If you’re reading this here on The Velvet Onion, chances are you’re a fan of a certain type of comedy. But have you ever wondered why there’s not a lot of it on TV these days? We have, and so has comedian Joey Page.
Velveteer Paulyne caught up with Joey to discuss this conundrum as well as other things, and together they took it upon themselves to put the world to rights. Here’s what happened:
Everyone’s comedy thirst is quenched in different ways. As time moves forward and trends evolve, new niche styles of comedy eventually reach the mainstream – at which point we the viewing audience are force fed them every day at primetime. For instance, we’re bombarded with comedians talking about their spouses and what happened to them last week – it’s an easy crowd pleaser. But there’s a lot more comedy out there that deserves a look at (and doesn’t get it). With The Velvet Onion hoping to prompt some of our Peelers to seek out new comedy experiences, it feels like the perfect time to introduce the concept of New Wave Comedy.
New Wave Comedy is a form that takes one out of the everyday world of direct, and often mundane, experiences and puts them into a dreamland full of colours and magic…and who wouldn’t want that? Way back when, The Goon Show and Monty Python took the surreal high ground; more recently we’ve had Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place (whose spoof-sci-fi attempts where highly underrated), and of course there’s The Mighty Boosh, who brought the offbeat magic to sold out arenas as we watched it grow and grow.
Even with the Boosh attaining such a high status in the comedy world, we’re yet to see New Wave welcomed with open arms by either the media establishment or even the general public. The struggle New Wave comedians face on the live circuit is unknown to most people, but it’s something Joey Page knows very well. Joey has lived at the centre of this world for six years, and has only recently enjoyed his first TV exposure via Never Mind The Buzzcocks, where, somewhat ironically, the complete absence of any TV clips of Joey to introduce him with was turned into a lighthearted joke (they showed other artists with the surname ‘Page’ instead).
First off I ask Page how he initially got into comedy: “I’ve been doing comedy for 6 years. I never wanted to be a comedian for a long time but I was always obsessed with it. I’d watch Reeves & Mortimer and remake it with my friend when we were 10 years old. My old drama teacher from secondary school kept telling me whilst I was at uni about this comedy course. Then it sounded a little too good to be true, but I was at home and saw Noel [Fielding] doing comedy on Paramount and I just thought ‘Yeah that’s what I wanna do’ – it’s like another way of doing it! Then I signed up for the course and I haven’t stopped since then.”
This was the moment that kick-started Joey into a more lateral style of comedy, but it gave way to criticism when he took to the stage, “People say, ‘Oh he’s just another Noel Fielding’, but first of all that’s a massive compliment! – I just think, I might be a bit like him but I’m turning towards another way. Yeah you can see my influences in what I do but I’m still me.” He continues, “Everyone is always ‘like’ someone, even on telly – nothing is truly original to comedy any more.”
While we discuss his style of humour I ask about the process of writing material; for instance, when can a he tell that he has a good joke and not simply gibberish? “It makes sense to me if I’ve got a good joke – and I love a callback. That’s why in my stuff it makes a lot more sense, rather than with Noel he can take it so much further, he could take a simple concept like ‘oblong’ and talk about that for 20 minutes. Whereas mine’s all written down; I can’t improvise.”
And where do his ideas come from? “I don’t even know how I write. I think my best jokes are the ones that start in everyday life, then I tend to write about the consequences of stuff – like when I’m about to go on stage and I really need the toilet… It all starts somewhere.”
Now that Joey’s past the halfway point of working the circuit for a decade, it’s understandable that moments of doubt about what he’s doing have hovered over his head on more than one occasion. He says, “[I think what I do] requires more concentration, and if you don’t like a joke then you have to wait ten minutes for the next one. Which is a downfall I guess. I even tried to write some [less surreal] shows – I mean it’s not fun driving to Liverpool, getting your arse kicked then driving all the way home!” Then placates, “I think I got angry and impatient in the last few years, but I’d much rather be an artist and love what I do. Stand up’s a really easy job at times – if you take out the travelling, the actual work and going out on stage is so much fun. Everyone else at work is just in the mundane rush hour!”
Joey’s clearly in tune with his audiences and he always considers the effect his work has on the people watching: “I’m trying say to people, ‘the world is really shit for a lot of people’, and they don’t need to be reminded of that. I’m just trying to escape – not that I have a participially bad life – but stand up is essentially one person [or two] and a microphone, and you’ve got the ability to create whatever you want – then for some reason 90% of people will say ‘this and then that’ and get a laugh from something unexpected at the punchline, but we’ve got the power to take people on a journey – if we want to go to the moon, then let’s go to the moon for 10 minutes! I think comedy is a beautiful thing , you can never be finished – especially if you want to go down the road of being an ‘artist’. Noel could have stopped at the Mighty Boosh if he wanted to but he didn’t.”
