THE COSTELLO SHOW / 2000
The text used in this performance was originally published in UNCUT magazine, June 1997 in the article 'Armed Forces' by Allan Jones. The text in bold is the questions put by journalists during the Elvis Costello press conference it depicts. These voices were pre-recorded by Laurence (in a variety of unconvincing American accents) and played back using a cassette recorder operated alternately by the two performers. This dialogue was accompanied by a series of actions and gestures that alluded to titles of Elvis Costello albums.
Robin: I never…ever…thought I would be in this position. It seems necessary for me to come here today to make just one statement, which is that I am not a racist. Now in Wednesday's 'Village Voice', I believe it was, there was a report of an incident that occurred in Columbus, Ohio…an argument or a brawl, or whatever you want to call it…between me and another artist. And the details of it were somewhat confused, understandably, and I was misquoted out of context in it. I don't really want to get into a trivial feud with another act, but I think it's necessary to point out in what context these remarks, which, although they weren't strictly correctly reported, were made. In the course of an argument, it became necessary for me to OUTRAGE these people with about the most obnoxious and OFFENSIVE remarks that I could muster to bring the argument to a swift conclusion and rid myself of their presence. It worked pretty good. It started a fight. And that was the main thing and it was at that point that I did say some of those things which, quoted out of context, appear REALLY offensive towards the people, you know, whose names I was taking, I suppose you might say, in vain. These people now seem to have chosen to seek publicity at my expense by making it a gossip item. And now it's getting understandably confused and I expect it will get misquoted even further out of context as time goes on. And it worries me that people are gonna pick up on the words that I have said and presume that is my opinion. It was in the context of an argument that I used certain words, and that is NOT my opinion and THAT'S what I've come here to say today. I mean as I've said before, I don't want to get into a trivial feud with other acts. At the same time…I AM SURE…that if any of the artists who were mentioned in 'The Voice' ever read about this, they might wonder what the hell was going on, because I'm sure everybody shares the same high esteem towards James Brown and Ray Charles and anybody else that might be added to that list, which I am sure there will be as it gets more and more out of hand. Really, I've just come here to kill the issue stone dead NOW, and say that I'm not a racist, and if anybody wants to ask any questions or wants me to clarify it any further…
Voice 1: Mr Costello! MR COSTELLO!
Laurence: Hang on, Hang on…
Voice 1: Can you be a little bit more specific about the circumstances that made it necessary for you to say something so outrageous?
Robin: Yeah…I'm sure…yeah, I'm sure that everybody's had occasion to go to ABSOLUTE EXTREMES…in order to, you know, even to say things that you don't believe, you know. Ask Lenny Bruce.
Voice 1: Mister Costello! I haven't heard the album Armed Forces, but according to the Soho News and the music review there, they're talking about your album Armed Forces, and you refer to 'Checkpoint Charlie', 'itchy triggers', 'white niggers', 'Palestine', 'Johannesburg', 'darkies'. Things like that. Is that in your record?
Laurence: Yeah. But in the context of the lyrics…once again, those words have been taken totally out of context. That's what I'm SAYING…if you use emotive words in a song or in a conversation, if you're then quoted out of context, it can make you look like anything from an angel to…you know…Adolph Hitler!!
Voice 1: But then you have a history of saying this. if you say it on a record, it just comes out naturally.
Robin: Yeah, but it doesn't make ME offensive.
Voice 1: But you have said it on a record?
Voice 1: I haven't heard Armed Forces.
Robin: What's your point?
Voice 1: I said you have a history. This isn't something that just came up. You have a history of referring to 'nigger' and 'Johannesburg darkies'.
Laurence: I have a history of referring to lots of things. I think that's irrelevant.
Voice 1: That's all I wanted to know.
Voice 2: So far, you've said that you've been quoted out of context. You have not yet told us what the context is.
Robin:It was basically just to make them MAD. I chose the one thing that I thought would be the most offensive thing I could say to them.
Voice 2: What happened?
Voice 2: What happened to cause a fight?
Robin: Basically, it WORKED. I just wanted to get rid of them.
Voice 2: What happened to cause a fight? What caused the argument?
Laurence: The argument…was just being drunk in a bar with a bunch of people.
Voice 2: Were you drunk?
Robin: We all were…had…were drinking.
Voice 3: I talked to Bonnie Bramlett who does not drink, and she said that basically, everything that has been reported was true.
Laurence: Well, I dispute that.
Voice 3: Well that's what she told me!
