Wacky pathos that leaves me cold
I don’t get the Sam Simmons thing. The Aussie surrealist is never going to be an act that unites an audience; and watching his latest show, I find myself one of the non-plussed contingent, rather than one of the raucous laughers (for there are many).
I really like the premise to Death of a Sails-man: Simmons plays a successful salesman who gets lost at sea (hence the title – geddit?), and for an hour he tells the story of his days at sea, in wetsuit, windsail on stage.
Simmons isn’t one to stick rigidly to a premise though, rather take it as the starting point for an odd, surprising show. Rather like a live version of a Family Guy episode, it is constantly interrupted by tangents, including musical numbers in particular. What is quite a feat is that it is somehow weirder than a cartoon programme.
And this is where the problems start for me – I can’t get past the studenty wackiness, the “oh my god, that’s so random!” of it. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or why it doesn’t tickle me, because I have a similar reaction to Simmons as I do the Mighty Boosh, but then I love Vic and Bob. The in-show commentary that breaks the fourth wall definitely is part of the problem, though. It’s long been part of Simmons’ act – faux anger at how his efforts are being wasted on the audience (regardless of how well it’s going down). “What more do you want?” he roars on more than one occasion.
Whereas someone like Vic and Bob blithely carry on in their own bizarre world, and wear you down with the relentless silliness, Simmons points it out, which spoils it for me. That Stewart Lee has a lot to answer for.
Simmons admittedly relies more on pathos that the slapstick Vic and Bob and the trippy Boosh, so the desperate yelling does make sense in that respect, taking him closer to Nick Helm, but I don’t think the pathos works either – certainly not compared to the evidently vulnerable Helm. Simmons comes across as far too secure to pull it off.
Still, I will always prefer comics who are ideologically drawn towards doing their own thing and fuck everybody else, and Simmons certainly falls into that category. I’ll just have to file him alongside Tony Law as someone I admire and who is on the right team, but who I just don’t find funny.
Review by Paul Fleckney