Doing another comedy cruise this week for Carnival Punchliners to an entire USA audience. Great set up in a comedy club setting i get to do 45 mins of clean material & 45 of anything goes material so it’s great. I did a couple of cruise ships a few years ago & I used to dread them mainly because on those ships as a comic you had to compromise your material & do NOTHING even slightly offensive. The gigs mainly took place in a huge theatre to an audience of Brits who thought they were better than they actually were just because they were on a cruise whilst sitting in a Tux bought that week from Primark. Another problem was there would usually be a mainstream cruise ship comic on board who would come & see your show & usually steal all your best jokes. I remember meeting one of these guys during the day in the pool where I was chilling with my other half who was on with me that week & that evening the comic said “looking forward to seeing your show tonight Phil.” Later that night my missus was all “Glammed up” & sat at the back, said comic walked in sat next to her & asked “mind if I sit here love?” My wife replied “no please do.” Comic sits down, pulls out a recording device, switches it on & plonks it on table in front of my wife. A couple of minutes go by & Janet (wife) says to him “you don’t recognise me do you? I’m Phil’s wife we met this afternoon by the pool.” Comic goes bright red stumbles “oh…I…didn’t…realise it was you Janet!” (She scrubs up well) I…err..” He then switches record off & puts the device away & “goes to the toilet” & doesn’t return. Hilarious eh? These thoughtless pricks think it’s acceptable to just walk in & take jokes that you’ve created & honed over several gigs which probably won’t even suit them anyway but they saw that the gag got a laugh so they will steal it! Now I started out in that environment on holiday parks etc doing generic jokes & impressions because as a new act I simply didn’t have one! I didn’t know you actually should write your own jokes in order to be a proper comedian. After a few years I became bored of doing this kind of comedy telling jokes I hadn’t written to audiences who didn’t care. I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be so I started doing comedy clubs about 15 years ago & never looked back.  I eventually just evolved as a comic & carried on until I eventually became good enough & confident enough to perform my own material. These days if I see a comic do a killer joke I just think “I wish I’d thought of that great gag” but I would never steal it. Stealing a comedian’s jokes is like taking food out of their children’s mouths, they are our tools of the trade. 

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The circles of life & why comedy is more relevant than religion.

Last night I did a gig in Belfast in a venue not far from a club my Dad was once the MC of called The Talk of the Town. In the late sixties up to the early seventies my dad Roy was host there, it was “the place to be.” Big stars would come over to entertain the crowds that flocked there every week, the audience were a mixture of Catholics & Protestants all together in one room having a laugh & enjoying life. My Dad would’ve been well known in the area at that time (long before he became a famous TV name). He was an ex army man, born a Protestant & married to my mum Jean a catholic girl who is sadly no longer on this earth. Not long after this time “the troubles” began & the Talk of the Town where both religous sides would socialise together was targeted & blown up, also not long after my Father’s green grocers shop was also blown up, our house was set on fire & my Dad left Belfast & the horrible times that would follow there to start a new life in England where he & my dear mum raised us all to what we are today. Fast forward nearly fifty years & I am in a club yards away from where the Talk of the Town once stood,  the room is full of Catholics & Protestants, once again having a laugh together in a once more peaceful Belfast. The host is my good friend & comedian Neil Dougan, he is on stage cracking gags about the differences between Protestants & Catholics & the crowd are laughing. I guess my Dad did the very same thing all those years ago & Catholics & Protestants would’ve laughed at each other’s differences in the same way they are doing tonight, without fear or sectarianism to worry about. So what is the difference between them? I for one don’t know or really care. In the end I believe that whatever you choose to believe in, we are all ultimately all here for a reason & that reason is because our mothers & fathers had sex & made us. We were born & raised & if you want to believe there’s a man in the sky who made everything & if you live by his rules will let you live with him forever when you die or if you blow yourself up in the name of Allah you will have 70 virgins or if you are Jewish, Buddhist or whatever bullshit religion you choose to follow & live by their rules you will one day get a “reward.” 

All I know is Last night I saw a room full of different folk together again after all that has happened in this City & country. All back in one room laughing at the silliness of each other’s differences. So pardon me if I don’t join in on the whole religion thing, give me comedy every time. 

