Lock & Load
Exposed Meets Sean Lock
Surreal TV comic, panel show regular and former goat-herder Sean Lock is playing the Sheffield Last Laugh comedy festival on October 11th and 31st. Andy Hill catches up for a friendly chinwag…
"It's all bollocks, isn't it? The internet, I mean."
Sean Lock has issues. "When it started to get massive,” he rants. "When it started to encroach into every single damn area of life, all these crazy evangelical people came out – mainly, you'll notice, from the big internet companies themselves – making it all out as… some kind of sacred environment where truth shines out like a beacon. And that isn't true."
He's referring, I should clarify, to a pervasive 'fact' I've brought up, widely repeated online (thanks in no small part to Lock's mostly vague responses when himself pressed) that he was the first comedian to play a big UK arena. Quite the accolade, right?
"See this is where it gets sinister. Journalists, especially online, can be so lazy. I supported Newman and Baddiel on their first night at Wembley Arena. That's a matter of record. So someone sees that on some website, assumes I was on first, then just blithely puts it in an article. I stay well away from the internet if I can help it. Like most people I'm a little bit weak minded and end up spending far too much time on there. Like, I never even laid a finger on a computer until I was about forty, and as far as I can see they haven't made one single aspect of our lives unequivocally better."
So… what's the truth? With the Wembley thing?
"I was part of a few sketches dotted here and there amongst their sets on the night. The only reason I'll sometimes go along with the rumour is that I've heard it winds up David Baddiel. So, actually, what the hell – yes I went on first. And I totally stormed it!"
What about the goat-herd thing (yeah, I use Wikipedia, sue me). Is that true?
"100 percent. I can summon goats from pretty much any part of the UK. Trust me mate, if you're patient enough, they will come."
Whether or not you believe he can call an army of bleating disciples to heel at will, he's certainly no slouch pulling a crowd these days. As well as the extra date in Sheffield (October 31st) he's recently completed five shows in Manchester and a further handful in Newcastle. Does the 50 year old self-described lower-middle-class-guy from Woking ("I like a fine wine, I like my cheeses") notice any big differences between crowds down south and up north?
"It's a bit of a hoary old cliché, I suppose, but up here the crowds have a bit more… oomph. A bit of liveliness. Let's be honest though, that's only because the beer's cheaper."
New show Purple Van Man is a set of nifty observational routines each culminating in a dark, surreal twist. The title comes from the classic tabloid staple of ‘white van man’; the opinionated and shamelessly lecherous bacon sandwich repositories whom we are led to believe represent the last bastions of 'hard graft' and 'common sense' remaining in society…
"But I think someone like me is more ordinary, to be honest," says Lock. "Where in the back of a white van you'd find, I guess, lots of tins of paint and a Black and Decker Workmate, in my purple van you'd have a load of plastic fruit and discarded takeaway wrappers. To be honest, the theme is pretty loose, I just want to bang on for a couple of hours or so… as per usual."
I've always found his natural role on, say, 8 Out Of 10 Cats to be that of the surly old misanthrope, shaking his fist (albeit deftly) at the ever increasing pace of the modern world. Fair?
"I wouldn't call myself an out and out miserablist. True, there's always a kick, always a sting to what I do, but I'm certainly not one of the darker comics on the circuit."
His views on other comedians are, I think, worth exploring. In recent times (at least), new stand ups rising through the ranks have taken to tearing strips out of more established (read – more popular) acts almost as a rite of passage. Michael McIntyre is probably the archetypal punchbag in most of these exchanges, with the esteemed likes of Stewart Lee and Kevin Eldon deriving unabashed ecstasy sticking the boot into McIntyre's supposedly 'inferior' or 'outdated' observational chops. I pitch to Sean Lock a hypothetical TV show concept I've been developing (called ‘Stand Off!’ or something awful like that) where comedians each week face one other in a no holds barred contest of wits; kind of a white, middle class rap battle, if you can imagine that.
Which comic, I ask, would you like to be put toe-to-toe with on week one?
"All of them," he retorts, quick as a flash, deadpan. "Every last one of them – living and dead. Though, on a more serious note, I do think… when I hear or see people slagging off other comics… just, write better jokes. Oh, and while we're on subject, just shut the hell up. It's all bitterness. Look, the only reason anyone ever has a go at McIntyre is because they're jealous. They can dredge up any old reason and say, ‘oh, it's his type of comedy’ or whatever in a high and mighty tone of voice but, at the end of the day, if he's making that many people laugh that hard for that long – and you think it's easy – then you're deluded and you don't understand comedy. I never let myself get dragged into that kind of bitching because it comes across as weak and cheap and plain nasty. Plus, I'm quite into the old school idea that comedians all get along. Imagine back in the day, some old turn sat on Parkinson's sofa talking about 'my mate Jim Davidson'. Even if half the people in the studio knew he thought Jim Davidson was a right c**t, the punters at the end of the day secretly enjoy comedy as a simple, silly night out and would, I think, prefer to believe we all live in harmony on Comedy Island – and not in our own sour little bubbles of bitter and twisted snobbery. But yeah, if I had to go up against any comic act it would be [1920s Egyptian silent dance trio] Wilson Keppel and Betty. I reckon I could wipe the floor with them."
The idea that behind the familiar public face of many of our most loved comedians lurks a seething jealous monster moves me to contemplate the current vogue for TV panel shows. Surely the format promotes a bear-pit mentality; it's well enough known that three hours or more will be filmed only to be cut down for a tight broadcast-worthy 30 minutes. And, of course, only the sharpest lines will make the final edit. Does it get pretty rough sometimes, I wonder, with everyone trying to get a word in edgewise in the hope of maybe flogging a few more of their new DVDs?
"Yeah, of course it is. It's not exactly ruthless, most of the time, because you want the show to be good. But when someone, usually new, gets into this Martine McCutcheon 'this is my moment, this is my perfect moment' sort of attitude, thinking their one appearance is going to change everything for them, you have to rein them in a bit. Bottom line is though, and we all have to remember this, we're being paid to be funny. Maybe one or two shows might slip through your fingers, and that's ok, but you have to keep an eye on it. However laconic or relaxed a stand-up appears to be on those shows, don't be fooled; like a duck, all the real action is going on under the surface."
At least, I guess, on those shows there's a team to help share the burden. With stand-up you're on your own; I wonder, has a gig ever gone so badly it's kept you up all night?
"I'm quite confident in myself and in my prepared material – I work hard on it over the course of a run – but dealing properly with hecklers is always a good way to get the audience on your side. This one show though, in York, I was meant to be supporting Marc Lamarr – but for some reason his manager had double booked him. 'No problem,' said Marc. 'I'll go on before you, then scoot off to my other gig'. We were old stalwarts together, so it was fine with me. Except the crowd had paid for him. They're generally a polite lot up in York, but you know that sound that theatre seats make when you stand up and they flip over – ffft, ffft, ffft – well let’s just say there was a lot of that going on. Eventually, by which time I'd completely died on my arse and the place had basically emptied out, some punter shouted out 'WHAT DO YOU WANT?!' And that's a pretty humbling entreaty to have ringing in your ears as you head back to the hotel."
Catch Sean Lock at Sheffield City Hall on October 11 and October 31. Tickets for both shows are £22, see www.sheffieldcityhall.co.uk for more.
The surreal TV comic plays Sheffield’s Last Laugh comedy festival
Last Laugh and Sheffield City Hall
Sheffield City Hall