Doc Brown dissects comedy in Shanghai
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.”