Roll up for Paul Foot, the connoisseur of comedy
- Credit: Archant
Ahead of his Union Chapel show, the surreal comedian tells Alex Bellotti why - to become more famous - he needs more people to hate him.
Surrealism, says Paul Foot, is his job and judging by the start of our interview, he lives as he works. When I phone for our prearranged chat, it quickly becomes clear he has no idea who I am or why I’m calling and a suitably surreal back and forth ensues, ending in a concession that this is most likely somehow his fault.
It’s no matter – as a comedian of nearly 20 years, the man knows how to talk. In fact, his offbeat ramblings have picked up enough fans to take over the Union Chapel on February 7.
Teetering on “the edge of meaning and the edge of sanity”, the night will see the 41-year-old debut material sourced from his recent writing trip to the Caribbean. If that sounds an extravagant excursion, it is hardly out of character for a performer who dresses in silver spaceman jackets and collectively calls his fans The Guild of Paul Foot Connoisseurs.
“I read on the internet – I think it was advertising this very show – where it called me an absurdist,” he remarks, “but I’ve never been quite sure whether I’m an absurdist or a surrealist.
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“I’ve often had press interviews where I’ve got into great detail analysing which one it is, but I try not to think about it too much, it stymies me analysing it. I must be one of those though.”
Whereas his previous tour, 2013’s Words, was “70 per cent absurdist”, his current show, Hovercraft Symphony in Gammon Sharp Major, has apparently shifted towards “60 per cent surrealism”.
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Genre aside, the new tour has clearly gone down well. His popular accounts on YouTube and Twitter recently showed footage of Foot setting up merchandise stalls in a venue’s toilet and, to his credit, the Connoisseurs flocked to buy t-shirts and stop for photos with the lanky haired dandy.
He jokes that he should come up with increasingly bizarre comedy until his fan base “eventually becomes hardcore – maybe even just one person”. Yet compared to most comedians, this is a man who truly does care about his clan.
Take his December visit to Carshalton Athletic Football Club for example. He hadn’t been to a “football show”, as he calls it, for 30 years, but after suggesting on Twitter that there were no teams who played in purple, he acted on a response that the Southwest London club used the colour for their away kit. They were subsequently declared the official team of the Connoisseurs.
“I didn’t get to see them for over a year, but now I’ve been and it was wonderful,” he says. “I don’t get all the terms right – when I went I didn’t know that the umpire’s actually called a referee. It was all very exciting though.”
Although the two are good friends, there have previously been suggestions that Russell Brand based a lot of his comedic persona on Foot and while the former has gone on to crack America and become a questionable revolutionary, the latter’s following has built more slowly.
I ask Foot if surrealism by definition demands a niche audience and the answer is an emphatic no. “There’s an increasing interest in this type of comedy,” he argues, but adds that part of making it as a comedian – or indeed as any performer – is about finding those who won’t like you as much as those who will.
“I was doing a show a while ago in Perth in West Australia and it was in a big theatre, a sort of gala show as they call it, where you do a 10 minute feature to publicise one’s own show. I went on and it was a huge success; everyone in the audience loved it and I jokingly said to someone afterwards, ‘Oh that was a complete disaster, because it didn’t put anyone off coming to my show.’
“I mean it’s just a silly comment really, but there’s a truth in that. As a comedian, you’re trying to find people who have the same sense of humour as you, but you also want to put the people off who don’t want to come to your show.
“If you compare me to a comedian who’s more famous, the difference between us is that there’ll be a lot more people who don’t like the famous comedian’s comedy than my comedy.”
The likelihood of finding many detractors at the Union Chapel seems unlikely, but you get the feeling Foot is happy to remain the preserve of a select crowd. After all, if everybody was to suddenly became experts in fine wine, what’s the world to do with a connoisseur?
Live at the Chapel with Paul Foot is at the Union Chapel, Islington, on February 6. The evening is supported by Sara Pascoe and Alex Horne (MC). For tickets, visit unionchapel.org.uk.