The Headliner with the Eyeliner (extract)BACK TO MAIN REVIEWS PAGE
… this year's fringe has revealed a communal dressing room packed with potential character comedy stars, who compare favourably with John Shuttleworth, Al Murray's Pub Landlord and Ali G.
The highlight (in terms of hair colouring and comedic talent) is the New Romantic icon Gary Le Strange (at the Smirnoff Underbelly), the creation of Yorkshireman Waen Shepherd, who has won a Perrier nomination for Best Newcomer. Why, even John Leslie showed up the other night before he was allegedly ejected for rowdiness. Still, Le Strange must be used to tabloid intrusion.
An amalgam of David Sylvian, Gary Numan, Adam Ant and David Bowie, his fans are "Le Strangers". "I am the Byronic Lord of Pop," "I am the Bionic Lord of Pop," he says, as he shifts from Neo-Regency dandy to a PVC-sealed pusher of robotic Moog noises. "I'm not an Eighties pop star. I'm only 31," he insists, the joke being that Le Strange is 20 years too late to the scene.
His songs brilliantly deconstruct "hits" from the time. I'm Japanese is a nod to Sylvian, and Shepherd has his ghostly warble to perfection. Is My Toaster Sentient? (If Not How Does It Know How Not to Burn the Toast) is pure Kraftwerk and Co. Give this man a record deal before he injects himself with too much liquid eyeliner.
Tune in, turn up (extract)
Sunday Times, 24.08.03
One on the Perrier Best Newcomer list is Gary Le Strange (Underbelly), a spoof new-romantic act, and on the night I went, there were at least four comedians yukking it up in the crowd. And justifiably so. It's a sterling performance. Le Strange is the brainchild of the former rave satirist and Pod member Waen Shepherd. With an almost unholy eye for detail, his "neo-Regency face warrior" performs tracks like Is My Toaster Sentient?, I'm Japanese, and the note-perfect faux-Human League track Individuals. Le Strange is smart enough to leave the mockery in the lyrics. The music is uncannily accurate, complete with pseudo-tribal howling in his Adam Ant number, Prince Charles. The story of his bid to re-create the idiocy of a time when burly men wore tea towels on Top of the Pops without a trace of irony includes such gems as his club in a tent - Marquee Façade - that moved every night so nobody could find it, and thus it could never be accused of selling out.
I worry that I'm not objective about Gary Le Strange, a pitch-perfect spoof of 1980s synthpop. Being a certain age and a fan of Gary Numan and the Human League (or, indeed, having heard of these people) may be essential if you're to get anything at all out of Polaroid Suitcase. Please take this into account when I say I haven't laughed so much at the Fringe in years. Also I was slightly drunk. But I don't care; he's getting four stars anyway.
He gets them because Le Strange's show has those rare qualities that only the best parodies have: a genuine love for its subject (snide disregard can lead to bad observation, since the comic is too busy sneering to pay attention to details): and the ability to know when to stop. The second is crucial - 1980s synthpop is funny enough in itself that you only need to mimic it with skill to be funny. Le Strange does this so well that some of his songs are better than the originals - Prince Charles is Adam Ant's Prince Charming but with a different lyric about cowboys, Indians and Princess Diana. Grey would be Ultravox's greatest moment if they'd written it. That said, Le Strange doesn't just sing like Adam Ant and then Midge Ure; he is a fully rounded character with his own voice, even if that voice is pretty much David Sylvian shouting.
In between the songs we get the life story. Gary is going solo after the failure of a terrible art pop duo who performed in a tent called the Marquee Façade (moving the tent every night because if anyone actually came they'd be "too commercial"). Later he takes "so much smack I nearly married a car". You'll have heard some of these jokes before, but this is nostalgia, not satire, so that's hardly a criticism. And there's so much wit and energy here that you won't mind. Unless you were born after 1980, in which case you shouldn't go anyway.
The Serious Business of Being Funny (extract)
Financial Times, 20.08.03
Gary Le Strange: Polaroid Suitcase (****, Underbelly) is halfway tech-reliant: Le Strange, alias Waen Shepherd, uses taped backing tracks for fiendishly incisive parodies of early 1980s New Romantic songs, with titles like "Is My Toaster Sentient?" There's enough generic humour here to keep most chuckling, but those of a certain age will take a Stuart Maconie-esque delight in spotting how specific Shepherd's targets are.
