Paul Savage

Comedian, host, cartoonist, astronaut, occasional liar

Archive Feb 2012: Being Rolo Tomassi

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About a month back, I read the book of one of my all time favourite films, L.A Confidential. It’s rather different from the film, in that it packs in a lot more conspiracies (For instance, Ed Exley in the film is an orphan. In the book, his Dad is a property developer and machiavellian politician. If there’s one thing I’ve learn from crime books and Scooby Doo, property development is inherently evil). It is also different in that none of the book’s characters are likeable or good. It is old-timey racist as all get out (be careful, it seeps in. Rob Halden, who lent me the book, said he found himself for a week after thinking thoughts like “they’ve jewed me on the price” and had to be careful not to say it out loud. Especially in Kiketown). And, it doesn’t have Rolo Tomassi.

In the film, Rolo Tomassi was the person who murdered Exley’s father. Except he wasn’t, he was just a name that he picked out to give some focus to his feelings as he didn’t know who shot his dad. (It is also the name of a Sheffield based “mathcore” band who I found whilst checking the spelling and who, having checked them out on Spotify, I can comfortably report are awful).

I have my own Rolo Tomassi thing for comedy. Stand up comedy is a strange world to take a fragile ego. Most comedians think that all their stuff is gold and at the same time know all their stuff is the inane ramblings of a useless hack. My Rolo Tomassi thing is that there is an act, we shall call him… lets say Adolf Spetznaz. Rudiger Von Chase. Chip Baggins. Oswald Fenchman. Mithril Impetigo. Marc Kram. Whatever his name, he’s an act who should just give up. You see him, doing his stuff to muted responses or downright apathy when he’s always on Facebook talking about how he stormed it. Casually dropping the names of the big act he was on with last week into conversation “as I said to E4 McHaircut last week…”. If you run a gig, you’ll get emails from him when you’ve been really specific about what you want: “I can do that closing 45 minute corporate for you”. No, no you can’t. You might be willing but you’re unable. Turning up to new material nights and plodding through the same tedious things he’s said a hundred times before. Bigging himself up and then dying a death.

At various points in my career, I have probably been guilty of all of these. It gets to a certain point where you wonder if you’re in the right hobby, whether it wouldn’t be much better for everyone if someone came across, and like a grizzled old coach in a boxing movie, put their arm across your shoulders and told you to give up. Sometimes you need Danny Glover to tell you you’re too old for this shit.

Certain acts have bogey comedians, acts that are always the harbinger of doom. KevĀ  Sheperd is mine, a lovely man who has done sterling work both times I have worked with him. Once he was MC and I was opener, and I cocked that up completely (see for details) and once when I was MC and he was opener, and I didn’t shush the people quietly ordering drinks at the bar, who turned out not to be quietly ordering drinks but having full blown rows and ruining the audience’s entire night. Kev probably thinks I’m well shit, out of my depth, asking for gigs I shouldn’t be getting. He doesn’t know that the twice he’s seen me have been two of my top 20 bad gigs.

It’d be narrratively satisfying if I had seen an act who I’d thought was Rolo Tomassi but turned out I’d seen them on a bad day, or if an act or promoter who thought I was Rolo Tomassi had seen me and been all “You’re awesome. do all my gigs, sign to my agency, here’s a panel show themed around you starting on BBC 2 next week”. But it didn’t.

Instead, left over from a weird gig I never got round to writing up, here is a picture of Chris Purchase onstage, down a well, with a hand-puppet fox.

You’re welcome.

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