‘Stand-up is where I’m from and what I am’

LETTER OF THE DAY: Hope I don’t end up in an ‘uncaring’ care home

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We may know him better for Mock The Week, The Thick of It or even the Direct Line adverts, but it’s live stand-up where Chris Addison feels most at home

‘It’s where I’m from and it’s what I am. There’s nothing like being on stage,’ explains the 41-year-old comic from Manchester.

Chris Addison

Chris Addison

‘I am very lucky and have done some ridiculous things. I’ve got to do acting, directing and hanging out with the people on Mock The Week.

‘I love all of it. But it all comes from the stand-up: that’s where I cut my teeth.

‘I did 10 years of it before I ever did anything else.’

He’s back in stand-up again this year with his The Time Is Now, Again tour, which had a sell-out date at the Ashcroft Arts Centre, Fareham, last week and comes to the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on Monday, February 18. Chris says we can expect ‘jokes, stories, lies, whimsy, some shouting, quite a lot of sweating and quite a lot of laughing on the part of the audience’.

Already extended twice, Chris says this will be the last run for the tour. ‘Of the shows I’ve done, it’s my favourite one and I’ll be sorry to see the back of it. But I’m putting it to bed. This is the last run before it’s taken to the Old Shows Home and put in a file somewhere,’ continues Chris, who received Perrier nominations in 2004 and 2005 for his shows about human civilisation and the periodic table.

The Time Is Now, Again also features routines about the coalition government, the Royal Family and his own middle-class idiosyncrasies.

Chris is happy to be dubbed ‘the thinking person’s comic’.

‘Fundamentally, I think people are smart and I don’t attempt to hide my own interests or talk down to anybody. That’s how that tag has come about,’ he explains.

But, he admits: ‘The problem is, and it’s my own fault, I slightly painted myself into a corner.

‘About 10 years ago, I started writing shows about big themes because, especially with Edinburgh, there are so many comics and you had to find a way of doing something different.

‘But then the strapline is “a stand-up show about evolution” which will mean that many people will see that and understandably go to see someone else.

‘It sells itself short in a way because the shows have always only ever been about the jokes, but it’s hard to see past the title sometimes.

‘That’s why for the last couple of tours I’ve done straight stand-up without any massive themes,’ he continues.

Perhaps his penchant for tackling big issues comes from his original career plans.

‘I started off wanting to be a theatre director and ended up getting into stand-up,’ he reveals. ‘But I think that’s just one of those things that happens to people in life.

‘You think you’re heading in one direction but you don’t know what’s over the horizon and finally you find yourself miles away and think “oh, maybe I was meant to be here all along”.

‘If you make a success of stand-up, it allows you to move into other kinds of writing, because as a stand-up, you write material and perform it. It really is a basic thing: you have the two tools that people want as they like people who perform their own stuff and it can then open up all those other doors.’

The art of stand-up is often largely a performance (whether it’s playing a character on stage or just a heightened version of themselves), so it’s no surprise that many comics go on to pursue a career in formal acting.

Like Victoria Wood, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard and, more recently, John Bishop, Chris has made the switch, with acclaimed appearances as the young but not especially thrusting policy advisor Ollie Reeder in The Thick Of It and its movie spin-off, In The Loop.

To the despair of its fans, creator Armando Iannucci brought the curtain down on The Thick Of It last year with a final series which included the usual brilliantly scatological rants of Malcolm Tucker alongside a vision of what life really might be like behind closed doors for Tory/Lib Dem coalition partners and a Leveson-style inquiry about the culture of leaks.

‘It’s something that has been a joy to do and been so well received by people, so it’s inevitable that you’ll feel sad about it,’ says Chris of the series ending. ‘But it was the right decision.’

Although his character was on the receiving end of some of Malcolm Tucker’s finest barbs (including being dubbed as ‘like a Quentin Blake illustration’), he did get the chance to dish out some abuse of his own.

‘The bits where you just get to shout at somebody and swear and really let rip are just incredibly therapeutic,’ says Chris.

‘No one is going to hold back on that.’

There’s not much holding back in his next screen role, this time as Men Only editor Tony Power in Michael Winterbottom’s The Look Of Love.

It stars Steve Coogan as Soho porn king and property baron Paul Raymond and is scheduled for release on March 8.

Chris gets to don a fake beard and massive afro for the role. He says, at first, it seemed like a lot of fun.

‘There’s a moment when we were all dressed as per 1982 and Steve and James Lance and I are supposed to be watching this film and we’re all smoking and drinking.

‘We agreed everything about this sounds like the real rock and roll lifestyle, but we were a few weeks into the shoot and we couldn’t wait to leave this world. It was so bleak, so depressing and the story of Paul Raymond is ultimately sad.’

But, while cinema audiences are watching The Look of Love, Chris will be back on stage where he’s most at home and he’s very happy about that.

Chris Addison comes to the Kings Theatre, Southsea, on Monday, February 18, from 8pm. Tickets cost £20 from (023) 9282 8282 or kings-southsea.com