Sean Lock: interview
He may be a darling of the TV panel shows, but Sean Lock has done hard time at the comedy coalface. Time Out meets him ahead of his two nights at the Apollo.
Although halfway through a long and gruelling tour, Sean Lock - brilliant comedian and star of '8 Out of 10 Cats', 'QI' and umpteen other TV panel shows - looks in fine form. We're sat outside a quiet Edinburgh sushi restaurant, basking in the sun that's broken through the clouds, making it feel unseasonably summery for an August in Scotland…
How's the tour been going so far?
'Well, obviously I'm going to say it's going very well, but it really has been going very well. I did a load of dates in the spring so it's polished up lovely. I'm really enjoying it, actually. It's a lot of work writing a new show, and you're never totally happy with it, but I'm happier and happier as it goes on.'
Has your attitude towards comedy changed over the years?
'Yeah, definitely. I didn't really see it as a career until about the mid-'90s, by which time I'd been doing it for about seven or eight years. It took me that long to realise it was my job, how I earned my money. For me it was always just a good escape from the workplace. It was at that point when I realised I had better work hard at this because after you've been a comedian for about five years you're no longer employable anywhere else. You're really not. Here's a message to all the employers out there reading this: if a comedian comes to you having given up comedy and wants a job; don't employ them. They're utterly feckless and incapable of handling any kind of responsibility. Fact.'
What jobs did you do before comedy?
'I just did loads of dead-end jobs and a lot of travelling - just farting around, really. I had quite a lot of fun, but I've got no qualifications, no skills.'
You went to drama school for a bit, though, didn't you?
'For one year, yes. But I only did that because I knew I wanted to do something and thought just maybe I'll become an actor. I'd hadn't done a minute's acting before but I applied, and I got in. And I got a full grant. However, after about six months I thought, I don't want to be an actor, this is awful - I just wanted to get out. But if I chose to leave I'd have had to pay back the money. So I had to get myself thrown out, because if I got thrown out I wouldn't have to pay any of it back. So I tried bad acting: that didn't work. I tried not allowing teachers to get on with their teaching, just continuously asking them really annoying questions: that didn't work. And then I settled on drinking, and that did the trick. I went out on massive benders, came in all pissed, swigging vodka, and then at lunchtime would go out and get drunk again. Eventually they threw me out.'
And how did you get from there to stand-up comedy?
'After that I went travelling again. I went to India. I ended up on a barge in Kashmir, stoned out of my mind on the hubbly-bubbly this guy called Abdul would give me straight after breakfast, lunch and dinner. After a while I started to think, what the fuck am I doing here? This is ridiculous, what am I doing with my life? I needed to lay down some roots. I'm not some free and easy, wild spirit, 'Mr Road'. I'm not Jack Kerouac or anything. It was at that point, lying on a house boat, stoned out my skull, thinking 'This is fucking stupid, this is not fun, this is shit,' that I decided I needed to find something to do. I didn't know what it was going to be then but I came home, sort of discovered the alternative comedy circuit, loved it and started doing it.'
And now, having done it for more than 20 years, what would you say comedy's given you?
'I was only saying to my wife the other day, “I'm so fucking lucky I discovered this job. Because, you know, I don't think I could've done anything else.” It's given me quite a lot of lines on my face from the stress, especially from when I was trying to make a name for myself, but it's also given me a lot of joy. That's the thing about comedy, there's something utterly delightful and slightly pure about a really good joke, and to create one is a great pleasure.
That sounds a little worthy and I don't mean it like that, but that's the main focus of it for me. That's why I do it. Well, that and the money. It's nice to make money, especially when I never expected to at all. At the end of a long tour I'll often find myself moaning about this job but after a while I remember how bloody lucky I am. That's when my wife says, “Yeah, try and remember that when you're in your self-indulgent arsehole phase.” '
Is being away from your family the toughest thing about a long tour?
'No, what's really hard is not being away but going back, constantly reintroducing yourself to your family. And I always get it wrong. I always say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Every time I come back me and the wife have arguments and I fall out with the kids. The problem is she doesn't know anything about how hard my job is and likewise I've forgotten how hard her job is. That's the hard bit, but you get over it. Recently my wife said, “The best thing to do when you come back is just shut the fuck up. Don't say anything. Don't get involved. Know your position. You're the lowest in the family, you're right behind the baby in the list of important things. Stay there.” And strangely, that sort of worked.'
Sean Lock's DVD 'Sean Lock: Lockipaedia' is out Nov 22.