“I’ve forgotten why we’re meeting up,” I told comedian Paul Kerensa this afternoon. “I find over-research can be very over-rated.”
“This coming Monday,” he reminded me, “I’m at the Leicester Square Theatre with a Christmas show – Kerensa’s Christmas Cracker – A Centrepoint Fundraiser. It has some carols, Bec Hill, Paul Tonkinson, Rob Thomas and a magician called Wayne The Weird – his real name is Wayne Shakespeare – I keep telling him he should just use his real name.”
All proceeds go to the Centrepoint Christmas homeless charity.
“I’ve been doing these package shows all through December,” he explained, “I’ve done this show about eight years now but never done it in central London before. I normally call it Comedians and Carols but, in London, I didn’t want to step on the toes of Robin Ince’s Lessons and Carols For Godless People.”
“It’s been getting audiences?” I asked.
“Last week in Exeter, we played to 2,000 people at a modern-built church place. And, in Durham, we played to about 1,500 at the Gala Theatre.”
Paul has been performing stand-up comedy for 15 years.
“I tried giving it up about six years ago,” he told me, “but that only lasted about 10 days.”
“Why?” I asked.
“I thought I had got into stand-up to be a writer and I thought: The writing is working out. I will stop all this trudging across this fine land of ours. I love doing the gigs, but the driving is a lot of… So I tried to give up the stand-up and that lasted about a week-and-a-half but I got the sweats and needed to go and do a gig again. So, ever since then, I’ve done about three gigs a week – because I have to. It’s a drug. I love it and it’s just brilliant fun.”
“But you had originally,” I said, “gone into stand-up to become a writer?”
“Well, I had thought I did, but now I know I didn’t. Now I know I went into it because I need to get laughs. Once you’ve had the experience, it’s difficult to not keep doing it.”
As Paul said, the writing HAS been working out for him. He wrote for the Miranda TV sitcom and writes for Lee Mack’s Not Going Out sitcom. His work has won awards from the Royal Television Society, the Rose d’Or and the British Comedy Awards.
I asked: “Are the stand-up and the writing fairly equally balanced?”
“Last year’s tax return,” he told me, “was within £10 between writing and performing. And I’m starting a podcast soon. I’ve got a few interviews recorded, which I’ll put out in the New Year. Just little segments like overheard conversations.”
“Why do a podcast?” I asked.
“Because I’m meeting lots of interesting people. I’m doing lots of BBC Radio 2 things with Chris Evans – I do the Pause For Thought spot on his Breakfast Show and I’ve been writing TFI Friday (on Channel 4 TV) for the last six weeks.”
“Pause For Thought?” I asked.
“They do it every day Monday to Friday,” Paul explained. “The Reverend Richard Coles does it; a few bishops; a few Imams; and the occasional comedian like me. This Thursday, I’m doing one about my kids’ school nativity play.”
“And you do that spot because you are a Christian?”
“That’s not common among comedians,” I said.
“I do a lot of gigs in churches,” said Paul, “because they have a ready-made audience. But the trouble is how do you have a foot in that camp and a foot in the mainstream comedy circuit? The problem is I don’t think being a Christian is that funny. It’s maybe funny to laugh at but not with. How do you make it funny? That’s the problem, really.”
“And, if you even mention it,” I said, “it might sound as if you’re proselytising.”
“Exactly. I think you can do the atheist stance on stage and people will go Yes!! but, if you did it from the other perspective, it would sound proselytising.”
“And you have to be squeaky clean?” I asked.
“Don’t have to be,” said Paul. “Depends on the venue. Depends who’s booked you.”
“Is there a church circuit?” I asked.
“I don’t think there’s a circuit as such, but I do 90 minute shows in churches to 200 people and sell a few books. The last church gig I did was two nights ago and, at the end of it, I had three different people from other churches come up to me and say: We’re from the church down the road. Can we have your card? Come and do a show for us. That doesn’t happen at most comedy club gigs – that you can get three new gigs from one gig.”
“It’s horses for courses. The way comedy has gone… If I had said to my mum 15 years ago Name me a comedian, she’d probably have gone Billy Connolly and Eddie Izzard. Now, she could probably name me 50 comedians. There’s a comedian for everyone. Certainly ten years ago, a lot of churchy folk would have gone: Oh, I don’t like comedy. It’s a little bit, y’know… not for me. Now there’s something for everyone; comedy’s for everyone. A lot of modern churches nowadays: they’ve got the stage, the lights, the mic, the refreshments – they’re made for it.”
“With all this radio and TV writing,” I said. “I still don’t really understand the attraction of standing in a room above a pub performing to a relatively small number of people.”
“Writing doesn’t give me the same sort of reward,” explained Paul. “Hearing Lee Mack get a laugh for something eight months after I’ve written it is not the same – and forgetting if I even wrote that bit or he wrote it… It’s not the same as getting the instant kick of a laugh in a club. Also, writing doesn’t pay what it could do and I have a family to feed – a wife and two kids.”
“Is your wife in the business?” I asked.
“No. She just pushes me out the door and says: Go and do a gig. Get the jokes off your chest and don’t do them in the house.”
“You have two kids?” I asked.
“My 2-year-old daughter,” said Paul, “is showing particular signs of being a good comedy audience member. My son does the jokes and she does the laughing.
“My son is 5 now. He’s just started school and is showing good signs of being a comedian. In a true show of comic timing, yesterday at school he was awarded a perfect attendance record certificate… but he wasn’t there to collect it because he was off ill.”