Words: Jahn Vannisselroy

You probably know there’s a mayoral election in London next month. And you probably figure it’ll be a two-horse race, fought by a couple of political thoroughbreds. But now a third candidate, a dark horse (or should that be donkey?), has announced his policies – and could very well do some damage.

Comedian Milton Jones is known for appearing on BBC2’s Mock The Week, where the 47-year-old Londoner delves into a seemingly never-ending bag of deadpan one-liners. Now prepare for him to launch his vision for the capital on the South Bank this month, as one of the big draws at the Udderbelly Festival.

Jones is just one act on the 13-and-a-half-week event’s 70-strong bill, which features carefully chosen performers from around the world, and is fast becoming a London summer institution. Originally from Edinburgh, Udderbelly, the brainchild of live entertainment company Underbelly, features comedy, cabaret and family shows in its giant upside-down inflatable purple cow from April 5-July 8.

Among this year’s acts Australian comedians the arcebic Brendon Burns, the quick-witted Wil Anderson and the musically talented Tim Minchin. Alongside them will be Claytime, where audiences are encouraged to get down and dirty with clay; US comedian Greg Proops, from Whose Line Is It Anyway?; and the twisted world of Friday Night Freakshow, featuring sword swallowers and singing Nazis.

With an outdoor bar that anyone, not just ticketholders, can frequent, Udderbelly is the perfect place to spend
a warm evening. The combination of beer, laughter and absurdity appeals to Jones as the perfect platform from which to launch his bid to become the capital’s main man.

“London’s already got an idiot with a stupid hairstyle for mayor,” he cracks. ”Why not have another one?“


And Jones’s tongue-in-cheek policies, which form the intro of his self-titled show at Udderbelly, are sure to win
him fans among more than a few cynical Londoners.

“If I was mayor, I’d offer every student a job as a speed hump,“ the comedian pledges. “I’d also make the London Eye go round really fast; rebrand London Underground as a ghost train; to celebrate the women of Essex I’d rename the place ’Orange County’; and I’d solve unemployment, and crime, by making everyone a policeman.

“I think people are so fed up with the party politics that they might even vote for me.”

Jones is looking forward to playing Udderbelly again, having previously been involved in both the Edinburgh
and London festivals, and says the bank of the Thames is the perfect place to hold it.

“You’re probably less likely to get mugged down at South Bank, as there are more theatregoers than there are skateboarder types,” he laughs. “It’s like a fringe of the National Theatre, the atmosphere is great with all the bars and the cafes down there.

You can see a show and then hang out. It’s a sustained presence on the Thames.”

That sort of praise is music to the ears of festival director Ed Bartlam. He knew Udderbelly’s vibe would succeed
when the event finally made it to London three years ago, after more than a decade in the Scottish capital.

“You can come and see a show at 7pm, it lasts an hour, so you can be home by nine or hang around and see the 9pm show if you want to. You don’t have to commit to the whole evening, unless you’d like to,” he says.

“The aim has always been to create an affordable live entertainment festival. That’s something we feel very strongly about and the majority of our tickets are between £10-20, so it’s an affordable, great night out.”

Udderbelly sold 55,000 tickets at last year’s London event and Bartlam expects to top that this year. In fact, he’s bound to: for 2012, the festival’s added another component, The London Wonderground – a 1920s mirrored spiegeltent that will sit alongside the cow.

Wonderground will be headlined by Australian peformance troupe Cantina, which will serve up
a sensational cocktail of glamorous vaudeville and scintillating circus.

“The Wonderground programme’s more cabaret music, sideshow and circus –1920s Coney Island freakshows, that sort of thing,“ Bartlam says.

“It has a different look and feel to Udderbelly, but it’s the same idea: come down, have a couple of beers and watch a couple of shows and just hang out.“

Another of Udderbelly 2012’s big acts is Irish-born, London-based comedian Andrew Maxwell. Unlike Jones, he’s not even considering running for office, but does have some keen observations on those in power.

“Ultimately the political class’s job, anywhere in the world, is to treat us like mushrooms,“ he says. “They keep us in the dark and feed us shit.“

The funnyman will be performing his award-nominated show from the Edinburgh Festival to Udderbelly. While it’s under wraps at the moment, he promises his blend of cutting-edge comedy, intrepid social commentary and political protagonism will challenge audiences.

“Whatever’s big, horrible and funny – that’s what’s going to be in it,“ he says. “Modern society is about constantly finding new things to be offended by. Everyone’s a victim, everyone’s very sensitive. Nothing gets addressed. That’s the level we’re at. We can’t say anything. But for a comedian to stand there and make fun of things, it opens things up. People actually
do love to laugh at their own shitty situations.“

He may not want to be mayor, but that scenario’s got our vote, that’s for sure. ❚