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Interview for Sandman Magazine.
Anthony J Brown is a smart and slightly bird-like man, and spends the interview nervously fiddling with a book of matches, and bending the straw from his glass of water into a tidy triangle. But this seemingly shy individual is very funny, and can more than hold his own in the, by his own definition, arrogant world of stand up comedy.
“I can’t think of a more arrogant assumption really to lead you into a hobby or profession,” he says. “‘Oh yeah, I’m really funny, they’ll like me.’ Ugh. Just the thought of it makes my flesh crawl.”
Anthony came to comedy somewhat by accident. He spent the mid-nineties in Sheffield band The Ankle Stars, once the Leadmill’s in-house support band, but found himself at a loose end when they split, and comedy seemed like a good thing to fill the time.
“I always like to be something that can be deemed worthwhile,” he says, “the notion of a life of absolute sloth doesn’t appeal that much.”
He’d got some material ready too; in some writing he’d done on a particularly long and boring coach trip.
“I miscalculated and my personal stereo batteries ran down depressingly early in the journey and I had to find some way to amuse myself,” he says, “and on a packed National Express coach the results are extremely limited, other than just taking in the delightful smells. “Rather than concentrate on the odours I decided to come up with some witticisms, as something to do, some of which stood me in reasonably good stead as they’re still in the act today. So thank god for cheap batteries.”
His first gig was in Manchester about six years ago, outside Sheffield as a conscious decision to ensure complete anonymity.
“For one thing it would give a misguided impression if I’d have employed a rent-a-crowd technique,” says Anthony, “and it went really well but purely because my travelling army were there.
“But alternatively if it had gone horrifically and I’d have been flailing like a goat in the Sahara, then you don’t really want an audience there of family members and close confidents. So I thought the easiest way was to go and do it where people wouldn’t know who I was, let it live or die on the actual content rather than actual bloodlines. It went really well.”
Anthony’s act is one of quiet, measured pauses, dark humour, surreal tangents, sharp, short jokes and unexpected punchlines. Almost sexually stroking the microphone stand throughout, Anthony delivers deadpan, intelligent gags, in a manner that while undoubtedly very funny can, like the best comedy, have a vaguely unsettling edge to it.
“I’m glad it has, but it’s not entirely uncomfortable,” he says.
“That would give the impression that if you watched me for twenty five minutes you’d come away feeling repelled. You have to laugh to stop yourself vomiting. I wouldn’t go that far!”
He has no clear influences in the comedy world, taking more inspiration from his heroes in music.
“I don’t really take too many influences from comedy as such, I think more the aesthetic and the material come more from a musical perspective. I find much more of a kinship with the mindset of people like Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Morrissey, or Scott Walker, than from Joe Pasquale.”
Another musician he often gets compared to is Jarvis Cocker, partly because of the Sheffield link, partly because of a kind of self-deprecating wit they share, and a large part to Anthony’s dress sense.
“You could make a lazy comparison sartorially,” he says, “but I was tarred with that brush long before I did comedy anyway. “I’ve dressed in this foolhardy manner for more than a decade – obviously not literally. This is quite new. I’ve always thought the sartorial end of performance is intrinsic to it.”
He also gets compared to comedian Emo Philips, someone he has admiration for, but only discovered after starting his own comedy career and people pointed out the similarities.
“He was very good, but then he changed his hairstyle,” he says. “He had a fantastic unique persona, and visual aesthetic, then went away. When he came back he hadn’t put any weight on, which was nice because no-one wants to see a bloated Emo Philips, but the onset of time meant he looked akin to Jonathan King, which given the sort of material he performs, they make uncomfortable bedfellows.”
Anthony’s awards include runner up to the 2000 BBC1 New Comedy Award, and winner of the 2003 Stand & Deliver prize at the Edinburgh festival, with a £1,000 prize and a prestigious contract with the Jongleurs comedy club chain. He also had a role in Phoenix Nights, which was brief yet has led to him being recognised in the street (“It can be a bizarre experience when all you want to do is buy your bag of courgettes.”) Anthony can be seen regularly at the gigs he comperes at Sola (first and third Thursday of the month), Takapuna (first Wednesday) and Chesterfield College Arts Centre (last Thursday).
His compering is faster and different to his own live act, and it’s a showcase for acts he considers to be from the “top drawer of the comedy bedstead”.
“One of the joys of running clubs is that I can book who I actually respect and I like,” he says, “because obviously when you play a gig you’re usually just placed on a bill with other acts and they’re acts that you ultimately wouldn’t really want to stand on a escalator with, let alone stand in a lift.
“I can be the comedic Man from Del Monte. But not in a white suit. That’s too Randal and Hopkirk. A nice dark, tailored suit.”