Before Christmas we had a chat with Mike McClean who was playing the jester in Ipswich Regent’s Panto, Sleeping Beauty. The jester is back at the Regent on the 14th January in his own show, so naturally we had to talk about what makes people laugh.
What is the biggest change in comedy, would you say?
I think the 80s, when the old school comedians went out and the new school came in. I’m sure in years to come, there’s going to be an even newer school of comedy, but I think whatever is funny, is funny, whether it’s old or new.
I have this thing in my head that I always blame Ben Elton for changing comedy, as he was sort of the first person to come onstage and start shouting at people…
Yeah, see, I never found Ben Elton funny. He’s a clever man that said clever things. I think there’s a difference in comedy between someone coming on and saying something clever. When people go “oh yeah”, to people who are genuinely funny, and I like people who are genuinely funny, that say funny things. That’s what Panto’s about though, it’s people that come on and just say funny things.
But how do you keep that freshness, night after night?
Well the script is there and you follow the script, and some gags will work and some won’t so it’s down to you as a comic to make them work. Also, whatever’s topical in the paper, I’m a massive fan of things that are topical to be put in the show, whether it’s a Donald Trump gag or someone like Honey G out of the X Factor, the audience like that.
And of course this year in the news, we’ve had so many odd results here, there and everywhere… that it’s just rife for a good laugh.
Yeah, but It’s just been celebrities dying this year, and you can’t mention that! There have been some great things but last year was great because we had the World Cup scandal with Sepp Blatter, so there were a lot of those jokes, but this year, I’m struggling to find anything really.
What, you’re not going to have a wall around Ipswich or something?
Well there are a couple of Trump gags in there.
He kind of lends himself to it…
He’s great isn’t he? Every stand-up comedian has gone “brilliant, thank you very much indeed, for a minute there we didn’t have any material now we have a whole load”. Though I never tell political jokes because I’m scared they’ll get elected, so I don’t bother doing them.
You go from playing panto here with an entire cast, to doing a one man show. That must be a bit of a change, or is it?
It’s nice and quiet! I’ll give you that, and you get your own dressing room. I’ve done a one night show at the Corn Exchange but I like the theatre so I’m looking forward to doing the show here, it’s a big thing to fill but I think just under 800 came last time at the Corn Exchange and it was a really good night.
It’s a lot of stand up with the mind reading. I have a great comic called Karen Bailey who supports, and she’s brilliant. I do about 10-15 minutes, then Karen comes on, then I’ll do the second half until the end. So if you like what Darren Brown does, but you don’t want to pay £60 a ticket, and you want a laugh, then come and see the show, you get double the value for money! AND if you booked a panto ticket, you get £1 off my show. I’m giving, that’s all I’m ever doing!
Well, you’ve sold it to me… You’re effectively going from entertaining a young children’s audience in Panto, to an adult audience in your show…
Yeah, you have to take it up a notch, and that’s completely different. There’s adult jokes, and you’ll come, you’ll watch it and laugh and go away thinking “how they hell did he do that” or “wow that was amazing”, which is what I want. I come from a magic background but I didn’t want to do magic, so when I went back to doing stand-up, I wanted to do something different so I combine the two of mind-reading and stand-up but there’s always audience participation because that’s where the gold is.
You trained as an actor, so what drew you to comedy?
Yeah, well I was always the class clown, I always made people laugh.
In fact I’ve just been writing my autobiography which is getting done next year, and I knew from an early age that I wanted to play Football for Man City, and after the 11 weeks of trials I knew I wasn’t going to make it. I was too small, not good enough and I wasn’t committed.
Then I knew I was going to do comedy, I don’t know why but I just knew it. I remember the careers teachers saying one day “oh I’ve got work experience for you, at Quick Fit”. I said “What? Quick Fit?! I don’t want to work in Quick Fit, I want to work in a theatre and be an actor”. He said “Oh you don’t do work experience being an actor, nobody’s an actor”. I replied “Well who makes all the films then? What, van drivers?” so I said no and went and got my own work experience at the Contact Theatre in Manchester, so I worked there and I loved it, and I never ever looked back.
When young people say “I want to be an actor”, they do tend to suffer derision don’t they?
I think a lot of people go “oh”, like my mum and dad were like “no you got to get a proper job”, and I was always said no I’m going to do this, and when I paid their mortgage off I said “I told you”. Paying their mortgage off was one thing I always wanted to do.
That’s the thing I say to my kids today; you can do anything, anything in life is possible, and there’s no such word as can’t. Can’t is a very large wall that you have to get over. I don’t care how you get over it, you’ve just got to figure out how to get over it. My kids go “oh I can’t”, like when I coach them at football, I say “you can, you’re just not thinking about it”.
I grew up in Spain, and guy stopped me once – I’ll never forget this – he took me to this massive tree, and said “can you move that tree?”. I said “no you can’t, it’s impossible”. He said “nothing’s impossible, think”, and then he climbed up the tree and shook it. I thought, you clever thing. He said “see, you can do anything”. It’s how you look at it. But it’s a very hard business to get into, and it’s a lot harder now because everyone wants to be famous or to be a reality star, but when I started you needed to have a talent.
Yeah, everybody sees it now as turn up on Saturday night in front of a few million on the TV and hey presto you’ve got a career…
Yeah, the TV is just saturated with rubbish now.
That’s why Grapevine is about getting people off their backside and getting people out and seeing something live. I’m curious, I’m a photographer therefore I’m always seeing images, so i’m interested to know whether as a comedian, are you always seeing jokes?
Yeah, there are always jokes on the street. I went in Morrison’s the other day, and a women said “oh can I have some nappies” and this woman said “for babies?”. That was just a joke right there, I’d have said “no, it’s for the elephant I’ve got at the end of my bed”.
When you go out with your mates for a pint, do they expect you to be the funny one?
No not at all, I’ve got the funniest friends ever; my mates are funnier than me! They say funny things and I go away and sneak off and put it in my Dictaphone or jot it down. They’re really funny, and if people could read my WhatsApp group with them, there’s a whole act in there and I often go “oh I’ll have that”.
Does comedy change around the country?
Yeah. Up north, in Derby, it’s very easy, it’s brilliant. Down South, it’s completely different. I find that the audiences here (Suffolk & Norfolk) are quite hard to get hold of, and when you get hold of them you have to slowly pull them in, in but once you’re in, you’re in. They love it, they’re great and really nice, and they’re just a little like starting a fire, it starts as a little flame but it gets bigger and bigger.
As an outsider here, because I’m from Dublin. When I moved to Suffolk, I got into a great deal of trouble one day when I said Suffolk people won’t be led, but they’ll walk beside you till the end of the world. They are difficult to draw in, but once you’ve got them…
Oh, Dublin’s a great city! But yeah, completely.
Does heckling differ too?
No, if you’re rubbish, you’re rubbish! I don’t mind heckling, but I don’t get heckled much. Jimmy Carr absolutely slaughters them, I don’t, I just put them down nicely and gently. If they say something funny and it adds to the show, even better. I’ve kept a few good heckle lines actually, that people have said and I’ve then told the story and that’s got a laugh and I’ve gone thank you. I don’t mind.
Thank you for your time Mike, good luck with the show. For more information or to book visit ipswichregent.co.uk.