A life less ordinary Paul Foot and Asher Treleaven are renowned for their esoteric, left-field flights of fancy and a penchant for hats. Jay Richardson attempts to untangle a sense of logic from two of the Fringe’s most experimental surrealists.
wo of the more physically distinctive, eccentrically attired and floridly spoken comics at the Fringe, Paul Foot and Asher Treleaven are as elusive as quicksilver. Scan their surreal show titles for clues as to their content and you’ll be none the wiser. Paul Foot – Kenny Larch Is Dead contains absolutely no reference to the unfortunate Larch. “With the content of the show, like all my shows, it’s entirely independent of the title and indeed any publicity material,” the capricious standup explains, “it’s sort of a posthumous honour and a posthumous dishonour. The ultimate insult really. But Kenny Larch is definitely dead. I thought it one of the best reasons not to mention him in the show as he had the opportunity to make his mark on the world and he didn’t take it. He should be grateful really.” Similarly, Asher Treleaven: Troubadour, is just the latest of the Australian’s solo shows featuring ‘door’ in the title, inspired by the secret doors of the magic theatre in Hermann Hesse’s countercultural novel Steppenwolfe and a sign – ‘Secret Theatre for Madmen’ – he stumbled across in Melbourne: “with a head full of mescaline, it was one of those moments that kept coming back to me”. Growing audiences and critical acclaim notwithstanding, not everyone has the patience to follow Foot and Treleaven down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass to find unlikely laughs. Those that do are a select band, literally so in Foot’s case, as he convenes secret events for his Guild of Connoisseurs. A congress of the incongruous and the inexplicable, he’s uncertain whether his comedy is “moving in a good direction towards career success or a bad direction towards artistic notoriety”. “Every year I move towards something increasingly abstract and intangible in terms of why it’s funny and why people are laughing” he ventures. “In parts of the show, I’m leaving
things open for as many different interpretations as possible, mix-and-match comedy, aiming to get people laughing at the same thing in different ways and for different reasons.” Treleaven too, usually favours a seemingly disjointed, chaotic narrative of “chunks”, jarringly “crashed together”, with a logic emerging gradually or not at all. Yet Troubadour is his most personal show to date, recounting chapters from his life. “Maybe it’s a pisstake on the whole arty self-involved thing, thinking everything you do can be turned into art” he muses . “But essentially, I’m
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asking the audience to vote on whether my life is interesting enough to talk about for an hour. Writing it, I set out to make fun of people who tell their boring life story badly. But in the process, I realised it was actually turning into a life-affirming show, and that it was about making the most of what you have.” Reconnecting with his estranged sister, who sent him a copy of Edward De Bono’s meta-conceptual problemsolving technique Six Thinking Hats, afforded Treleaven the colour-coded, millinery-based framework for his latest hour. De Bono’s premise, that different problems require different modes and “hats” of thinking, corresponds with various chapters in the comedian’s autobiography.
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