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If video killed the radio star, cellphones are killing the comedy star.

Every weekend from the comedy club stage the MC announces at the start of the show something along the lines of: “Please don’t talk when the acts are on & if you have a mobile phone (in other words if you are a human being) please switch it off.” Now to me this should be common sense right? Now most of the time most sensible people do just as they were asked, but others I’ve noticed choose to completely ignore this request. I think of how embarrassed I would be if I were part of a theatre audience or at the cinema or watching a comedy show and during one of the afore mentioned performances my phone started ringing. The answer is of course I would probably be very embarrassed because I happen to possess a very rare thing in today’s modern society: MANNERS!
This social ignorance really drives me insane. I once had to be restrained by security from physically attacking someone who’s phone kept beeping in a cinema during a showing of Toy Story 3. Looking back in hindsight its probably a good job that I didn’t hit that kid but in a way I think it may have turned out to be quite a useful life lesson for her.
Now you may be reading this and thinking what’s the big deal? I mean everyone has a phone right? We use them all the time and can still do other things at the same time like texting whilst driving on the motorway I mean we all do that right? “Wow! That was close, I almost crashed into that bridge!… LOL!”
Stand-up Comedy requires a lot of concentration, not only from the comedian but from the audience too. The slightest hiccup or stutter at the wrong moment can completely kill a joke, a noise like someone dropping a glass has destroyed many a punchline. Audience and comedian must come together during a show and need to be on the same wavelength, in tune with one another completely for it all to work well, it really does require a good deal of commitment. So can you imagine being a comic on stage doing your act and when you look down into the crowd you see some of your audience not sitting watching and listening to you but waving their phones about taking “selfies” and checking out their facebook status. I think you’ll agree that it could be a tad distracting! I was recently midway through a bit I do about people being obsessed with phones and a bloke glanced up from his iphone and said “fair point mate” then looked back down at his iphone and continued playing bloody candy crush! I’ve even had a lady audience member sat near the front fiddling with her blackberry (not a euphemism) and when I asked her what she was doing she said “I’m googling you to see if you’re any good!” Then later as I was finishing my act she shouted “I’m following you on twitter!” Unbelievable!
So next time you are in a cinema, or at a theatre or comedy club please do me, yourself, your fellow audience members and the performers you are there to watch a favour and switch your phone off, have a break from it for a little while, sit back and just watch the show, trust me you just might enjoy it!
Here’s a link to my phone routine:

phone routine

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My manager, a Royal disappointment, Cliff Richard and the amazing disappearing watch.

