GRIFF RHYS JONES
The Brit comedy veteran’s new tour is titled All Over The Place, but chinwagging with Carl Marsh we find him sitting happily in the past…
You and Mel Smith set up your own production company, Talkback, and produced a who’s who of comedy: Da Ali G Show, I’m Alan Partridge, Smack The Pony, Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Celebrity Juice. Anyone reading this list may think that comedians make the best comedy shows themselves, wouldn’t you agree?
Not entirely, no – for the process of TV, it’s not the same as standing on a stage, it’s an altogether different process. There is plenty of television now like Live At The Apollo and things like that – but in the late 70s, there wasn’t any [comedy] circuit. There weren’t hundreds of comedians, it wasn’t like Edinburgh now which has over 6,000 comedians. When I first went there in 1974, there were only three comedy shows on the fringe!
Now I didn’t know that! You must have known all the people on that small circuit?
Yeah, obviously. There were the Bristol Revunions, Oxford Revue and there was Cambridge Revue [better known as Footlights]; and those three were all sketch shows really, so to a certain extent it was a different world to the club world. I worked in that scene a lot because I produced The Frankie Howerd Show and had to go and meet and talk with a lot of pub comedians. That is a world that has gone, but that was northern working men’s clubs, and there were a lot of brilliant comedians. That is where Bernard Manning came from. It wasn’t a young man’s game. Young person’s comedy came along with Python, then took a rest, then 10 years later, Not The Nine O’Clock News came on.
What was it like to work with Frankie Howerd; there’s been some horror stories saying he was extremely hard work?
[Laughs] He was known for hard work! I met him quite late in his career, and we were making a radio variety show, which he didn’t particularly like because he didn’t like being amongst other comedians. We had a very entertaining year – no, three years working! He was great. He was just moody, so sometimes he would be terrifically entertaining and fun to be around, and then at other times, well… He was like a giant sort of volcano, funnily, like a dormant volcano.
It does sound like the stories about the comedy legend were all true.
Frank had been the young man playing at the Stoll Moss, he’d been huge. He was one of the first comedians who went out and played big theatres – 2,000 seaters – and filled them. Then he went through a lull, but came back and had a tremendous career in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Peter Cook brought him back. Then he went into a lull again by the time he met us. He’d been up and down and had got to the point where he didn’t want to have to prove himself, all over again. He could be very naughty!
Is your new tour going to feature the same material every night? I know you do lots of Q&As at each show.
Well when I visited Cardiff the last time, which was at the Sherman Theatre, I said to my mother, “Didn’t you used to live around the corner from there?”, and she said, “No, no, no, no.” I said “Yes, you did!” as my godmother had told me this, so I started investigating lots and lots and lots about Cardiff. Then on the night, I looked up at my stage manager, and she was waving her hands as I had been talking for an hour about Cardiff, and I hadn’t even started the show!
Griff Rhys Jones, The Riverfront, Newport, Wed 30 Oct; Savoy Theatre, Monmouth, Thurs 31; Gwyn Hall, Neath, Fri 1 Nov; Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Sat 2. Info: socomedy.co.uk/artist/griff-rhys-jones