2005 was an equally exciting year. As I was finishing my run in Cuckoo’s Nest, I was introduced to theatre director Maggie Inchley and together we presented Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story, co-starring Graham Ewell, at the Gilded Balloon to outrageous critical acclaim, garnering myself the Stage Award for Acting Excellence.
I also played the part of Speed in Guy Masterson’s production of The Odd Couple, with Bill Bailey, Alan Davies. And then to round off an extremely busy Edinburgh Festival, I presented the first of a trilogy of story-telling shows entitled Nearly Gay at the Stand Comedy Club. I was also awarded the Spirit of the Fringe 2005 which proves that quantity is sometimes better than quality. Ha.
That fall, I was seen in John Morton and Tony Roche’s classic news spoof Broken News on BBC One.
I played Josh Cashman, an extremely camp American Hollywood reporter on the vapid entertainment programme, So News with Lucy Porter and Philip Brodie. Hello? Type casting? At the same I started a new material night with my dear friend and writing partner, the hilarious Carey Marx.
We called the night Old Rope and hung a noose on stage that the comedians had to touch if they were doing any old material in an attempt to keep them honest in presenting new stuff.
The format was successful with comedians and Old Rope still runs today. It is now co-hosted and co-produced by the superb Tiffany Stevenson every Monday and has had hundreds of great comics drop by the Rope to try new gags. Regulars have include Steve Merchant, Rich Hall, Milton Jones and Lee Mack but to name a few. Come down some Monday. It’s a great night!
But 2006 was the most exciting year of my performing career to date. I started the year filming Annually Retentive for BBC3 in the role of Rob Brydon’s producer side-kick. It aired in July of the same year.
Although my character was axed from the second series Annually Retentive remains one of the most fun projects I’ve ever had the pleasure to work on.
That spring I toured Nearly Gay world-wide going back to the New Zealand Comedy Festival where I was able to hang out with some of my favourite people on the planet and amongst others, comedy great Stewart Lee. It was here that Stewart and I realised that we shared a love for the work of American theatre monologist Eric Bogosian.
I also took Nearly Gay to Delhi and Mumbai in India, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and in July, the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal where I appeared on the television gala hosted by Jason Alexander.
That year Maggie Inchley and I formed the Comedians Theatre Company and presented two productions at the Edinburgh Fringe.
Stewart Lee kindly helped launch the company at that Fringe by directing a critically acclaimed production of Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio at the Udderbelly and with the help of a supremely talented cast that included Stephen K Amos, Tony Law, Will Adamsdale, Mike McShane, Tiffany Stevenson and Tara Flynn, I was nominated for a second Stage Excellence in Acting award.
I could not have done this without them. So huge thanks to Stew et al.
At the same time Maggie directed Sam Sheppard’s True West at the Assembly Rooms starring Tom Stade, Janice Connelly, Dave Johns and myself.
The production received rapturous reviews and played to sold-out houses.
In the evenings of that festival, I performed yet another one man show entitled The Naked Racist that included a full metal band, The Shitsticks, and a group of hippie dancers made up of Pappy’s Fun Club, Phil Kay, Janice Phayre and whoever else we could convince to dance naked at the end of the show in the name of peace.
The show was my tribute to pacifism as it recounted an incredible wonky night in Amsterdam which ended with full frontal nudity and a new perspective on racial harmony.
This show was absolutely brilliant fun and ended up being chosen for the inaugural If. Comeddie Award – formerly the Perrier Award with a new sponsor and a silly new name. The award has since been rebranded again as The Edinburgh Comedy Award which kind of makes me the George Lazenby of comedy award winners.
That autumn went fast and furious with a small part in Debbie Isit’s hilarious feature film Confetti, a great role in the C4 comedy lab FM, an appearance on Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the DVD recording of both my Nearly Gay and Naked Racist shows at the Garrick theatre and an invite to Buckingham Palace for a champagne Christmas reception with the Queen, her family and about a hundred other guests.
I flew my mother and father over from Canada to celebrate this with me and it made my mother’s year. Although I’m more realist than royalist I saw what it meant for my family and remain quite proud of this achievement.
At the beginning of 2007 I was commissioned by Warp X to write a screenplay with film director Dominic Hailstone with the working title Say You Love Satan. SYLS is still in development.
The spring saw me touring the U.K. with The Naked Racist which then returned to Australia, New Zealand and the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal taking part in the prestigious Flying Solo series.
