When New Zealand comic Sam Wills’s suitcase goes through the airport security scanner in Dubai, the contents of his suitcase may raise eyebrows, or at least some giggles. There will be a toilet seat, two stuffed horse heads, a mop, oven gloves, tutus and wigs. And a lot of tape.
Wills, who got the moniker “The Boy With Tape on His Face” after a practical joke turned into a prop-based comedy show – oh, and did we mention he tapes his mouth shut? – will be performing at Courtyard Playhouse in Al Quoz from Sunday to Tuesday.
Wills’s gags, which involve audience interaction synced to funky beats, were a hit when he made his debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010. His act also earned him a spot on the Royal Variety Show in 2011.
Is your show about mime?
No. It is stand-up comedy –without talking.
Did you just wake up one day and say: ‘I need to tape my mouth shut for laughs?’
It is a strange thing to do. I used to do another comedy show back in New Zealand where I talked a lot and had props. I first did performances where I didn’t have tape and ended up talking too much to the audience in the front row and ruined the show. The next day when I returned, someone joked that I should have my mouth taped shut so that I would definitely not talk. So it began as a practical joke backstage and has now become a trademark of the routine.
How is the process different?
I can make jokes last longer in my show. Talking comedians tend to do work with a lot of topical references, news and everyday things that people can relate to. Whereas for me, I am trying to make a show using props that I can keep using over and over again. A three-minute joke can take up to three months just to bring the most comedy out of it. But a talking comedian would just sit down with a newspaper and can write 15 minutes of who is doing what in politics.
I listen to a lot of music and listen to my playlist as I wander into hardware stores and supermarkets as I like to use everyday objects that people play with and they know. That way, when I am making something funny out of it people can relate to it. When they go home and see that object, they think of the joke rather than what it should be used for.
Tell us about the joke that took three months to write.
It’s about a horse race, where I have got two horses who have a race and it ends up involving a toilet seat, a plunger, a roll of toilet paper and it all choreographed to one piece of music by William Tell. It is choreographed to music. It took me three months because I went through all the options to find the perfect order for the joke that I thought was the funniest.
On whom do you test your gags?
My wife is generally the first person to see the joke. If she doesn’t laugh, I know it’s not working.
The audience can be unpredictable. Has any joke ever gone south?
Most of the time the jobs are pretty much simple for them to do because I want them to leave the stage a hero. If anything, they can sometimes be a little overenthusiastic. The way I have crafted the show is that there is no wrong. There’s never a victim in the show, so if people play along, I can craft it and make it work and end up getting to my punchline.
What is your most versatile prop?
That would probably be the tape. I can use it quite a bit.
Have you ever had the urge to scream while performing?
I’m lucky I can control my composure. But sometimes an audience member will do something that I’m not expecting and I laugh and find it hard to stop.
Does the show change according to the audience?
Yes. For Dubai, I have chosen accessible routines rather than surreal stuff.
The Boy with Tape on His Face is at Courtyard Playhouse from Sunday, March 20 to Tuesday, March 22. Tickets start at Dh100 from www.courtyardplayhouse.com