How did you get into standup?
Sadly, by leaving the town I grew up in [Lancaster] and my family. I hope things are different now, though I suspect they are not. But the opportunity to perform regularly, to learn from the best and to meet people who could help me forge a career came only when I moved down south. Level up shmevel up.
Who did you admire when you were starting out?
The 90s was an insanely good time to be a teenager falling in love with comedy. Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson, French and Saunders, The Fast Show, Harry Enfield, Men Behaving Badly, Desmond’s, Lee Evans, Jack Dee. I loved all of it and would go to school and recreate sketches and scenes with my friends. Comedy was huge and the quality was so high. Then there were people like Linda Smith and Felix Dexter, who would crop up much less often but were always amazingly funny. I consider myself very lucky to have had that education.
Can you recall a gig so bad it’s now funny?
Absolutely loads, and the memories keep me laughing to this day. Sadly they are all other people’s bad gigs and recounting them would be in poor taste and make me look like the small and bitter man I really am. My own deaths have been many and are not funny in the least.
You’re in the back of a black cab. The driver asks, “What do you do?” You say, “Comedian.” They say, “Tell me a joke then.” What do you say?
I had an interview once to become a taxi driver. I turned up 20 minutes late and they gave me the job straight away.” I don’t know whose joke that is, someone funnier than me.
You’re often on screen with your wife, Lucy Beaumont. What’s the best part of working with your partner?
I don’t have the displeasure of seeing her on TV and discovering how rude she has been about me; I get to be sat right next to her while she dissects my personality and physical frailties for an audience’s amusement.
What’s the worst part of working with your partner?
See previous answer.
What has inspired your latest show, The Knitwit?
It’s heavily influenced by Brexit, Covid and the slow destruction of working-class life under the Conservatives, in that it doesn’t reference any of these things at all. Things at the moment are so unremittingly bleak that I have made a deliberate attempt to make this tour a string of the funniest things I can think of to say that make our two hours together an escape from everything else. It’s my most personal show yet, as my own decline and decay is much funnier than that of the country.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?
I always arrive early with my notes and start a new diary page for each show with the date, venue and material I’m going to do and in what order. Then I eat too much, too close to the show. I worry about whether or not black coffee will make me void my bowels mid-show. I wonder whether or not I would be funnier if I had just one drink or if that’s just a mask for my alcohol dependence. I picture the worst-case scenario for the gig where I dry up and the audience shout and throw things then slowly filter out and leave me in a crumpled heap on the stage. I contemplate getting in my car, going home and never being seen in public again. Then the show starts and is fine.
Nearly every gig I do is made better by audience interaction. Heckling is very different to audience interaction though, and is almost always pointless and unhelpful. I could tell you the one time a heckle was well placed and got a laugh but that would somehow add to the idea that the drunk arsehole at the back is an essential part of the live performance, which is not true.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learned from being a standup?
Your material will change absolutely nothing about the world or the lives of anyone in it, but striving with every sinew to make people laugh is more important than anything. That and where all the supermarket petrol stations are just off the motorways.
Any bugbears from the world of comedy?
There is far too much of me around.
What are you looking forward to right now?
The fantastic Shane Meadows’ forthcoming TV adaptation of the brilliant book by Ben Myers, The Gallows Pole, set in the beautiful Calder Valley. What’s not to like? And even better, I’m not in it.