Questionaire for Time Out

- why Edinburgh (again)? what's the appeal? give as many reasons as possible/feasible. no reservations (if so, what?)?

Edinburgh is the best arts festival in the world. It is great to be able to go up there and try out something new and see how it goes. ItÂ’s a great way to work up a new show and turn it from something good to something great in the course of a month, but also to go and see other stuff of all kinds which will hopefully inspire you to come up with another idea or at least let you know how things are moving on and whether you have to raise your game.

Nowadays the pressure is off as I’m not going up there to get “discovered” and I have built up a loyal audience so I can do anything I want and experiment.

ItÂ’s also a great big month long party, which generally means you have a lot of fun.

ItÂ’s not all laughs though. ItÂ’s very expensive to go up there and even with a sell out show I normally lose money and all emotions are heightened and things seem more important than they are. So mediocre reviews or half full theatres can be a bit of a bummer. I sensed last year that things may be changing and that maybe there are too many things going on there for the amount of audience and there were a lot more people depressed about numbers of tickets sold. Hopefully this was a blip rather than a trend. ItÂ’s an emotional rollercoaster. But rollercoasters are good, right? This is my 20th Edinburgh show, so there must be something ultimately great about it. I hope IÂ’ll get to do another 20 shows to be honest with you. ItÂ’s always good to have something like this to work towards and of course if the show is OK (which it always has been so far) I can tour it for the next twelve months and hopefully make my money back and more.

- highlights of the last nine to ten months? lowspots (that you want to air in public)?

Getting back into doing stand up in clubs has definitely been the highlight. It’s been 13 years since I last did the circuit (though obviously I’ve done my one man shows up and down the country). It’s very different to be playing to an audience who haven’t all paid just to see me and I’ve really enjoyed trying out some of my more challenging material in venues that I would have been scared to perform in a year ago. The vast majority of gigs have gone really, really well and in a sense, when things have been going badly it’s been even more fun. I am full of confidence and fight and am not going to be beaten down by drunks who want predictable gags (which is all they can understand in their inebriated state and sometimes I suspect the same would be true were they sober). I now have nothing to lose and so can say what I feel about these people (and about life and comedy too). Back in the 90s I was worried about getting re-booked so tried to toe the line, but now if a promoter said he won’t book me again (which thankfully has not happened) I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it. I find that not caring in this sense has made me a much better comic – though that’s not to say I don’t care! I trust you understand the distinction.

My second gig back in the saddle was just before Christmas in Croatia. I had been told the audience would be able to speak English, but this turned out to be a bit of an exaggeration. I realised just how much my act revolves around obscure vocabulary and I died on my arse and even got that horrible dry throat thing going on which has never happened to me before. Probably a bit of a stupid second gig to accept, but luckily the first one has gone very well, so it didnÂ’t put me off too much. I may never play Croatia again!

- can you let me know how you arrived at the idea for this show/ how the show has developed from that original concept/ about the show in its current form (in reasonable detail) ?

I have been finding it increasingly difficult to fit my one man shows into the hour slot required for Edinburgh and after doing loads of challenges for my last show “The Twelve Tasks of Hercules Terrace” (like running a Marathon and parachute jumping) I decided I wanted to face all of my fears. I had hated doing stand up in the 90s and decided that I was no good at it, thinking I worked better with other people, but I was really just afraid of it.

So doing a show of pure unthemed stand-up would both mean I could do an hour of whatever I wanted (dropping stuff if something funny occurred to me on a night) and also make me overcome my fears and hopefully prove I was capable of doing stand up (It struck me that what I had been doing in my one man shows wasn;t a million miles from stand up anyway).

