Heart problems and the recession may not sound like the start of a funny story, but for James Alderson it was the inspiration he needed to start a career in comedy.
‘Early last year I had a heart infection followed quickly by a hernia,’ he explains.
‘It was probably the knock-on effect of a tough few years. My health simply ground to a halt and, at 35, I was finding it hard to play with my boys and do simple things like walk up stairs.
‘It really took the wind out of me and reminded me that I wasn’t getting any younger. So I decided not to take my health for granted and not sit back any more and watch the world go by.’
Despite already juggling a young family with a successful business, James decided to do something life-changing.
He’d always loved watching comedy shows and hit on the idea of becoming a comedian himself.
‘I did my second-ever gig at the Cellars in Eastney with Trevor Lock and James Redmond, under copious amounts of painkillers and sedatives, just a week after my hernia operation,’ remembers James. ‘It was brilliant.’
Drawing on his life experiences, his children – Louis, seven, and Joe, four – his wife, Charlotte, and his professional background, James says he’s a storyteller and observationalist who loves to connect with his audience.
And despite the fact he’s only been gigging since October, he’s already managed to collect plenty of accolades.
He was a finalist in the Bath Comedy Festival new act competition and Short Circuit gong show. He’s also got through to the quarter-finals of the Laughing Horse and Golden Jester awards, the final heats of the Amused Moose awards and the shortlist for new ITV programme Show Me The Funny.
Plus he’s still in the running for a BBC Radio 2 comedy award, plus the So You Think You’re Funny 2011 competition.
For James, who grew up in West Leigh and studied at Portsmouth Grammar School (‘The contrast was character-building, I learned to run fast’), comedy is a completely new direction.
After studying design management, he was made redundant from four jobs within the first two years of his first career.
It was soul-destroying, but led on to him starting his own print management company, Love Your Print.
But that wasn’t all plain sailing either.
‘We saw some tough times through the recession,’ he says.
‘It was hard on the family. It makes you look at your children and your life a little differently and stop worrying about material things and just have fun.
‘Now, looking back, I wouldn’t stop and think about trying something like this again. I would just do it.’
Spurred on by his health problems, he spent the last three months of 2010 doing comedy gigs on and off before making a new year’s resolution to go for it. Since January he’s been performing between two and four times a week.
‘I did not want to just dip in and out. I wanted to do it properly or not at all.
‘It’s hard, travelling all over the country, often going straight to a gig after work and then not getting back until 2am.
‘Most comedians like me are single, separated or with their first proper girlfriend. A lot of them think I’m crazy to do it with a business, two young boys and a wife. But it’s not something you choose because it’s easy. Those 15 minutes that you do are absolutely brilliant. It’s well worth it.’
He adds: ‘My wife usually waits up for me. She’s interested to know how it’s gone and she knows how I feel about it. I’ll often get a little message from my seven-year-old just before I go on stage too.’
James now aims to make comedy his full-time job and has given himself 12 months to make a success of it.
One of the biggest milestones in his year will be the Edinburgh Festival, in August, when he’ll be appearing as part of the famous Fringe. His show is called Loose Men and also stars musical parody-maker Jonny Awsum as MC alongside his Born in the 70s co-star Russ Gold, plus Britain’s Got Talent impressionist Cal Halbert.
‘It’s about life and men’s experiences,’ explains James.
But, before James heads off to Scotland, he has a big event closer to home – the launch of his own comedy club at Havant Leisure Centre next month.
The launch night for Banter will be free and feature a host of exciting comedy talent.
James’s favourite jokes
· Top tip: Never read a pop-up book about giraffes. (Sean Lock)
· I saw a fat person wearing a sweatshirt with ‘Guess’ on it. I said: ‘Thyroid problem?’ (Peter Kay)
· I got into an argument with my wife about who ate the last Kit Kat Chunky. I said: ‘It’s only a Kit Kat Chunky’ and she said: ‘It’s much bigger now than the Kit Kat Chunky’.
I said ‘You can’t get bigger than a Kit Kat Chunky – that’s as big as they do.’ (Chris McCausland)
· I couldn’t believe how fat Elton John was when I saw him at the Royal Wedding recently. I suppose he has just had a baby though. (James Alderson)
· The US president went into the Oval Office this morning and saw his trash hadn’t been emptied. Turns out they’ve killed Obama’s bin lady. (James Alderson)
James Alderson’s comedy club, Banter, launches on Friday, June 3, with him as host.
Acts appearing include Guide Award nominee and fellow Portsmouth Grammar School old boy Simon Feilder, plus James’s Edinburgh showmates Jonny Awsum, Cal Halbert and Russ Gold.
Also appearing at the Havant Leisure Centre-based club will be Alex Perry and David Hannant.
The free show runs from 8pm until 10.30pm and there will be a licensed bar.
Doors open at 7.30pm.
You can also see James at The Old Benny Comedy Club, Groundlings Theatre, Portsea, on June 8.