THE GREAT PUPPET HORN

The Great Puppet Horn
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THE GREAT PUPPET HORN



Written by James Read
20 Monday 20th February 2012

Jeremy Bidgood and Lewis Young are The Great Puppet Horn. They cut up bits of cardboard to resemble celebrities and politicians, and using an overhead projector and a clear screen they recount stories about how Cliff Richard started the Iraq war, the true story of Nicolas Cage, and how ducks overthrew Downing Street. We spoke to them after last week's show as part of Vault festival at The Old Vic Tunnels. Jeremy makes the puppets, and together they make the funny.

So how was the gig at the Vault? I heardthere was spate of localised cumulonimbus clouds?

Lewis: The venue and audiences were fab, but alas, what were once proud, stiff cardboard effigies are now soggy theories on the etymology of Waterloo. I fear this was because I lied when I was seventeen. (I said that I was eighteen)
 
Jeremy: It was a bit damp yes. We had to rig an umbrella over our overhead projector to stop us getting electrocuted. Unfortunately such niceties did not apply to us or the puppets - all a bit soggy now.

 

What's the worst thing that's happened at a gig?

L: The projector (our only light source) broke once and while Jeremy was fixing it, very cack-handedly I might add, I decided to try stand-up comedy to fill time. 'So where are you from?' 'South London'. 'Ah, good.' Stand-up is tricky.
 
J: Lew is right about this. It was a horrible moment of multi-calamity. The bulb went, the acetate roller broke and Lewis did stand up. Fortunately after the briefest of stand up careers Lew resorted to just singing, which he does quite well. We decided after that gig that we needed to work on our 'comedy banter' but then we laughed at ourselves and just made some more puppets instead.
 
Lewis manipulates Grammar Cop as he choppers in to battle his nemesis
 
Could you tell me more about these Grammar Cop?

L: Syntax error, bitch. If the noun is singular, the demonstrative pronoun must be singular. If the noun is plural, the demonstrative pronoun must be plural. Now straighten up or I'll shoot you right in the head. He's based on my dad.
 
J: He's has a big flat face, we're not quite sure why. He also has a really cool neck joint which makes him super expressive (hello puppet geekdom).
 
Your material is usually pretty issues-led (Bipolar bear, Duck Island etc) but it's not usually aggressive or offensive - which goes against the grain of British contemporary political comedy - is this a conscious choice, and why?

L: When we get writing I find there's something about the silliness of the puppets and the loveliness of Jeremy's face that brings out joy rather than aggression. None of the material's motivated by anger or political frustration, we just aim to make people laugh.
 
J: I'm going to disagree slightly. We (possibly I) do find political issues frustrating and at times anger making but we just don't want to allow that to make our show very dogmatic as that tends to alienate people. I don't think either of us has a strong political leaning apart from generally believing that our political class are all largely incompetent and often self-serving and therefore should be ridiculed. Yet that they are also people, the majority of whom are a bit hopeless in one way or another. I think we are drawn to slightly hopeless characters.
 
Jeremy with Gordon Brown
 
We loved writing about Gordon Brown because he had this sort of naive incompetence mixed with genuine belief in what he was doing. It wasn't his fault, he was just a rubbish Prime Minister and nothing he could ever do would make that change. We love the anti-hero I think.
 
Also as much as I believe in the power of comedy to change the world I just don't think that David Cameron is going to change his NHS policy because we made a joke about it, but hopefully the people who see the show might enjoy the experience of our nation plunging into a fetid pit of despair slightly more if they can laugh about it. Ultimately we are comedians we want people to laugh and hopefully go away thinking about the issues that do crop up in the show.
 
Jeremy & Lewis flank the Bi-Polar Bear
 
Puppetry has become pretty popular lately in the UK - why do you think this is, and is it a good thing for you?

L: I think it is good for us but I don't like that 'I kill you' guy. Not one bit.
 
J: He means [American ventriloquist] Jef Durnham and I agree he sucks. Nina Conti is so much better and funnier but doesn't get to play the O2 which is sad. Puppetry being popular is a great thing for us and all puppeteers. Whilst it can be frustrating at times trying to explain how you're a puppeteer but no your puppets aren't like the ones in War Horse the situation for puppeteers in the UK is better now than it ever has been.
 
Our only problem with the puppet label is that we sometimes get pigeon-holed as puppetry/theatre and what we're really selling is comedy. It is still often a struggle to get people to put us in comedy listings and that's not helped by he fact that we can't play many traditional comedy venues - we need more than a microphone in the corner of a room. But that is changing as more people see us perform and realise that not only are puppets not just for children they're also not just for theatre and can be just as funny as the next man.
 
 
What puppets are you working on at the moment?

J: I'm making a boy that swims underwater and planning a giant octopus. Also looking forward to making a successful Boris Johnson puppet. We haven't managed to feature him yet.
 
For Lew - what puppets should he be working on at the moment?
 
L: Yes! Since crafting the last hundred he has become very slack... Jeremy, I demand you make a puppet of yourself that is good enough to fool your wife and use that precious dinner and breakfast time to make more. I want Nick Clegg in a papoose, a parade of worker ants, a life-size replica of the Shard and one of James Read, for cuddling.

J: I've already make him a Nick Clegg in a papoose but he's never satisfied. Part of the fun of this show is never knowing what puppets we are going to make until quite late in the writing process. Once we've finished writing we usually have a massive list of puppets that we then cut down to as few as possible (still far too many) and that is an interesting process of distilling down the ideas we have written into key visuals. I like that bit.
 
The Vault Festival is on until the 26th Feb. For more info, visit thevaultfestival.com
 
The Great Puppet Horn's new show is on 25th April at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington. For more info, visit pangolinsteatime.com

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