So why did he keep making me think of Tommy Cooper? The only immediately obvious parallel was that like Cooper, ‘Paul Foot’ the comedian is clearly a meticulously crafted persona built around a set of extraordinary physical mannerisms and an instantly recognisable costume.Mulling it over after the show, though, I realised the deeper connection: both draw their brilliance from a kind of highly specialised failure - the attempt to do one thing that stumbles, apparently through hapless accident, on to another, much better thing.
It’s not easy to spot under the crazy linguistic and conceptual inventions, but for a lot of his routine ‘Paul Foot’ appears to be trying his hand at observational comedy, grabbing at what in any other hands would be pretty easy targets - the dull suburban party with everyone banging on about children and property prices, the meagre hotel breakfast, the perpetual irritations of low budget airlines and so on.The trouble being, he doesn’t seem to have the toolkit for it. He appears to suffer from a terrible deficit of the normalcy required to convince us that he experiences life in the same way his audience does. He corrects and embellishes his thoughts on the fly until his ‘observations’ build into a ramshackle folly that bears only a glancing relationship to the shared reality they were originally meant to evoke. He can’t report the world’s foibles with droll, ironical detachment - he’s furious, bewildered, genuinely confused by the way things are, and seems to be hoping that the situation can be improved by shouting about it to a crowd of people he doesn’t know.
Foot, however, has one advantage over the late Mr Cooper: his tricks, unexpectedly, work. Not always - there are some bits held a little past their point of exhaustion and some rather forced weirdness at points. But in the parallel world he creates, with its mumbling, spasm-wracked housewives and sincere asthmatic businessmen there is, somehow, a deeper and funnier truth than anything simple observational banter could achieve.