Tony Law: interview
From relative obscurity to a rapidly swelling fanbase, the rise of Tony Law has been long overdue, says Time Out.
The comedy industry loves Tony Law. Audiences at clubs, however, can go either way. The Canadian-born stand-up is relentlessly silly, constructing surreal scenarios and providing a running commentary of his own performance throughout his act. To some, he's just plain confusing. But to many (myself included) Law's one of the finest and funniest comics on the circuit.
Despite being a headliner in Britain for nearly a decade, the 42 year old has never quite gained a large enough following to be able to sustain touring his own solo shows. But his career is currently receiving a well-deserved boost: his 2011 Edinburgh Fringe show, 'Go Mr Tony Go!', won the Amused Moose Laughter Award for the best comedy show at the festival (as well as gaining four- and five-star reviews) and a much-talked about appearance on 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' has introduced him to a whole new audience. It's been a long time coming, but Tony Law is finally on the verge of comedy stardom.
You're quickly gaining a big, loyal following. What's taken them so long?
'Well, it's been a long painful change. When I first started performing, I wasn't great at doing the big, rough clubs. But I kind of needed the money for rent. Eventually, I stopped playing those rooms, which meant my earnings went down, but I started getting better. At the big bear pits, everything's got to be immediate. If they don't buy into the idea of a silly character straight away it's a struggle for 20 minutes. But I've now committed to being an alt act, and that's been the big difference. And then “Buzzcocks” took a chance on me. Loads of TV people say, “We don't know quite what to do with him,” but “Buzzcocks” took a punt and it worked out well, so maybe other people will now think the same.'
Deconstructing your own comedy has long been part of your act. How did that start?
'It came out of necessity. At some gigs I predicted that certain members of the audience wouldn't understand a joke or routine and, without being a prick, I would explain why I knew they wouldn't like it. But then eventually I got into a fun, weird position where they get the jokes, and they get the explanation of the joke. It was initially a fallback, but now I do it anyway. It's fun.'
Your material often goes in unexpected directions. What's your writing process?
'I used to have a burst of creativity and then periods of lulls. But I went on tour with Stewart Lee and watched how he works: the pressure of doing a new hour every year forces him to constantly write. Now I keep doing new material nights, every week. Even if I haven't had time to write that week, I'll quickly jot down some topics on the tube and then see what comes out on stage. Probably 30 minutes of last year's show was written in that way. Then you decide whether it works perfectly just the way it is, however clunky and awkward, or do you hone it? When I do it again, I rely on my brain to filter out the bits that didn't work and remember the significant parts.'
The blurb describes your show as 'arty comedy'. Do you consider yourself an artist or a comedian?
'Oh, a comedian. I always struggle to describe my comedy to people. But I try to find words that will keep some people from coming, and reassure others that they might enjoy it. Just chucking the word “jazz” in your blurb is a great way to make people go “Fuck that!” and then they won't ruin the show. And if you put those words in with enough nonsense you're not going to get people who are looking for genuine high art.'
Your show this year received some of your best reviews. Did you feel it was a step up for you?
'Yeah, I think so. It definitely felt like there was some “buzz”, everyone said I had “buzz”. I've never had “buzz” in my entire career and it felt pretty great. And now, doing my own tour shows and the small, nice clubs, I don't have to play a gig where I have to sell myself to people who hate me. To scrape a living and not feel like you hate yourself is brilliant! It's almost what you want in life.'
The tagline for the show is: 'Is Tony Law a way to do comedy?' What do you think the answer is?
'I think so. I think it's a way. It's one of the many ways. I guess the message is: Hey, if you don't like it, open your mind and you just might.'