I currently manage myself in my comedy career. In that I take care of all bookings, publicity, promotion etc etc myself. I recently contacted a top London agency who manage some very high profile comedians as well as some newer acts (as I saw on their website). I was wondering if they were interested or could possibly give my career a bit of a boost. The reply I got (which was very nicely written) went along the gist of “we aren’t currently looking for acts of your experience.” At first I was a bit confused by this, after all I don’t see myself a comic who’s had a lot of big exposure etc, sure I’ve been around a while but I feel its been for me a slow steady climb so far over the years to progress to the level I’m at today which is headline act at weekends in most of the country’s top comedy clubs. Last year I dipped my toe in the festival scene & I continue to work for CSE entertaining our troops, that is where most of my current work is at. I feel I am producing really good comedy and am trying to constantly improve all the time. Why wouldn’t they want someone who’s got all this “experience” & is now ready to handle almost everything that is thrown my way? Maybe they were being polite & really saying thanks but no thanks which is fine its water off a duck’s back & all that or maybe they genuinely are looking for brand spanking new comedians they can mold into whatever form they choose. If this is the case and you are a brand new comic at the start of your career in comedy it is very wise for you to choose who manages you as it can sometimes be a risky business. Here’s a tale of my early experience with management:
Not long after I had started as a comic I was signed up by an agency who appointed one of their agents as my manager. I went down to that London place & sat in a big office where my new manager sat behind his huge imposing desk & I listened while he told me what brilliant things he was going to do for me. I walked out of that meeting on cloud 9 excited at all the prospects that were coming my way. Not long after our meeting I got a phone call one evening from my manager who was sounding quite frantic. He was at a corporate attending a function where Cliff Richard was booked to give a motivational speech to a room full of millionaire business people (he was one of them). Cliff’s plane was fog bound at heathrow airport and would not be able to take off in time for the gig so my manager called me to fill in as emergency entertainment. He told me he was (as he pleaded down the phone) “desperate Phil!” As I wasn’t working I jumped in my car & drove the 60 miles or so over to the venue where I was met by my manager who, upon my arrival immediately opened a small box he was holding & showed me a rather expensive watch that he told me he was going to present as a gift to Cliff as way of thanks for his speech & how he was now gutted that Cliff wouldn’t be able to have it now that he wasn’t coming. He then snapped the box shut & went out into the function room to announce to the crowd that Sir Cliff wasn’t coming but instead they had me! I then walked out to muted applause & went on to die on my arse to a room full of disappointed millionaires whilst surrounded by huge Cliff Richard posters that seemed to be mocking me as I stumbled through my pathetic attempts to be funny. When I came off my manager told me he would “be in touch.” A while later I got a phone call from my manager’s secretary telling me I was to host a big charity show full of star names at a top theatre where lots of important industry people would be in attendance. I gratefully accepted thinking at the time that maybe this was his way of making up for the Cliff Richard/watch gig (that I still hadn’t been paid anything for). I turned up to the charity gig where I was to be host of the 1st half including a ten minute cameo stand-up spot of my own. Star of TV’s Phoenix nights Dave Spikey would be hosting the 2nd half. The gig went better than I could have imagined, I introduced each guest with a little gag I had written about them & my little spot was also well received. As I stood at the back of the theatre watching the 2nd half with my girlfriend (now wife) my manager approached me & whispered in my ear that I had impressed the producers of the Royal variety show & that it was highly likely that I was going to be booked on it! Well you can imagine how delighted I was, I was at the time a relatively new comic & this was the best news I had ever received in my career so far. We went out and celebrated the night away & I woke the next day staring at my phone waiting for it to ring with the good news. It didn’t ring that day, or the next, or the next, weeks went by, still nothing. I couldn’t stand it any longer so I called my manager, his secretary told me he was in a meeting & what was it about? I asked if they had heard any news about my spot on the Royal variety show, she said she knew nothing about this but told me she would pass on the message to him & get back to me. A few days later still waiting for her to get back to me I called back & I think by mistake my manager actually answered the phone himself, after a few pleasantries,”Oh hi Phil…how’s it going?”…etc, I asked about the Royal show he said “Oh that… its not…err happening…err… any more kid… I’ve err…got to dash… but I will…be in touch speak soon bye.” He then put the phone down & I sat there for ages stunned. I know this might seem a bit naive but as I said earlier, this was very early in my career and at that stage you can’t help taking knocks to heart. As you go along in your career in showbusiness you get used to rolling with the punches a bit more but even then it still hurts sometimes, if it doesn’t then you probably don’t care enough.
My manager & me soon parted company after that (my decision). Sometimes when I think back I wonder what became of that watch at the Cliff Richard gig. I suspect its probably lying unused in a drawer somewhere in the big house of that Prick (capital P) who I used to call my “manager.”

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On being happy with your lot even if it’s not a lot

