A Brief Biography of Sorts
1977 – Born in Cheshire, England, three weeks late. Nearly die in the womb due to a low heart-rate. Pulled out, totally against my will, by ventouse. Not breastfed. Bathed in the kitchen sink. Elvis dies.
1986 – Annual pilgrimage to Lake Windermere where Uncle John McShane runs the Hydro Hotel. First contact with the manual typewriter, which is pulled out from beneath the front desk by the ever-patient hotel staff. With John's children we have free reign of the corridors of this colossal Victorian hotel as we fool around with the lifts, slide down the bannisters, raid the kitchens at night and – one one occasion – wreck havoc with a fire extinguisher. All crimes except the latter go undetected, and for that we are dealt with severely.
1988 – First year at Holmes Chapel Comprehensive School. Head of Year is a woman who – much like the Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher –seems starched from head-to-toe. Mr. Cook, the head of the art department, is much more human and we look forward to his speeches given in assembly – seldom delivered but always appreciated.
1989 – Like a caged parrot unable to spread its wings, I begin to mimic teachers at school, which is met with huge laughs from schoolfriends. I am hooked on the sound of it. Berlin Wall comes down.
1990 – I spend a fair amount of time on the road during school holidays with my father, an old-school stand-up comedian of the variety tradition, up and down motorways between seaside towns such as Scarborough, Brighton and Blackpool. I get to watch from the wings of pier theatres and from the back of smoky cabaret clubs as singers in dinner suits croon Sinatra, ventriloquists bring life to dolls, and magicians make things disappear, reappear then disappear again.
1993 – Join Oldham Theatre Workshop, a youth theatre just outside Manchester, where the director David Johnson, a tubby little man with a huge bouffant, screams in all directions. Kids rarely have names in David Johnson's world: young people are herded into the rehearsal studio like cattle and addressed by the director as Girl with the hair or Boy with the teeth. Marion, the head chaperone, would be perfectly at home cracking children across the kneecaps with a heavy iron bar if it were not illegal.
1994 – First summer job at the Grand Hotel in Llandudno. Almost set it on fire accidentally. Written warning but no dismissal. Drunk for the first time on five pints of Scrumpy Jack and sick all over a girl named Sophie who doesn't speak to me again. Still not breastfed.
1996 – Move to London Town. Scour the secondhand vinyl shops of Notting Hill, purchasing albums with titles like The Secret Policeman's Ball, Derek and Clive: Ad Nauseum, Barry Humphries: Wild Life in Surburbia and Not the Nine O'Clock News. Hear Bill Hicks for the first time on Rant in E Minor, gifted to me by musician friends Adrian Douthwaite and Richard Bean. Forever grateful.
1997 – I attend an audition for Newsrevue, London's longest running satirical sketch show. I join the cast for a six week run at a tiny theatre above a pub in Little Venice. Satire is tricky in September – Princess Diana dies the week before we open and public mood in Britain is hyper-sensitive. For the next few weeks she is the news. By the final week we manage to slip in a nice sketch about conspiracy theorists – who killed Diana? – which brings us to the natural conclusion that it just has to be the florists.
1998 – First attempt at bona-fide stand-up fails spectacularly at the East Dulwich Tavern. I'm asked to join Newsrevue again, and there is fertile ground for satire. It is height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in America, the Beckhams are capturing the nation's eye, the Blair administration is looking less (red) rosy and Titanic is a smash in the cinema.
2000 – I acquire an agent who tells me that if I wish to be taken seriously as an actor, as he believes I should, I must move away from comedy. He then secures me auditions for a national tour of Noddy for pre-school children, a variety of student films which go nowhere, and a bit part in Hamlet to be performed on a grassy knoll in Leicester.
2002 – Discover the town of Totnes, Devon, though apparently Brutus got there first. Start a regular comedy night there with Herbie Adams, with whom I form the spoof Britpop band Monobrow. Move into an old farmhouse with four hippies and a cat named Mr. Tux.
2003 – The beginning of a five-year sporadic hiatus during which time I travel mostly without purpose; teaching in China, riding a bicycle through the tea plantations of Bangladesh, dancing on tables in Israel and contracting pneumonia in Thailand. Spend a bit of time in India, where I meet a number of people on the quest for enlightenment including a girl named Nicky who smokes herself into a paranoid stupor and convinces herself that the police are chasing her. Nicky cuts off all her dreadlocks and eats her diary.
