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A Magazine for Sheffield

Simon Munnery: Fylm Makker

Despite being an entertainer for over 25 years, Simon Munnery isn’t exactly a household name. Apart from his all-too-brief 2001 comedy Attention Scum!, directed by Stewart Lee and dropped by the BBC after one series, his inroads into mainstream consciousness have been brief. But like so many of the UK’s most inventive and underappreciated comics, Munnery continues to produce high-quality, challenging work that smudges the lines between comedy, theatre and modern art. In recent memory he has hosted a conceptual restaurant called La Concepta, in which eight ‘diners’ are served ‘dishes’ of bizarre props, artwork, dance and audio installations (“all the rigmarole of haute cuisine without the shame of eating”), and a one-man punk musical, Hats Off To The 101ers, about the R101 airship, designed and built in the late 1920s near Munnery’s home in Bedford. His current exploit – at the time of writing undergoing a month-long test-run in Edinburgh – is Fylm, a madcap show which sees him squatting in a booth behind the audience while projecting homemade cardboard cut-out animations and close-ups of his face onto a big screen, accompanied by a live guitarist and audio loops of his own voice. Not your usual night out, admittedly, but something he has experimented with in the past to some success. “I sort of got fed up with it – all that machinery – and then two years ago I did a show where I was doing cardboard animations [Hats Off To The 101ers], and I built a collapsible arch to dangle them from, so I could do large cardboard animations. “I realised you were never going to do a show where you were doing cardboard animations big enough for people to see and be able to carry it around, so I thought, ‘Why not point a video camera down at the thing you want to show?’ And I thought if I put a mirror there I could do both – I could show my face as well. So bit by bit I got back to where I was. We’re used to looking at people’s faces on screens, and we’re absolutely used to looking at screens, so why bother with the rest of it?” If the trailer for his previous show, Fylm Makker, is anything to go by, Fylm will be chock full of peculiar wordplay, low-budget visual gags, non sequiturs, cardboard props and an unlikely blend of the high and low brow, with mentions of surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel and composer Richard Wagner sandwiched between references to Eric Cantona and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. But its marvellously ramshackle, DIY aesthetic – as seen in the Fylm Makker trailer available online – belies a logistical operation that at first is hard to get your head around. “The cut-outs are on a table in front of me, above the table is a box, and on top of the box is a camera with a half-silvered mirror. It’s a 19th century trick. By changing the lighting state I either light myself or the table in front of me. “Plus I’ve got another camera on the audience, so I use that a few times. That’s a bit of fun. They hardly do anything – I just want them to see their own dullness every so often.” But isn’t it hard to tell how the show is being received, sitting inside a booth at the back of the room? “No, it’s exactly the same in that you gauge people’s reactions by the sound of laughter. All comedians work like that, because if you’re on stage you’re dazzled by the lights anyway and you can hardly see them. Anyway, smiles don’t count. They mean nothing.” The potential for the format is huge. I suggest some kind of Punch and Judy re-interpretation, but am trumped by his suggestion. “Pull up in a van with some batteries and slap it up a wall. It would be like a completely non-damaging form of graffiti. And better.” ‘Alternative’ comics tend to favour smaller, more intimate venues, so I’m surprised to find Munnery leaning in the opposite direction for this particular show. “I think the more people, the better it is. I don’t think most comedians would agree with me on that, but I’ve done it in front of small groups and it just gets more absurd. This is designed for stadiums.” We both laugh at the idea that such a bizarre and esoteric show could make it to stadium tour status, but I find myself wondering why not. Although much more inventive and hands-on, it’s not a far cry from something Bill Bailey might turn his hand to. Ultimately, it comes down to Munnery’s obtuse sense of humour and his unwillingness to stick to the conventional ‘stand on a stage and say something funny and relatable’ format. An old one-liner of his goes something along the lines of, “Has anyone ever noticed anything, ever?” But what of the inevitable blank faces? “It just happens from time to time. Sorry, was the question ‘Do I deliberately create blank faces?!’ I never aim for it to go like that, but every so often it happens. A brilliant show can still die. You can be a second off the pace.” In that case, isn’t it tempting to change the content all the time? “Yeah, you can endlessly tinker. There’s nothing like doing it, and working out from that what you can do to change it, then trying it the next day. There’s nothing better in terms of a process. But to be working on something new is exciting – to be working on a thing, solving its little problems...” Long live those little problems, because inside them lies the personality of a show like this. Although somewhat eccentric and prone to long pauses, Munnery is clearly someone who puts his heart and soul into what he does, and Fylm is shaping up to be a show like no other. Simon Munnery will perform at Cabaret Boom Boom at Ruskin Hall on Fir Street, Walkley on Saturday 21st September. Tickets are available at Beeches of Walkley and Rocky Horrors on Devonshire Street, priced at £13 or £10 concessions. Visit cabaretboomboom. for more information. )

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