When Darren Harriott was on TV’s biggest stand-up showcase, Live at The Apollo, it was a sweet moment for the Birmingham native.
Not that long before Darren had been doing security in the same venue. He even references it at the end of his set.
‘Yeah, that was cheesy,’ he laughs. ‘It’s crazy. When I turned up on the day the guys there all knew me – some of them knew I was a stand-up, but they didn’t know I was a “Live at The Apollo” stand-up!
‘It’s like, Jeez, anyone can say they’re a stand-up. I’m a poet technically, but…
‘It was absolutely amazing. I’ve had quite a few things like that where there’s almost been a sort of redemption, places where I’d worked as security and now I’m playing them.’
Darren moved to London four years ago to make a serious go of it in comedy. Since then he’s been nominated for Best Newcomer in the Edinburgh Comedy Awards and appeared on numerous TV shows.
On the day he speaks with The Guide, he’s recording for Don’t Hate The Playaz, a new hip-hop comedy show where he’s one of the regular panellists, which aired on ITV2 late last year.
‘The year before doing Live at The Apollo it was just me trying to get my name out, get the word out a bit more.
‘I do feel like I’m still doing that, but the stuff like the writing, the panel shows, and all that, it’s all what you dream of doing as a young stand-up, and when it all comes at you, it’s like: “Woah! Is this actually happening?”’
That Darren is still clearly enjoying the ride is illustrated when he suddenly breaks off distracted for a moment.
‘Louis Theroux just walked past me – how Soho is that? Wow. He’s tall – he’s like six foot-four.’
He continues: ‘It’s really fun - it’s really “showbiz” - I say it like that because as a comedian, put me in a room with two men, a dog and a dodgy microphone and I’m used to that, but it’s all been very fun at the moment.
‘I’m already demanding my blue M&Ms,’ he jokes of his diva-ish behaviour.
Given his background, it’s hard to deny Darren his fun. His father was a drug-dealer who took his own life while in prison, and Darren had a troubled time at school.
But he now takes it all in his stride and uses it in his shows – the show he’s currently touring is called Visceral. And it was comedy that helped him to process his feelings.
‘In my family, we all know we love each other, we just don’t say it, so even with my dad’s death we never really talked about it in a deep sense- everybody knows it’s sad.
‘My dad died in March 2000, then I started high school in September 2000, so I never really had much time to really deal with it. I’m 12, going through puberty, meeting new people, new school. And then I finished school, I hated college so I dropped out twice. It was like non-uniform school to me, and it was like, oh, I have to do work here?
‘Then I started getting really depressed and a lot of my feelings and emotions about my dad came to me. It’s because I wasn’t occupied, I had nothing going on, I wasn’t studying, I wasn’t working much. I started watching a lot of comedy DVDs and I knew when I was about 15 that I wanted to try it, but the feeling really came when I was about 17.’
And he admits, it was hard focusing on comedy in his teens: ‘When I’m 18 I want to party, I want to go out, I don’t want to be travelling to Sunderland on a Tuesday to do 10 minutes for a promoter who tells you they’ll be there, then they’re not. Like I need all of that!
‘It really has helped me deal with my dad’s death in a way, because I’m so used to talking about it, it’s still a big deal, but it’s not like a burning thing I have to get out any more. I’m very easy and open about it now.
‘There is that old thing about comedy being therapy, and there is definitely that aspect to it. But the therapy is terrible if no-one laughs... so I don’t put that much pressure on that side of it!
‘I know if my dad was alive, I definitely wouldn’t be doing comedy. It took me a few months into the show to realise that – it’s weird to say that. It’s almost like saying I’d do an open mic, and it would go badly but I’d be like, it doesn’t matter because my dad’s at home. I just know it’s had that impact on me.
‘I think about it quite a lot, I have absolutely no idea how life would have turned out if he hadn’t died - it’s crazy.’
He knows that moving south was a big gamble, but it’s one that has paid off.
‘I think about it now and I think that was a crazy move. I didn’t have a lot of money but I knew the security company that I worked for in Birmingham, I could work for in London. There was a lot of me doing gigs at about 8-9pm and then going to work night-shifts.’
But he’s been doing the comedy thing full-time for a while now.
‘Every time someone says that now, I think: “Wow, Jesus, this is what I’m doing!” I got so used to doing gigs in my security clothing it just became habit.
‘I’ve even gone for auditions as bouncers and didn’t get it, which was so hurtful, man! Honestly…’ he chuckles. ‘I’ve still got my SIA licence – it’s still there, and I still look at it sometimes, thinking maybe minimum wage in a second hand bullet-proof vest is the way forward. Every time I have a bad gig or a weird corporate, that’s my first thought.’
The security industry’s loss is comedy’s gain.
Darren Harriott: Visceral
Monday, March 11