Tony Law

Tony Law

Winner of the Chortle Award for Breakthrough act in 2012... 14 years after starting out in comedy. He was also nominated for the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award the same year.
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A celebration of beautiful idiocy

Nicko Vaughan praises Phil Nichol and Tony Law's Virtue Chamber Echo Bravo

I was thrust into the comedy world at the age of 20 when I was part of the first BBC Open Mic competition, back when the final was broadcast on BBC One. It was my third ever gig.

My first ever gig was the heat, my second ever gig was the semi-final and my third was the final show. If I knew anything about how the industry is supposed to work, I would have booked open spots before the final, honed my material, and gotten me a tight five. As it was, I blindly went up to Edinburgh with my fellow finalists and just, well, enjoyed my free holiday. The code for not obeying comedy rules, it seems, is implanted in my DNA.

Stewart Lee was the headline act when I was doing my heat and after my time on stage, he took me around the back of the venue, leaned against the wall, smoking like some kind of comedy James Dean, and told me that if I didn’t keep doing comedy, I was an idiot. Fifteen years of The Bad Film Club and six books later, I am keeping my word.

I met up with Stewart again when I was on my jolly BBC funded Fringe trip. He was in the Pleasance bar, and he came over, handed me a black card with a white Z, and told me to go to the Pleasance 2 venue near to midnight. So I did. And that’s when I was first introduced to Cluub Zarathustra. A strange, rambling, surrealist (in its proper sense, not in the ‘oh that’s odd’ sense) extravaganza which was being played out to a half-empty room of drunk festival-goers and top-level comedians.

I loved it.

I loved it so much that I followed it to Islington where I would go regularly to the shows, I even got the chance to write a Cluub Z programme of silliness, quotes, and their anthem lyrics. It felt good to be part of something so wonderfully off-kilter that it couldn’t be classed as comedy. It was something more. I even managed to persuade my university to organise a coach trip of 30 students to see this, ‘interactive surrealist comedy experiment’. At least, I think that’s how I pitched it.

Seeing performers free from the expectation of comedy rules was exciting, and being a part of a small and dedicated group of like-minded audience members was also comforting.

There were people out there, like me, who craved the antithetic. But the past is the past and it’s now 2020, and the pandemic has caused so many comedy shows to vanish, with a few managing to dribble out live content into the ether. Comics are turning to streaming past shows or live Zoom comedy experiences. Which brings me to Tony Law and Phil Nichol and their show, Virtue Chamber Echo Bravo.

In 2019, once again, I found myself in Edinburgh, sat in a half-empty room whilst two comedians spooled through a stream-of-conscious performance that was far to the left of left field. Except, this time it was midday instead of midnight and the comedians on stage were two stalwarts of the comedy club scene.

Unlike Cluub Z, there wasn’t a group of performers all towing the philosophical Nietzsche line, there were two men, and two guitars, and only one man who could play the guitar, but that didn’t stop the other from erratically strumming the instrument like a frustrated chimp hitting a banana with a rock.

This show wasn’t about alienation, this was about togetherness, safe spaces, and healing. They bewildered audience members on stage, gave out badges, and flyered their show at the end of the show and ONLY to those who had already come to see the show.

With a performance hinging on the atmosphere and generosity of an audience buying into the premise, surly VCEB (as the kids call it) was doomed to die as Covid-19 killed off comedy. Thankfully, not so. After weeks of trial and error, the VCEB Twitch stream was up and running and now, twice a week, you can pipe into this hour and a half of complete and beautiful idiocy and be immersed in the world of the comedy subconscious.

With the technicals overseen by poor Kai, a whipping boy for the pair’s computer inadequacies, you can be privy to frequency healing, guided tours around museums and galleries (the penis museum is a particular favourite with the audience), play the ‘Who Said That?' game and ask questions to Hunter S Thompson, Ayn Rand, Charles Bukowski and even have a chat to the Dalai Lama about what plastic surgery procedures he’s just had done.

Behind Mr Anthony Law and Mr Phillip Nichol, plays a selection of films, short documentaries, dance performances, and surrealist short films. They’ve even started up a mini film festival, but keep your fingers crossed that Kai doesn’t win, that always puts a downer on proceedings. They have developed their own language,  have catchphrases (Pol …… Pot) and have already mustered a dedicated  fan base.

All of this lunacy would fall flat if it wasn’t for the inclusion of that interactive chat, where regulars chime in with suggestions to Law and Nichol, as well as chat amongst themselves. I finally found myself another community of like-minded people who will ignore the rules and take comedy in whatever direction they feel like. Again, this isn’t comedy, it's something more, this is interactive pornographic art healing.

If you’re not tuning in at 7pm on a Wednesday and a Sunday, then you’re missing out. You’re missing out on two great comedians being totally off their comedy club leash; you’re missing out on being a part of something utterly charming, despite itself; and you're missing out a lot of shenanigans. And, let’s face it, shenanigans are what we really need right now.

• Virtue Chamber Echo Bravo is broadcast here.

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Published: 8 Sep 2020

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