For the Edinburgh Fringe that year, the Comedians Theatre Company produced another two shows. Tom Daley and I co-directed the Kenneth G. Ross Australian classic Breaker Morant starring Adam Hills, Brendon Burns, Heath Franklin, Rhys Darby and talented group of comedian/actors. Over at the Pleasance, Maggie Inchley directed Tracy Lett’s American comedy thriller Killer Joe which was a great show with an all-star cast that unfortunately failed to light up the critics or indeed find an audience.
The cast comprising of Tony Law, Lizzie Roper, Ed Weeks, Charlotte Jo Hanbury and myself was one of the best groups I’ve ever worked with.
As well as the Comedians Theatre Company shows, I also completed the trio of storytelling stand-up with ‘Hiro Worship‘ the comical yet true story of Hirofumi Makami, a Japanese friend that I met one night at the 100 Club on Oxford Street in London.
I performed the show every night at the Stand Comedy Club with a Rolling Stones backing band that included my dear friends Kirsty Newton, Mick Moriarty and comedian/drummer Milo McCabe.
That fall, I performed some of my Nearly Gay routine on ITV2’s stand-up/sketch show Comedy Cuts, directed by the wonderful Cal MacCrystal. I recorded the somewhat over-the-top narrators voice on Bravo’s clip show What the F**K?
I also appeared with my ‘Hiro Worship‘ band on The Graham Norton Show singing Do The Dukes, an ode to The Dukes of Hazzard and the Stalker’s Requiem. I was then chosen to be one of a number of guest hosts for a new BBC Three comedy showcase the Comedy Shuffle and completed my second screenplay, a sci-fi faerie tale with the working title Bardo.
I decided to slow things down a bit in 2008. After two appearances on ITV’s Thank God You’re Here, hosted by Paul Merton, I embarked on a national tour of Hiro Worship which saw Ivan Sheppard replace Milo McCabe on drums and Paul Byrne replace Mick Moriarty on guitar.
It was an amazing tour that nearly killed all of us! Just the thought of Galway makes me break into a sweat. Yikes! At the same time, I was approached by Henry Trotter and Chris Waitt to play the part of Fat Ed in their fantastic adult puppet show Fur-TV which played on MTV for eight full episodes along with 7 more short ones. What a joy to play a beer-guzzling, burping, foul-mouthed heavy metal puppet. Type cast again.
Feeling the effects of a gruelling schedule and only just surviving the Hiro Worship Tour combined with a profound lack of inspiration brought me to the decision to take the Edinburgh Festival off that year.
However, the owner of the Stand Comedy Club, Tommy Sheppard, approached me with an offer I couldn’t refuse which was to only do the weekend nights at the Stand One while Stewart Lee had those nights off. This became a ‘best bits or greatest hits’ show entitled 8 Nights Only.
This remains one of my favourite Edinburghs simply because I was able to leave Edinburgh and go travelling Sunday to Friday and then pop back into Edinburgh on the weekends for sold-out shows at the Stand. Thanks for that Tommy!
For 2009, I got myself back into gear. The year started with an acting role in Hannah Eidenow’s production of Sam Sheppard’s Simpatico at the Old Red Lion. I was then invited to perform a run of Hiro Worship at David Babani’s wonderful Southwark theatre, the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Multi-instrumentalist Matt Blair became part of the band and in turn introduced me to his father, national treasure and world-renowned tap dancer par excellence, Lionel Blair.
That spring I voiced the role of Jalbraith, one half of an alien’s head (the other half was played by Brendon Burns) for the space animation One Star on BBC One with Scottish producer David Murdoch and somewhat embarrassingly, narrated American comedy clip show The International Sexy Ladies Show. Hello Ladies!
Also that spring, Maggie Inchley and I started Itch: A Scratch Event at the Pleasance London. Similarly to Old Rope, the Itch: A Scratch Event gives a platform to comedians and comic performers to write and perform new short theatrical pieces in the form of rehearsed readings in front of an audience.
A myriad of comedians have performed as a part of the event, for instance, Ed Byrne, Jack Whitehall, Steve Frost, Jenny Eclair, Hattie Hayridge, Fred Macauley and that list goes on and on. Itch: A Scratch Event is still running to this day and takes place every six weeks or so at the Pleasance Theatre London.
Come down to the next one. You never know who you might see onstage.
That summer, producer Rohan Acharya asked me to direct some of the third season of Comedy Cuts for ITV2.
I directed sketches for Ed Byrne, Matt Kirshen and the hysterical Pappy’s Fun Club.
This was my first professional television directing job and I am forever in debt to Rohan for the opportunity.
ZEN! With Mike Wilmot & Phil...
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