What comedy most inspires you?
Anything that is inventive and unexpected. Surprise is an important aspect of comedy, a punchline that you don’t see coming is always funnier. I am inspired by people who can deal with difficult subjects in a funny way and allow their audience to see the world in a different way. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary or political, but I like to see the world through someone else’s perspective as you can learn so much. To be honest, anything that isn’t bland, dull or obvious.
Which comedian most inspires you?
There's been so many over the years! I’ve always been obsessive about comedy, everything I’ve ever tried to do creatively I try to be funny (even if it’s inappropriate). The first comedian would have been Spike Milligan; my Dad is a massive Goon Show fan, so we used to listen to them in the car. I used to do impressions of Bluebottle, Eccles and Major Bloodnock at school even though my friends at school had no idea who they were. I was obsessed with Lenny Henry when I was a pre-teen. The Lenny Henry Show was the biggest comedy show on TV, and I watched it compulsively. I did the same thing with Lenny Henry as I had before with The Goons, but this time my classmates knew who Delbert Wilkins and Deakus were (Deakus was also where I discovered Comedy Pauses, and how funny long pauses in the right place could be). Last year I wrote a set about extreme right wing political ideas, particularly White Supremacy, and I had a couple of jokes about racism that used the fact that white people get darker if they go out in the sun. I was thinking about where the jokes had come from, and where that idea had originated from; and I remembered an interview with Lenny Henry on (I think) Wogan, where he talked about how he dealt with racist abuse. He said once he realised how ridiculous racism was it allowed him to ignore it. One of the ways he said he realised this ridiculousness was being racially abused by people who then go on holiday to hot places so they can lie in the sun and make their skin a similar shade to his (I’ve paraphrased this, this is my memory of an interview I watched in 1985/6). I realised that Lenny Henry’s point about racism from over 30 years ago had inspired those 2 jokes. The other main inspiration would be Bill Hicks. I was at university when he broke in this county, I have a very vivid memory of watching “Relentless” when it was on Channel 4. At the time I was also working for the Students Union and every Saturday night was a technician at a large comedy night, so I was REALLY into standup comedy, and watched 3 professional comedians every Saturday night, so as I watched it I knew I was watching someone who was a master at his craft. I must admit though, I don’t think Hicks was perfect as some standup do; his stuff on George Michael was homophobic and I think he sometimes played up to the macho nature of the American comedy scene. However, he was someone who was always challenging his own assumptions, so I think if he’d had a longer life he’d probably have changed his ideas in those areas. The aspects of his comedy I love is the way he could combine making a point and getting a laugh. In the bit he did about aggressive Christians the punchline of “So forgive me” is a great punchline and makes a point about intolerant Christians. I think most of all Bill Hicks bravery inspires me. He took no prisoners, and appeared fearless. He did very anti-establishment material in a country and at a time where anti-establishment comedy was not in vogue, and could get you assaulted on stage. I also love the fact that he clearly saw standup as a valid art form that was every bit as authentic as Theatre or Literature. I think one of the reasons he is still so lauded is because he wrote and performed standup in a way that was consistent with being an artist. Those are the 3 that have had the most effect on me, but there have been many more beside those (Peter Cook, Rick Mayall, Victoria Wood, Eddie Izzard, Alexi Sayle, Stuart Lee, Bill Bailey, Daniel Kitson, Sarah Pascoe, Bec Hill, Andrew O’Neill, Alice Fraser etc, etc…). I think I find anyone who makes me laugh inspiring, one of the things I love about gigging is seeing other acts, and being inspired by them.
Which comedian scares the shit out of you because you know you'll never be that good?
Every kind of creative thing I have ever done has involved huge amounts of work. I have a re-reading and re-writing process I do on all my material. So a new 10 minute set will take about a month to write and goes through about 7 or 8 drafts before I perform it live. I’ve never produced anything good without it involving massive amounts of grinding hard work. So, people who make comedy seem effortless and easy mystify me, I see them as a little bit magic. I know that some people who are like that come across that way, but it actually comes from hours of hard work that you don’t see. I do have a lot of respect for comics that are very good at crowd work, which requires a very quick mind. Both times I’ve supported Andrew O’Neill on his History Of Heavy Metal Show and I watched him deal with a very boisterous, vocal crowd with charm, wit and good humour and was very impressed with how quick he was. I also feel with anything creative, you have to take on board that each performer / artist / writer is unique, there's no real point to trying to be like anyone else. I’ve never wanted to be the next whoever, I can only be the first me. So in many ways I don’t want to be like any other comedians, I want to be the best comedian I can be, which means trying to be like anyone else is pointless. I think sometimes I’ll see an act that is much closer to being as good as they can be, than I am to being the best I can be, and that inspires me to try harder. This means I rarely want to be like another act, but I might want to be as honest as a particular act, or as comfortable on stage as another act.
