THE MAN WITH THE TAN
When Simon Cartwright came onstage, what with the bright orange tan and smooth hair and that nervy little mannerism of smiling at the punchline, I briefly panicked. Because this show , written by Alex Lowe, is directed by Bob Golding who himself performed as Eric Morecambe, I must have been half-consciously expecting to feel warm affection. I clean forgot that I never took to Bob Monkhouse. Of whom Cartwright is, voice and all, a horribly believable doppelganger.
But that’s the point of this unnervingly interesting 50-minute show, drawn from the comedian’s autobiography and using a few clips of the real man in interviews. It catches the period, especially the 80’s: the shiny-floor TV shows and smiley quips, long before Merton and Dee and the deadpan satire and surrealism of modern standup. Monkhouse always felt like a throwback, even then, though he had triumphed in the 60s at the Palladium, the Man with a Thousand Gags. But even then he was awkward: a southern middle class bloke lacking the warm working-class solidarity of Morecambe or Ken Dodd. Cartwright catches the nervy determination, the scribbling down of every idea and the crippling insecurity born both of his chilly relationship with his mother (she wore black to his wedding) and of cruel tabloid exposure. Migraines, stomach, the pallid vilitigo which meant the sunlamp hours and fake-tan, and always a fear of losing it. And of losing touch with mankind in general – “Ive learnt to pretend to feel…”
Lowe sets this session in the comedian’s study at one moment in 1975: two of his precious joke-books have been stolen and the police are on the phone, and he is preparing a funeral speech for his old collaborator Denis Goodwin. He roams about, talks to himself, thinks of his friend (quoting C.S.Lewis on friendship from The Four Loves, indeed.). He breaks into prepared routines, remembers his prolific affairs, his disabled son and the calumnies in the Sunday Mirror which made him cry. He mentions assorted showbiz figures including Larry Adler, who threatened to kill him. (“He said to me, I should read his book on how to tell Jewish jokes. I said, you should read mine in how to stick a harmonica up your arse”. And he does a quick turn as Dabber Davis the veteran agent, which thrilled me since I too have briefly worked for him. He shudders at an old Lynn Barbour interview, which like all thin-skinned comedians he has kept a copy of . It begins “You’ve got to like him, he wants you too so much…it’s like having margarine rubbed in your hair”.
The dramatic turn comes with a shocking moment when the police sergeant on the phone has not turned out to be an adoring, unquestioning fan. The cop’s casual remark about preferring a different cheesy TV show hurls Monkhouse into a surreal torment as a TV gameshow screen seems to flash up “words associated with Bob Monkhouse” and he sees SMARMY – OLEAGINOUS – INFIDELITY – INSINCERITY. He collapses, knowing that many of us thought exactly that. Which is where I came in….Oh dear.
So yes, there are the Monkhouse jokes. But we get inside the man who grafted to write them, too. Fair enough.
http://www.edfringe.com to 31 August