Darren Maskell
Darren Maskell

Darren Maskell

  • English
  • Stand-up comedian

Darren Maskell: A life of bedazzlement

Darren Maskell. Credit: Ed Moore

Adam Larter pays tribute to the unique talents of comedian Darren Maskell, who died recently aged 37.

I wanted to write this as a piece to reflect the insane outpouring of tributes and memories shared about the late Darren Maskell.

Darren hadn't performed on the circuit for a few years due to bad health and moving away from London, but the enormous output he created (both in volume and in imagination) has touched so many performers and comedy fans.

When alternative comedy fans talk about the acts of the 80s who used to 'do whatever they wanted' on stage and how 'that sort of act doesn't exist anymore' - the act they are describing is Darren Maskell. There is not a single tribute to this absolute hero which doesn't reflect how unique and creative he was, I have never seen anyone like him and we probably won't again.

Here's some reflections on Darren...

The performer

Darren Maskell

Darren wouldn't just gig anywhere, he had a few places that he went back to time and time again that he loved. Those which spring to mind are: Lion's Den, Pear Shaped, Martin & Vivienne Soan's Pull the Other One, Up the Creek, the Comedy Store Gong Show and doing many a daft thing at the early Weirdos Comedy nights.

Famous routines which spring to mind all showcase a thoroughly idiosyncratic comedy mind; very deadpan, very visual, grounded in mundane life and nineties nostalgia and often with the daftest of pay-offs like someone had merged Harry Hill with Emo Philips with Stewart Lee with John Candy (Darren often mentioned John Candy was a hero and people need more chubby heroes in Hollywood). Sometimes dressed all in red, sometimes dressed as a panda, always with some kind of prop to hand.

Those routines include:

- Slowly showcasing his favourite hangers to the audience.

- A bit about Shergar, the horse, acted out with a horse head.

- Handcuffing himself to an audience member to demonstrate trust.

- Correctly guessing the audience's preference for Ribena strength.

- Dancing to No Limits with a bucket on his head.

- Rolling a ping-pong ball down a tape measure.

- Recreating the ice dance from Edwards Scissorhands with a full ice sculpture (often traveling miles with the ice-sculpture prepared in his bag).

- An incredible sight gag where he ate real crisps from a Walkers Crisp-packet pencil case.

At the Fringe he delivered his wonderful schtick to love (from comedy fans and other acts) and bemusement (random punters and a few comedy critics). These shows include Ashdown And Maskell's Trade Show (2010), a split show with comedy pal Hatty Ashdown who many felt were more like brother and sister than a traditional double act (Darren even went to Hatty's wedding dressed as a chimney sweep).

A triple hander (Greaves, Tuck and Maskell in 3D) with pals Laurence Tuck and Al Greaves; a brave decision to have three deadpan acts in one show. I was lucky enough to guest MC this several times, as great as Tuck and Greaves were, Darren always blew the audience away, they were never expecting what he had in store for them!

At Weirdos, I loved booking Darren anytime possible, for our one-off themed nights. He always got the assignment and had an endless assortment of ideas, most famously for our awards themed night where he purchased gunge off the internet and gunged himself onstage (meaning that every act who followed was slipping and sliding everywhere): it was chaos, it was pure Darren.

At other times he recreated the No Suprises music video from Radiohead, pouring cold water onto a goldfish bowl on his head, and scared many audience members by performing as No Face from Studio Ghibli.

Of course, for our gang, we remember him most fondly for playing the role Smee in the Weirdos adaptation of the Disney film Hook. Darren hadn't acted on stage before but he was so excited to play a role made famous by Bob Hoskins he jumped at it. We spent over 30 minutes one weekend in a rehearsal trying to get Darren to say the tongue twisting line 'sleaziest sleeze of the seven seas' - for some reason he kept saying 'fleaziest fleas'.

The prankster

Darren Maskell

Back in the days of Chortle Forums, Darren was one of those who loved industry gossip. Maybe you don't know that you spoke with Darren; you might have had interactions with his alter ego, Ungus Peartree or Ryan Unsteelin or Quirkwise Maskelicious. He used to send cryptic messages back to confused open-mic acts who messaged the Weirdos account asking for a gig, sending them on elaborate goose hunts to prove they were worthy of a 5-minute unpaid gig; but he was never cruel, just very playful and madly silly.

In fact, even as he had been off the circuit for a few years he would still regularly send the odd email asking who such and such act was or what the gossip was with someone who was kicking-off about something on Facebook.

As a fishmonger he made elaborate art with the fish in the shop, spelling out people's names if they asked. He even did this at the very fancy Selfridges fish counter.

Some of his best art was done outside of the comedy circuit. When Croydon council asked 'which famous Croydon resident should there be a statue made of?', Darren was quick to launch the campaign that he should be the subject of this - not other famous residents, like Dave Prowse from Star Wars. 'Fish man takes on Darth Vader' read the local newspaper.

He also created The Maskell Awards; silly awards he handed out to people he felt needed further respect within the comedy community. One year he even created physical awards and left them in random places throughout Croydon - little bundles which said 'congratulations you have won a Maskell award'.

The comedy fan

Darren Maskell. Credit: Jayde Adams
Darren Maskell. Credit: Jayde Adams

He was an incredible supporter of comedy, particularly underdog voices, whether that was championing working class voices or those who were incredibly odd.

He loved his comedy pals; Hatty Ashdown, Nat Metcalfe, Holly Burn, Nick Helm, David Trent, James Acaster, Marny Godden, Mark Stephenson, John Kearns, Ben Target and Ali Brice to name a few.

Was it a coincidence that so many people who started at the same time as Darren went on to be so successful or do you need to encounter a maverick like Darren who doesn't give a shit in order to truly understand what is possible?

Beyond comedy, Darren was the nicest man. He loved to send you silly messages, he had a great taste in music and was a giant fan of the band Mclusky and their spin-off band Future of the Left. He loved Studio Ghibli, and Spielberg films such as Jurrassic Park.

He was as genuine as you could find.

If you never met Darren, can I suggest you seek out some of his silly videos (still online), his podcasts, or just go and watch Jurassic Park tonight. The comedy community will miss you Darren, I will always think of you whenever I eat Parmesan. Much love to his family and friends.

Some memories of Darren from comedy pals

Hatty Ashdown

Hatty Ashdown

From the first moment I saw him at Lions Den, I hooked him in and said 'oi, will you do Edinburgh with me?'! And I got to enjoy, and endure, a month with him doing our Trade show, where I'm proud now to admit most days people shaked his hand and walked past me! He was one of a kind, a comedy voice like no other with his scented hanger, tiny carriage clock, horse's head and how much cordial should you have to water ratio? And, of course, not many can forget when he turned up to my wedding as my very own lucky chimney sweep!

Nathaniel Metcalfe. Copyright: Ed Moore

Nathaniel Metcalfe

Darren was a stalwart of the open mic scene for comedians of our vintage. A softly spoken but mischievous original who was always very supportive of me and my comedy. Above all, he was a very funny act, a kind-of kitchen sink absurdist who you'd always look forward to seeing on a bill. All my condolences to anyone who knew and loved him.

Hannah Warman

Hannah Warman

He was such a great guy and we had some really deep amazing conversations as well as silly funny ones.

Richard Stainbank

Richard Stainbank

Darren Maskell had a unique and hilarious comedic voice and we had many brilliant experiences together on the stand-up comedy circuit, the memories of which I will cherish.

Marc Burrows. Credit: I Was There Photography

Marc Burrows

I've known Darren for years. We started comedy at about the same time. He once posted a picture of my bum crack on Facebook and asked people to guess which comedian it belonged to. We once appeared together in a stage version of Hook. He was a better Smee than Hoskins.

Ruby Speaking. Ruby (Jayde Adams)

Jayde Adams

I took this picture [below] of Darren in 2013. He had made a woodlouse costume from a sleeping bag and some pipes and wanted a photo for his show A Woodlouse Trapped Underneath A Glass.

He was also a fishmonger and would make friends names out of fish if they asked. I asked so many times and because he was silly, one day teased me all day with photos. I finally got one. Thrilled I was. He was always doing silly things online, so considering he faked his own death on Facebook in 2016 and felt disappointed with the results, I think Darren would have been moved by the outpouring of love and affection for him I have read on the internet over the last few days.

Darren Maskell. Credit: Jayde Adams

John Kearns

John Kearns

Darren was that rare bird, a comic who - straight from the off - tread his own path and was someone you were always excited to see. No ego, truly irreverent, delicately silly and a laugh you always wanted to hear when you peddled your own bollocks.

Joz Norris

Joz Norris

He was so funny and generous and kind. When I was starting out in comedy he was one of the people who showed me how silly and imaginative and funny it was possible to be. Feel very sad to think I won't see him being funny again.

Ed Gamble

Ed Gamble

A supremely lovely man who was always a joyfully unique and funny presence on the circuit. He'll be very missed.

Sooz Kempner. Copyright: Kate Scott

Sooz Kempner

We gigged together a fair bit in my first few years of comedy and he was always doing something insane and wonderful. We did a video games gig in about 2015 and he went on stage and did 10 amazing minutes as Cool Spot that had to be seen to be believed.

Alistair Greaves

Al Greaves

A magical character on the open mic comedy circuit around 2008-2010, Darren would delight and confuse audiences in rooms above and below venues across London and beyond in equal measure. Whether describing his favourite coat hangers, stealing his family's Sky remote, showing off his latest random tattoo or describing his day job working on the fish counter at Morrisons, sometimes under the guise of Ungus Peartree.

Harriet Kemsley

Harriet Kemsley

He was always so lovely and funny and one of my favourite memories in comedy was when he gunged himself, which was funny in itself but then everyone kept slipping in the gunge. He somehow managed to track down and send me a whole load of ice cream Chewits, even though they'd been discontinued.

Laurence Tuck

Laurence Tuck

He could have, indeed should have, been a comedy superstar. And everyone looked up to him, a laugh from Darren was worth more than a thousand people laughing.

Holly Burn. Copyright: Linda Blacker

Holly Burn

A humble, self effacing man with buckets of silliness and a brilliant sense of humour (which isn't a given in this industry). At a gig, he'd be the person you'd want to talk to - cause he got it, he understood people and his eyebrow raise would say it all. He could sniff the wheat from the chaff!

He was incisive and sharp but he had such a warmth about him and such a kind nature. He was a joy to be around. His comedy was unique and truly genius. He should've been a big name - he was inspired, daring, risk taking and had such an individual comic voice. AN ICE SWAN SCULPTURE ON STAGE ANYONE?!!?!

Ben Target

Ben Target

I always enjoyed gigging with you and I adored your jokes, especially the carriage clock set and no face cares an ice-sculpture - inspired. You cracked me up every night as Smee when we made the panto of Hook. You were kind and sweet and supported so many of us when we made shows (you also had the best tattoos).

Opening photo by Ed Moore.

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