Winner of the Best Newcomer of the Year Award 2014, Tim Renkow is taking over Leicester’s Dave Comedy Festival with shows full of dark humour that will have you both laughing and squirming in your seats. This American-born comedian has cerebral palsy which understandably plays a significant part in his comedy- but not just in the way he moves on stage, but his f*ck it attitude to life, and his hilarious responses to the sometimes patronising ways in which non-disabled people react to him. He’s certainly not a character who’s willing to sit back and turn the other cheek! We caught up with Renkow, one of Britain’s most promising stand-ups to date, to see what makes him tick.
Thanks for speaking to us today Tim. You won the Amused Moose Laugh off 2014 award at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, congratulations! With over 700 acts taking part did you ever expect yourself to be the champion?
No. I think the fact I didn’t expect to win was the reason why I won. I was the only guy who was actually relaxed about it!
Where does that shiny Moose trophy have pride of place in your house? Or is it just shoved in a cupboard?
(Laughs) Well it was actually too big for me to carry, so I think my mum has it somewhere.
You originally grew up in Memphis in the US, but you’re now living in London…
Well actually I grew up in North Carolina, but I went to school in Memphis so all my funny stories happened there. On stage I always say I’m from Memphis because it’s easier than saying I’m from North Carolina- no one knows where that is!
A lot of people think that American humour and British humour is worlds apart. I guess a stereotype for British humour might be a tendency for sarcasm?
Yeah, I don’t think the difference is the sarcasm, it’s who people worship. For example, in New York everyone is trying to sound like Louis CK. While over here everyone wants to sound like Stewart Lee. That’s the main difference. But humour’s humour and it works everywhere.
So you never tailor your comedy to suit American or British audiences?
No, I just say fuck ‘em. I had a joke about school shootings which I performed in front of a crowd of 50 visiting students from the school in California where that guy shot loads of people. I still did the joke- I just said fuck ‘em!
Wow, what was the reaction you got from that audience?
I was like 35 minutes into an hour long show, so they were already too on my side!
That’s not the first time you’ve done that kind of dark humour. I recently saw your hilarious social experiment on YouTube called the ‘bad carer experiment’…
Yeah, I haven’t actually seen that video yet! I just like reading the comments- they’re funny. It was fun to do. I called the TV prank show up because I thought some of my ideas were too out there for normal TV, so we got in contact and met up. I didn’t really know what I was letting myself in for, so I just went with it. It was good. It just didn’t prove anything that I didn’t already know.
Some of the reactions you got from people were mixed. Some got really angry, and some were a bit more passive.
The guys who were acting as my ‘bad carers’ had cameras on their heads, so I think it was kind of obvious that they were filming. But some people didn’t notice the cameras- why would you look at the top of someone’s head I guess?
The guys looked pretty tall to be fair!
(Laughs) Yeah. I think the whole thing could have been done better, more thoughtfully. There’s a lot of abuse with carers out there, but that’s not how it looks. It’s more subtle than that. I don’t really want to be in prank videos anyway. I’ll write them and I’ll sell them, but I won’t be in them. It’s not my humour.
We’ve heard that you were also abused by homeless people in New York? We loved your mum’s reaction! What was it, an eight ball in a sock?
(Laughs) Yeah, my mum told me to put an eight ball in a sock and hit them with it. My best friend offered me a Tazar, but I think she just wanted to see me shock myself with it! The thing is I generally do look quite homeless, so I think the homeless people think I’m stealing their territory. Me and Bobby (Mair) were once over there and this homeless lady started yelling that I was faking. She kept shouting ‘Don’t give him any money!’ Bobby was like ‘I wasn’t gonna!’ I do like homeless people though.
Some people have criticised the fact that your Cerebral Palsy allows you to make jokes about disabilities that some comedians wouldn’t even contemplate. What’s your reaction to these comments?
I think it’s because I don’t get self-conscious that it doesn’t bother me. It’s hard to take dark humour seriously when you know that the person is just showing off how dark they can be. But for me, that’s just my sense of humour. I love dark comedy- I like making people feel uncomfortable. I like to think it’s cheerfully dark though. There’s certainly cheerfulness to it. I just want to make people laugh.
Except for Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, are there any big shows or events on the horizon?
I’m doing two new shows on the 9th! I just settled on the name for the shows, but it might just get me killed. It’s going to be called: Kim Jong-un, Mohammad, Jesus and Other Power-Crazy Maniacs! So I’m probably going to die right after the show. The thing is I don’t have any more material, so I might as well get killed- a poetic way out, no?
That was certainly dark Tim! Finally, we love Demon’s guest editor Bobby Slayer’s idea to dress you up as Richard III for our Comedy issue front page! How did that idea come about?
He just said to me, how would you feel about dressing up as Richard III? I said, yeah Okay. His response was: ‘great, because you’re doing it in two hours!’