Robin: Well I dispute that.
Voice 2: I have not yet finished with my question. I still would like to know what was said, why, and to whom. Because you're asking us to discredit or not to pay any attention to something that was in The Voice, and that's fine, but I would like to see the other side of it so I can make a valid decision.
Laurence: I don't quite understand what you mean. What I'm saying is, I made remarks…if they'd been ART fans, if I'd said Toulouse Lautrec was a DWARF, you know, just to PISS THEM OFF…do you understand me now? Am I making myself clear enough?
Voice 2: No, you're not.
Robin: Well, I'm sorry, I can't make it much clearer than that.
Voice 4: How is that word (nigger) used, if not to piss people off? What would be a legitimate context to use that word?
Laurence: I don't think it HAS a legitimate context. That's the whole point.
Voice 4: But isn't that what you're claiming? That the context makes it legitimate?
Robin: No…no…I'm not going to argue semantics with you.
Voice 4: Isn't it a racist word whenever it's used?
Voice 4: Haven't you made racist remarks?
Robin: No, I'd dispute that.
Voice 5: What made you so angry that night?
Laurence: Well, there's plenty of things that make me angry about America.
Voice 5: But that particular night?
Robin: IT WAS JUST IN THE COURSE OF A CONVERSATION.
Voice 5: Could you have just got up and left?
Robin: I suppose you can always get up and leave, but THEY didn't leave…and when you're involved in an argument… I never expected that they would start talking to the press and making a big deal out of it. It was an argument between THEM and ME. They are the ones who have chosen to make an incident out of it.
Voice 6: What was the original argument about?
Laurence: I suppose we were just talking about conflicting opinions, about music and about the way we work, usual bar room talk, you know. I'm not saying it was a profound conversation. That's why I'm saying that it's all so ridiculous that YOU'RE all here, and I'M answering questions about this thing. Which was basically just a conversation that went on in a bar in Columbus, Ohio. I can't think of anything more ludicrous.
Voice 6: Do you have a low view of Americans?
Robin: NO, I have American friends…I don't have an overall low view of Americans. There's a lot wrong with America, there's a lot wrong with England. There's an awful lot wrong with the world!
Voice 6: Could you give us a couple of specifics?
Laurence: NO! Because I'm not here to criticise America. I've come here to explain these things because its getting OUT OF HAND…
Voice 7: There's a quote here saying 'We hate you' referring to Americans. 'We just come here for the money'. Now is that TRUE?
Robin: It can be true one minute and not true the next, can't it?
Voice 7: I don't know. CAN IT?
Laurence: Well, yeah, it can.
Voice 7: In what respect? When do you hate Americans, and when don't you?
Robin: When I'm made to feel that I'm only here for the money. Some days you feel great, others you don't.
Voice 8: If you wanted to make somebody mad, couldn't you find some other way besides insulting artists like James Brown or Ray Charles?
Laurence: I just TOLD you, at the height of the argument, I picked the most offensive thing I could think of to say to them.
Voice 8: Wouldn't that be offensive to you too, if you heard somebody say that?
Robin: PLENTY of horrible stuff is written about me, the same as it is about everybody else. I'm sure much worse has been said about people like that, and much more seriously. I mean, I've seen films of people talking about 'nigger' music, and all that. And those people in the 50's, in Alabama, they MEANT it.
Voice 9: What would you say to Americans to make amends for what you said?
Laurence: I'm not TRYING to make amends, I'm not MAKING amends. I'm not apologising to ANYBODY, other than somebody who might misunderstand the context of what I said. I'm interested in clarifying it. It's a personal statement: I AM NOT A RACIST.
Voice 9: And you're not apologising?
Robin: As I'M NOT a racist, why do I have to apologise?
Voice 10: What would you say in order to change the image that has been created?
Laurence: Well, I would have thought that's up to you now. It's how YOU write it up now. It's whether you think I'm telling the truth or not, that I said these things purely for effect on that person…if I'd called the press conference now and said, "Look, all those things are in 'The Voice'", and I'd said, "Look, this is what I want to say about black people today…" and then read that out, THEN I'd be racist. Because then I'd have called you all in here specifically to say that's what I wanted to say to you…"
Voice 11: What is the purpose of this conference? Are you just covering your behind?
Robin: LISTEN, I don't really care all that much now. I can leave RIGHT NOW.
Voice 11: I'm just asking the purpose of this news conference. Why did you call it? Are you apologising?
