As the dyspeptic old-school entertainer embarks on a tour, his creator Steve Delaney reflects on dedicating his life to one character
Comedy has its careerists: thrusting tyros zeroing in on the fame, the TV gigs, the movie roles. But there are other, more circuitous routes to the top. The fictional Count Arthur Strong certainly took one, via the dog days of vaudeville and bit parts in Hammer horrors. His creator Steve Delaney took one too, meandering from drama school to a carpentry career to the slow gestation of his alter ego, away from the circuit’s bright lights.
The Count is a star now; his sitcom – co-written with Graham Linehan – ran for three series to 2017. But he was once an oddity on the Edinburgh fringe, where I started watching him at the turn of the century – an experience never to be forgotten, for various reasons. Yes, this blithering, dyspeptic old-school entertainer was a creation of near-genius, and Delaney’s blood vessel-busting performance a spectacle to behold. But – wow! – those early shows could be gruelling. The joke was in Arthur’s frustration and confusion, as his own waning powers (of memory, movement, syntax) thwarted this or that overreaching set piece. Often, Delaney took that joke to painful, patience-fraying extremes.
For me, there’s nothing funny in coming up with a character with dementia. I steer clear of it. He’s a nutty old bloke
Count Arthur Strong: Is There Anybody Out There? is touring from 18 September.