Pat Condell: interview

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  • He attended half a dozen different schools as the family moved from one south London rented flat to another. ‘We never had any money. My father was a compulsive gambler who worked in a betting shop – not the ideal combination. He ended up in prison for stealing money to gamble with. Shortly afterwards he died of leukaemia.’

    Condell ‘fell into comedy’ in the 1980s, after a series of jobs, including six years logging in Canada. ‘In those days some of the nights were wild, particularly at the old Tunnel Club, next to the Blackwall Tunnel, where the audience was a nightmare. I had bottles and glasses thrown at me, and one guy even jumped on stage with a pair of shears and tried to cut the mic lead.’ He performed in the trailblazing Cutting Edge team at the Comedy Store. He regularly notched up 200 to 300 gigs a year around Britain. By the mid-’90s he’d had enough of the travelling and late nights. So he started writing for other people. He turned out a couple of plays. He still did occasional live gigs. ‘But this is the first time I’ve set out to write a show in order to say something, rather than just as a vehicle for stand-up.’

    Condell’s not aiming to cause offence. After he’d tried out an early version of the show back in Febrary, a woman came up to tell him she’d enjoyed it. ‘But she thought I’d been unnecessarily coarse. There is a certain amount of bad language. There’s also group sex with a donkey – I might as well own up to this now. But I assured her the show was a lot less coarse than I’d have liked it to be, given the subject matter. So in that sense you could say I’m making an effort not to offend.’

    That’s not all. ‘Everyone who comes to “Faith Hope and Sanity” should know in advance exactly what to expect,’ he argues. ‘Especially if they check my website first. So, if anyone’s offended, it’s because they want to be offended, and people like that don’t deserve the time of day.’

    It needs saying that Condell respects some forms of belief. ‘I admire anyone who’s genuinely trying to achieve spiritual enlightenment and live a peaceful life. But religious dogma is a barrier to that. The last thing a dogmatist wants is for anyone to be enlightened, any more than a pharmaceutical company wants anybody cured.’ Or, as Condell puts it on his website: ‘Religion disapproves of original thought the way Dracula does sunlight.’

    Is he fearful that fundamentalists of one kind or another could take action against the show? ‘The fact that you need to ask the question demonstrates what a sick society we live in. There’s always a risk, I suppose. But I’m not as afraid of fundamentalists as they are of free thought.’ He’s hoping for a positive reaction. ‘I want people to feel that things are being said that are long overdue, and to leave at the end with a smile on their face and a light heart.’

    ‘Faith Hope and Sanity’ is at the Etcetera Theatre until Sunday.

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