Many people debate the use of the term “alternative comedian”. Does it actually mean anything anymore when someone who would have been considered an “alternative comedian” can sell out the Apollo?
Someone who does fit definition in the truest sense of the word is Michael Brunström. A true alternative in the sense that there’s nobody like him on the circuit.
Our first introduction to his work was seeing him recite the works of Geoffrey Chaucer while making cereal in his trousers. Now that’s alternative. With his latest show The Hay Wain Reloaded coming to the Museum Of Comedy, we are lucky enough to have him explain his inspiration…
Last year I won an award for ‘comic originality’. As everyone knows, it’s dead easy to be original. It’s much easier than copying other people. After all, it takes many years of patient craft and skill to create an act that is perfectly indistinguishable from everyone else, whereas any amateurish idiot can be ‘alternative’. That’s why I admire so-called ‘mainstream comedians’ so much, and aspire to be more like them. The other day, I witnessed a ‘mainstream comedian’ being successful on TV and was spellbound, transfixed in silent amazement.
I rather suspect John Constable (1776–1837) felt the same way about the ‘mainstream painters’ of his day. He was original, but not popular or successful for most of his own lifetime. Maybe that was because his best paintings were of Suffolk, which didn’t interest many people. Or maybe it was because there were no awards for originality in the Regency era. But nowadays Constable is famous. He has ‘made it’, and his paintings are copied all the time, particularly his masterpiece, The Hay Wain (1821). You’ll find it on tea towels, commemorative plates, jigsaws, mouse mats, beach balls, etc. Chances are, if you think you’re looking at The Hay Wain, you’re actually looking at a copy, rather than the original.
Not all the copies are very good ones, but just think how hard it is to do a good copy of The Hay Wain. Reproducing a Constable requires much more skill and talent than painting one from scratch. For a start, you have to get everything right. You’re absolutely not allowed to make any mistakes. When a copyist makes a mistake, their boss shrieks ‘That’s no Constable!’ and refuses to pay them. When Constable made mistakes, no one noticed. The critics simply shrugged, rolled their collective eyes and said, rather condescendingly, ‘Oh Constable, what are you like?’ It was a rhetorical question, because Constable wasn’t like anyone except Constable, and no one much cared what Constable was like back then anyway, except Constable himself. And Constable’s father.
I recommend going to visit the original Hay Wain, in the National Gallery. It may surprise you. You may find more ‘mistakes’ in it than you were expecting. The Hay Wain Reloaded is my attempt at making my own version of Constable’s landscape. The aim isn’t to produce an accurate copy – I’m not an experienced enough comedian to pull off that stunt – but I hope at least to be original in the same way that Constable was original, even if that means I’m as unlikely to get on TV as he was. That’s why I describe myself as a ‘landscape comedian’. To my knowledge, there isn’t another one, so I can legitimately claim on my bio to be ‘the world’s finest landscape comedian’.
Michael Brunström: The Hay Wain Reloaded
Friday 28th October
Museum of Comedy