Interview: Gary Delaney, Jarred Christmas, Pete Firman and Sean Hughes
Four masters of stand-up will be sharing a bill at Durham’s Gala Theatre next month, as Gary Delaney, Jarred Christmas, Pete Firman and Sean Hughes bring The All-Star Stand-Up Tour to the North East. We caught up with the fantastic foursome before the start of their 36-date run…
Who’s your favourite comedian and why?
Sean Hughes: Richard Pryor – I saw him on TV when I was 14 and that’s the reason I did comedy really. I was a kid in Ireland and there was this middle-aged American crack addict saying things I could really understand.
Jarred Christmas: I have several. Louis CK because of the honesty and the way he tackles complicated topics and always finds a unique and funny angle.
Eddie Izzard because of the silly and surreal routines and impeccable delivery, Tommy Teirnan is downright hilarious and amazing, and My Dad. He’s not a comedian but he is bloody funny.
Gary Delaney: American Emo Philips as he is the greatest living joke writer in the world. My favourite joke of his is:”I got in trouble on a date once, I didn’t open the car door for her. Instead, I just swam to the surface.”
If you weren’t a comedian, what would you be?
GD: The annoying guy in the office who thinks he’s funny. I actually used to be a Conference organiser, so that’s probably what I’d still be doing.
In my time doing that I met people like Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan and Tony Blair. I say met, the conversation normally went like this ‘The stage is this way, erm, hasn’t your security guard got a big gun?’
SH: Probably a psychiatrist – I think they’re kind of similar – you’re going around analysing stuff. If I wasn’t doing it for laughs I’d be doing it to help people.
What was the first live comedy show you went to?
GD: I was 18, so this was back in ’91. There was a new material night round the corner from my Uni Hall of Residence in Islington; it was a pound to get in.
I used to watch great acts like Harry Hill, Mark Lamaar, Jo Brand and Simon Munnery go up and try out jokes from bits of paper. The fact that sometimes it didn’t work stripped away some of the mystery and helped me think ‘Maybe I could do that’.
Pete Firman: I think mine was Lee Hurst’s Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.
SH: There wasn’t really a comedy scene in Dublin, when I first came over to London the Comedy Store was a really magical place, one of the earliest was probably seeing Pat Condell in the late 80s.
JC: Mine was an improv show in Christchurch, New Zealand. A group called The Court Jesters at The Court Theatre had a late night Friday show. I went when I was 14. Loved it and wanted to do it. Four years later I was a member of the Court Jesters and starting my stand up career.
What was the best gig of your career so far?
JC: Here have been many and I hope many more to come. The thing is as soon as you do your best gig ever, you raise the bar for yourself, you raise your game. Then you have another best gig.
PF: Lots of good ones, but supporting Ronnie Corbett at the Royal Festival Hall is up there.
GD: I sometimes do gigs for NABD, a charity for bikers with disabilities. Bikers make an amazing audience, so up for it and completely unshockable. I was doing this gig one summer afternoon in a marquee. It was going well, then halfway through I started really killing it.
The audience were rolling around on the floor. I thought ‘This is it! I’m now officially a genius!’. Then I realised what had happened, one of the bikers had popped round the back of the marquee for a wee.
The bright sunlight was casting a clear silhouette of a weeing man right behind me on stage, and I was the only one who couldn’t see it. It looked like a shadow puppet of the Mannekin Piss in Brussels, but 20 stone, in a leather jacket and with a can of lager in the other hand.
How about the worst?
GD: Berlin in 2002; they flew me out and assured me the crowd would speak good enough English to get my jokes. I was following German comics who were ripping it. I thought: ‘Hang on Germans are the least funny people in the world, if they’re ripping it then how well will I do?’.
The answer was very badly indeed. I played for 7 minutes to a politely baffled silence. It’s one thing to understand a foreign language. It’s quite another to understand wordplay. I died so badly they rewrote their guidance for visiting comics to say ‘don’t do wordplay’.
The act before me was a choir of German school children bouncing up and down to a medley of Beatles hits whilst holding torches. How could I have done worse than that? I don’t know, but I did.
‘It’s lovely to be here in Berlin, I’ve never been here before but my Granddad used to visit regularly….. when he was in the RAF’. Opening lines are so important aren’t they?
To make things worse at the end of the night we all had to go back on stage and do a curtain call. I was drunk by then though.
JC: I had one at a pub in Wales. Two guys who were banned from all the pubs in town snuck in. They heckled me, I put them down. They got angry. Tried to attack me. Bar man intervened. Bad guy swung a punch at the bar man, missed, hit a girl at the next table.
Suddenly it was all on. Like a cowboy film. About 15 blokes trying to get rid of these two bad guys. The police were called. Turns out they were part of a local gang. I had to have a police escort out of town. That was pretty bad.
What do you do when you’re not working?
JC: Parent the socks off my children.
GD: I watch horror, especially zombie films, I’ve even written one. As a man in his 40s with disposable income and no kids I have a room in my house that is just full of horror memorabilia. I call it my zombie room.
My specialist subject on Celebrity Mastermind was the zombie films of George Romero. I got ten put of eleven, but didn’t win as my general knowledge is pants.
PF: I’m a bit of a workaholic. If I’m not performing I’m usually writing, or trying to come up with my next big trick.
Who’s in your dream comedy club line-up? Alive or dead.
GD: Emcee: Daniel Kitson (peerless improviser), opener: Woody Allen (an incredible club comic, his material ages well which is very rare), middle: Henny Youngman (he wrote ‘Take my wife, please’) and Max Miller (the music hall gag king), closer: Mitch Hedberg (Another gag legend whom I never got to see).
JC: 1980’s Eddie Murphy, Robin Williams, Late 90’s Eddie Izzard, 1960’s Woody Allen and me. I would be an idiot to not book myself on that line up.
Can you learn to be funny, or is it something that has to come naturally?
GD: Lots of people have the base quality of being witty. That’s not so rare. Learning how to harness it? Very rare indeed. It takes many years of hard work and focus to get any good.
JC: You can learn techniques and tricks but that will never beat being naturally funny. But you need to work at it even if you are a natural. We all have mates who are funny, but not many who could make it as professional comedians.
With so much comedy available online and on TV, why should people come and see live stand-up?
SH: Anything can happen on the night, it’s unpredictable, that’s what it’s all about. I can go out and do things I have no intention of doing – you just can’t do that on TV. You can really connect with the audience at a live show.
GD: Because I’ve got two cats and a dog to support? Plus stand up doesn’t translate on telly. It’s a live medium.
How does the performer relate to an audience through a screen? You can’t. How do you take your timing from a telly audience? You can’t.
PF: It’s a live performance, that’s the best possible way to experience it. Being in the room when it’s happening with other people is what it’s all about.
‘Cause nothing beats being in the room while it’s happening. Atmosphere, immediacy. You don’t get that sitting at a computer by yourself.
There is nothing else like a live comedy experience. Nothing. Laughing with other people and experiencing hilarious moments that can only happen with live comedy. Get amongst it.
The All-Star Stand-Up Tour: Wednesday 27 April, Gala Theatre, Durham. Tickets are priced £20 and are available from the Gala Theatre box office.