The Spotlight on … Will Franken

Will Franken is in town from San Francisco. He’s a character/surreal/musical comic of some note, and LiF would like to introduce you prior to his Soho Theatre run

Will_Franken11) How long have you been gigging for? 

Hello London is Funny, pleased to meet you. I would say I’ve been gigging consistently since 2002, so a little under eleven years.

2) When was the last time you were in London? 
I was in London the first week of last September.

3) Which comics have been the biggest influence on you? 
Undoubtedly, the members of Monty Python, largely for their transitional structure as well as their violent explosions of the subconscious. [Canadian sketch group] The Kids In the Hall were also inspirational for their irreverence and gallows humour. I was a big fan of Steve Martin’s albums as well and I’m sure I got a facial expression or two from Rik Mayall.

4) Who makes you laugh currently? 
They’re invariably British. I’ve always been an Anglophile when it comes to humour. When I came back to the States following last year’s Edinburgh, an acquaintance I met in London was keeping me sane (and homesick) by sending me links to some British programmes I hadn’t yet seen. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (particularly Matt Berry, who I find utterly hysterical). I’m also ashamed to admit that it took me this long to see Alan Partridge, but I was an instant convert. I’d seen Brasseye many times before and loved it, but only recently discovered The Day Today a few months ago which I find just as funny. Chris Morris is an absolute subversive genius and I hope to meet the man one day. Another friend from London turned me on to Round the Horne as well.

5) How has your act changed over the years? 
I’m constantly writing, so the bits/sketches/characters are always getting shuffled and replaced as it suits my interest. I will say that I’ve loosened up considerably over the years. My shows are still heavily scripted and rehearsed, but I do employ certain characters from time to time that lend themselves to improvisation a bit more. It keeps things fresh for me to live in the moment. Also, though my medium is characters and absurdity, I slip in a few personal elements nowadays, whereas before I didn’t. I used to think comedy was about getting laid and so I tried to avoid revealing too much personal tragedy, but every now and then I’ll employ certain vignettes that mean more to me personally, even if the external veneer that the audience sees is still absurdist.

6) What’s your favourite bit of current material? 
It’s tough to say. I came up with a brand-new hour last month and I personally enjoyed a lot of the pieces. There’s one where I’m doing the voices of an Irish construction crew. The boss, Tommy McJagger, is upset because all of his employees — Irish celebrities like Jonathan Rhys-Meyers — have all called in sick to do “a bit of the acting and the male modelling”. “Jaysus, Butter and Jelly! Seamus? Has Jonathan Rhys-Meyers not been in today to put the two-by-twelve planks in the dry beams?” I also do a fairly decent David Bowie impression and it occurred to me last week that he’s recently turned 66. So I did a series of public service announcements in Bowie’s voice where he talks about arthritis.

7) What one thing about comedy do you wish people had told you before you started it? 
To let no other motive cloud my desires to do it, other than to recognize that it’s a gift and it makes me happy to make others laugh. When selfish motives get in the way, I try to think of that scene from Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise is trying to convince Cuba Gooding Jr to go back to that place when he was just a kid that wanted nothing else but to play football. There’s also a cool scene in The Rookie where Dennis Quaid says to a teammate – (paraphrasing) – “You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball!” That’s it in a nutshell. Do it cause it brings you joy. Everything else is icing.

8) Do you have a secret talent? 
I play piano pretty well. I used to keep that separate from my comedy cause my hands would shake onstage. But now I’ve relaxed a bit and am incorporating it more and more into my shows.

9) What was the last book you read? 
Spike Milligan: The Biography by Humphrey Carpenter. Lots of great anecdotes in it.

10) Describe your dancing. 
I’ve always doubted my sense of rhythm and bodily expression. About two years ago, I was with some friends at a bar and a cover band was playing Sweet Home Alabama. I turned to a girl and asked her if she wouldn’t mind watching me dance and give me her opinion on what I was doing wrong. After the song, she told me, “Well, you have rhythm. It’s just not connected to anything that’s playing.” She spent the night teaching me how to clap along with a beat in order to learn rudimentary rhythms.

11) Are you funnier off or onstage? 
I believe onstage. Offstage, I’m an amalgam of depression, fear, anger and ecstatic mania.

Here’s a little introductory video …

• Will Franken: Things We Do Before Reality is on at Soho Theatre from February 28 to March 9

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