Normally the domain of chatty, fast-talking gagsmiths, comedy club audiences are suddenly falling for the quiet charms of a silent act who goes under the moniker of The Boy With The Tape On His Face.
He might not utter a word on stage, but he’s certainly getting tongues wagging.
The creation of New Zealander Sam Wills, The Boy With The Tape On His Face is just that. A boy, with tape stuck to his face.
But Sam uses props, mime and the odd member of the audience to create an utterly enchanting and involving show that owes more to mime, clowning and street performance than stand-up comedy.
“I was essentially a street performer,” Sam says of his roots. “As a child I discovered a clown locally in my town and at 12, I knocked on his door and asked him if I could be his apprentice. So I became an apprentice to a clown!
“I then discovered that in the next major city, there was a circus school. From there it’s a very easy step to circus sideshows, the Freak Shows... I love that kind of stuff. So I learnt how to hammer nails up my nose and swallow swords.”
It was a chance invitation that led to Sam’s move from streets and sideshows to comedy clubs and his subsequent creation of The Boy persona.
“I was asked to fill a slot at a comedy club and I just did my street show, but a bit faster, and it went well,” says Sam who cites Buster Keaton as a major influence. “I did that for a number of years and won a large New Zealand comedy award but I got bored with it. People expected me to do certain things, so I thought, what can I do to really shock them? I know, I’ll do a silent character!
“But I ruined it on the very first night by coming out on stage and saying ‘good evening’. So I had to put a tape cross over my mouth to stop myself from talking.
“It was only a five minute slot in 2005. But this sketch slowly developed into 10 minutes, 15 minutes, and I wondered, could an audience be entertained for an hour? Could silent comedy be worth an hour?”
The answer was a solid ‘yes’, and backed by some pumping ‘80s tunes and the soundtrack from Amelie, The Boy has slowly grown to dominate Sam’s career.
Now rave performances at last year’s Birmingham Comedy Festival – to which he is returning this year – and the Edinburgh Fringe have been followed by TV appearances including BBC2’s Comedy Proms as a guest of Tim Minchin.
Sam is now based in the UK after finding love on the streets.
“I first came over in 2007 to do Covent Garden,” he recalls. “I popped up to Edinburgh with a friend and was doing some street performing. I noticed a young street opera singer and we fell in love and got married!”
* The Boy With Tape On His Face plays Birmingham’s Glee Club on October 13. Ring 0871 472 0400 or go to www.glee.co.uk