BIG INTERVIEW James Alderson: ‘You can think that you’ve made it quite quickly ​​​​​​in comedy’

James Alderson. Picture by Dave Dodge Photography
James Alderson. Picture by Dave Dodge Photography
Rehearsal pictures for Me and My Girl from Three Mills Studios, London, 2018. Picture by Johan Persson

Me & My Girl sets out to be the feelgood hit of the summer at Chichester Festival Theatre

Summer is a curious time for the comedy world.

Many of the nation’s stand-ups and comic acts are currently honing their shows in readiness to decamp to Edinburgh for its various festivals.

But Denmead-based stand-up James Alderson will be giving it a miss this year.

The father-of-two made his Edinburgh Festival debut in 2015 with the highly personal show, The Hunger James. And while it was well received, he has since focused on honing his act in regular comedy club spots across the country and at the multiple club nights he has set up around south Hampshire.

With many other spots shutting down for the summer, James has decided on a different tack.

‘We’ve recently started doing the Spinnaker Comedy Club on the first Friday every month,’ says James, ‘So we decided not to stop and just roll it on through the summer and see how it goes and who’s up for it. I know the football’s on, but not everyone’s into that.

‘There’s a million people within half an hour of Portsmouth, so you’ve got to hope that 150 of them want to see some comedy. We’ll give it a go, and if it doesn’t fly then we might not do summer next year.’

He’s also got his own titular ‘Presents...’ show at The Spring in Havant with Angela Barnes on July 23, and on August 10 at the Petersfield Studio.

Is he going to miss Edinburgh, though?

He doesn’t pause: ‘It’s stressful, going everywhere at 100 mph. Some comedians love it, and I just think, really?

James Alderson

James Alderson

‘If you’re going up there to make it and become famous, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. And some people are, bless ‘em.’

But that said, James is planning to return next year with a new show.

‘That’s why I’m doing Bring Back The ‘80s which is a show I’m loving writing, and I’m going to love performing, and I’m going to love being with the audience as we go on that journey of nostalgia, and that’ll be the thing to get me through it – to stand there and mess about with people about times gone by.’

How is he planning to take it beyond: ‘Weren’t chocolate bars bigger then?’

James Alderson winning the Best Comedy Award at The WOW247 (Guide) Awards, 2015. Picture Ian Hargreaves.(160041-3)

James Alderson winning the Best Comedy Award at The WOW247 (Guide) Awards, 2015. Picture Ian Hargreaves.(160041-3)

‘Yeah, I’m going to just list about 200 things, and everyone’s going to go: “Ah, wasn’t that lovely?”’ he chuckles.

‘I’m comparing it to now and to my kids and when I was a kid. There’s some reminiscence, some frustration and some anger,’ he laughs, ‘and reminding people that perhaps things weren’t so good back then and some things are great now, and vice versa.’

Much before then though, he’s going to be starring in a new 10-part BBC podcast with Helen Lederer called Knock, Knock. In each half-hour episode the veteran comic actor talks to a comedian from a different part of the country. James’s episode is due to be released in August.

And James reckons it was the relentless promoting for his various nights that got him on their radar as he kept on coming up in Google searches when the production company was looking for a comic from this part of the world.

‘It was a back to front way of getting myself found by the BBC. I’d not given up, but I’d resigned myself to the fact that, yeah, I’m not going to be on Live at The Apollo, the BBC aren’t going to come and find me, and my decision to do the best I can, keep gigging and putting on good shows around here has come good. They contacted me and asked me to come and talk to them for half an hour about how I got into comedy, growing up around here and what I’m doing now.

‘So I went up to Wogan House, god rest his soul, and had a chat with Helen. They wanted some of my material as well, which they’ll be interspersing among the chat.

‘I haven’t heard it yet, and I know we had a right old giggle. Fingers crossed it comes across all right.’

James decided to give comedy a crack at the comparatively late age of 35, and eight years on he reckons he’s doing okay.

‘You think that you’ve made it quite quickly in comedy. When your diary’s full, you think that’s pretty much it. Then you find out how much someone else is getting paid, you realise: “I’ve not made it”. Then you find out where all the big clubs are that you’re not playing… and then when you start playing some of the bigger clubs, you hear that you’re not considered an established professional comic. There’s lots of glass ceilings to break through.

‘Just wanting to be comfortable and make a decent living and having a booked diary with a lot of good comedy clubs around the country is where I sort of am at the moment. I am known of in the comedy world now, either as a comic, a promoter or both. You hope that you’re making some waves and doing the right things, and within my industry, people are now aware of me – I’m not an unknown anymore. I’ve been officially professional for five/six years now and I’m comfortable surviving on it - I’m happy.

‘And it’s a balance as well, it’s such a weird ride. Two or three nights a week driving off somewhere to perform and then one night doing one of my own clubs. It’s a nice life balance, especially if you enjoy it. Some comics hate writing and don’t like audiences, and don’t like driving, so you sort of think why don’t you go be an accountant?’

But as James admits, it was tough leaving his family at first to head out on the road in the evenings.

‘It certainly was at the beginning, when they’re four and six standing at the front door in tears as you leave at 6pm because you’ve always read them their bedtime story, then you do feel rubbish.

‘Especially in the early days, when you drive a couple of hours to do 10 minutes for free. My wife has been very supportive, but there have been times when it’s like, what are you doing this for?

‘That’s the nature of comedy when you first start, there’s a lot of pressure and you’re skint. And if it doesn’t go well, you feel like it’s all pointless. People outside comedy don’t believe it when you tell them that’s what you do for a couple of years.

‘I had this transitional period where I still had a day job, so there was a time where I had an income from both. It wasn’t entirely painless, but some comics are working nine-to-five and then gigging every night for free. They must be blitzed.

‘I’m pleased it didn’t start it when I was younger – it would have done my head in. I was 35, and I guess there were things I could have fallen back on. I don’t know what, but I could have gone back to an office job.’

Another event James co-runs is The South Coast Comedian Of The Year. Based here in Portsmouth, it accepts entries from Cornwall to Kent, and in the five years since it began, it has helped be a catalyst for the local scene.

‘When I first started there was Simon Fielder and Joe Wells from Portsmouth and that was about it. 

‘Then when we started South Coast Comedian – that’s when I was just turning professional – and I started to realise that there’s dozens of guys wanting to do comedy. Now they’re getting together at the heats and talking, and now there’s a real buzz around about 40 comics within a stone’s throw of Pompey, who are doing the Fat Fox, Drift Bar, Solent Comedy and all these amateur nights that have cropped up in the last three years or so. There’s a real hubbub of comedy in the city.

‘They’ve all come out the woodwork, and they were driving all over the place to gig for free like I used to. But now they can do these nights here to get some stage time, it’s lovely how it’s evolving.’

The Spinnaker Comedy Club is tonight at the tower’s cafe, starring Paul Tonkinson, and hosted by James. Bar from 7pm, comedy from 8pm. Tickets £15. Go to spinnakertower.co.uk.