FOLLOWING a month of sold-out performances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Northern Irish comedian Paul Currie visits Dublin this week for the Tiger Fringe Festival.
Though his current show is FfffffMilk!, it’s Release The Baboons — his acclaimed breakthrough from 2014 — that the Newtownabbey man is bringing to Dublin, where it has never been performed before.
Unable to resist a good gag when he sees one, Currie is calling it Re-Release The Baboons. It’s the show that comedy stalwart Stewart Lee anointed his favourite at that year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Like all of Currie’s work, it’s steeped in a style that blends clowning and mime, puppetry and props, and lots of audience participation.
“People are like, ‘This is so new. I’ve never seen anything like this’,” says Currie. “But it’s ancient. It’s been going on since pre-Victorian times. It’s a very old tradition. It’s just been forgotten. Myself and these other comedians — we’re all clowns. Stewart Lee is a clown. I’m a clown. We’re all clowns. That’s what we do. What the clown does is hold up a mirror to society and say, ‘look how fucking mental you are’.”
Articulate and deeply committed to a style of absurdist comedy that has become ever more marginal in an era of commercialised stand-up, Currie says he grew up on The Young Ones and Monty Python before coming-of-age when seeing Vic Reeves’ Big Night Out on TV as a teenager in the early 1990s.
“It just blew my head off,” he says. “And that got me into The Goons and Spike Milligan, and then I started going even further back. I’m very much into history of comedy. So I looked into the origins of absurdist comedy through Victorian music-hall and, even further back, the commedia dell’arte in Italy in the 1400s. These are the origins of absurdist comedy but there is a serious lack of it today.”
“The Goon Show was the biggest radio comedy show in the 1950s, with a huge listenership, and if you listen to it now it’s just as provocative and ground-breaking as it was when it was first aired. It’s just out-of-this-world bonkers. And everybody listened to it — father, with his slippers and pipe, and mother knitting in the corner. Everybody loved it. And I find it completely bizarre that that culture has been put way, way, way down to the bottom of the pile as far as comedy goes. What we now regard as alternative comedy are these horrendous churned-out panel shows, which I hate with a passion. You could not pay me enough to go on one of those.”
Significantly, in addition to pursuing his career as a comic, Currie has also worked on children’s entertainment, collaborating with the Jim Henson Company among others. He has also taught young children at ‘circus school’ for the past 10 years. The silliness and anarchic disregard for social convention that absurdist comedy trades on is something that is native to children, of course.
“Well, it’s native to humans, but adults suppress it,” says Currie. “We as a society are brainwashed. That’s a strong word and it’s bandied about a lot. But it is true — we are suppressed by social conditioning as adults: ‘Forget about that silly, absurdist part of the brain’. And that’s what I really try to do with my stand-up — bring that out in adults and ask them to drop those barriers.”
At circus school he regularly witnesses the joy that adults get in following their children down some silly path or other. “It’s a beautiful thing and that’s what I try to bring to my comedy,” he says. “One of my influences would be Andy Kaufman. He did a lot of subversive stuff but at the same time he was just trying to ease the child out of the adult and bring them back to that innocence.”
Paul Currie plays the New Theatre, Dublin, today until Saturday
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