Interview: Seymour Mace
AD: Newspaper clippings compare you to Vic Reeves – who are your comedy heroes?
SM: I love Vic and Bob, from Big Night Out, which was mad and daft and nothing like that on TV. They’re still the kings of that 20 years later, which goes to show how little imagination a lot of people have. My heroes come from the generation before that, the ones my dad got me in to; Tony Hancock, Tommy Cooper, Eric Morecambe. People who were just funny anyway, and even if they didn’t have writers they’d still be funny. Leonard Rossiter is my favourite kind of comedy actor.
Most of them are from my childhood and are people who just made me laugh. I appreciate modern stand-ups and that but it’s a different appreciation. I don’t idolise them like I did when I was a kid because I am a stand-up so I know that most stand-ups are just people like me, and the ones I’ve met are just normal – so you don’t put them on a pedestal like you do as a kid. [Hancock, Cooper and Morecambe] were amazing figures who I looked up to.
AD: Without generalising or being flippant about it, I can’t see many modern comedians going on to become comedy legends…
SM: I don’t know if that’s true or not. Comedy’s just more popular, so there’s more people doing it, so the quality will go down because that’s just the way it happens. I think there will still be comedy heroes, but maybe they won’t come out of the stand-up world. I have no idea. I think stand-up, in a way, has suffered from its own success. Personally I don’t think stand-up works as well in a massive arena as it does in a small comedy club. It’s like jazz in that the best place to see jazz is in a sweaty little club and that’s the best place to see stand-up comedy as well. As soon as you take it out of that… I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but it doesn’t work as well as the intimacy of a comedy club.
I think the industry has suffered as well because once you get to that stage – selling out arenas and doing big TV stuff – it’s difficult not to dumb yourself down a bit, and a lot of comedians who get to that level aren’t as good as they were before they got there. It’s difficult for people to know what to do. You don’t have to compromise, though; there are plenty of comedians who don’t compromise and can still make it. But it’s a difficult decision.
AD: Johnny Vegas made the news recently for his comments at the British Comedy Awards. What are your thoughts on that?
SM: I think he’d been on the sauce, hadn’t he? [Laughs] The gist of what he’s saying is right. There’s a massive lack of imagination on the part of programme makers. I understand why; it’s a business, and it’s to do with making money and staying safe, and they’re more likely to take a safe bet than take a chance on something. It’s a shame but that’s the way it is.
But the great thing about the internet – and YouTube – is that you don’t have to jump through anybody else’s hoops. You can put what you want up there.
There’s so many people with so little imagination working in jobs that require imagination. I tend to think it’s because the people with creativity stay at a creative level, while the people who don’t have an imagination – who just want to tell everyone what to do – rise up to run TV channels and commission programmes, and are paid to have an opinion when they don’t really have one.
That’s how you get stuff commissioned where you think, ‘I’ve got no idea how this got through; who sat and watched this and said this was all right?’ And the reason is that the person who sat and watched it hasn’t got a clue about comedy. It’s not their fault – they’ve been put in that position – but it’s a shame.
I think most people who know how to do comedy are doing it. They’re not telling other people how to do it.