After a recent gig I sat down for a post gig chat with two fellow comics who I had appeared with earlier that evening. After some brief small talk the conversation got around to comedy (doesn’t it always) I enquired to one of my colleagues (who shall remain nameless, a very ambitious & driven “lives for his career” type of a guy) as to what he had been up to lately as I hadn’t seen him in a while. He replied, “Yeah well I’ve started headlining for the store (cool comedian’s speak when mentioning the Comedy store) & I’m worried as to where I go from here.” Confused I asked, “what do you mean?” He replied,”well up to now my career has been on an upward progression & now I’m worried about the next step because after this it is stardom, arena tours, TV & DVD deals etc.” I didn’t reply (I couldn’t to be honest) but later that evening as I lay in bed I couldn’t help thinking “what if the next step (as he put it) for him never happened? What if that was as far as it went for him? How would he feel? Would it be that terrible if he just continued at his current level & didn’t achieve the stardom or arena tours etc? Wasn’t it enough that he had progressed his way from a beginner to headlining act at one of the world’s premier comedy clubs?
Headlining at the comedy store is a bit of a falsehood anyhow. I think that Don Ward (owner of the comedy store) has a philosophy that if you are good enough to play his club than you should be able to go on anywhere in the bill, 1st, 2nd, MC etc. This changing of the order happens regularly over a weekend there. On a couple of the occasions when I’ve appeared there I have found myself being the last comic on in the evening, did I ever think I was headlining? The answer is of course no! There are of course one or two exceptions to that rule, one probably being the brilliant Terry Alderton whose unique brand of comedy is almost impossible to follow. If you haven’t seen Terry in action I highly recommend that you do as he truly is a force of nature.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying its wrong to have dreams or ambition as that is perfectly natural, we all want to progress in things we enjoy & care about. I have ambitions myself, I would for instance like to record a stand-up DVD, if not for anything else other than for me to look back at in my old age and be able to say “well that was kind of worth it wasn’t it? All those years depriving myself of a social life with my friends & family, the missed birthdays & weddings etc, driving thousands of miles, sleeping alone in my car & in airport lounges, being treated like shit by certain agents or promoters I was trying to impress, dying on my arse in front of stag & hen do’s & old people on cruise ships to storming it in comedy clubs & theatres & war zones. Look at this I was quite good! This proves that it was all worth it doesn’t it?” After all without any recorded evidence most of it is just a memory I & a few folk who were sober enough to remember seeing my act will share. Maybe those memories of my life of being a comedian will be enough when I look back in the end?
All I can do for the time being is to enjoy, be thankful and hopefully continue to improve in a job that I know I am lucky to still love doing & actually make a living at. The rest will follow but for now I can say that as far as my career goes I’m happy with my lot…well, kind of.

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Being a comedian can be a risky business at the best of times, but at Christmas that risk goes up a notch or ten. In December, comedians usually find themselves entertaining very drunk office parties who are not interested in the slightest about sitting nicely and listening to them or their jokes, which is why I think all comedians should be given the month off on full pay, either that or they should do a Pantomime. Panto is a really fun thing to be in and I can heartily recommend it, I mean where else do you get to battle against Giants, Evil Queens and Monsters? Be made Lord Mayor of London or rescue and marry a Princess? I also love the fact it brings different people from completely different aspects of show business all together in one show. Over the years I have worked with everyone from Pop Stars to comedy Legends, actors, acrobats and dancers to a 15 stone bloke who is a Prima – Ballerina.

For the last 10 years I have been lucky enough to have been asked to appear in the annual Christmas Pantomime at King Georges Hall in Blackburn, Lancashire. In fact all of the Pantomimes that I have been involved in have been there, all that is except one year when I was sentenced to six weeks hard Panto in Rhyl. Rhyl (in case you don’t know it) is a lovely little seaside resort in north Wales. Think “Royston Vasey by the sea” and you wont be far wrong, the local residents all share one tooth that is passed around daily from person to person depending on who is having steak that day for dinner. One of my co-stars that year in Jack and the Beanstalk was the great (and now sadly late) Jack Douglas, Jack was probably best known for his numerous appearances in the “Carry on” movies. He was a very tall man who wore a flat cap, round glasses and had a “comedy twitch” that had to be seen to be believed. Half way through the Panto, Jack and our Panto baddie “Flesh creep” played by Larry Dann from the hit TV cop show “The Bill” would perform a 10 minute music hall type act that used to go down a storm with the young kids in the audience and adults alike. I used to stand in the wings glued to these two old pros as they worked their comedy magic, Jack would tell me, “Phil my Lad, if you make the kids laugh, they will love you and so will their families and then you have got them!” Jack was getting on in years and would spend the entire show sat in the wings in an old armchair waiting for his next entrance in his part as “The King”. He would watch everything that was happening on stage and many times as I came off he would gently grab my hand as I passed and offer some sagely advice, which I gratefully accepted. “Try this next time you do that thing, It`ll get a laugh Phil.” most of the times he was right, you see he had been there and done it all before me, you’ve gotta respect old pros like that. I think if anyone offers you advice they are mostly doing it through kindness so I think you should always listen to what they have got to say as you could probably learn something you didn’t know, the worst you can do is throw it back in their face. I would look forward each night to sitting down to supper with Jack and his lovely wife (who was the fairy in our show) as he gave me comedy tips and told stories from his past career. I was really sad to hear of his passing a few years later and I will always be eternally in his debt for all his help and advice towards comedy and acting.

