Laughing hard at comedy’s expense

Tony Law has built a loyal following despite his surreal approach to stand-up, writes Richard Fitzpatrick

Laughing hard at comedy’s expense

TONY LAW says that after people have seen him do stand-up comedy, the first thing they say to him is: “Tony, you don’t know how to do it right”.

“The second thing they often say to me is, ‘Tony, have you got any ideas what else you’d like to do?’”

Law is an anti-comedian. He likes giving running commentaries on his own performance, signposting section changes, pointing out his supposed weaknesses. He goes beyond self-deprecation to some other land. He deliberately tells bad jokes (if such a thing is possible), and he loves nothing better than getting his wings on at the sight of a tangent.

In the middle of all the unpredictability and surrealism, he does do straight funny. He’s a master mimic, and some of his observations are very wry, like the fact that pretentious people will happily veer into a lip-bobbling French accent in a French restaurant when ordering but will never, say, try a Chinese accent (“and sun noodles, please”) in a Chinese restaurant.

An audience has to have a certain tolerance for his shtick, but in Britain — and Ireland, where he returns to Galway on Wednesday, location of his first Irish gig a decade ago — he has built a loyal following, and his star has risen significantly over the last couple of years, thanks to a notable turn on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and being shortlisted for this year’s Edinburgh Comedy Festival Award.

“I think I got into comedy maybe because my dad’s from Northern Ireland and my mum’s from Trinidad,” he says. “They’re very chatty people, from very chatty nations. They like to just hang about and talk and shout.”

Law didn’t take much, he says, to the Northern Irish wing of his family on meeting them. “My first time in Ireland was in 1990, but that was in Northern Ireland, that was just to meet my relatives. I didn’t like them much. I never bothered again, but I’ve been going back to Ireland since.”

Law was born in Trinidad in 1969, but grew up in a town in the prairies, in Alberta, western Canada, which is a vast, sprawling province, once known for agriculture until it began mining one of the world’s richest oil reserves. He left for London around 1990 and can, he says, hardly remember what Canada was like, although one of his three dogs is called Alberta.

Stewart Lee, who he has supported on tour, once described Law as “the most reasonable man I know”. The pair shares similarities in their deconstructive styles, while Law points to fellow comic John-Luke Roberts as someone he admires from the trade.

“He’s an English guy. He’s fantastic. Him and his partner do a thing called The Behemoth. They’re original and mentally ill. I have a bit of mental illness myself, absolutely. That’s the only way you can roll. You’ve gotta be a bit bonkers, haven’t you?

“I find people who are the most bonkers are actually the people who are the most polite and decent. My wife’s as mad as a bag of bats, but I absolutely adore her. Being bonkers makes her normal.”

Law and his wife added twins to the family three and a half years ago. They may well be destined for a life on the stage.

“We went to Latitude Festival in July,” he says. “There was about 7,000 people there and I was backstage going, Bloody hell, this is a tough-looking gig. Every act that went on, it seemed got nowhere. Then Rich Hall came off and he absolutely stormed it, and he went, ‘Oh, man that was tough.’ But it was because there were no monitors on the stage to feed back the audience’s reaction so everybody thought they were doing badly.

“I went on, and I did about five minutes and I thought I was finally doing really well. My wife, meanwhile, left my children, who were three years old, wander onto the stage because she thought I was dying, but I wasn’t.

“The compere couldn’t get them in order because you’re not allowed to just grab a couple of kids, are you? They went on stage in front of 7,000 people and absolutely mauled me. They sang ‘row, row, row your boat gently down the stream’ over and over and over again. Can you imagine? Seven thousand people going: ‘This is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.’ What’s wrong with you? All they’ve done is sung a song. They’re heinous. They think that’s all it takes.”

* Tony Law performs at the Bulmers Galway Comedy Festival on Oct 24 and Oct 25.

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