Paul Foot walked out onto the stage of Oxford’s Old Fire Station somewhat like an alien landing from outer space. “Greetings!” he barked, dressed with a shiny shoulder-padded jacket, silver dress shoes, and a necklace of conkers.
This particular extra-terrestrial did not come in peace though, beginning his show, ‘Tis a pity she’s a piglet, with some confrontational lines on the nervous disposition of the audience.
Although it was a Saturday night, the room, according to Foot, had the atmosphere of a Tuesday evening. This was unorthodox ice-breaking from an unorthodox comic, and established the rather on-edge mood of the evening.
After some preliminary explorations in the ‘observational’ – school days, marriage, etc – Foot took us into his world, the realm of the ridiculous. Beginning with a discus- sion of ‘literal surrealism’, a genre which he claims to have invented, the comic began to rattle off a series of bizarre vignettes, which he described as “possible but unlikely.”
After imparting to us the story of a businessman who sat on a chocolate bar, Foot came up against the first and most determined heckler of the night, who remarked rather loudly: “I don’t get it.” Foot countered by repeating the joke once more – directly at the dissenter’s reddening face – adding a slightly meta elaboration about the soiled businessman’s disillusion with his career.
This elicited hearty laughs from most of the room, but I suspect the slain heckler was putting on a bit so that the kook would let him alone. Such moments, when Foot ad-libbed and engaged with his sceptical audience, were preferable to his more mechanical instances of farce. Foot was, after all, showing us his ‘routine’, and so the most outlandish moments were hard to believe. They were spoiled by a lingering sense of rehearsal.
One segment of the show centred on Foot asking members of the audience to abuse his best friend, a teddy bear. This was derailed slightly by two women who seemed to have adopted the notion that they were the comic’s sidekicks. ‘Fiona’, who was asked to punch the teddy bear in the face, launched into a bizarre spectacle in which she pretended to be deprived of hands.
Of course, we didn’t pay to see her. Foot had some trouble handling what he termed their ‘postmodern approach’ to audience participation, but managed to steer the show away from their obstruction in the end.
In this instance of ‘crowd work’, Foot demonstrated his skill as an experienced performer, if not his ability to write a disciplined show.
The title, ‘Tis a pity she’s a piglet, and the allusion to Ford, remains unexplained. The stronger parts of the performance involved Foot playing off his audience, and with this in mind it seems a saving grace that the gig was performed at the Old Fire Station on George Street.
This proved a far more intimate setting than the Playhouse, Oxford’s larger venue of choice for ‘TV’ comedians, where I speculate Foot’s style would have proved a little impractical.
The show concluded with an extended riff on the long since concluded Oscar Pistorius trial. This felt indicative of Foot’s abrupt leaps from one gag to the next throughout the performance, which were a mark of his boundless energy, but also his lack of self-discipline.
Paul Foot: ‘Tis A Pity She’s A Piglet is on tour until 2 December.