Comedian Tom Allen: ‘I was just born sounding posh’
By Bruce Dessau
Tom Allen is one of the most popular stand-up comedians in the UK. He is famed for his riotously funny storytelling, which is as smart as his exquisitely tailored suits.
The dapper 40-year-old, who will be appearing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange next week, is the host of The Apprentice: You’re Fired and is also a regular on Bake Off: An Extra Slice.
He has hosted the National Comedy Awards on C4 twice and has written two best-selling memoirs, No Shame and Too Much.
Tom is currently combining a busy screen schedule with his first national tour since 2018.
Tell us about your new show, Completely
I got to a point when I was still living with my parents. And then I thought, actually, I’ve got to be a grown-up. And so I finally moved out at the tender age of 38.
The title is about finally being completely grown up. With stand-up shows I like to keep the names quite loose, because I think fundamentally it’s always going to be about experiences that everybody can share, like being a grown-up living in my own place and being in a relationship.
Your life has changed in all sorts of ways since your last tour?
Yes, that was in 2018. I was due to start working on this at the end of 2019, and then I was I doing Bake Off: An Extra Slice and then there was Covid.
We keep adding dates, so when people ask me why I’m not coming to their town we are usually aiming to get there, it’s just a case of fitting it in.
If you’d done this show in 2019, it would have been, no pun intended, completely different
Absolutely. I think that the pandemic really changed us in ways we don’t even realise. I talk onstage about our relationship with technology and how distant we’ve become after staring on Zoom calls.
I don’t look at the other people on Zoom, I just look at myself. I could do them with a landline and a mirror in front of me and it would have been exactly the same.
What else do you talk about?
Getting used to having my own home, how stressful it is buying a mattress. Also, you know, being an adult means that your friends are adults and that sometimes means their children coming around and wanting to chip the paint off the wall.
I lost my dad a couple of years ago, so I talk about that too. I think it’s important to talk about all of life and not be afraid of it.
That’s the great thing about stand-up. If you can laugh at whatever life throws at you, we can laugh together. Hopefully, it gives other people strength if they are able to laugh at the stresses of everyday life and also the loss of a loved one.
There is humour everywhere. When my dad died we got lots of death certificates for different things and we’ve got loads left over. I wondered if I should frame one and put it on the wall like a Cycling Proficiency Test certificate.
Your new home isn’t far from where you grew up in Bromley, South London...
About three minutes by car. I live on the road where I went to school – it brings back all sorts of memories. I’m still quite frightened of the teenage lads.
When I was a child, a lot of my upbringing was based on fear: don’t go near the railway line, that sort of thing.
Your recent performance hosting the National Comedy Awards, fronting a two-hour live show where anything could happen, was very impressive
I guess that’s where doing comedy in clubs was useful. With stand-up anything can happen and you have to learn to be able to control it.
My earpiece stopped working and I had to manage without it. Don’t overthink things and just go with the moment.
You had a long apprenticeship before becoming a household name, gigging for nearly 20 years. What changed?
My management [Tom is with the company that manages Michael McIntyre, Romesh Ranganathan and other comedy stars].
I never thought they would be interested in me, but they approached me and I was so honoured. They’ve enabled me to do the things I’ve always dreamed of doing, like the Comedy Awards.
I just want to work hard and do a good job. My dad was a coach driver and he would say things like: “It’s called work, it’s not called fun, you should be working hard.”
What sparked your desire to be a comedian?
When I was a small kid I just wanted to make my mum laugh. I realised that I was different and embraced it. I was a funny, eccentric child.
Did you always dress smartly on stage, or did you ever go on in jeans and a T-shirt?
I always dressed smart. It’s very fashionable now, it’s almost like I started that trend. I went through a phase where I wore coloured trousers and things like that and then I added a pocket square.
Now everybody’s wearing pocket squares – just look on the news. You can’t move now for pocket squares...
How has your comedy changed since you started?
When I started, the stand-up scene was quite abrasive and you were expected to be able to dominate the room. I really had to learn how to be me.
My dad said be tougher on stage, but I made a decision that if I do that, I’m not being true to myself. I had to learn to find a way to be strong in your insecurities and not be afraid to be who you are.
What would you say the difference is between Tom Allen on stage and off-duty?
Not very much. I talk to people all the time and in the same accent. Sometimes their faces drop a bit as if they think they are never going to get rid of me.
My parents said I’ve always had a different voice to the rest of my family since I could first talk. I just came out sounding posh.
I don’t know where it came from and my parents would joke: “We don’t know where we got him from...”
How do you relax on those rare nights off?
My partner and I just like a quiet evening in, just making something to eat and then watching something like Miss Marple – obviously not the newer ones!