Yesterday afternoon, I was interviewed at the King’s Head in Crouch End, London, by Irish comedian Christian Talbot for his weekly podcast Seven 2 Ten.
It should appear online in two or three weeks.
Comedian Daphna Baram was sitting in on the conversation.
As I was recording Christian recording me – just in case there was a blog in it somewhere – I managed to ask him a few questions.
“I don’t take my clothes off,” Christian laughed.
“So how would you describe your act?”
“Cheerily grumpy,” suggested Daphna Baram.
“Grumpy, introspective, confessional,” suggested Christian.
“Why do your podcast?” I asked.
“It’s a blatant rip-off of Marc Maron’s WTF in America,” replied Christian.
“So,” I started to say, “you’re doing it to be famous…”
“No, no,” interrupted Christian. “Not at all. I just thought I’d like to hear a version of WTF for Irish comedians, because I’m interested in comedy. I’m like yourself, John. I’m really interested in comedy and I’m really interested in comedians. How they tick and how they go about the process of writing, performing. The different personalities. I’m just a big fan. I enjoy talking to the guys who’re just starting out doing open mic spots, talking to seasoned guys who’ve been doing it for years, the promoters, the writers. I get a huge amount of personal enjoyment out of it.”
“Is it going to get you anywhere?” I asked.
“No. I wouldn’t imagine it will.”
“You seem fairly sane,” I told Christian. “This is not good news for a comedian.”
“I’m quite sane, but I’m quite…A lot of comedians are quite sane.”
I raised an eyebrow as far as I could. You will not hear it on the podcast.
And, after the podcast was recorded, Christian and I had another chat.
“People like Dara Ó Briain,” I said to him, “had to come over here to England to succeed in Britain. They couldn’t stay living in Ireland and do it.”
“You have to travel,” Christian agreed. “There’s Dylan Moran, Dara Ó Briain… and now Jason Byrne is starting to make inroads over here. No, I don’t think you can make it big over here without being over here.”
“So you’re going to have to move,” I suggested.
“Well,” Christian mused, “it depends what your ambitions are. I don’t know if my ambitions stretch that far. I like coming over here and doing gigs, maybe getting a little bit of recognition. But I’m 40, I’ve got a wife, a 10-year-old daughter. Unless something amazing was going to happen… and, realistically, the chances of that happening are very very slim at this stage…”
“When did you start performing comedy?” I asked.
“About two and a half years ago,” Christian told me. “I’ve always been a comedy fan. I really don’t understand why I didn’t do it sooner. I should have. It’s always been in the back of my mind that I’d like to.”
“And the trigger was…?” I asked.
“I think it was the late 2000s,” said Christian. “I looked around and saw what was on the TV – and there were comedians that I liked – but you looked at some and thought How has this guy got on the TV? I can be funnier than that.
“The public seemed to want really very bland stuff then… and maybe now.
“My first comedy stand-up heroes had been people like Billy Connolly and Ben Elton – I thought Ben Elton was wonderful on Saturday Live and Friday Night Live – Fry & Laurie, Jo Brand… I don’t think you could have called any of them bland.
“I mean, Julian Clary – how could you have Julian Clary on TV now doing what he was doing then. There’s no place for him to do that. Or even Harry Enfield doing Loadsamoney or Stavros. They simply would not put him on television now.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I think people are much too afraid of… Everything now is being scrutinised for being sexist, racist, homophobic… And, don’t get me wrong, I would be fervently anti-racist, anti-homophobic and anti-sexist too… But they want to put on television only those shows which will appeal to the most amount of people, which is not necessarily a good thing.
“Their thinking is Now we’re going to cater for the audience rather than Hey, let’s do this and, you never know, this might become their new favourite thing.
“I think if I was a teenager now, looking at what’s out there, I don’t think I would have a favourite comedian. I don’t think there would be anybody out there that really, truly excites me on the television. I think they’re OK. I’d go Yes, he’s on the TV, he’s famous, he must be quite good but there would be nobody out there that would have me going Wow! I want to BE him!”
“There are comedy shows on BBC3 which don’t have to get big ratings,” I suggested.
“There is some good stuff,” admitted Christian. “Live at the Electric is good. People like Nick Helm. OK, OK, I’ve just gone against my argument. People like Doktor Cocacolamcdonalds and Nick Helm. Russell Kane’s alright.
“But just think how hugely influential things like Saturday Live and The Comic Strip were on a whole generation of people. Not only did they inform your comedic sensibilities but also politically and socially as well. Those were comedians who were saying things about politics, particularly Ben Elton, but even Fry & Laurie. Even if it was subtle, there was a message there. There was a social message there. They got involved in things like Comic Relief and Live Aid.
“Even though programme like Friday Night Live didn’t get huge ratings, the people it got to were teenagers and young people and the influence they had was huge and immeasurable and I think we’re still getting the repercussions.
“But we don’t have anything like that in comedy at the moment. There’s nobody sticking their head above the parapet.”