Pete Starr

Interview: Craig Campbell

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‘They call comedy heroin in Canada, because most people just make enough money to get through to the next gig. So the idea that I could be talking to you on a day off, reflecting on my life in anyway rather than scraping more beans out of the ground is a great thing.’

Craig Campbell is a content but driven man. Following a hectic couple of years which saw him take another step up the comedy ladder with his own solo tour – and enjoy some new found TV exposure – Campbell’s profile is certainly on the rise. ‘I’ve done a couple of TV bits like Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow and Russell Howard’s Good News, and they have been phenomenal. When you add all this to my own first tour, it’s been a really strong couple of years. Having been a club comedian for a fair while now, it’s really nice to be taking that step up, playing larger venues and taking my own tour out and hearing nice things being said about what you’re doing and what you love.’

Comedy’s very own Grizzly Adams admits, though, supporting the likes of Frankie Boyle and Rich Hall has certainly helped acquire his own loyal fan base: ‘I spent last year on tour with Frankie [Boyle], which was an amazing thing. Through that I got exposed to 220,000 people who would probably have never seen me, which is obviously awesome.’

Having finally returned home from his first 46 leg tour, I asked Craig how he coped with life on the road as a one man show. ‘I coped like anyone else – not too badly. I’m really appreciating my time at home right now. In a way being on the road is a nice contrast, but it is quite hard. It’s quite lonely for a start – there’s not the camaraderie of two or three other acts in a green room to bounce my pathetic day off.

‘I’m not going to say it’s work, travelling around the world making people laugh; but it’s not the easiest thing to do when you take in to account the amount of time spent away from home, and the emotional strain of that.’

Whilst reflecting on the gruelling nature of his tour – it consisted of two sixty minute halves – Campbell deliberated on how to do it next time. ‘I realised, of course, on this tour that I was incredibly lonely, and that I had no one to talk to and, especially at the interval, no one to bounce ideas off. That’s when I realised, “Oh God, this is why people have opening acts!”

‘I’ve spoken to a couple of ‘unnamed opening acts’ who said that it was implied in the job that you would hang out, and have a chat, and go out for dinner and lunch with the acts you’re opening for. I never really had that with Frankie Boyle or Rich Hall or any of those guys, but others have told me that that’s part of the deal; that opening acts are a sounding board for a lonely, old git at times as much as for the show! But now that I know that, and I know my own ruse, I can’t be that person and bring in someone else…now that I know why I would be doing it! It’s a horrible catch 22.’

Despite Campbell’s apparent unwillingness to inflict himself on another comic, he does want to tour again soon and might give someone a leg up along the way. ‘I think for my next tour I will bring someone along, because coming up with another two comedy sections an hour long each is a tall order for a second tour and it might be nice to have someone else to warm the audience for me to bring the ball home as it were.’

Following his folly around the UK, Campbell is gearing up for another Edinburgh run, a place he has long and fond memories of. ‘I think 1995 was my first time there. I came over from Holland and did a bunch of sort of get up and go shows, which I think there was more of then – there used to be stages all over the city in 1995. I think it’s a bit harder now for new acts to just drop in and say, “Hey, can I get onstage during your show and do three minutes in front of your sold out theatre?” People were a bit more charitable and willing to help out other performers then.’

This charity is something Campbell is keen to keep alive in the circuit: ‘I like to be helpful and encourage other people to see other acts. That’s something I take great pride in, trying to spread the love that I have obviously benefited from with other people’s generosity.’

Having tried his hand at the longer format of comedy, Craig seemed pleased to be able to return to the high energy shows that Edinburgh demands. ‘I’m looking forward to whittling [the tour show] down before the Edinburgh runs. I’ll have to push two 45-60 minute sections down into one 50 section. As a performer it’s a load off and it means there’s a little more intensity, which I somewhat prefer.

‘There’s a sense when you’re doing two halves – especially over that distance – you have to extrapolate a little bit to cover your approach. I’m from a background in club comedy and that’s all about a pretty intense twenty minutes and that’s where my bread is buttered and that’s how I like to perform, so Edinburgh will be a little closer to that, a month of riding the throttle for fifty minutes straight!

‘But I’m really excited to be telling some stories that are challenging for me at the Fringe. There are some things in comedy I consider quite difficult and one is that it’s hard to be boastful and funny at the same time. I’ve got a couple of stories like that and I’m pleased with the challenge that they’ve given to me to tell them and I love them.’

In the face of a hugely successful year, Campbell is relishing his new found status in stand-up comedy, especially his relationship with his fans: ‘It’s pretty unique and enviable: I’m not so famous that I can’t get back to the people who get in touch with me. I’ve lived in Hollywood and have seen the sort of plasticity that does exist with some acts and their fans.

‘But it’s a pretty awesome thing, I can tell you honestly that I’m at a place right now that I’m not used to. I’m talking from a point of ignorance – I’ve never been at this successful point in my career before and all the things that I’m recounting to you right now are kind of nostalgic. I wasn’t personally sending people copies of my DVD three or even two years ago and its nice to be able to think that.’

The phrase ‘success breeds success’ seems to apply very much to Campbell, as he has just confirmed another 40 dates of his domestic tour, one which will keep him busy through the winter. ‘That’s all been certified by demand, so all the places I sold out in the first half of my tour I’ve put in extra shows and places I’ve not been I’ve put in new shows’, he explains.

Campbell’s new run will be followed by a spring spent touring the European and North American Ski resorts, a schedule that seems to sit well with the shaggy comic as he contently summed up another year in comedy: ‘I’m basically not having to do much but be funny ‘til April next year and that’s a pretty great way to live.’