Working with dad

Milo McCabe's Edinburgh show puts family ties to the test

Last October, I was mulling over possible routes to take with my 2012 Edinburgh show. I wanted a multi-character format but with a bit of a narrative and had it down to three options.

I ran these past my agent and he made a suggestion about the ‘This Is Your Life’ idea. The suggestion was to have my dad in the show. My dad.

For the full hour.

For the full month.

He mulled it over then let me know that this option by far would be the most interesting. To give a bit of background, my dad is an old-school comic who had a flirtation with the comedy TV shows of yesteryear: New Faces, The Comedians, etc.

The idea was (is) that the show would examine my dad’s life, actual situations in his background that had occurred and I would play different characters from his past, some real, some imaginary. We would have a third person, a ‘Michael Aspel’ character who would ‘host’ the show.

So I rang my dad. After the fifteenth attempt at trying to explain the concept to him, he still hadn’t grasped what I was talking about.

‘I just don’t get it. Talk to me like I’m a 12-year-old and tell me again…’

Five further attempts (and my dad’s perceived mental age dropped to six) and he was still no closer. It was only after we did the first preview that it started to click a bit and even then he wasn’t 100 per cent.

But he absolutely loved it. He hasn’t performed in anything like this before and was thrilled. So thrilled, that he began to make suggestions. And come up with ideas. Thousands of ideas. All of them utterly shit. Here’s a couple.

‘Why don’t you roll a fake eyeball along the floor into the crowd at that point?’

‘What would be really funny would be if we were both the sound effects people in a radio play…and we started trying to take over by getting all the sound effects wrong!’

The worst thing is when he comes up with a half decent idea. As I open my mouth to shoot him down for the millionth time I have to stop myself and concede that he might have a point. This has the effect of redoubling the volume of his ideas and reducing the quality proportionately.

‘I KNOW! One of your characters could be a pantomime horse!’

What has also been a bit of a struggle is the reversed authority roles. It’s understandably been odd for my dad to be told what to do by his son and it’s been hard for him to adapt to a type of humour he is unused to…but he’s been surprisingly flexible with both of those things.

We’ve wound each other up something rotten and know how to push each other’s buttons… and our exchanges can look quite brutal to onlookers, particularly Chris Henry, who is playing the Michael Aspel role in the show. Even after six months of working with us he is still regularly shocked by the way we talk to each other. Dad and I will happily call each other every name under the sun and in that moment, mean it.

But in spite of all the teeth gnashing, at the end of this run, regardless of how the show is received, I will have worked with my Dad, in a comedy. We’ll have that forever. And despite initial misgivings, I’m absolutely delighted we’re getting a chance to do it.

He’ll never read this, because his knowledge of the internet starts and ends with him typing ‘sex’ into google. And so I can quite safely say here what I would never say to his face…that he’s absolutely brilliant.

  • Milo McCabe: Kenny Moon, This is Your Life is on at 17:35 in the Gilded Balloon.

Published: 16 Jul 2012

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