Pictures of comedians when the laughter stops

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A new exhibition of photographs by Mighty Boosh alumnus Dave Brown shows the darker side to Bill Bailey, Jimmy Carr, Lenny Henry and Sara Pascoe

Gloomy, lonely, not a smile in sight – and these are Britain's funniest men and women. When Dave Brown, erstwhile member of The Mighty Boosh, set out to photograph his fellow comedians for a new exhibition, he was determined to show the dark side of stand-up. Not for him the cheesy grins, microphones and lurid colours of the gag-masters' gig posters; this is the face of comedy when the laughter dies – furrowed brows, three-day stubble, smeary eyeliner and all.

"It's a tough old business, trying to make people laugh", says Brown, 39, who is best known for playing Bollo the Gorilla in the surreal sketch show. "And it's a lonely job. Travelling around the country on public transport to places where people have painted 'Comedy Club' on a sheet and hung it above an upturned beer crate. And then you have to stand there with a dodgy sound-system performing your hard-worked, heartfelt material to people who aren't listening."

For Tough Crowd, Brown asked his subjects – over 30 of the UK's finest comedy talents – to forget their successes and think back to their worst moments on stage. "Everyone has really related to it. I say, 'I want you to think of that gig where four people turned up. And only one of them laughed. And then you got a one-star review.' It's easy for them to go to that place", he says. "At some point in their careers they've all been heckled by a drunk, dropped by an agent, cancelled on a bill and delivered a punchline to total silence. I wanted to capture these thick-skinned, complex, moody characters and show them in a different light."

And so the usually cheery Bill Bailey broods in moody monochrome on a desolate urban estate, Lenny Henry glares out from under the hood of a dirty yellow raincoat while Jimmy Carr cuts an unsettling moonlit profile, his shadow lurking behind him like a ventriloquist's dummy. Brown's portraits are intimate, many of them in uncomfortable close-up, shot in the comedians' bedrooms or intruding on the introspective moments after a show.

Harry Hill is captured in his dressing room after the final TV Burp recording, trademark glasses glinting in the gloom. Tony Law, flushed with exhaustion, checks his phone, minutes after walking off stage at The Stand in Edinburgh. There is no limelight, no greasepaint. These are nocturnal creatures, caught in the shadows, lit only by backstage neon or the harsh light of the morning after the night before. Among the bleaker images are those of a bleary-eyed Sean Hughes, who mopes on his unmade bed as daylight peeks through unopened curtains and Alice Lowe, who weeps, her eyes red, her cheeks streaked with mascara.

Chris Addison, Sara Pascoe, Adam Buxton, Bob Mortimer and Julia Davis are among the other big names who have allowed Brown to shoot them in extremis. They trust him because he has been there himself.

As a student at Brunel University, he would trail around open mic nights, giving moral support to his best friend and then fledgling stand-up Noel Fielding. After university, when Fielding and Julian Barrett started The Mighty Boosh, Brown would step in to help out his housemates. "If they needed someone in a stupid costume", he says. "I'd do it." As the troupe took off, winning the Perrier Best Newcomer Award at Edinburgh in 1998, Brown joined the circus full time as Bollo, starring in their third live show AutoBoosh in 2000 and a subsequent decade of radio and television series and tours.

"There's no glamour, even when you've won awards," he says. "I remember one preview in Whitstable. We didn't have an ending to the show because we hadn't written it yet. It was lashing with rain, I was in the back of the van with all the props and Noel and Julian had just had a massive row. We turned up and there were six people, four of them grandmas who had season tickets. So we were trying out stuff we'd just written to six blank faces and their candyfloss hair. That was a low. You can look back on it now and laugh, but at the time the pressure was huge."

Over the years, Brown, a graphic designer by training, took on the Terry Gilliam role in the Boosh, creating its anarchic visual identity. In 2006, he set up his own company, APE (of course), and now designs books and DVDs for the Boosh and other comedians, including Jimmy Carr and Tim Key, out of his studio in Hackney. Photography has always been a passionate sideline: "I do like being behind the camera. But it's hard not to enjoy standing on stage in front of a sold-out O2 Arena", he says.

"If there was another Boosh tour, I'd be on it like a shot. But it's never been a cash cow." Fielding and Barratt both posed for this show: might a reunion be on the cards? "There is still lots of material – scripts that haven't been seen, film treatments, live show ideas. If the time was right, it could come together very quickly. It's not like we're a band who have split up – we're just doing our solo projects. The chemistry is still there."

In the meantime, Brown isn't tempted to try out his own comedy material. "Not at all. I know how difficult it is. You're either the king of the world or the lowest of the low", he says. He won't even go to see comedy, if he can avoid it. "My idea of hell is going to a club where I have no idea who is on the bill. It's the fear of someone not doing very well. I've sat there and watched people die and wanted to crawl out of the room myself. There's nothing worse."

After the exhibition – at which prints will be on sale for £50, with proceeds going to Afrikids – Brown intends to continue his series and make it into a book. There's no shortage of tortured souls for him to shoot, after all. "There's always the end of a show or a series when the comedian has to go back to a blank piece of paper and start writing new material. So the fear is always there. There's always the possibility of dying on stage, the awful silence after a punchline."

'Tough Crowd', Strand Galley, London WC2, 4 to 16 December (020 7839 4942)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone