Alex Zane interview: stand-up comedy, The Expendables, Ghostbusters 3 and Burt Reynolds

As he embarks on a return to stand-up comedy, we find out what Alex Zane is up to, and get chatting about movies...

Alex Zane’s career in recent years has seen him enjoying plenty of success across both radio and TV. But this summer, he’s returning to his stand-up comedy roots with a brand new show at the Edinburgh Festival. As he puts his show together, he spared us some time for a natter about what he’s up to, and about lots and lots of movies…

Let’s start with the big question: have you seen any of The Expendables, Inception, Scott Pilgrim, The Social Network or Machete?

[Laughs] No! Not yet! But I’m hoping to see The Expendables soon. I’m very excited. I’m over 30 now, which means that I have that desire to relive my youth in whatever way possible. In that way that everything was great when I was younger, which it probably wasn’t, but I’ve got my rose-tinted glasses on. And a movie that not only stars Sylvester Stallone, and Mickey Rourke and Dolph Lundgren and Bruce Willis and Arnie – although I’m pretty sure that it’s a one-scene cameo for both of them – I’m still very excited!

I think the lovely wildcard they may have put in is Jason Statham. He’s the modern touch, the only contemporary action star who hasn’t forgotten the 80s existed.

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Of course. I like the fact that Jet Li’s in there as well. Stone Cold Steve Austin. You’d be hard-pushed to find a better cast to celebrate the bygone era of the 80s. It’s going to be wonderful.

And in many ways it throws a curveball. A lot of people are going to be going that The A-Team is the definitive 80s film. But this new A-Team movie is a complete, modern spin on The A-Team. Whereas The Expendables is a modern movie that doesn’t have anything from the 80s in terms of it didn’t exist back then, and yet, it’s an 80s movie!

Who would you put in the sequel who missed out? We wanted Christopher Lambert…

Oh, that’d be so good. That’s a great call. I’d have ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper!

For Lambert, it has to be him from Fortress, though.

Of course! It’s one of the greatest Christopher Lambert movies.

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Rowdy Roddy Piper featured in the greatest fight scene in a film ever, in They Live. Because it just goes on and on and on. And you’re just going, “Surely that’s it,” but no! There’s more! It’s an amazing fight.

Is The Expendables the film you’re most stoked for as far as the rest of the summer goes?

Oh, come on! Yes! And there’s Inception, the bending city. There’s a city bending – that’s new! Not seen that before Christopher Nolan. Let’s hope that The Dark Knight wasn’t just an anomaly, and you really are turning into one of the great directors of the 21st century.

Do you not think he’s there yet?

Well, yeah, I kinda think so. But I won’t lie. I liked The Dark Knight, but I wasn’t one of the flag wavers out on the street going, “This is the Godfather Part II of superhero movies.” I really liked it, but it’s a little bit flabby in parts. But I did like it.

I think if I love Inception as much as I think I’m going to, then I’m going to go back to The Dark Knight and reassess that judgement and say, “Yes, this is The Godfather Part II of superhero movies!”

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Do you find it changes, though? I remember back in the 90s when Robert Altman had made The Player and Short Cuts back to back, and then he made Pret-A-Porter. And I remember a critic saying that after watching Pret-A-Porter, he wasn’t sure that Altman’s last two films before it were that good. Do you buy that? Do you think someone’s earlier body of work can be changed by one film later down the line?

It’s a great question. I guess George Lucas is the best example of that. His constant twiddling of Star Wars has, in some way, tarnished the image.

I guess that’s a little bit different because he’s actually changed his original films. And why would you do that? They were perfect. And now you’re suggesting to us that you weren’t happy with them, which is kind of contradictory to us going, “These are some of the best films ever made,” and you go, “No, they’re not! They weren’t right!” And we go, “They are, trust us.” And he goes, “No, I’ve got this new technology now, I’m going to put Jabba in it in the first one, in a comedy scene where someone steps on his tale.” That doesn’t undermine him as a terrifying character in movie number three, George!

