This Best of Ultimate Gold Greatest Hits Tour is your 12th tour show. How have you continued being so prolific?
This one’s slightly different as obviously most of the jokes were already written – all I had to do was choose my favourites and then try and remember them! There’s no secret to being prolific in general though, really. Mostly it’s down to how I work. A lot of comedians build a show off one flash of inspiration. My process isn’t like that at all. For tours when I’m doing predominantly new material, I will have come up with about 1000 jokes or so but only use about 250. The trick is to be writing constantly. Chuck Close once said “Inspiration is for amateurs, I just get to work” – could not agree more with that statement.
Why are you doing a Best Of… show?
Well partly it’s because I wanted to see if it was possible, to see if you could do a stand-up show where you just played the hits like a gig from a classic band. I also remember seeing John Maloney at the Comedy Store 15 or 16 years ago right when I started, and he came on stage and said ‘I’ll start with some jokes’. He did ten one-liners off the bat – boom, boom, boom, boom – and then told a longer story. I remember thinking I would like to do a show where it is just that, where you have that first opening salvo of bang, bang, bang and it never lets up. And that’s part of the reason to do this tour, the idea of just dropping bombs for two hours. One liner after one liner – all killer, no filler. Also I really love these jokes and, unlike a musician, I don’t get to perform them once the show’s finished touring. You just sort of put them away forever. That always struck me as kind of a shame.
Will the show be the same every night?
Hopefully not. Obviously there will be a lot of written stuff, but I like to find a balance between the guaranteed laughs of jokes I’ve come up with in advance and the off-the-cuff stuff. I think on a good night it is 80/90% of jokes that I have written and am performing to the best of my abilities. But the best bits always involve the audience, the bits where I don’t know what’s going to happen or where it will lead. Why go and see a show live? Why not just watch it on Netflix? It’s because the funniest bits are always the things that happened in the room that night. You’ve got to have a show ready though, just in case the crowd is reluctant to get involved.
You often joke about supposedly “taboo” topics onstage. Why is that?
Comedy is all about building up tension and then releasing it. Talking about taboo topics is a fast way to build tension and the more tension, the more laughs when you finally release it. I’d also say that one of my favourite sounds in the world is laughter turning into shock. I’m obsessed by cognitive dissonance – the idea that you can make people laugh and be disappointed in themselves for laughing at the same time. And as long as the laugh comes first, even if it’s half a second before, it’s fine. I like the idea that you don’t choose what you laugh at, it chooses you.
Is there anything you won’t joke about and why?
No, I feel like it’s all about the intention, the meaning behind it. My jokes are just that, jokes. There is no grand vision, no political or social message. If the joke is funny enough then the ends justify the means. Look, I say some horrific things in my act and, yes, if you take those things at face value then clearly they are unacceptable. But I think it’s pretty obvious that, in context, those subjects or ideas are merely vehicles for comedy, that they are designed to elicit laughter and nothing more. If I was using my shows to put forward a manifesto on how we should live our lives then maybe it would be a different story, but I’m not. I’m just trying to make you laugh.
Do you ever worry about offending people?
Not really. If you believe in free speech, you have to be prepared to hear things you don’t like – that’s kind of the deal. If you say someone is “offended”, what you’re really saying is that they’re feelings got hurt. That doesn’t put you in the right. If you’re not laughing, you’re well within your rights to just not listen. That’s absolutely fine.
You came to stand-up comparatively late at the age of 26. Why was that?
Well I just wanted to do something different, really. I had a very cushy job in marketing having worked very hard at university to get there. But I wasn’t satisfied. If I’d known that it was possible to work in television earlier, I would have probably wanted to be a producer or something. I didn’t know anyone in that world though, it wasn’t an option. So instead I decided to join the circus in my mid-twenties and do stand-up comedy instead.
You obviously combine doing stand-up with a lot of TV work these days. Which do you prefer doing?
It’s an odd for me, they feel very distinct. Making television is collaborative – being the host is great because there’s a whole group of people working to make you look good. Live stand-up is very different. You’re on your own and that can be stressful. You’ve got more freedom though. With TV, even if it’s late night, you’re ultimately being beamed into people’s homes, sometimes uninvited. With a live gig, people have paid to see you. That allows you to push it that little bit more.
How do you feel about being famous?
I like it. I think comedy brings a nice shade of fame though, because you’re well-known but no one puts you on too much of a pedestal. It’s not like being another kind of performer, an actor or singer say, where people are perhaps more reverential of your talent. Everyone – or nearly everyone – has a sense of humour, so people just tend to try and make me laugh. What’s not to like?