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Friday, July 26

Let's Look At Tom

I have no massive axe to grind with Tom O'Connor. He is one of those TV personalities I remember from my childhood and picture as a jumper-wearing cheerful avuncular figure fronting some gameshow or other. He comes from an era of stand-up comedy that I don't aspire to, or really belong to. I wouldn't have imagined that the work of Tom O'Connor would hit my radar.

My comedy world is pretty broad. Among the heroes is one Stewart Lee, whose show "41st Best Stand-up Comedian" I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe in its year of inception. I've since listened to the show a few times and read the full script, along with copious footnotes in Mr Lee's book. For some reason, despite the show mentioning Tom O'Connor many times, I was still not curious about Tom O'Connor. Why would I be?

I don't know why I should have become curious, but I guess repetition makes something take root in your head, and I think I decided that I should make my own mind up about a stand-up comedian, whose name and reputation were joked about in a show. It's a perfectly reasonable thing for me to decide to do. In fact, today I listened to Mitch Hedburg, who had been mentioned by a few people, and I was absolutely thrilled. Absorbing the works of other comedians is what a comedy person would be expected to do.

I bought Tom O'Connor's CD "A Look At Life". I listened to it in my car on Thursday evening, the evening I'd be doing the second of my shows at the Henley Fringe. I listened to it as an audience member, but also as a fellow practitioner.

Now, was my opinion in someway skewed by circumstance? After all, I was on the way to a gig in which I'd perform to a probably small audience. Surely I'd have the set up of my show and the pre-match nerves to worry about. I don't get pre-match nerves, and I was feeling quite relaxed. I also listened to the CD both before and after my show, forming the same opinions on each half, and I followed it up with some Tim Vine, which made me gloriously giddy with laughter.

It's about this point in the narrative that it's fairly clear that I didn't like what I heard on the CD, and that's true. That's not to say that I hated it or found it offensive. There's a certain brand of comedy which is so dreadful that I actually get angry. It usually involves young smug boys with silly clothes saying a bunch of ego-stroking crap, making half a witty line, or a half-witty line, and then saying something like "That's my only proper joke" or words to that effect. Tom O'Connor is not everything I hate. Far from it.

The funny thing is that I'd probably forgive Barry Cryer for a lot of the things I didn't especially admire about Tom O'Connor. I don't know why. Perhaps Barry Cryer isn't constantly stroking his audience and trying to make out like they're all bastions of the same world view. Perhaps when Cryer tells an old old old as the hills joke, you laugh because you know he was there when it was written and it's somehow coming out as a classic, rather than an old taudry bauble. Perhaps Barry Cryer is just a comedy god and it doesn't matter what he says, so long as he keeps getting up there and saying it.

To review the Tom O'Connor CD in detail would be more dull than listening to it, and that's saying something. I think it's of its time. The disc itself is from 1990. The world view sounds more like it's coming from the 1980s. Punks are commented on as though they're new. Chinese restaurants are treated with suspicion (though Chinese people are not mocked for being Chinese per se). The show complains about the trials of decimalisation of Britain's currency (early 70's). Tom complains about alternative comedy (80's) and even about telling jokes, preferring to tell stories of "folks like us".

Punctuated with songs, which I think must have been recorded in the studio and mixed into the CD, though they would have been performed live during the bit the audience are responded to, this was a bizarre mixed-bag of what its audience seemed to consider as entertainment. The strained singing of this affable Liverpudlian didn't sit well with me, and the gag rate was very low, and when the jokes came, they were old hat...

... but perhaps they were less old hat when this gig was recorded. My guess is that they weren't.

It's a shame. The stage craft and nature of Mr O'Connor are definitely worth learning from. The outlook and material are not.

At least I've formed this opinion from my own experience, rather than guesswork or the words of others. All in all a useful experience.


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