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Col Howarth

What comedy most inspires you?

I’m inspired by loads of styles of comedy. I’ve seen observational, sketch, character, one-liner and musical comedy that have made me wish I was doing that very thing. I really enjoy all styles but this means I’m stuck in a constant comedy identity crisis, and I still don’t know what kind of act I ultimately want to be!

I had a review recently that started ‘the first time Col unleashes the dark side of his comedy persona, the shock makes you wonder whether you’ve actually heard him correctly.’ Equally, I’ve been described as the happiest act on the circuit. I wouldn’t say that I’m particularly dark or weird but I guess I’m trying to put lots of thoughts and ideas into it, probably as a result of all of those influences. I even did a spot recently as a clown where half of it was mimed. So I am inspired by everything at the moment.

Which comedian most inspires you?

Dylan Moran is amazing. I love his writing and his delivery. I think he’s at the top of the list really. I also really like David O’Doherty and Mark Watson. I also think Lee Mack has written some great stuff, and growing up I loved Victoria Wood. I have to say though that there is loads of inspiration to be taken from the local circuit. So many of the acts that I am lucky enough to gig with are brilliant writers and performers. I can watch them again and again and enjoy their material as much every time, though this makes them as much to blame for the comedy identity crisis!

Which comedian scares the shit out of you because you know you'll never be that good?

I can’t really say as it is a local act and I don’t want to weird them out! Having said that, I did a short run in Edinburgh at the start of August and I saw Joseph Morpurgo while I was there. He was so creative and inventive, and also uses images, sound and just throws so many ideas into his show. Without realising it, and having never seen him before that, I realise that what he is doing is somewhere along the lines of what I would love to be able to do. His show has basically shown me that you can do whatever you want and I’m writing with that sentiment in mind.

Why and how did you get into comedy?

I used to be phobic of public speaking and used to dread the very thought of having to present in any way. I worked for a publisher in a marketing job where I’d have to present every month and I hated it. I’d have to sit down to present which is pretty poor, and I’d find any reason not to be there so I wouldn’t have to do it. I was embarrassed really because people present every day.

I did a PGCE at Cardiff Uni, teaching media and film, partly to get over the fear. The course started with a 30 second introduction to the group, and progressed to a full-on placement teaching 12 hours a week. I really loved it to the point where I was awarded a Distinction. In a couple of my lessons I had applause breaks, and I just found that I loved making the kids laugh. At the end of the PGCE me and a good friend who I met on the course presented an end-of- course session in the lecture theatre in front of 100 people. It was meant to be a reflection on our roles as newly qualified lecturers, but we wrote it almost as a stand-up routine and it was great fun and we won awards for the presentation.

After the PGCE, when I couldn’t find a full-time contract, I asked myself ‘what’s the most extreme version of teaching then?’ and the answer was stand-up. I did my first gig at Drones at Chapter Arts Centre on 2nd August 2013 to about 70 people, and although I was nervous as hell, it went quite well. I’ve done over 300 gigs since!

What drives you to do what you do?

Overcoming a fear, I’m sure that is a big part of it. I think it took me a bit longer to really feel comfortable on-stage. To learn my words, become half-decent at delivery and to learn how to write decent material and then to start really bulking out the performance on stage with shouts and voices and mimes etc. I think a lot of acts hit the stage and are naturals early on, whereas I had to take it one step at a time because it was never going to be natural for me.

Even now, I think of a decent gig as being two-fingers to the fear that was. As well as that, I’ve always needed a creative outlet. I have gone from script writing, to making short films, then I tried my hand at acting very briefly and very badly. I’ve always needed a creative outlet and I love to write.

Finally, there’s definitely a masochistic side to doing stand-up. You get up there and you are totally exposed in front of an audience you have potentially never met. You have no idea about those people or what makes them laugh, or what kind of day they have had. Within that context, you are on your own, head-on with that audience and the expectation is that you are going to make them laugh. If you make a mistake then you can’t hide. If they don’t like you, there is nowhere to run and you have to turn it around or see it out. It can either be very lonely or you can suddenly find yourself standing in front of a room full of your new best friends! The adrenaline that goes with that is massive and the relief when it works is huge.

Describe your perfect Tuesday.

I have two! One is a day in the sun with my family – no work, no pressure and the kids just loving life – just sunshine and warmth with no sense that it will end.

The other would probably involve travelling, seeing another place, culture, smells and sights, foods and again, the sense that it might never end.

Describe your worst experience on a coach.

I once had a frisky staff member from the coach firm sit with me for what seemed like an eternity as he described at great length his passion for reflexology.
He insisted on me taking my shoe off and he proceeded to show me all the neural pathways from my foot to various erogenous zones on my body.
He kept saying things like ‘this point here connects to your number 1 erogenous zone.’ and then he would give it a cheeky prod and laugh really loudly.
Everyone on the coach was watching. It was funny but a bit of a cringe-fest at the time.

Best sofa you've ever slept on?

My own. There’s nothing quite like your own sofa.

Best piece of advice a comedian ever gave you?

Write as much for yourself as for the audience because if you enjoy delivering the material then that will bring the audience along with you. I’ve got lines that don’t particularly land but I keep them in because I like telling them! I do a niche joke of the day ‘where every laugh’s a bonus’ because I love the jokes. They tend to get a pantomime-like groan or a sarcastic round of applause.

Worst piece of advice a critic ever gave you?

That I am definitely going places… just not in stand-up, and that I’d be best suited to hosting kid’s TV. The perception that I am nice on stage lead him to say that comedy clubs, with their stag and hen do’s, were not for someone like me. He wasn’t a critic as such, but someone in the audience who reviewed me on Facebook.

A few months later he started doing stand-up and I was the MC at one of his first gigs. I knew he was on and I milked it a bit to my shame! I borrowed a puppet and made out to be a terrible TV presenter.

I didn’t let on that I knew he was the guy who’d reviewed me and I recalled the whole review before bringing him on. He apologised to me the next day having realised that it’s not as easy as it looks, and quit after about a dozen gigs.

Tell us a joke.

This is my daughter’s joke:

What is a fly’s favourite martial art?


What's the furthest you've travelled for the least amount of money/open spot?

I drove 4 hours to a festival in Cornwall once and on arrival found out it had been cancelled due to the weather. I drove 4 hours back again. Not a penny!

On a scale of 1-10 , how hungry are you right now?

I’m about a 7 to be honest. I had some tea earlier and now it is coming to midnight so I’ve farted it all out. I topped up with a peanut butter KitKat and a whole bag of Tangfastics but that experience has been useful as it has made me realise that these things are far from being sustenance. Might have a bowl of Cheerios before I go to bed. My pee will be well cloudy in the morning.

Col retired from comedy a few years ago. Interview originally published in 2017.

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