Having his clothes ripped off by drunk women who clambered onstage during a performance is just one of the occupational hazards that gay British comedian Jason Wood notches up to experience, albeit an obviously embarrassing experience.
“They ripped the back of my pants off, so I had to run holding myself up three flights of stairs and along a fire escape to get away,” recalls Wood, who will be in the Mother City this September to perform in Queercom – one of the five shows that will run for the duration of the 10th Cape Town International Comedy Festival from September 4 until 23. Queercom represents a first for South Africa with the show featuring some of the world’s most popular gay comedians.
The UK-based Wood is no stranger to Cape Town and has a dedicated following of fans due to his performances at previous Cape Town International Comedy Festivals and his participation in the BBC’s reality show, Strictly Come Dancing. This trip marks his third appearance at the festival and he is thrilled to be coming back in the Mother City.
Aside from his comedic talent, Wood is a gifted singer and uses his vocal talents to lampoon well-known singers from all points on the musical spectrum. He seamlessly delivers scarily accurate impersonations of singers as diverse as Miriam Makeba and Paverotti – and always to hilarious effect.
His singing started out in the local church choir in the industrial town of Luton where he was born and schooled. “I was trained to sing by Father Gonzales until his arrest in 1984,” he jests. “My first big role was as Oliver in the musical, then Prince Chulalonghorn in the King and I. I could cry on cue and was a ‘lovey’ from ten!” laughs Wood who makes no pretence about his sexuality.
His camp sensibility is something that he utilises in his comedy. “I have always naturally been naturally camp, something I tried to hide as a child. But now I just let it shine,” beams the flamboyant entertainer. However he does not believe his sexuality is a determining factor in his humour, or in his success in comedy. “As a comedian I don’t think it matters whether you’re gay or straight. Its all about how good you are, how observant, and how you can hold an audience. I have met quite a few miserable queens, I can assure you. Although even in their darkest hours they can still produce good drama!”
Growing up his gift for comedy came to the fore and served more as a survival tactic than a bid for social status as a boy growing up in a rough, unsophisticated town like Luton. “Just think Grassy Park, but with more indoor plumbing,” quips Wood.
“I think comedy saved me. I was bullied at school, but making them laugh was preferable to the alternative reaction. At school my old form tutor, Mrs Polly, said the only prize I’d ever win was for silliness and I believe her faith in me has not been wasted!”
Unlike most comics Wood has never had to hold down a day job to keep food on the table – even when he first started out in showbiz in his late teens. His first gig was at 18 in a “dodgy” pub in Brighton, England.
“It was frequented by a colorful crowd that ranged from prostitutes to fairground workers. I shook so much the microphone rattled. Mind you, the audience comprised mostly alcoholics who shook just as much,” he laughs.
At the start of his career he had to work in “some right shitholes” to keep going.
“They were working men clubs where they stopped your show for the meat raffle, or turned up the sound to drown out the fighting!” During that time he was even offered a gig in a venue in which he would have to perform in a cage for his own safety. “Honestly, I’m not joking. I eventually turned it down though,” says Wood who decided that discretion was indeed the better part of valour.
Since those days Wood’s star has very much been on the ascendent, with numerous appearances on BBC and at premier international comedy venues. His personal career highlight so far was peforming at the West End’s London Palladium.
“I’ve been very lucky in my career and had some great breaks, but I’ve worked hard for it too,” he acknowledges. “I just love making people laugh – and the feeling I get when I’m singing. So it seems the perfect solution to keep entertaining.”
Capetonians can join Jason and his fellow comedians at the Theatre @ the Pavilion (formerly the Imax Theatre) at the V & A Pavilion for a evening of campery and hilarity when stars in the Queercom programme during the Cape Town International Comedy Festival which is on in the city for the first three weeks of September 2006. For more information about the festival visit www.comedyfestival.co.za