Standing up for comedy, Sudbury Quay bound Rory McGrath interviewed

Rory McGrath, heading to Sudbury this week. Photo: Steve Ullathorne

Rory McGrath, heading to Sudbury this week. Photo: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: (C)2015 steve ullathorne, all rights reserved

Comedian, writer and presenter Rory McGrath talks to Wayne Savage about what’s wrong with comedy today, his first solo tour and messing about on the river with Griff Rhys Jones and Dara O’Briain.

Rory McGrath and his former Who Dares Wins compatriot Phil Pope. The two recently visited Stowmarket

Rory McGrath and his former Who Dares Wins compatriot Phil Pope. The two recently visited Stowmarkets John Peel Centre - Credit: Archant

Rory McGrath may be nervous about striking out on his first time ever solo national stand-up tour, but that doesn’t meant he’s going to pussyfoot around.

“I’m not going to mince my words when I’m talking about a subject... If someone’s offended by this, hard luck,” he says of Rory McGrath Remembers (…Or Is It Forgets?), coming to Sudbury’s Quay Theatre on March 12.

Part of Channel 4’s hit sketch show Who Dares Wins during the 1980s, he thinks it’s a shame broadcasters aren’t prepared to take big risks any more.

“Things have got quite risk- averse lately, there are more things you can’t mention in comedy... People now they err on the side of caution which is a shame. Satire was quite cruel and direct, now people talk about the government and what’s going in a kid gloves way. Broadcasters were less worried in those days about upsetting people and the government does seem to be more interfering in more parts of our lives, taking more of an interest in bossing us around.”

The comedian, writer and presenter's show is called Rory McGrath Remembers (&Or Is It Forgets?). Pho

The comedian, writer and presenter's show is called Rory McGrath Remembers (&Or Is It Forgets?). Photo: Steve Ullathorne - Credit: Archant

Who Dares Wins took more risks than most. It didn’t always go down well.

“We got into trouble a few times... Every week the title of the show (contained) a topical reference. There was one quite early on ‘Who Dares Wins? A camping holiday with Leon Brittan’. Channel 4 got b*******d by the government and we got b*******d but it was already out by then,” recalls McGrath, who has also worked as an in-house writer for the likes of Peter Cook, Frankie Howerd and Alfred Marks among many others.

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“Comedy should be the vanguard of free speech, that’s why I disagree with people who say ‘you can’t make jokes about that’ because you have to be able to make jokes about everything otherwise there’s no point - you can’t start (just) ticking boxes. If I started pulling punches I’m going to become somebody who isn’t really me. If you come across as genuinely being yourself I think the public forgive you being rude and offensive whether they agree with it or not.”

McGrath, a panellist on BBC One’s They Think It’s All Over for more than a decade, has toured as part of an ensemble many times and recently visited Stowmarket’s John Peel Centre with Who Dares Wins? compatriot Philip Pope with Bridge Over Troubled Lager. He remembers it being a good night and is particularly looking forward to Sudbury. The more people remind him this is his first solo tour, the more frightening it gets though.

Why do it now?

“There’s no particular reason, (it’s not) like my wife’s kicked me out so I need to be on the road. It’s not a huge tour, it’s three nights here and there spread over three months. If I like it and if the audience like it enough we’ll try to make it bigger, longer. It’s an experiment but it’s quite challenging. I’m looking forward to it with some sort of trepidation but if I was feeling totally relaxed I’d be quite worried and think something was wrong. It’s terror but in a good way.”

The show sees him reminiscing about his life and career, telling a few stories about people he’s worked with and playing a few songs.

“It’s not 100% stand up; there’ll be elements of that - well I’ll be standing up for a start so that’s half of it done,” says McGrath, adding the hardest part of pulling it together was deciding what to leave out.

“Its not a laugh a minute, but I hope (there’s) at least a laugh every 90 seconds... Maybe,” he laughs. “I like the liveness of it, I like to be in front of an audience that I can talk to. I’m not performing behind a bulletproof glass screen, I’m very much in the room and will talk to the audience, try to get a dialogue going.”

One of the questions on many people’s lips will be is there an eighth series of BBC comedy-documentary series Three Men in a Boat on the horizon?

“Not that I know of but never say never. I know Griff (Rhys Jones, who has a home in Suffolk) particularly loves it because he’s such a keen sailor - he likes doing them because it means being silly in a boat. We (him, Jones and Dara O’Briain) all got on very well. It’s sometimes a bit annoying but it’s more entertaining for the viewers if we look as if we’re genuinely having fun rather than bickering all the time,” he laughs.

“Griff is always saying we should produce it ourselves and sell it to whoever wants to broadcast it. That’s always a possibility and people still ask me about the programme a lot and I say ‘well, don’t give up on it’ because there’s enough goodwill and keenness to do it from us, the producers. It’s just getting Dara to take three weeks off. There’s still plenty of places to go on a boat.”