on stage, somehow there’s a vulnerability about him and that’s marvellous. William McIlvanney said that the difference between Scottish comedians and South of England comedians is that the English say “I know and you don’t know”, whereas the Scottish say “I don’t know and you don’t know and don’t forget it”. Those comedians who are often very talented, but everything’s wrong with everybody else and there’s nothing vulnerable about them, that kind of superior comedy doesn’t make me laugh.’
But is it inevitable that Scottish comedians, despite this distinctive world-view, will only become established by moving to London? Sadowitz, Brown, Connolly, Coltrane,
Sessions and Ferguson would make an unbeatable line-up. but a promoter would have to pay more than tube fares to see them on home turf. Of the younger generation. ex-Merry Mac Jes Benstock will have to travel north to compere at Glasgow‘s new Fool’s Paradise, leaving his ﬂat-mate and fellow Mac, John McKay. behind him in the Big Smoke. If you didn’t include the Naked Video crew — Gregor Fisher, Tony Roper, Elaine C. Smith et a[— you could be forgiven for thinking that the remaining Scottish comedy-count must be pretty low.
But two unusual things have been happening oflate. The first is that comedians, having made a name for themselves on the London circuit, are catapulting themselves into the quieter waters of Scotland. Perhaps it’s just coincidence, but both Norman Lovett and Johnny Immaterial have recently settled here and in a week or two they’ll be joined by Ian MacPherson. None ofthe three is Scottish and all make at least some oftheir income from live performance. The second thing is that a select band of local comedians -— Parrot, Fred MacAulay, Stu Who? are the most apparent — are finding they can make a living by travelling to work without having to move away altogether. With this in mind, when you meet Karen Koren in her Edinburgh office, it’s not hard to imagine yourself at the hub ofthe comedy industry. Her last Counting House season might have had difficulty balancing the books. but as she fields phone-calls from Corky and the Juice Pigs in Canada and the director of the Melbourne Comedy Festival in Australia
is ‘ A B I G H
12 The its} 17? 30Jan-uary. 1992