About fifteen years ago, I was in a comedy club somewhere in the City. The City in question being London. There’d been amusing-enough stand ups, but nothing to rock you in your socks. Then a guitar-wielding Viking appeared, and it all went funny.
Mitch Benn isn’t actually a Viking, although they crop up in his songs from time to time, and there is a resemblance. Someone put it on Wikipedia, though, and it sort of got stuck to his image. He is actually a Liverpool-born Scot, an arresting presence, who at his hairiest could have stalked onto the set of “Lord Of The Rings” without immense attention from wigs and makeup. A big chap, but not as big as he was. He has lost ten stone, an entire person. However, I’ll get to that bit later.
The important thing is that he is playing Liverpool again after a long absence, in which he has been successfully gigging, and becoming a star of stage, radio and television. Unlike the majority of comedians who use songs in their acts, he is an accomplished and versatile musician. “I think” he tells SevenStreets, “that you really ought to try to be as good as the person you are parodying”. And he is.
Effortless pastiche comes naturally to him,try “Please Don’t Release This Song” for a sharp twist of Lennon,and his Coldplay songs could seamlessly enhance one of their albums. He mentions his admiration of Neil Innes, and there is a resemblance in their shared ability to lampoon tunefully, whilst producing lyrics that are both sharply observed and delightfully silly.
He also has an accurately acute eye for visual parody, as a quick trawl of Youtube will attest.
He is prolific in his inventiveness, with a regular podcast, the Now Show, three series of “Mitch Benn’s Crimes Against Music, and his own show on Radio7 under his considerably smaller belt.
We discuss his remarkable weight loss, and the effect it has had on his life, voice, and stage persona.
“My size was never a feature of my act” he says “I was a fat kid, and it it wasn’t much fun, but I was accustomed to it. My stage character is quite cocky, and confident. A fat bloke who thinks he’s all that is quite funny, and endearing. A normal-size bloke who comes over that way is…arrogant, it’s just not charming.”
Has it affected his voice, I ask him? “Actually, I think it has,for the better, but most of my gigs since the weight loss have been solo; it will be interesting to see what it’s like with the band”. The band in question are the excellent Distractions, who will be with him at the Unity Theatre on the 15h November.
We talk about the Liverpool urge to take the piss, combined with the traditional love of music that proliferates in the city, and I suggest that he might be one of the “Cultured Scouse Radicals” that the city is currently celebrating. “The thing is,it’s affectionate. You enjoy parodying someone much more if you actually like spending some time with their music.”
He is certainly a son of the city, attending Dovedale Primary, and later the Bluecoat School. Mitch was also, as so many of our exported talent, nurtured at the Everyman Youth Theatre. He’s thrilled to be back in Liverpool, not least because his Mum can come and see him.
So I think the least we can do is go along to the Unity Theatre for a tremendously entertaining evening and welcome him and the Distractions warmly.
Mitch Benn,then: witty words, great music, and despite impressive physical shrinkage, a massive talent.
Mitch Benn and The Distractions
Unity Theatre, 15 November