'This show is terrifying' | Why Simon Day feels nakes without his characters to hide behind

'This show is terrifying'

Why Simon Day feels nakes without his characters to hide behind

After 18 years as a comic, you might think you’d take a tour in your stride. But Simon Day is happy to admits that he finds the idea of performing his new live show ‘terrifying’.

For this is the first time the Fast Show star will be performing as himself. No longer will he have a character such as pub bore Billy Bleach or music hall comedian Tommy Cockles to hide behind. This is the real him.

‘This is a semi stand-up show about my life, how I became a comedian and what makes a comic,’ he says.

So what does make a comic? ‘Wanting to be liked, I guess, the need to do something that sets you apart. It’s definitely the lack of something that would make you need to stand in a sweaty pub and try to make strangers laugh.

‘This show is terrifying. I’ve been performing characters for so long, that it’s such a comfort zone for me. I could have just gone out with three new characters, but I want to push myself… to know that if I don’t get a laugh, I can’t just push my glasses up my nose. I’ve done one try-out gig so far, and have about half a dozen more to come, and it felt really weird.

‘But people have always said to me that I’m funnier in the car going back from gigs than I am on stage – and that’s after good gigs. People always told me I was weird, funny, and odd and should be a comedian, long before I started in the business. So I thought I’d have a go at being me; after all, I have to go on quiz shows and chat shows as myself.

‘There are a lot of stories in this show I’ve told for years anyway. I think it’s an interesting subject comedy and fame. I do get recognised a lot, but you find a lot of actors are never happy. They’d hate to be unknown, but they don’t like being recognised. Or they don’t like being recognised for certain things.

‘But very few people can control their careers – Eddie Izzard and Ricky Gervais have done it with a lot of hard work – but for a lot of people, one moment they’re doing something brilliant, the next they’re in Heartbeat. You can’t judge what people will think of you.’

Day started his own showbiz career in 1990 with the help of Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer, who spotted him performing in a pub in Sydenham, south-east London, and developed him as their protégé, as they would Matt Lucas after him.

‘I was very lucky,’ he admits. ‘I went on tour with them and I died every night. But it toughened me up.

‘I was very pro, I’d worked hard on the 20 minutes they saw me do at the pub. But the people they used to have on at their own early Big Night Out shows were much more rag-tag. They lived on a council estate in Deptford with hard-to-let homes, and around them would be these weird characters and arty people, who they would book. Nowadays it seems like you’ve really got to want to do comedy, and it’s a lot more slick. You can go on courses to teach you how to write and deliver stand-up.’

Day admits he ‘doesn’t want to do’ the tour, simply because of the demands on his home life. ‘It’s a hard discipline, just going to Newcastle, say, to work. It’s OK if you’re in your twenties but I’ve got two kids now.’

But he says that the simplicity of stand-up compared to the trials of trying to get a show on to TV has a definite appeal. It’s a subject he has first-hand knowledge of, having spent a long time petitioning for his sitcom Grass to be made – only for it to be shunted around the BBC Two schedules so much it could never develop an audience. And soon afterwards, the same premise of a Londoner moved to the unfamiliar surrounds of rural life was used by John Sullivan in his similarly-titled, but much better scheduled. Only Fools And Horses spin-off, Green Green Grass.

‘Making a show is the easy thing,’ Day says. ‘It’s everything that happens afterwards that’s out of your hands. When Grass went wrong I was at least doing the adverts [he’s been the voice of Powergen since 2003], so at least I had enough money. But you’ve got to just keep on pushing away with TV.

And Green, Green Grass? ‘John Sullivan is the best writer ever – but that wasn’t his best work.’ he says.

Returning to stand-up might be a wise career move, given the current peccadilloes of TV comedy commissioners. ‘It’s all about young people,’ says Day, who’s 46. ‘There’s a hell of a lot of people like me – aged 40 to 50 – who find there’s nothing on TV… that’s why we end up watching DVDs of The Wire. We cherry-pick the things for us.

‘There’s a mantra that goes that we have to make TV for young people, because otherwise they won’t watch TV when they are older. There are lot of people I know who are being told they are too old, and what they are ideally looking for is comedy for 22-year-women.

‘People have had things rejected and are told, “we’re not really doing that – we want something more like Gavin & Stacey. Something more aspirational”. Though “aspirational” is probably just a buzzword. I’m not sure anyone knows what they really want.’

But Day does have one programme in the pipeline, once his tour is over: A TV version of the Radio 4 spoof phone-in programme Down The Line, created by his old Fast Show muckers Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, and starring Rhys Thomas as a typically annoying host. But since phone-ins aren’t a particularly telegenic format, they’ve had to rethink the premise.

‘It’ll be like a Jack Hargreaves/Down Your Way type of thing,’ Day says. ‘With Gary Bellamy, the DJ character, travelling around the country meeting quirky characters.’

Travelling around the country meeting quirky characters? It almost seems like a description of the stand-up tour Day’s about to embark on.

  • Simon Day kicks off his What A Fool believes tour in Basingstoke on October 30. click here for dates.

Published: 14 Oct 2008

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