Having said that I wanted to be doing stuff that was original and my own and that wasn’t necessarily obvious stand up fare. I have been writing a weblog at for the last two and a half years. Basically I take a usually minor event or observation from the day before and then try and write about it amusingly. I get about 2000 people reading it a day. It started off as a writing exercise, but I soon realised that I had a huge store of material to draw on. One of my most popular entries was one in which I bought 9 yoghurts from a supermarket and the check out girl passed comment on this saying “Someone Likes Yoghurt!” I then went into great detail defending myself against these accusations, explaining that I didn’t like yoghurt any more than any normal lactose tolerant person, but was merely ensuring I didn’t have to buy any yoghurt for probably two weeks. I wasn’t sure this would work as stand up, but a tne minute version of the entry proved very popular and has now spiralled and can sometimes go on for forty minutes (I also discuss whether this is a fit subject for such a long routine) It’s a fascinating routine as there are no real jokes, and so different people find it amusing at different times, so it has this constant swelling sea of laughter, but rarely everyone laughing at once. Also some people really get angry about it and don’t like it, which is then amusing in itself and I will comment upon this. I usually adlib different stuff every time I do it. Sometimes it collapses in on itself but usually is sustains.

I realised through this that there is something very funny about me getting infuriated by both tiny pointless things and also major issues (I am doing a somewhat contentious routine about the death of the Pope which divides audiences in a different way).

So I suppose by looking at the minutiae of my life I have managed to come up with a slightly different persona for myself.

I also like taking a stupid nonsensical notion and following it through. I am working on a routine about how Rudyard Kipling’s notions of masculinity are flawed and also one on why the magpie reward system (as detailed in the theme tune to the TV show “Magpie”) is unfair and poorly constructed. I’ve just written something about how you could ruin several classic pop songs by making them about sex with monkeys. Not all this stuff will be in the final show, but I’ll be trying it out over the next few weeks and hoping to come up with a cohesive show, the only theme of which is that it is stuff that has happened or occurred to me.

- how does this one compare with your previous solo shows?

I suppose itÂ’s a lot looser because of the lack of a definite subject matter and also a lot more relaxed. ItÂ’s also a lot further forward at this stage because IÂ’ve been able to road test the material at clubs for the last four months. Usually I write a show in june and july and then am, rushing to get it ready. It usually settles in in the first proper week of Edinburgh. The previews are thus normally fairly painful affairs where I struggle to remember stuff or read things from bits of paper and then have to say what I will be doing in a bit that I havenÂ’t written. So far the previews for this show have been proper shows and I hope this augurs well for the Edinburgh show being the most polished one yet. The best thing for me is not having to cram in lots of story and being able to go off at a tangent and ad lib with something, because there is no narrative and I can drop things without worrying about ruining my conclusion.

So in short itÂ’s much more about the performance than the writing this time round and I think itÂ’s the show that most closely shows the real me as well.

ItÂ’s got much more hard hitting or offensive stuff than usual. I am becoming confident enough to not totally rely on being likeable and cheeky and am showing more anger and frustration.

- what main areas (in the piece itself and in the performance) will you be working on in the remaining previews? what needs attention still? what difficulties remain?

I think the main job is just material selection – making sure I’ve got the right balance of longer pieces and gags. Though my two main routines are in place and pretty solid I am still refining them and adding and subtracting bits all the time as I go. The more I can get on top of knowing the material the more I can then mine it for new gags as I am performing. A few of the potentially more offensive bits have mainly been ad libbed and I do want to sit down at some point and look over them and make sure the arguments are water-tight (as long as I believe in what I am saying and know that it isn’t truly offensive, I am not bothered if some people just hear a buzz word and decide to be offended).

I really need an opening and an ending as well, but hopefully these will evolve in the next few weeks.

- what (be honest) do you really hope to get out of Edinburgh this year?

The great thing about having done Edinburgh for this long (and also already having had my moment in the TV spot light) is that I can now do it for its own sake. It would be great if I could sell every ticket (or nearly every one) and thus not lose loads of money. It would of course be nice to get some critical acclaim, but that is not as important to me as whether the people who come and see the show enjoy it. I rely on those people coming back to see me every year. So far I feel I have given them an interesting variety of shows that all have something good in them and I donÂ’t want to let them down.

