Timeout London Interview

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Al Pitcher: interview

Kiwi comic Al Pitcher is a schizophrenic stand-up from the surreal Noble/Izzard school. Sauntering round the Hayward, Time Out asks him if comedy is art…

Al Pitcher has identity issues. He’s a Kiwi comic originally from Huddersfield and is about to move to his wife’s homeland Sweden. So what does he see himself as?

‘I don’t really know,’ he says. ‘When I left for New Zealand I was seven. I had a Yorkshire accent, a flat cap and a whippet. But when I came back nine years ago the audience would shout out, “Oi, you sheep-shagging, rugby-playing hobbit-fucker!” Which, ironically would be a perfect description of my show if you were going to sum up my act in one line.’

Al’s chosen to take me to the ‘Laughing in a Foreign Language Exhibition’ which apparently ‘explores the role of laughter and humour in contemporary art’.

‘My better half’s an artist,’ he explains as we enter the Hayward Gallery. ‘She works in various media, video mainly. She’s been to see this and liked it. But then she is Swedish and they have quite a weird, dark sense of humour.’

The first exhibit we’re greeted by is a huge pile of stuffed animals slumped over each other. An odd-looking bear appears to be trying to rim a cartoon dog. Neither of us laugh. We move on to the next room. Three large screens are showing a film of a clown stumbling around a rain forest. ‘That routine is so hack,’ is Pitcher’s assessment. ‘He’s been doing that for years. He needs to work on some new material. Lazy fucker.’

Does he think stand-up comics are artists? ‘Some can be. Phil Kay is probably the nearest thing to “art” I’ve seen. He can die a death or create entire worlds. I saw him stack up a load of glasses on a table during a routine and somehow recreate the Manhattan skyline. Hilarious. It was just one of those moments that came to him. It was the most inspirational gig I’ve ever seen.’

We pause for a minute to look at a pair a clown shoes hanging on an oversized nail. Nothing. Not a titter.

‘I like shows to be memorable and sometimes just being funny isn’t enough. I’d rather an audience said, “It went a bit weird after ten minutes for a bit but then he brought it all back and it was fantastic.” ’

Pitcher sits firmly in the improvising, rambling, freewheeling comedy camp inhabited by the likes of Ross Noble and Eddie Izzard. However, unlike both of them, Pitcher is one of the best-kept secrets on the comedy scene. He is a diamond as yet not hewn from the circuit rock. But it’s only a matter of time.

‘I see doing a gig a bit like inviting people round for dinner. If you give them Spam they’ll eat Spam, and for some people Spam is okay’, he expounds. ‘However, if you take more care and try to create something exotic just for them like… like a gherkin sandwich… they’ll eat it and love it. Because you’ve made an effort and served something special and different.’

For the first time in the exhibition we both laugh: ‘That doesn’t make any sense at all does it? I can’t believe I couldn’t think of any food better than gherkins. I just used a gherkin sandwich to sum up my act. What was I thinking? “Yeah, his early stuff was very Spammy but I really thought he found form during that whole gherkin sandwich period.” What the fuck?’

We turn a corner to find a lecturer sitting in a corner with a group of young students all looking bored. ‘Can you see what the artists have done by using the juxtaposition between multimedia visuals and layered sounds to create a visceral experience for the observer?’ he asks. None of the pupils offer anything; several are too busy texting to listen. ‘Oh come on!’ he says getting more exasperated. ‘Come on guys, give me something!’

‘Tough crowd,’ Al observes. We then watch a man lying on the floor by a small tower of TV screens for a few minutes. He’s dressed in workman’s overalls and has a screwdriver he’s wafting, somewhat ineffectively, at the direction of some wires hanging out of the back of it. ‘Well he’d better have a big finish, that’s all I can say. Actually, I think he might not be an artwork at all. Mate are you just fixing that?’ The technician nods so we move on.

So what has he done in the past to find inspiration for his work? ‘I took some time off a while ago and went to Ireland to pick vegetables,’ he says. ‘I imagined I’d look out at the hills in the evenings and write. I thought I’d come back with five or six hours of amazing material that would blow people away. They’d be like, “Oh fuck, have you seen that vegetable-picker guy? He’s phenomenal” As it turned out I just ended up being fucking knackered and nodding off all the time. So I came back.’

And what’s his new show ‘Idiot Wind’ about? ‘Loads of things. Sort of depends on the night. I hate shows with a theme, like ones based around some guy’s trip to Africa chasing the African pigeon. Is there is such a thing? I love randomness. My head is like an iPod set on shuffle,’ he says looking back to see if the workman has done anything funny yet. ‘I simply want people to have an amazing experience when they come to see me. I go from zero to 60 straight away and try to make them laugh as much as I can.’

And the exhibition? ‘Oh, that was shit.’

Tim Arthur