With his silence, Tape Face provokes the loudest laughter

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Sam Wills aka Tape Face Performs in India for the First Time | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Sam Wills, aka Tape Face, ruined his first silent comedy show in the first 20 seconds by talking to the audience in the front row. Backstage, one of his friends jokingly suggested that he cover his mouth so as not to make noise. “He helped me keep my mouth shut onstage. It became more of a necessity than a decision,” says Sam, explaining why he resorted to duct tape over his mouth for his shows.

Speaking via video call ahead of his first show in India, Sam says he’s eagerly awaiting the reaction and response to his silent act. “There could be a difference in culture and sensibilities, but silent comedy transcends everything,” he says.

Sam’s silent clown acts are based on popular music tracks, usually chart hits from the 1980s and 1990s, and uses household utilitarian items as props. Without saying a word and without major physical movements, he unleashes laughter from the audience.

Tape Face at his audition for America’s Got Talent’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In 2016, while auditioning for America’s Got Talent (AGT), He took the stage with his typical tape on his mouth, exaggerated eye makeup and strangely arranged hair. When asked questions by the judges, she responded with nods and a slight shrug. She began the act by wearing two oven mitts on her hands and creating two characters imitating the iconic Lionel Richie-Diana Ross song ‘Endless Love’. This was followed by another hilarious act in which he, pretending to have a girl in a red dress in her arms, began to sway to Chris de Burgh’s song ‘Lady in Red’. He received a standing ovation for that and prompted Simon Cowell, one of the show’s judges, to compare him to British actor Rowan Atkinson’s comedic character Mr Bean and Charlie Chaplin. That particular video on YouTube received 45 million views.

Looking back on what could best be described as a turning point in his career, Sam says of AGT: “The amount of exposure I got from the show is huge basically because of the video that went viral. I was pretty strategic and used shows like those to get leverage for my shows and compensation to get an international audience.”

Regarding the comparison to Mr Bean and Charlie Chaplin, Sam says: “Rowan Atkinson has his own style and people expect me to like Charlie Chaplin, but Buster Keaton inspires me more. Unlike Charlie Chaplin, who invariably wins in the end, Buster Keaton has always been an underdog: he starts low and ends low. I enjoy that act. He is expressionless and acts with a straight face, which works for me. His nickname was Stone Face,” Sam notes.

clown all the way

Growing up in a small town in Christchurch, New Zealand, 12-year-old Sam met a professional clown and joined him as an apprentice. While continuing his clown acts, he went to circus school and specialized in juggling. Clown performances led Sam to become one of New Zealand’s leading comedians and subsequently a silent comedy actor. “The ribbon is similar to the clown’s red nose… my red nose has slipped off a bit and turned into a black ribbon… but I still carry the scent of the clown,” says Sam.

Sam was aware of the challenge he would face in moving from stand-up comedy to the silent clown act. “It was pretty scary. Tape Face was born in 2005 and I developed this disgusting quality similar to characters in Tim Burton movies for my silent comedy acts. So the audience that had seen my stand-up shows wondered how I was going to act with the tape in my mouth. The props and music complete my performance.”

Not a fan of modern music, Sam chooses songs from the past that are recognizable and have longevity, and can stretch his imagination to generate comedy. “Modern music is rubbish. I want to get to the nostalgia factor and music from the 80s and 90s suits me,” says Sam, who is against starting a YouTube channel. “I’m a fan of live shows and I don’t want to put all the material online. I write my content more or less like a theater production and sometimes perform in multiple venues. I don’t want an online show to ruin it for my live audience.”

Living in the UK and Las Vegas, USA, and touring around the world, Sam isn’t sure what to call home. “The stage is my home right now,” he says.

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