The cat laughs
Sean Lock claims that there’s no such thing as a cool comedian, yet he’s about as cool as they come. Brian Boyd tackles the self-styled ‘Graeme Souness’ of hit TV show
T’S LIKE a property boom at the moment,” says Sean Lock of the current surge of interest in standup comedy. The English comic, best known for his work on television panel shows 8 Out Of 10 Cats and
is referring to the wide appeal of the comedy panel show and how this has enabled acts such as Frankie Boyle, John Bishop and Michael McIntyre to embark on massive theatre tours and become modern-day comedy superstars.
“You look at the amount of big gigs these acts can do now and it really is stunning,” he says. “They’re filling out venues such as the O2 in London, which is what a rock band is supposed to do, not a stand-up comic. This is like ‘comedy is the new rock’n’roll’ all over again. And if you remember, that phrase was first used when Baddiel and Newman played Wembley Arena back in 1993. But they weren’t the first comics to play Wembley Arena – I was. That’s technically true because I was the support act on the night for them.”
For Lock, the success of the panel show is down to the fact that “it’s a condensed format which gives you the best bits of a person’s stand-up routine”. He admits that when the format works, it works very well, but when it doesn’t, it deserves all the criticism it gets.
“Yes, a lot of the stuff you see on these shows is prepared material, that’s just how these shows works. On 8 Out Of 10 Cats, myself, Jimmy Carr and Jason Manford have got the producers around to our way of thinking – which is to trust us and allow us to ad-lib.”
He sees himself as having a “Graeme Souness” role on 8 Out Of 10 Cats. “You do get the odd guest who has their own agenda or is behaving like a total arse, and it’s my job to get an early tackle in and direct them back to the point of the show,” he says. “I can be really rude and aggressive if I feel they’re ruining the flow of the show, and the look on their faces as I’m talking to them – it’s like ‘I can’t believe I’m being talked to like this on national TV’. But I know it’s all going to be edited out – so I can say what I want, basically.”
Having worked as builder after leaving school, he first began doing stand-up during the “alternative comedy” era of the late 1980s.
“It was a totally different scene then; a very political scene,” he says. “The circuit now couldn’t be further away from what it started off as. It’s now part of light entertainment. When we started doing this, we certainly weren’t thinking of having a big showbiz career. Stand-up is now very much the mainstream.”
Lock was doing quality stuff away from the limelight for years before a TV camera put him in focus and gave him the sort of profile he has today. His stand-up shows, such as No Flatley, I Am The Lord Of The Dance, have won him numerous awards and he has also written for the likes of Bill Bailey and Mark Lamarr.
Lock has a refreshing take on his profession. “There is this fallacy of the ‘cool’ comedian out there,” he says. “You see the guys who take themselves very seriously and think they’re being very suave and sardonic. But they’re just jesters like the rest of us; they’re just goons like we all are. The job is to make people laugh.
“Having said that, my own approach is a bit different – and I’ve been like this since I started. There’s a difference, for me, between stuff that works and stuff that I think is good. I’ve done stuff which has gone down really, really well, but I’ve taken it out because I don’t think it’s that good. It’s always better to do stuff you believe in. You can see a good few acts out there on the wrong side of that line.”
Lock’s current show is called Lockipedia. “It’s strange, in that I play a form of Battleships with the audience,” he says. “What I do is call out a row number and a seat number and the person sitting there has to give me the first letter of their Christian name and then a word, any word, beginning with that letter. I then look up what is says under that word in my Lockipedia. I’m still very surprised by the amount of filthy words people shout up. Which is fine by me – I can do knob jokes all night.
“For ‘X’ once, I got ‘Xerxes The Great, The Persian Emperor of 400 AD’, which was a bit