Culture & Conversation

Fat chance

According to Steve Larkin, the secret to his success is oxygen. Plenty of it – rushing around other people’s blood. His theory goes like this: If you want people to enjoy themselves  they need oxygen. That means opening their mouths a lot, laughing, singing along, moving a bit if you like. At one of his gigs in Winnipeg this summer there was someone dancing naked in the audience by the end of it -“thats probably a bit too much oxygen” he admits.

Steve Larkin, who briefly touches down in Montreal this coming weekend for an intimate one off-show and to lead a performance masterclass, is one of those international performers for which the old-fashioned moniker ‘entertainer’ fits snugly. He has a stage presence that holds the audience in his hands from his opening remarks and then tickles and pokes them, dances them, grins and confides to them for a sustained hour of quickfire wordsmithery, elegant gags and carefully honed poetry. His themes are by turns irreverent, political and sometimes downright dirty. The title poem of his current show “Fat Sex” parodies the culture of women’s magazines obsessed with.. well.. fat and sex. His opening piece ‘Wanakah’ pricks at the mystical self importance of performance poets. Other poems dabble with environmental themes, animal rights, the health of the elderly and more. Yet its the tissue of chatter between the poems that keeps warming audiences to him. A firm favorite on the Canadian fringe circuit, this British northerner has carved out a reputation for laughter with a smart, intelligent edge.

I should say upfront I feel I have some stake in his trajectory. After an open mic in Oxford a decade ago I challenged Steve to attend a slam poetry competition in London. He’d never been to one and was skeptical but was game enough to take up the challenge. He won the slam  and five years later he was crowned International Slam Poetry champion at an international tournament on Ottawa. For much of the past decade he has helmed Hammer and Tongue, the leading slam poetry organization in the UK.

But don’t pigeonhole him as just a slam poet or a comedy act. Steve defies boxes. Three years ago he was put forward as a candidate for the prestigious Oxford Professor of Poetry position which is decided by vote. In typical Larkin-style his candidate statement promised to “reload the literary canon and fire it through the walls of  the ivory tower “.. strangely the Don’s turned down the offer. A stint teaching poetry in a high security prison provided material highly acclaimed theatre show called N.O.N.C.E. that won audiences across Canada and UK  as Steve transformed a cast of criminals, all played by him, into a sort of motley crew of poetic Billy Elliots. His brand new one man show, TESS which just premiered in Victoria, grittily rewrites Thomas Hardy’s Tess of The D’Urbevilles for contemporary Britain. The Victoria Times Colonist rated it one of the best shows of this years fringe and called it “an intelligent gut-puncher of a show” Yet for all of Steve’s literary oxford polish he’s as happy to spend five minutes on stage teaching the crowd to chant ‘wanker’.

Last time Steve was in Montreal he filled up the Casa de Popolo, this time he’s in the more intimate setting of Burritoville near Concordia. The show starts at 8pm on Friday 4th October, and you can get tickets in advance from Quebec Writers federation (he is running a workshop for them next day, details here. Its only ten bucks for what CBC describes as “An entertaining hour of funny, politically charged poems and songs” – and oxygen. Plenty of oxygen.

Fat Sex with Steve Larkin


Jeremy Dobski. – Comic/rapper/producer

Léa Strélisky – from Radio-Canada

Judes Dickey – host of

Burritoville, 2055 Bishop

514 – 286 – 2776  /

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