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Comedy critics have been praising James Acaster for half a decade. Panel show bookers have fallen in love with his quizzical style of stand-up. And the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Awards panel has shortlisted the 29-year-old for the most prestigious gong in live comedy three years on the trot.
But we’ve all been had! It turns out James Acaster isn’t really a comedian at all. He’s an undercover cop called Pat Springleaf, who’s posing as a stand-up to infiltrate a gang that’s been supplying drugs to the comedy industry.
Acaster/Springleaf comes clean and reveals all in his latest solo show, ‘Recognise’. Here, Springleaf gives his first ever sincere interview.
After six years on the comedy circuit, why is now the right time to reveal that you’re an undercover police officer?
‘Because I’ve run out of material, that’s why. Every comic delves into the personal archive when their imagination runs dry. Undercover cops pretending to be comics are no different.’
On James Acaster’s website it says that he ‘is from Kettering and can play the drums.’ Are either of those true?
‘No. Kettering is a place I made up not knowing it actually existed. And saying I could play the drums was just for a laugh – no one’s ever called me out. I chose a load of typical comedian stuff and made them part of his personality. The kid’s a walking cliché but nobody seems to notice.’
James Acaster has supported Milton Jones and Josie Long on tour. Did either of them know you’re really Pat Springleaf?
‘They had no idea. Josie was doing a show where she dissed the coalition so I was sent to keep an eye on her, for obvious reasons. Milton has always been on the radar, but after a year on the road with the guy I’m happy to say he’s clean. He just acted suspicious, is all.’
How bad is the drugs problem in comedy?
‘Huge. Don’t talk to me like you don’t know about it. Time Out has danced with the devil on more than one occasion. Makes me sick.’
You’re doing very well in comedy. Have you thought about packing in the police work and becoming a full-time comedian?
‘No way, man. Coppin’ is my life and stand-up comedy is for suckers. You have to perform to sneering mobs who long to see you fail every night. At least with coppin’ I can take them down if I like.’
You’ve been nominated for the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award three times. Do you care about such accolades?
‘I don’t even understand what those awards are or mean or stand for, or anything. I’m too busy doing my goddamn job, mate.’
You say you wear a wire at all times. Are you wearing one now? What evidence are you hoping to obtain from this conversation?
‘Yes, I’m wearing one now and you know why. Want me to tell everyone? All your beloved readers? You know why, punk.’
Are there other comedians working with you undercover? Would you care to out them?
‘So many, but I’m not allowed to out them. I’ve got into major trouble down at the station since doing this show. I mean, pardon me, if I can’t be a shining example of an undercover cop, like Gip Daniels, AKA Phil Wang.’
Are you worried that by blowing your cover you’ll ruin the case and it’ll all have been a waste of time?
‘No. No one believes me anyway. Everyone thinks it’s a device for a stand-up comedy show. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it earlier.’