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Micky Flanagan talks to Bruce Dessau about turning 50 and his latest show
9:00am Saturday 14th September 2013 in Waltham Forest
Fame for Micky Flanagan is not fast cars or big houses. It is a sausage sandwich. The Cockney comedian likes nothing better than having a quiet moment in his kitchen making a sandwich.
“That’s the kind of thing that is an adventure to me these days,“ he smiles. It certainly makes a change from playing sold out shows, which is what he is spending most of 2013 doing on his biggest tour yet – Back In The Game.
Micky turned 50 last October, but shows no signs of slowing down. His tour puts him firmly in comedy’s premier league alongside the likes of Michael McIntyre and John Bishop, but fame brings about all sorts of changes, as the genial gagsmith jokes.
“You can’t nick things any more. These are the problems of being successful. A sandwich here, a chocolate bar there. Apparently crime and success don’t go hand in hand!“
He says that hitting the big 50 didn’t really worry him:
“Someone suggested I should lie about my age. If I was a film star or a pop star maybe, but comedians are supposed to tell the truth. Frankie Boyle says you can’t be a stand-up after 40. On the other hand Bob Monkhouse once said you can’t be funny until you are over 40. So how much time does that leave you to be funny? About a year.“
Micky’s challenge with Back In The Game was coming up with material to match previous classic routines, such as his famous “out out“ story, where you pop out for a quick drink and end up in a club still wearing your slippers.
If his last show was all about his life up to becoming a comedian via Billingsgate market, living in America – “where I was an international lover and player“ – and doing a City University degree in social science, Back In The Game is about where he is now.
And where he is now is living in Dulwich, south London with his wife Cathy and six-year-old son Max.
We are chatting in his bright study, surrounded by comedy books by his peers such as Russell Brand and Jo Brand. Micky claims that all the really exciting things happen when you are young. Yet his meteoric rise from comedy club to arena superstardom in a handful of years disproves the rule.
“By the time my dad was 26 he had kids, a council flat and a job on the docks. His life was more or less done. When I was 36 I was still looking around for opportunities.“
He found that opportunity when he was in the audience at a comedy show. It was seeing Billy Connolly that made him think he could have a go.
“I love Harry Hill’s surrealism and Chris Rock’s ability to say the unsayable but I could never do that. But I thought I could tell stories like Billy Connolly.“
He started doing stand-up in his mid-30s and initially combined comedy gigs with a job as a painter and decorator.
“For about two years I’d be travelling to gigs with a bottle of white spirit in my bag so that I could clean the paint off my hands. Eventually I was doing gigs every weekend and another comedian said to me, ’if you don’t quit your day job you won’t enjoy either. Just take the rest of the week off like the rest of us.’
“At first it felt like I’d won the pools getting up on a Monday and not having to work again until Thursday!“
The new show is about the small things in life.
“The centrepiece is about me making a sausage sandwich. My life has slowed down to such a point if my wife goes out for the day that’s how I create excitement. I also talk about the two off licenses in my life – the one I go to normally and the one I pop into for the second bottle of wine. Things like that. So all these little details I’m pulling in to say to ’this is where I’m at.“
Although he is clearly devoted to the craft of comedy, Micky does not want to analyse his success.
“I was very happy where I was being a circuit comic, I didn’t have a plan. All I wanted to do was avoid having a badly paid 9am-5pm job.“
But the country loves him and so does television. So much so that last year when he had planned to take a break he ended up doing so many panel shows that he felt he could not turn the television on without seeing his face.
“I was starting to think I’d have to watch foreign TV to avoid myself!“
For Micky the future is currently all about stand-up. There is talk of a sitcom at some point if he can find the time. He is also writing his autobiography. He is proud of his Cockney roots and never tries to hide them onstage. At first when he started performing outside London he was anxious that this might be a problem, but his pin-sharp observational humour won everyone over.
Micky speaks as if his success is an accident, but it is really all down to hard work and talent. Yet he is typically modest about making audiences everywhere laugh their socks off.
“I can make no sense of it except that we took a few risks and they seemed to pay off. There are only two things to keep in my mind. I’m enjoying it and the audience is enjoying it. If we can keep those things bubbling along for a while that would be great.“
With that he gets up from the sofa. Presumably to make a sausage sandwich.
Micky Flanagan is at The 02, Peninsula Square, Greenwich, from October 16-19 and October 24-26. Details: theo2.co.uk, 0844 856 0202