Comedian Stewart Francis is coming to Cambridge on his final stand-up tour
Stand-up legend Stewart Francis has embarked on an epic tour of the UK and Ireland, which he says will be his last as a comedian.
Announcing his retirement from comedy, the tour is called Into The Punset and will see Stewart hold back the tears as he says goodbye to the audiences and set off in search of a new career in acting - over even being a newspaper cartoonist.
The Canadian Star of Mock the Week and Live at the Apollo is a hugely successful one liner wizard who has become a household name in the UK and Ireland over the last decade, thanks to his perfectly crafted gags and expert timing, which he has brought to sell-out audiences across the world. But he's still regularly confused with Crackerjack's Stu Francis and hopes to dispel the myth that he spends his free time crushing grapes. He spoke to Alex Spencer about his plans for the future.
Why are you retiring from comedy?
I’m retiring from stand up for a bunch of reasons, all of them good, but a perfect guest knows when to leave. Comedy has let me in for about 30 years and I think it is about time I left. I wanted to see what other challenges there were, namely acting. I have dabbled in acting before but I want to stop dabbling and put my energies into that.
Do you have any acting jobs lined up yet?
No, I’ve got a new agent who is put me out for a couple of things. It’s not comedic acting I’m looking at per se - I can do that but I would like to do more dramatic acting and I’ve got a screenplay I want to write. I might dabble with cartoons and just travel and do all that wonderful stuff.I’m retiring from stand up but I’m a creative individual, so I will let that out in another way - even if it’s just making my wife laugh around the house.
Do you have Shakespearean ambitions?
I wish! Any actor would just like to dive into that, but I think I would be out of my league. I have been to Stratford and seen a whole bunch of Shakespearean plays and can’t help admire it, but i don’t think so.
Any hints about what your screenplay is about?
No! But, you know what, parts aren’t coming my way so I thought why don’t I write myself a part? So I have written a role for myself, but I’m not ego-driven; I can step out of that if I sell the screenplay. But the game plan is to have me being, not the star but part of the supporting cast.
Would you like to write your own sitcom, like Lee Mack with Not Going Out?
Great example, but I probably want to do more dramatic acting than that because he is still the wonderful Lee Mack when he is acting and there’s probably not as much separation (between him and his character) as I would like there to be I want to be the disco killer, not the former comedian Stewart Francis.
You mentioned trying out being a cartoonist, why is that?
That was my Plan A, to become a syndicated cartoonist, but it didn’t come to fruition in that I sent out six samples of my work to American news syndicates because I wanted to be a cartoonist in the funny pages, and I got six rejection letters. I was too thin skinned for that so I pursued stand up comedy. Why wait for a rejection letter when you can get it on the night?
Tell me about the show
I can’t do any of the gags because, if I started, I wouldn’t be able to stop. If you like my style then I think it is my best work. I am going out on a high, which I think is so gratifying. I didn’t just want to cash it in, as it were, and go off into the Punset, I wanted to go out with a bang. It is the same style as usual, but with some little surprises.
You won an award for the funniest joke at Edinburgh Fringe, sponsored by the Dave digital TV channel. Have you got another winning joke up your sleeve?
Here’s hoping! Hopefully it will be better than the one that won, because that wasn’t by any means the best joke in my show that year. I was surprised but grateful that it was picked. I don’t want to sound ungrateful but that is the one that seemed to resonate.
I had two in the top 10 that year, so I hope to have even more this year, and if I won that would be amazing. What a way to send me off into the Punset. I’m doing the Edinburgh Festival this year as well as two more legs of the tour in the spring and autumn.
The winning joke was: "You know who really gives kids a bad name?
Posh and Becks."
Do you get your jokes stolen a lot?
I have heard it happen. It’s very disheartening because I’m a purist when it comes to that kind of stuff but I have witnessed someone doing 2 of my jokes verbatim on stage. They weren’t aware I was in the audience, so that was a punch in the stomach. But it does happen - fortunately not nearly as much as it could given the internet. There could be someone on the other side of the world putting themselves a nice 20 minute set together based on jokes from myself and other people. Fortunately the industry really polices itself well which I’m very proud of. If you get a reputation for being a joke theif it stays with you your entire career, you just can’t shake it.
Is it nerve wracking appearing on panel shows like Mock The Week?
I have been on it 15 times. It is challenging because it is a two hour tape edited down to the half hour you guys get it is essentially being on the edge of your seat for a to hour conversation waiting for your chance to get in your comedy gold. But it’s not nerve wracking - they are lovely bunch of people there. I stopped doing it five years ago. People think I’m still on because of the repeats. But I’m grateful for kit and Live at the Apollo because they put me on people’s radar.
What is the art of a good one liner?
I don’t know just trying to be original and separate yourself from someone else’s version of that subject. What you do is get the punchline first - fortunately I have got a brain that can do that . You want to confront stereotypes and not play into them so you try to take a unique perspective, that’s what i try to do. I have until December 7th to figure it out what the art of it is (the date of his final show). I don’t like my chances.
What’s the difference between British and Canadian audiences?
It is far more sophisticated here. British audiences will connect the dots, whereas in Canada and definitely in America you need to spell out the punchline or maybe even yell it out, whereas here you can be subtle.
British audiences are better for my style of comedy because some of my jokes don’t even have a punchline, it is all within the joke. When you have that moment of recognition from a British audience it just a really nice feeling. I’ve lived here for 14 years and I have been coming here all my life because both my parents are British, so that’s probably why I have a British sense of humour.
Some people mix you up with Stu Francis, the Crackerjack presenter, after you joked about it. Do you ever try to clear that up?
It was very much tongue in cheek when I called myself Stewart Francis, famous for Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week and Crackerjack
Stu francis from Crackerjack has not appeared on Live at the Apollo, so if you are going to believe that then more fool you. All I know about Stu Francis he is a very generous fellow because on my last DVD he allowed us to use a chunk of him being introduced on Crackerjack and i have heard that he is a fan and grateful for that but I’m definitely not Stu Francis. Sadly one of my hobbies is crushing grapes, so that doesn’t help. When I retire I can crush grapes until I jump off a dollshouse .
Crackerjack is coming back so Stu Francis’s names out there - that’s gonna help move some tickets and confuse people.
Stewart Francis: Into The Punset is on at the Corn Exchange on Saturday, April 27. Box office cambridgelivetrust.co.uk. Tickets: £26