Spoken word comedian Monkey Poet acts out plot of 300 in latest show

Monkey Poet. Picture: Daniel Axler

Monkey Poet. Picture: Daniel Axler - Credit: Archant

Manchester comedian Matt Panesh – aka. Monkey Poet – drew acclaim last year when he took his show, 300 to 1, to the Edinburgh Fringe.. Now, he is taking it to Islington’s Cog Arts Space until March 28 for his first full run in London. He talked to Alex Bellotti.

Hi Monkey Poet. Your show 300 to 1 sounds an ambitious project, taking in teenage life, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and, erm, the plot of 300. Tell us a bit about it.

First off, I got mistaken for Gerard Butler at the Edinburgh Fringe... seriously, and no, I couldn’t believe it either!

But I’ve been wanting to look at how we treat ex-Service personnel for some time, I used to work at a RAFA club in my youth, and lived in a mining village in the North East (an area which provided 25percent of the armed forces)... anyway, the fact is we do not treat them well, if you die, you get your name read out in Parliament but if you survive, you get cast aside and ignored pretty much.

More veterans of the Falklands War have committed suicide than died on the battlefield. Ten per cent of our prison population are ex-services. Imagine fighting for your country and then being incarcerated by it! Twenty percent of all serving men and women will develop mental health problems. Up to thirty percent of the homeless in the UK are ex-servicemen and women. As it was the Centenary of WW1, I took the opportunity to make that point, but, after saying all of that... and I can’t stress this enough, the show’s a comedy, it is funny, I want to entertain people not beat the audience around the head with a big moral stick!

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I also wanted to look at how hyper-masculinity and homoeroticism blur into each other, and damn, 300 is the best film for that!

300 aside, if you could have starred in any action movie, what would it be?

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The original Terminator movie, that film blew me away and I still have visions of the future being all crumbly skulls and machinery!

You seem more bookish than athletic, if you don’t mind me saying. What were you like at school?

I was bookish at school, but not academic. I was a little wee thing. I only started growing when I was 16.

Why did you first choose to blend spoken word poetry and comedy?

The great thing about poetry is you can do what you want with it. Like painting is to visual arts, poetry is to the written form. It’s far easier to write a poem than a novel. I mean, you don’t need to use sentences, or grammar, or anything. So I think everyone should write poetry.

Do you think more people should attempt mixing it with comedy?

There’s a few out there that do already. Rob Auton’s doing well, Luke Wright, and so on, and then you’ve got the grandmasters, the two Johns (Cooper Clarke and Hegley) and of course there’s the inimitable Pam Ayres, who I think was the highest earning poet last year (though don’t quote me on that!)

Like all the best comedy, your shows seem to be a mixture of jokes and poignant moments. How do you find the balance between the two?

I can’t remember who said it first, but I love the truism “Comedy is a tragedy that happens to someone else”. So it’s a case of managing the perspective. Sometimes you want people to hurt themselves laughing, you know, a good belly rip, and other times, you want them to start to laugh, then stop and think a minute. The trick is to try and get them all in your show!

For more information and tickets, visit cogartspace.com

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