Ed Aczel: interview

Comedy without jokes: is there any hope for sublimely shambolic comic Ed Aczel?

  • Jimmy Carr said of Ed Aczel, after watching him audition for his ‘Comedy Idol’ competition, ‘I genuinely don’t know whether you’re mental or brilliant, there’s nothing in between.’

    To which Aczel, in his normal deadpan and slightly disinterested way replied. ‘I think you could argue both.’ Having seen his solo show ‘There is No Hope’ twice I’m still not 100 per cent certain I know the answer either. I’m also not entirely sure I want to write this article. Not because I’m lazy or because I’d rather be writing about someone else but because I selfishly don’t really want anyone else to know about him. There’s nothing more annoying than discovering something like a comedian or a band and then finding out that a year later that every fucker and their dog loves them. You can’t even go round proclaiming ‘I knew about him ages before everyone else jumped on the bandwagon, no really, I did!’ Because it just makes you look like a prick.

    So it is with some reluctance that I have the pleasure of introducing those of you who haven’t seen him before to Mr Edward Aczel. He is a shambling clown whose set is a truly original and inspired mess, in that it appears to lack structure, stagecraft and – you might think most importantly – jokes. This is perhaps explained by the fact that he is not exactly the most well-schooled in the ways of comedy. In fact, he only began doing it to break up the monotony of his daily life. He wasn’t even that much of a comedy fan.

    ‘For the ten years or so before I started, I didn’t actually see any stand-up and had no particular interest in it at all. I did the Amused Moose comedy course thing because I was bored and needed something to do in the evenings. It was an antidote to my job as I work in quite a conventional business environment.’

    However, looking at him, slouched in a chair, it’s almost as difficult to picture him as an account manager as it is to see him as a successful comic. His appearance and demeanour is much more suited to that of a world-weary gentleman of the road, an erudite tramp.

    ‘I should have been a chartered accountant really. Doing comedy isn’t really part of the drill. One of my sisters is a lawyer, the other’s a doctor. Nobody’s ever said you should be a comedian. It didn’t really cross anyone’s mind. After I’d finished the course I realised the whole point of it was that you were actually meant to then go out and do some. So I thought I’d do a couple of gigs just to see how it went.’

    He has been described as an anti-comic due to his lack of any identifiable gags or routines. His distinctive deconstructed style has developed from his initial somewhat abstract intentions.

    ‘When I started I had no idea of what I was going to say, I just wanted to stand there and see what happened. I got up on stage with hardly any material. I just wrote a couple of things on my hand and then tried to make the most of whatever was in the room. I would often tell the audience exactly what I was doing. And people laughed.’

    This is a high-risk strategy and he admits it hasn’t always worked, but he doesn’t seem to mind the idea of failure. He genuinely enjoys the fact that his shows could go either way. He quite deliberately plays with its content and format. ‘I’ve tried doing lots of different things, even doing it in the dark. Some things work and some don’t. Though strangely I often prefer it when it goes badly because you have to work more.’

    But this doesn’t mean that he falls back on standard joke formulas. For him ‘work more’ means just being more of himself. ‘You accentuate more of your own eccentricities. I think you can get away with a lot more than people think you can. Some stand-ups stay pretty safe. I like to push the audience to find what they’ll tolerate. At least I think that’s what I’m trying to do.’

    As he’s speaking, examining his own processes, it’s possible to see a strange mixture of confusion and bewilderment – which is so much a part of his act – wash over his crumpled face. ‘You can go and see a lot of brilliantly written, well-crafted shows by people like Russell Kane or Mark Watson, but I wanted to do one where you see what would happen when you’re given exactly the same circumstances and it just goes wrong. The whole thing is meant to be a disaster.’

    Intentionally or unintentionally Aczel has discovered something. Like Tommy Cooper before him, his strength lies in his failures. I have no idea where he’ll go from here, he could become a huge star or simply fade away, a brief and beautiful folly. He himself is typically ambiguous about his future prospects.

    ‘There’s no evidence that it won’t get more serious but then, there’s no evidence that it will.’

    Edward Aczel’s show ‘There is No Hope’ is on at the Hen and Chickens Theatre Dec 13-15.

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