Performer, director and professional show-off Scottee is at the very heart of London’s creative thump. Award-winning director of performance collective Eat Your Heart Out, here in the first part in our new ‘i-Think’ series Scottee philosophises on the subject of Tumblr…
I’ve been toying with the idea of opening a Tumblr page (what tribulations a modern woman must go through?). For those of you with meaningful lives, Tumblr is a blog of images or videos you like, a scrapbook that shows the world your brain porn. Originally I wanted to set one up to display my references to the world, my most FAQ in any interview is ‘Who are your inspirations?’ – which often leads to a journalist dropping names that sound uncomfortable in their mouths like Leigh Bowery, Franko B, Divine, John Walters etc, but stop press it’s none of the above. I have great respect for the aforementioned and of course I think they have all informed me and only encouraged my behaviour (not to mention the amazing support from Leigh’s closest) but I arrived at these people post-making the decision I wanted to be a showoff, so I guess they were not my initial inspiration. The idea of setting up a Tumblr would set the record straight and maybe inspire other ‘youfs dems’ into thinking outside of Yoko Ono’s box.
My references (by which I mean things from a young age that had me watching UK Gold with my corrective eye patch) are as bipolar as its owner: Hattie Jacques, Dawn French, Dick Emery, Vic & Bob, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Chris Morris, Lily Savage, Beryl Reid, Frankie Howerd, Kenneth Williams, Fenella Fielding, Pauline Quirke, Victoria Wood, Julie Walters, Black Lace, Michael Barrymore, Gail Tuesday, Mrs Mills, Mollie Sugden, Kathy Burke, John Inman, Bruce Forsyth, the Roly Polys – more? I hastily started a Tumblr, adding gorge images and some choice YouTube clips and began to think about what they all meant. I noticed the common themes from these performers were: working class backgrounds (bonus points for forced upper class accents), a history in variety or live performance, caricatures of themselves in both performance and attire, not to mention a strong look but most importantly none of them are artists. For someone who is plugged as a ‘performance artist’ I don’t really like art. I dropped using the artist bit about four years ago, worried I’d be done under the trade descriptions act.
I’m currently researching my references on what posh people call a ‘sabbatical’ and I thought it would encourage some new ideas for forthcoming projects – I want to understand the history of my ilk of performance and in doing so I think my future looks to be pointing in a different direction. I think, and this is up for discussion, I am not an artist but an entertainer. Since this thought and researching into greater detail the people behind the outfits it’s been interesting to see a common thread in their off stage lives with a similarity to my own. It is well documented that these folk are shy, quiet or socially excluded, this backstage awkwardness is often medicated with booze and/or drugs, this also helps with ‘post-show come down’ – after a performance feeling you should have tried harder or you’re not good enough, this is usually the effects of adrenalin which can be diffused with the booze and drugs – Catch 22. The artist is a different breed, the artist doesn’t medicate with booze but indulges in it to make art (see the marvellous Bryony Kimmings – 7 Day Drunk), the entertainer uses it like a heroin addict would use methadone, a suppressant until the next hit of show. I also see a parallel in their upbringing – often from a background with no artistic history, single parent families, lower class and/or from a history of addiction and depression and a ‘trauma’ (Dawn French’s father’s suicide, Emery’s parents’ addictions etc) that changed their life or how they viewed it – it seems this makes the perfect recipe for someone who dedicates their life to making others smile.
As most performers would like to be considered ITV fodder I shouldn’t be admitting to the following but I identify with a lot of these traits/defaults, I find it incredibly uncomfortable seeing people after a show or walking though an audience out of character/drag/persona, I often slip away without saying goodbye – I find it awkward esp. when they throw in words like ‘fabulous’ – because that’s all I want to be?! I’ve also managed to leave a £400 a week cocaine habit well and truly in the past (4 years now). I shudder at the thought of drinking during and after a show now, a recent development, which I’m pleased about but understand how it helped. Reading biographies about Dick Emery, Tommy Cooper and Les Dawson has been the first time I’ve thought ‘Oh I do that’ – I don’t get that from any artist’s material.
Now before you start reading this lengthy blog thinking I am comparing myself to the greats I am not, I’m simply relating to how I identify with their practice – the entertainer’s craft, skill and ability is undocumented and I’m interested in this territory.
Gavin Butt once interviewed me for a book/something academic about my practice and a question he asked me still sticks with me ‘Is comedy or being entertaining important to you Scottee?’ – still flogging myself as an artist at the time and desperate to make someone academic tell me I was on the right track I replied ‘…oh no’ as if to be funny or entertaining was to not have any gravitas. I’d like to retract my statement and proudly declare it does, to entertain others is the overall narrative but hopefully I’ll throw a 21st century spin on it. What makes an artist? I don’t know, I think I am an entertainer. All that from a Tumblr? Who knew!?
Every Thursday in March, Scottee will be joined at the RVT by a troupe of magnificent folk (including i-D’s Music Editor, Princess Julia) for ‘Burger Queen’, his now infamous, plus-size beauty pageant!