I’ve been waiting for Canadian comedian Tony Law to call for around twenty minutes now. He’s had a whole day of interviews and it’s not surprising if he’s running a little late. Known for his style of comedy often described as ‘surrealist,’ the idea of him having a slightly chaotic day of speaking to journalists seems appropriate.
‘I don’t know about surrealist comedy,’ he says when I get hold of him. In keeping with this seemingly chaotic style, he’s in a taxi on the way to Manchester train station, taking interviews whilst he’s flitting between cities. ‘I’d say it’s more absurdist. Life is absurd, it really is, and all of my comedy still comes from everyday situations, like dealing with children and people who judge you. I see that the path to truth is through absurdity to a certain extent.’
This may be the case, but it doesn’t stop him from frequently being billed under the words ‘alternative comedy.’ This year at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in which his set Enter the Tonezone was one of the most popular shows, ‘alternative’ was how he was frequently described. ‘Yeah, I think it’s the other people who make the categories for you; you just do what you do, and they’ll put you in a neat little box. I don’t actively try and be different.’
Nevertheless, it’s how he frequently appears to be. If you’ve seen Law on any British panel shows recently, it becomes clear pretty quickly that he’s one of the more manic panellists. On an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks recently, he was on a team with Noel Fielding and Paloma Faith, neither of whom are known for their calm demeanour, but I think it’s fair to say he out-weirded them both.
“I love England. The rain and gloom appeals to me as much as the sun does.”
‘I like Never Mind the Buzzcocks. They have no scripts on that show, they don’t want you to prepare anything at all, and it’s a dream for me. Some of the other panel shows are a bit more rigid, and there’s far more pressure for you to be consistently funny, like you need to prove yourself. I hate that kind of pressure, I just freeze up. But with the others, they just want a personality to run with, and I come and provide that.’
Part of that personality that is so popular on the panel shows is his very distinctive look; he started off wearing a unitard, and then moved into wearing a neckerchief with crazy, blonde Viking hair with a bushy beard and moustache. ‘Oh, I’m back into the unitard now,’ he laughs. ‘I love getting into a costume and transforming, so I can just go out and have fun, be confident and loud.’ We take a quick pause as he gets out of the taxi and pays the taxi driver. There’s some scuffling and a lot of background noise as he makes his way into the train station, adding to the strong sense that he’s always on the go.
This chaotic feeling is a far cry from his upbringing; raised in Alberta in Canada on a farm, he moved to England at 18 after being heavily influenced by British rock and roll as a child, particularly The Who and Led Zeppelin. ‘I had a great upbringing, but I wanted to get out,’ he says. ‘I love England, the rain and gloom appeals to me as much as the sun does. In fact, I prefer people who live in the rain, they’re not as excessively happy all the time. They don’t always feel the need to say they’re doing great, and when they are it’s a bit more genuine. I can trust them more, there’s a positive honesty to it.’
And on that note, as he realises he’s on the wrong platform and doesn’t want to go to Plymouth but Sheffield, I leave him so he has time enough to grab a cigarette before he gets his train. The chaotic persona may be part of who he is on stage, but it appears it does spill into his everyday life too. After all, it’s what inspires his comedy.
Tony Law is playing at City Varieties Music Hall on the 11th of November