The joke that you loved but no one else did?
The example that leaps to mind most readily is from a sitcom pilot I’m working on at the moment about two guys, one of whom has cerebral palsy and is written for me to play. My co-writer had the (we thought clever) idea of introducing the characters switched round, so we would first see the non-disabled character driving my powered wheelchair, navigating obstacles, and naturally assume he was the disabled one. Meanwhile my character would be lying on the bed, surrounded by empty miniature bottles, so the audience would put my character’s slurred speech down to alcohol. Eventually the non-disabled character would park the wheelchair by me, stand, pull his trousers out of his arse and say words to the effect of “god that thing’s uncomfortable.” We really loved this opening. Everyone else thought it was too confusing. Eventually we cut it! I still love it though.
The joke that worked but you are not so proud that it had?
Pretty much any joke that only gets a laugh if I add the word “fuck”. It’s the oldest trick in the book, you’ll see it alive and well in any comedy club. With my new show, An Irresponsible Father’s Guide to Parenting I have given it a 12 certificate to remove the temptation of doing this. It also means my kids can come and watch the show and see what I’m saying about them!
The comedian(s) that made you want to be a comedian?
It’s probably uncool and embarrassing to admit this, but growing up I really loved Ben Elton’s comedy and, he’s probably one of the reasons why I became a stand-up comic. Indeed when my mum wants to wind me up, in that way in which only your own mother is capable of, using her in-built complete dossier on everything you’ve ever done, she will liken my comedy to his. Admittedly this is usually when she’s just seen a show where I swore a lot or talked about rude stuff!
As someone who has cerebral palsy, the publication of Ben’s book Gridlock when I was a teenager had a big effect on me, as it was the first book I ever read where the central characters were people like me facing situations which seemed familiar. It’s been years since I last read it and, in many ways, I don’t particularly want to reread it as I strongly suspect that, as with lots of Ben’s other material, time has not been kind and the older; more politically-aware me would find much at fault. Sometimes nostalgia has its benefits!
I even met Ben in 1993. I queued up at the stage door of the Liverpool Empire after a gig just to shake his hand and chat about Gridlock. But even back then, I felt really uncomfortable with the people he’d positioned on every exit, shaking buckets at people as they left in order to collect money for what was then called the ‘Spastics Society’. The pitying reactions this seemed to illicit seemed at odds with the empathy I’d seen expressed for people like me in Ben’s book.
When I came to do my first show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2003, I did a spoof charity fundraising show called Stars in Need where I attempted to raise money for hard-up celebrities who boosted their careers with charity work for disabled people. As a collecting tin was passed round the audience, they watched a heart-rending appeal to give money to stars, including Ben, who tragically “in the early nineties, lost the use of his principles.” It concluded with the startling fact that “just 80p would be enough to buy Ben a copy of the Socialist Worker to remind him of what he once stood for!”
The last thing that made you cry with laughter?
On the whole, I am a pretty terrible member of a stand-up comedy audience because I hardly ever laugh at live comedy. Instead I’m the guy who smugly sits there thinking “that was a clever call-back” or “I like the way they subverted my expectations there.” Of course, as a comedian myself I know how incredibly irritating it can be to have someone in your front row thoughtfully nodding appreciatively at everything. I guess this is probably why friends do not often invite me to their gigs!
The Box, Assembly George Square
2-26 August (not 14)