Noel Fielding touched on the difficulty of a surreal approach to stand-up in a recent interview with The Velvet Onion:
“The problem is nowadays if you don’t do telly shows it’s hard to do proper live shows; there’s no way of penetrating the system any more – unfortunately that’s the way it is. It’s always the same people on these big, glossy stand-up shows and you just go ‘Are these the only people alive?’ No offence to any of these people, they’re all good comics but they’re very mainstream.”
So, it’s admirable to see someone like Joey, who’s unwilling to stop doing what he’s doing even though he’s faced many obstacles along the way. “I had a try out at the Comedy Store and they basically said never come back again. There’s a lot more people fighting for those spots, because everyone thinks they can be a stand up. One thing at the comedy courses that I’m asked all the time is do I make a lot of money – I’ve spent so much money and I’m 6 years in! Then even economically petrol has gone up so much. I’ve been offered to do gigs in Plymouth for £20 but I can’t even get up there for £20 – but then if I don’t do it, someone else will go there and that’s another gig and more experience.”
After continuous let-downs and financial dilemmas, Joey has now decided to take on the comedy scene and operate on his own terms by organising his only comedy night: “I just thought that I can’t be bothered now, so I’ll get my own audience, they’ll come to me once a month, I’ll build up a following and my own circuit ’cause the circuit wont give me enough of a hand!” – (the second date for said nights at the Etcetera Theater being tonight with tickets still available!)
Undoubtedly, the busiest time of the year for many comedians is the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and while one would imagine it’s the perfect place for the weird and the wonderful, it’s rare for anyone’s show to get unanimously positive reviews.
“What really irritates me with comedy journalism is that they use it in such a negative way, and comedy journalism is such a new thing – especially when it comes to Edinburgh. I’ll get reviewed [in Edinburgh] by someone who’s only reference to comedy was he saw Lee Evans once. If The Sun reviewed me they’d probably go ‘what a load of arty shit’ but if The Guardian reviews it then they would probably have a party about it.”
Most comics who make their way up for the festival each year accept that shows rarely make much profit or garner high praise from critics, but they still invest their time and energy into the process of creating and sculpting a show each year. Joey explains: “When I go to Edinburgh it’s like a body of work I’m putting out – like an album – so each year I try to do something different. The first show was just everything I’d done in one hour, then the second was basically ‘The Show That Never Started’. For the 3rd year I had the idea to have some kind of sidekick.” He continues, “I wanted someone that would be a contrast of me – obviously I was a bit worried that with Sam [Ashurst] being dour and me being chipper I didn’t want it to be too ‘Booshy’, cause I’ve already had trouble with that – but it was great fun working with Sam though. I think next will again, be something different – maybe a video based show!” His ideas seem endless, and the self-proclaimed Linford Christy of stand-up puts a commendable amount of energy into what he does!
We reach the crunch question; I ask if you need to be on TV to be a successful comic. Without missing a beat Joey responds with a confident “Yes.” He explains that although television may not be the primary goal of a lot of comedians, it’s the way the circuit has developed. “I just want to be really good at what I do and be able to have a nice life,” he adds.
After bringing up the necessity of TV exposure we naturally discuss his first TV appearance on Buzzcocks, and Fielding mocking him prior to the show: “Noel had been harassing them for weeks to get me on the show, then when I arrived the producer said to [Noel] ‘Joey’s here’ and Noel went ‘You didn’t actually book him did you!? I was only mucking about!’ She looked like she was bricking it!”
The advice that he was given as a newcomer to the panel show worked to his advantage. Joey explains that he was guided to speak as much as possible as a way of making sure he wasn’t cut! “You work for 2 hours, the audience are there for nothing and it’ll be cut, so anything that doesn’t work no one will see except the audience… and they can’t complain cause they’re there for nothing!”
When the show featuring Joey aired, a bunch of new admirers turned to the young, baffling comic they’d just seen on TV. Though his fan-base has expanded, things haven’t changed much in his life, “My dad’s an electrician and I work with him sometimes so we watched the show then afterwards he was like ‘Right get back up that ladder, you ain’t on the telly any more!’”
There may still be a good helping of the mundane in Joey’s life, but I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that we applaud and encourage him – and loads of others to take himself and us as an audience ‘out of it’. “Hopefully, like in the 80′s people will get bored of these joke-tellers – comedy has had this massive boom and it’s exciting! I think people are starting to not want this mainstream thing that they’ve been fed. I think people will start getting a bit more anarchic and rough around the edges, then hopefully we’ll be pushed to the forefront…and I’ll stop moaning about it.”
One thing for sure is that we hope to see a lot more of Joey Page in the future. You will be able to see him in Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, and we are hoping that this opportunity will open many doors for the magically surreal performer, and for other budding New Wave comics!