‘It’s the worst name ever! Especially for an ex-kids’ TV presenter! A friend of mine said to me It’s a bit Operation Yewtree isn’t it! and it’s too late to change it!’
Iain Stirling is talking all things Edinburgh Fringe 2015, and giving extra thought to the worrying connotations of his show’s title Touchy Feely, which is hitting The Pleasance this August for the full run. We’re chatting away outside Cardiff’s award-winning Buffalo Comedy Club where Iain is about to headline a cracking line-up. There are not many 27 year-olds who can look back at over a decade’s worth of performance.
‘I’d done a sketch show with my best mate Greg. He was 14 and I was 16, and because we were from Edinburgh we knew people that ran venues. As children we’d watched Monty Python, and wrote a sketch show, and performed it for a week at the Festival. The Scotsman and Chortle came on the first day. I think they came because we were two young lads from Edinburgh just doing a show. The Scotsman gave us 3 stars and were very nice to us. They said that what we lacked in comedy we made up in youthful charm.
‘We had loads of friends who were 16 year-old female dancers, so they wore their black dancing outfits, and flyered on the Royal Mile. We got loads of angry young lads in who wanted to see hot young dancing girls. We sold it out! And we did that for a few years!’
Iain attended Edinburgh Uni but in his third year quit and briefly moved to Norway, where a lack of opportunities to perform led him to turn to writing stand-up. By the time he came home he was armed.
‘When I came back in 2009 I started doing the competitions. That’s when it all started.’
Iain’s first gig was at Red Raw at The Stand.
‘I was meant to do five minutes, but did two and a half. It always sells out and there were about 170 people there. I think it was ok but I don’t remember anything about it, I was so nervous. I started thinking of myself as a stand-up quite quickly. I got to the final of Scottish Comedian of the Year within 4 or 5 gigs. My 5th gig was in front of 750 people at the Glasgow Fruitmarket. Then from there the Glasgow Comedy Festival was in March and I was doing loads of gigs, like three a day and then I got a few paid bits at the Stand.’
It wasn’t long before the likes of GQ were hailing Iain as One of the best joke writers on the circuit and TimeOut were describing him as a Hugely talented rising star.
‘A lot of it is luck I think. I didn’t have an agent but there were a few around, including a few TV presenter agents. The reason I went with Avalon was that they said we think you’re good on the kid’s TV (Iain was the face of CBBC for several years where he gained two BAFTA-nominations) but we need to see you do a set. So I did an open spot at Camden Jongleurs where Micky Flanagan was doing the middle-20, and it was a really good one.
'Avalon signed me and that’s how I got a lot of the TV stuff. They put you in front of the right people.’
But of course, you dont become one of the best joke writers through pure luck. Hard work and talent are surely what gets you there?
‘Avalon make Russell Howard’s Good News, and people always say oh, so if you’re an Avalon act then you get on the Avalon Show. And it’s the same with Off the Kerb and Live at the Apollo. Off the Kerb sign people who they think are good. I don’t think it is as cynical as to say Well that’s our act, we’ll get them onto our TV show. I mean, they obviously put people on from their roster but they sign people who they think are good. So with the Russell Howard thing, I got put forward for it.
A few nights before this comedy chat, I’d met Iain at Cardiff’s Glee Club where he opened, and I did 5 minutes on the Comedy Carousel. One thing that struck me was how the material was pretty dark and often very personal; quite the opposite of the CBBC persona you might expect to bounce onto the stage.
‘Once you lose all the stuff about my mum said a silly thing or a funny thing happened to me on the train, the only place you can go is inside yourself. I didn’t at any point deliberately go darker. I went through a break-up about 18-months ago. I started talking about that and realised for the first time that you can be really honest and people will laugh. So for the first time ever I’d do a joke about feeling sad, sleeping on my own or something and people would laugh. It felt really nice, like I’m not the only person that’s happened to.
'That coincided with the referendum and I was quite angry about that, and that was the first time I got political on stage. I realised that with my style, I can do political comedy and stuff that’s on my mind. I think that if you are going to do comedy you should either watch nothing and become unique, or watch fucking everything, and take a bit of everyone.
'I was obsessed with Russell Howard when I first started, and if you watch my early stuff it’s just the world throws up amazing moments! I was just Russell Howard-lite. I listened to Josie Long’s stuff, Doug Stanhope, Bill Burr. I basically take from so many comedians that you can’t tell that I’ve taken anything. That’s true! And I’m not ashamed of that! I wouldn’t steal a joke, but if you were to watch Stewart Lee and what he does, and then see Ross Noble just start with an idea and then run with it - if you tried to combine the two you would come up with something really interesting.’
So what‘s next for Iain?
‘I’ve recently filmed my first hour special. Me and Phil Wang at the St James’ Theatre in London which is beautiful. I’ll be touring again next year. I write a new show every year. For the last tour I did it all myself. I just booked rooms and it sold well, and it was nice. There were no posters, no PR and no marketing. I just tweeted it and facebooked it and people came. In fact, all I can say to anyone is: Just. Bloody. Do it!
For more information or to sign up to Iain's mailing list visit www.iaindoesjokes.com.