Paul Foot is everything you’d hope him to be. In town to spruik his new show ’Tis A Pity She’s A Piglet (an examination of a concept he’s coined “literal surrealism”), he’s all wide-eyed and mulleted, mod strides and razor sharp ties, treading the line of eccentric geek goes cool AF. He’s smart, impeccably courteous, funny, awkward and weird, all of which culminates in him pretending to be a deer and getting up in our grill in order to demonstrate how his fear of fawns developed.
An Oxford mathematics graduate, the UK comedian’s humour is clever and wordy without being snotty, while remaining psychedelically absurd. It’s not uncommon for Foot to spend half a show introducing what’s yet to unfold, and occupying the rest with surreal musings that sometimes escalate into rants – even if it’s at the cost of disturbing the audience. Take his character Penny, for example: Foot morphs into a deeply unbalanced hairdresser from Streatham who lures the audience in with an invitation to ask her personal questions.
A friend of mine who’s a creative person says you can burn yourself out. I say, ‘Great, bring it on.’
I think it’d be fun.
“Penny has to go too far, that’s the whole point,” Foot says. “It seems to have some sort of impact on people, but it is quite disturbing. All the time it’s treading that line, and I suppose that’s what makes it work – that line of, ‘Has Paul actually gone mad?’ That’s why at the end I say, ‘Entertainment there from Penny,’ and people are relieved. ‘Oh, Paul really is alright, he hasn’t had a nervous breakdown.’”
In a way, Penny is representative of Foot’s approach to life. Balance is not really his forte; he takes it to the limit or does nothing at all. “A friend of mine who’s a creative person says you can burn yourself out. I say, ‘Great, bring it on.’ I think it’d be fun. When one is really busy, you feel intensely alive. But one tends to feel intensely alive at both ends of the spectrum.
“You can also feel it when things are very un-busy. I once stayed at this cottage, which was like having a retreat. I came out and spoke to the man who owned the main house and I said, ‘Oh, have the bins gone out yet?’ and he said, ‘I think they’ve gone out, so there’s no point taking a bin out.’ Anyway, I said, ‘Oh well, it’s worth a look, just in case they haven’t taken them out.’ So then I had to walk for ten minutes to the end of the driveway, because it was on massive grounds, and discovered that the bins hadn’t been taken out. Then I walked ten minutes back and said, ‘Actually the bins haven’t been taken out,’ and he said, ‘Well you might as well take them out.’ So I had to walk back. It was 40 minutes of doing almost nothing in a very inefficient manner and I felt totally alive then too.” ■