Graham – Fantastic, thanks! Your close connections with these papers are working a treat for us.
Philip Lovett, Nottingham City and County Enterprise and Skills Board, August 2012
After Dinner speaking
Thank you so much for your fascinating and funny talk... "Best talk ever”, members were saying as they left. Well done! It was great to see so many members asking you questions. There were 134 members in the audience, which is a really good attendance.
All good wishes.
Kay Williams Bourne U3A
Copywriting and Journalism
Superb piece, thanks so much Graham, have sent copy on to head of Military History Channel who I’m sure will be thrilled. We’ve got a few more coming up this year so hopefully we’ll be able to do more together very soon.
All the best
Steve Humphries, MD Testimony Films, Bristol
THANK-YOU – it looks fantastic!
Vicki-Sue Brotherhood, proprietor of Indian Summer, re the feature about her life and business on www.newarknotts.co.uk/
Article - Lee Mack Stand - First
With his sell-out tour coming to Scotland in the New Year, Lee Mack keeps the fans happy until then with his Not Going Out Christmas special – and the roots of his hit series stretch right back to one sketch at the Edinburgh Fringe. Lee tells GRAHAM KEAL how it happened.
When Lee Mack’s dad unexpectedly turns up at his flat like an unwanted gift, Lee has no time for the man who left home when Lee was four, failed to pay maintenance and ate his goldfish.
Fortunately this is not real life, this is the plot of Lee’s Christmas special for his BBC1 sitcom Not Going Out – and veteran comic Bobby Ball plays Lee’s dad.
But you could say Bobby Ball is Lee’s real-life comedy father, and there are other similarities too – quite apart from the manic, gag-a-minute energy that both performers share:
“Bobby was great, but it is strange to think about it because the first thing I can remember as a sort of performance was doing Bobby Ball impressions in the playground at school,” says Lee, 41.
“He was as big as you could get at the time. The Cannon and Ball Show was getting 20m viewers. Then cut to almost 30 years later and he’s playing my dad in a sitcom…
“And the bizarre thing is, he’s not a million miles away from what my dad was really like. He’s from that part of the world, and my dad at one point had a perm and a moustache. My dad was a lot taller but he had a similar way if being… It’s quite surreal for me.”
Lee’s real-life Christmas will be at home in posh Hampton Court with wife Tara and their boys Arlo, five, and Louie, three, and it sounds likely to be calmer and more wholesome than the fictional one,
“My wife’s family are coming round and I’ll be having my once-a-year go at cooking… We’ve got a friend who farms turkeys so she’s giving us a turkey for Christmas.”
On TV and on stage, Lee deals in rapid-fire gags matched by surreal flights of fancy. He’s like a latter-day Ken Dodd in the speed of delivery and the silliness, but with a harder edge and language to make Doddy blush.
Away from stage and TV, Lee is a deep-thinking student of comedy who honed his skills through years of intensive and self-critical gigging and gag-writing.
His real mum and dad were publicans and the family lived above a pub in Southport, Lancashire, until Lee’s parents split up when he was 12:
“I don’t really want to talk about that side of things… It’s not that I’m bothered about talking about it, but there’s a big wave of comedians at the moment baring their souls, and I don’t want to be part of the group.”
One group Lee is happy to be part of is the elite handful of comics who announce a tour and see ‘Sold Out’ signs going up almost immediately at venues up and down the UK.
His three Scottish gigs lined up for March – at Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh – are already sold out; as are most of the 14 extra English venues re-booked in May to take Lee back to previous sell-out destinations.
Lee’s appetite for working a live audience is positively prodigious: “There were a few warm-up gigs listed on the tour website but I’ve probably done another 20.
“The last tour I did, two or three years ago, was about 40 dates. By the time I’ve finished this one it will be about 130, if you count the warm-ups.”
Watching him in full flood at a warm-up gig in a comedy club, we sat a few feet from the stage and laughed non-stop for 80 minutes, I couldn’t help wonder why such an accomplished comic should need or want to do so many extra nights’ work in small venues when he can pack out the huge ones:
“Well there was a little bit of apprehension before I went into this tour. The last one was the culmination of years on the circuit. I’d regularly do five or six gigs on a weekend – I once did five on a Saturday night – and if you do that for eight or nine years you become… good.
“So after a break, it takes a little time to get back into it. There’s a phrase in comedy about being ‘match fit.’ I figured I’d do loads and loads of gigs, and it’s been great. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Lee’s comedy club years are a comic’s equivalent to the Beatles’ Hamburg years – they played there for hours, day after day, until the band was tight, the timing perfect:
“The warm-ups reminded me of why I started doing comedy. My ambition was to go round the pub circuit and if I could earn 80 quid a night for doing 20 minutes, five nights a week, I’d be the happiest man. That’s all I wanted, because it’s the best job in the world.”
He’d already got well beyond that before TV propelled him to another level. ITV series The Sketch Show won him a BAFTA nomination for Best Comedy Newcomer in 2001, and in 2007 he won Best Comedy Actor for Not Going Out. Plus a coveted Rose’D’Or (Golden Rose) and an RTS Award.
The roots of all that success stretch back to Edinburgh, where Lee gained a Perrier nomination in 2000 for a Fringe sketch show he wrote and performed with (the then little-known) Catherine Tate and (the still little-known) Dan Antopolski.
Most of their ideas were taken up by ITV’s Sketch Show but Lee held one back, which started as a single visual gag about leery Lee living in a flat with a girl and being caught with his telescope looking down at women’s bedrooms instead of up at the stars.
That one joke grew into a string of jokes that grew into a sketch that took up almost a quarter of his entire Edinburgh show.
“People said to me that it had the legs of a sitcom, and when I was asked to do it for The Sketch Show I said ‘No, I want to keep hold of it, because I think I can do something with this one day.’”
He did that all right, although bizarrely Lee is having to pitch to BBC1 bosses to persuade them to take a fourth series of their funniest sitcom. Surely they should be begging him to do it?
“It’s very difficult for me to talk about it because every time I do I get into trouble… I appreciate your compliment, because you’re independent, but it’s very hard to gauge how good a show is if you’re in it.
“I’ve been in shows that are good, shows that are OK and shows that are bad, and the one thing they have in common is that they were all equally good in the eyes of everyone around you… I’ve never ever been in a show where people go ‘This is a real stinker we’re doing here.’ TV is full of insecurity, and everyone wants to tell you how great you are.”
But Lee reads all his reviews, good and bad, so he can get some balance, some objective feedback that will help him become even funnier.
No stand-up comic ever took comedy more seriously.
FIVE FAVE LEE MACK ONE-LINERS
- I’ll never forget my gran’s last words to me… “What are you doing with that hammer?”
- I’m in a relationship at the moment. Sorry girls… It’s going to have to be your place.
- People who are into auto-asphyxiation erotica? They want stringing up don’t they?
- I got a great review this morning – “Prompt and efficient Payer” – Ebay.
- How do you get a fat bird into bed? Piece of cake…
After Dinner Speaker
Fresh and funny
Showbiz journalist Graham Keal developed his flair for entertaining audiences early, compering student revues, appearing at folk clubs and auditioning for Opportunity Knocks. He is now an experienced speaker performing at dinners, conferences and club events all over the UK.
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