If you’re a fan of one-liners and quick-fire gags then you’d be wise not to miss out on Stewart Francis’ current tour – as he promises it will be his last.
The mammoth tour, dubbed appropriately enough as Into The Punset, has already taken in more than 150 dates, and is now in its final stretch. It winds up at The Apollo in London on December 7, but before then he visits Portsmouth one last time.
His press for the tour refers to Stewart as ‘Star of Mock the Week, Live at The Apollo and Crackerjack’.
Now, those first two, yep, that’s great, but he’s not really the ‘Ooh, I could crush a grape’ catchphrase-spinning host of ’80s children’s TV show Crackerjack is he?
‘If anybody's taking that and discarding Mock The Week and Live at The Apollo, which Stu Francis hasn't been on… it’s more fool you, if you don't see that as the gag it was intended to be,’ he laughs.
So why, at 60 years young, is Stewart calling time on his stand-up career?
‘I'm quitting for a number of reasons, all of them good – a perfect guest knows when to leave. This is the best tour I've done, I'm going out on a high, like an athlete scoring the game-winning touchdown in the Super Bowl. I’m leaving them wanting more, and I'm going to shift my focus from stand-up to acting.
‘I've dabbled in it in the past and I want to do more in the future. And voice-over work, because I’ve got an amazing voice,’ he chuckles, ‘so I’m going to give that a go and see what happens with that.
‘And I've got screenplays I want to write and I want to do some travelling, but it will effectively be 30 years to the day of me starting stand-up when I do my last show at the Hammersmith Apollo.
‘They say go large or go home, and I'm doing both!’
The esteemed London venue has played a big part in the comic’s career – he’s appeared on the BBC’s flagship stand-up show filmed there three times.
‘I'm indebted to it, it put me on people's radar.’
Although born in Toronto, Canada, his parents are British, and he says: ‘I'm a Brit through and through and I had a British passport before I started coming over here professionally.’
He started coming here as a performer about 20 years ago. ‘Then I moved over here 14 years ago with the mindset of: “I’m going to really give the UK a go,” because this is where I knew good things were happening, and I wanted more good things to happen.
‘I’d done everything I could do in Canada, but I just knew in my gut that there was there was something bigger out there for me so I came here and I could not have written a better outcome because it's just been brilliant.
‘We don't have a star system in Canada and we don't support our arts as much as we should, like actors have to go to New York or Hollywood, comedians have to go down stateside.
‘As talented a country as we are, it saddens me that the likes of myself have to travel further afield to find success. But it is what it is, and it's still a wonderful country.
‘I'm very proud of being from there, but I had I had to spread my wings.’
Stew found his style of one-line gag machine early on his stand-up career, and has stuck with it.
‘When you go on in your early days, you're obviously very insecure, so, I think organically, I just wanted to hear two things: either me talking or the audience laughing.
‘I can't do any dead air. I can't take any long-winded stories.
‘I just didn't want to take that chance, so it was: “Zing, zing, zing, good night!” And that's always been my style and it’s served me well.
‘It's the best form of comedy, from my perspective, you get more bang for your buck.’
But it is a style of stand-up which demands a lot of material. However, as Stew says: ’The audience is worth it.
‘All that legwork that I'm doing writing a show, if the audience is taking time out of their day, they paid money to come see me, and I'm never anything other than awed by that.
‘I have no qualms in doing the heavy-lifting to take the show to them, and hopefully it becomes a mutual admiration society.’
Whatever happens next, the comic insists this is the end of his live stand-up career – there won’t be any come-backs.
‘You want to leave on a high note, and trust me, this is my best show. If anybody's seen my previous tours, this my best work – what a way to go?!
‘I can't be more appreciative or grateful of how it's kind of culminated.
I'd hate to go out on a whimper.
‘Just to bring it back to the respect I have for the audience, they deserve the best and I'm giving my best work. So I'm really pleased to finish like this.’
Saturday, November 30