Tony Law at the Soho Theatre: Nonsense Made Accessible

Last night for the first time in ages, I really enjoyed myself. I had such a good evening. I laughed more than I have done for a long time. It felt great to be out having fun again with everyone else, without having to pretend that I could hear the jokes when I couldn’t or laughing at the wrong moments.

I went to see the comedian Tony Law’s live stand-up comedy show called ‘Nonsense Overdrive’ at the Soho Theatre with my wife Joanna. I first saw Tony Law’s routine earlier this year at a ‘Stand Up for Labour’ event, which I thought was really funny then, but I missed out a lot on the jokes and his humour because there wasn’t any subtitling at the venue. Last night though, for one night only, there was live subtitling of his act, which is the main reason why I booked it. I was really looking forward to laughing along with the rest of the audience and it being fully accessible to me.


I must admit, though, that I did wonder beforehand how the stenographer would possibly be able to cope with the real-time subtitling of his crazy and bizarre monologue, which often seems unstructured and completely random. Last night though, the live subtitling on the screen above the stage was brilliant. Claire Hill, the stenographer, managed to keep up with him perfectly in terms of the speed at which he was talking and the accuracy of his bizarre complex language, which went from ‘olden-day’ language (to use his words) to sci-fi gibberish. I have to hand it to her for doing such a brilliant job, as it must have been very difficult.

In fact, Tony incorporated the subtitling as part of his act by testing Claire’s ability to spell his very bizarre, difficult to spell words and to keep up with him, which was hilariously funny to watch. He seemed to be really enjoying it, and Claire rose brilliantly to the challenge, even getting her own back on him sometimes by her skill and speed at transcribing his often unintelligible nonsense brilliantly.

When he appeared on the stage in this basement comedy venue, I knew immediately that we were in for a pretty crazy, nonsensical time. With his wild unkempt hair and moustache, his mad eyes and old-fashioned breeches, he looked like a cross between a salty old sea dog and an Antarctic explorer from a bygone era. He totally dominated the stage with his presence and larger-than-life personality.


At first his routine sounded like random nonsense, but then I realised after a while that it was very clever and very funny. He has a great ability to laugh at himself and often he starts off describing a perfectly normal event or concept such as the joys of bringing up small children or observations on trying to fit in among his middle-class neighbours in North London, but he ends up digressing into a bizarre set of surreal thoughts and circumstances, which only his unique, crazy mind would be capable of inventing.

For instance, he described the panic and feelings of inadequacy he experienced at being invited as a guest at a posh middle-class dinner party in North London. There then followed a description of a hilariously crazy sequence of events when he went to the bathroom at his hosts’ house and couldn’t find the toilet roll. He ended up being rescued and whisked off into outer space by his invented cartoon characters, ‘Space Bear’ and ‘Owl Cat’. The story was so ridiculously absurd, but I couldn’t help laughing along with the rest of the audience, as the way he described it was so colourful and ridiculous.  It was kind of like the famous toilet scene from ‘Trainspotting’ suddenly turning into a scene from ‘Star Wars’.

At the end of his routine Tony got a few members of the audience to act out a scene with his ‘Space Bear’ and ‘Owl Cat’ puppets on-stage, which was hysterical and ludicrous at the same time. It was so funny to watch him running across the stage with his puppets and mad facial expressions. He really seemed to be enjoying himself in a mischievous kind of way, and the feeling was contagious.


Although I couldn’t make them out myself apart from through the subtitling, my wife told me that he also has this brilliant, unique ability to put on different accents, as well as using bizarre language, ranging from a broad Cockney accent to posh North London middle class, Canadian, Viking and a racist 1970s South African Afrikaans voice. He described how you needed to put on at least three different accents to survive on the way to the tube just in case you get into trouble. At times during the routine, it seemed as if he didn’t know where his mind would take him next and if there was any meaning or logic to what he was telling us. I guess it adds to the element of surprise and unpredictability but it also means that his ramblings end up taking his audience to some bizarre places conjured up by his random, crazy mind.

I really enjoyed watching this performance last night. It was such good fun and Tony was like a breath of fresh air. What really made it for me was being able to follow Tony’s routine along with the rest of the audience, without feeling excluded and missing out on the jokes.  This was only made possible through the brilliant live subtitling and access provided by Soho Theatre. I loved it when he made the subtitling part of his act by playfully testing how fast and accurately the stenographer could keep up with him on the screen.  I only wish that more live stand-up comedy events like this could have subtitling to increase access for other deaf and hard of hearing people, as it is the first time I’ve seen it used at an event like this. I’m now really looking forward to seeing the next one there in January.

I’m going to have my first assessment for a cochlear implant on Friday, so at least this has now put me in a good mood for being put in the scanner. I still have a big smile on my face when I think about it now!