Alan Carr Interview: British Comedy Awards, Call Centres And Controversy
"Even if people threw tomatoes at me and booed me off stage, at least you can wash out tomatoes, unlike nine hours of abuse from the general public can affect your mental health."
Alan Carr can still remember his days in a call centre as if they were yesterday, years of being told by his supervisor that he shouldn't even dream of being a senior floor-walker, let alone anything grander. In retrospect, such qualified support only fuelled him on:
"Basically, I thought I had nothing to lose so I'd try my luck as a stand-up comedian," he remembers now. "So even if it all failed, I was at the bottom of the food-chain anyway.
"I was at a really low ebb, and someone put me forward for BBC New Comedian of the Year, and people were actually laughing at my comments about call centres, I couldn't believe it."
Carr, now a regular presence on TV with his show Alan Carr: Chatty Man, and Radio 2 on Saturday evenings, has been making people laugh since he can remember, although, as he reflects now, some of this could have been 'at' not 'with'.
"It was classic class clown theory. I would have the class in fits, but I didn't know what I was doing. It was the face, the voice, and I had one of those massive braces that stick out of your mouth, I had glasses, I was fat, I had teeth like toe-separators. I was like a walking joke-shop."
Carr, a delight to chat to, has been performing stand-up since he moved to Manchester in those heady days since leaving his job at the call centre. The recipient of a British Comedy Award in 2007, he still gets a high from a live audience:
"You get an instant hit. On this tour, I've been in arenas and when I get a standing ovation, I could invade Poland with the adrenaline running through my veins, I feel so confident.
"But there's something delightfully old-school about sitting in the BBC - obviously wearing a bow tie and monocle - with a co-presenter who forgets there's a webcam in there. It's also nice to hear from the general public when they're not swearing at you or asking to extend their credit limit."
Like any self-respecting comedian, Carr has had his share of controversy, being hauled over the coals in 2008 for dedicating his British Comedy Award for Best Personality to convicted child-kidnapper Karen Matthews. The stick he received still rankles today:
"The thing that pissed me off about that, was that I was very drunk, nobody had told me I'd won. I came off stage and a member of the press came up to me and said, 'Come on, you haven't been controversial and you haven't dedicated your award to anyone.'
"So I said, 'I dedicate it to Karen Matthews' and everyone laughed. Next day, I'm there watching Heartbeat and my agent phoned up. My tongue was so far in my cheek, I was a bit pissed off, because the PR put out the apology without me actually apologising, because I was willing to fight it. The context was whipped out.
"I don't even want to be controversial, I don't understand. I'm old school, when I go on stage, I want every single person in that theatre to have the time of their life. I don't want to upset someone on their night off when they've been working all week. Why would you go into comedy to do that? Anyway, I know everyone needs a bit of gossip, but I learned the hard way."
Even without this brief foray into the headlines, Carr is happy not to be dazzled by the glitter of a red-carpet existence.
"It's a real misconception that you're in a private jet with J-Lo having a vol-au-vent and a cheese-and-pineapple hedgehog. I go shopping, and I love a 2-for1 voucher at B&Q. My family were all working class like me, so they keep me so grounded, and all my friends are normal. I'm not on the internet shopping from Malawi."
Carr is far more likely to be found walking his red setter dogs in fields near his Northamptonshire home, although this has become a surprisingly circumspect enterprise:
"I do enjoy dog-walking, it clears my head, and I want to get back into bird-watching. The trouble is, a lot of the beauty spots I used to visit in Northampton have now become... dogging sites, so I have to be careful because at a certain time of the night, I don't want to be spotted behind a bush with binoculars and having to explain I was keeping an eye out for a chaffinch. I might be questioned for an error of judgement!"
Alan Carr: Spexy Beast Live is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from Monday 14 November. Watch Alan Carr in action below: