Ask Terry Alderton a question and by the time he pauses for breath several minutes later, you’re somewhere completely different from where you started and have probably forgotten what the question was in the first place.
But somehow, like all the best stand-ups, he will manage to suddenly bring it back home.
To say Terry has had an unconventional career would be an understatement. There’s been a stint as a footballer, a stand-up debut at 18, work in holiday camps, TV presenting, and high profile acting roles in London’s Burning and EastEnders.
But when he talks about comedy, his passion for the subject shines through and his scattershot mind is clearly firing in a million directions at once.
Like here – the question had originally been about dying on stage.
‘It’s a tough one, if you’re armed with gags and that’s your style…
‘But no-one’s bulletproof, look at Tim Vine, you’d think he’s bulletproof and 99.999 per cent of the time he is, but, there’s been gigs for everyone where it hasn’t worked.
‘Because I started so traditionally, and I learned all the tricks, so now the irony of that is I subvert and break the rules, but I use all the tricks to break the rules
‘I’m not afraid to, especially on my own nights, dare I say it, in the interest of art, what’s that old cliche? You should break a few eggs to make an omelette and all that.
‘But saying that, it took me a long time to realise that being a comic is like being a conduit – and there is a responsiblity to bring some joy and fun, so I’ve kind of gone through some little stages. I’ve completely contradicted myself here, haven’t I?
‘There are times when you’ve got to be prepared to die on your arse and others where you’ve just got to be a conduit and make people laugh.
‘I live with so many different people in my head that I don’t know who I’ll go out and be. But you want to go out there and make people laugh and be loved – that’s the upside of it, but I think it’s nice to do it in a way where you get to it in a tougher way… like I’m making this question really hard work.
‘It’s the difference between fast food, right, and a well-crafted piece of cuisine. That’s it! I want people to walk away and digest it – that’s it!’
And so from a question about dying on stage, we end up, sort of, with Terry’s philosophy on comedy.
The comic has been very open about his struggles with mental health – in fact his acclaimed show at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe, Terry Alderton: The Musical was all about it.
‘It was brilliant,’ he cackles. ‘I can say that because three other people worked on it me, and it was brilliant fun to do as well. I wanted to tackle something that wasn’t all about mental health, but it was, you know what I mean?
‘It’s been good with people like Tyson Fury talking about it (mental health), but I don’t want to seem like I’m jumping on a bandwagon there – you don’t want it to sound like a “trendy” thing.
‘I wanted to not so much highlight it, but to explain what it is like to have mental, crazy things going on in your head. But I didn’t really want to talk about it, I wanted to kind of show it, and that’s what was novel about it – it was acting out bipolar disorder. I don’t really like labels but it let everyone understand about having bouts of absolute mania and then being completely down, that’s what the show was about.
‘It was set around a musical, but being in the crazy world I live in, so it wasn’t a musical, but it was, but it wasn’t but it...was. So it was great fun to do.’
And amusingly he had some people turning up expecting a more traditional musical.
‘There were times when we were well aware we had people turning up expecting a regular musical, but hopefully some of them would have been pleasantly surprised by the message.
‘There was a thing in the show, it was like (Led Zeppelin epic) Stairway To Heaven, with my shows, you can’t just skip to: “If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow…” you’ve got to go through,’ he begins to sing the opening guitar line, ‘ba, na, na, na, na… first.
‘So there was a payoff at the end which made everything clear, there were lots of twists and turns and it all called back, so you’d be like, what just happened?
‘But it was essentially about how I’m bipolar.
‘We thought, should we call it Bipolar Guy? But I didn’t really want to do that, then it becomes: “Oh look, he’s doing a show about mental health”. I wanted people to just come along, and those who already knew, knew, and they’d come along wanting to see what I’d come up with this time.’
So there you have it, who knows which Terry you’re going to get when he comes to Horndean. His shows are packed with umpteen voices and impersonations, flicking between characters at breakneck speed, leaving audiences bewildered, but laughing.
In the meantime though, he will mostly be found at home in his pants writing about the horrors of spoon crime in the UK.
• Terry Alderton headlines Comedy All Stars at Horndean Technology College on Saturday, July 5. Doors 7pm, comedy starts at 8.15pm. Also appearing are Troy Hawke, Rudi Lickwood and host James Alderson. Tickets £10. Go to comedy-allstars.co.uk.