Are you grue­some tonight?

The Elvis Dead is a one-man mashup that com­bines the hor­ror clas­sic Evil Dead 2 with the king of rock’n’roll’s great­est hits. Co­me­dian Rob Kemp talks to Brian Lo­gan about the show that has al­ready landed him in A&E

The Guardian - G2 - - Arts - The Elvis Dead is at Soho the­atre, London, un­til Satur­day, then 24-25 Novem­ber, 8-9 De­cem­ber, and 5-6 and 19-20 Jan­uary. Box of­fice: 020-7478 0100.

By day, he was a mild­man­nered ex­am­i­na­tions of­fi­cer at a school near Wolver­hamp­ton. By night, he was a chain­saw-wield­ing ma­niac with a soft spot for Elvis num­bers. No, that’s not a pitch for a B-movie, but the life of standup comic Rob Kemp. The 39-year-old will spend much of the next month com­mut­ing be­tween the West Mid­lands and Soho the­atre in London, shed­ding the brief­case and tie en route to re-en­ter the un­der­world of The Elvis Dead, his rock’n’roll-meets-hor­ror one-man com­edy show that be­came the cult hit of this sum­mer’s Ed­in­burgh fringe.

Hith­erto, Kemp had been a spe­cial­ist in “whim­si­cal” (so he’s told) standup and was “bump­ing along largely un­no­ticed”. His only pre­vi­ous show, lit­tle seen, was a Dave Gor­man-es­que com­edy lec­ture about hubris. The

Elvis Dead (it’s a retelling of Evil Dead 2 set to the mu­sic of Elvis Pres­ley) was dreamed up in con­ver­sa­tion with a friend, based on Kemp’s sup­posed re­sem­blance to hor­ror icon Bruce Camp­bell. “There was noth­ing cyn­i­cal about it,” he says, in case you’re think­ing that the Elvis/evil Dead mashup was a ruth­lessly com­mer­cial cash-in. “I just wanted to write some­thing that I knew my mates would en­joy.”

At the fringe, the show be­came “a hur­ri­cane with me at the cen­tre of it”, says Kemp – who won a best new­comer nom­i­na­tion at the Ed­in­burgh Com­edy awards. “There were only two nights when we had empty seats. Peo­ple kept ask­ing me, ‘Are you all right?’ Co­me­di­ans higher up the peck­ing order would nod and say hello, and I’d be like: ‘Why do you know who I am?’” Not till he was back at his day job weeks later did the suc­cess sink in. Save for one mo­ment in Ed­in­burgh when, “I’m not go­ing to lie, I did have a cry: a not-un­der­stand­ing-what’s-hap­pen­ing cry”.

It takes a leap to con­flate the sen­si­tive soul weep­ing at suc­cess with the blood-spat­tered psy­chopath who hosts The Elvis Dead. But they’re the same: Kemp’s show is a grisly late-night schlock-com­edy, less man-at-a-mic than man with a card­board buz­z­saw, chan­nelling Sam Raimi’s 1987 splat­ter­fest. If you don’t know Evil Dead 2 (I didn’t), it’s about a man named Ash, trapped in a cabin in the woods with his own sev­ered hand, an­cient demons and the tor­mented spirit of his slain girl­friend. Why wouldn’t you pair that with the honey-voiced king of rock’n’roll?

Kemp cites as in­spi­ra­tion the 2002 movie Bubba Hotep, in which Evil Dead star

Camp­bell plays Elvis in a nurs­ing home, bat­tling a re­an­i­mated Egyp­tian mummy. A life­long hor­ror movie buff, Kemp has “fond mem­o­ries of com­ing home late af­ter be­ing out drink­ing, and my dad be­ing up, watch­ing hor­ror on Chan­nel 4. He did let me and my sis­ter watch films we weren’t ‘I had pur­ple hips for most of Au­gust’ … Rob Kemp in The Elvis Dead; be­low,

Evil Dead 2, with Bruce Camp­bell, right

sup­posed to, from quite an early age.”

Pair­ing Elvis songs with Evil Dead plot points wasn’t as easy as Kemp makes it look. “I as­sumed It’s Now Or Never would be per­fect – for when Ash has to read the Ne­cro­nomi­con Ex­mor­tis [the book of the dead] and send the spirit back to the nether world.” Well, you would, wouldn’t you? “But I couldn’t make it work at all.” Else­where, The Devil in Dis­guise needed min­i­mal lyri­cal ad­just­ment. You Were Al­ways on My Arm is a hymn to Ash’s lopped-off hand. Sus­pi­cious Minds be­comes Wrapped Up in Vines. All are belted out in a cred­itable Pres­ley croon – Kemp calls the show a “con­cert” – while gory scenes from the movie un­spool on an up­stage screen.

But what seals the show’s suc­cess is Kemp’s fe­ro­cious com­mit­ment. Whether singing the songs, or an­i­mat­ing the grue­some in­dig­ni­ties in­flicted on the movie’s hero, he busts a gut for our en­ter­tain­ment. And not just a gut. He broke his hand while pre­view­ing at Le­ices­ter Com­edy fes­ti­val in Fe­bru­ary, where he won the best show award. “It hap­pened 10 min­utes in, and my hand was buzzing un­til the end. The come­down from that show was spent in A&E.” In Ed­in­burgh, he took coach­ing in how to fall safely from the wrestler-turned-co­me­dian Colt Ca­bana. But still, “I had pur­ple hips for most of Au­gust.”

Now, they’ll be pur­pling again at Soho the­atre – which ad­min­is­tered a re­cent re­al­ity check to his new­found fame when its of­fi­cial e-flyer cred­ited The Elvis Dead to, er, Ross Kemp. Rob is un­likely to care: he’s too busy plot­ting tours to Ve­gas (his dream) or to Comic-cons and gath­er­ings of hor­ror fans (a palat­able al­ter­na­tive). Which brings us to The Elvis Dead’s fol­low-up. At its cur­tain call, Kemp pledges a 2018 come­back with – wait for it – “Bea­tles-juice”. In per­son, he down­plays that pos­si­bil­ity: “I don’t think it would do any­one any favours for me to try and do some­thing the same.”

He isn’t, he says, a mu­si­cal co­me­dian; it’s likely the next show will re­turn to his standup roots. His com­mit­ment to ed­u­ca­tion ad­min is def­i­nitely wob­bling. “There are no six-year-olds dream­ing of one day be­ing an ex­ams of­fi­cer,” he says. “Re­al­is­ti­cally I’m not go­ing to man­age an­other exam sea­son next sum­mer. I hope to be un­avail­able.”

The film is about a man trapped in a cabin with his sev­ered hand – so Rob sings You Were Al­ways on My Arm

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.