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April 2004
The life of Brian
By Phill Huxley
Brian McInally
Brian McInally - Performance Poet
Brian McInally is gearing up for his performances at the Mac's 'Brummie Comedy Cocktail' in April and May. He spoke to us about gigs, gags and dressing up...

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BRIAN'S POEMS

A Wooden Poem
The ventriloquist
Murdered his unfaithful lover
Silently smothering her
Under the sheets one night
And he would have got away with it
Had it not been for the dummy
Who racked with vicarious guilt
Confessed to the who thing
After one too many
Gottle of geers.

Method Actor
The actor sitting in the café
Is appearing in a play
It's an avant-garde sort of piece
He gives himself all to the part
Nothing else comes before his art
He has given up his soul and his heart
The way he even stirs his tea
Is laced with a certain methodology
And next month he will be giving up his dignity
When he begins rehearsals as 'Widow Twanky'

See Saw
I saw you
You saw me
I saw you tried to pretend
You hadn't seen me
A split second after you saw me
But I saw through you.
I saw you were with someone
Who didn't take his eyes off you
So he couldn't have seen me.
I saw you leave with him
After you had seen me
And I felt like Nostradamus
When he saw the future
And it wasn't a nice bit that he saw.

Two very short poems about bingo:

1.The bingo caller laments his lack of a love life
On its own
Number one

2.The bingo caller's love life begins to improve
Two fat ladies
Better than nothing

Poems copyrighted by Brian McInally

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Brian McInally is clearly a man of many talents. The 38-year-old poet from Bearwood founded the poetry workshop group 'Rhubarb & Digbeth' in 1999 along with Adrian Johnson. In 2002 he went solo, launching himself on the unsuspecting stand-up comedy circuit.

He has also appeared in a play about the Eurovision Song Contest called 'Boom Bang-a-Bang' produced by the Absolute Bananas theatre group and does poetry workshops in local schools.

How did you first get interested in poetry?

Brian: I began co-running a writing workshop called Rhubarb and Digbeth and that's how I first starting writing poetry. I had always been interested in writing, not necessarily poetry to start off with. I'd written a few short stories but then I found out I could do a sort of fairly comic slant on the world of poetry, that I didn't have to deal with serious issues all the time.

Are you happy being described as a performance poet?

I've become known as a performance poet, which in some ways is misleading. In terms of performance poetry, you look at these guys that are almost like hip hop artists, whereas I'm very much more about reading out my work. I don't regard some of them as poems actually, they're more like short stories and observations, they just come under the mantle of poetry.

So how would you describe your performance style?

I regard myself as a stand-up that does comic poetry as part of his act. I have a conversational, chatty style and try to get to know the audience.

Brian McInally
Brian McInally in Victoria Square

I think I have a self deprecating sense of humour and I'm not afraid to mock myself. I use a lot of puns, which often get groans from the audience, but they are deliberately bad! My act tends to usually be about 50% poetry and 50% stand up, I think that's a good balance between the two. Stand-up should be about taking risks. so I don't stick to a set formula in my act.

Would you say your audience is quite important in terms of interplay between you and them?

Yes absolutely integral, because I don't tend to have a set as such. There are the poems of course, but the rest is improvisational. I try to tailor it to the particular evening and venue that I'm performing at. I try to do something a bit different each time.

How do you deal with hecklers?

The heckling thing is a kind of myth, it doesn't go on as much as you'd think. It happens in certain venues, so I stay wary of some comedy clubs, where it might not to be to my advantage to perform my kind of act. You have to try and respond to the heckles, but I try to encourage audience participation anyway.

Who are your favourite poets? And is there anybody you model yourself on when you perform?

Well a lot of the time I've done gigs and people have compared me to John Hegley.

Brian McInally
Inspiration can strike at any time!

It's flattering and frustrating at the same time because I don't think I'm like him in many ways, although there is an obvious influence there that I can't deny. That's why I think I've been trying to get away from just being a poet and my stand up is becoming more integral, more so than the poems in some ways.

I'd probably regard Ian McMillan as more of an influence in terms of poetry style and Roger McGough is someone I like as a pure poet, he has a lot of wordplay and puns, that kind of thing.

And you've been known to dress up as Roger McGough from time to time?