Laurence: I don't want people out there, hearing things third-hand from friends, misquoted EVEN FURTHER OUT OF CONTEXT.
Voice 11: You weren't available for comment. We tried for hours to reach you.
Robin: Can you just SHUT UP a second, while I answer this?
Voice 11: We tried for hours to reach you. You were unavailable for comment!
Laurence: I'M ON TOUR!
Voice 11: You were not. You were in a place in Vermont. We were not given your number. We tried endlessly to reach you for comment.
Robin: NO, I DID NOT!
Voice 11: Your entourage made you unavailable.
Laurence: Well…that's not my responsibility.
Voice 11: Nothing evidently ever is.
Voice 12: The quotations in The Voice are in essence accurate, but taken out of context. Is that true?
Robin: Certainly…uh, well…not VERBATIM…cos there's bits all chopped out of it. I mean that you don't remember, you know…
Voice 12: That's all Ray Charles is...a blind ignorant nigger. You did say that. Either in context or out of context.
Laurence: I've no idea whether I said those EXACT words…like I said, I tried to pick the most offensive thing I could think of to say to them…
Voice 13: Do you believe in the saying that a drunken mind reveals what a sober mind conceals?
Laurence: No…no, I don't, but that was a good try.
Voice 14: Even if one accepted your explanation, which I'm in some ways inclined to do, one is left with the notion of the intensity of the hostility in this thing, and your anger. and throughout your career, there have be innumerable reports of hostility. If that is true...to some extent true...does it bother you about yourself, your own self image, that there is so much anger?
Robin: Well, no, because the press are not infallible, and nor am I. So I understand there's a certain amount of misinterpretation…that's why…I mean, anybody here - I don't honestly know you all by name, I know some of your faces - but anybody in the press, at least here, pretty much knows our history is one of pretty much NOT talking to you, for very good reasons. You must understand that it seems important enough for me to want to come here myself and not make a press statement that could be misinterpreted again. That's why I'm here so you can ask me questions about it.
Voice 14: That's not what I'm talking about.
Laurence: It IS the point, because any hostility towards the press has usually been because of misunderstandings or misinterpretations of things I've said. Or doing interviews and then getting them in print and it not being anything I've said.
Voice 12: It seems there's a misunderstanding here that maybe could be clarified. What you don't seem to understand is that by saying 'I'm not a racist' you're not going to convince many people in this room, especially the black people, that you are not a racist. That is not what constitutes not being a racist. But it does seem to me that, although you don't want to apologise, because that's not your style.
Robin: No, no…no, you're missing the point, man, YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT…
Voice 12: Ok, let me finish. You have in fact said that you do not believe the things you were quoted as saying, even though you did say them. Is that right?
Laurence: YEAHHH! HOW MANY TIMES HAVE I GOT TO SAY THIS?
Voice 12: Well you never did actually come out and say that.
Robin: OK, well…I'm saying it NOW. All right? Have you got it down now? HAVE YOU? I DIDN'T say those things because they are my beliefs. How much CLEARER can I make it? I said them for the effect of those words on the people I said them to. It's not a statement to the world in general. Who CARES what I think, you know? It's only when people get offended by it being written in the press, when it was only intended to offend somebody in a bar.
Voice 15: I was called down here today to find out your side of the story. You called this press conference obviously to explain what your intentions were...even if it was out of context, no matter what you say it was about, it's still out of context to me personally, because I wasn't there...maybe it's trivial to describe the circumstances, but maybe you have to. Because I have to understand exactly what you meant when you said those things, so I can believe you.
Laurence: WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?! Recite the conversation as far as I can remember it?
Voice 16: That would do it!
Robin: THAT would make it alright for you? Well, I'm sorry, I can't remember EVERY SINGLE WORD. I TOLD YOU what my point was, I AM NOT A RACIST. It's not to apologise. I'm not afraid of using that word 'apologise' to Ray Charles or James Brown. To anybody that might read what I said and presume that was my opinion of them. Because it AIN'T THE TRUTH. And to anybody that has got unnecessarily wound up, anybody that's kicked in the TV or burned their copy of 'The Village Voice' in anger, it's UNNECESSARY. Because it ain't the truth. And that's all I'm gonna say.
THE BEST OF / 2002
The Best Of was a 'performative footnote' created for the Nightwalking Conference at the Greenwich Dance Agency in September 2002. The text of the presentation is based on a recorded conversation between the artists in relation to The Costello Show and other projects. The transcript is presented here unedited.