2008/9 – Wilfredo created and first performed. Among the accompanists are Katie Pollak and Kris Howe: friends for life. Wilfredo makes first of three appearances at the Glastonbury Festival to the mud-flecked masses, in addition to performances at the Winchester Hat Fair and at the Café de Paris.
2010 – Wilfredo appearance at the Salento Festival in Italy, and in Pippa Evans Old Time New Time Music Hall at the Canal Café Theatre in London. He hosts the main stage at the Port Eliot Festival, introducing Jarvis Cocker, Talvin Singh, John Cooper Clarke and Louis Eliot to festival audiences.
2011 – Wilfredo has now taken over my life. I have created a monster I can no longer control. Performs to the Poetry Society in Covent Garden, Edinburgh Festival debut with Wilfredo: Erecto!, two BBC Radio 4 Extra appearances and guests on Arthur Smith's Pissed Up Chat Show at the Southbank Centre – the only show in the world where the guests are drunk but the host is entirely sober. I meet Bob Slayer for the first time, who has fallen asleep onstage.
2012 – CircusFest 2012 at the Camden Roundhouse for Scottee. The Wonderful World of Wilfredo at the Edinburgh Festival. Happy Goddamn Christmas is written and recorded together with Pippa Evans, released in December. Video released via BBC Three. It reaches Number 6 on the UK Comedy Charts, while in the Netherlands – inexplicably – it reaches Number 114.
2013 – Fly to South Africa for the Cape Town Funny Festival. Wilfredo performs for Desmond Tutu. First trip to the United States in November, starting in New York City and travelling overland to California. Wilfredo Comes To Town, a collaboration with the British filmmaker Mat Snead, is released and later nominated for Best Short at the Promax Film Festival – but loses to an animation which stars a sausage entering a roll.
2014 – Wilfredo appearance in Buenos Aires, Argentina at the Gringo Comedy Club. Recording of a live album in Petaluma, California. First booking at the Slipper Room in New York City (later to become much like a second home). Wilfredo: Deconstructed tours Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic before opening at the Edinburgh Festival in August. I join the line-up of the sketch group The Greatest Show On Legs for gigs in Leipzig in the Autumn, finding myself wearing nothing but a balloon in front of 300 very serious looking Germans. And this is where life finds me at the age of thirty-seven.
2015 – Wilfredo tour: Bangkok, Adelaide, Manila, Singapore and finally the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. My copy of Barry Miles excellent memoir In The Sixties is confiscated by Singapore customs officials as it features a photograph of a naked Allen Ginsberg and is therefore considered pornographic. I escape both arrest and the lashings of the infamous Singapore cane. Return to London for Routines which plays the Hackney Picturehouse before heading to the Edinburgh Fringe. On to New York City in September.
2016 – I'll Say She Is: The Lost Marx Brothers Musical opens in New York City to fine reviews at the Connelly Theater. I play Chico, eldest of the brothers: pianist, gambler, ratbag and charmer. With my fellow brothers I'm invited to experience one of the more surreal episodes of my life: attending a cat fashion show at the Algonquin Hotel where we support the appearance of a moggy dressed up as Harpo Marx while being paraded for the cameras. Backstage, we meet the other 'models': a dishevelled Robin Hood, a deeply confused Joe DiMaggio and a heavily sedated Marilyn Monroe.
2017 – Gigs in Prague, London, Reykjavik, Montreal and back in New York, where I’m living happily amidst the crumbling surroundings of Hope Street in Brooklyn. Asked by Julie Atlas Muz and Mat Fraser to perform the comic/clown role in the first major pantomime seen in NYC for over a century: Jack and the Beanstalk. Opens to superlative reviews Off Broadway at the Playhouse Theater at the Abrons Arts Center. It is directed by Julie and written Mat, who are voted New Yorkers of the Year by readers of the New York Times for this radical, inclusive and joyful piece of work.
2018 – Month-long US tour of cabaret venues and black-box theatres covering 9,000 miles, playing to crowds (and handfuls of people) in places as far-flung as Amarillo, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Charlotte. Four us piled into a tour car, driving through the plains of Kansas alongside rolling tumbleweed and wild buffalo, breakfasting in strange diners, leaping into hot springs in New Mexico and driving through blizzards in the Midwest. Back in NYC, hosting the Coney Island Circus Sideshow before heading to Virginia for another round of Marxist shenanigans in The Cocoanuts. Tooth removed in New York City at a cost of $500 by Dr. Stein. One tooth down, 31 to go.