The Ridiculous on the Verge (extract)
There is nothing more life-affirming than sitting in the back of a semi-derelict basement room at midnight and discovering unknown comic magic. It's a bit like finding a lovely verse in the middle of the Sunday Sport. This year that perfect, poncy poem is Gary Le Strange, a character created by Yorkshireman Waen Shepherd, which is an amalgam of Eighties popstars such as David Sylvian, Gary Numan and Adam Ant. The show includes brilliant pop songs which satirise the period of Moogs, war paint and excess, such as Is My Toaster Sentient? And I'm Japanese from his album Polaroid Suitcase. Stewart Lee (one of the creators of Jerry Springer the Opera) was raving about it in the bar. The critics are crazy for it. He is going to be bigger than John Shuttleworth.
Quick strange artist
Gary Le Strange is not a New Romantic. No no. True, he is obsessed with dandies, harlequins, robots made of glass, underpasses, Dick Turpin and grey.
True, too, that he sings synth-pop anthems that uncannily capture the bleeping portentousness of Duran Duran, Adam and the Ants, Ultravox, Spandau Ballet and Gary Numan. But in fact this Bowie-twanged pop god is a Neo-Regency Face Warrior - never to be confused with Romosexual rivals such as Auschwitz Tapdance or Hieronymous Posh.
And with songs such as I'm Japanese and Is My Toaster Sentient up his ruffled sleeves, it's only a matter of time till he achieves his dream of getting on Top of the Pops…
Comic Waen Shepherd's show is a lovingly-crafted piss-rip. The details are perfect, the two costume changes in less than an hour - into his Pervy Cyborg and Earl Grey oufits - typical of Le Strange's forlorn faith in the vitality of fashion.
But Shepherd stands and delivers more than just perfect pastiche. Gary is a painfully sincere, irony-free zone, a man bemused by his struggle for success, still reeling from the split flatmate Philip (latterly of Philip and the Peacocks).
Gary lives in a fully realised universe in which all of this matters terribly - and the joke continues in style on his website, maintained by uncritical teenage fans Tracy and Michelle. It's heavily referential - those without a penchant for 1980s pop culture may find it all as rib-tickling as an OMD B-side.
But Polaroid Suitcase is disciplined character comedy that comes complete with catchy tunes and some seriously bad clothes. An unknown for the Perrier? Le Stranger things have happened.
Time for a Reality Check (extract)
I am sitting in a comedy grotto. On stage there is a bloke in a dandy outfit singing uber-parodies of songs from the New Romantic period of Eighties pop.
He's flinging himself around the stage, all David Sylvian, and rolling his pupils like an Eagle-eyed Action Man. Only Action Man, obviously, wouldn't be caught dead in a ruffly shirt and tartan mini. I love, love, love this comedy character: Gary Le Strange, winner of this year's Perrier Best Newcomer.
But I'm almost 30. It's so my period. I had four pot plants named after the members of Duran Duran, their names written on the pots in nail varnish (John Taylor was a begonia). This is my third visit here in two weeks. But, despite my adoration, I'm not looking at Waen Shepherd, aka Gary, on the stage but at the faces of two friends who have come up to Edinburgh.
They're not laughing as much as me. Zoe gives one small grunt for every four of my laughs. Tim gives a wry smile, like the bored manager of a band he's going to drop post-gig.
It's truly distressing and, if I'm being honest, the evening never quite recovers. When they try to criticise elements of it afterwards I find myself saying "Well, he wasn't as good as he was the other night," "You don't know the original music well enough," and finally, "OK, can we get drunk now?"
Gary Le Strange (extract from larger article)
Evening Standard, Aug 2003
The eighties revival hits the stand-up circuit with a synth-backed bang. Le Strange is a kohl-eyed amalgam of your worst new romantic nightmares. Take the hair of A Flock Of Seagulls, the estuary twang of Adam Ant, the bombast of Spandau Ballet (our hero once flirted with a combo called Auschwitz Tap Dance) and you've got it. It sounds excruciatingly naff but it succeeds because the musical spoofs are so accurate. Gary Numan may well consult m'learned friends (the electric variety, no doubt) if he hears Is My Toaster Sentient?