L: Why Elvis Costello? I mean, what sort of…does Elvis Costello have a significance in your life? So…I know sort of…when I was growing up, it's um…you know…when I first started getting into sort of music, y'know, pop music and stuff, er, he was, y'know, he looked like my uncle Thomas.
L: And um…not…Pete Tho? No, it's Bruce Thomas, the…the straight sort of cut…
R: That's Bruce Thomas the bassist.
L: Yeah, yeah…he looked like my uncle Ian. I sort of really liked…I…y'know, this was when Oliver's Army and that was coming out, but anyway…so that…I was sort of…Elvis Costello has been one of those people I've sort of grown up with…I mean everyone's got a band that they sort of…
R: Well maybe it's something…there's a slight thing of age difference here as well because I think my first experiences of…of…Elvis Costello and the Attractions was probably…I mean, I knew who he was…but, I was more into Steve Nieve (the keyboardist) to start with…of the idea of Steve Nieve…because when he was the band leader on The Last Resort, the Jonathan Ross show in the 80's, I remember I thought he seemed quite cool…just this guy who kind of…
L: Did you ever get the Steve Nieve solo album?
R: No, no…I…The Keyboard Jungle or something?
L: Yeah, something like that…
R: So that was my first experience of that whole axis, that particular group of musicians, but then for some reason, I got into my…I remember hearing…I don't know if it was…hearing it at the specific time, but Oliver's Army…I remember I wanted to get hold of that…a copy of that. And this was around the time I was starting to go to second hand record shops and I remembered the tune, just "…anywhere else but here today…" and that's all I knew, I didn't know what the song was called. And I remember trying to buy all the Elvis Costello albums trying to find that particular song…and I'd no idea it was on Armed Forces and I think I bought Get Happy…um…
L: A classic…
R: Well of course…This Years Model…I mean, this was all serendipitous 'cos it was like…these had all wonderful pieces of music anyway, but I seem to remember buying every album except fucking Armed Forces…and um…and so…so just being very aware of just the melodies and…and the tunes when first hearing them, and thinking wow, this is amazing, even though it's not Oliver's…even though its not that song which I didn't even know it was called Oliver's Army at the time…and…um…
L: I mean, when you were sort of looking round for records was this before The Man had come out? There wasn't a sort of 'best of' to go out and get?
R: Well I mean I think…at that time as well, I've kind of got this thing about not buying greatest hits albums…I'm more of a kind of getting the back catalogue kind of thing. And with someone like him…cos' the albums themselves are good it's always worth doing. So yeah, there was me going…kind of in the Music and Video Exchange in Notting Hill trying to work out what this tune was and then eventually, I don't know what point I found out that it was on Armed Forces. And so yeah, this was quite late…this was um…the significance of him really…it kinda came cumulatively because it was someone I'd come back to and think wow, this stuff is amazing. And I remember it was quite funny being around home and living with my parents and saying…for some reason, my mother thought Elvis Costello was dead…she says, 'Oh, you're listening to Elvis Costello…is he actually still alive?' And it just seemed strange the idea of him actually being dead…she meant Elvis Presley maybe…the question was…
L: What's the significance…why?
R: I think its just come from…in terms of just doing the performance on Elvis Costello. I don't know how we got talking about it.
L: We were doing the Infernal Triangle.
R: And it just um…entertaining the others with our Elvis Costello impersonations. And I really don't know where that came from…and then it being…people saying, oh, that would make a good performance.
L: Well I think you'd sort of just…you hadn't been in London that long…and then we were talking about um…working together because of um…doing the improvised stuff in the Infernal Triangle and collaborating on something. Seeing as we both had this sort of Elvis Costello fixation…
R: I mean it just seemed like such a funny just…the opening part of the performance being us coming in and doing the poses and the…
L: 'OH, I, Oh I'
R: and it was just…I guess it just started with that and that for me was such a fantastic image…just…just Elvis Costello's look…you're talking…you lent me the Griel Marcus article where the cover of My Aim is True…the classic Elvis Costello pose with the big glasses, ill fitting suit and…
L: The knees in together…
R: Legs akimbo, yeah. Just that as an image…it's just…such an iconic image…and Greil Marcus thinking like the whole thing was a joke because the…the music seemed to belie the image in some ways. The sort of snotty, um…sneering …this music was being made by a guy who just looked like a geek. Just looked like the sort of twat who'd get beaten up…and get called four eyes at school or something. So all those things got thrown into the mix as well, but obviously initially it started with the image of it…so I…when we first started doing this performance, I had quite a clear image and the idea of using the different titles of the albums to give us pointers as to how we could use objects and images beyond that. But then of course we stumbled on the article…
L: Cos' I was always worried about the content. I mean, I thought the imagery would be fine, but in a way, for me to explore the idea…I think, y'know, in a way, the text sort of…of the article…it…we could have written around that, or done something with that, but it just seemed a bit fake and theatrical and I thought it was better just to…I mean, we were reading it off type written sheets originally um, but later on we developed a card system that was a lot easier and better.
