Chris Addison may be a stand-up star and TV favourite today, but his first gig was hardly an auspicious omen for a flourishing career.
‘It was in Manchester, in the Frog and Bucket,’ he recalls. ‘It’s still a stand-up club but back then it was in a tiny pub on Newton Street; not the bigger building it’s in today. It was Easter Monday, 1995. I was 23 and I did the whole thing to complete silence. What made it all the more mortifying was that Caroline Aherne and her then-husband Peter Hook were there.’
It would have been easy for him to have bailed out there and then, especially since he admits that a career in comedy wasn’t something he’d seriously thought about until after he left university.
‘I wanted to be a theatre director. That was my real ambition and for a while comedy was just a creative outlet,’ he says. ‘It’s easy to do loads of creative stuff at university because there are a lot of people with time on their hands, but after you leave it gets harder’.
Once he graduated, he realised he had nowhere to vent his creativity and admits he was bored. ‘I couldn’t play an instrument, I couldn’t draw, putting on a play seemed too complicated, so I thought, comedy, I can do that, can’t I? I just need turn up with some words. So that’s really why I did it.
‘When people say ‘Oh, that sounds like the hardest thing in the world’, those people are generally not show-offs. What you have to remember about most stand-ups is that they love to show off. For a lot of comics, there’s a compulsion behind it, so standing on stage isn’t that difficult. The terrifying bit is writing the jokes. That’s the bit that makes you weep. I have a much greater fear of walking into my office to try and think of something funny than I ever have walking on stage.’
Part of that fear, Addison says, stems from the fact that he’s never found a specific technique when it comes to writing material. ‘That’s the worst thing about stand-up – there’s no method, no career structure. You can’t go into a careers office and say, “Hello, I’d like to be a stand-up, where do I start?” Things happen in many different ways for different people. There is no one way of writing comedy.’
It wasn’t until seven years after he’d started stand-up that Addison finally thought he was good at it. ‘That was the point at which I thought, yeah, this is all right, I can do this.
‘To be honest, I don’t know that I ever realised I had a talent to make people laugh as such. It’s not like you think, “Do you know what? I have a gift. I should share that gift.” It’s more that you want to make people laugh and then give it a go. I think mostly, you do it out of hope to begin with, since it’s something you’d love to be a part of. It’s definitely hope rather than belief that gets you through.’
He says it’s hard to know which comics influenced him most when he first started out, but cites Eddie Izzard and Alan Davies as two of the most instrumental. ‘I was probably more influenced by what they were saying, rather than the way they were saying it, since that’s a very particular thing. I liked their surreality and warm daftness, but as I found out very quickly, you have to talk as yourself.
‘The theory that “it’s funny because it’s true” is absolutely right; you have to be yourself otherwise it’s nonsense, you’re saying nothing. People can tell when it’s not real.’
But he is happy to admit the one part of his stand-up performance that isn’t the ‘real’ him is the need to be in the spotlight. He says: ‘Weirdly enough, given my job, I don’t really seek out attention off stage. I have quite a bullish group of friends who are mostly big, loud, funny people so there’s a lot of banter but I don’t tend to take centre stage at all. It’s fine in my professional life, but the rest of the time I find it a bit odd to be doing that.’
Addison recently returned to his Manchester roots for Dave’s One Night Stand, which airs on the digital channel tonight, and he says he’ll always have a soft spot for the city.
‘I grew up in Manchester and it’s always lovely to go home,’ says the 39-year-old. ‘A lot of people in the audience do remember you before you tried to reinvent yourself though, which obviously makes it a lot harder to lie about stuff.
‘On the other side, there are things you can say about your home town that other people can’t in that sort of, “you can mock your family but if anyone else tries it they’d better watch out” kind of way.’
Addison’s since become known on the small screen, too, thanks to starring roles in The Thick of It and, more recently, E4’s Skins.
‘I love acting and it’s always nice to be part of a gang, since life on the road is very solitary,’ he says. ‘The Thick of It was brilliant and doing Skins there was such a great feeling on set. The adults in Skins are all very cartoon-like characters and immensely good fun to play.’
In fact, Jamie Brittain, the Skins writer who created the part of David Blood for him, took what Addison describes as ‘a real act of faith’. ‘Having only ever seen me as Ollie in The Thick of It, Jamie wrote me a part which was completely the opposite. That was tremendous and I love him for it.’
Modest Addison is stumped when asked what the proudest moment of his career has been so far. ‘Blimey, I don’t know… I was immensely proud when we won the Sony Award for the BBC Radio 4 comedy, The Ape That Got Lucky. That was a great moment. In terms of stand-up, I’d say it was the last show I did that I was most proud of, which toured last autumn. It was the one I was really happy to have people come and watch.’
And he has another tour starting this November. ‘For a while I was always known as Chris Addison the actor because of The Thick Of It but that always felt wrong to me,’ he says.
‘As much as I love acting, I’m a stand-up at heart – that’s where I come from and that’s what I’ll always be. Of all the things that I love doing – and I’m a lucky bastard to be able to do so many incredible things - if I had to pick one, stand-up would be it.
Dave's One Night Stand series 2 begins at 9pm tonight.