Comedian Mitch Benn will be returning to Stafford in April with his latest show The 37th Beatle. Here, he talks to us about the show.
When you think about it, a Scouse comedian/musician touring with a show about The Beatles makes perfect sense.
But it was by rather unfortunate chance that the idea for ‘The 37th Beatle’ came to Mitch Benn last year after trying to come up with an Edinburgh Fringe show for some time.
Upon hearing of the passing of singer-songwriter Tony Sheridan, who was often referred to as the ‘5th Beatle’ on account of his early work with the band, Mitch got to thinking: “I’d heard a lot of people claiming to be the ‘5th Beatle’ and I thought hang on a minute, they can’t all be right. Basic arithmetic alone dictates that. I mean, I must be the 28th or something…”
And so the idea of a show listing all of the candidates in ascending order was born. Mitch insists it is very much a ‘homage’ rather than a ‘tribute’ to the band, because “’Beatles tribute’ specifically suggests mop haired wigs and a right-handed Paul McCartney.”
Mitch was born in Liverpool in 1970 and so “grew up in the aftermath of the Beatles.”
“I’ve got my own unusual personal connections with the band which I explore in the show. One of them includes a snake, and that’s all I’m saying on that!”
Those who have never been to a Mitch Benn show can expect plenty of laughs to come out of the comedic songs for which he is best known.
“I started doing comedy 20 years ago and I incorporated music into it from the get go – because it just didn’t occur to me not to. I grew up playing the piano and the guitar in a very musical house.
“The comedy sort of ended up becoming a side-line which eventually took over. I know a lot of comedians who are also musically talented but tend to keep playing music as a hobby. I’ve forgotten what having a hobby feels like now!”
That said, the process of song-writing for Mitch always starts with the gag and the idea dictates the rest of the song. Making people laugh is always the number one priority, but many of his songs also carry an element of a political message. There is a certain level of inevitability to this, as most of his writing is done for BBC Radio 4’s topical comedy show The Now Show.
“The main thing is to never lose sight of being funny, but as a satirist you have to keep a healthy level of scepticism. Being impartial can very much be about equally criticising each side, rather than creating a false middle ground.
“Actually, the news stories which are already funny are the hardest to write for; it’s much easier to get a funny song out of stories which aren’t remotely amusing, because you have to find the joke. With funny stories you’re just telling the story again.”
“I’d say I’m allowed one song per series where I’m just allowed to be angry” says Mitch, before mentioning his hugely popular song ‘I’m Proud of the BBC’, which had more of a focus on relaying something important to him, rather than comic value. The song was released as a single in 2010.
“I didn’t think anything would come of it. But when we performed it people were in tears and giving it standing ovations – people were obviously wound up by constant criticisms of the BBC and so it struck a chord with them. It was only then that I thought ‘I think I’m on to something here’ and decided to release it as a single.”
The 37th Beatle has also been receiving a warm reception so far, after receiving critical acclaim in its Edinburgh Festival debut and being previewed on Radio 4 with an edited version.
“People respond to my enthusiasm” says Mitch, pondering his lasting appeal and the success of this show so far. “I think there is so much cool diffidence these days that people like the sheer nerdy enthusiasm I have learned to communicate over the years.
“Let’s face it, peoples’ fascination with the Beatles isn’t going away – and rightly so. What they did was extraordinary, and in such a short space of time. If you look at their first and last videos, you’d think their career had spanned 35 years not 7.
“This is why it was so difficult to come up with a show finale. How do you finish a show about the Beatles? Well, how did they end? Unlike many bands in popular culture – they did actually wrap everything up – I used this as a template. I don’t want to give too much away but it’s the most musically ambitious thing I’ve ever done and I’m very proud of it.”
The comedian may well pick up a new following from the Beatles fan base with this show, but he says that his demographic is already ‘bewildering’.
“I’m on Radio 4 after The Archers, which has a very certain demographic, but then I also do a lot of student unions and rock festivals – so I’ll also get in a group of 20 year old goths who had been waiting for My Chemical Romance, stumbled upon me and have followed me around ever since. So I get this really bizarre cross section at my gigs. But oddly enough The Beatles also had this amazing cross-generational appeal too... Which was unusual as most pop music which is any good only appeals to under-25s!”
The show will be on in Stafford Gatehouse Theatre on Friday 25th April – and will be a return to the town for the comedian: “I’ve played in Stafford a few times over the years – I used to play in The Surgery and the university. I’m very much looking forward to returning.”
For tickets and more information go to staffordgatehousetheatre.co.uk, and look out for a competition to win a pair of tickets coming to our website soon.