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Interview: Johnny Vegas

4 December 09 interview: Jared Wilson

"There was a night in Nottingham where I was singing in a wheelie bin, being passed around the tables like pass the parcel"

Johnny Vegas is one of the most famous comic actors on the UK circuit. He’s hung around with a monkey, starred alongside Johnny Depp in The Libertine, played weed fiend Moz in BBC’s Ideal and become a regular face on UK TV panel shows. Luckily for us, when he fancies a quick foray back into stand-up he pays a trip to Nottingham - and Just The Tonic in particular. He’s back again this December, compering their Christmas show at the Royal Centre...

So, tell us about this Christmas gig…
There’ll be all kinds of craziness like making decorations and other things. I like being able to play around a bit as well - at a Christmas show you want the comics to come and let their hair down along with the audience. Two days before I’ll be saying "Why oh why have I put myself up for this?” but I’ll always do them, as I really like both the club and Darrell (JTT owner) as a promoter - he likes to see you having fun and doesn’t have too set an idea of what a comic should be doing.

How many times have you been to Nottingham?
Probably forty or fifty times? I dunno… I did a lot of compering and stand up at Just the Tonic six or seven years ago. When I was coming down regularly we got really into that film The Big Lebowski, so we’d all go down to the AMF bowling alley quite a lot, to the point that we became regulars and the staff got to know us. I’ve not got the ankles for ice skating, you see, so I could never have a proper go on your international ice rink.

Some of your previous gigs here have been pretty bizarre…
Yes, lots of my favourite stories are from gigs that have happened in Nottingham. Once I arrived really late and they had to close the venue, so we all went into the car park at the back instead and I ended up auctioning off everything from my bag – my toiletries and all that. Another time we had a bonfire where people actually burnt themselves. Oops! Then there was a night where I was singing in a wheelie bin, being passed around the tables like pass the parcel. When I’d stop, the table would win a round of drinks. I think it’s a sign of a really good comedy club when you don’t have to do your greatest hits, but can go and play about instead. When you’ve got people who go to comedy gigs regularly in the audience, they can appreciate something different.

I hear you’ve recently got engaged again? Congratulations…
Yeah. Thank you, you’re the first person in the press to ask me directly. I have got engaged, there’s no denying it, but I’m quite pleased that we’ve kept it below the radar for as long as we have, so I don’t want to talk about it at length if that’s okay.

No worries, but last time you got hitched you sold your wedding photos to Viz for £1. I take it that whole Hello Magazine culture irritates you too then?
My take on it was always that if you’re well-known enough that people actually want to pay for the pictures, then you’ve probably already got enough money to cover your own wedding. I find those occasions very odd.

There was talk of you being cast in a Shane Meadows production a while back. Is that a non-starter now?
It looks that way. We did a three-day workshop for a project for the BBC. He was editing Dead Man’s Shoes at the time and the way it ended was incredibly frustrating. Anyone who’s worked with Shane knows he never works with a finished script, but the BBC were dead set on having that in front of them and so it didn’t work. I’ve been in touch with him since and if he ever – it always sounds needy this, doesn’t it? – if he ever cast us, it’d be great. But there are no immediate plans that I know of.

What’s the last thing that made you laugh?
A repeat of Shooting Stars on TV last night, and it just happened to be the episode where Matt Lucas sang the baked potato song. It still makes me laugh now.

Have you seen the new series? Would you go back onto it?
I caught one of them, but it’s hard to watch really as you just want to be there yourself. Yeah, I would have gone back on it in a flash if they’d asked me - filming it was just too much fun to ever call work. But I respect Vic and Bob’s choices and if they want to move on and try something different then so be it.

Johnny Vegas played the Just The Tonic Christmas party at the Royal Centre on Monday 21 December 2009.

Just The Tonic website