His comedy peers adore him, but what does John Higgins make of Belfast's most eclectic performer? 'Everyone prefers Cash to Czech!'
Other comedians in Belfast talk about Paul Currie in hushed tones. He’s a genius, they say. Like Supergran 'there’s nothing that he cannae do'. They write and they work hard and they try to hone their craft, but Paul Currie just is. 'The best.'
I’m not sure that’s true. Currie’s been around a while. He’s paid his dues. And tonight’s Sticky Bivouac show has already played at the Edinburgh Fringe. Here, as part of the inaugural Belly Laughs Comedy Festival in Belfast, the show starts quietly.
Unnoticed by much of the audience, a hand on a stick emerges from the stage curtain and starts prodding at Currie's antique broadcaster’s microphone, rebadged to read PBC. People begin to take notice, however, when the hand continues its journey into the audience and starts prodding their ears and cheeks.
Then, with a squall of radio static and a vintage radio announcer incorrectly introducing him as 'Paul Cousins', Currie leaps onto the stage, bouncing like a sugar-rushing Tigger.
With his long hair and flamboyant moustaches, he looks like a character from an Asterix book: Comedix, perhaps. But buttoned up in a three-piece suit, there’s also something of those classic shots of the Goons, with their back combed de-mob quiffs and gurning faces.
Michael Bentine of Potty Time fame in particular, is a possible cultural antecedent: there is a long and proud tradition in British comedy of mucking about with puppets and doing silly voices. Currie is very much in that pantheon. (Potty Time was Bentine’s post-Goons puppet show and had little or nothing to do with house training your children).
The props that litter the stage have the warmth and ergonomically smooth edges of the Bakelite era: old Radiograms and wooden panelled gramophones with curling ram’s horns, reminiscent of the Viking helmet Currie will later don, for little discernable reason, except that he makes it funny.
And that’s key: with a lesser performer many of these props would be cringe-inducing. Something in me dies when I see somebody walk to a small table and open a suitcase on stage. The props aren’t funny in Curries act, they’re the straight men: he is funny. (Saying that, I think even I could get a laugh with the determinedly odd notion of a lactating ironing board!)
The act features little in the way of actual jokes, and when the dialogue does come (Currie is fully ten minutes into his act before he actually says something) it’s delivered in a dizzying array of accents, volumes and speeds. An arch, patrician voice introduces a protracted spiel about spides, with the words 'This is the standard bit'. It’s anything but, of course.
Then there is Dansko Gida, the would-be deliverer of Belfast, arriving from the Cash Republic ('Everyone prefers Cash to Czech!') with a message of peace. This involves playing keyboards to Aha’s 'Take on me' with a singing puppet.
Currie joins in on the choruses, further enhancing the puppet’s performance by tweaking its groin with a variety of implements for the high notes. There is a lot of music in this show. It’s testament to Currie's ability as a performer that whatever musical piece it is – Hawaiian lap steel, a 1980s cop show theme or John William’s 'Cavatina' (the theme from a game of puppet Russian roulette) that none of the music outstays its welcome.
Currie inhabits each song, adding Flick Colby chorographical flourishes, in a whirlwind of dizzying nonsense. And that’s what this show is: nonsense. Beautifully crafted, committed and exciting silliness. And what’s wrong with that?
The Belly Laughs Comedy Festival ran from September 30 to October 7.