Yes I did it at Rhubarb and Digbeth a few years ago. We tried to do different things each month, so I didn't just dress up as Roger McGough all the time!

The performances took place in pubs, restaurants and in book shops and we did a Christmas show where I performed as Father Christmas and a May show where I was a Morris Dancer. It was all based on sketches that I was writing at the time and some of them have since become incorporated into the Brummie Comedy Cocktail which I perform that at the Mac.

What have been your best and worst gigs?

I tend to forget about the worst gigs, to blank them out!

One of the best gigs I did recently was at The Stand comedy club in Glasgow. It was an open, new talent night and everyone had five or ten minutes. It was only a short slot and at the end people were saying can you tell us some more poems, so I left people wanting more!

Some of the Brummie Comedy Cocktails have been good. Earlier in the year we did a sketch where I was dressed by Shakespeare and that worked really well.

Brian McInally
Brian next to the Iron Man

As for the worst ones, I do competitions and there is a bit more pressure on there. I did a competition organised by Jongleurs the Bear Tavern in Bearwood, which is where I'm from and I thought it would be a nice home-grown thing. The Bear has a comedy heritage, with people like Frank Skinner performing there in the past, but on this particular evening the audience were a bit rough and ready.

I never think you should patronise your audience. And I don't think you should ever compromise your style, you should just be who you are. There still is a certain mentality in some clubs where it's just dirty jokes and sex gags… and it's not that I haven't done those in the past, but I like to think I did them in a different style. I didn't do any poetry that night as I thought it wouldn't really help things with the crowd, and needless to say I didn't win!

I've done around 50 gigs now over the last few years and the good experiences have outweighed the bad.

I believe you applied to become Birmingham's Poet Laureate?

I've applied for the past two, maybe three years… it feels like a lot longer!

Do you feel that a performance poet such as yourself will always be overlooked in favour of more serious poets?

I think you've hit the nail on the head. They want something that's seen as being (pauses to think)… worthy. I think they've got themselves into a bit of a hole now, I have to say. I think they are trying to make carbon copies of the same kind of Laureate's each year, and that shouldn't be the case - you should have a variety.

I'm not just saying that because I haven't got it. I'm not bitter!

For example you have to write a Holocaust poem every year for Holocaust Memorial Day and obviously I'm not going down that route with my style of comedic poems.

I do think they're making stuff that's just the same and the role is in danger of being devalued. If you went round and asked people who Birmingham's Poet Laureate is, they would look at you blankly and not know who Roz Goddard is.

I don't mean to slag everyone off, there have been some very good Poet Laureate's, some of whom appeared at Rhubarb and Digbeth. The last but one was Julie Bowden and she was very good and Simon Pitt was one of the first and he had his own individual style too.

What do you think of the stand-up comedy scene in Birmingham at the moment?

I think it's quite thriving, there's some really good stuff happening. There's some great performers coming through, people like James Cook. I think there could be more, but it's not bad.

Do you think the two big comedy clubs (Jongleurs on Broad Street and The Glee Club in the Arcadian Centre) monopolise the comedy scene in Birmingham?

I've always thought that stand up comedy should be a democratic artform, with individuals given the chance to get up and do a spot. Those two venues aren't cheap to go to and are very much commercial ventures. It's corporate entertainment basically. But if you look round and about, there is some great stuff happening in pubs and clubs and for a fiver you can get some good nights.

Have you got any gigs coming up?

There's the Brummie Comedy Cocktail on April 17th at the Hexagon Theatre in the Mac. The unique thing about it is you get a lot of local talent and open spots plus some really good headliners. Through my association with the compere, the infamous Ian McDiarmid, I've got a regular spot there and I write sketches and have a double act with him. It's nice to be on the bill with some really good comics.

Anything else in the pipeline?

Well I'm working on putting together a collection of my poems and I'm looking for someone to help me publish them. It's not easy. Poetry is hard to publish anywhere and its usually only the serious stuff that gets recognition.

Also, local artist Ben Waddington and I are hopefully going to be producing a series of postcards with artwork on one side and poetry on the other. We plan to distribute them in esoteric venues around Birmingham!

The Brummie Comedy Cocktail is on at the Hexagon Theatre at the Mac, Cannon Hill Park on April 17th and May 29th.

The Brummie Comedy Cocktail is a monthly showcase of local comics, with a national headliner.

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