Lee Mack tells Alison Jones what he loves and loathes about about TV work – and why pasties and mopeds both have their place for a touring comedian
By the time this article comes out comedian Lee Mack will be 26 nights in to a 104 night – he had to extend it after the first six months of gigs sold out, but will probably already be dreaming of when it’s over.
“I really enjoy doing it, but it is not the be-all and end-all. It is definitely the best job I have ever had but nothing is as good as sitting at home watching Match of the Day with a cup of tea.”
How very appropriate then, that his award winning sitcom should be called Not Going Out.
But Lee, 40, admits he can get bored quickly and will often be looking ahead to his next project
“If I am doing stand-up it doesn’t take long before I want to do the opposite thing, I want to do telly. Then vice versa.
“You do get spoiled in telly. A Mercedes car picking you up and flowers in your dressing room. You get looked after. Then suddenly you are eating Ginsters pasties at three in the morning in Aberdeen, so touring is always a bit more rough and ready.
“But the glamour thing gets boring after a while. The first time I sat in a Mercedes driven car I thought I had made it. By the fifth time I was stuck in traffic and I remember thinking ‘I wish I had come on my moped.’”
It took Lee until he was in his mid 20s to final to commit to a career as a comedian, even though he’d known he wanted to make people laugh since he was a teenager entertaining his classmates with his impressions of Bobby Ball – whom he asked to play his dad in Not Going Out.
“I had 10 years of killing time I suppose. I had lots of mundane jobs, everything you can earn less then a hundred quid a week at.
“I’d be doing them and thinking ‘there must be something else’ but not quite knowing how to get involved. Then I went to The Comedy Store and had this moment of thinking ‘this is what I’ll do.’”
Among the odd jobs he had was a stint as Red Rum’s stable boy. The Grand National winner had retired some years earlier but was still a celebrity.
“He was opening supermarkets and betting shops,” said Lee. “People say horses have a personality, I don’t really see it but he did. He’d had this characteristic you get with a dog. He’d sort of make facial expressions.”
Lee’s television career has included stints on They Think It’s All Over, The Sketch Show and as a team captain on Would I Lie to You .
But it is Not Going Out that he has won most plaudits for. Like Seinfeld, it is a show about nothing, Lee plays an underachiever sharing a luxurious London flat his best friend’s sister. The cast, including fellow stand-ups Tim Vine and Miranda Hart, deliver a steady stream of one liners, double entendres and sight gags.
It got good reviews and picked up a Rose d’Or but was cancelled after the third series, much to the surprise of Lee and its fans, until the BBC did an about face and recommissioned it.
Lee believes that it is because they were scheduled at prime time on Friday night and the BBC were expecting big viewing figures when what they were getting was artistic credibility.
“Now they are now putting us on at 10.45pm. That suits me because it lives or dies by how good it is, not by how many people are watching it.”
It was originally part of a sketch show and a pilot was filmed with Catherine Tate, whose burgeoning TV career meant she was unavailable for the series.
“It’s nice to see her doing well. My favourite show ever in childhood was Doctor Who. I wish she wasn’t in it though because I know her. You don’t want to know someone in your escapist television.
“But if I was asked to be in it I would jump at the chance, absolutely. Walk-on part in Coronation Street and a part in Doctor Who, then I’ll retire. I’d do anything. I’d be a Dalek. In both.”
* Lee Mack’s shows at the Alexandra Theatre on Feb 12 and May 13 have sold out. New dates have been added at Symphony Hall on November 13 and 14. Visit www.leemacklive.com for details.