A Law unto himself
Surreal and just plain silly, Tony Law is one of this year’s bona fide festival highlights. Stevie Martin tries to make sense of his non-conformist genius.
ony Law lies in interviews because he’s bored. “It’s probably not a great idea, but I find it hard not to.” He’s already told me, surprisingly soft-spoken behind an explosion of blonde beard, about raising mutant runt pigs behind his father’s home as a young boy. And befriending an 87- year-old oil plant factory worker named Min. And working in an abertoire. And I’m lapping it up. It’s only when we talk about this year’s show, following off the back off the Breakthrough Act award winning Go Mr Tony Go!, that it gets suspicious. “It’s about life. The meaning of life. Our place in the universe. It’s about poetry and ideas,” he looks wistfully at the wall, “It’s about the relationship between me and my father. How we’ve patched things up and grown closer. And religion.” But what’s it actually about? “It’s like last year but better. And, as always, it’s about comedy.” If you’ve ever seen Law over the last 14 years, whether standup, TV appearances or, most recently, MC-ing in a small child’s dress
and union jack tights at his comedy night Tony Law’s Shitbox, you’ll know it’s difficult to articulate. But he gives it a go. “I’ve got a bit about Primark,” he says proudly, “I’m also quite a political person but I don’t want to do specific bits. I don’t want to be like: ‘Hey, you know what the Tories are doing?’ because it comes across more powerfully in a joke about dinosaur hands.” While many capitalise on their postbreakthrough-act-year burning cash on publicity to justify their Next Big Thing status, there will be no posters advertising Maximum Nonsense. “I like to go by word of mouth,” he muses, “the people that come to see me are the organised sort.” After 14 years spent honing his craft, he’s discovered the importance of disregarding what you “should” and “shouldn’t” do as a comedian. For example, you “should” probably capitalise on your big break the first time round, which Law remembers as being in 2002. He reacted by going quiet. “I was the Next Big Thing, got loads of TV pilots, but I
28 fest edinburgh festival preview guide 2012
wasn’t happy with the shows. I hit the road again and tried to reinvent,” he raises an eyebrow, “...then got good.” If he had done the normal thing and taken up the offers thrown at him (HBO and NBC both flew him to America in 2005 but Law didn’t want to move overseas) he wouldn’t be the unique, bellowing, bearded, onesie-wearing metacomedy obsessed ode to bonkers he is today. You only get like that, apparently, through years playing to audiences with no idea what the hell’s going on. Though it seems like torture, his experiences of “dying on his ring” for years at terrible venues had its merits. “When I was doing really rough clubs, nothing was working. They didn’t get it. I started commenting on what I was doing, like, ‘and this is why THIS is funny...’ in order to bring them along.” Despite the fact this didn’t work either, he’d found a meta style that set him apart and came naturally. It wasn’t what they wanted to see, but it’s what he wanted to do. “Only people who like and watch a lot of comedy get it, but it’s fun. I like to talk about what I’ve done then, if you can find a way to comment on the comment you’ve just made... it’d be epic.” The dives he gigged in also did wonders for his confidence, mainly by wrecking it for long periods of time. “If a humourless thug yells ‘you arent funny mate’ when you’re young, something inside of you dies for a while. Now I think GOOD. You are not my target audience. Go home and banter about some ladies.” Law stuck to his guns and took a decidedly non-mainstream show up to the 2006 Fringe involving Cartridge Davison, a time-travelling sausage dog. This proves the intellectual osmosis theory, considering his upbringing. “Because I grew up on a farm, animals seem to come up a lot,” One eyebrow shoots up and he leans forward seriously, “I’ve known cows...” Then he’s off on one, all conversations about comedy put on ice while he reminisces about saving the runts of various litters and rearing them behind his father’s farm in Canada. “I had my own army of freaks. Pigs with no ears, three legs, dwarves covered in hair, that sort of thing. When they got older, dad would be like ‘ok we’ll take yours to market now’ before putting them to sleep in a humane way.” The same happened with his dog Bullet who, he was told, ran away when he was little. Law only found out Bullet had been run over when someone let it slip over the dinner table. He was 32. f
Tony Law: Maximum Nonsense @ The Stand Comedy Club 12:30pm, 1–27 Aug, not 2, 13, £7 – £8
The definitive Festival magazine