1, Every time I see you I’m amazed at the quality of your writing. You have some great routines, such as multicultural school in Brum, an unusual South American bar, the gig at the sex club, etc. I know that between gin and the art, you are busy with a lot of things, but how on earth is it that you aren’t better known?
That is very sweet of you to say. I feel quite generic as a comic, like there are loads of straight white men who are whinging about nowt, so I tend to write about things I have experienced rather than opinions I have or topical stuff. I can’t honestly say the gin business or the comics have been detrimental to me being better known, they were just little side projects.
I do wish I was better known, I’ve done great gigs for big clubs, made little things that have gone properly viral, done tour support for cool people, done really good hour long shows at festivals, and not been able to capitalise on it in the same way others have. It was a little bit upsetting coming back from a tour of the Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festival where I did a show (All The Jokes In The Bible) that numerous people have told me is perfect for Radio 4, but the two radio 4 producers I spoke to have told me I don’t have the profile to pitch. Not to make, just to pitch it.
I’ve become more physical in the last year, try and get my performance to match my writing. I enjoy the writing side of comedy, especially for others, so I am trying to transition to that.
Also, I just got a diagnosis that I have ADHD, and so a lot of the admin side of things, of putting myself out there for gigs to get seen and so on, tends to get missed. That may be a reason. Or it may be an excuse, but it’s one I will milk.
2, I’ve only seen Hell to Play the once, but I was massively impressed about how strong the format was. To some degree, the guests were just the icing on the cake, because you and the rest of the crew were so into what you were doing that your enthusiasm was infectious. How did this show come about?
Alexander Bennett had the idea from watching a documentary where Bernard Manning, before he died, commentated on his own death and funeral, which they then overlaid on footage of him when he was dead. Alexander really liked the idea of terrible people being able to litigate their own legacies. He approached me, and a bunch of London alt comedy staples, to play characters in it. Me and him wrote up a script, full of lots of very dark jokes, and sent it to the cast at about 11pm. Overnight, they all dropped out. So, we got Joe Hart, and we basically performed it to him in the pub next to Euston station, and then he got the things we were playing with. It’s a horrible show on paper, the fact we are winking all the way through is what allows us to do very mean gags. I really enjoy it as a sluice for my unwanted thoughts, as I can’t put most of them in my stand up.
As regards to the guests being icing, we agreed midway through the third version. We did two trials in Leicester with just characters that could do audience games, and the most recent run in Edinburgh was solely audience. It makes for a better show. We’re filming a version of it in London soon (Mon Oct 28th) and then hopefully show it to some production companies. It would be really nice to make it into a TV show, especially if we could use all the people who’ve done various versions, as Joe Hart did the first two fringe runs and Rob Mulholland has been in it for the last two versions. It’s got to the point where we have nearly 4 hours of material in that format, so it needs turning into something.
3, Between nightmare Christmas gigs, drunken audiences, bizarre bookings and fellow comics going too far, what has been the biggest WTF moment, or worst car crash of a gig you’ve experienced?
There’s loads of weird ones, but I don’t think I will ever top the night where Tom Allsopp and I once picked up a promoter for a one off gig from outside a hospital. The promoter was really altered, and it turned out he had been sectioned and we had essentially done a jailbreak on a psychiatric ward. The gig was intense because they had cancelled it and didn’t know we were on, so we ended up playing the show outdoors at the barbecue they were having instead, stood by the bins under the security light as that was the only way to be seen. Then we had to get the promoter back to the hospital, avoiding loads of police cars, because it turned out they closed the entire city centre on a Saturday night looking for him. It was amongst the most stressful moments of my entire life.
4, I really admire your take on ‘self depreciation’. It was clever, funny and made a point. However, which of your routines are you the most proud of?
That’s a nice one, because it comes so early on. I always think that a comedian’s opening gag should do a lot of the heavy lifting of telling them exactly who they are. I always liked Gary Delaney’s opener “Nice to be here. Last time I was here, a girl asked me for sex. I had to disappoint her. We had sex”. It really gives you the gist of his status, plus it’s a belting gag.
There’s routines I love, obviously. I really like the Kindle routine I do because it’s just about 9 versions of the same gag. (Lot of convoluted set up and then loads of things you can say about vaginas and books). I do like that sort of joke. I don’t know if it has an actual name but it’s the sort of cross purposes that they used on every episode of Frasier. It’s also saved my arse on more than one occasion. If you see me do it and it’s not the bit I close on, know I’m struggling and need an injection of laughs.
Sometimes the bits I’m proud of aren’t stuff you notice. I tend to give the best lines in Hell To Play to other people. It’s sometimes not about the 30 yard screamer you scored, but the winning the ball back in midfield and setting up the pass for the screamer. Someone once described me in that as “the Gattuso of comedy” and I love it. I think the bit I was proudest of in my solo show DoGooder was actually structural: it was making the end solidify with 3 callbacks, all ending in bang so you know the show is over. It finished with me getting the audience to chant “Stop tryna fix, Mental illness with your dicks” in a round to close the show. It really worked, and I’ve been told by more than one person it’s now got stuck in their head and they sing it whilst doing the washing up, or hoovering, or what have you.
5, if you were able to pick who appeared on a bill with you, who would be your dream fellow comedians?
There’s gonna be some cheating, because one of them is dead and another requires time travel.
