Midland comedian Gary Delaney is about to embark on his first solo tour. He tells Roz Laws how he aims to pack in 300 one-liners in a show.
Gary Delaney owes his comedy career to a bet – which he lost.
It was set by one of his best friends, fellow economics student Martin Lewis. Martin went on to become a money-saving expert and TV pundit, and indeed came out of the bet £20 richer.
But he also set Midlander Gary on the road to success as a stand-up comic.
Gary, who was born and brought up in Dorridge near Solihull and now lives in Erdington in Birmingham, studied at the London School of Economics with Martin.
“I went to comedy nights as a student but I never had the nerve to get up on stage, unlike Martin who was immensely confident,” remembers Gary, 39.
“He dabbled in stand-up, doing about 30 gigs, and I wrote his jokes for him.
“I wrote one about nurses and told him ‘That’s the best joke I’ve ever written, it should bring the house down’.
He came back and said it didn’t work, so I said ‘You’re not doing it right, mate’.
“He said ‘Try it yourself, then!’. We went for a pint after a gig and he bet me £20 that I wouldn’t have the nerve to do an open spot at a comedy night within six weeks.
“He pushed me into it really, though I think I technically lost the bet because my first gig was six weeks and a day later.
“After 18 months I started getting paid for comedy gigs, then three weeks before my 30th birthday, I gave up my job organising conferences and started doing comedy full time.
“I spent a couple of years flat broke before I could make a living out of it.”
Things are really taking off now for Gary.
He’s a double Sony Award winner who has written for other stand-ups, including Jason Manford and Micky Flanagan, and for TV and radio shows such as 8 Out Of 10 Cats, Russell Howard’s Good News and The News Quiz.
He also writes for his girlfriend’s BBC2 series – The Sarah Millican Television Programme.
He gigs regularly but with other people on the bill, appearing for only 20 minutes.
Now he’s embarking on his first solo tour, which means he’ll be on stage for an hour. That means packing in about 300 one-liners.
“It’s a lot of jokes,” says the former pupil of Bentley Heath and Arden Schools in Solihull.
“I’m not there to tell stories about my life and show how sensitive I am, I’m there to make the audience laugh as much as possible in the space of an hour.
“It takes a long time to write enough one-liners – it’s like trying to fill a bucket with sand, one grain at a time.
“I went to the Edinburgh Festival in 2010 with a show full of my best jokes of my first 10 years as a comic. It was well-received and people said I should tour it, but I didn’t have the profile then to sell tickets on my own, as I hadn’t done any telly.
“Since then I’ve done three Mock the Weeks and a Dave’s One Night Stand.
“The show is pretty much all just jokes, though I do break it down a bit to make it more palatable to listen to.
“There’s one section where I talk about inserting jokes into Wikipedia pages. I went into the Marathon page, which explains the origin of the race, how a messenger ran 26 miles from Marathon to Athens to announce the Persians had been defeated, then dropped down dead.
“I added ‘It probably didn’t help that he was wearing a gorilla outfit’.
“I also said that Malcolm X chose that name rather than admit he’d accidentally put a kiss at the end of a message.
“They’re usually only up there for a few hours before they can spotted and removed, but it’s fun while it lasts. I also do a Top of the Pops style rundown of which of my jokes has been most widely distributed on the internet.
“One of them, a very rude joke I can’t repeat here about Old McDonald with Tourette’s, had 112,000 entries at the last trawl of the web.”
One of the major problems with one-liners rather than long jokes is that they are much more easy to steal and repeat on websites.
“It is incredibly frustrating, but I’ve given up getting annoyed about it now,” Gary admits.
“I’ve spent years raging but it’s counter-productive as there’s nothing I can do about it.
“Ninety-nine per cent of the time, people take the joke and don’t credit you, but the public don’t care where it came from.
“I’ve tried to use the internet to my advantage by setting up a Twitter account just to tell jokes of 140 characters or less.
“Hopefully people will see a joke of mine someone has retweeted, then follow me, then come to see me on stage.
“I try to change the way I think of theft and take it as a compliment. If they’ve nicked a joke, it must be good!”
Gary is the man who tickles Sarah Millican’s funnybone and provides much of the material for her act. He is the boyfriend she often refers to on stage, though never names.
“The stories she tells about me are all true,” says Gary.
“I don’t mind a bit, it doesn’t bother me.
“The only thing that matters is that it’s funny and makes people laugh.
“If I do something daft, she can have it. The great thing is that our comedy is very different – I do abstract stuff and one-liners, rather than observational comedy, so there’s a simple divide between our work.
“It can be tricky – whenever two comics are together and something funny happens, there’s a debate where they go ‘Are you going to use that?’.
“But it’s fine in our case because Sarah can use it all.”
* Gary Delaney’s Purist tour comes to Birmingham’s Glee Club on May 31. For tickets, ring 0871 472 0400 or go to www.glee.co.uk/bir mingham-comedy. He is also appearing at the inaugural Solihull Comedy Festival, Lolihull, on April 11.