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Interview with Tom Wrigglesworth

Local lad Tom Wrigglesworth’s back in town soon. He’s come a long way from his student days: you’d often find him in the audience at the Lescar comedy nights when he came home for the holidays. We dispatched Mark Perkins to see what he’s been up to lately.

My gran moved out of her house a few years ago, and in with my mum and dad. When we were sorting out her stuff I came across some old cassette tapes that I’d made when I was very young, and decided to try to listen to them, although the first problem was finding something to play them on. The tapes contained interviews between a six year old me and my granddad. I didn’t remember anything on them, although I did kind of remember doing them, but more than anything I remember the cassette machine we used to record them. Its headlining feature was the switch on the microphone that stopped the recording, which was remarkable for early eighties home recording equipment. I transferred them straight into my computer when I realised what they were. The show I’m bringing to Sheffield is a story that starts with me playing these tapes and is based on the story of me turning into my granddad.

Have your shows always been story telling shows?

I sort of fell into it. I don’t really do one liners, it’s more observations and descriptions and situations. Putting them into a story allows you to stop people getting bored. I am actually telling jokes but by hanging them over a start middle and an end and people don’t realise that 45 minutes have gone past. I’ve always liked that in comedy, where you pick up threads that you seem to have forgotten about. It gives the illusion of hurtling through time. I really like that feeling when you’re watching someone, that they’ve cheated you somehow. Not cheated you, but they’ve played a trick and you’ve sat there totally engrossed, and it’s gone by in the blink of an eye. Daniel Kitson’s good at that. The trick is to suddenly arrive back at a point you started with and you realise you’ve been taken on a journey, which felt random and disorganised, but when you look back it all becomes clear. You don’t need laughs all the time, thank goodness, but I do try to get a laugh every minute!

How did you get started in comedy?

I got sick of people telling me to try it, so I did it. When I started I wasn’t telling stories, they developed later. I started in London, doing open mike spots, which I know they still do at the Lescar. I used to go there to watch when I was back from university, and I’ve been going there for years.

Have you ever written for other people?

I do have friends who I go and watch, and they do the same for me. We make notes and sort of write add-on jokes for each other. It’s remarkably easy to write for the other person in that situation. With the show I’m doing now I had a couple of other comics come and see it and they gave me loads of ideas that I’d never noticed before. It’s bizarre. I’d go and watch theirs and do exactly the same for them, seeing it through fresh eyes. I did a 4-part radio series last autumn for BBC Radio 4, called ‘Tom Wrigglesworth’s Hang Ups’. It’s about me phoning home to talk to my mum and dad with my granny living downstairs, and I’m writing a new 6-part series now. The story about my granddad, the tour, which I’ve called ‘Utterly at Odds with the Universe’ one is the other side of that coin.

How do you find writing for radio compared to writing for stand up shows?

It’s quite hard. Lawyers check it, you can’t be rude, litigious or outrageous, and it’s difficult to be funny at half past six on Radio 4. You can’t swear, which can take some of the power out of some things. It’s not necessary all the time, but it does have an effect. I do a bit of hosting for Rhod Gilbert on his weekend radio show. We really do genuinely broadcast from his kitchen on a Saturday morning. There’s his dog, the postman comes round. It’s great.

Who makes you laugh the most?

My niece is the funniest person I know at the moment. I love to watch other comedians, and I do find myself laughing a lot, but it’s hard to switch off. You find yourself thinking, what would I say here, or what are they going to say next? When you’re with your family it’s different; your guard’s down. I do find Sheffield people really funny, although it does my wife’s head in. She’s from Denmark, and when she’s in a room full of Sheffield people and they’re laughing, she sometimes doesn’t understand what they’re all laughing at. They do have comedy in Denmark, and there are a few Danish comedians. I keep meaning to go because they do the comedy in English. Al Pitcher lives in Sweden does all his comedy over there now: he performs in English. There is a Sheffield humour, which is hard to put your finger on. I remember when the free bus started in Sheffield. I got on one and was trying to get somewhere. No-one knew where they really went, and there was this sort of confusion at the bus stop and someone said. ‘Just get on it… it’s free.’

Have you any other ambitions to do more TV?

I’ve done some TV and I’ve tended to steer clear of the panel shows, although they are good for selling tickets I suppose, I don’t know how long I can be a live comedian for. Maybe I can keep going for years and years, who knows? I’ve just been to do some TV in Green Bay in the US. It’s weird but I look just like the quarter back for the Green Bay Packers, who’s really famous in America and ridiculously famous in Green Bay. When I wear a hat to hide my hair it’s uncanny. I went over there and met him and freaked out everybody from Green Bay by just walking around. That was great fun. I’d love to do something like The Trip, where I play a version of myself, but already there’s other shows using that idea so eventually there will be a glut of those programmes.

How often do you get back to Sheffield?

All my family are still there, but I’ve not been back for ages with touring, but I do try to get back every month if I can. My parents still live here, and even though my gran died last year, she’s still living with my mum and dad in the radio show, so she’s still around in that sense.

I saw you’d been touring around the world. How well known are you outside the UK?

I have a profile through comedy festivals, especially in New Zealand. They like Northerners there and they are themselves like Northerners. It’s great going there for their comedy festival, and it’s not as saturated as Edinburgh, so is much less competitive and is only two weeks long.

You’ve won a few awards. Which do you feel proudest of?

I’ve won a few but the Edinburgh awards that used to be the Perrier, and the Sony are really special and worth having.

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