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Comedian Bobby Mair: ‘The show’s called Cockroach, but it’s not harrowing....’

A high-octane comedian, who has made a number of memorable on-stage and television appearances, Canadian Bobby Mair has been described by the Evening Standard as “the kind of person you would not want to sit next to on the bus”.

Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker
Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker

But Bobby, a third cousin of pop superstar Justin Bieber (they’ve never met) would certainly be a very entertaining companion. And he’s got plenty to talk about. Bobby recently became a parent with his wife – fellow comedian Harriet Kemsley. The couple were featured in a 2017 reality TV series titled Bobby and Harriet Get Married on Comedy Central.

Now he’s embarking on a nationwide tour of his fifth stand-up show Cockroach. The tour will hit the Cambridge Junction next month. The show was originally called Cockroach because it seemed like nothing could kill this survivor of addiction and mental illness with a sprinkle of childhood trauma. But with the collective trauma of the pandemic, Bobby doesn’t feel not special anymore.

“Right now I’m in my house, holding a baby and watching a dog try to get onto a kitchen table,” he tells the Cambridge Independent from his South London home.

Bobby has lived in the capital since 2011 but is originally from “a small town called Seaforth, which is two hours west of Toronto, like 3,000 people – and I lived there till I was 19,” he explains. “Then I moved to Toronto and started doing comedy.”

But Bobby, who hosts a podcast called The Year Is with fellow comedian Red Richardson, says his comedy travels well. “It’s about me,” he notes, “so it’s not very colloquial. There are comedians whose comedy is particularly Canadian because it’s about Canada, but otherwise I think if you’re talking about yourself it’s usually quite universal.

“When I came here, I already had an act; I had to change maybe like three words just to make things slightly more clear.” And he certainly has an amazing energy level while performing. “On stage I would say I’ve always kind of gravitated towards being more high-energy,” he says. “It wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice, it was just what people responded to...

“I definitely want to feel like I’m putting on a show. I’m envious of comedians who are on stage and it just feels like they’re having a really calm conversation, but I don’t know how to do that and be funny.”

Did Bobby always want to do stand-up? “Yeah,” he says. “I always loved stand-up when I was a kid, and I wrote a whole act when I was 14 but never performed it because I lived in the middle of nowhere – there was nowhere to perform. Then when I was 19, I moved to Toronto and took a comedy course at a college and started doing stand-up.”

Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker
Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker

In Cockroach, Bobby – who lists George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Brian Regan, Stewart Lee, Frankie Boyle, and Maria Bamford among his favourite comics – discusses, among other things, his hatred for the people who thrived during Covid, his inability to be alone with his baby because strangers think he’s a kidnapper, getting mistaken for a teenager, the insane driving rules in the UK and issues surrounding mental health.

“I named it Cockroach because the idea was I’d had quite a harrowing life and I could survive anything,” he explains, “and I was going to really dive into that and talk about grief and trauma, but then the pandemic happened and I’d already named the show.

“But when I was writing I realised, ‘Well, I think people just want to have a good time!’ So the show is still called Cockroach but it’s really just an hour of great stand-up, hopefully, where I touch on having a kid.

“I’ve had struggles with mental illness so I touch on being mentally ill in 2022 and what that’s like. I’m 36 now and I’m getting close to being middle aged, which feels bizarre.”

Bobby, a former drug addict who has also suffered from alcoholism, finds there is comedy to be found on the subject of mental illness. “Definitely in retrospect,” he says. “In hindsight, when you’re doing better and you look back at your behaviour or your thoughts, you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s funny’ but I don’t think there’s humour when you’re in it.”

He acknowledges: “I got diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is a really serious disorder that kills like one in 10 people who are diagnosed with it, so it [the new show] was going to be about that, but it’s not like a harrowing hour, I would say. I’m not bringing all this pathos, hopefully.”

Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker
Bobby Mair. Picture: Linda Blacker

What of the “insane driving rules” in the UK? “I finally got my licence after failing my theory test seven times,” says Bobby. “I got the practical on my first try and so I started driving here, and it’s just like there’s lots of insane small things like when you drive up to a zebra crossing and then the people wave at you because you don’t run them over.

“It’s like you’re thanking someone for not committing vehicular manslaughter! You don’t have to thank me for just following the rules.”

He also discusses getting mistaken for a teenager after being asked to show ID in a bar. “To get asked for ID at 36... it’s like ‘what horrible life do you think I’ve had if I’m a teenager?’” he says. And he takes on those who brag about doing well during the pandemic.

“I’m so bored of these people who thrived; like we all just sat at home for two years doing nothing and then they’re just... I mean I get it, on some level I’m happy for people if they found success when they were struggling.

“But the people who just made more money than ever before and won’t shut up about it when you see them after not seeing them for years, and they’re like, ‘Actually, I loved the pandemic’ – it’s like yeah, well good for you! Thousands of people are dead and most people have a lot less money but I’m glad that you’re having a great time.

“Right now, we have a baby that’s generally sleeping through the night but you don’t go and tell everyone about it, you don’t go and brag to all the other parents who are waking up every two hours and are at the end of their tether.”

An engaging presence, Bobby’s numerous television appearances include Roast Battle (Comedy Central), Feel Good (Netflix), 8 Out of 10 Cats (Channel 4), Never Mind The Buzzcocks (BBC2), The Bobby Mair Show (Comedy Central), @Elevenish (ITV2), Safeword (ITV2), Seann Walsh’s Late Night Comedy Spectacular (BBC3), and World of Weird (Channel 4).

Catch Bobby Mair live at the Junction’s J3 on Saturday, April 9. Visit junction.co.uk. For more on Bobby, go to bobbymair.net.

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