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Mitch Benn

Mitch Benn

Mitch Benn started his career in Edinburgh in 1994, and was voted best new comic at the 1995 Glastonbury festival; scooping the Comedian Of The Year at The Leicester Comedy Festival three years later.

He's now an established face on the comedy circuit, a regular on both Radio 4's Now Show and Radio 2's It's Been A Bad Week, and star of his own Radio 4 series Mitch Benn's Crimes Against Music, which he performed with his regular backing band, The Distractions (Kirsty Newton on bass and keyboards and Tash Baylis on drums and percussion).

He has performed hour-long shows at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1997, 1998 and 1999, in the revue show The Bootleg Bootleg Beatles in 1998 and the showcase Carlton Comedy Warehouse in 1999, which the subject of a documentary series for Carlton TV.

He returned with the Distractions in 2003, and they released their debut single, Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now in 2005.

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Mitch Benn Is The 37th Beatle

Mitch Benn Is The 37th Beatle

Mitch Benn is best known for his prolific production of topical parodies for Radio 4’s The Now Show, but for his current tour he has combined two of the three obsessions closest to his heart: The Beatles and himself. The third, Dr Who, sneaks a look-in, but that’s for another time.

The genesis of this show came when Benn read, once again, the cliché of a musician described as the ‘fifth Beatle’ and got to thinking just how many British rock figures have been awarded that sobriquet. And, in true geek’s style, set out to make the definitive list of additional Beatles, placing himself, tongue-in-cheek, at No 37.

That Pete Best is the real fifth Beatle is uncontroversial, but the rest of the list is entirely subjective. Poor George Martin manages just 18th position, which seems measly.

Such esoteric, nerdish debates are manna for a hardcore Beatles fan, of course, and the older demographic suggests that Benn hitching his show to the biggest British band ever was a smart marketing move. He polls the audience: ‘How many of you came because of the Beatles and how many are fans of mine?’ but probably isn’t encouraged by the answer.

Yet this is not just for die-hard devotees of the Fab Four, as this engaging account is jam-packed with trivia that anyone with even a passing interest in the history of pop music will savour – including a rant about Oasis that makes no attempt to hide his visceral hatred of the would-be pretenders to the crown. A jingle introduces Benn’s own tenuous links to the band, including attending the same primary school as Lennon and McCartney, albeit 20 years too late.

Tangentially, there’s also a segment about the death of the peculiar Scouse accent that John has that floats some interesting demographic theories about Liverpool – and allows Benn to indulge his talent for impersonations.

But it is mimicking music that is his forte, and the parodies here are just a gnat’s crotchet away from the originals... possibly the closest since Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s The Rutles, who get a well-earned mention on this rundown. And in performing the songs Benn gets to live out the ‘all comedians want to be rock stars’ cliché, including borrowing a trick from US musical comic Reggie Watts to indulge – and indulge is definitely the word – in some live looping, as he recreates the techniques the Beatles used on Tomorrow Never Knows.

Other highlights include close reproductions of the likes of My Life, I Am the Walrus and For The Benefit Of Mr Kite, redirected to a certain Mr Cowell and included in his showstopping medley.

The subject matter is clearly important to Benn, which shows in the performance, so even if the script often strays towards towards the interesting more than the hilarious, he remains an informed and engaging guide through the material and a passionate advocate for the musical genius of his heroes.

The connection with the audience wobbles when he strays off topic, such as a humblebrag about the time he met Ian Rankin, or a lengthy preamble about Edinburgh Fringe programme deadlines that few will care about outside the festival bubble.

But Beatles fans, even the most casual ones, will find plenty to enjoy, debate and learn about in this passion project.

Saturday 22nd Feb, '14
Steve Bennett

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