R: I mean from that point of view, you talking about content, and one of the questions that came up was um…I mean for me, on the website, I've got this…I've written a lot about this er…I've written a lot about this , the idea of the 'N' word - the 'Nigger' word being quite central to this, and from what I remember from going through the transcripts was that I seemed to say the word 'Nigger' far more than you did…I don't know if you did at any point during it. And I was wondering from your point of view would you say that this performance is more about me? Or maybe it has more significance for me than it does for you…
L: Um, no because what I see the performance being about is an artists right to do work that deals with offensive things. I mean both of us have done that kind of work which I think also, y'know, attracted both of us to the actual article…and to seeing an artist like Elvis Costello being…beleaguered by journalists asking the same question over and over again…But it's…he's trying to say…I'm trying to get a message across here, and when I'm writing, I'm not necessarily writing as myself, I'm writing a variety of characters, and certain songs are in character, and certain songs are from the heart and an artist should be allowed to explore different personas or characters themselves through writing or through their own work…
R: But even that…I mean, what was key to the conversation or the reason he was having this press conference was not to do with his music necessarily, although that came up in the questioning, it was very much to do with the incident in the bar, which is something different, and it came to…I mean, what was most interesting for me was how…how you are associated with your work…how your work reflects you. Is that work part of you? The problem with a lot of the lines of questioning that the um…that the journalists were coming out with were just like, are you racist relative to you saying the word nigger. Just the use of the word…they seemed incapable of looking at the context of what he was saying. That's more easily…he could justify that a lot easier within the context of his work, but he couldn't within the argument in the bar, and in some ways, that's where he failed to justify himself.
L: I mean, for me, I can completely understand the argument in the bar, wanting to get rid of these people, wanting to be offensive, to get rid of them, and just being loud and boorish because you've had too much to drink. It's interesting when someone's persona is altered by drink…
R: Bringing it onto drink, remind me of the question you asked about drinking…
L: Cos…you sort of…when we were creating the performance, you were quite interested in 'losing control'…so we were gonna have, because of the album 10 Bloody Mary's and 10 How's Your Fathers we were going to have ten Bloody Mary's and drink them at the beginning in order to have the effects kick in during the piece and er…and you drank maybe sort of…one…out of…most of one…three quarters of one out of all five that you had, and I tried to drink as much as I could…
L: I know on one occasion at least, I didn't put in enough tomato juice in for you…
R: Several things…I did try to explain that a lot of this was tied to the um…I mean, I'm not a great lover of tomato juice and even that form of spirit. Um…I'll put up my hands and say yes, I'm a complete wuss…you have more of a capacity for drink than I have…um…but
L: I've got more room for it…
R: Well, I remember having a conversation with somebody afterwards (who you know…it's not going to mean anything if I mention their name)…but she said she was very suspicious of that whole project and viewed it as a male…a macho…a typical bullshit male performance artist, 'lets get pissed', approach, which for her didn't really add anything to it.
L: Well for me, I think the 'lets get pissed' approach brings it back to that bar room discussion…for me…because there is that snotty English kid…I mean he was quite young when he…
R: You forget that, yeah…
L: He was like 20 or something, he was in America when this incident happened. But he'd already been part of the…setting up 'Rock Against Racism' by the time he was 20/21 y'know.
R: There's all sorts of precedents to this, I mean I was quite, relative to the way other musicians have been accused of being racist in the past. I was looking back to the whole thing of a lot of Factory Records artists in Manchester in the late 70's and early 80's. The connotations in the names of bands like Joy Division and New Order…even A Certain Ratio were accused with flirting with Nazi imagery…
L: Proto Fascists
R: Forgetting that their drummer was in fact black…and listening to their music, it was obvious how much they were influenced by funk.
