Monday, 7 March 2016

Q & A with Dave Cohen

Acclaimed comedy writer Dave Cohen has got a new show, it's called "Music Was My First Love". Dave says: "It's a tale of music, falling out with dad and other folks. An epic journey poem, like The Odyssey, with jokes." The show is being performed 3 times at The Poetry Cafe and each time he'll be joined by a different special guest. Dave is a prolific writer whose responsible for almost all the songs in Horrible Histories and has contributed to magazines such as NME, Radio shows such as Dead Ringers and various TV shows such as Have I Got News For You? Now read on...
The Rebel: Covent Garden's Poetry Cafe is a great venue. How did your 3 shows there come about? Dave Cohen: "I wrote a stand-up poem a few years ago and almost accidentally found it. My God it's perfect. A West end venue, intimate, devoted to poetry... Then I completely forgot about it. I was asking around the comedy circuit for venues to try the new show, and the comedian Andre Vincent said 'it's a poem, why not do it at the Poetry Café? ' Well duh."
(A few years back) Chris Rock said he wouldn't want to go on stage and do his act after Joan Rivers had done hers. Jimmy Tarbuck said the same thing about Victoria Wood. Seeing as your 3 specials guests are all men. Can you name 3 female comics/performers that you couldn't top and would dread to have to come on stage and perform after they'd done their set? "Back in my stand up days absolutely nobody followed Jo Brand, ever. Once I had to go on after her because she was rushing to another gig. You could almost hear the energy following her out the door. Funnily enough only this week I went to a gathering of old mates commemorating ten years since Linda Smith died. She was another regular stormer in the early 90s. I don't see a huge amount of live stuff these days, but judging by her telly appearances I don't think I would like to follow Katherine Ryan."
Your home Town is Leeds. Do you love Leeds? Which parts of Leeds are lovely? "I left Leeds 40 years ago but parts of it have never left me. I used to sing about it in my act - 'Leeds, so good they named it once'. It got hip and trendy about three weeks after I left. It was a cultural desert, then punk happened and it became cool, or swag as they say nowadays. Ooh I could tell you some stories about Leeds - in fact I am doing, at the Poetry Cafe on 24 March, 28 April and 19 May."
Could you describe an average day in the life of Dave Cohen? "I don't think I have had an average day since August 1983 when I quit my day job to do comedy. Although since having kids I've had to plan my days more carefully, around swimming lessons, piano practice and early morning drop offs."
Is teaching courses in how to write Sit Coms a serious business -are there many laughs during your sessions at King's Cross? "I love teaching sitcom writing because, from a totally selfish point of view, it teaches me to become a better sitcom writer. When we're coming up with new ideas we can get so carried away with excitement that we forget the basics. Big laughs, yes, a few, and free biscuits. Never underestimate the importance of free biscuits."
Have you ever read or been to see the Trevor Griffiths play Comedians? If so, were you impressed / what did you come away thinking? "The Comedians was a seminal work from the 70s that laid bare the old school my generation were about to trash. It was fantastic when it came out and inspiring to us, although it hasn't aged well. Which is fine, it was of its time."
In 1987 you toured with Phil Cornwall and Felix Dexter - both men were known for their characters and ability to impersonate whoever they liked? Did you get to know either of them and have any serious chats or did they tend to just talk in silly voices? "We toured that show with Ivor Dembina for two years, and it made us very close. When you spend hours together in cars and overnight in crappy B and B's there's not a lot you don't know about each other. The silly voices were saved for the stage, although Felix would often serenade us as Johnny Mathis, annoyingly. I still miss the old boy. I don't see Phil so much but every time we meet we end up talking in the catchphrases that came out of those days. It was a great experience."
To what extent do you agree with Ivor Dembina on his take on the Israel/Palestine conflict? Could you ever conceive of adding your signature to the list of writers and performers who believe there should be a cultural boycott of Israel? My take on Israel and Palestine is pretty central to the story of the show so I won't say too much here. I think there is a strong case for BDS but the areas where some Palestinians and Israeli Arabs say it would be counterproductive are cultural and academic, as this hurts no-one economically, but plays into the hands of the current Israeli government. In foreign affairs, I would call myself a Tatchellite.
What would be your 8 desert Island discs and what book would you take with you? "Only 8? Oh crikey. Well it would have to be albums I never get bored of... Fulfillingness First Finale by Stevie Wonder, Hissing of Summer Lawns by Joni Mitchell, Who's Next, and Songs of Strength and Heartbreak by The Mighty Wah. King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown by Augustus Pablo. Oh no, only three left. Supertramp - Crime Of The Century. Don't mock me, that is a brilliant album. I really need to take two more Joni albums - Hejira, say, and Court and Spark - but instead for variety I'll throw in Chopin's Nocturnes played by Rubinstein, and Before And After Science by Brian Eno."
On the 19th of May your special guest at The Poetry Cafe is one of the Godfathers of Alternative Comedy: Mr John Dowie. John hasn't performed for quite some time. Did he need much coaxing? "A little. I wrote the sleeve notes for his 2013 CD compilation, and noted that he hadn't performed since 2002, and before that 1991, so set up the idea we're due a Dowie revival."
Some say School Days were the happiest of their life. When was the best time to be Dave Cohen? "There was a period of about a year round 82-83 when I was working as a journalist in South Wales, and all these people I knew who were doing comedy were becoming huge stars. I was a bit depressed then, but made up my mind to give up the journalism and move to London. That was August 83. Been pretty good ever since." -------------------------------------------------- Don't miss the three shows that Dave is doing at The Poetry Cafe (Betterton Street, Covent Garden, 8pm £7) Thursday 24 March special guest ARTHUR SMITH reading his poetry Thursday 28 April special guest JOHN HEGLEY Thursday 19 May special guest JOHN DOWIE reading from his new book For more info:

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