“Interviewing a gin addled Master Of Ceremonies somewhere between 1930’s Berlin and Amanda Palmer. It doesn’t get much better than that.”
In a most shocking turn of events, I found in my proverbial hot seat this week none other than Mister Joe Black – master of the macabre, dark prince of cabaret and self confessed “gin-addled clown.” Based in Brighton, this whirlwind enigma has made his home in the worlds of drag and cabaret alike, stumbling with remarkable ease between live original music, stand-up, parody and even impersonation.
Citing Weimar Germany as the inspiration at the heart of his work he said:
“I’m really influenced by the sounds and images of 1920’s and 1930’s Berlin. Art and performance that was created against the backdrop of poverty and political unrest. it feels raw and exciting and terrifying all at once. Boundaries being challenged and pushed.”
This raw fearlessness is certainly abundant in his early work, with Sick Love Sick Love Song and the I Don’t Like You Very Much Song mixing the grotesque with the grossly funny. Since then though both his music and comedy routines have very much evolved, going from bizzarre and experimental to bizzarre, experimental and polished, a fact Black is fully aware of when he states:
“I started off as a sort of shlock-y Tom Waits ‘I’m going to make this as ridiculous as possible to get a laugh’ sort of performer. Very growly and stompy with lots of shock tactics. As it developed I tried to set my sights more on honing an image and focussing on the clowning and actual comedy elements of what I was doing. I’m happier now that I’ve gotten it slicker and more structured though I’m very glad I did go through that period of just experimenting, otherwise I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Image Credit: Greg Bailey.
Going by the mantra “Not everyone is going to like you… And that is absolutely fine.” he’s often cut a controversial figure, and never was that more evident than during the UK Drag Race Ambassador competition. Talking about that experience, he said:
“(It was) Surreal. Things sort of exploded around a week before the competition. Watching how the machine works was completely eye opening and something I’m glad I was a part of. Walking the runway was one of the most thrilling and exciting things I’ve ever done, brief but just like nothing I’ve ever done before! I decided to go with something a little edgier and went for a 1920’s androgynous look… and ended up getting kicked out in the first 12. BUT – I wouldn’t have been happy if I had tried to be something I was not, so regardless of not making it to the last 9 I regret nothing.”
His controversially lukewarm reception (Katie Price looked completely scandalised as he walked out) could be attributed to the huge difference in cabaret and drag culture here and across the pond. Joe certainly stood out from the more overtly pageant/femme queens in his genderbending get up, and while it didn’t win him the crown it did epitomise the diversity of the UK scene. When asked, Joe pointed out that a lot differs in the two countries’ approach.
“The UK is aware that its a ridiculous thing, the USA is somewhat more serious in its approach for the most part. I’ve mostly existed in the cabaret world for the best part of 9 years with the drag world adopting me every now and again. Cabaret in the USA is perhaps a little more songbook than its UK counterpart while the UK does incredibly well with parody.”
Weimar Germany is not however the only place this clown draws his inspiration from. When asked who he would love to share a bill with, dead or alive, the answers given might not be what you expect.
“Dead… Marlene Dietrich. Alive.. Tom Waits; both massive inspirations to me for entirely different reasons. Dietrich had one of the first entirely curated and managed public personas. Heavily controlled, her reputation and appearances were down to a fine art, she was never photographed or seen not looking anything unlike what you came to expect. Tom Waits is just an enigma. Amazing singer songwriter and storyteller – my absolute favourite musician of all time.”
So for a show that is self-described by Joe as “Ridiculous, fun, inclusive.” go check out this divinely debauched performer for yourself. I can’t promise you’ll know what to expect, but I can promise one heck of a good time. You can follow Joe Black here and here (go send him my love for being so kind as to grace me with an interview!) and subscribe here to be informed of my next post.
Be sure to leave a comment telling me who you’d love to hear from next, have a fabulous and glitter-filled weekend, and as always: