ED2013 Columns ED2013 Comedy

Simon Evans: Being Leashed

By | Published on Thursday 8 August 2013

Simon Evans

Simon Evans returns to the pages of ThreeWeeks to explain why he prefers his comedians to be ‘Leashed’.

I have called my show for Edinburgh 2013 ‘Leashed’. I’m not sure why. Like many of the big decisions in my life – getting married, having kids, growing out my nasal hair – I have just gone ahead and done it. Often, these serve a single, small private joke. In the case of the above examples, the jokes are all at the expense of my father, though he has yet to realise it. Boy, is he gonna be mad!

However, having committed to the title, I now have to post-rationalise some sort of justification for it. A Thought For The Day style “but actually, you know, when you stop to really think about it, in a sense we are all leashed, aren’t we? Leashed… to God”.

So, here goes.

I called it ‘Leashed’ because it’s partly about owning a dog, which is something I now do (another joke at the expense of my old man. Heh heh!). I called it ‘Leashed’ because like most men of my age and fitness, I find myself yearning vaguely for freedom from time to time, some escape from the surly bonds of Earth or at least my own sofa. I called it ‘Leashed’ because it offers the possibility of a Sean Connery joke or two, without which no Edinburgh show is complete.

And I also called it ‘Leashed’ because that is the kind of comedy I aspire to, as against that you might get from a stand up who would call a show ‘Unleashed’.

I have never felt Unleashed on stage, but then to be honest, I have never really enjoyed watching comedians who are unleashed, who take pride in their leashedlessness. Unleashed comedians often revere whisky snorting, tobacco swilling, early dying US comics like Sam Kinison as their gods. I’m 48 now and I think it is probably time to admit, I don’t get it. I’m more of a Frank Muir kind of guy.

Frank wrote for most of his life on a very short leash indeed. In his day, any material which was proposed for public consumption had to be submitted to the Lord Chancellor’s office, where it would be analysed for possible seditious or inflammatory content, for crudity or profanity and for innuendo or double entendre. It is worth noting that verbal constructions, which had a second meaning of a more salacious nature, were in the 1950s considered so unBritish that there was no word in English to describe them, and we had to use Spanish or French terms to describe them. Nowadays, they are known as “jokes”.

Once cleared by English scholars, the material was inspected by speakers of the various foreign tongues of the Commonwealth to see if any unfortunate misunderstandings could arise if it were, for instance, accidentally heard by a visiting Fijian dignitary or Canadian lumber merchant.

If despite reassurances from his department, the Lord Chancellor remained uneasy about a given passage, he would take a copy of the dubious text home with him and casually introduce the suspect line into conversation at the dinner table, having first alerted his domestic staff to be on hand with the smelling salts in case of upset sensibilities. His butler would then be asked to perform the same function below stairs, and report back. Only if the material passed off without any discernable offence being taken on either occasion would the Chancellor sign off the material to be approved for rehearsal.

We may think these measures extreme, but they exerted the pressure under which were formed the diamonds of Muir and Norden, Took and Feldman and their ilk. Even today, many years since government ceased its meddling, realising that comedy was in fact a useful sedative to the populace rather than a likely provocation, it remains the imagined presence of a ghostly Lord Chancellor that surely sharpens the devious wit of the likes if Ian Pattinson, whose brilliantly subversive lines for Humphrey Littleton on ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’ were so ingenious one could almost believe Littleton himself was oblivious to the filth for which he was a conduit. No-one would ever have suggested Littleton and Pattinson would have been better Unleashed and I hope to that extent at least I can toil in his shadow with pride.

And if you don’t agree, then F*** You.

Simon Evans’ ‘Leashed’ was performed at The Stand at Edinburgh Festival 2013