COMEDY

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Sir Bernard Chumley's Grand Tour is at the Battersea Arts Centre, London SW11 (0171-223 2223) tonight and Mon; Redhill Harlequin Theatre (01737 765547) Wed; Farnham Maltings Arts Centre (01252 726234) Thur, and Norwich Arts Centre (01603 660352) Fri

If Sir Peter Ustinov is at the top of most people's list for the perfect after-dinner speaker, Sir Bernard Chumley would be somewhere near the bottom. An absurdly over-the-top luvvie, given to moments of outrageous abuse, he would empty the room quicker than a post-election political debate.

Sir Bernard is yet another inspired creation from the fertile imagination of Matt Lucas, the face and brains behind George Dawes, the manic baby in Shooting Stars, and cross-dressing farmer Mr Mills in Sunnyside Farm. "He's an actor and raconteur," Lucas says of Sir Bernard, "like a thin Peter Ustinov, or Ned Sherrin with more hair. For the past year, he's been doing some feminist theatre which went down great with the birds. His aim is always to bring theatre to the masses."

Lucas was first drawn to character comedy because "I felt I didn't have a great deal to say as myself. I'm not interesting enough to stand up and talk to people for an hour. I try to avoid doing the celebrity thing and saying `look at me'."

He reckons that character comedy as practiced by the likes of Steve Coogan and Caroline Aherne has become so fashionable because "everything's reactive. We had just reached a level of saturation with the sort of acts that used to succeed at the Comedy Store and Jongleur's."

It was being the insane, romper-suited George Dawes on the wonderfully deranged game-show that catapulted Lucas into the big time. "I now get a lot more offers of work. The downside is that I do gigs as Sir Bernard and the audience resents me for not doing George Dawes.

"It's a compliment in a way. They mistake my not doing George for arrogance - like a musician who won't play his chart-hit. But if George works, it's only in the context of Shooting Stars. If he got up in front of an audience, they'd think `why is he here?'"

At 23, Lucas has a career of crazy characters ahead. The RSC is probably not on the agenda. "Any hopes I had of being a serious actor have gone out the window," he admits. "God knows what I'll play next - a teddy bear, perhaps."

EYE ON THE NEW

Jo Brand hits the road this week. Cake-haters should steer clear of Portsmouth Guildhall (01705 824355) Tue; Guildford Civic Hall (01483 444555) Wed; Coventry Warwick Arts Centre (01203 524524) Fri

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