The fragmentation and disintegration of memory is inevitable as one gets ever deeper into middle age. Simon Evans, 58 by the time he hits the road, has been mining that seam for some years now. His endless migrations up and down the stairs and through the caverns of his own mind in pursuit of elusive quarries have defined his recent work.
And a failing memory can be a blessing when we have so much we’d like to quietly forget.
But when that collapsing memory encounters a life-long dedication to procrastination and industry standard levels of ADD coming the other way up the pavement of life, they can easily spend the rest of the day politely unable to get past one another.
Have We Met? sees Simon determined to lock horns with the spectre of memory and wrestle its incorporeal form to the floor. To be the Proust, the Joyce, the Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold of stand up. And something else. It will come to me. Bear with.
Simon is one of the UK’s most respected and established comedians. His TV credits include Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, BBC Two’s Mock the Week and was a regular on Channel 4’s Stand Up for the Week.
Simon’s BBC Radio 4 series Simon Evans Goes to Market has audiences delighting in his witty and insightful take on the unpromising comic territory of commodities, trading and wealth. Other BBC Radio 4 appearances include the The News Quiz, The Unbelievable Truth and Armando Iannucci’s Charm Offensive.
Simon is the only comedian to have appeared on both University Challenge: The Professionals, and Celebrity Mastermind (which he won – specialist subject Sir Ernest Shackleton). Simon has also recently appeared on This Week and Question Time.
Friday 15 September – Tenbury Wells, The Regal
Saturday 16 September – Tring, Court Theatre
Wednesday 20 September – Launceston, Town Hall
Thursday 21 September – Great Torrington, Plough Arts Centre
Friday 22 September – Exeter, Corn Exchange
Saturday 23 September – Dorchester, Thomas Hardye Theatre
Thursday 28 September – Pocklington, Arts Centre
Friday 29 September – Stamford, Corn Exchange
Friday 6 October – Bakewell, Town Hall
Saturday 7 October – Coalville, Century Theatre
Saturday 14 October – Bristol, Redgrave
Wednesday 18 October – Loughborough, Town Hall
Friday 20 October – Bury St Edmunds, The Apex
Thursday 2 November – Grantham, Guildhall Arts Centre
Friday 3 November – Norwich, Playhouse
Saturday 4 November – Tunbridge Wells, Trinity Theatre
Friday 17 November – Tiverton, TCAT
Saturday 18 November – Hedge End, The Berry
Friday 24 November – Faversham, The Apex
Sunday 3 December – Evesham, Town Hall
SIMON EVANS – INTERVIEW
Simon Evans is one of comedy’s most skilful stand-ups, as well as being one of the best dressed. His TV credits include Live at the Apollo, Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Mock the Week. He presented his own Radio 4 series, Simon Evans Goes to Market. His new live show. Have We Met? explores memory and how we try to keep hold of it as we age. The natty 58-year-old talks below about identity, learning lines and what it’s like to have a showbiz namesake.
Simon Evans performs Have We Met? On UK tour from 15 September. Simon Evans’ website is thesimonevans.com
Let’s talk about your new show Have We Met?
It’s partly about failing memory and the strange sense that the most instantly relatable thing about getting older is that you don’t automatically form new memories. And that, almost stereotypically, results in forgetting what you went to the shops for or whatever your wife says.
The knock on effect is that your past becomes murkier as well. The show is also about trying to work out whether separate past versions of me join up into a coherent whole or whether I’ve just been wearing a series of masks.
Nostalgia has often been a fertile comedy subject. You have to avoid the clichés of talking about childhood chocolate bars and old TV programmes.
Does anyone remember Spangles? was a running joke when I started out, an observational comedy version of Proust’s book Remembrance Of Things Past. I recognise the danger of just going, ‘this is me when I was 12’.
Is it inevitable that memory starts to go?
I think it’s inevitable that short term memory goes. Anyone who is arrogant enough to take a message on the phone and not write it down deserves all the contempt that they get. I still have a good recall of facts. I won Celebrity Mastermind and was on University Challenge. My wife jokes that when we watch University Challenge and I shout the answers it used to please her to see me happy. Now she watches with me to make sure that I’m not getting dementia.
