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Comedy, Music and Mayhem: An Interview with Alex Horne

Comedy, Music and Mayhem: An Interview with Alex Horne

12 September 2017 | Nicola Freedman

Having made his comedy debut at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Alex Horne has gone on to become one of the country’s most versatile and in-demand comedians. With a hit BBC Radio 4 series, sell out stand up shows, regular appearances on '8 out of 10 Cats', two published books and a fifth series of BAFTA nominated 'Taskmaster' beginning this week, he has somehow also found the time to tour the country with 'The Horne Section'. We speak with the comedian about his upcoming tour, the joys of performing with a band, and why learning the French horn wasn’t meant to be.

Hi Alex, thanks for speaking with Culture Calling today! To start with, how did The Horne Section come about?
 
It came about roughly nine years ago. I’d been a comic for quite a while, and my two best friends from primary school had become jazz musicians. We were all bumbling along, doing all right, but we thought if we team up we might have more chance of having fun, because they’re both quite lonely jobs I suppose – as a comedian you’re by yourself on stage, and jazz musicians are often ignored in the background. We started at the Edinburgh Festival at midnight for eight nights, and they got a couple more musicians to join us, and I got a couple of comics to perform with us. We didn’t really have a plan, but it just sort of worked. I think people liked seeing live music and comedy. I know its been done before, but the musicians are really good, and the comics are really good. So it was just fun straight away, for the comics and the audience as well.
 
As you’ve just touched on, you perform with a live band. How do you find performing in a band as opposed to solo?
 
It’s so much more enjoyable. It’s brilliant - you actually feel like a rock star! It’s just the camaraderie- they are some of my best and oldest friends. If they play a wrong note, I will absolutely pick them up on it and ask them to explain what went wrong, and if I do a joke that doesn’t work, instead of the audience just not laughing, they point out how that wasn’t funny.
 
If it’s not funny then the music will be good, and if the music’s not good it will be funny.
 
For those unfamiliar with your work, what can one expect to see at your shows?
 
A ratbag, mixture of stuff. There will be some songs, there will be some dancing, the audience may have to get involved at some point, there will be jokes, I will bully the band in a good natured way, there will be some virtuoso music stuff and also bits where I make them do things they definitely can’t do. A funny musical mayhem – something like that!
 
Your show is described as a collision of music and comedy. Have you always been interested in how the two feed off and influence each other?
 
Not especially, but I am definitely a frustrated musician. I was in an orchestra for two days, with the trumpeter and drummer from the [Horne Section] band, when I was about twelve. I learnt the French horn because my surname was Horne and I thought that would be hilarious, but it was just a mistake – it was a really hard instrument! I just don’t have the musical gene, but I wish I did. That’s what it is really - I’m interested in music but I can’t do it, and hopefully that’s funny. One-man or one-woman comedy with a mic is fine, but I think giving the audience more than that is a good thing.


 
The Horne Section band is made up of five jazz musicians. With jazz having been thrust back into the spotlight following the success of La La Land, do you think there is a newfound appreciation of, or interest in, the genre?
 
I mean, I hate jazz. I don’t really, but I like saying that. I only hate bad jazz!
 
But yeah, I guess so - I loved La La Land. There is a place called Ronnie Scott’s [Jazz Club] in London and you can’t have a bad time there, its just brilliant. So if films like La La Land get people to go to those sorts of places, then that’s great. Actually, the first time we performed I did a short comedy set at Ronnie Scott’s with the band there and it did make me think people who go to these things will like comedy. I must say that while there is a focus on jazz, [The Horne Section] play all types of music - we don’t limit ourselves to one genre.
 
What is your favourite part about touring the country?
 
I think my favourite bit is meeting the people to be honest, because we do get the audience involved a lot, and they do tend to have different characteristics around the country. I love being on stage and mucking around with a different audience each time, and seeing how they are.
 
Do you find that the British audiences are happy to get involved? Or is there still that typical sense of reservation?
 
Oh yeah, they hate it. They never sit at the front or volunteer, but by the end they are pleased they have done. I suppose they always think they aren’t going to like it, whereas in America or Australia they are always involved straight away.
 
What is the worst part of touring?
 
The admin. We have to do a lot of setting up - that’s the one downside of having a band.
 
With so many projects under your belt, is there anything else you are still eager to do?
 
Writing either fiction or narrative comedy is what I’m trying to do one day. I think what you really need to do is take a year off and immerse yourself in it, but I just try to squeeze it in which is probably why I’m failing. Either that or I’m just not very good at it!



Who are your biggest influences, comedians or otherwise?
 
I don’t know about influences really, but I spend a lot of time with my friend Tim Key, who is a great comedian, so I suppose we automatically influence one another. When I started I was a massive fan of Ross Noble and Ardal O’Hanlon, and I did vaguely try to copy them, but I’m just completely different so it turned out that I couldn’t. I think you end up finding your feet in comedy and hopefully not being influenced too much.
 
How would you describe the current state of comedy in the UK?
 
I don’t really watch a lot of comedy - it just doesn’t seem healthy. I mean, there are a lot of comedians. I wouldn’t want to start now, I don’t know how you’d get yourself noticed! There are a lot of people doing interesting things though, so I hope it’s in a healthy state. However, I think people aren’t going to live comedy as much as they could. People will always tend to have a good time at live comedy but sort of forget to go.
 
I suppose its too easy now to just watch a comedy special on Netflix
 
Yeah, and I don’t particularly like YouTube’s influence on comedy either. I like that people can put up their own videos of sketches they’ve done, but I don’t like people filming stand up. People put up videos and then your jokes are out there without your permission.
 
Finally, can you sum up your show in three words?
 
Messy, shambolic and skillful.

The Horne Section are touring from now until 30th May 2018, for full tour information please visit thehornesection.com. Series 5 of Taskmaster starts on Dave on Wednesday 13 September.

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