When PlanetNotion was invited to go and talk to Jack Whitehall about his new stand-up DVD, we were quite excited. HOWEVER, our predicted funny, interesting conversation with the Fresh Meat star clearly wasn’t going to turn out the way we anticipated it when we realised that he was hungover. Very hungover, indeed. So hungover that his eyes were all bloodshot. He’d gone to see Noel Gallagher play the previous night, you see.
But still, we talked about some stuff like having beef with Dappy, not really caring about charity, and – of course – the art of comedy. Here’s how our conversation went:
People must come up to you and ask you to do funny things all the time just because you’re a comedian, right?
People think you’re a lot funnier than how you present yourself on stage. And then you let them down. The biggest problem is that you heighten everyone’s expectations… Let’s talk about Dappy [puts his arm around a framed copy of the infamous Total Carp issue where Dappy is on the cover].
Dappy from N-Dubz is my homeboy. Actually he’s not, interestingly. Because I am very tight with Lethal Bizzle. Me and Lethal are good pals. The problem with being friends with Lethal Bizzle is that he has beef with a lot of people, including Dappy. Wiley is another person he has beef with. And because I roll with Biz, I have to have beef with them by proxy. I’ve never even met Dappy.
Why has he got beef with Dappy?
Because he made some derogatory comments about Bizzle online, I believe.
What derogatory comments?
God, I can’t even remember. Bizzle just has beef with who he wants. Lethal Tongue – that’s what he should be called. Actually he shouldn’t, that’s terrible.
What did you do with Lethal Bizzle? You were on a panel show together, right?
Yes, and he was in Bad Education, and he was on a chat show that I did. Basically he’s been on every show I’ve done over the past three years. He’s like my go-to guy. Lethal Bizzle is the funniest untapped source of comedy there is out there. I think somebody should give him his own show. He should do a Louis Theroux-style show.
Or like An Idiot Abroad?
I have some quite serious questions here, by the way.
I’ll answer serious questions. Just, they might be stupid answers.
Cool. Okay. So… When I interview a musician, I might ask how they’ve written their latest album and what the process was behind it. So with your live DVD, how did you go about writing for that?
The way I do it is to get twenty minutes of jokes that I like and expand it from there. You look if there’s a theme within them and then expand from that theme. I looked at my set for this show and there were a lot of jokes about leaving home and my parents, so I made that into a show.
You talk about your parents a lot in interviews and I always talk about my parents because they’re awesome, but I haven’t really found anyone else who talks about their parents so much.
I always get asked by my parents – I don’t bring them up in conversation. But I talk about them a lot on stage, and that’s why I get asked about them.
I liked how a video of your dad opened up the show.
He’s so game for anything. If I ask him to do anything, he’ll do it. He was fucking great on the Million Pound Drop, which I did with him – he didn’t give a shit because it was for charity. He was like, “If we were winning this money, I’d care about it a lot more; but it’s just for charity, so it doesn’t really matter!” And because of that he was fucking great.
Is he pretty old school, not politically correct at all?
Yeah. And that’s the trick with the Million Pound Drop – to go on it and be completely belligerent and have no care for your cause.
Well, I think if you’re doing something for charity then you ought to put some effort in.
Yeah, well that’s where you fuck it up! You can’t have a heart.
So anyway, you said you’ve done stand-up since you were young but when did you decide that it was going to be your career?
I did a lot of school plays, but never got any good parts. And I realised that the only way to get good parts was to put on plays myself. I started doing sketches, and then went from there to doing stand-up. It all basically came from a lack of acting talent.
But then you get to do acting now, so it’s worked out in the end.
But in the beginning it was pretty bleak.
What do you do if a joke doesn’t go down well? Do you handle it well?
The most important thing to do if that happens is to acknowledge that it didn’t go down well. You’ve got to move on to the next joke quickly and get your next laugh, because as soon as you acknowledge that the joke’s gone badly the audience will know that too. It’s all about deceiving the audience.
