Sam Wills, a.k.a. The Boy With Tape on His Face is a New Zealand prop-comic who has shot to fame with his mime-like show that plays on audience participation and a range of visual japes. Starting the show in 2008, Wills has now made the big leagues playing to over 700 people at this year’s Edinburgh Festival and for the queen’s enjoyment at last year’s Royal Variety Performance. He graces Vicar Street this month with his litany of ping pong balls, tape measures and classic hits to give you some good, clean fun.
So how did Edinburgh go for you, how did you feel about transitioning to a larger venue?
I had a really good Edinburgh actually, we were lucky enough to have the show sell out for the entire month so that was excellent really. With the second show, I wrote it specifically with a bigger audience in mind so I tried to write to a much bigger scale and it actually worked really well.
What can we expect to see in the Dublin show, will much have changed?
I’d already worked on the show for four different festivals before I took it to Edinburgh so I’ve had plenty of time to fine tune it and I’m very happy with where it’s at. Every time I write new material I try to work on it with more than one audience in mind so that it has a broad scope and will be just as funny for an audience in say, Norway as it is for an audience in New Zealand and an audience in Ireland. I try to write worldwide, accessible comedy.
Yeah I suppose that is the upshot of what you do, there’s no sort of zeitgeisty stuff that you need to get. I know you feel pretty strongly about your type of audience participation versus the typical format, can you tell me about that?
Well I just think that in normal stand-up comedy it so often happens that people don’t want to sit in the front row because the comic will walk on stage and just be like ‘oh so what do you do for a living?’ and then tell them that that’s a shit job or say ‘oh where are you from?’ and then say that’s a crap place. I’ve actually heard so many comedians back stage say ‘oh what’s the name of the local shit town so I can go on and make fun of it.’ I just think that’s such a hack thing to do! For me getting someone from the audience and bringing them up on stage so that people can laugh at them for ten minutes is a bit cheap. I get them up and I show them that I want them to do something and normally the task I’m setting them is pretty simple so that way they achieve what I want them to do and then they get a huge round of applause and they’re a star.
What appeals to people so much about that?
I guess people have seen so much of the other style of audience participation and it’s a breath of fresh air from a normal stand-up comedy environment to have someone come on stage and not say anything but still be funny.
What about your contemporaries in terms of silent comics with people like Doctor Brown, how would you compare your show?
Well I think he writes his material in a completely different way to me, our shows are very different. I actually don’t tend to compare myself too much to people like Doctor Brown, if anything I would compare myself more to someone like Jason Byrne who has a much more hands on approach to his audience but at the same time it’s all very dumb and fun.
So you’ve already done the Royal Variety Performance, and you’ve said you want to do a London West End show. What makes you think this is the next step?
There are no real steps in this industry and I think trying to plot out their steps on a ladder of hierarchy doesn’t work. This is just one of those things that I want to do and doing the Royal Variety Performance was one of those things and it was really nice to get it ticked off. I also want to do a season touring in Japan and I’d like to do another season in Norway because I’ve done a couple of tours there and it’s a nice, fun place to tour. I have plenty of things that I want to tick off and the West End thing is really just for the sake of saying I’ve done a show in the West End.
How much longevity do you see the character having?
Well the only reason that this show exists is because I got bored with the other show and decided to kill off that other character and start doing this one and whenever I get bored with the next one I’ll probably do the same just kill him off and leave it at that and move onto next thing. The first show we do has been touring since 2005 so we’ve kept that going for 7 years and we’re actually still going to tour the show again in America and Canada and now with this show we’re touring for three months in the UK and Ireland and then we’ll bring it to whoever hasn’t seen it. Because my shows don’t really include any modern references or political agenda it means that they don’t get old and my audience members are the ones that come and make the show different every night so it always keeps me on my toes. Every human provides something different on stage and that keeps the show fresh. I’m also constantly working on all sorts of silly ideas and I always have different concepts on the backburner but maybe I’ll just leave it all behind and open a bookshop.
Are you getting bored with the comedy rat race?
I’m sure there are all sorts of other things I can do. At the moment I still enjoy doing the show and I still enjoy writing for the characters but I suppose it comes down to that thing of expectation and the only reason that the show exists is because the audience kept expecting me to do my own show over and over and I decided to stop that and do something else so when people expect you to keep doing the same thing that’s when you need to change it up.
Who do you enjoy going to see?
I like seeing all sorts of people, it’s funny that people presume because I’m a mime that I must only like going to see silent acts but I actually really enjoy really wordy comedy like I enjoy Jimmy Carr because he takes comedy to the most minimal form and I also like comics like Frankie Boyle and Tim Vine as well as Jason Byrne. For me though I really enjoy watching the audiences more than the comics because I like to see what makes them laugh more than anything.
Catch the show on the 25th October in Vicar Street, with Neil Hamburger. Tickets right here.
Words: Emily Carson