What are you theories about memory?
In Christopher Nolan’s movie Memento the lead character has to make notes constantly to remember things. When I first watched it, I thought it was brilliant, but when I watched it again recently I realised that’s like a cranked up version of what’s happening to me now. You know, that kind of sense of how did I get here?
You’ve had to rethink how you got here very specifically. In your last show The Work Of The Devil you revealed how you’d recently discovered that your biological father was actually a doctor at a fertility clinic who used his own sperm to make female patients pregnant.
That show answered the question about why I was a comedian. So many comedians have some kind of reason why they don’t quite fit in. I’d always wanted to be in the Guinness Book of Records and it turns out I am, because my father is the most prolific parent in history.
Talking of family, you are no relation the Simon Evans, who co-created and co-starred in the BBC series Staged with Michael Sheen and David Tennant. Has there been any mistaken identity?
The number of people who congratulated me was quite unsettling. Not just because I was the wrong Simon Evans, but because it started at a specific time (during lockdown), when I was unable to work, so I was unable to say, ‘no, I’m the one who’s doing this’. It was like I’d been replaced when I wasn’t. But I did enjoy Staged. I thought it was almost like a family member.
How do you learn your lines?
That’s a really interesting question, because that’s part of the thing that I’m confronting. The short answer is you don’t learn them. What you learn is a series of prompts that you then improvise around the first few times you do it. It’s not learned like a script is learned, it’s like I’ve just got it in my blood. You’ve got maybe a dozen or three dozen bullet points you’re trying to get to, but it will change how you get there. But the human brain being what it is, or the human ego, when a line gets a laugh, it naturally locks in.
Are you good at remembering faces?
I am more interested when I meet someone new in making a good impression, whereas my wife is very good at asking questions and building up a picture of them. We’ll come home from a party and I’ll have stories about things that happened and she will have a full CV of a person. At the Edinburgh Fringe people come up to you and you don’t know if they’re a comedian, promoter, journalist or fan. It’s a great skill to recognise someone. It makes such a difference when you recall things about them, people almost feel like you’ve you’ve given them a neck massage.
Do you have any tricks for retaining information, like Memory Palaces, where you picture groups of things?
Lee Mack has learned those tricks almost like a stage magician, if you give him 12 objects in order he can recall them. I don’t have a mind’s eye. I cannot actually visualise things if I close my eyes. I can describe the front of my house but I haven’t got an image of it.
If I think of something funny I have to write it or record it immediately or it will be gone. Sometimes when I’m driving I have to stop and get out the phone or write things down.
What other comedians have good memories?
Al Murray is currently probably the most gifted comedian in terms of weaving information he’s only just got from the crowd and bringing it back in. Dara O’Briain can do it too. Once you’re onstage, one of the things I love about being a comedian, is that you go into a kind of altered state.
I used to write for the TV presenter Richard Bacon. He came up to Edinburgh 10 years later and said to me ‘do you remember you told me that “comedy is first and foremost an artefact of memory?”. And I had not remembered!
You’ve talked and written about politics in the past but you are steering clear in Have We Met?
I’m quite tired, personally, of current events. There’ll be a little bit, but I’m sure a lot of people feel the same. Politics is so much in your face at the moment. And if you do satirical material it soon starts to feel as if it’s curling like yesterday’s sandwiches.
Which younger comedians do you rate?
Ivo Graham. I’m pleased to say he’s got his hair under control now, which was the only thing that was holding him back. His haircut gave the impression of an old horsehair blanket. When he was at Eton he wrote a long email to me explaining why I was his favourite comedian and why he was hoping that I would perform there at his behest.
Do you have a secret skill?
I can juggle. I could keep five balls up in the air for about ten seconds at my height. It’s almost like a meditative practice, a nice little rhythm to keep up. I sometimes wonder whether I should bring it into the show.