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Oven mitts, toilet paper, a suggestive red coat and no words – not the ordinary tools to enthrall an audience at the Royal Albert Hall, but New Zealander Sam Wills, aka The Boy With Tape On His Face, is no ordinary performer.

These were among his comedy weapons, along with the backing of a symphony orchestra, when he took the 2011 Comedy Proms by storm.

Even he, quietly of course, was pinching himself. “I knew it was a good venue, but when I walked up to it that’s when it really hit me,” Wills says.

“It holds 7000 people! There is something very strange about being on that stage shaking two horse heads [more of his props] around with a whole orchestra behind you.” 

The Dunedin product’s show has swiftly gone from being Wills’ bizarre creation to storming this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Now he’s nabbed a three-week West End winter run.

Not bad for a show in which, as the tape-instigated silence suggests, the sole performer says not a word. 

The Boy is a silent comedy theatre character, an alter-ego of sorts that juggler-turned-stage star Wills describes as a “heightened version of the teenage boy inside of me”.

Wills, who moved to the UK in 2006 and performed in Covent Garden Piazza with dreams of a West End show, takes his inspiration from the likes of offbeat stunt performers The Jim Rose Circus and Tokyo Shock Boys, and initially dreamed of being a juggler in Las Vegas.

But The Boy is quite unlike anything he has done before, and purposefully so.

 “I was doing other shows and performances, the more talky based stand-up comedy shows,” he says of his street performing roots.

“But I wanted to do something new and challenge myself.

"I decided to take my skills, doing stunts, and then do a show that didn’t use them – no tricks, no talking.”

The result is no more nail-in-the-nose shock shows. Instead, he draws on Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin’s vaudeville stylings, old-fashioned clowning and all manner of unpredictable props, music and the audience.

With his physical comedy and quirky inventiveness comes an act that transcends language, age, gender and cultural differences. 

This universal appeal was always part of Wills’ goal.

“I always think of international audiences,” he says of his plans for a show that deserves to, and most likely will, go global.

 “I stop my music at the late Eighties and early Nineties, because I want there to be an element of nostalgia. I want people to go, ‘I remember this song’, rather than it being, 

‘here is my latest Lady Gaga gag’.”

So Patrick Swayze classic Ghost crops up, so too cliched French accordion music and the theme to Tom Cruise’s Days Of Thunder, which accompanies, as Wills puts it, “a cheap cock gag done very well”.

One of the key elements of the show has always been its audience participation. It is not so much a show at which you might get asked a question or two if you’re sat in the front row, but one where you are fair game no matter what seat number you have – he often calls on the back row, showing his penchant for bucking convention.

You could end up on stage stripping at The Boy’s behest or in a staple gun shootout with balloons – whatever it is, you won’t expect it.  

“Luckily it can’t go wrong,” he enthuses of the show’s highly unpredictable element. “It doesn’t matter what people do, because I can guide them around to where I want them.

I want really normal people, though – the more human and natural they are, the more people will laugh.

So if someone’s going ‘pick me’ or saying their mate ‘is hilarious’, then I won’t pick them as they’re too eager.

Sometimes people have said they’ve been disappointed they weren’t chosen, which is very strange for audience participation to have that reaction.” 

Although he says it can’t go wrong, there have been moments when relying on a member of the public has had joyously unexpected results. 

“There is one routine where I get a guy up and dress him [over his clothes] in overalls, a hi-vis jacket and a hard hat [before then sitting him back down in the audience]. It’s the stripper routine.

But this one guy in Glasgow just kept going and taking off his own clothes.

I just sat there and thought: ‘I am staying put, this is great.’

And the audience loved it. I have had some very reluctant strippers though, who just stand there, but that just becomes funnier and funnier.”

 

 


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Interview: Kiwi Comedian The Boy With Tape On His Face proves actions speak louder than words
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