Ultimately if I can do a show that I can then tour the country with and maybe go to some overseas festivals with I will be more than happy. I don’t think I am in the running for any awards as I am considered “too established” – which kind of makes me laugh as I only fill small venues on tour still and occasionally find myself playing to 30 or 40 people. But I am kind of pleased about that as a) think the Perrier award is a bit of a blight on the festival, spreading unhappiness and discord and meaning that the handful of shows which do get chosen appear more successful than those that don’t. There are always a good dozen shows that thus don’t get the audience or attention from the media which they deserve. It’s nice to be out of it from the start because however stupid you think it is, it still hurts when you don’t get nominated! b) I quite like being able to put on my publicity that I am a non-award winning comedian. The only thing I have worked on that has ever won an award is On The Hour and I was just a writer on that and then got edged out of it when it went on the TV anyway – nothing else I have done (and I’ve been involved in a lot of things that I think are OK) has been considered good enough for an award by the powers that decide these things. Either I have to accept that I am mediocre or realise that the whole idea of awards is arbitrary and stupid. I go for the latter! And thus get a small amount of cache from having managed to continue a successful career without the approval of that section of the media.

Much as I enjoy that I am aware that unless I get some kind of recognition soon it might adversely affect my career. It annoys me that that is the case. But I will just keep plugging away and doubtless receive some kind of posthumous nod (at the very least for quantity of material created if not quality), which will at least be some crumb of comfort for my grieving relatives!

- all these questions inevitably focus on your public face as a performer, so for once tell me (not in any tabloid-like way, but with a view to showing something of the private individual behind the performer) two or three things about yourself (or your views, beliefs, whatever) that have bearing, you reckon, on what you do as a comedian (after all, I might nor even use your answers !).

People can find out way more about me than I really mean to reveal by reading my blog, which as I say has certainly informed my writing and my comedy.

I also believe that the real danger to the world comes not from the politicians but from the religious – by no means all of them, but a select few idiots who don’t have the perspective to understand that if there is a God he probably doesn’t play favourites and prefer certain types of human beings to others. I don’t mind it when religious people organise sponsored walks or fetes or even when they block the pavement singing silly songs, but when they start flying planes into buildings, burning people at the stake and believing that God likes their type or colour of person more than the others and gives them special privileges then I think they have lost sight of the truth. I am obsessed with obsession and religion is the ultimate obsession. People say you shouldn’t question religion, but I think the reason for that is that it quickly falls apart the minute you do that. As a comedian I think your job is to question all closed systems of thought (even ones that are ultimately correct) because the trouble begins in life when people just accept things and don’t question them. Let’s question everything and make sure everything stands up to the questioning. It’s the only way we move forwards. Also the absurdities of religion make for some great material so I have to love the religious really.

I play a lot of online poker and am actually starting to win at it now, but have some ground to make up before I can say I am ahead. I am thinking of going to Vegas next year to enter the World Series championship. Being a comedian and being a good poker player rely on a lot of the same qualities. ItÂ’s mainly down to confidence, bluff and bluster, believing in yourself and then occasionally out of the blue taking a massive gamble that might blow up in your face. I am not sure whether playing poker has made me a better comedian or whether getting back into stand up has given me the confidence to be a better poker player. But this year I have a renewed drive and my fears and insecurities have largely disappeared. So maybe gambling is good for you after all.

My job has always been one of the most important things in my life. When I was in my 20s I was very ambitious and wanted to be the greatest comedian in the world and was driven to get on TV etc. It was my complete focus of attention. Nowadays I realise that being happy is more important and my only ambition is to make a living in this job for the rest of my life, creating stuff that I am proud of and which at least attempts to be new and original. I look at people like John Hegley and Chris Lynam and think that I would rather be them than Lenny Henry or Ben Elton. But I am looking forward to seeing how this goes and how things turn out. Getting back to performing in clubs has made me realise what this job is about and also made me recognise that I am a very lucky man to have the life I do. Whether the Scotsman gives me one star or five (or more likely on past evidence - three)