Watching James Bennison’s sparkly, multimedia “love letter” to the 90s, it’s easy to forget that he’s the same frenetic young man from uni; the guy I remember lies somewhere beneath the bright gold jacket and easy, game show host charm. It’s not until he’s offstage that I begin to marvel at the intricacy of his act: a show with sixteen possible beginnings. Back in his nondescript, non-nineties clothing, James chats to me about his shiny new tech, his love of interactive comedy and the process of putting together his mad, choose-your-own-adventure game show.
What is it that pulled you towards interactive comedy?
Well, I’ve done a lot of different styles of comedy over the years. I started out doing a double act, musical comedy sketches, and moved into doing stand up by myself. I realised the bits that I’m best at are the bits where I talk to the audience and get them involved in the show. They enjoy it as well – they know it’s all off the cuff. I like the idea that it’s a bit more of a challenge for me and at the same time it makes it different [each night], so I have more fun with it. So, most of the shows I write now are very interactive.
Will you ever go back to tech-free shows?
I’m quite odd, I think, as a stand up because a lot of comedians go down a path of writing a five minute set, writing a ten minute set, getting loads of new material building up, and then eventually they have enough for an hour of pure stand up. Whereas I write a whole new show every year because I have a concept that makes me laugh that I want to do on stage. Next year, I think I want to do a show that is a real life video game on stage that the audience play and they can control a member of the audience. I just like ideas like that where I can do situation stuff that’s interactive.
Annoyingly most of my ideas involve a lot of technology, and this year I’ve invested in my own projector and my own screen. Which cost a fucking fortune. The projector is the biggest thing in the world, because I have no concept of size and bought it on Amazon. I literally thought it would be half the size. But it is the greatest thing in.. ever. It’s just so good
What was the process of making this show?
There’s around five bits of video in it which I had to film, and I realised that because there are 16 different sections I have to write 3 or 4 times more material than I would normally write for a show and that the Powerpoint was going to be the most complicated thing I’d ever created in my life. So there was a lot of planning involved. If you look at the actual powerpoint each slide has massive notes for how it all works and what to do next and little compliments as well and ‘you can do it!’ just to keep Andy [show producer] motivated.
Out of the show’s 16 game options what is your favourite section?
It varies depending on what mood I’m in. There are some classics that I know will go down well, like Play Your Cards Right [Spoiler – James doesn’t bring cards and has to use the audience]. Family fortunes is another good one as it gives the audience free reign to take the piss out of me. There’s another one I do, Question of Sport; It’s all video based and it’s absolutely impossible to win, and makes me look like a complete dickhead for writing it that way, but it’s very funny. There’s a gladiator section as well.
What happens in the Gladiator section?!
You’ll have to come and see the show… at least 16 times.
Does the show still appeal to people in their early twenties, who won’t remember the 90s?
Well, what I’ve found is you get a nice mix of people: Some people who remember [the game shows] fondly, some people who aren’t from the UK and don’t know any of them, and people who are quite young and remember them a little. Because I’ve warped [the shows] beyond recognition and I explain them, if you don’t feel the kind of nostalgia that people our age feel, you probably will still have fun and enjoy seeing your friends getting embarrassed, and the jokes I’ve put into it either way.
What else will you be doing at the Fringe?
I’m doing two other shows, I’ve got a kids show called ‘Docktor James’ Akademy of Evil‘ in which I train kids to be supervillains and they help me take over the world using Doctor James’s Deadly Doomsday Device. Which is, oddly, very good fun. There are loads of stupid games, it’s designed to be just chaos. Grown-ups can come as well, so even if you’re a grown-up, do come and lurk at the back and don’t be nervous that people will think you’re, you know, a sex pest.
I’m also doing a show called ‘The Tinder Games’ where basically I ‘play tinder’ live on stage for an hour with the sole aim of trying to get someone to come to the venue for a date with the help of the audience.
What if someone actually comes to the venue for a date?
It’s never happened yet, so I’m not really worried about it.
How did you end up doing a kids show?
Two years ago I was doing a superhero show, for which I had a superhero costume made and loads of kids actually came up to me asking for a flyer [I had to say no]. The following year I did a show about a supervillain and had a supervillain outfit made. A friend, Timothy Goose, said to me why don’t we do a kids show as well? What actually happened was the adult show was not successful at all and the kids show was very, very successful. So I had to cope with this existential crisis that I was in fact a children’s entertainer doing comedy on the side.
What comedians are you looking forward to seeing at the Fringe this year?
There’s a show called Police Cops in Space, which is part comedy, part theatre, they did a show called Police Cops last year and it was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, so I’m really looking forward to the sequel. A guy called Jon Long is doing his first hour; I saw his preview the other night and it was fantastic. A friend of mine called Pete Antoniou, [doing Séance] he’s a psychic comedian. I like to see a mix of comedy, magic and other stuff. Oh and there’s a show called Imaginary Porno Charades which I see every year and I appear in now and again. Too much fun, it’s too much fun. It’s basically charades but everything you’re charading is a made up porno parody.
Why is your show free?
I think Free Fringe is the way Fringe should be if I’m honest.
If you’d like a chance to spin The Wheel of Mayhem for yourself then head on down to How To Be A Winner at Laughing Horse @ The Newsroom until August 27 (excluding Wednesdays).
If you’d like to help James get a date check out www.thetindergames.co.uk
And finally, if you’d like to lurk at the back of a very funny kids’ show head to Doktor James’ Akademy of Evil, on at Sweet Grassmarket until August 20.