Death-defying comedy

Bob Slayer on why Dr Brown is a genuis

It's not easy being a reviewer, the majority of whom get into it because they are passionate about the subject they are reviewing, like to see creativity and as a writer have a level of creativity themselves...

So it must be galling that so many creative people who get bad reviews (deservedly or not) naturally then decide that they dislike the reviewer who wrote it. I have had three scathing reviews from Steve Bennett (The latest review was for my Rock & Roll Circus tour at Reading Highlight, here) and yet I have come to like the man... Mr Steve prefers tightly crafted and scripted comedy over the improvised and loose, and so does not always react positively to the acts that make me laugh the most, however his appearance at this gig in Reading made me realise that as much as he perhaps doesn't understand some acts there is obviously more to understand about him.

Steve has previously individually reviewed all the acts on the bill and expressed dislike, so why would he travel to Reading, on his own, amid a snow blizzard, to come and see them all together? I can only conclude that he knows something interesting is going on with this Rock & Roll Comedy tour and as a reporter of all things comedy he feels that he has to find out what and why.

I could dissect the latest review and previous ones in order to explain everything that I believe Steve has missed on the night and that the majority of the audience did not, but all that would achieve is to make me look a bit of a disgruntled tit. Instead I will give my review of one of the acts on the bill so that you can compare and contrast on your own.

I was compelled to write this up the morning after the gig, before the Chortle review had been published, as I think that Dr Brown's near death experience was one of the greatest moments of Andy Kaufman-esque brilliance that I have ever experienced in Comedy. 

Dr Brown, pictured, was the middle act on the bill, he started in his usual understated and silent way, he walked on to the stage, sat on a stool and started silently drinking water. I have seen him do similar things before and he has such a great way about him that he is able to get a huge reaction out of the most mundane things, but last night the audience were just not going with him.

People were shouting: ‘Get off’, ‘Big Issue’ (he was wrapped up like a tramp), and my favourite ‘Bring back the boring cunt’ (that's me that is!). So it looks like it is going badly wrong and the show manager comes over to me rather nervously, I ask them to let it ride and see what happens. So he asks if this is all planned? To which I reply – oh no, he is in real trouble out there but lets just see how he deals with it!

Someone then shouts to the stage ‘I will give you £1 to go away’ which is quickly topped by the offer of £2... This started to unite the room with Dr Brown silently conducting a mock auction and pockets of the room are starting to warm to him. He continued his water sketch, the premise of which is that he keeps drinking from progressive larger and larger water bottles that he has hidden under his coat.

I am reluctant to deconstruct it because Dr Brown is someone whot is very funny, whatever he does. However to give some sense of where the laughs come from, they are caused by his expressions and his way of mimicking people’s reactions, then people usually end up laughing at the ridiculousness of it all - that they are watching a guy drink water or whatever other mundane action he is doing on stage and yet somehow it is making them laugh.

Dr Brown is extremely skillful at reading a room and playing on reactions and this can escalate into something beautiful, but it needs an attentive room so that he can play on every nuance. Tonight although the room are getting into it more and more and it looks like he might just win them over, there is one table off to stage right who won’t give up with the chants to get off. Again the manager asked me: shall we deal with them? And I said no, lets see how Dr Brown deals with them...

Dr Brown throws an empty water bottle at the rowdy table in a playful way and it gets a big laugh. They throw it back, another chuckle and all is fine. He then pulls out the next size bottle, it gets a bit of a laugh but not much because the rowdy table are disrupting it. The room should be finding themselves fascinated by the mundane action of drinking water, but this is derailed by their growing interest in the potentially exciting relationship that is developing between this odd man on stage and the rowdy table.

Dr Brown empties the next water bottle, drinking some and pouring the rest over his shoulder, he throws the empty bottle at them... and again he gets a big laugh. They predictably throw it back but their repetitive heckles are starting to get boring now and they are taken the action away from where he intended it to go. They are pulling him more and more towards them until it feels that the intended sketch is broken, it’s certainly looking like it is going to be very hard to find an ending and it is increasingly likely to end in disaster.

Then one of the rowdy table throws a plastic glass at him, it is here that Dr Brown really surprises me, he immediately comes out of character and asks him why the fuck would he do that. This is the first time this strange character has spoken and the audience really didn't expect it to be in anger. Dr Brown has gone from silent clown to angry performer and I am sure he has lost it. The room has suddenly become very uncomfortable and silent. Dr Brown then tells this bloke to ‘get up here’. I had invited the same bloke to get on stage earlier and he had declined - but Dr Brown is looking cross and has demanded it, so the guy gets up on stage... 

I get lots of raised eyebrows from the manager, to which I shrug as if to say I am sure it will be OK, but I really am not sure that it is. I am worried that this guy is going to punch Dr Brown. As the guy gets on stage, Dr Brown gestures for him to sit on the stool that he was sitting on and as the guy complies he snaps back into character with a smile.

Somehow the tension in the room is broken and the whole room is immediately behind him and laughing – oh he wasn't really cross. He is still playing. They are really keen to see what he will do next. Dr Brown is stood behind the fella he smiles at the audience then scowls at the man and gestures for him to look forwards. Dr Brown then produces the next size bottle of water from under his jacket, takes the top off and pours it over this guy’s head. At this point I should point out that the heating is broken in the venue, it is December cold in there and Dr Brown is pouring water over this guys head. Surely Dr Brown is going to get punched now?

No the guy is not only letting him, he is also smiling! The room is loving it. Dr Brown has turned this guy from disruptive outsider into an integral part of the performance, the now rather wet man is enjoying himself and instinctively knows what his role is. 

Dr Brown empties the bottle and throws it at the man's friends, the room is cheering now. The manager is beaming which also contains relief. He doesn't even seem bothered about the water on the stage. And then Dr Brown shows the sort of calm crowd skills which is why he makes me laugh more than any other comic I know. With the gig seemingly totally under control for the first time, he waits silently until the room dies down again and the attention is all on him, he lets this linger so that it starts to fall back into awkward again, we feel that tension coming back.

Just as it feels like he is going to throw this gig away he silently pulls out another bottle of water, it's massive, at least a gallon! I don't know how he has kept that hidden. The room erupts and of course he takes the top off and pours it all over this guy’s head.

The man is now soaked but laughing - but it still feels like he could get up and punch Dr Brown at any moment adding physical bravery to Dr Brown's huge creative bravery in going so far out on a limb. The unexpected success of the night Dr Brown takes a bow and exits to huge applause. He has turned a near disaster into the highlight of the night and no 'laugh per minute count' can ever capture the myriad of emotions caused by the theatre of his performance. Confusion, tension, excitement, fear etc, combined with laughter can leave much more passionate and lasting effect than laughter alone.

I walk onto the stage with a towel and hug the soaking wet guy, he really is OK about it. He is drenched and freezing but he has genuinely enjoyed being in the limelight. In the break I get him a large JD and coke and he is over the moon. The general consensus from him and his friends about Dr Brown sums up his performance better than I could: ‘Fair play I thought he was proper shit at first but the man is a legend!’ I think that there is a good chance that these guys often overuse the word legend, but tonight they are using it correctly.

  • Dr Brown's solo show Because is playing at Soho Theatre 9 - 11 December @ 9.45pm. The current Rock & Roll Circus tour continues until December 12. Details

Published: 6 Dec 2010

Live comedy picks

We see you are using AdBlocker software. Chortle relies on advertisers to fund this website so it’s free for you, so we would ask that you disable it for this site. Our ads are non-intrusive and relevant. Help keep Chortle viable.