Nick Coquet: Comedy as ‘the new rock’n’roll’ seems a long time ago now.
Stephen Grant: I don’t think it ever was, Newman and Baddiel did a gig at Wembley Arena and people mistook it for Wembley Stadium. There are certainly rock’n’roll elements to it though – it’s mainly done by men who get to shag women who’d normally be completely out of their league.
NC: This Paramount festival seems a lot more rock’n’roll than Edinburgh – more big sexy artists than development acts.
SG: Edinburgh’s a fringe as opposed to a festival with no element of invite about it, anyone can turn up with any old tat, so there’s a wide range from the brilliant to the truly abysmal. With Brighton it’s more totalitarian, one company runs the festival, the venues and it cherry-picks the best acts. The rooms are huge, so in most cases you’ll get a ticket. I tend to sell out though…
NC: That must cheer you up – a lot of comedians have been deconstructed and found to be deeply miserable underneath.
SG: It’s a misconception to believe that to be any good at comedy you have to be deeply depressed. It can be a catharsis, a way of dealing with your issues, but a lot of people are funny regardless. It’s a job, and it takes ten to fifteen years to get really good – if you were that suicidal most comics wouldn’t make it. There’s an element of truth in it though, in that if you spend your life trying to be upbeat and chipper for other people it gnaws away at your psyche, offstage you feel no inclination to be funny. It’s like taking your work home with you.
NC: So someone who’s hilarious down the pub might not necessarily make a good stand-up.
SG: It’s a good indication of whether you’re funny enough, but the tricky thing about stand-up is making a room full of strangers like you and in the pub you kind of assume they like you already, so you’ve kind of covered the biggest hurdle already.
NC: I guess being thick-skinned and determined must be as important.
SG: Yes, you have to cope with your ‘deaths’, being rubbish, repeatedly, that’s the only way you learn. You learn what’s funny by not being funny and people hating you for it. So thick-skinned is important but you have to empathise, if you don’t care what the crowd thinks you’ll never get better.
NC: And better also means more versatile. Comedians seem to need several strings to their bow now – clip shows, panel shows, radio, to break through.
SG: It’s the other way round really, comedians are just really good at that sort of thing, thinking off the top of their heads, being engaging and pithy. There was a period where people were getting into comedy purely to get that work, but mostly these jobs are just nice little earners on the side, they’d always rather do stand-up.
NC: It gets people like Frankie Boyle and Russell Howard into bigger rooms though.
SG: That’s the irony of it. They’re going to be playing to full houses, half of whom have never been to see stand-up before, thinking what’s all this about, I don’t understand it. Their only real experience of comedy is on the TV. My audience will only really know me from stand-up; I’m really quite lucky in that respect.
NC: But you’re still writing, doing bits of television and radio as well as the stand-up?
SG: Yes, a little bit of everything really. I’m putting together a couple of television projects, I’m also gearing up to putting out my third DVD later this year, that’s quite a lot of work. But stand-up is still the main thrust, this year’s show is easily the best one I’ve done, it got a lot of buzz in Edinburgh.
Stephen Grant plays the Corn Exchange on Friday 24th.