Time to make a stand

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WITH the boyish looks familiar from Ollie, the character he plays in The Thick of It, it is surprising to think that Chris Addison has been doing stand-up comedy for 17 years.

And that’s what brings the 40-year-old father-of-two to town on a UK tour of a new show, The Time Is Now, Again, at the Memorial Hall on Wednesday.

Unlike Ollie, Addison grew up in Manchester (“It’s unclear where Ollie is from but he gradually seems to be moving further north”) at a time when the city had a thriving comedy scene with the likes of Steve Coogan, Caroline Aherne, Johnny Vegas and Peter Kay knocking about.

In his first year back after university, he tried his luck on open mic spots at places like the famous Frog and Bucket pub and before long was making a living.

“I performed in Sheffield a lot in those days,” he recalls. “It was easy to snuck over the Woodhead, so I’ve done the Lescar and the Merry Hell at the South Seas. I’m Roger Monkhouse vintage, I go way back.”

Since those days he has gone on to national comedy exposure with Perrier nominations at the Edinburgh Festival, on TV with Have I Got News For You and Live at the Apollo and on radio with the Sony Award-winning The Ape That Got Lucky, Charm Offensive, Political Animal, Civilisation and The Department.

Add to that his acting roles in The Thick of It and Skins, not to mention those Direct Line commercials with Alexander Armstrong. So who comes to see his shows?

“The audience is amazingly diverse in age range from grannies to – once – a 10-year-old boy. That may be a bit young but loads of kids come because they’ve seen me on Mock the Week which has a very young audience.

“They like what we talk about which is a bit of politics and a lot of messing about which is basically what I do with this show.

“There will be people who know me from The Thick of It, others from Skins. then there are the people who have known me for years and years doing stand-up, the Edinburgh shows of 10 years ago. It’s a really odd patchwork of people. Some of them do expect Ollie and others expect satire.” That’s because his early stand-up shows were almost like lectures and tended to have a specific theme but that’s all changed, he says.

“I like to be the support act. In the first half we have a chat about current affairs and stuff and then the second half is pure stand-up.”

That evolved after taking a five-year hiatus from live performance to concentrate on his TV career which began with The Thick of It, having never acted before.

“I was doing the News Quiz on Radio 4 and in the old days they would take the last show of the series on the road,” he explains. “I went to Portsmouth and was on a panel with the late Alan Coren and Linda Smith and Armando Iannucci.

“We went for a meal afterwards and there I was in these midst of these giants of radio comedy. I remember Armando talking about how he had just done Great British Sitcoms and had chosen Yes Minister and he said there was room for a new political sitcom.

“He said, you must come in and we will talk about it. This was July 2004 and I got a call in October asking if I wanted to read for a part.”

And so was born Ollie Reeder, gawky, accident-prone special adviser to the Secretary of State, played first by Chris Langham and then Rebecca Front.

Addison says it’s slightly scary to think that all Iannucci had to go on, since he hadn’t done any acting before, was based on that personal meeting. “That’s not a great realisation when you look at Ollie. He’s 10 years younger than me.” He assumes there must be elements of Ollie that he saw in him and has exaggerated but he can’t see it.

It has been three years since the last series and the movie spin-off, In the Loop – and a change of government. But Addison reports that a fourth series is imminent. “I did some improvisation with Armando just before Christmas and it’s due to start recording in March.”

Since then Addison has flexed his acting chops on another TV comedy, playing Professor David Blood in the E4 teen comedy skins.

lChris Addison: The Time Is Now, Again is sold out at the Memorial Hall on Wednesday.