L: Funk and Salsa…
R: And certainly in the case of bands like Joy Division and New Order, it's difficult because later on in their careers, they were very a-political sorts of people, but then you see pictures of Joy Division in their early days…the quasi military gear…the fact the Bernard Sumner called himself Bernard Albrecht for a period of time…Lester Bangs wrote a very interesting article 'White Noise Supremacists' on similar things going in the New Wave scene in New York in the late 70's…he viewed it as totally pernicious…um, but it's difficult when it's not clearly defined …when people aren't necessarily taking a standpoint on things.
L: Or taking an ironic standpoint, and that not being necessarily clear from an outside point of view… So we were talking about the fact that you used the word 'nigger' more. I think that was just by accident. It was because we were talking about…we needed …we were talking about us both being Elvis Costello…therefore, the journalists voices shouldn't come from one of us…it should come from an outside source. So that's why I went away and did that tape of the questions…um…putting on different voices and also I was…we could electronically tweak that on computer, and then….it sort of made sense for you to go first…rather than me responding to what possibly sounded …what was closest to my voice. We divided it so that we went in turns…I mean, it could have been the other way round.
R: But the significance of me saying 'James Brown is a jive ass nigger' relative to you saying that line…there is a difference…they're loaded in different ways.
L: Yeah, but don't forget when I did the journalist tape…I'm sort of 'don't you realise, if you say you're not a racist…that's not going to impress the black people here is it?' Cos' there is this condescending tone from the journalists…y'know…towards black people, and that comes across. It does seem like white journalists taking umbrage because of this liberal…
R: That was a point that Robert Crumb always made…the cartoonist…when he was accused of being racist. He said that the only people who ever accuse him of being racist are white, middle class liberals…who seem to have a problem…this hand wringing…this…guilt. But that's maybe to do with the fact that he's more widely known amongst white middle class people. I mean, I don't know how bigger fan base he has in the black community…
L: Well, I don't know about the black community, but certainly the Chicano community who read Spain (another underground cartoonist) comics. So the Chicano comic book fraternity are well aware of Robert Crumb and…like him, y'know. Cos' he's seen as…he explores his own darkness and puts it out there, and doesn't expect you to like him. People find it funny in some ways.
R: Yeah…sorry…just taking it back again to the division of labour if you like between us regarding the transcripts…um…you had the line about somebody describing Toulouse Lautrec as a dwarf…
L: But we decided that you wanted to do the James Brown line and I wanted to do the Toulouse Lautrec and we figured out that was the way it worked anyway if we did it alternately. I think it was a very collaborative process whilst we were doing it.
R: I just remember that line…just double taking when I heard it. It just seemed like one of those situations where…relative to me talking about whether this project has a greater resonance for me in terms of the content. I mean, I don't know if a line like that would have a greater…
L: Well, there's a high definition TV film out there called 'Laurence the Gnome' starring yours truly. I've played Laurence the Gnome of 'What's up Doc' which was a children's TV series…y'know…I've played The Little Green Man, so my height was always…it defines what I am in that commercial sector of television and advertising. So for me, I feel quite limited by how I look because…that side of what I do is determined by how I look.
R: It's interesting…I can't necessarily articulate why this is, but I always feel quite uncomfortable…on the few occasions I've been asked to perform in someone else's work, or someone says they're looking for a black performer to be in their work…I never feel that comfortable with that…but you…I've talked to you about this before…you've always seemed quite comfortable in…not exploiting…but in using your physique…
L: But hold on…I feel fine about exploiting shortness, but I don't feel fine about exploiting by disability…or I mean…I did do a disabled art conference about a year and a half ago, but I was very wary of it. It was only because the organisers were saying none of the people taking part wanted to be referred to as disable artists. It was able bodied and disabled artists, but all dealing with things that had a particular concern with disability.
R: But this is an interesting case in point. When we did The Costello Show at the Push Festival for Black Artists…and the majority of the audience being white…it was also…
L: when we came in to meet the organisers and so on, it was like…'I'm with him'…
R: Yeah, I loved that idea of a token white person. Did you feel uncomfortable with that? Obviously you felt conscious about it…
L: I was conscious of it, but I enjoyed it because obviously…I've been in casting situations…and it's like (in whining, white liberal voice) 'oh, we need more colour…oh lets ask Chris because he's black…'
R: it takes me back to when I made an appearance on Harry Secombe's Highway programme…
L: Could you hold that thought? I'm just going to get a coke…
R: There was an incident if you like…about the fact that Harry Secombe was coming to town to film Highway, and my school was involved in this. Now one of the themes of the programme was to show what a multicultural town Bedford was…and how everyone was very groovy…and got along together. And it transpired…I think some TV exec…noticed that the choir of our school didn't have many 'black faces'. Now its strange because I can't quite remember whether I was already in the choir or not. But I remember they did go on this recruitment campaign and basically asked black people in the school to come and stand as part of the choir during filming. One thing I remember that may legitimise my involvement was that I was recorded singing…cos' we had to pre-record, at the recording studio and then lip synch standing behind the goon…and…there was a big stink about this. It some how got out that they were trying to get more black people involved. There was a great amount of embarrassment about this…the press got hold of it…and I remember my mother going into denial about it and refused to believe that our wonderful Catholic school would do something so underhanded…but they did…there is no denying that. So it was a strange situation to be in…um…but I can't remember what point this was leading on from. Tokenism…what about the cover of Elvis Costello's Spike album?
