First published on AOL Asylum.co.uk (March 9th 2011) //
Asylum chats to comic Alex Horne about death, life and whatnot.
When Alex Horne isn’t on stage performing his distinct variety of thinking-cap comedy, he’s doing his best not to die.
We mean that literally. Right now, Horne is on an (incidentally) Innocent drinks-sponsored mission to become the world’s oldest man. No mean feat. Unless you like fruit smoothies. And though the campaign seems at first a little frivolous and perhaps just a very impractical joke, with a closer look it turns out to be a strangely worthwhile exercise: a young man blogging about death in a rational and naturally wry way.
But when he isn’t trying not to die (too many negatives), Horne is getting on with the business of being funny. His stand-up has been met with critical approval, and has earned him a few nominations and even some early wins, although admittedly one of those was a Christmas Cracker joke writing competition at the Budgens where he used to work. It all exploded from there. With a little paper hat.
Horne’s latest show, ‘The Horne Section‘, is a jazz comedy hootenanny running until the end of March at the Lyric Theatre. We sat down for a little Q&A.
Read on for the full account.
Has winning awards early in your career affected your work?
Despite the best efforts of my publicists I only actually won one award, the slightly nebulous Chortle ‘Breakthrough’ Award. I did come third in the Amused Moose Competition in 2001 and was nominated for the Perrier Newcomer in 2003, but the main effect of all these was that occasionally in interviews I get asked how winning awards has affected my work. In summary – no effect on my work, but some small effect on my career. Possibly.
What is it you strive for in your shows?
Number one: be funny. Number two: be interesting. Number three: don’t be (too) derivative. Number four: fit all props in one car.
There has been quite an educational/experimental slant to your shows, how do you pick out these topics? Where does the inspiration come from?
I try to talk in a funny way about things that I find interesting. It’s as simple as that. Although last year I tried to write a funny show about golf. I find golf interesting. Unfortunately it turns out no one else does. So I ended up writing a show about Quantum Mechanics. That has more universal appeal than golf.
How about your new show, The Horne Section? Is rhythm just a big part of comedy as it is in jazz?
Absolutely. But that’s partly because, as far as I can tell, rhythm can be discarded in jazz too. Comedy and jazz are both pretty free form.
How long were you working at Budgens?
I worked in Budgens for six months.
Were they good times?
They were very happy times. I had a clip-on tie, a name badge and friends. We would all watch TFI Fridays then get drunk on Friday nights. It was an excellent time.
Who are your favourite writers or comedians?
I tend to like whichever writer I’m currently reading. Right now that’s E.H. Gombrich. English isn’t even his first language but I wish I could write like him. Favourite comedian: Sean Lock. There, never said that before. Why not? Yes, Sean Lock.
What do you think of the whole interview procedure, is it worthwhile to ask someone to discuss his/her work?
Ironically, a good question. Without this question, this interview may have been worthless. As it is, definitely worthwhile. You may as well ask someone to discuss their work. But I’m always more comfortable when I can discuss something other than myself, like birds or jazz. Whatever happens I always end up sounding a little bit pretentious.
Have you ever had to punch a man?
Not only have I never had to, I never have. I’m sure I will one day. I sort of hope I will. The closest I’ve come so far is being punched in the ear. The ear then went black. Black ears get far less press than black eyes but they do exist.
Do you consider your comedy ‘alternative’?
My comedy is niche. By which I mean, not many people watch it. It’s an alternative but it’s not alternative. Sometimes it’s barely comedy. So, no.
Do you consciously try to evolve through each of your performances?
Hopefully not consciously, but I suppose I do try to make sure each show is different and so there will be a certain amount of evolution. I’m not sure if it’s me that’s evolving though – maybe just revolving. My first Edinburgh show was probably still my best.
Is there a purpose to your performance other than the audience’s and your own enjoyment? Are there ideas you find yourself returning to?
I don’t want to be too self-deprecating, but no, I don’t think there’s any great purpose to what I do – other than having fun, being funny, and, hopefully, being interesting so that if the first two don’t work there’s always something.
Are there any comedians, or styles, that you particularly respect? And any that you don’t?
I do respect proper satirists. I can’t do it. I also respect improvisers like Ross Noble. I can’t do it. And impressionists. I can’t do it. There’s a pattern here.
Who would you say your influences are? Or actually, does the idea of listing them seem arbitrary and tedious?
Not necessarily arbitrary, but certainly tedious. Sorry. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents actually influenced me more than anyone else.
What do you think of the brand of comedy that usually fills stadiums and sells millions of DVDs?
I don’t think there is a brand really. The Mighty Boosh does all that, so did the Mary Whitehouse Experience. If you’re very popular lots of people will come to see you. And then loads of other people will assume you’re awful.
Are you at your happiest when on stage, or when writing your material, or neither?
There are different shades of happy. I’m very happy when not thinking about comedy. But I’m very happy when on stage. Comedically I’m probably most happy when I’m on stage, mucking about, and it’s going well. That’s a great feeling.
Had any moments of despair when you’re performing? What has kept you going?
Much to my dismay, I still get incredibly frustrated by bad reviews. Not even bad reviews, mediocre reviews. Three star reviews. But only when I’ve done a show that I’m really proud of. I know I shouldn’t care but it does make you think, well, that was the best I could possibly have done, what next? But that feeling only lasts a day or so.
Do you think stand-up comedy is limited in any way?
I love Powerpoint and Powerpoint is seriously limited. That’s why I love it. I can have fun with the limits. Stand up is the same. You can always muck around with limits – cf speed limits.
Is there some kind of ideology behind your routines, something that you’re consciously trying to get across?
Absolutely not. But if there ever is one I’ll let you know. And if you spot one, let me know.
Has there ever been a moment when you’ve felt contempt for your audience? And how about hecklers?
No, just guilt on my part. The shows that have gone particularly badly (only a few over ten years so don’t get the wrong idea) have mainly been down to the audience expecting a different sort of show. That’s not their fault. Nor mine, really. I occasionally feel contempt for (well, vague annoyance towards) a promoter/booker.
Do you think a comedian has any other purpose than expression?
Please can you ask me about punching people again?
What do you think of the current state of comedy?
Well, I’m glad I’m up and running as a comedian. I’d hate to be starting now. It seems so competitive and so crowded. It’s also so expensive – everyone knows an Edinburgh show costs about £7000 to stage. But then again, it is wide open. You can do any sort of comedy and find an audience. You can do shows about birdwatching, Latin or jazz and people will come. Where’s it headed? Round and round and round and round and round.