Cockney comedy king Micky Flanagan is selling out arenas – but he owes much of his meteoric career to fun nights in smoky pubs in cities like Sheffield, writes Graham Walker.
It is where he learned how to make people laugh.
In fact, The Lescar in Hunters Bar has fond memories for the star of hit TV shows like Mock the Week to 8 out of 10 Cats.
There has been a lot of bar room jokes since – and the punchline is how he will be back in the city next month to perform in front of thousands of fans at the Motorpoint Arena in Attercliffe.
VIDEO: Press the play button to watch Graham Walker’s exclusive video chat with Micky Flanagan.
He’s returning - on November 6, 2013 - after almost selling out the venue earlier this month, Comedy really is the new rock’n’roll.
But he says it’s serious business being funny.
“It doesn’t come easy. It’s a lot of hard work,” Flanagan says, before walking out to make more than 10,000 people laugh out loud.
“In preparation to write this show I did more than 150 hours – just getting to the point where I can go out on tour. That was just on stage. The rewriting at home and thinking things through, you can treble that. Then, when you hit the road, there’s still room for improvement.
“The element of surprise in comedy is still very important. There’s a bit of an unwritten rule that once you have committed something to DVD that you don’t perform it live to them again. Because you’ve sold it to them on the tour, then on the DVD.
“The live experience is different. It sounds like I’m getting evangelical, being unified in the world of comedy – but to be in a building with people of a like mind, having a laugh, is a great experience. The origins of what we call new comedy started in rooms above pubs – the old style of comedy ended up on the seaside and in working men’s clubs, with a bit on the TV.
“There are still rooms above pubs, don’t worry about that. But the guys who are having success now are having this level of success – in arenas. No-one can explain exactly why. We can only put these venues on offer and they happen. I still have to pinch myself.
“I can remember smoky rooms above pubs, in front of 10 people – three of them had paid to get in, two were getting out of the rain. I remember that clearly and the five years I did this job for fun and not getting paid.
“Suddenly someone said if you turn up we’ll give you £30. And now here we are.
“What I try to do is go out with the same attitude as though I was doing a room above a pub. I want people to leave going ‘man, he delivered again’.”
Flanagan, famed for his sauntering stage presence, delivered with a standing ovation in the city he loves.
He says: “My memories of Sheffield are coming here first time to play a little comedy club called the Lescar, which is a room at the back of a pub, which was great fun and a really fantastic venue.
“I also remember walking around and realising it’s quite a condensed little city that you can walk around. It had a cool vibe about it. I was very impressed. I’d be happy to be an ambassador. My other thoughts of Sheffield is every penknife I had growing up, every knife and fork, was made in Sheffield.”
Flanagan, a former Billingsgate fish market porter, furniture maker and trained teacher, did not get started in comedy until he was in his mid-30s – in 2007 he was the oldest comedian ever to be nominated for best newcomer at the Edinburgh Comedy Awards. That still makes him laugh.
He turned 50 last year and Back In The Game, the name of his new tour, is a rant at those who think people stop having fun in their late 40s.
He says: “I wanted to be a spokesman for people in middle age to say you are still in the game. I’m still going ‘out, out’,” he adds, in reference to his classic joke about late nights out.
“It’s less and less because it takes days to recover from a late night now, but I don’t like this creeping ageism in the world.
“When I hit 50 last year it affected me more than I thought it would. There’s no running away from the fact you’ve lived a great big chunk of your life.
“You would have to be a dense person not to start taking that on board and a slow realisation that a lot of sand has run out of the glass. There’s a sense of urgency to get on with things and get things done.”
* Micky Flanagan’s Back In The Game Tour is at Sheffield’s Motorpoint Arena for a final night on Wednesday, November 6, 2013.
Tickets are priced £27.50 and £26.95, including booking fee. To buy tickets, visit the venue in person, call 0114 2565656 or visit www.motorpointarenasheffield.co.uk.
Micky Flannagan at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena
Cheeky chappy Micky Flanagan is the king of the Cockney comedians – he’s what they call a ‘proper geezer’.
The Eastender, a former Billingsgate fish market porter, steals stuff, calls ’er indoors ‘the missus’ and has all the likeability of a modern-day Del Boy.
But he has wide appeal – as Sheffield’s packed Motorpoint Arena laid testimony to on his recent visit. And that’s because this comedy genius is a master story-teller of the ordinary things in life. He engages with his audience as he tells it as it is, with an original turn of phrase. Whether he’s talking about his wife’s cooking, the ’70s, when a dog was just for Christmas, or his experience on a nudist beach, the end result is side-splitting.
And nothing is off limits, not even the Jimmy Savile scandals.
Flanagan doesn’t need a warm-up act and at the end of a two-hour show fans at his recent visit were shouting for more.
He is most famous for his appearances on TV shows like Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You, but with arenas selling out, don’t miss out on a chance to see stand-up comedy’s shooting star shine even brighter live.