ED2011 Columns ED2011 Comedy ED2011 Week2 Edition

Andrew O’Neill: On making metalheads laugh (and working with Alice Cooper)

By | Published on Monday 11 July 2011

Andrew O'Neill

As well as returning to Edinburgh with his show ‘Alternative’ this August, ThreeWeeks favourite Andrew O’Neill has recently been doing the metal circuit. No, he’s not given up comedy for music, but he is finding an appetite for his comedy show among music fans.
Which is good news for someone who’s always harboured a dream of being the next Freddie Mercury. This doing-jokes-for-metalheads strand of O’Neill’s career arguably reached its peak in June when he joined a certain Alice Cooper to co-host the annual awards of Metal Hammer magazine. We asked him to tell us what it’s like doing comedy for metal fans, how hosting the Golden Gods turned out, and what exactly was Mr Cooper like?

“Backstage at the Metal Hammer Golden Gods awards show back in June I came to a realisation: I was drinking another free beer, exchanging small talk with Alice Cooper and about to go back on stage to shout jokes at 1500 heavy metal loving teenagers. It struck me: “This is my fucking JOB”.

Ridiculous. The whole concept of being paid to show off for a living is ridiculous. And I’m increasingly convinced that sometime soon the world is going to turn round and say “so… you’d do this even if you didn’t get paid?” And me and Russell Brand and Lady Gaga will have to get proper jobs and do the showing off at weekends.

It’s a cliché that all stand-ups really want to be rock stars, but when I grew up I really wanted to be Freddie Mercury. My Dad wasn’t particularly happy about that. “Would you not rather be Brian May?” he’d say. “Nope. It’s all about the tache”, I’d reply.

Then, as my musical tastes developed, so did my aspirations. Public Enemy made me want to be politically active (and black), while Metallica made me want to make stadiums full of meatheads headbang. And that’s pretty much where I’ve remained. But the trouble is, I’ve always been better at comedy than music. I am in a couple of bands, but the comedy comes more naturally. And after the first time I saw Eddie Izzard perform, I realised I could do the whole joking thing on a stage and have an audience to play with that way. Which is what I’ve done. But then, being a rock star does still look like it might be more fun.

Which is why something like co-hosting the Golden Gods with Alice Cooper – or doing stand up at any of the metal festivals I’ve played this year (Sonisphere was amazing) – is absolutely perfect. I get to tell jokes, hang out with metal bands, meet my heroes and get audiences singing ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’! So, a happy ending!

But I know what you’re really interested in. What is Alice Cooper, my co-host for a night in June, really like? Well, ‘Wayne’s World’ painted a pretty accurate portrait of the man. He is a gentleman. He has amazing teeth, lifelike hair and the bearing of a kind wizard. He doesn’t like swearing, he doesn’t have any booze in his dressing room, and when I asked if he was fed up of people saying “WE’RE NOT WORTHY” he simply said, with only a hint of weariness, “Well, I hear it about 40 times a day”. He has a calmness, which is pretty natural, I guess, considering all he’s seen and done in his life. In my experience the more extreme a person’s on stage persona is, the more grounded and safe they are as people. If you make a living from staging executions, you have little to prove off-stage.

The Gods were brilliant. Although not everything went to plan. The band I was most excited about meeting was Judas Priest. I’ve listened to them since I was 16, and Rob Halford is one of my heroes. Not least because he came out as gay in the 90s. This is a big deal in the testosterone-fuelled world of metal, although he did give us a few clues. Dressed head-to-toe in leather and chains, carrying a whip and singing songs like ‘Hell Bent For Leather’, ‘Ram It Down’, ‘Delivering The Goods’ and ‘Eat Me Alive’, he was kind of hiding in plain sight. I love the idea that because of him a whole generation of metalheads wore the uniform of gay men while still being massively homophobic.

Now, thing is, I made a massive, horrible, nausea-inducing faux-pas with Judas Priest. I asked Rob to sign my cut-off denim jacket. An allowable fanboy moment in a night of otherwise consummate professionalism. He obliged, and so did Ken (KK Downing) their guitarist. I was excited and skipped off to talk to the guys from Down about it. Half an hour later the two guys from Priest were getting ready to go on stage to collect their award. I asked Ken where Glenn was tonight. “Er… I’m Glenn,” he replied. I nearly puked with embarrassment. They do look alike, honest.

Still, I did get to meet Judas Priest. Other highlights included greeting Bobby Hambell, the guitarist from Biohazard, like an old friend, cos my brain told me I knew him (only from pictures, brain!) Happily, he has the same technique as me when it comes to talking to people in that sort of environment and he pretended he knew me too. We are now buying a house together. And one of the really cool things about an event like this is how excited the young bands are to be involved. In fact, metal now has such a long history that even middle aged guys like Kirk Windstein from Down can get excited about meeting older bands like Judas Priest.

So, I found myself elevated to the position of rock star for the night. I signed some autographs, blew my voice out, got drunk for free and looked in vain for a TV opportunity. I met some of my heroes, made some friends and convinced Judas Priest I am a dick. Which, of course, I am”.

Andrew O’Neill’s show ‘Alternative’ was performed at Assembly George Square during Fringe 2011.

LINKS: www.andrewoneill.co.uk