Interview with Al Pitcher

Al Pitcher (NZ/UK/SWE)

THE AL PITCHER PICTURE SHOW OF THE WORLD

Al Pitcher is back armed with his camera and a USB stick full of the snaps that have made up his acclaimed Picture Show around the world.

ALL THESE THINGS I SHOULD HAVE DONE

Regrets, he’s had a few. Is it right to have them? Should we leave this Earth with none? At the age of 38, Pitcher needs to share his most embarrassing, personal and hilarious regrets so far. BUT most of all he wants to hear and conquer yours. Come along, don’t regret it.

The following is a paraphrase from notes (my voice recorder wasn’t working) of a chat over the phone with Al in Melbourne and me in Sydney.

GFI:
I saw your show twice last year, and very much enjoyed how it was not the same show, because the weather had been different and the part of town you took your photos in was different, so what you talked about was different. Are you still enjoying the challenge of getting out and taking pictures every day for the show that same night?

AP:
I still love doing that, but this year I’ve added a new section to the show where I show some of my favourite pictures from previous shows, as well as the pictures I’ve taken that day. I found that people kept on asking me about what I’d seen in other places, and I’ve got some GREAT pictures from all sorts of places I’ve been, so I decided to add that into the show.

GFI:
I can see that working really well – the audience is curious about where else you’ve been, and you get to tell some of your favourite stories instead of having to let those stories go because you’re somewhere else.

AP:
Exactly. And it works all over the world – people love to see photos of their own town and how it looks to a visitor, but they want to see what I’ve seen in other places as well. I’ve done a tour of India this year, and a lot of shows in Sweden where I live now, and it’s amazing how people get involved just through seeing their own neighborhood.

I did a show on the Isle of Mull, off the west coast of Scotland – really feels isolated, no cell phone coverage even – they were just thrilled that someone had come early and walked around their remote places taking photos, and because the boat back to the mainland didn’t come until the next day I got to hang around and chat afterwards and hear lots of their stories outside the context of the show. I like making those connections with people.

Although it can take a while for people to figure out that it’s OK to talk to me in the show. I was in Helsingborg, and the Swedes aren’t much for heckling or chatting with people on stage, so it took about 10 or 15 minutes for them to realise that they could just talk back to me about the pictures, but then they really took to it. It was great, like telling stories around the campfire, which is what I really like about this show format – so different from normal standup.

GFI:
Have you been doing a lot of normal club standup, or have you been mostly touring the show?

AP:
Mostly club standup gigs, really, with a few tours of the show to keep my hand in. It feels a bit strange doing a club set without the projector sometimes – it’s almost like I’ve become a prop comedian, although I get over that pretty fast! It’s been fascinating taking back what I’ve learnt from the audiences for the picture show to my standup – it’s made me, well, extra confident on stage – not arrogant, I don’t mean that – just willing to let the set shape itself depending on what the audience is doing, so I don’t have to worry about getting the same old material pitch perfect for every set. It’s very freeing.

GFI:
Do you see yourself doing the picture show for years yet? Like some of those actors with one-man shows that they tour every few years while doing other work in between?

AP:
It’s something I think I’ll never get sick of doing, and I probably will keep it in my back pocket and bring it out every now and then, but I’ve got other ideas for shows that use other concepts. I’ve always been a bit suspicious of “high-concept” comedy shows, with multimedia and lighting effects, but then I ended up doing one (laughs) and it’s great because it’s a springboard for improvising to and with the audience, which is the bit I really love.

GFI:
The photographs work almost like the old “Suggestions from a Hat” impro game, don’t they?

AP:
Well, the whole show is almost a suggestion from a hat (laughs) – being a pun on my name Pitcher suggesting something to do with pictures, and taking that idea to extremes.

GFI:
So you’ll never go back to a traditional scripted routine?

AP:
Not for an entire festival show, I don’t think so. I see other comedians do that at a festival like this (MICF) and by the middle of the second week they are just so sick of their own show. I’ve found doing this has been a real comic breakthrough for me, finding the remarkable in the everyday and something remarkably different every day, so I don’t get jaded and I think the audience can sense that.

Not that I do, like, 6 great shows in a row. It’s more like 4 brilliant shows, then an average show, then a stinker, which is of course when a reviewer will see it (laughs). My best shows are not so much packed with big belly laughter as with people finding moments where they think “that’s so true” and finding the fun in that and remembering it. Which I think is the best sort of comedy result, really.

The Pajama Men…

GFI:
…who do a really tightly scripted and rehearsed physical comedy show…marvellous show…

AP:
yes! …they came to see me and were really supportive…

GFI:
I can totally see that…their show is also highly observational, dealing with slices of life, which is what you’re doing too?

AP:
I like that description. I get a lot of appreciation from other comics, which is great. There’s a lot of asking “how can you do an hour like that without a script?” but they enjoy the show for itself, maybe because it’s not structured in ways they know…

GFI:
…so they can’t predict what’s coming next?

AP:
Could be. After all, I don’t know what’s coming next – I’m now vegetarian this past year, I don’t drink anymore, I’m living in Sweden, touring the world with comedy – how did that all happen? I don’t have time to plan much. Putting the show together can be very hard, having to get somewhere early in the day so that I can take the photos and then put them together in a slideshow for the show that night – sometimes I’m so knackered before a show that I have to sleep for a while in the dressing room before I go on, just to have enough energy to perform (laughs). So it’s just as well I’m improvising, really.

GFI:
Enjoy the rest of your month in Melbourne, and I look forward to seeing you in Sydney in a few weeks.

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