Someone else who was helpful in my early Panto career was Legendary funnyman Bobby Ball. Bobby lives near to me, so one day I decided to knock on his door to ask his help and nice bloke that he is, he invited me into his house, instructing his lovely wife Yvonne to “Put a brew on” he then went on to give me a comic masterclass for the rest of the afternoon. I remember pinching myself as I watched this funny little bloke who, as one half of one of the country`s biggest ever comedy acts stood in front of me acting out imaginary scenes and giving me all sorts of comedy goodies. He also warned me to watch my voice during a Panto run as you can easily strain it, the voice is a comic`s greatest weapon so its important to look after it. During a run of a Panto you can be doing three shows a day over a month, it’s a lot of strain on your voice. On the last day of this year`s show my voice decided to pack up its bags and leave, it was hard work and I struggled to make it to the half time curtain, I was in agony every time I opened my mouth. As soon as the interval came I dashed out of the stage door in full costume and walked into Boots Chemist and bought some Sandersons voice medicine. I will never forget the expression on the girl`s face behind the counter as she looked at me standing in front of her sweating in makeup and tights, after I typed in my pin number she asked, “Would you like cashback?” I replied “no its alright love, I’ve got a golden goose at home!” She just looked at me like I was an idiot. In between scenes I gargled the medicine all through the second half and somehow got through the rest of the show. There is also a lot of strain on your body, so some physical fitness is also required for a Panto. During the show I’ve just finished for instance (Mother Goose) I sang, danced, told jokes, did slapstick comedy, performed a magic illusion that involved running up six flights of stairs in under a minute, oh and flew fifteen feet in the air!

You should always expect the unexpected during a panto, I remember we were doing Peter Pan one year (pardon the expression) and just before the end of the first half, during a big scene where we were about to fly to Neverland, the fire alarm belted out through the theatre tannoy system instructing everyone to evacuate the building. So out we all trooped, audience and cast (in full costume) standing together outside in the cold car park. I remember thinking that the magic of the show had now been somehow lost between us (the cast) and the audience, a line had been crossed because of this unfortunate circumstance that we had now all found ourselves in together. I tried to remain hopeful we would be able to get it back when the show resumed but my hopes swiftly faded as I glanced across the car park and saw Captain Hook & a mermaid sharing a cigarette with an audience member beside a skip.

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A winter’s trip down memory lane to a distant summer

An engagement in my professional diary that never fails to put a smile on my face is when I am gigging at The Last laugh comedy club. Last laugh comedy is Promoted (and also hosted) by my good friend the Yorkshire comedy legend Mr Toby Foster. As well as being a very funny comic, Toby is probably best known for his part of ‘Les’ in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights, he is also a popular BBC radio presenter with his own award-winning Breakfast radio show on BBC Sheffield. The Last laugh also has probably the country’s largest comedy festival outside of Edinburgh. It runs for the whole month of October and attracts all the major names in comedy (Michael McIntyre, John Bishop etc) as well as unknown “working comics” like me! (I have performed my one man show there for the last two years). The weekly comedy club that is based in Sheffield within the sumptuous Memorial Hall is run with a great love and affection for comedy by Toby, Jules (the booker) & Foxy (sound and lights tech) so that said, you can appreciate why I like going there.

