After being on the comedy periphery for a while, helping others hone their own acts, Maff Brown is about to emerge reborn and revitalised from the shadows. Writing material for ‘Shooting Stars’ and ‘Mock the Week’, Brown was vicariously entertaining TV audiences, but much of his effort never hit their ears. “I was writing around 90 jokes a week and maybe two would get used,” he tells me. “So I was thinking what do I do with all these?” So his new stand-up show, ‘Born Again Comedian’, sees him deploy those finely tuned writing skills for his own benefit. Where Brown’s previous style was chatty and conversational, he’s become an all guns blazing gag-machine, pausing only to provide context for what’s about to be unleashed.
Starting out in football, he saw action with Brentford FC, a team he still avidly supports. His career halted by injury, he went on to coach with Brentford. This would eventually lead to working with Gérard Houllier at Liverpool, and then onto managing his own squad in Singapore. Two seasons later he was paid off, leaving him freedom and finance to pursue his other passion – comedy.
‘Outside the Box’ became his next project. Held in Kingston, it won Chortle‘s Best Comedy Club Award. Since then it’s become known as a stepping off point for some of the scene’s biggest stars. Regularly attracting Dara Ó Briain, Andy Parsons, Jo Brand, Russell Howard and Lenny Henry, it’s gained a fearsome reputation for quality. “We even had Robin Williams come down. We had Omid Djalili, Al Murray, and then him. It was incredible.” Ten years on and he’s producing regular podcasts from the night, and it’s not lost any of its magic, still welcoming the freshest talent. “I can see straight away when they’re going to be household names. There’s a young guy called Tom Lucy, who’s 19; he’s going to be huge.” His acts often repay the breaks he gives, by returning to the venue when better established to try out their more adventurous material.
Now he’s focusing on revitalising his own career with a new form of comic energy, offering greater word economy his style uses as few words as possible to make the jokes more powerful. It’s quick, punchy and owes little to his previous anecdotal outings. “The only down side is it takes longer to assemble a lot of jokes together. One-liners live or die by the end of the line. There’s no hiding where the laughs are supposed to be.”
Whether writing for himself or others, he still likes to write in places where distraction may loom. Sometimes that means the pub, but just listening to the radio can trigger a thought process. There’s no sign of him giving up his TV work, but now he’s able to personally connect with an audience on his terms. “They’re both very rewarding. When you hear one of your jokes on the telly it’s a big thrill, followed by regret that you’re not saying it. But to be a good writer you’ve got to be a good performer.”