Comedy aficionado Che Burnley brings his new show Elvis Was Racist? to 81 Renshaw on September 22, as part of Liverpool Comedy Festival.
The promoter, podcaster and stand up took the time to answer a few questions and tell us more:
How did you get started in stand up?
I’ve been doing it for about four years on a part time basis. Unfortunately I can’t keep it in my pants and have had to spend a lot of time looking after my two wonderful time-devouring young children. I’d always watched a lot of comedy and knew some of the local acts like Sam Avery, Phil Chapman and Ste Porter. I’d interviewed some for a podcast I did and then got the chance to have a go in the Edinburgh festival thanks to M.U.C.K. Comedy who used to put on Scouse showcases up there.
Before I started I’d been writing stuff down on bits of paper. Jokes, sketches, ideas, I’d sort of done it back in secondary school with a mate as we were comedy geeks. So I’ve sort of reverse-engineered my shows; instead of coming up with a theme and writing to it, I had loads of bits that seemed to fit together as a narrative. Last year’s [full length] show was my first and was sort of the prototype for this year’s, I had loads of stuff on race that I wanted to talk about but dont really get the chance when your doing five or ten minutes and don’t have the chance to explain something that can be quite raw to people who want dick jokes. I always love the framework of hour shows as it’s a chance to bollock on about whats in my head and see if I’m mad or not.
What gave you the idea for the new show? Is it a one off, or do you have future plans?
The show fell out of last year’s one, which was initially about racism and was called TCB (Taking Care of Blackness). Public Enemy’s Chuck D claimed Elvis was racist in the song Fight the Power, which stemmed from an alledged Elvis quote, “the only thing negroes can do for me is buy my records and shine my shoes.”
Instead of just focusing on the racism I wanted to look at what we allow our heroes to get away with depending on who they are and what they mean to us. So it’s more about what privileges you get from being male, old, rich, famous or white. Now it’s a show about racism that isn’t really about racism, which makes it sound sort of like a black Seinfeld but obviously without Kramer.
It’s the first showing as the comedy festival is a great place to launch stuff, also I’m dead lazy and can get a bus straight to the venue (81 Renshaw Street). It also is a good starting point to get it ready if I want to take it to Edinburgh next year as I’ll have almost a year to get better. It’s not bad, it’s just bursting at the seams – I have a hard time editing stuff out but at the very least you’ll get a good length.
Is it important to you as a performer that your stand up has something to say?
I’ll be honest, I’m still figuring it all out. Personally I think I should have something to say otherwise I’d be wasting what I’ve learnt, observed and had happen to me. Part of my show is about allowing yourself to be misinformed, but realising that it’s not always your fault and that all you can do is question everything and improve. Also, you can’t blame someone for being ignorant if you don’t tell them what they need to know. People need to talk more, not be afraid of being challenged and demand the truth not just what makes them feel better especially in this day and age.
On the flipside though, it’s comedy and it’s about making people laugh, otherwise it’s just a lecture by someone with serious ego issues. You’re there to make things funny to people and you can do that in various ways; in the same way that no one style of music is the best, as long as it’s good, it’s good.
The problem for me is balancing the two as it all comes down to money and compromise. Having a family means there’s an onus of making money to support them and whilst I may want to rail against racism or make a political point about something, doing that in front of stag and hen dos that have come to a commercial comedy night on a Saturday is unlikely to a) go down that well and therefore b) get me booked again. Hopefully I’ll get to a level where I can do more social commentry but it’s a balancing act where you have to pick your fights.
It’s a shame that sometimes sucess at present seems to be measured by money rather than talent as it can skew your creativity. I hope to be able to do both, by wrapping up hard hitting social commentary and satire in jokes about wanking or mother-in-laws.
What’s your take on the Liverpool comedy scene, is it in good shape?
It seems to have really kicked on in the last couple of years in both venues and performers. All the venues seem to have their own niche and work well together. Laughterhouse, Comedy Central at Baby Blue, Comedy Cellar and Hot Water are all good established clubs and there’s some really good upcoming ones such as Comedy Haul and Pros and Coms. There’s great programmes from the Unity, Philharmonic, Lantern Theatre, Royal Court Echo Arena etc – seriously, whatever your taste in comedy you’ll find it and this shows in the great work that [festival director] Sam Avery has done with the comedy festival. Also a lot of these venues were set up and are run by Scousers rather than having comedy ‘brands’ coming in which is great (although I’d love for The Stand to build a venue here!).
What should people look out for during the fest?
In terms of acts again there’s a lot of people doing a lot of great stuff, obviously I’ll be watching myself on September 22 as I’ll record it and play it back constantly as I’m a needy narcisist with issues. Apart from that, Pete McCole, who follows my show at 9pm in the same venue, is a good mate and his show ‘McCole Lot of Love’ is on his upcoming wedding which I find hilarious (someone wants to marry him!). Runner-up (which in my eyes still means loser, mate) in the Chortle Student Comedy Awards Liam Pickford’s Seaside Cock Novelties (Sept 25), Rob Thomas (Sept 19), Ben Powell: Ex Politician (September 21), and Harriett Dyer: Nonsense (Oct 3rd) are all mates and great acts at 81 Renshaw St.
There’s a great double header in Rob Rouse and Tom Bins (Lantern Theatre, September 27) and Daniel Sloss: Dark at Laughterhouse (October 1). I’m sure I’ve left some great ones out but that’s how good the festival is.