STEVE RUDD (@RUDDONTHEROAD)
INTERVIEW WITH JULIA ARMSTRONG (Sheffield Newspapers)
What aspects of Tommy Cooper does the audience see?
Commemorating 30 years since his sad passing, this is a special tribute show compiling rarely seen material from his early days and the very best of his gags and tricks from his extensive career. A celebration of Tommy Cooper and his unique comic genius – with magic, music and mirth.
What eras of his life does the show look at?
The show is my interpretation of what it would have been like seeing Tommy Cooper in his best environment – working a live audience. Imagine you’re going to see him live, in the late 1960s or early 70s, when he was at the very top of his game. That’s exactly what we’re trying to recapture. Glad to say the audiences so far have been very flattering in their applause. Makes it all worthwhile.
Were you a big fan before you started work on the show?
I’ve always been a huge Tommy Cooper fan, even though I wasn’t born until a few years after his death. I appreciate his excellent comic timing and his joy at making other people laugh. He was unique. “There are hundreds of good magicians in this country,” he said. “I’m going to be the fool.” The production came about when I read a brilliant, eye-opening biography on him and my admiration for his talent and performance grew. He was certainly one of the very biggest icons of the 20th century. Recognisable everywhere.
Has doing it changed your view of him at all?
I’ve come to really understand and appreciate his perfectionism and professionalism. He didn’t drink before a show. He triple-checked his props. He always adapted his act to the venues, and always brought something new to keep the show lively and fresh. He was ruthless in his craft.
Why do you think he is still so popular today?
He is simply timeless. None of his material is political, crude or satirical. He relied on word play, slapstick, surprise and storytelling to entertain thousands. They are timeless attributes. The fact he looked ‘funny’ and had ‘funny bones’ also went in his favour.
Was it hard learning to do his tricks?
To an extent. It’s like Les Dawson playing the piano – you need to know how to do it well, to do it wrong. The hardest job was structuring the show, and deciding which gags and pieces made it in. He had a wealth of material.
What is your favourite Tommy Cooper routine?
So many! As a viewer, I’d say the ‘Empty Cabinet’ (where a cabinet was brought on, showed to be empty, covered by a curtain, uncovered… and was empty.) His timing and reactions are simply impeccable and has me howling with laughter every time I watch it. As a performer, there are at least six ‘surefire gags’ which have the audiences bent double in hysterics. I love performing them. Having a guaranteed giggle is wonderful. “I had a ploughman’s lunch yesterday. He wasn’t half mad!” Snappy stuff like that. Wonderful.
INTERVIEW WITH ‘THE NEW CURRENT’ MAGAZINE
Tell me a little bit about your show, how did it come about?
Simply put, Tommy Cooper was unique. Unlike many of his contemporaries he stood by his stage act, which had brought him the acclaim in the first place. But there are no recordings of his live cabaret work. So I wanted to give my interpretation of Tommy Cooper in his ‘natural environment’ – working a live audience.
What was it about comedy that made you go ‘yeah this is me’?
I don’t know which is the greater feeling, laughing or making people laugh. This is a challenging way of finding out I suppose.
What have been your best experiences on stage?
For this show it was on our third preview, when everything started to click into place. Our first standing ovation was also a fantastic feeling.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced with the show?
I am one for perfectionism, although in a show like this, that’s a good thing. Realising the challenge of recreating not only a widely regarded and respected icon, but also a personal idol, is obviously a bit of a mind-bender! It’s great when aficionados, Tommy’s relatives and people who knew him say I’m doing a good job. That means the most.
How did you get into comedy, has it always been something you’ve wanted to do?
I never was but always admired the class clown. But I think my Dad and Granddad subliminally taught me that making people laugh actually gets you out of a lot of trouble! Having a whimsical slight on life is nothing but beneficial.
What was your first time like on stage, any nerves?
Playing someone who is instantly recognisable has its pros and cons. The pros are that the audience are on your side; they want you to succeed. The cons are that you really can’t let them down! The first five minutes are crucial, but not in an aggressive way. I doubt Tommy would ever have gone out there with an abrasive front. Ken Dodd calls it ‘wooing the audience’. I like to think of it like that.
Do you have any rituals before you go on stage?
I run through the first fifteen minutes and triple check the magic props! I got caught out once. Never again!
What has been the best heckle you’ve gotten on stage?
There’s a trick where a volume of milk seems to multiply. A punter shouted “Can you do the same with wine?!” That often pops into my head now.
Who have been your biggest inspirations?
Tommy Cooper is pretty high up there! I’m star-struck by the energy and relentlessness of people like Lee Evans and Ken Dodd. In my opinion Groucho Marx, Peter Cook, Harry Hill and Peter Sellers are all unrivalled in their own particular styles.
What are the best 5 words to describe your show?
Non-stop mayhem and mirth (Just-Like-That!)
What has been the best advice you’ve been given?
There’s no such thing as an old joke, and if you’ve heard it before then chances are it’s worth hearing again!
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from your show?
Their hats, coats and any leftover children!