Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Have you heard the one about the musical comedian?

It's day three of my takeover of Scottish Fiction and I've decided to spend today and tomorrow taking a look at the line between music and comedy. I talked earlier in the week about my tendency to use humour in my lyrics and thought it would be interesting to explore that a little further, so I decided to talk to a comedian who uses music in her stand-up, and a musician who uses humour in his lyrics. Today I talk to Eleanor Morton about her approach to music in comedy.

What came first, music or comedy? (for you, not, y'know, in the world)

Comedy came first. Or at least, I wanted to be a stand-up comedian. I never intended to be a musician. By sheer coincidence I'd written a song a couple of weeks before my first gig which seemed amusing enough, so I ended up using it because it took up three minutes I'd otherwise have to write jokes in. But I've always been musical, singing, playing the piano and writing songs, so it's ended up staying in the act. Sometimes I think of getting rid of the music, but I also genuinely enjoy writing songs, so I'm keeping it for now.

When it comes to musical comedy, Tim Minchin is probably one of the most successful and well-known proponents of the genre. He has said that he's not a comedy songwriter however, rather that he just happens to write funny songs just now and those are the ones he performs live. Does this sound familiar, or is music primarily a vehicle for comedy for you?

I can relate to that - it feels more like a coincidence than an intention. The thing is, if you've got other interests, they often end up being incorporated into the act. But I'd say I was a comedian, not a musician, and a stand-up rather than a comedy song writer. Mostly because I do 'talking in between'. It's just people tend to think of you as primarily a musical comedian because your instrument is on stage with you all the time.

Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

I tend to come up with a phrase I like and maybe muck around finding a tune for it. I find it hard to sit down and write a comedy song all the way straight through - it tends to feel forced, unlike a straight song, which I usually do write in one sitting. Generally I write a page of nonsense every day and that helps get my brain in gear for any writing I'm doing.

Stand-up Stewart Lee once mocked guitar-toting comedians; have you ever felt any stigma in the world of comedy (or music) as a stand-up who uses music in your comedy?

Yes. I used to feel embarrassed and ashamed, like musical comedy is a cop out, or it's lazy. Well, it is if you're shit at it, and I hope I'm not. The reaction to musical comedy I've found is similar to the reaction to female comedy - so try and imagine the looks on people's faces when I turn up for a gig. If you're a female/musical comedian, you're unfunny until proven funny, and I've lost count of number of times I've been told 'Hey, I enjoyed that!' by someone who seems very surprised. Musical comedy is considered a 'cliche' - espcially the ukulele, which doesn't really make sense to me, as there's arguably only about four instruments you can use for a standard comedy song - piano or strings, unless you're mucking around or you have the budget. Personally I think it's a cliche to be a white hetrosexual guy talking about being a white hetrosexual guy, but hey, maybe that's just me! (Yeah, I've clearly still got issues with it)

Who (or what) are you biggest writing influences?

I don't know if you can call them influences, but some of my favourite comedians are Spike Milligan, Peter Sellars, Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, Josie Long, Seymour Mace, Gavin Webster, Paul Sneddon, Maria Bamford, Mark Steel, Mark Thomas, Claudia O Doherty, David O Doherty, Flight of The Conchords, Liam Williams, Tony Law, Patrick Cahill, Doug Stanhope, Paul Foot, Ivor Cutler, Tom Leher and lots of other people I know personally but aren't cool enough to be  friends with. You know who you are guys! (Please let me be your friend)

What is your favourite lyric? (at the moment, at least)

Currently my favourite lyric is from Nick Helm's song 'Wings' - 'Gonna feed all the pets in the petting Zoo - fuck you motherfucker, motherfucker fuck you!'

Can you tell us a joke?

A Glaswegian goes into a bakery and says 'Excuse me, is that a macaroon, or a meringue?' The women behind the counter says 'No, you're right, it is a macaroon'.

Sub-question: Do you hate it when people ask you to tell them a joke outwith the context of a gig?

Yes, I hate that question. Not nearly as much as I hate the question 'Are you funny?', which is teeth-grindingly infuriating, but it's pretty close. If you want a comedian to look supremely unfunny, ask them to tell you a joke in a social situation.

I'm sorry that I just did it.

It's okay, I forgive you, you are self-aware.

Phew! Eleanor has a show at the Glasgow Comedy Festival in March which you can buy tickets for here.

I hope you enjoyed the first part of my feature on music and comedy! Join me tomorrow for the conclusion and an interview with Randolph's Leap frontman Adam Ross.

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