WIN tickets to Mitch Benn, Radio 4’s satirical songster Benn
Published on: 26 Feb 2016
Mitch Benn can pen a song on any issue and is heard most often on Radio 4’s Now Show. Ahead of his Bristol show, he talks to South Bristol Voice
South Bristol Voice: Mitch, each of your live shows has a strong theme. What’s the new one about?
Mitch Benn: This is my SCEPTICISM show. As in not believing stuff until there’s compelling evidence that it’s true. I tried to make sure it’s not just a 90-minute rant about religion, so it’s kind of a 60-minute rant about religion with half an hour or so of ranting about other things. With jokes. And songs and at least one dance routine.
It’s a fun show but quite intense; we do live in a time when, in society, culture and politics, there’s something of a showdown between evidence and reason on the one hand, and superstition and “belief” on the other. I think the world will be a lot happier and last a lot longer if evidence and reason win.
SBV: Previous shows have had memorable themes too but the last-but-one, Reduced Circumstances, had you confronting your battles with your weight. Do you find it uncomfortable, or therapeutic – or neither – to bare your soul for your living?
MB: Not really; I don’t find myself particularly interesting nor do I get why anyone else would. It all comes from somewhere “inside me” I guess, but it’s not exactly confessional or cathartic, it’s just about the stuff that fascinates and motivates me.
SBV: You’re probably best known as the musician who can create a song in five minutes on any given topic for Radio 4’s topical comedy The Now Show. Do you have any idea how many songs you’ve written? Do you regret that they get one radio airing and then they’re gone?
MB: I have NO idea how many songs I’ve written. If it’s not in the thousands it’s in the very high hundreds.
It can be a bit deflating that so much of my work has such a short shelf life but you never know which ones will have an afterlife. Sometimes something ostensibly quite throwaway will gain traction and become part of the set for years.
In fact at least two of my best loved songs were written during my “half time challenge” interval sessions. I do enjoy those but I’m not doing them on this tour, partly because the dance routine is at the end of part one so I need the interval to recuperate.
SBV: Lots of people will recall your homage to the Beatles: Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle. Did it take courage to take on the world’s most revered pop group? Or did you figure, I’ve done everyone else, I have to do them now? Have you had any feedback from the two surviving Beatles?
MB: I haven’t heard from Paul or Ringo; Kate Robbins is a good mate and she’s related to Paul so it’s possible he’s heard about it. I’ve been doing Beatles pastiches for years; I grew up in Liverpool so I absorbed them through a sort of cultural osmosis.
SBV: Your songs are often parodies of particular songs or styles or performers. How hard is it to parody without plagiarising? Is it right that you can’t copy more than five successive notes from someone else?
MB: I was under the impression it was seven notes but it changes all the time. They relaxed the rules in the UK with regard to writing funny words to other people’s tunes a couple of years ago but I’m still not interested in doing that. It’s much more fun to create something from scratch.
SBV: I asked my wife what she’d ask you. She said: Does he know he’s funny? Deep, that.
MB: I know what she means and I guess I usually know when I’m being funny although my kids might beg to differ.
SBV: What’s the future hold? You’ve written two sci-fi novels – more of them? You appeared in a stage version of Hitchhiker’s Guide – more stage work? Will the Now Show go on forever?
MB: I’d very much like to write more SF novels and I’m working very hard to make that happen.
Likewise stage work; there were vague whispers about maybe doing panto this year which I would LOVE to do.
The Now Show is, I’ve often felt, a bit vulnerable; it’s been on since 1998 but I don’t know if it’s ever achieved the same kind of national treasure status as The News Quiz, Sorry I Haven’t A Clue etc. I’ll be happy to do it as long as it’s on and as long as they want me to, but that’s not up to me. Surprisingly few things are.
SBV: Finally, what’s the question you wish I’d asked?
MB: When and where the show’s on? I’m trying to plug my gig here!
WIN TICKETS TO SEE MITCH BENN LIVE
WOULD you like to see Mitch Benn’s latest show? He plays the Comedy Box, upstairs at the Hen & Chicken, 210 North Street, Southville, at 8.30pm on April 7. We’ve got two pairs of tickets reserved for readers of the Totterdown, Knowle and Windmill Hill edition of the Voice. Just answer this question:
Q: On which Radio 4 topical comedy show does Mitch Benn appear?
Email your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 15.