Why and how did you get into comedy?
I’ve had 3 main passions in my life. Music, Films and Comedy. I play the guitar and was in bands when I was in my teens and early twenties. As with lots of garage bands, none of the bands I was in got anywhere (although I do now write for an online music blog, writing reviews and articles, so I’m still a little bit involved), so I tried film. I went to University to study Film and Video at UWCN. After this I made a load of short films but never managed to get anywhere with that, so I wrote a sitcom about a specialist heavy metal record label and sent a script of one episode to the BBC’s writers room. The first script was well received, it got to the stage before they ask you to come down to London to see them, and they suggested that if I sent another script from the series. That script was read by a different person to the first script, and didn’t get past the 10 page read (when they get a script, the first thing that they do is read the first 10 pages and if it doesn’t grab them, it gets rejected). I thought the second script I had sent them was better, so I just didn’t know what to do to fix it. So, I’d done music and film, the only thing left was Standup Comedy, which was something that I never thought I would have the confidence to do. I think the feeling of completely failing and everything else, was what pushed me to do it. I’d done music, and I didn’t have a clue where to go with the film / television stuff, so the only clear dream left was something that terrified me. I have quite bad mental health issues, and I was aware that if I stopped doing things that were creative and that might allow me to escape working in a factory, my mental health would crash. So, as I (rather melodramatically) saw it, I could get over my stage fright, or I would be on a trajectory to commit suicide. So, that was how I forced myself into doing standup, as it happened I really enjoyed it, and the stage fright stopped being as much of an issue, as I knew I could be a positive experience.
What drives you to do what you do?
See above. If I stop doing creative things my mental health will crash and I’ll become a statistic. Oh and it’s really good fun, that too.
Describe your perfect Tuesday.
Rise sometime after 7am, and then take a very long time to get up, shower and get dressed. Coffee and a large triple chocolate cookie, and then cereal. More coffee. Listen to music and read for at least an hour. Gaming and Weed. Strictly driving games, probably Forza, or the 2010 F1 game. Win each race by at least 30 seconds, or if it’s an endurance race, lap the entire field at least twice. Weed. Lunch will be a vegetarian cooked breakfast. Afternoon will be Weed and Films, at least 2 from: Goodfellas, Mandy, Kind Hearts And Coronets, Aguire - Wrath Of God, Delicatessen, Harold And Maud, Naked, Big Lebowski, In Bruges, One of the Lord Of The Rings films or a couple of episodes of The Wire. Dinner would be Italian, either a vegetarian Calzone, or a large mushroom pizza. The evenings entertainment would be either 1 - A music gig: Yob headlining with Wiegedood, Mizmor and Alters Of Grief as support. Or 2 - A comedy gig, Stuart Lee headlining, with Bec Hill, Andrew O’Neill and Daniel Kitson. After gig, home, Weed and The Venture Bros. Bed. I reserve the right to change the films, bands and comedians depending on how I’m feeling.
Describe your worst experience on a coach.
In 1997 my girlfriend was doing a degree in German, which involved spending a year living in Germany. I visited her for 2 weeks, on the middle weekend we went on a coach trip to Amsterdam. It was a 13 hour coach journey there and back; the coach left Germany at 9pm and arrived in Amsterdam at 10am, I think people were expected to sleep on the coach, I didn’t. Once we were in Amsterdam we had 12 hours and then the coach did the return journey. We did touristy stuff the morning, and after lunch we found a coffee shop. I’m a big fan of weed, so this is the bit I was looking forward to. My girlfriend liked getting high but didn’t like smoking, so had hash cake. One of my girlfriends mates was with us, she had never even drunk alcohol, but joined my girlfriend in having the hash cake. While I was buying the weed and cake the person serving me warned me that the hash cake was very strong, and to take our times with it. I relayed that to them, but I don’t think they understood that they were meant to eat a little bit of it, wait half and hour to see what it did, and then eat more if they felt ok. What my Girlfriend and her friend did was to eat the whole slice slowly, over about 10 minutes (which is a long time to take over eating a slice of cake), but wasn’t long enough for the cake to take effect. They then wanted to leave and go to a second hand book shop we had passed on the way to the coffee shop, I reminded them that they had just finished eating a slice of hash cake, maybe we should wait. My girlfriend decided they would be fine, I warned her that it hits you really hard if you eat it, I was over ruled. They started coming up on the hash cake when we were in the second hand shop. The tiny, cramped second hand book shop. Both went off on massive paranoia trips and I had to look after them. We spent the rest of the time we were in Amsterdam getting from where we were when the cake hit them, back to the coach. It was a a sunny Saturday afternoon in June, and was insanely busy, something that was not helping my girlfriend and her friend. I wanted to get them to a cafe or somewhere we could sit and wait for the intensity of their high to ware off a little bit (when you eat hash cake, the part when it first hits your system is really ‘rushy’ and harsh, and if it’s really strong as this stuff was, it’s a more intense experience than a lot of class A drugs). Unfortunately, both of them were very paranoid and as soon as we would settle anywhere they wanted to leave as they thought everyone knew how stoned they were. I tried to calm them by saying “Of course everyone knows you’re stoned, we’re in Amsterdam, everyone's stoned,” which was the worst thing to say to two very paranoid people, who both started freaking out cause everyone knew they were stoned (never use logic to talk people down). It took us about 5 hours to get back to coach stop, but that time they had come out of the unbearably intense stage, so it was less scary and both of them were much calmer. After waiting 2 hours for the bus to be unlocked we got on, sat down and my girlfriend curled up, put her head in my lap and fell into a deep sleep. We then had a 13 hour trip back to Germany. That 13 hour journey, sat bolt upright after at least 36 hours without sleep, and an 8 hour panic attack was the worst journey I have ever had on a coach. For the last 5 or 6 hours I went into a half asleep / half awake state that was genuinely disturbing and I think I was also hallucinating (at one point we were going through some road works and all the cones had legs and were marching). Once we got back to Germany I have never been so happy to get off a bus in my life, my spine cracked like knuckles. We went back to my girlfriends halls of residence and slept for 18 hours.