L: Yeah, it's funny we've only just noticed. But it's sort of…ebony and ivory!
R: And I didn't know that Allen Toussaint played piano on Deep Dark Truthful Mirror…
R: Um, but maybe the significance of this has only come out now relative to our solo stuff and the fact that since The Costello Show we've been working…well, I've been working with black face…and you've been working with white face in your video. So what about that? Because I'm interested in talking a little bit about how your experiences working on The Costello Show have fed into your solo work.
L: Well I think with both of us in The Costello Show …because we've got a similar kind of feel for performance. The Costello Show was where we both converged in a sense, and I think since then, I've tried to do more of my straight lecture kind of things…and obviously over the last two years my performances have taken a back seat because I'm going back to do an MA. So in some way…I just see it as being …The Costello Show as being some continuing thread. The idea of offensiveness, and how it is read.
R: In it's broadest sense…
L: The semiotics of offensive words…um…but also misinterpretation of things, or how things are read differently by…
R: But what's the significance of the white golly image?
L: Um…it's part of a series of heads…'Head Shots'…that the series is called. Each thing is just a close up of my head looking off to the right of the screen at a semi three quarter angle, and it's just how…what we do to play around with that image, and make up and stuff. So the first…that sort of came about because of a close up when I did a…y'know Pete Cox, who I do these things with. We were working on a comedy pilot for Bravo called 'Idiot Box', and I for one sketch…was this insect. So I was blacked up…with this big…stinger…sort of nose, and golliwog lips…um…cos it was red and black…a ladybug kind of thing. And the lips were a bit too far…so we wanted to reverse that in order to make it part of a formal thing, because it was only when we looked back at the video…because obviously on the TV show, I was never seen as a closeup head…er…so it didn't look like a black and white minstrel sort of thing. Whereas once you've got that image in close up, it does. Except for the funny nose.
R: One of the performances I did afterwards…I always describe it as my policeman performance…it had various working titles, but um…it began with me giving a little monologue which was based on two pieces of text…one was how to teach your children about racism that was very benign…quite a sweet little book. I mean, you gave this book actually, I seem to remember…about what a horrible thing racism is. And then relative to that, I mixed in some text from a Robert Crumb cartoon called 'When Niggers Take Over America'…the pretext being that there's going to be hell to pay for you people. I can't even begin to go into describing that particular cartoon, but these two texts would bleed into each other. There are also bits from a piece of racist invective that were sampled on a Big Black record. So one moment I'd be talking about in very conciliatory terms, and then talking in very unpleasant terms…clichéd terms about the dangers of black male sexuality, violence, etc. And then halfway through this performance I black up…just as an image…
L: It's a powerful image…
R: It is yeah, just relative to the policeman's outfit as well as some strange things that came out of that…and it's one piece of work where I've felt conscious of the sort of audience I have…and the sort of discomfort they might be feeling relative to me…I mean, it's quite acute…
L: Do you not try to provoke discomfort? In order to get people to think? I mean that's part of my work…
R: it's difficult for me because I have…there's a part of me that's still very…that viewed my performances as wanting to be understood…using performance as a way to be understood or loved…however dubious that might sound. Or at the very least to entertain people. And then there's the other part of me that wants to stick a finger up and go fuck you…and provoke people in some way. So what I'm interested in doing is trying to walk that tightrope and create that balance where you're endearing yourself to people one moment and then…'oh, hang on…did he just say nigger?' or 'did he just say something about raping and mutilating white women?' I mean that's one line in that particular piece of work that really jars. I mean I've done a video version of it, and when I showed it, I was trying to edit it and that, in terms of self censorship, that line was really difficult, and in the end, I think it's the one time I didn't feel in the context that I was showing that work that I could show that particular part of the video.
