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Phil Ellis: ‘Stand-up is quite a social job, which is probably why it breeds so many alcoholics’

Edinburgh Comedy Award-nominated comedian Phil Ellis is bringing his Excellent Comedy Show to Cambridge later this month, and with a title like that who could resist?

One of the top 20 best-reviewed shows of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2023, expect an hour of hilarious stand-up and fun from the North West’s most punctual working-class comic.

Phil Ellis. Picture: Avalon
Phil Ellis. Picture: Avalon

The show includes music, singing, dancing, improvised rap, puns and heart-warming revelations.

“It’s a bit of an oddly-structured show in a way, I suppose,” says Phil, speaking from his living room in Manchester, “I touch on everything really.

“I touch on what it’s like to be a 42-year-old living in a house share, having failed at many aspects of his life, I talk about how I should be a dad, I talk about a really bad experience with a wink that I had when I was 26, which is why I’ve never winked at anyone since.

“I’ve just had a run of bad winks, like a bus driver didn’t accept it while I was getting on… There’s no stone unturned is what I’m trying to say – and I’ve got a band that play little bursts of music throughout.

“They don’t linger for too long and they don’t stick around long enough for you to really get into them.

“It’s like an alarm clock, the band, that you keep putting on snooze and then you forget about it and it just comes in.

“It [the show] is just fun; I’ve done 10 Edinburgh shows now and I always try and mix them up and do something different every year, whether that be the structure or the tone or the content or the style of comedy.

“So this one is one that I just thought ‘I’m going to have a fun year and play to all my strengths as a comedian’ and it seemed to work. I should have done that the other nine years really when I think about it!”

On what he enjoys about touring, Phil, who studied media production at Staffordshire University, says: “You get to go to places that you wouldn’t normally go to; you go to places that aren’t particularly holiday destinations, but you can find some really nice little towns.

“And it’s quite nice when you have to stay over and you do a little theatre show. Obviously you don’t want to just go back to the hotel so you go to a pub or whatever just round the corner, just sit there after the show.

“You get to sometimes meet a lot of nice people in the town that have been at the show and it’s quite nice… you get to meet a lot of new people, people who work at the theatre, other people that you’re working with, you’re doing gigs, and you can go and hang out afterwards.

“So it’s quite a social job really, which is probably why it breeds so many alcoholics!”

It does seem that a number of stand-up comedians over the years have suffered from issues such as alcoholism and depression.

“I think so,” says Phil. “To be honest I think a lot of people do – I think it’s just that comedians like talking about themselves so much.

“That’s why we hear about it more often, whereas most people just like to keep that to themselves. Well not now with social media – we’ve all got that comedian aspect I suppose now, talking about ourselves to the public. But yeah, it’s an odd bunch sometimes.

“But I would say it’s not quite as prone to that as it used to be, in the sense that comedy is more of a career, I would say, now.

“I think years ago it was probably more of a vocation so fewer people got through it, but it seems now a lot of people do get into comedy to make a career out of it.

“So I don’t think you’ve got quite as many ‘oddballs’ in comedy as you would have years ago. I think there’s a lot more people with drive, as opposed to people just muddling through and finding it as a way to vent whatever weird thoughts they have, or their frustrations with everyday life.”

Phil Ellis. Picture: Avalon
Phil Ellis. Picture: Avalon

Alongside stand-up, Phil co-wrote and starred in three series of his own BBC Radio 4 sitcom Phil Ellis Is Trying, alongside Johnny Vegas, Lolly Adefope, Sindhu Vee, Jack Dee, Lee Mack and Sean Lock, which was nominated for a BBC Audio Award.

His television appearances include The Russell Howard Hour, Roast Battle, There She Goes and Drunk History: UK, and he also hosted BBC Radio 4’s Funny from the Fringe podcast for two years running.

Since 2022, Phil – who cites Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Vic & Bob, Dylan Moran, Norm Macdonald, and The League of Gentlemen among his favourite comic talents – has hosted his own hit daily Edinburgh Festival podcast Fringe Binge, interviewing new and established comedians throughout the month.

Before getting into comedy, the affable entertainer worked in a factory in Congleton in Cheshire making airbags. “I worked there for a few years and was just writing scripts, I wanted to get into scripted comedy,” recalls Phil, who then decided he wanted to try and get into performing comedy.

“I just found a Time Out magazine and started ringing theatres and asking if I could go on and they just kept saying no, obviously.

“Then eventually I found a place and they did a thing called ‘open spots’, which I’d not heard of, which is where you get to go on and try out and do a 10-minute bit, and do you know what, the rest is, I’d like to say history, but when you haven’t got a Wikipedia page you can hardly say that you’re even a footnote in history.

“So I’d say the rest is my life… and that was it; I just kept going, built it up, went full time and that was it really. I just wanted to not work in the factory anymore.”

See Phil at the Cambridge Junction on Thursday, 22 February. Tickets, priced £18, are available from junction.co.uk.

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