Doc Brown dis­sects com­edy in Shang­hai

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE - By MATT HODGES in Shang­hai fea­tures@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Bri­tish co­me­dian Doc Brown de­scribed his China de­but last week as “one of the great­est gigs of my ca­reer” and said he was keen to re­turn to Shang­hai be­cause “any­thing is pos­si­ble here”.

“And that’s what made Thurs­day (in Shang­hai) so spe­cial, be­cause I was con­nect­ing with people,” he said, “es­pe­cially that bit with the bar­maid (whose phone kept ring­ing)… She hated me, but it cre­ated a mo­ment, and you’ve got to be in the mo­ment.”

Brown, aka Lon­doner Ben Smith, per­formed at Za­p­ata’s, a pop­u­lar drink­ing hole in Shang­hai, to a crowd of about 180 people.

He has worked with top UK tal­ents Rick­yGer­vais andLen­nyHenry, and has a star­ring role in the lat­est sea­son of the po­lice drama Law & Or­der (UK).

The self-con­fessed “failed rap­per” — “I failedmy whole life,” he punned, “that wasmy spe­cialty”— re­flected on his lat­est per­for­mance dur­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion at M on the Bund on the evening of March 15 as part of the Shang­hai Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val.

He also dis­cussed his ob­ses­sion with cer­tain parts of the fe­male anatomy, and the irony of his rein­ven­tion as an un­wit­ting fem­i­nist af­ter cam­paign­ing against The Sun news­pa­per’s sex­ual ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of women.

Other topics in­cluded his ma­jor ca­reer breaks, and why he still lives on a run­down Bri­tish coun­cil es­tate.

Smith said his “mo­ment of epiphany” that“com­e­dyis al­labout­con­nect­ing­with people”, rather than re­lyin­gonpre-scripted shtick, came dur­ing a de facto au­di­tion to im­press The Of­fice cre­ator Ricky Ger­vais dur­ing a gig in­Nor­way.

Ger­vais gave Smith a shot af­ter be­ing per­suaded to watch his clips on YouTube, and the twomet for the first time in a dress­ing room be­fore Smith stepped on­stage.

Smith was crash­ing and burn­ing in front of one of his comic he­roes when he sud­denly came right side up with a few off-the-cuff, self-dep­re­cat­ing jokes.

The half-Ja­maican artist has worked with, or opened for, celebrity singers (the late Amy Wine­house), mu­sic pro­duc­ers (Mark Ron­son) and sev­eral Bri­tish comic leg­ends. His older sis­ter is the prize-win­ning White Teeth nov­el­ist Zadie Smith.

He col­lab­o­rates with Ger­vais on songs and com­edy sketches, and once served as a script con­sul­tant for Henry, who co-founded the fund-rais­ing event Comic Re­lief.

The twoworlds col­lided this time last year when Ger­vais res­ur­rected David Brent, the of­fice boss who made him fa­mous a decade ear­lier, for a po­lit­i­cal reg­gae song that de­buted dur­ing Comic Re­lief. It mim­ics the theme tune to the chil­dren’s TV show Se­same Street.

Smith also fea­tured on the song, called Equal­ity Street, which later be­came a hit. It in­cludes im­mor­tal lyrics such as, “Black people aren’t crazy. Fat people aren’t lazy. And dwarves aren’t ba­bies.”

The two reg­u­larly write and per­form songs to­gether.

“We’ve got this in­die band. I’m rap­ping and he’s singing. It’s kind of a crazy thing, but hope­fully we’ll be over here one day do­ing it,” Smith said.

“Ger­vais is like a gi­ant kid ... and a ge­nius. He walks into a room and his whole thing is, ‘ How can I make ev­ery­one in here love me and hate me?’

“He’s push­ing but­tons, be­cause nice com­edy is bor­ing. People like tak­ing risks.”

Smith left Shang­hai on March 16 for a five-week tour of Aus­tralia, which he de­scribes as a re­lief given all the at­ten­tion he is now get­ting back home. Things have amped up since he took the role in Law & Or­der, which is at­tract­ing around 5 mil­lion view­ers an episode.

He says he chooses to keep liv­ing in a coun­cil es­tate (the Bri­tish equiv­a­lent of a ghetto) with his part­ner and two chil­dren be­cause he likes know­ing his neigh­bors’ names, even if many of them are con­victed crim­i­nals.

He is more se­lec­tive about his ma­te­rial these days, and won’t sink to gut­ter hu­mor or re­vert to ho­mo­pho­bic jokes just to get a re­sponse, he said. Things changed af­ter he be­came a fa­ther and the pub­lic face of a cam­paign to get The Sun toen­dits long-run­ning tra­di­tion of­show­ing top­less women, or “Page 3 Girls”.

“I like boobs,” he said, ea­ger not to sound a prude. “I just think (they) are for grown-ups.”

Then, per­haps un­com­fort­able at get­ting too caught up in weighty is­sues, he quipped: “Nurs­ing ba­bies should also have ac­cess to breasts.”

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