Interview: Seymour Mace
Seymour Mace is a surreal stand-up comedian from Jarrow. Best known for his twin roles as Craig and Steve Dawson in the Johnny Vegas sitcom Ideal, Mace has carved a reputation for creating the sort of delightfully stupid comedy that would make Vic and Bob glow with pride. In an extensive interview with Giggle Beats, he talks about a lifetime clowning around, his comedy heroes, Johnny Vegas’ comments at the 2013 British Comedy Awards, his part in series two of Hebburn, and why being an idiot is just “really good”.
AD: Hi Seymour. How did you get into comedy?
SM: I’ve always been into comedy; I suppose my dad got me into it. My dad was into Tony Hancock and Tommy Cooper and Eric Morecambe – stuff like that – so he got me into an appreciation of comedy. But I’ve been a comedian since I was at school – I just never got paid for it. A comedian is just a show-off, a show-off with something that’s worth looking at.
Ever since school all I ever wanted to be was a clown. I used to be in drama groups at school all the time, I used to do little puppet shows for my mam and dad at Christmas from behind the sofa. It was a horse puppet and I can’t remember what the other one was, but they both sounded similar when they spoke.
I’ve always wanted to perform, though, and I think stand-ups just another aspect of that. I left school at 19 and got a job with the Natural Theatre Company in Gateshead in 1990, and that’s when I first started working as a performer. In my twenties I did street theatre all over the world. In my early thirties I got a bit sick of travelling about, came back to Newcastle and did a comedy workshop run by Paul Sneddon at the Newcastle Comedy Festival.
That was on the Friday, and the following Monday they had a new act competition. So Paul said, “Go away, write some stuff” so I came back, did the new act thing and won. And that was it. I won representation from a local agency who aren’t around anymore, and to be honest they didn’t do a lot beyond making me realise I could do it for a living.
The bloke who finished second place got a bloody holiday to Amsterdam. I was gutted. That was supposed to be part of my prize but I think they felt bad because I did fifteen minutes instead of five. I didn’t know how long five minutes was on stage because it was my first ever gig. There was a red light flashing but nobody told me the light means ‘get off’, so I was just getting really annoyed at this light flashing. Eventually I said something and I saw someone at the back shouting, “Get off!”
AD: How much of that material did you use going forward?
SM: I used bits of it and it was a starting point for material. Once I’d done that I started doing five minute spots and about six months after I’d been going I won this Bachelors Comedy Cup-A-Soup Challenge, which sounds ridiculous and it was, but the first prize was ten grand. That paid for me to go round the country and do open spots for no money, get my experience up and get known a bit.
I did a five minute spot in Liverpool and Rawhide saw me there and wanted to represent me. That’s when I moved to Manchester and I started to make a decent living from it.
AD: At that time there mustn’t have been many professional gigs in Newcastle…
SM: There was The Chilly [in Heaton], The Hyena – and that was before it moved downstairs, which is where it is now. It was a different kind of gig then, run by comedians for comedians. A bit like The Stand is now, actually.
There’s always been more gigs down London way so I’d go down and do them, but it’s just about playing the game until you don’t have to play the game anymore. I don’t have to go to London anymore and do five gigs in a night for £50 each, there’s enough work round here for me.
AD: Is that why you moved back to Newcastle then?
SM: Partly. I lived in Manchester for 10 years. It’s a good location for travelling round. There’s quite a lot going on, but the comedy scene in Manchester has, in my opinion, taken a bit of a downturn – whereas the comedy scene in Newcastle has taken an upturn, especially with The Stand opening. That was a big draw to move back to Newcastle. I was never a massive fan of Manchester – it was nice enough, but I moved there for work, not because I like the place particularly.
AD: Why do you think the Manchester comedy scene has gone downhill?
SM: I don’t know, quite a few of the little independent nights have closed down. I think it’s the economic climate. It’s harder to keep nights going. A lot of the smaller nights folded because people weren’t going out as much, so you end up with only a couple of clubs, like The Comedy Store and The Frog [and Bucket]. They’re nice enough clubs but it doesn’t really give the diversity you want. There’s still a few independent nights – XS Malarkey is a brilliant gig – but there’s certainly not as many as they used to be.