It's all about bouncing back

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Infatuated? Like, Totally -- So What's Next for Dylan Moran?

If you are tall, Irish and extremely funny, then chances are good that I've already fallen in love with you three or four times over and, at this point, you're just wishing I would lose your phone number so that you could avoid all the hassle and paperwork involved with getting a restraining order (that can take weeks -- who has the time?) And that pattern probably best explains the reason for my ongoing infatuation with comedy's most delicious mophead, Dylan Moran.

If you're an American and already know Moran, that's probably because you were lucky enough to catch one or more seasons of Black Books on BBC America. Created, written and developed for Channel 4 by Moran, it chronicles the struggles of crumedgeonly drunken bookstore owner Bernard Black.

Bernard is a throughly unlikeable inebriate, but Moran relates him to the overwhelmed-by-the-modern-world bookworm inside many of us who just wants to be left alone. With his two long-suffering friends -- equally unmotivated shop owner Fran and painfully underconfident Manny, (played with equal strength by Bill Bailey and Tamsin Greig) -- they seek refuge in the bookstore and hope that the rest of London will just let them be; but it never does. Customers continue to drop in with the unreasonable expectation that they may browse or purchase volumes without being heckled. If that wasn't annoyance enough, soon a bright and cheery chain bookstore (with crass corporate customer service provided by a steely Simon Pegg) moves in next door -- and then the customers *stop* coming. As with all of comedy's greatest characters, it seems that there is no way for poor Bernard to win. The only hope for all three characters is to tolerate each others eccentricities long enough to form a family-style bond and barrier against the outside world.

"Black Books" was well-loved by fans in the UK and abroad -- and even the critics chimed in approvingly -- it won a BAFTA in 2002 for best sitcom. All of the episodes are gems, but I'm especially fond of "Elephants and Hens" (in which Bernard and Manny write a children's book); and the final episode, "Party", in which Bernard tries to explain why he has been so grumpy and misanthropic all these years. Frankly, though, I recommend that you buy all of them.

To date, Dylan has been fairly cautious about maintaining creative control over his work and that has definitely been to his benefit. Much of what he appeared in has been of his own design (although in 1998, prior "Black Books", he did star in another charming but less popular series called "How Do You Want Me?" which was written by Simon Nye, who also wrote "Men Behaving Badly.") The rare movies he has done have been ones written and led by friends with equal talent. For example, he has worked with Simon Pegg (including his key role in "Shaun of the Dead" and his heroic effort as Pegg's friend and trainer Gordon in the most recent [but not quite as funny] "Run, Fat Boy Run"). He also held a great double role in "Tristam Shandy -- a Cock and Bull Story" as Dr. Slop -- the "modern physician" who delivers the lead character. (A key premise of the original novel being that the narrator continually tries to tell the story of his own birth but is constantly distracted by other story threads). He pairs that role, as do all of the actors, with interspersed scenes where he appears as himself -- an actor in the film. (For fuller background on the post-modern nature of the film, see The Resilient Rabbit: Knowing Me, Knowing You) This is best near the end when all of the actors view a screening of the final product and Moran is chatting with Gillian Anderson about why all of her best scenes ended up on the cutting room floor. (Have I mentioned before you that you really must see this film? Seriously. It's an overlooked gem. But once again I digress).

Dylan rarely grants interviews -- he doesn't seem comfortable around reporters (a point that was played up for humorous effect during a short that precedes the opening of his "Monster" stand up DVD). And even when he does talk, he is reticent on the subjects of himself, his family, his history and the creative process. So much of all that remains a bit of mystery, which probably adds to the charm.

Moran is only 37, but the bounce back question still comes to mind for me. "Black Books" wrapped back in 2001 and I've been ever-so-curious to see what he comes up with next. He is apparently still doing stand up in the UK -- check out dates for his "What It Is" tour here -- and if his two performance DVDs, Monster and Like, Totally, are representative, then he is definitely worth checking out on stage. Moran started out in stand up and even won with Perrier award at Edinburgh before he began work in television, so he definitely knows how to work an audience. And though the "Monster" DVD still shows him performing his signature glass of red wine in hand, he says that he has grown bored of the prop -- and of performing while plastered generally -- so I would be even more intrigued to see what his stand up looks like now.

Here's hoping that this Rabbit -- and the rest of his infatuated American audience -- will be lucky enough to find out more soon.

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