I had a brilliant night out last week, which was a great start to my New Year. I went to see comedian Tony Law’s live comedy show ‘Enter the ToneZone’ at the Soho Theatre Comedy Club. Claire Hill provided the live subtitling, the same stenographer who did it the first time I saw him there, over a year ago.
I was really excited to go and watch him again after enjoying his show so much last time. In fact, this would be the third time, because I first saw him at a ‘Stand Up for Labour’ comedy night by chance about four years ago shortly after I first started to lose my hearing due to an illness. A friend of mine invited me to a live comedy night with various stand-up comedians. There was no live subtitling there, so even though I enjoyed Tony’s act as it was the first time I had seen it, I missed out on a lot of the humour and dialogue because I struggled to hear what he was saying.
When I saw him again at the Soho Theatre Comedy Club a year ago it was much easier for me to follow because of the live subtitling. At the time I was waiting for my cochlear implant assessment, having lost most of my hearing by then. It was a difficult time for me, so just being able to laugh along with the other people in the audience without feeling awkward or embarrassed because I had missed out on the punchlines was wonderful for me. His act was very funny, in a crazy, surreal sort of way. https://turnerrichard7.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/tony-law-at-the-soho-theatre-nonsense-made-accessible/
So, I wondered what it would be like to see him this time, not only with the subtitling but also now that I can hear much better again with my new cochlear implant. I arrived with my wife Joanna and friend Andrew, who is also partially deaf but wears hearing aids. We were seated in the front row really close to the stage, which was great, as we felt more connected to the show.
Tony burst onto the stage in a very strange tight onesie, complete with feathers, which looked like they had come straight from a Red Indian’s headdress, to cover his modesty. Immediately, he started joking about and playing around with the subtitles suddenly appearing on the big screen behind him. Like last time, he was delighting in trying to test Claire, the stenographer, to type his crazy, rapid words on the screen, and he seemed delighted that she was keeping up with him at lightning speed.
Sitting in the front row, it was the first time I had ever heard his voice and I could hear it really clearly. Throughout his act, he put on lots of different accents, which I could pick up this time when I couldn’t before and it was really funny. On the screen behind him, Claire was typing not just what Tony was saying but how he was saying it, which was something I hadn’t noticed before. For instance, she typed things like (“East End Cockney gangster”) and described the strange sounds he was making, which must be difficult to do.
I contacted Claire a few days afterwards and asked her how she prepared for a comedy show like Tony Law’s and how she managed to keep up with his fast, crazy dialogue. She told me that it takes quite a lot of preparation beforehand. She started off by getting an audio recording of his show from a couple of nights before at the same venue. She ran through the recording a couple of times, and wrote one-stroke short forms for phrases/words that she knew he would use such as “dead dog”, “Genghis Khan” and “I love the world”. This saves time for her, ensures accuracy on the night and also means that punchlines appear quicker on the screen. She said that this works best if comedians stick to roughly the same order, but on the night, Tony didn’t, but it always helps.
She said it was difficult to accurately write Tony’s act, not so much because of the speed but because of the accents and sounds he makes. Although she had prepared some (like “posh” and “Cockney gangster”, some “need to be written on the fly”, she explained, “so I have to think how to represent the sound he’s making in words, and then write it, in time to keep the deaf audience up with the comedy.
I think she did a fantastic job! I couldn’t stop laughing throughout his act. When he started, it was like he was just spurting words out of his mouth like a machine gun, unable to control them and unaware of where he was going to lead us. He gives you the impression that it’s all unprepared and totally spontaneous. But after a while, you realise that it is all planned and it will all come right in the end, whilst giving you the impression of it being utter nonsense. You can’t help but laugh at it. You have to see him live to appreciate his humour. He is infectious.
At one point during the act he told us that he was really sad because his wife’s sausage dog ‘Cartridge Davidson’ had recently died after she had had him for fourteen years and he had been her constant companion, never leaving her side. I thought it was going to get really sad but he then started to tell us hilariously funny stories about what Cartridge used to get up to, such as how he used to sit watching the fridge for food and diving on their bed at the most inappropriate times.
Later, he did a routine, which involved using music and dance, which he described as a new kind of expressive ‘punk rock’ art form. He suddenly dragged my friend Andrew, who was right in the front row next to me, up onto the stage. Andrew handled it all amazingly well, as Tony kept throwing a large inflatable striped beach ball for him to catch on the stage in slow motion. Watching this beach ball scene in front of me with Tony and Andrew throwing the ball back and forth between each other was a bit like watching an amateurish ‘Cirque du Soleil’ meets ‘Monty Python’, and I couldn’t stop laughing at how surreal it all looked.
For his finale, Tony finished up with a crazy song, and once again dragged up poor Andrew and several other people from the front row to accompany him and throw balls to each other across the stage. It certainly was different, but incredibly funny, and it had myself, along with the rest of the audience, in stitches.
Although I have enjoyed Tony’s show every time I have seen it, this time I think I enjoyed it most of all. Maybe it’s because I got the full experience, being able to not only follow him through the subtitles, but also hear him better too, and appreciate the different accents and sounds he does. Or maybe it’s because I think he’s getting better too. I don’t know. It’s probably a combination of all that, and more. I just find him incredibly funny, in a crazy sort of way. I met him briefly after the show on the way out and I told him how much I had enjoyed his show. He was really friendly and approachable.
I would like to thank Claire Hill and the Soho Theatre for providing this access for deaf and hard of hearing people that night. It was great. I will be watching out for more live subtitled comedy shows like this in the future. Claire told me that the next show to be subtitled there will be Josie Long on 27th January. I hope that there will be more of them in the future, as there are currently not enough. It would be great for deaf and hard of hearing people to have better access to live comedy shows and enjoy a great night out!
The Soho Theatre website:
Tony Law’s website: