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Improv fest headliner MC Hammersmith breaks it down

Scottish comedian and hip-hop artist MC Hammersmith will headline the 13th Annual Sarasota Improv Festival.
Scottish comedian and hip-hop artist MC Hammersmith will headline the 13th Annual Sarasota Improv Festival.
Photo courtesy of Lance Fuller
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MC Hammersmith is Scotland’s leading free-style comedy rapper and improviser. (For all we know, he’s Scotland’s only free-style comedy rapper and improviser, but let’s skip that for now.) The man is a multitalented performer on the level of Robin Williams. He thinks on his feet, pulls hip-hop songs out of thin air, launches into a dazzling stream of consciousness, then switches gears to song parody — and makes it look easy the whole time.

Whatever MC Hammersmith does, it’s funny. He’s the headliner of this year’s Sarasota Improv Festival. We emailed him a few questions. Funny thing. He answered.

Hip-hop freestyle and improv comedy sound like two great tastes that go great together. What inspired you to mix them up?

I’ve been doing improv since I was 14. Then at Edinburgh University, I started performing an improvised musical show. We would always want to slam the rap break in the bridge of songs between choruses, but none of us were any good. I wanted to get better, but nobody else wanted to practice. So I decided to practice by myself — I’ve always loved hip-hop as well, so the chance to do both was a natural meeting point.

In terms of your hip-hop parodies, which artist do you most enjoy taking the piss out of? (Or “ridicule,” to use the American idiom.)

I have a routine in my solo show in which I take an audience suggestion of a mildly embarrassing incident that happened to them. I’ll then take the backing track of Blackstreet’s R&B classic “No Diggity,” and change the chorus to “No Dignity.” There’s plenty of scope for comedy with an auto-tuned, soulful chorus.

When you do a “set," do you have a rough structure in mind, or is it like jumping into a swimming pool blindfolded and hoping there’s water?

Kind of a bit of both. My shorter comedy club sets are all improvised, but in a very structured way. Because you have to do your time very strictly in a club, the tracks have to be timed. In the longer solo shows I get to use looping beats, so I can rap for as long as I want and get carried away by fun ideas. Those are much more fun.

What’s your all-time best improv/freestyle experience?

Getting to freestyle rap onstage with my favorite rapper (RA The Rugged Man). It was my first time free-styling at a hip-hop night instead of a comedy night, so the reaction from the crowd was just electric by comparison.

Worst experience?

About 20 years ago, rapping for a group of 80-year-olds in a hotel function room in rural Scotland — they just stared blankly at me in utter disgust. I take solace in the fact that most of them are now probably dead.

I presume that MC Hammersmith is an MC Hammer reference. Quick question: Do your pants fit?

Bit personal.

I’m guessing your stage name is also a nod to the Clash’s “White Man in Hammersmith.” 

Actually, it’s not. I was born in Hammersmith in west London (hence the name), and I had literally never heard of that song. (No joking or word of a lie, completely sincerely, I had to Google it now.) I’m immensely surprised that no one ever pointed that out to me before you did! Well, this white boy has learned something.

What is your core message to today’s troubled youth? Or troubled old people, for that matter?

Troubled youth, follow your dreams. Troubled old people, if you do come to my gigs, at least pretend to enjoy it.



Marty Fugate

Marty Fugate is a writer, cartoonist and voiceover actor whose passions include art, architecture, performance, film, literature, politics and technology. As a freelance writer, he contributes to a variety of area publications, including the Observer, Sarasota Magazine and The Herald Tribune. His fiction includes sketch comedy, short stories and screenplays. “Cosmic Debris,” his latest anthology of short stories, is available on Amazon.

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