here are two types of comedian.‘ says Jerry Lewis. more or less playing himself in his latest screen role as a veteran Vegas comic. ‘The funny bones comedian and the non- funny bones comedian. One is funny and the other tells funny.‘ Lewis could be talking about his former self. as the hyper- active gootball playing off against the smoother Dean Martin in countless Hollywood comedies. but it‘s a line which also explains the huge appeal of Lewis's co-star in the forthcoming British comedy Funny Bones. Like Lewis. Lee Evans has funny in his bones.
Funny Bones is a marvellous tragi-comedy
‘Since I was young I must have seen thousands of comedians for every one Bob Monkhouse, comedians with talent that have been left behind.’
set in Blackpool sometime in the post-war past. Tommy Fawkes is the son of the Jerry Lewis character. a mediocre comedian struggling to ‘shine in the shadow of his father‘s fame. In search of a new act. he visits Blackpool to recapture the childhood joy of a distantly remembered seaside holiday. There he meets Jack (Lee Evans). the emotionally retarded son of a family of circus entertainers fallen on hard times. Tommy can afford the best scriptwriters in the business and top agents return his calls, but still his stage shows are a slow and painful death. In contrast, Jack is a natural who has an innocent ability to make people laugh without thinking about how.
Like director Peter Chelsom‘s last film Hear My Song about the search for reclusive Irish tenor Josef Locke, Funny Bones captures the aching disappointment of show business that greasepaint usually hides. For Evans, who spent two months in circus school so he, could do his own stunts, it’s a story that could hardly be closer to home. His father was an end-of- pier entertainer who played summer seasons in Blackpool and the faded glory of England’s most popular resort which the film so perfectly captures was part of Evans‘ upbringing.
‘There’s a massive dark side to Blackpool,’ he says. ‘Even when comedians get work, the pay’s not that brilliant and little does the audience know what pain goes on behind the
In a new British comedy set in Blackpool, rubber- faced comedian Lee Evans plays a tragic slapstick genius. How like his character is the former Perrier winner, wonders Eddie Gibb?
stage. Since I was young I must have seen thousands of comedians for every one Bob Monkhouse. comedians with talent that have been left behind. With my dad you could say he was left behind. but his heart and soul is still in comedy and a comedian always thinks their
time will come. They just keep going and if
they‘re like Tommy Cooper [an early hero Evans met as a child] they even die on stage.”
Evans‘s father is still on the circuit. He's doing a summer season again this year. but Evans admits he doesn‘t have a clue where. l-le ducks questions about his childhood. but it's on record he left home at fifteen with no ‘0‘ levels to begin a succession ofjohs which ranged from factory worker to bottom-of—the-bill boxer. ‘Don’t put your son on the stage’ was advice that Mr Evans. senior took to heart. doing everything he could to discourage his son from following him into comedy. However, after leaving home. Evans says he had little contact with his family — the first time Evans‘s father saw his son perform was when he topped the bill at the Palladium in London two years ago.
‘He was blown away by the number of people there and he told me how proud he was.‘ he says.
Evans’s comic style has frequently been compared to Norman Wisdom. which has as much to do with a remarkable physical likeness as similarity of style, but the comparison highlights the way any attempt to describe Evans‘s act always has critics referring to the heyday of British variety. rather than his contemporaries from the alternative circuit. Like his father. Evans spent years slogging round working men‘s clubs with endless beery audiences in the name of entertainment. ‘l'd get booed off every time.‘ he remembers.
The Palladium must offer 5 o m e
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reassurance that the worst times are over. but Evans admits that he still succumbs to the kind of tears of a clown depression which seems to lurk behind those who are naturally funny. ‘You have weeks where you’re so down youjust want to slit your wrists,’ he admits. Evans’s manic performances are an exaggeration of his off- stage nervous edginess combined with an engaging humility which seems to say ‘I can’t believe you paid to see this.‘ Success has enabled him to visit Jack Dee‘s tailor, but it‘ll take more than a £500 bespoke suit to make this vulnerable-looking guy seem at case. It’s bizarre how someone who looks so awkward has clowning ability that can truly be termed genius. Evans’s brand of slapstick, which relies more on perfectly timed sight gags than delivering clever lines. has little in common with the shiny- suit-and-mic comedians of the mid-80$ comedy boom but alternative comedy enabled him to move from playing cheap beer nights at social clubs to two nights at the 2000 capacity Edinburgh Playhouse during the world’s biggest arts festival. ‘My pants are full,’ he s m laughs. The Playhouse will be too. no doubt. Lee Evans headlines " Best of the Fest 2 at the Edinburgh Playhouse on 19, 20 Aug, 8pm. He will be in Edinburgh for the British premiere of Funny Bones on _ 27 Aug at 6.30pm. ~ There is a second screening at 10pm.
The List 18-24 Aug 199517