What comedy most inspires you?
I hardly every “consume” comedy unless I’m watching another comedian on the same bill as me. If I’m driving to a gig listening to Radio 4 and a comedy programme comes on, I’ll probably switch it off unless a friend is in the show. I get more inspiration from other genres, such as travel, nature, or factual programmes. Similarly, if I watch a film, it’s more likely to be an art house film with subtitles than a comedy film. The same goes for books. I’m more interested in reading an obscure German novel than a popular book by a comedian, unless it’s written by a friend and given to me. I’m more likely to get an idea for a joke from reading something serious than from something intended to be funny.
Which comedian most inspires you?
The only comedians I see are ones I’m working with. Harry Hill has inspired me the most because he’s employed me as his stooge in many TV shows and several national tours. I’ve watched him doing stand-up from the stage wings on his theatre tours, and found fresh inspiration after seeing him perform the same material over 50 times. Some of his stuff enters mythical realms. It connects with the unconscious at a deep level, but is still hilarious.
Which comedian scares the shit out of you because you know you'll never be that good?
Tim Vine. Boothby Graffoe. Ben Elton.
Why and how did you get into comedy?
The classic reason many comedians get into comedy – to be popular at school and not get bullied. Also, when I was four, my mother was told she’d die of cancer within three months. She fought it for five years, but during that time was often in hospital having various bits cut out. My childhood was miserable before and after her death. In the face of utter sorrow and desolation, I made myself and those around me laugh. I think they call it gallows humour. I wasn’t good at anything at school. I was average at English, and left aged sixteen to do A level Theatre Studies at a Further Education College. My best friend there was Ben Elton. He went on to become a famous comedian, and I tried the same. With considerably less success.
What drives you to do what you do?
I was never good at practical things such as engineering, DIY, or IT. Writing and performing are about the only things I can do. I just followed the dream. Then I got married and had children, and the need for more money drove me to write and perform some more. Then I got divorced, and the need for even more money drove me to write and perform even more. I’d write and perform anyway, although my output would be less commercial and more esoteric.
Describe your perfect Tuesday.
Wake up in a lovely old house. Be driven to a film studio. Spend the day acting in something really good for lots of money. Then get driven to a packed theatre and perform stand-up comedy to an appreciative audience. Go to a restaurant with friends and consume good food and wine. Go home and have sex with a beautiful woman. Go to sleep and have nice dreams.
Describe your worst experience on a coach.
Just after my A-level theatre studies course started, I drank lots of coffee one morning before lectures began. Then the head of department announced that instead of lectures, we were having a surprise coach excursion to Stonehenge. Thirty minutes into the surprise coach journey, I was desperate to urinate. I was sixteen, and stuck at the back of a crowded coach, surrounded by other first year students who I didn’t know yet. An hour into the journey, I was absolutely bursting for a wee, but too embarrassed to walk to the front and ask the driver to stop. An hour and a half into the coach journey, my bladder felt like it was glowing red, and I was checking my groin to see if my jeans were wet. I plucked up courage to ask the driver to stop. As I walked to the front of the coach, I didn’t know if I was wetting myself or not, such was the pain in my bladder area. The driver said the road had too many bends for a coach to stop. I said I was about to wet my pants. He eventually stopped in an exposed layby, and I got out of the coach. There was no cover, just open heathland. I had to do a wee with everyone staring at me through the windows. I felt so embarrassed I couldn’t go. I stood there with a hundred first year eyes boring into my back, and nothing flowing out of my winkle. I was desperate to go – but I couldn’t go with all those people watching. The driver sounded the horn, and I got back on the coach, just as desperate as before. I was petrified that I’d wee myself, and have wet jeans for the rest of the day. I survived until we got to the toilets at the Stonehenge visitor centre. But for years afterwards I couldn’t look at a stone circle without going into trauma.
Best sofa you've ever slept on?
A leather sofa in a dressing room at BBC Television Centre.
Best piece of advice a comedian ever gave you?
“Don’t compare yourself to other comedians. We all have our own journey to make.”
Worst piece of advice a critic ever gave you?
No critic has ever given me advice. When I took a solo show to Edinburgh, a critic gave me such a bad review, she phoned me up the next day and apologised.
Tell us a joke.
What's the furthest you've travelled for the least amount of money/open spot?
In 2017 I was booked to do three performances at an Oktoberfest in Suffolk. There were 2,000 people at every show. When I arrived to do the first performance it looked dodgy, and I rang my agent, who promised I’d get my fee. I paid for my own hotel. The promoter disappeared with the money. I left the agent.
Best chicken you've ever tasted?
Some wings I ate at a wet market in Wuhan. Well, I think they were chicken wings…
On a scale of 1-10 , how hungry are you right now?
How has Lockdown been for you?
So far, it’s been fantastic. I was in Hungary for Lockdown 1, which didn’t have a lockdown. It’s lockdown 2 at the moment, and I’m in the Canary Islands, where there isn’t a lockdown.
Have you been more or less productive?
I’ve done fewer stand-up gigs, but I’ve spent more time than ever before with my two young daughters.
Any last words?
Please be nice to others.
If you enjoy reading novels, I wrote one called ’The Sex Life of a Comedian’. It’s about a stand-up comedian who gets a job wearing a blue furry costume in a world famous TV show. WARNING: It contains explicit scenes of sex and drug taking, and is for adults only.
Buy it here