How did you get into comedy?At university I spent most of my time doing am-dram, usually with no lines. It was more a comedic shuffle on and off. Then I went to drama school and again ended up playing comedic roles. When I left, I realised being an actor is bloody horrible and as a standup you’ve got a lot more control.
Can you remember a gig so bad that it’s now funny?One of the first outdoor gigs I did was at GuilFest. It’s like Glastonbury but with easy access to a Waitrose. I got booked to do half an hour. At a push I had 10 minutes of material, but I took the gig anyway. About 11 minutes in it became brutally obvious that I did not have the material or the skills to get me to the end of the set. My partner was with me and I remember looking across to her in the wings. It was like she was watching a very slow car crash. I got slow handclapped off. It was horrific.
Best heckle? Someone shouted out at me once: “What made you choose those shoes?” It just came in at the most bizarre angle. I just love the fact somebody was completely bamboozled by my footwear. Think it was a bog-standard trainer.
Do you have any pre-show rituals?I like to have a stretch. That probably comes back to my slightly wanky drama school days. At my age, pulling a muscle is highly likely. Even getting the mic out of the mic stand has its own dangers these days. I’m quite animated on stage so I have to limber up.
You’ve been doing standup for 20 years now. How has your act changed?When you start out, you’re desperate for people to like you and that affects what you talk about on stage and your delivery. As you get older, what I’ve found is I don’t care any more. It makes you bolder and probably more authentic. I still get nervous, I still get anxious, and I still get stage fright before I go on, but I’m much more myself on stage.
You recently had a midlife crisis, separated from your wife and then got back together. Is there a funny side to difficult times like these?Oh God yes. Like everything else that happens to me in life, it’s the humour that’s got me through. I guess I had your classic midlife crisis, but it was quite a male midlife crisis. With women, we always talk about the menopause and how you get hot, a bit teary and brain fog, and all of those things happened to me. But in addition to that, I bought a sports car and lost my hair with alopecia, so I was a balding middle-aged person in a sports car. I had a combover and a soft-top. I look back at it now and think: “Oh you sad twat.”
What advice would you give to help other people see the funny side of challenging times?If you dig deep enough there are always funny sides. I think it is a beautifully British thing that we can find humour in our darkest moments. For example, when I moved into my divorced dad flat after the separation, I had a mark on my arse that I couldn’t see properly, but I was quite alarmed by it. I thought something really bad had happened to my bum. It culminated in me going back, cap in hand to my wife, arse first, to ask her to have a look at it. That made me realise why people stay together in long-term relationships … It’s because at some point 25 years in, you’re going to need an anal examination and you need somebody you know very well to do that.
Is it true you started delivering vegetables from a van?When the pandemic struck, I was just about to film the quizshow Lightning for the BBC but, like everything else, it got postponed. To keep myself sane, I took a part-time job delivering veg. There was a poignant moment one afternoon when my drop-offs took me past the production offices of the quizshow that I should have been doing. I drove past the offices in my veg van with cratefuls of courgettes in the back thinking: “Christ, I was supposed to be in a shiny suit in a studio recording my gameshow. You couldn’t write this stuff.” The upside of that is when we did get to make it, you just become so grateful for being able to get back to normal life.
Your alopecia recently returned. How did that feel?I’ve gone through every emotion. I had it as a kid and it fell out in patches, but then I had this monumental breakup and it really went. There’s a bit of you going: “It’s only hair and it’s fine.” But I think the issue was I wasn’t feeling myself and I also didn’t look like myself. It’s hard to look in the mirror and not see what you normally see.
I had to think about how I was going to present myself on television. Initially it was alright and we could sort of colour it in with felt tip (or the makeup equivalent). Then I had to have that conversation with myself: I’m going to have to get a wig. We doubled down on the: “Christ, here I am, cliched, middle-aged gameshow host, in a frickin’ wig”.
It was hard but coming out the other side of it, I’ve done a few television appearances recently where I haven’t worn the wig. I’ve got this weird semi-bald head at the moment, and it’s felt empowering. My hair is starting to grow back, and I’ve promised myself when it does, I’m going to go full 1970s bouncing perm. I’m going to go full Charlie’s Angels on it. Luscious, bouncing soft perm. It’ll look horrendous, like a restoration play wig.
It’s been challenging but I’ve learned a lot about myself from it and I’ve met some amazing people through being open about it. Once you start to take control, talk about it and own it, you meet so many people who are going through the same thing.