On Stage: Features

Comedy - Jon Reed Interview

Stand-up is a bit like a gladiatorial contest (minus the whips and tigers - shame!). So we asked The Other Side's legendary host Oliver, sorry, Jon Reed some piercing questions.

Jon ReedWhy did the chicken cross the road?

Location, location, location

Has the fact that you come from Scunthorpe helped your development as a comedian?

Scunthorpe has always been a Mecca for entertainment industry. In my street alone lived Barbara Streisand, Liberace and Paul Shane. Matisse spent his final years in Scunthorpe sketching nettles and dock leaves in coal, so it isn't hard not to draw from that kind of inspirational environment. As Ghandi once mused to me, 'I like it here, but the pubs are sh*te and it needs more fights'.

Is the Bradley Court Hotel the trendiest venue in Scarborough?

Fashions come and go, but as a world heritage site for 1970's baroque light fittings the Bradley retains its special place in the heartland of British interior design. We love the Bradley, it's our home, we made it our home, and that means like every great comedy club, we've made a family there.

Is it true that you have to crank the fully automated stage screen by hand?

Not any more, we're having a radical overhaul of the venue as we speak so the days of the cranked screen are gone. We've felt for a long time that pulleys are out of vogue, so we're just moving with the times and staying one step ahead of technology.

You get big names from the national comedy circuit, but where do you get your support acts?

It's a combination of a lot of hard work between our bookers and us. The support acts are often the ones full of surprises; mean, lean and hungry to impress. At this year's Edinburgh Fringe all the Perrier Best Newcomer nominees have played our club in the last year, and that's a record we're proud of. We really are presenting talent that's going to make a major contribution to British comedy in the coming years.

When you've just announced to the crowd that the last one was rubbish, does he buy you a pint?

Ah, you're talking about the open spots. That's about opportunity. Opportunity for local acts to have a go, and for emerging talent to develop - if you don't provide that platform then new talent will haemorrhage, and that's not good for anyone. It can be like searching for a needle in a haystack, but we've had the occasional stormer, and if they're that good we'll get out the chequebook and move them up the bill. And no, I normally buy them one.
 
The Other Side has half a dozen venues now, including Doncaster and Brid. Where's the toughest crowd?

Sat at home on their complacent butts watching Peter Kay DVDs, chatting in pubs about this season's hot comedy, moaning about a night costing a fiver as they tuck into some noxious salt-dripped TV dinner not realising that there's a pretty special night on their doorstep that's clinically proven to improve your health. The crowd that does make the effort is thoroughly rewarded.

Heckle of the season


A couple take their seats late for the second half of the show.

Jon Reed: Ah, look at you two love birds, have you been having a snog in the bar?
Woman: No, it's my son. Many thanks, Jon

Greatest onstage pratfall

Hackney Empire 1998, which involved my left bollock and a thunderous silence - let's not talk about it.

Favourite wild animal manure

Now you've just made that question up haven't you.

Theatre - The Man With Two Gaffers

Tell the truth, I'm a bit scared of Barrie. Onstage he's the presence that fixes your attention, everything revolving around him. In the bar afterwards, feet planted as he downs a pint, it's even more alarming. He's not a big bloke but you wouldn't want to mess with him.

So here he is doing a farce and loving every minute of it, genial and relaxed. He's in good cheer as we talk, having opened on tour in Leicester for the first time ever. What did the midlanders make of that full-throttle northern attack? 'We won them round,' he says enigmatically.
Barrie Rutter
The following week they were off to Richmond's Georgian theatre, followed by a stint in a cattle market before a welcome return to the round at Scarborough this month. The different types of venue change the play and keep it fresh, he says. 'They trick it into a new environment. Not that I want to wish my life away, but it makes the tour go quicker!'

They are touring Blake Morrison's adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's comedy about a man who tries to serve two masters, now titled The Man With Two Gaffers and switched from Venice to Yorkshire.

Everything is gained in the translation, Barrie says. He points out that Goldoni saw a French version of his play and was bitterly disappointed to find that only the language had changed. 'He hated that. So we have full licence from the author to adapt.' And so they have, and once again Morrison is loving working with Broadsides. 'It's a writer's delight with us,' Barrie says with that openness that tells you modesty is bull. 'He hears every word of his creation. Clarity. That's my watchword.'

Those who have seen Northern Broadsides productions of Shakespeare will agree with that: their versions of Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra and The Merchant of Venice have had a directness like no other. Some of the most memorable scenes have been in the high drama of the powerful fallen, people crushed by their own folly. But Barrie says comedy is just as exciting. He's a firm believer in the old stage adage that 'dying is easy, comedy is hard'. He explains: 'You can never second guess an audience, and you'd be a fool to try. Something that goes down a storm one night can be flat the next. You can hope, and we work at it, but audiences will always confound you.'

In this one, Barrie is both playing the lead and directing. Is he giving himself a hard time? 'Nooo! It's food, it's how you live. Actors are better when they are working.'

He won't admit to getting grumpy when he isn't working - because that just doesn't happen. Already he's planning for next January when Northern Broadsides opens in The Tempest, and on to the autumn programme, and really his mind is there: always reaching for the next goal.

Screwing up my courage, I ask him why people should get out of the house and go to see theatre. Isn't it a bit middle-class and daft? He restrains himself admirably and talks about how life-affirming theatre is, compared with the passive experience of watching a screen. It's live: anything can happen, and often does.

But his final, loud and vehement answer has all the directness of pure Northern Broadsides: 'Why should they get off their arses and come? Because they SHOULD!'
The Man With Two Gaffers runs at the Stephen Joseph Theatre from 20 to 25 November. Box office 01723 370541. Full details in our events calendar.