“Roger, two one niner, crrrr, we got bogeys, we got bogeys. 12 o’clock. Red leader, Red leader…” While I’m making sure my dictaphone works, Canadian comedian Tony Law is helpfully quoting from Oliver Stone’s Platoon to test it out. “A lot of people know Shakespeare, not moi, left school early so er… memorised Platoon. That’s as good as Shakespeare isn’t it?”
I reckon so. Your memory’s pretty good then?
“It’s excellent for pointless things but not very good from day to day, bills and what-not,” he notes, slipping into an upper class English accent on the ‘what-not’.
I suppose we should talk about the show? “Well… this is the show!” he exclaims joyfully.
If the opening of this interview appears a little random, then you’ve already got something of a grip on Law. He’s one of the most innovative comedians on the circuit, roundly respected by comics, critics, industry and, of course, audiences alike. Like one of his shows, this interview weaves about; it’s entertaining, unexpected, amusing. Hilarious flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants chaos ensues, then without warning some sense appears out of the extraordinary.
The way Law speaks is distinctive and giggle inducing too – a drawling Canadian accent, a bit goofy, pausing to emphasise a word or phrase or to change accent. Even when he relates an example of the kind of banal observational gags he tries to avoid in his own work he manages to make it amusing simply from his intonation.
In the early days of his stand-up career, the glorious daftness reigned in its entirety. I first saw him at a club in Nottingham, “in those days there was no splitting of the room, it was mostly the entire room hated me,” he notes. That wasn’t the way I saw it; for me he was simply brilliant, chatting about tractors and life on the farm in Alberta where he grew up.
Over the last few years a serious edge has entered his work. Not that it’s taken away from the fun. Usually the serious topic is covered via a surreal analogical story. For example, his panda bear prostitute routine was a reaction to the reductive public perception of the murder victims in the Ipswich prostitutes killings. “To me, why is [direct observational material] any more true than someone talking about monkeys on a spaceship because monkeys on a spaceship might actually mean something else. Like looking at a painting and going, ‘well it doesn’t really look like them’. [As if] paintings need to be like photographs.”
So what about the latest show then? When I saw Enter The Tonezone at the Edinburgh Fringe I loved it, and experienced more emotional turmoil during that performance than anything else I saw in August (I saw around 70 shows at the Fringe). It has the usual amount of clowning silliness yet somehow incorporates a sad tale of family tragedy. You made me cry, I confess.
“Oh man, you gotta see it again! I’ve really honed all that stuff. In Edinburgh the show is supposed to be ready on day one only it never is until about week three.” Not that you’d really be able to tell. But it’s out there on the road that Law really feels that it comes together. Deliberately keeping his prices down at the Fringe for what he considers are preview shows, it’s touring that he’s really interested in.
“There’s always a breakthrough, usually the first time you tour it and you break it into two 45 minutes sections, that’s when I really love it. You have a break and I get to have a cigarette and a pint. I go outside and chat with the crowd, all the smokers, and I’d go back in and do the second half. I really love that. It’s so much more free than that Edinburgh hour.”
The crowd are, quite rightly, hugely important to Law and they’ve changed in demographic somewhat over the last few years. “When there was a little bit of heat on me (he won the Amused Moose Laughter Award in 2011 and was nominated for a Edinburgh Comedy Award the following year) it was all hipsters and trend dogs coming. Now there’ll be a family with children, these old people, the usual splashing of hipsters and nerds and freaks, football hooligans…I’ve finally got the audience I want, which is all age groups. They just all have this thing in common where they’re nice and sweet.”
And he can still melt the hearts of the hardcore drinkers. Law started performing his Edinburgh Fringe shows at noon because “I didn’t want drunks in my shows because I get distracted so easily”. But unexpectedly he found people would stay up all night then come, drunk.
“Storm (Law’s wife) and I were walking out of our flat and all these posh dudes in shorts and singlets come down from a flat, one of them’s got one flip-flop on, he’s absolutely bolloxed. I said to Storm, ‘I bet they’re coming to my show’. And there they were right in the middle, legless but so sweet! Even though they’d been up all night they were respectful. In some bits they were dancing around, still with one flip-flop on. One flip-flop! Fucking nutter,” he laughs, clearly delighted at the level of insanity he inspires in his audiences.
“I always think that I’m straddling a position where I’m in between both nerds and the hardcore. Somewhere in the middle. I want everyone to be nice but I want everyone to get fucked up while we do it.”
I think you’ve summed yourself up there.
“You know, as I said it I thought that’s the most clear thing I’ve said,” he agrees, laughing again.
By Marissa Burgess, Comedy Editor