Published on RHUM.org.au, Melbourne International Comedy Festival April 2012
Tim Fitzhigham is the best kind of Englishman – the kind that is acutely eccentric and unfailingly polite. The gentleman adventurer slash comedian has a string of delightfully archaic titles and honours to his name – Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society; Freeman of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames; Pittancer of Selby Town in the West Riding, North Yorkshire; and Freeman of the City of London, which gives him the right to drive a sheep over the London Bridge (with a stick, I mean, not in a car. Presumably anyone can do that). He’s had a toilet named in his honour and rescues chickens from battery farms and rare spaniels from extinction.
Each of his comedy shows to date have revolved around some outlandish feat or another – rowing a paper boat down the River Thames; rowing a bathtub across the English Channel; Morris dancing for nearly 200 miles. This year, in his first Australian show, Fitzhigham presents Gambler, in which he recreates ten absurd bets from history’s footnotes.
He found the bets in gambling books from gentlemen’s clubs in the 18th century. “The bets in these books are absolutely phenomenal,” he enthuses. “One of them says a lord bets another lord that a third lord will vomit into the hat of a fourth lord. And then underneath someone’s written: I lost.”
Unfortunately that was one bet Fitzhigham was unable to recreate for the show, but he did attempt to roll a cheeseboard 6000 metres in under a hundred throws, and cycle from London to Dover before fellow comedian Alex Horne could draw a million dots. The gambling books were full of great bets, so how did he narrow it down to ten?
“I basically picked them on the grounds of how weird they were,” he says. “And also I did cut out the ones that involved actual murder. Suddenly that’s less a show and more serial killing, so let’s leave that alone.”
He loves the contrast between the historical events everyone knows about, and the strange things he digs up through his ‘gambling archaeology’. “Everyone thinks history is about big people, people who shaped things,” he says. “But the history that’s really fun is the footnote stuff. If you put it in context, 1789 is the year of the French Revolution. This is the year that people were chopping off the heads of kings and queens of Europe, and then there’s a guy in Yorkshire rolling a cheeseboard. It’s just the most extraordinary thing about it.”