But assuming we’re going with the classic MC, opener, two middles, headliner, I think I would go with Frank Skinner to MC. I have seen him a few times, and met him once, when I told him his book was the reason I first started doing comedy. Before reading that I assumed you had to go to Oxbridge and do Footlights and win the Perrier and get a radio 4 series, and here’s this guy who grew up less that 10 miles from me (he’s West Brom, I grew up in Wolverhampton) who started doing comedy in a load of pubs I was drinking in. So that was very exciting for me. I’ve heard from people his gigs when he started in Brum in the late 80’s and early 90’s were electric, proper fun atmosphere but with a bit of needle and people crammed into little fire hazard spaces, sweat dripping off the walls. He gets a lot of credit for his warmth and his everyman persona but I don’t think many people realise the depth of his writing is so strong. Look up his bit about jealousy for how to do comedy properly, it sublime, just building a bit and letting it come out through your pores.
Opening act we will need a time machine for, but it’s Louis CK before the allegations, when it was still possible to enjoy the disturbed mind of a pervert because you didn’t think he meant it. It’s impossible to justify the way he made women feel unsafe, and so we need to all go back to when he was just a bit of a character of a slightly sad man talking us through his life. I saw him live when he did the 02 dates and it was proper brilliant, even though I don’t think comedy works in those spaces. I’d love to have seen him a proper small room with a low ceiling and the audience a bit merry.
Middle act, if I am being one, the other would be Laura Lexx. Laura’s brilliant, got that real skill of being friendly, firey, intellectually rigorous but with a vein of silliness underneath. Plus she’s got gags. I have had a bunch of my friends go on to TV success and I am proud of all of them, but her ascendancy in the last year is the one that was most pleasing. It just feels right. We’ve talked about one day writing a sitcom together and it keeps not happening because she’s got loads of actual projects on the go.
And then Headliner, the late, great, Ian Cognito. We booked him a few times when I was still involved in promoting gigs and we’d say to him: you’re off the leash. Go nuts. Although I would insist he does the hammer opening and tell the Eskimo joke at some point. Last time I booked him he missed the last train home and I ended up taking him round to my parent’s house, who were away that weekend, and we got drunk together on my fruit gin and chatted comedy. In fact, lets do that with all the acts, so we’ll need a time machine for when Frank was still drinking.
6, away from comedy, what do you do to relax?
I don’t know that I ever do relax. That’s a lie, but I have had to retrain myself. The comics started as a hobby, and then people told me to make a book of them, and they’d buy it, and that became a job. And I’d started making gin infusions, and then people offered to buy them, and that became a job. I’m writing little bits and bobs, not for anything, yet, but just my own amusement. And I’m doing up a canal boat, not for relaxation, but because I live on it and it is hilariously broken. But it does have a log fire on it and I find getting a log fire going and then watching it is very relaxing. My old house had one, in the lounge, and a big window into the porch. My housemates came in one day and watched me, knelt in front of the fire with a poker in my hand wordlessly staring at it, and they assumed I’d just done a hideous murder and was getting rid of the evidence.
7, what’s your favourite book? The one that you can return to time and time again?
I don’t tend to reread books, but one I have read repeatedly is Clive James’ Unreliable Memoirs. It has my all time favourite joke in “The poet Rilke said that no artist would mind going to jail, for they would have time to explore the treasure house of their memory. In many ways, Rilke was a prick”. It has so many lovely lines, and it’s weird that it can make you feel nostalgia for a time and place (50’s suburban Sydney) that I could never experience but would quite like to.
8, If you were to go on Mastermind what specialist subjects would you pick?
I really do want to go on Mastermind. In fact I helped two other people revise by setting questions (Mohan Mudigonda, who got the best score in the final on specialist subject in 2017, I think, and Darren Harriott, who I got over my dislike of Kanye West to set him 25 hard questions on for Celebrity Mastermind. That’s not been on though yet).
I would probably pick the Golden Age of The Simpsons (seasons 2-8) because I have watched all of them hundreds of times and they are deep in my DNA by this point. I’d also choose Peep Show, as I think it’s brilliant, and rewatching it as revision wouldn’t be a chore, and I would also choose “the West Midlands Comedy Scene 2009-2015 with special emphasis on beefs” as I love bitching about people. It’s why I’m still going, frankly.
9, what’s your biggest unfulfilled comedy ambition?
I’d like to do it all, stand up tour, chat show, radio show, write a sitcom, be in a sitcom, be in the porn parody of the sitcom, animated series that I also draw for, try and break Hollywood, fail, be in a televised charity football match and absolutely cripple Barron Trump. Be a gif. Loads. But my main one is finishing my book, which is about applying game theory to mediaeval warfare as seen through the eyes of court jesters. It’s been in the works for about 6 years and at some point I will lock myself away for 6 months and come out with a manuscript and still have not grown a proper beard.
10, What are you currently working on, or particularly excited about?
We’re filming Hell To Play, then that can be put to bed for a while, and then I’m not doing Edinburgh next year, which I’m very excited about. I’ve done 6 solo shows in 7 years and I need some time off to write, and have experiences. So I’m going to the Olympics in Tokyo next summer so I won’t be tempted to do anything daft like write a show from nothing. Hopefully got a couple of kids books in the works too, I just need to sort out with an illustrator what is happening.
Photo courtesy of Duncan Oakley.