Louise Ridley talks to Tim FitzHigham about his latest madcap adventure.
"It’s funny how you can be in considerable physical pain but people think you’re happy because you’re wearing bells.” Fringe veteran Tim FitzHigham, the man who rowed the Thames in a paper boat and the channel in a bath, returns this year with his latest tale of epic morris dancing. His adventure paid homage to Will Kemp, Shakespeare’s clown. “Kemp suggested a part for Hamlet, a comedy dog on wheels. Shakespeare refused and explained that Hamlet was not a barrel of laughs; it was going to depress A-level students, possibly for 400 years. Enraged, Kemp decided to show Shakespeare the true nature of comedy by morris dancing from London to Norwich.”Always keen to tackle the bizarre, Tim felt he should give it a go. Hopeless at dancing, he underwent a month and a half of intensive morris training. “I like to go into things with no expertise, to prove that anyone could do it. It’s a very English thing – people saying ‘Don’t do that, you can’t do that.’ I’ve never lost the belief that if you stick at something hard enough it will become possible – within the laws of gravity, of course. Morris dancing is an inefficient way of travelling. You hop every four steps and two out of every four are backwards.” Tim’s expedition – in full Jacobean attire – received mixed response: “People would drive past me and then come back again and again to see how far I’d got, or pull over and give me cash for the charities I was supporting, which was great! Some people said I was dressed like a wanker but I explained to them that it was the height of fashion in Kemp’s day.” He even got detained by police. “It could be that Morris dancing is the last form of anarchy left to us,” he says.Tim is the first to admit that his is a painful, if unique, brand of comedy: “I lost a toenail – not the most glamorous thing ever – and all the skin on my right foot.” So why does he do it? “I love it in cartoons when Jerry hits Tom over the head with a saucepan. Cartoon pain is funny; it’s extreme comedy. I laugh at myself when I see the things I do.”Like Kemp, Tim hopped into Norwich after nine days. His Fringe show, ‘The Bard’s Fool’, takes his audience through his arduous journey. “I only have an hour to tell the story. The flag ceremony is always an integral part of my show. Through my maritime connections [Tim is an honorary Waterman] I take the venue into my command so that if I say anything vaguely slanderous nothing will come of it.”Tim is an old hand at the Fringe: “I love going. It’s a solitary life as a clown; you go back to a hotel after a gig and potter around. At the Fringe you see all your mates, it’s great!” Comedy has changed since he won the Perrier Best Newcomer award in 1999: “Back then I wrote my show the night before, now people do things that they’ve polished since March. The creative process is hidden from the audience, which is a great shame. It used to be an ad hoc circus but it’s like an industry trade fair now. Comedy is very supportive at the moment, though. There are times when everyone’s niggling each other but right now it’s like an extended dysfunctional family.” As his show will demonstrate, Tim is this family’s outlandish son for whom no tree in the garden is too high to climb.
--Tim FitzHigham, Pleasance Courtyard, 30 Jul - 25 Aug, 6.00pm (7.00pm), prices vary, fpp 104.
published: Aug-2008 for Three Weeks newspaper at the Edinburgh Festival