When it comes to putting a show such as Pun Gent together, packed as it is with killer gag after killer gag, there’s one faculty that Stewart Francis will be relying on more than any other.
‘Remembering them all and in the right order is the tricky part of my style of comedy,’ he confesses. ‘I approach it the way I do a script, so there are chunks that lead on to other bits while one joke will tell me that I’m at the end of a certain chunk. It’s the only way I can do it.
‘But the beauty of being a one-liner guy is that while there’s a flow, I could still pop a joke in from the middle of nowhere that I might have forgotten to do earlier and it won’t be distracting: it’s just another one-liner.’
With a series of sell-out tours under his belt and with the experience of writing and performing jokes for a quarter of a century, one thing this UK-based Canadian knows is how to structure a live comedy show.
‘This one was good to go at the end of last year, but I used the time in between to see if I could come up with a new gag that could bump out one of the ones that might not be quite so strong. But it’s nice to have an arsenal of gags; it’s comforting to know when the show is more or less ready and that I’m closing in on the magical hour.’
In this day and age when a comedian seems to be just one throwaway comment or well-constructed joke away from a tabloid storm, Stewart Francis might not be a comic you’d immediately associate with the ‘offensive’ branch of contemporary stand-up. But that doesn’t mean he’d reject performing a gag he’s come up with just because it might touch a raw nerve somewhere.
For me, comedy works with the element of surprise, so I like doing a couple of kitten jokes and then something dark, as that catches people off-guardStewart Francis
‘I just want the jokes to be funny and in terms of closer-to-the-bone ones, I wouldn’t run three of them in a row because then that would become a theme and I’m then a comedian I don’t want to be.
‘For me, comedy works with the element of surprise, so I like doing a couple of kitten jokes and then something dark, as that catches people off-guard and is beneficial to the joke. But I don’t deliberately go looking for a dark joke, they come up as and when. You as an audience member don’t have an idea about my take on a particular subject matter; if you take a step back and look at the joke, you’ll see that it’s just wordplay.’
While there might always be some ambiguity in a critic or audience member’s mind over where a joke is coming from and who the intended target might be, there’s one thing that Francis is crystal clear about.
‘I’m living a charmed life. Coming over to the UK eight years ago was the real turning point professionally for me; I’d been coming over for years as a part-time player but being here permanently lifted me to the level that I always felt I was destined for. It wasn’t happening in Canada because there’s not really a star system there, so the talented people have to go further afield to ply their trade. But I haven’t plateaued yet, and hopefully I’ll be in control of that and decide when to head off into the sunset.”
Pun Gent is at Portsmouth Guildhall on Saturday, October 31, doors 7pm. Tickets £19.25. Go to portsmouthguildhall.org.uk