Interview: Jason Cook
On December 20th 2009 Jason Cook suffered a suspected heart attack. Eight months later, the Hebburn-born comic used that potentially life-threatening incident as the premise for his latest emotionally raw show, The End (Part 1). With The Fringe over and done with, part two of Jason’s life has officially begun as the comic prepares to plough through a list of challenges set by his Edinburgh audiences to complete before next year’s festival. Andrew Dipper went for a chat with Jason Cook to find out what’s new in the life of the North East comic.
AD: You centred your Fringe show The End (Part 1) on the changes you’ve made – or would like to make -following your suspected heart attack in December last year. Has the incident really changed your life, or was it just a good platform for your new show?
JC: Oh, it’s changed it. I’ve pretty much quit drinking and I’m picking the gigs I want to do more selectively these days. Some clubs can just tear your soul out – you are just there to be shouted at. I’m trying not to do those any more.
AD: A lot of your shows – specifically My Confessions, which was a very emotional and heavy show – seem to be created out of serious incidents in your life. Is it a case of ‘real life’ being funnier and more engaging than any of your fabricated material?
JC: I think so. I think the major events in our lives are things that everyone can relate to, and often the darkest moments have so many different responses and emotions and comics seem to shy away from those, but there is loads of funny stuff in someone dying for example – their last words, the way that they deal with death and those around them. And I think people just appreciate a bit of honesty.
AD: Joke thievery is always a hot topic in the land of comedy – what’s your take on it? Can you ever own a joke?
JC: There are people who have stolen my jokes, and to be honest the thing that hurts most is when they do them badly. The delivery is all wrong, the timings of the setup or punch line. I can always write more jokes, but by the very act of thieving other comics are showing that they cannot. And joke thieves get that reputation flashed around the comedy circuit pretty quickly. Thanks to the internet, information is more immediate, so if someone does one of your bits and someone you know is at that gig, you’ll hear on the night.
AD: The idea and motivation for a lot of your routines seem to come from your wife Clare – is maintaining a family life whilst working around the country as a comedian as difficult as it sounds?
JC: I don’t know, it’s something we have gotten used to. Clare comes with me if it’s somewhere nice or the venue has given me a nice hotel. Since the events in The End, I’ve started to make more of an effort to do some things together and we have the odd night out at the theatre, or pop over to the nice Italian across the canal from us.
AD: So how did you get in to comedy then? Can you remember your first joke?
JC: I got into comedy through a mate of mine who was writing a sketch show and asked me to contribute. I was working away on oil tankers at the time and would write them and post them home. When I came home and saw people performing my stuff I knew I wanted to finally get the nerve to do comedy and I started in the sketch show as a performer. I got a job in a comedy club so I could watch the other stand ups and quit my job and sold my house. Bit of a gamble looking back but it’s worked out thankfully.
My first joke was something about Brad Pitt’s brother being called Doug, which is true, and how bad it must be to be called “Doug Pitt”. Nobody laughed. My first joke that worked was:
“Me and my wife are trying for a baby, but it’s hard, y’know, hospital security.”
AD: What’s the best heckle you’ve ever heard?
JC: There are too many to mention, they become the stuff of legend around the circuit. That’s the problem with heckles though; the best ones, or in fact, ones that are just funny are so few and far between that they become good circuit gossip. Hecklers mainly do it because they are jealous of the comedian – they think, “I can do that, piece of piss.” But I did hear of a comedian getting the heckler on stage and giving them the mic, saying, “Go on then” and sitting in their seat. As the confidence fell from the heckler’s face as jokes that he had heard at work died in the air, the comedian, from the hecklers seat, shouted, “I think you could say I have won mate.”
AD: You’re currently based in Manchester, presumably to be closer to the city’s vibrant comedy scene. What do you think the North East needs in order to improve its own comedy scene?
JC: Nothing, really. The scene is growing; there are a number of nice, big rooms in the city that weren’t there when I was starting out. The Grinning Idiot boys are doing great work and the Hyena has always been there, but there are also some smaller room venues like The Laughing Penguin gigs and The Chillingham Arms, which are awesome rooms to work material out in.
AD: Why do you think there have been so many good comedians – like Sarah Millican, Seymour Mace, Chris Ramsey and yourself – coming out of South Tyneside?
JC: People trust the accent. They think we are thick and cute. We have learned to milk this inherent cuteness.
AD: Finally, during your Edinburgh run you asked the audience to set you tasks to complete over the next year as material for ‘Part 2′ of your show. Which task are you least looking forward to doing? Are you regretting it now?
JC: The one I’m least looking forward to is probably eating half a wheel of stilton. It’s not the biggest challenge – in some of the others I have to run a half marathon – but the cheese thing is starting to scare me.
If you’re looking to see Jason Cook in the North East, he will be compering at Middlesbrough Town Hall (4th September) and Stockton Arc (10th September) followed by a performance at Sunderland Empire on the 14th September. And if you missed The End (Part 1), don’t worry; Jason will be touring his show very soon. More information on the comic can be found here and on his website.