Roz Laws chats to comedian Chris Addison about stand up and his life as a student in Birmingham.
Viewers of Have I Got News For You may have been mightily impressed by recent host Chris Addison’s linguistic skills when he suddenly came out with the French word for duck-billed platypus.
But the comedian confesses that l’ornithorynque didn’t exactly roll off his tongue without warning.
At the risk of sparking complaints that too much of the quiz is planned in advance, Chris admits that he had been trying to slip it into the conversation ever since his Twitter followers voted for the secret word.
At first he thought he had failed in his mission, as the exchange was missing from the regular Thursday night show – but it made the cut on the extended Saturday edition.
“We were discussing the proposed joint military action between the French and English and I told Ian Hislop that the first French word I learned was l’ornithorynque, which is true,” reveals Birmingham graduate Chris.
“The whole show took two-and-a-half-hours to film, so it’s amazing it didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.
“We finished 10 seconds before overtime kicked in at 10pm. Have I Got News For You used to take about 90 minutes but has been getting steadily longer.
“These panel shows can take an age to film, much to the shock of the studio audience. 8 Out of 10 Cats has been known to run longer than three hours.”
The edition of the BBC1 news quiz was also notable for another reason. On Paul Merton’s team was BBC political editor Nick Robinson, of whom Chris has been particularly scathing in the past.
Chris wrote that Nick’s reporting makes him throw shoes at the TV.
“It’s the unbearable well-this-is-what-they-say-but-we-all-know-better-don’t-we-ness that has me unlacing my footwear,” wrote Chris in his blog, while going on to attack his infantilising form of delivery in The New Statesman.
So was the atmosphere rather frosty when they met in the studio?
“Well, both of us knew the score and there was no attempt to conceal what had taken place.
‘‘But now I’ve met him, I think it will be harder to attack him. And it helped that the last thing I wrote about him, on Twitter, was quite pleasant. After listening to him on Today on Radio 4, I said: ‘Would Nick Robinson please stop being interesting and insightful? It’s messing with my long-held irritation with him’.”
Chris has proved to be an adept quiz host and actor, starring in the political satire The Thick Of It, but his first love remains stand-up comedy.
He is in the middle of a national tour. In fact, I inadvertently say he’s ‘‘in the thick of it’’, before realising what I’ve said.
“That’s OK,” smiles Chris, who looks younger than his 38 years. “It’s a phrase I would use quite a lot, but now I’m unable to because people say ‘Oh, get you!’”
One of the dates brings him back to the city where he studied English literature, graduating from the University of Birmingham in 1994. He will be playing the Alexandra Theatre.
“I spent many years schlepping around the country doing gigs in rooms above pubs, so I haven’t yet lost the excitement of playing proper theatres. Plus, the Alex is a particular pleasure because I saw my first comedy gig there – Eddie Izzard in 1993.”
So will he be revisiting old student haunts?
“No, you can’t go back. It’s been 16 years, five generations of students have gone through since then.
“Brum is not the place it was for me – it may have changed for the better, but I find it hard to orientate myself now.
Chris inquires after The Selly Sausage cafe and Chamon balti house in Selly Oak and is pleased to learn they are still there, but is shocked when I break the bad news of the demise of greasy spoon Mr Egg.
“I can’t believe that. It’s terrible, it was an institution.”
Considering Chris’s success, it’s surprising to learn he has no entourage. When he turns up at gigs, he is alone.
‘‘I think for the next tour I will get a road manager,’’ says the father-of-two. ‘‘It will be nice to have someone drive. I’m getting older and travelling is harder.”
* Chris Addison plays the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham on November 26. For tickets ring 0844 847 2302 or go to www.alexandratheatre.org.uk