Ahead of his performance at Peterborough Arena on Saturday April 28, this month ESP Magazine’s comedy columnist Sarah Slack sat down with legendary British comedian Jasper Carrott to talk life on tour, Golden Balls, and what he really thinks about comedians who play arenas….
ESP: Many thanks for taking the time out to have a chat with ESP. Your upcoming show at the Peterborough Arena is advertised as half stand-up and half rock, so what can audiences expect from this unusual mix?
Jasper: “It’s pretty much what it says on the tin! It’s a combination of comedy and music, and it’s unusual as I don’t know any other shows like it at the moment. The music is provided by Bev Bevan, who was the drummer in ELO, along with some brilliant musicians including Geoff Turton from The Rockin’ Berries. It’s a great show as the audience tend to sing along and they know all the words – they probably know all the jokes as well!”
Fans of yours will know that the tour unfortunately had to be postponed last year due to ill health, as you had to have heart surgery. How has this impacted your life, and has it had an impact on your comedy?
“People said I bet you get loads of material, but there’s nothing funny about a quadruple bypass! It’s definitely changed my approach to life because suddenly you realise you’re mortal. I’m a family man, I’ve been married 46 years and I’ve got 6 grandchildren, so I had to take a long hard look at what the future could be, especially as I’d never thought too much about it before.
“I had the operation last August, and previously I’d only missed one show in 43 years so having to pull 30 shows was very difficult for me and I took it very hard. I was gobsmacked though as I had 700,000 well wishers on the internet, which proved to me the vast majority of people are terrific. The audiences have also been very understanding, so it’s a real pleasure to be back.”
Was there any experimenting at the beginning of the show’s run in order to get the balance of music and comedy right?
“This is our third year of touring the show, and initially the experimental stage was there but over the past two years it’s been fantastic, as everyone now knows what they’re doing, and everyone involved is very professional so they knew what had to be done to make the show the best it could be.”
What is it like playing larger venues and arenas, as opposed to the smaller theatres?
“After giving up stand-up comedy for 13 years it’s exciting as once I got back into it, I realised I really missed performing. I did prefer performing at the smaller venues because you’re closer to the audience, and they don’t feel that they’ve spent £30 to watch a man on a TV screen, which is what most arena comedy tours are like nowadays. However with Stand Up and Rock, the format means you can be very personal and have a great time with the audience.”
Does performing in an arena change your approach to your material, and do you have to adjust your set in any way to suit the venue?
“There’s a big difference now against how I used to perform stand-up 15 years ago, as I used to do two and a half hours on stage by myself so I had to control my punchlines otherwise it can tire people out. In this show I have 30 minute slots so I can go for the jugular straight away and get the audience laughing, then that’s when you bring the music on.
“It’s fairly new to me considering I used to tour by myself across the country for 40 years, and as a solo comedian there just wasn’t any camaraderie. Whereas with this show we have great musicians who are excellent at the job and they’re very nice people, so there’s a good social side to the show as well.”
When you’re not touring, do you watch a lot of comedy yourself and if so, who are your favourites?
“The main influence on my comedy has always been Tom Lehrer, however recently I’ve become a big fan of fellow Brummie John Oliver after seeing him do so well in America. Another comic I like is Stewart Lee, who grew up in Solihull, so it’s nice to watch other comedians from my home town do well.”
You mentioned taking a break from comedy, however I think it was during this break that you presented Golden Balls, which in my opinion was one of the greatest game shows ever recorded. Were there any Split or Steal moments where you genuinely thought a fight was going to break out?
“The TV show used to make sure the contestants were kept separate both before and after the show so there was no risk of them colluding or fighting, however there were some ludicrous moments where the contestants would steal off each other when the jackpot was only £1.50. Sometimes I had to remind them that the show was being recorded and it would probably be repeated for years to come – I learnt so much about human nature from presenting that show!”
Tickets for Stand Up and Rock at the East of England Arena and Events Centre on Saturday April 28 are available on www.ticketmaster.co.uk or by calling 01733 363500.