A few months back, a phone call from Jules who books the acts for the Last laugh clubs offered me two dates that would take me to the seaside towns of Whitby and Scarborough as part of the inaugural Last laugh comedy roadshow. Luckily for me I was available, so off I set on a cold November afternoon for a weekend of comedy fun on the east coast of England. The first of the two dates was to be held in Whitby, a beautiful north Yorkshire seaside town. Amongst other things, Whitby is probably best known for being the place where Bram Stoker wrote his tales of Dracula. Our show in the lovely little Pavilion theatre went down great with the crowd who attended, and after a few beers followed by a curry and a good night’s sleep I, along with Toby, Foxy and my fellow comics on the bill, Debra Jane Appleby & Steve Royal set off the next day for Scarborough. As I drove into Scarborough I was immediately transported back to a summer I spent there as a young lad. This isn’t that difficult when you witness the mostly unspoilt Victorian charm of its buildings and surroundings, the whole place appears to have remained almost frozen in time for years. We checked into our hotel, where our fellow guests, who all resembled the cast of the movie “Cocoon” (really old) were oddly sitting down to a Christmas dinner in November. Maybe they didn’t fancy their chances at being around for December 25th or maybe they just liked the smell of warm boiled cabbage? I just don’t know. Anyhow, with the temperature in the Hotel being equivalent to the surface of the sun (I’m sure a few plastic hips must have been in serious danger of  melting) we decided to get out for some fresh sea air and check out the theatre we’d be playing that night.  We walked down along the promenade and had fish & chips in a chip shop, it was the very same chippy where I remember having a bag of chips with my sister & my dearly missed late mum years and years ago during that summer season as a lad. It was all so vivid because the place hadn’t changed a bit, even the old ice cream parlour next door to the chip shop that looked as if it was straight out the movie “Back to the future” when they went back to the 1950s was still there! As I looked through the window of the ice cream parlour I remember sitting at the bar with my brother, sister and my mum and her buying us all a Knickerbocker Glory ice cream and us all thinking we were rich! (which we weren’t).

We then went over to the Spa Theatre, where my Dad did a summer season during that summer in my past. Most of our summer holidays were spent in seaside resorts like Scarborough where my Dad would perform his comedy act as part of a variety show that would run 6 nights a week during the summer holidays. These shows would include magicians, dancers, comedians, speciality acts such as jugglers etc (a bit like Britain’s got talent except these acts actually had some). There would also be a star attraction headline TV star act such as Freddie Starr, Russ Abbott or Cannon and Ball. These summer shows have now sadly all mostly ended, as time and people’s holiday choices have changed in recent years. But during the summer in the late seventies and eighties our family would be living by the sea for the entire school holidays. While the show was on, me and my brother and sister would generally hang about and watch the show or play outside in the grounds of the theatre or if we promised to behave we could stand backstage and watch the show from the wings. Now back in the twenty-first century as a grown man I walked into the Spa theatre and the memories continued to return. You know I think there’s something really special about being in an old theatre during the day, I really like it. The place is dark and almost church like, I always feel privileged just being there. You can almost sense the history of all the performers and shows that have played there over the years, it seems to linger in the air. I wandered backstage and again I remembered the place so vividly, the dressing rooms were the same but of course as is always the case when you return to somewhere you`ve been as a small child everything looked smaller. So standing in the wings I crouched down to the height of my 10-year-old former self and I could remember watching my Dad doing his act on stage like it was yesterday. Later that night I stood at my now full height in the same spot beside the stage as a comedian myself and walked out to deliver my own act on the same stage as my Father had back in that summer. The crowd in the theatre laughed a lot and enjoyed my act and at the end of it I mentioned about my Dad and the show he was in that summer here in this theatre and they really liked hearing about it. I don’t mind admitting I felt a bit emotional, I really felt like I’d completed a little comedy career circle. I was also reminded that these are the moments and reasons why I became a comic in the first place. To play in a theatre like this to a crowd that had paid hard-earned money to sit and laugh, not in a nightclub full of stags and hen dos who aren’t really that interested in listening to the jokes I’ve sweated hours over creating just to make them laugh. After the show ended, the crowd left to go home, all having really enjoyed our brand of comedy in a theatre that over the years has seen hundreds of other comics making them laugh before us and hopefully will carry on doing so for many years to come. I for one hope it, and all these old seaside towns never change a bit.

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