How are you finding it here in Newcastle?
I have been to Newcastle at least twice a year for the last 20 years. I know Newcastle very well, but I’ve not been to the University since about 2000 or 2001. I used to do university comedy gigs, but haven’t done them in a while. It’s weird coming back here and finding that all the building work still hasn’t been completed. All the various projects to improve the lot of the student are still very much struggling to get off the ground.
Do you have a favourite city to gig in?
The answer is no, in the sense that I don’t really judge cities by their comedy clubs, or their comedy clubs by the city; it doesn’t really work like that. As a comedian, you stand on the stage and tell jokes and sometimes the audience are shit and sometimes the audience are nice. It doesn’t really make much of a difference what city you’re in; a lot of it is about how the club is run. But as for favourite cities in general, rather than favourite cities to do comedy in: Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle, Bristol.
You mentioned doing student comedy gigs. You started doing comedy while you were at Med School; what made you want to try out comedy in the first place?
I think it’s really important in life that, if you’ve got an itch that needs to be scratched, you scratch that itch. I just wanted to know what it would be like to stand at a mic and tell jokes to strangers. I didn’t think that this was going to be my career. I just thought: well wouldn’t it be nice to go to dinner parties and when they ask “Well, have you got any funny stories?” then you go “Actually, I stood on stage”. I didn’t know I was going to end up here and be doing it still 25 years later. I shouldn’t say it wasn’t the plan, as that was a nice plan, but there wasn’t the expectation. Nobody sane goes into comedy thinking that’s going to be your career for the rest of your life, because showbiz is so unpredictable. There’s no job security at all.
We have a very good Comedy Society here at Newcastle. I was wondering whether you had any advice you would give to wannabe comedians?
Yes, buy tickets to come see me at the Stand Comedy Club! I’m doing a solo show on 24 October. I haven’t done it at the Edinburgh Festival for a reason that will become very clear in the show. I’ve got five or six tour dates in October and November, of which one is the Stand. If you want advice about being a comedian, you can come to my show, take me out drinking and I’ll give you all the advice you need.
Speaking of that - I saw some pictures of you out drinking with students in Birmingham. Do you think you’ll be out partying tonight?
I don’t know. I have to say, a foam party is my idea of hell. The adverts telling you how glamorous foam parties very rarely have a very tired-looking 49-year-old man wondering what on earth’s going on. I don’t think it’s my scene, but if Luther’s is open and anyone wants to have a chat – there will surely be people in this building who don’t want to go to the foam party! – I think that I might go there instead.
Why do you think you didn’t do better on Taskmaster?[Laughs] The main reason I’m laughing is that I deal with all of this in my new show. I’ve got a bit at the beginning with the ten questions I get asked the most, and one of them is “why were you so shit on Taskmaster?”
There are so many reasons, but since you asked: I didn’t watch enough episodes of the show beforehand, so I didn’t realise that you could go through the whole of the show when you were on a task. I thought I had to stay in the room, so I didn’t think outside of the box. I’m not very good at lateral thinking, I’m not physically creative; my skills are words and numbers – not building puppets. I don’t have the visual capacity for that. But, as you may know by now, I didn’t know I was ill. I was going through the early stages of Parkison’s disease, but I didn’t know. It’s different now. If I did Taskmaster now, knowing that I have Parkinson’s disease, I would have approached the tasks in a different way. It was only when I was watching it back that I thought “that was weird, why didn’t I do that?” It was pretty clear that everyone else was on a different wavelength. I was taking the tasks literally. I just couldn’t do it [laughs], it just wasn’t me. I think it’s interesting because most of the series have someone who’s really bad at the tasks, but I don’t think that’s what they were expecting from me. Because I’m on the Chase, which is a totally different sort of braininess, I think they were expecting me to bring a sort of nerdy braininess to the show; I actually brought the opposite.
I’m really glad you asked, because I’ve never officially outlined, in an interview, why I was bad at Taskmaster. There were lots of reasons, but they all added up into a perfect storm. Nonetheless, I don’t think there’s any stage of my life when I would have actually been good at Taskmaster. It’s just not what I’m good at – I’m not good at solving puzzles or doing tasks.
Did you enjoy being on Taskmaster in spite of that?
Yeah, it was great. Two of them were people I knew – Ian Stirling and Lou Sanders, but I’d never met Joe or Sian and they were absolutely delightful. The production team could not have been more helpful and supportive. So yes, it was a great experience, but just another stressful time in my life, but I was really really well treated. I’ve been to two Taskmaster parties since. Unfortunately, it was the wrong year of my life.
Do you find it easy to get a balance between doing stand-up comedy and quizzing?
No. No, but it’s a decent life. I do struggle to find a balance, but my God it’s fun. I just love both. Over the last two weeks, I’ve answered quiz questions at Brunel University, I’ve performed for 70 minutes in both Wrexham and Sutton Coalfield, I’ve been to Exeter University to do a comedy show, I did a freshers’ gig in Liverpool, and I’m here in Newcastle. It’s a very rich, varied life, and no I don’t find the balance easy, but everyone’s juggling things. You’ve just got to find a way to do the job and make sure it’s worth it and that you enjoy what you’re doing.
I’m really enjoying this interview.
Oh really? Thank you! Obviously this is a massive change from you formerly being a GP – do you feel that it’s as rewarding to be a comedian as it is to be a doctor?
You’ve got to do what’s right for you. Rewarding is in the eye of the beholder. Being a GP is a great job, but that isn’t what I dreamt of being. I found myself with a family background of being very academically pushed from a young age, I found myself in a world I couldn’t quite get out of, because I wasn’t bad enough to get out of it, but I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing at the age of 50. You’ve got to work out what you want to be doing in 20, 25, 30 years from now, because that’s not necessarily the person you want to be in your 20s. I’m really really grateful for bits of luck here, there and everywhere. Both comedy and quizzing just gave me a convenient pathway out, but it’s still a great job – just not a great job for me. What’s rewarding is very much a different thing, isn’t it? We’re all wired differently. What I like is standing on stage telling jokes and having difficult general knowledge questions fired at me at speed, that’s what I like.
Maybe not quite my cup of tea [Paul laughs]. Which contestant on the Celebrity Chase impressed or surprised you the most?
Oddly enough, the very very first one I faced. Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. He just nailed it. It’s not just about getting the questions right, it’s about enjoying the show and working out how best to win money for your charity. He was great.
Do you have a favourite colour of olive?
I like olives, but when I say I’m not very good at visual stuff…I mean, I couldn’t tell you what an olive even looks like, so I don’t have a favourite colour of olive.
A bit of a cheeky one…if you had to do snog, marry, avoid with the other Chasers, who would you go for?[Laughs] Well marry is easy, because Jenny’s on Masterchef. Snog’s probably show, and avoid’s probably Mark, but I think you’re asking me loaded questions.
Well I think that’s the end of my questions, actually.
I’m doing a solo set at the stand on October 24 and I think it’s really god. I’m still writing it at the moment, but what I have at the moment is more than enough to call it a good show.
Amazing. Thank you so much for your time and for speaking to me!
No worries Grace.