Interview: Craig Campbell
Craig Campbell is a Canadian stand-up comedian who you might recognise from appearances on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Russell Howard’s Good News and Dave’s One Night Stand. Last year Campbell released his second DVD, Craig Campbell Live, and he’s currently on a twice-extended tour of his latest show, Thrilling Mic Hunt.
He speaks to Jake Massey about comedy, his latest tour and a ton of other interesting things including his long-time friendship with Frankie Boyle, reuniting with pals Stewart Francis and Glenn Wool on tour, climbing Everest for the highest stand-up show on record, and why Twitter is better than The Telegraph.
JM: Hi Craig – how are you doing? How’s the tour going?
CC: Good – just counting money and drinking booze. The mic hunt is going great, thank you.
JM: I’ve seen your tour’s on an extended run at the moment, which is quite impressive…
CC: Yeah, considering it goes on ’til November as well. I always push to get more dates and there’s still some coming so that’s always good for me.
JM: There’s a lot of conversation at the moment about the decline of comedy clubs in the economic climate at present, but I saw Louis CK say ‘the industry is as good as you are’, which I guess you might agree with?
CC: Yeah that’s right, it’s about being innovative enough. I don’t know what the future holds for me but I know that I am willing to be one man on a motorbike going to meet just a small number of people who are there to see me.
Whether or not I play rammed comedy clubs with four hundred people in them or whether it’s in the back of pubs with fifty people, I can still see a profit margin there in terms of just survivability. I say that with the caveat of survivability also meaning remaining fucking sane.
Also, I’m in a place where I almost get more response from my tweets than my press coverage – not that I’m not thrilled to speak to people like you who let folks know when I’m in town. But I’m not touted by the mainstream media outlets, CNN isn’t letting anyone know I’m in town!
Which is fine, but the point being that if I can get enough people who’ve seen me before but want to see me again into a small room to perform for, I personally would rather be there than on an ensemble bill or almost anywhere else, cos that is – I don’t know what CK said about that, but that is hard not to fucking love.
JM: Well I guess if you’re being broadcast across the world there’s always going to be people on Twitter saying, ‘Who the hell is this guy? I don’t like his stuff’, whereas if thirty people come out just for you, it must be a great feeling?
CC: Oh, it’s a dream man! It’s great. That’s the saving grace of little numbers when you get them, cos you know it’s still a private party. I’m almost coming from a point of view of looking at what it would take to – what I would call ‘swallow cock’ – to be in a different professional place to try and get my name out.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few who do it as Sinatra said ‘My Way’ – like Frankie [Boyle]. The list of people who do it is very fucking short. There’s a lot of people who do it in a way that tastes really bad in your throat.
JM: Well I was wondering, when you started out, what did you want from comedy?
CC: Well what I have achieved strangely, it’s one of those weird ones, Jake. I always thought, fucking bizarrely, that when I got into comedy it would be sort of similar to how old Hollywood was, where you wake up in the morning and you answer your bag of fan mail.
Actually, if I recall the early years, just before the advent of the internet, the very, very early nineties before the internet ran with it, I would get letters when I had a fixed address, from people saying, ‘I saw you fucking three months when you were here, there, wherever, and you remind me of a young Dick Grant’, or whoever the guy was at the time, and they’d say, ‘Come back and get a coffee next if you’re back in fucking Tulustiloopaville.’
That kind of thing happened and I thought that was normal at the time. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles that I realised the norm was much more superficial than that. It was the first time that I had ran into the idea that somebody would answer somebody else’s fucking fan mail. That was twisted to me.
It was also the first time I ran into somebody, which I think is quite normal in the UK but certainly for a young Canadian guy wasn’t normal at all, with a stage name. Which was like ‘What? Wait, you’re not you? What the hell is going on?’
JM: So how much is the Craig Campbell on stage the same as the Craig Campbell I’m speaking to now?
CC: Exactly the same guy, totally.
JM: Exactly the same?
CC: Yeah, it’s just me on a stage trying to remember my stories, I’m really making a grandiose effort to realise that you’ve paid money to get in and you probably want to be laughing more than listening to my beginnings in the business. It just becomes prioritised.
You’re basically an attention hog when you’re on stage. So it gets down to that: ‘OK, so you paid me to hog your company’s attention for an hour and twenty or whatever it is. That’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna prioritise the jokes that I know that have the highest percentage chance of making you laugh, and afterwards I’m gonna go into my fucking box and make weird noises.’
JM: But it must be a dilemma when you know you’ve got a fan base; you know they love your old stuff but they might’ve come to see some new stuff too…
CC: It’s a totally different thing, especially as a storyteller. I get a lot of, as you can imagine, ‘Oooooh, I was hoping you were gonna do this, I brought my friend down to see this’, and when I get back to them on Facebook or Twitter I tell them I’m there on human request. I don’t look at it as ‘Hey, don’t tell me what to do!’
People get that impression but I feel like the opposite. I don’t come in with much of an agenda and it’s refreshing to revisit those memories in your head. Every now and again I dust them off and I’m like, ‘Why the fuck did I even talk about this?!’
JM: And what do you think it is that makes those particular jokes stand the test of time?
CC: I think probably nowadays, with the cataloging of things, people can watch stuff on YouTube, so there’s a bit of a perception that these things are being watched by a bigger audience. Because they can access it maybe they hold it in a higher regard. You’ve also got this nostalgia of your earlier life, so you might have people that, the first joke they heard was mine, and they may have rose-tinted glasses on – the last time I watched ‘Raising Arizona’ I was disappointed.
Quickly back to what we were talking about earlier, the answering fan mail mentality, when you’ve asked what I wanted to achieve, it’s come full circle, now I can get back directly to people. I was quite surprised when Facebook and Twitter came out; this was what I always thought it was gonna be. You know, someone was gonna say, ‘Nice show in Liverpool the other night’, and I was gonna say, ‘Thanks for coming’, and then fuck, we’re done.
It’s very personal and involves very little manipulation of their mental landscape with advertising, sort of pushing them to do things, not that that stuff doesn’t work. Now it’s where I always thought it was gonna be, and I’ve developed a great sort of independence and confidence away from whether or not the fucking Telegraph wants to sit down and talk to me. We’ve sort of surpassed the idea of a medium outside support, and that’s pretty wicked when you have an independent relationship with your audience.
The other thing that I had in my head, again in Los Angeles, was seeing the way people got axed, for example. I knew showbiz was somewhat superficial but I realised this is a fucking cesspit of a business. It felt like nobody there had a heart, and doing something with the intention of sincerity behind it was non-existent, and that wasn’t something I wanted to be a part of. That again is something I really like about the social media, it’s just fucking you talking to them – some fireman in Ayrshire wants to know the next time you’re in Glasgow.