Best sofa you've ever slept on?
I used to live in a one bedroom flat in Hastings. I’d bought a 3 piece sweet for the flat for £50, which I sold to the people who were the next tenants of the flat. The night before I moved to Wales I slept on the sofa as I’d packed up my bed. The sofa was probably the comfiest I’ve ever slept on, more comfortable than my currant bed. Slept on it for one night, then moved to Wales and have never saw it again.
Best piece of advice a comedian ever gave you?
I used to be very bothered if I got the script wrong. I used to beat myself up if it wasn’t word perfect. I mentioned this to Clint Edwards after performing at Drones and reminded me that the audience didn’t know what was in my set, and didn’t know I’d got it wrong. He told me that they’ll still laugh, even if I word it slightly differently from what was in my script. I relaxed after that and found if I was a little looser I was better at improvising and dealing with audience interactions.
Worst piece of advice a critic ever gave you?
I was once told to “Stop talking about serious stuff, just do light throwaway stuff or you won’t get booked by The Glee club or Jongleurs” I won’t say who told me that, but as they were talking, I was losing more and more respect for them, by the time he stopped talking his opinion didn’t mean anything to me as thought he was an idiot.
Tell us a joke.
Have you heard there's a new serial killer on the loose? He has a really odd modus operandi; he increases the amount of matter that a person contains until their own gravity crushes them to death……………… He’s a MASS MURDERER!!!!!!! (Physics Joke!!!!) (Sorry)
What's the furthest you've travelled for the least amount of money/open spot?
I Travelled to London on a Megabus to do a 5 min unpaid open spot on the hottest Saturday in 2017. The acts outnumbered the audience and the promoter was really creepy and weird with the acts. The Megabus home took 6 hours and the air conditioning on the bus was broken.
Best chicken you've ever tasted?
I’m a vegetarian. But when I did eat meat there was a restaurant I used to go to with my family that did a really nice chicken dish that involved a really gorgeous sauce and asparagus tips. I had it every time we went to that restaurant, however I can’t remember what it was called.
On a scale of 1-10 , how hungry are you right now?
Very, trying to loose lockdown weight.
What are you currently working on?
I’m planning on doing a series of short standup films about various political subjects. However this weekend I came up with a film idea based on The Marie Kondo / Sparks Joy organising fad. It’s about how to organise if you are Joyless and Dead Inside.
How has lockdown affected your output - do you think you've been more creative?
At the beginning of lockdown I was having some very big issues with Anxiety, I find it very difficult to write or be creative when I’m like that. So, as I’d been working on a new 10 minute set and was getting ready to perform it for the first time, I decided to turn it into a short film. I tried to find a way to make it interesting visually as there isn’t an audience or atmosphere, and came up with a shooting and editing style that involved lots of quick cutting so the picture is changing a lot and using this to emphasise certain parts of the script. Once I’d done that I did the same thing with the hour show I was planning on taking to Edinburgh. As this was much longer I used a huge amount of different set-ups and managed to pull off some green screen shots using an olive green sheet I had nailed to my living room wall. Once I’d finished that I sold some stuff to buy a proper green screen setup and lights which I’ve just used to make a new short film about political corruption. The new film is the first stuff I’ve written since Lockdown. I think making the first 2 films allowed me to be creative, but I’d already written all the material so it was adapting something rather than making something completely new, and I could do that whilst having really bad anxiety. I think making those films had quite a cathartic effect on me, and I think that is why I’m having ideas again, and am able to write and plan new projects.
Anything you else you want to say? / Any last words?
No, not really. I think I’ve probably already said too much. Photo Credit : Matt Vanes