Opinion: The Battle of the Browns

Doc Brown

About three years ago at the Edinburgh Festival a friend came up to me in the bar and said that I had to see a new performer called Dr Brown. My friend said that he was brilliant and completely unique. I replied that I had already seen him. In fact I’d just interviewed him because I also thought that he was brilliant and pretty unique.

There was only one problem here. We were talking about different Browns. He was talking about the silent clown Dr Brown (below, right), aka American Phil Burgers, who won the Foster’s Comedy Award last year. I was talking about Doc Brown (above, left), aka Ben Smith, who was recently seen in Derek and with Ricky Gervais on Comic Relief doing his Equality Street rap. Neither, as far as I know, are qualified medics.

I thought by now some solution would have been reached, but instead both performers are very much rising stars so I’m sure there is going to be plenty of confusion if this isn’t sorted out. I’m planning to see Dr Brown at the Soho Theatre this week and I’d wager that there will be a few people turning up expecting to see a witty black rapper rather than a bearded man who hardly says anything. And Doc Brown – who chose the name in tribute to the Back to the Future character – is about to tour. I wonder how many mime fans will sit through his pithy rhymes with a confused look on their faces?Dr Brown

In the past this would probably have never been an issue since comedians tended to be in Equity and you could not share names. When Brian Smith joined Equity there was already a Brian Smith on their books so he had to think of an alternative. He was going to choose Captain Wanker, but at the last minute opted for Arthur Smith, which in retrospect was probably the best career move of his life. Names are more important than you might imagine. Jim Moir briefly toyed with calling himself Craig Wildfowl before settling for Vic Reeves. Would C4 ever have commissioned Craig Wildfowl's Big Night Out?

Name blindness can, of course, be a problem even when the names are not as similar as these. A few years before there were any Browns on the scene I went to see American stand-up Ben Bailey in a small venue in Edinburgh. Five minutes into the gig two people got up and walked out. The performer noticed and was clearly concerned. How could they have made a judgement on him so quickly. So he asked them if he had offended them. They replied no, they thought they had bought tickets for Bill Bailey.

It is a pity that they did not stay around as Ben Bailey was a pretty funny guy. I hope that if Doc Brown’s fans and Dr Brown’s fans find themselves at the wrong gig they stick around. Both are well worth seeing. They might well enjoy themselves rather than feel browned off.*

*If, like me, you like coincidences, you might be amused to discover, as I did after this piece was posted, that Doc Brown's real name is Ben Bailey Smith. So even if he had stuck to his real name he would still have given comedy fans a headache as well as a laugh.

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