L: Why? I mean where you…
R: And for some reason that really jarred with me…and I don't know if it was because I was nervous about the evening as a whole, of the piece of work…it was only…I mean I think it was really the first time I was showing that to people…and I think that as soon as you do start feeling uncomfortable with something, that's a good thing…I think that says the work is doing something…y'know…I felt like saying to the audience, well if you feel uncomfortable with this…how do you think I feel? And it's nudging towards something that is quite a dark area. Y'know, and you have to be strong…to deal with that.
L: But it…the notion of blackface…and what you're saying about black, male aggressiveness…it just…I mean one thing that…whilst I've been doing my thesis…one thing is that's interesting is that black is completely y'know, unacceptable, whereas having an able bodied actor play a disabled person…by…y'kow, to stand on his knees like in Moulin Rouge…y'know, going back to the Toulouse Lautrec thing that was mentioned before…um…y'know, that's sort of seen as acceptable. And in a way it's blacking up…y'know, for disability. So maybe the fact that black face is unacceptable is because it's being aggressively demonstrated against. Whereas nobody's afraid of disabled people…sure, don't see them as a threat, so therefore, they're legitimate targets in a way.
R: But that's what was so interesting in Bamboozled, the Spike Lee film where he was talking about not…well…making black people blacker. And I mean I…if there's a precedent for making disabled people more disabled or something like that!
L: I keep toying with the idea of coming on in a wheelchair…and falling out of it…seeing what reaction…oh, I don't know. It's probably a bit sick.
R: I mean that's the thing…I mean how much of this…in a general sense in both are work is there a desire not necessarily to make a point of satirise, but just to see how people react…what we can get away with. Do you think that's a legitimate way of showing your work…just saying something just to raise the hackles, without having any agenda.
L: Well, I think what…both of us use um…offensive things, but with humour in order to slip a more serious point underneath. I mean, like Little Big Man the solo thing I did during the two weeks at the Infernal Triangle. Er, you know, everyone's laughing at me humping a garden gnome, but then the piece is actually…halfway through it becomes about the sexual abuse of an achondroplastic dwarf who was quite a well known actor, and how that precipitated his death…and I think people…if I'd just gone straight into telling this story, um…people wouldn't have sat up and listened quite as…I think they would have listened but I think the fact that I made people laugh first, then…I mean, it's quite manipulative, but it sort of gives a power to what you're trying to say.
R: Cos' I remember talking to people after seeing that performance, and they said that they felt bad that they laughed…but that guilt would only come with the gift of hindsight…when you flipped it over and started talking about…talking about a real story, and the pain and suffering…
L: I mean, don't forget though that the performance starts off quite formally at first, with the arrival of these boxes, but it goes from this formal thing to this quite absurd thing, to a very serious thing, and then a sort of coda to it. So, y'know, the audience has been taken through several different things, so it's not just, oh, lets have a laugh, and then lets bring the audience down. I think I wanted to explore quite a lot of different things…lots of different ways of representation, different ways of dealing with the topic. And then, that's the same as your community policeman…
R: Sure, I'm just thinking of taking it back again to how an audience reacts, and how you can draw an audience in, and then with one line or one word, isolate them, or make them question their position relative to you, or 'why was I laughing at that?'
L: I think they need to question why. Why they're there…why they are…
R: But is there still a part of you…that…I mean it's probably quite a naff feeling that I have about my relationship with the audience, that I do want an audience to like me and to like what I'm doing…I mean some people don't give a shit about that, but there's a part of me that does. But then sometimes I don't know if that's tied in with that the majority of the audience I perform to are white middle class people, and then there's certain areas that are going to rub those people up the wrong way. And I shouldn't give a shit…and on a lot of levels I don't...that should be the point...but there's a part of me that does.
L: Yeah, but that's part of being a performer really. There is this thing…you need to connect with an audience, and also…I think it was Melanie Klein wrote about an actor wanting love…when she was talking about it the sense of mother love, and where to find that…but I think I was sort of like that when I started, but I think now…I sort of understand that as long as you…as long as you're not just alienating an audience or just pushing them away, or offending them for the sake of offence…I think as long as you get them to come on a journey with you…get them to sort of um…understand why you're doing something…then that's fine. I mean, I think that manipulation of the audience and that…to have people laughing, and then having them sit up and be a bit shocked in Little Big Man was justified because of what the subject matter was about in a way…and I think people appreciated that.