Do you think there’s a tendency for comedy actors to play their comedy persona across a lot of different shows? There aren’t a lot of comedy actors that can play a variety of serious acting roles – one that comes to mind is Hugh Laurie.
If you’re doing comedy performance and find a character that you know you can get laughs with, it’s hard to take the risk to take on a character that’s more challenging and to get laughs doing something that you’re less comfortable with.
So it’s fear of rejection? And I guess the thing that all comedians fear innately is rejection, right?
But when you do acting, there’s one further way of distancing yourself from the audience [in that television comedies aren’t always recorded in front of a live crowd]. You don’t have the spontaneity of stand-up and the instant audience approval. But with being on set, you also lose the fear of not getting a laugh and you have to wait months to find out whether people like it or not. And even then, you don’t have to see the people because people are talking about it on the internet and writing about it in the newspaper. It’s safer, in a way.
All of your stand-up is about you grappling with yourself and your life. So it must be like therapy in a way.
Yeah, it’s definitely like that. You say things that you wouldn’t say to your friends or people you care about but you can go up and say it on stage to get it off your chest. I’m not as good at observational comedy – I don’t really observe things. I just don’t notice anything.
But loads of other comedians do that… I imagine panel shows could be a right pain.
Some of them are more enjoyable than others. I did QI recently, which I was really worried about because I’m not very good on random knowledge but it was really fun and laid back. I did A League Of Their Own and that’s just fun – I never do that and come out of it feeling depressed.
What are the hardest ones?
The ones with the most comedians on like 8 Out Of 10 Cats or Mock The Week. The advantage of doing A League Of Their Own is that it has Jamie [Redknapp] and Freddie [Flintoff] on it, and they’re just naturally funny people.
I guess a show like 8 Out Of 10 Cats or Mock The Week would be like a public training ground.
For sure, but sometimes you take what you learn from those into other shows that are less competitive, which is hard if you go on a show when you’re drilled to be doing jokes and you can’t be conversational and more natural.
Do you find it hard to switch off from that frame of mind when you’re not working?
No, but you know that if you’re a comic and you say something to your friends they’ll think that you’re just trying material out on them, so you have to be careful. You can’t be too funny otherwise they’ll assume they’re being used as a practise audience.
Are panel shows sort of like a promotional tool, do you reckon?
Yeah, they definitely serve a purpose. But they don’t really have them in America, which I think is quite weird, because they’re massive over here and we have quite a similar sense of humour to America.
But there’s Whose Line Is It Anyway.
It’s more of a concept show rather than a panel show. The majority of their shows are like Saturday Night Live and stuff like that.
American comedy’s a bit obvious.
HBO stuff is good, like Girls.
I actually haven’t seen that.
The first episode is pretty boring but it gets good. And there’s Two And A Half Men.
I like Family Guy. There’s a sort of British version on Channel Four now, isn’t there? Full English?
Yeah, my friends wrote it: Jack Williams and Harry Williams. And Gerald Scalfe’s son, Alex. It was alright, but it’s hard to do because there’s never been a good British animation.
Do you make sure to pay attention to what everyone’s doing in comedy and if there are any new trends etc.?
Yeah, a bit. I do it less so now. I do like watching other people and see how their evolving.
I’ve read a couple of stories about you on drunken nights out, which all seems a bit stupid when you’re at the age when you want to do that the most. Is fame a bit rubbish in that sense?
Sometimes it’s annoying that you can’t get drunk and act like an idiot without someone writing about it. But you’ve just got to get on with it – you can’t feel sorry for yourself. Fucking do it, and you might have to sweep up the mess – but at least you’ve made the mess in the first place. I’ve got to stop going out and getting too fucked though. At all these parties you see people who have done that and have learnt not to do that, but I just go out and get pissed.
What are the most annoying interviews that you’ve done?
There’s one I did with a women’s magazine a couple of days ago that was all about celebrities, asking things like, “Who’s the most famous person in your phonebook?” I just said Olly Murs.
Fame must be weird.
It has its perks. Like this [points to Dappy’s cover of Total Carp].
Order Jack Whitehall’s Live DVD at Amazon.co.uk.