CB: How long have you been gigging in stand-up?
JP: The short answer is just over 3 years. The longer answer is that I’ve had lots of stage time since 2003, when I won a competition in America called “International Mr Leather”. That led to eight years travelling around Europe and North America hosting fundraisers and contests at leather events – and telling jokes was part of the job. In 2010 I was made redundant at work and decided I preferred making people laugh to earning a regular salary, so I made the switch.
The transition was harder than I thought. Going into a mainstream comedy club there’s very little overlap between my life experience and that of the average audience member, so I’ve had to find a way to bring people into my world. Part of that was developing different sets for different audiences, and now I have experience ranging from university students to rural village halls, and military bases to gay nightclubs.
CB: How would you describe your comedy?
JP: Cheeky autobiographical stories with lots of puns and silly wordplay mixed in.
CB: Which comedians influence your comedy?
JP: I’m wary of watching any one comic too much in case they start to influence me. There are many comics I admire including Mary Bourke, Hal Cruttenden, Jim Jefferies, Milton Jones, Matt Price and Gina Yashere – but it’s a long list.
CB: Did you always want to go into comedy?
JP: I think so, but it took almost 40 years to pluck up the courage. If fear is the biggest thing holding you back in life then comedy is certainly the cure.
CB: How do you go about writing your material?
JP: Ideas bounce around my head for months like a ball in a roulette wheel – looking for the right hole to drop into. Then one day I’ll think “I know how to say that”. I’ll try it a few times for different audiences and if it doesn’t work I keep a note of the idea – rather than the delivery – and wait for another angle to arrive. It’s a slow process which I’m trying to speed up.
CB: Do you gig as a stand-up full time or is it more of a part-time hobby?
JP: Comedy is my main job. I aim to gig five nights a week, usually in a different town or city every night.
CB: What do you find the most enjoyable and frustrating parts of the open mic comedy circuit?
JP: The most enjoyable part is when you find an honest room that will give you a good reading on new material. They’ll laugh if it’s funny, stay quiet if it’s not, but still be with you ready to laugh at the next funny line. Those rooms are rare and worth championing.
The toughest part when I was starting out was being booked by promoters who would move or cancel the night without telling the acts. You ended up being part comedian, part detective, just trying to work out which gigs were still running. Fortunately as you move to better gigs that happens far less frequently.
CB: What’s your favourite type of audience to perform to?
JP: I break audiences down into seven categories and have different strategies for each one:
1. Gay friendly, kinky or Americans
3. White and posh, or white and over 50 years old.
4. English is not their first language (tourists, language students, gigs abroad)
5. Rough and rowdy/ drunk men/ wine bars in Essex
6. Daily Mail readers
7. Hen nights / drunk women
They’re all challenging in different ways, which is what makes the job so varied.
CB: Have you been heckled a lot since you’ve started gigging? Do you enjoy being heckled? What’s the best heckle you’ve had?
JP: I try to encourage positive heckles, where people are joining in because they’re enjoying themselves. I rarely have negative heckles – audiences that don’t like me tend to fall silent rather than shout anything out.
CB: What advice would you give to new acts thinking of starting out in comedy?
JP: Trust your instincts and find your own voice. And make an audio recording of every gig. It will help you to edit your material and also preserve any new jokes you come up with on stage.