I presume you’ve got Scott Pilgrim love, too?

Oh, yes. It’s going to be amazing. Not least of all because one of my new favourite people in cinema is Chris Evans, and after watching The Losers, I think he’s amazing. I’m looking forward to seeing him on screen again.

I think he was the only way who came out of the Fantastic Four movies with anything…

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Yeah, he did. Poor Michael Chiklis! What was he thinking?!

You have to wonder if he stopped reading the script just before they put him in a giant orange suit. And he went, “Great, I get to show off my acting chops! That’s the first ten pages done, I reckon it’ll be fine.” And then someone turns up on set and says, “Hre’s your big orange suit!” “My what?” “Your big orange suit. You’re The Thing.” “Was that in the script? There was no orange in the first ten pages. Oh no, I’ve fucked up…”

You’ve sat through all the summer movies thus far. Do you buy the thinking that it’s been about as bad a summer as we’ve had in a decade or so?

It’s as bad a summer so far in terms of the big ones, the tentpole summer blockbusters. There have been a few sort-of-interesting ones that haven’t been as you expected.

I’ve a lot of love – maybe I really am being nostalgic at the moment – for Hot Tub Time Machine. I loved that film. I’ve had arguments with people about why it’s brilliant. And people are going, “It’s not The Hangover, it’s trying to be The Hangover.”

And it’s not! It’s Hot Tub Time Machine. It’s a movie that features a time machine in a hot tub, and it’s called Hot Tub Time Machine!

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The weird thing about watching that film, though, is do you not find that John Cusack is one of those actors who you had in your head would never get old?


And then he just is! Look at 1408, a couple of years ago. He looked like young John Cusack in that. And now a couple of years later, and I don’t know if it was a stressful film to make, but he looks old in Hot Tub Time Machine for the first time ever.

I don’t think that he helped that he was wearing the same outfit that he was in Say Anything. I think if any of us starting dressing…

I mean, take Bill Murray in a Ghostbusters outfit. You’d think, “Fuck, Bill, you look old.” Granted, he looks old anyway. He’d look more old if he was dressed in shorts and a vest top, and on a golf course. You’d go, “Oh, no. Caddyshack really was a long time ago…”

Do you like the fact that Bill Murray is being so reluctant to commit to Ghostbusters 3?

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Yeah, I do. I’ve a lot of respect for him. I think we all have to respect the fact that, as much as when you say Ghostbusters 3 you think, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic?”, I think really we all know it wouldn’t be fantastic. And I think Dan Aykroyd is a little bit crazy.

Who did he say? He named someone who he thought, a female star, someone who you’d never guess, and he said they’d be a great addition to the new Ghostbusting team! And you’re thinking, “Dan, Dan, shut up. Everything you say means Bill is less and less interested. You’re not helping.”

I’ve got to ask you a Burt Reynolds question, given that you’re a big fan of his. I never come out of questions like this well, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Burt Reynolds in Striptease: his most underrated role?

Yeah, he’s good. I think what’s weird is that he gets a laugh, and yet he’s quite a sinister man. So, probably, yeah. He puts his foot in it occasionally, doesn’t he? Even with his highly rated roles.

Boogie Nights.

Well, yeah. And we’re going, “Burt’s going to get the Oscar, it’s about time, Burt’s really good in this. What’s that? He’s saying he thinks the film’s disgusting because it’s about pornography? Well done, Burt!”

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He just misread [Boogie Nights]. He thought he’d made a sleazy movie, and he’s probably made a lot of crap that was like that, you know?

I’d better ask you about your stand-up show before we run out of time! I’ve seen you’ve been doing previews for it over the past few weeks. How’s it going, and what kind of things are you looking to talk about in it?

The show’s called Just One More Thing, obviously the catchphrase of TV’s greatest ever detective and my favourite TV detective, Columbo. It’s about the fact that I spent my childhood dressed as Columbo, because he was my idol.

So, I had a big mac, and when I was young and got tired, I went boss-eyed. Obviously, he had his glass eye, and being boss-eyed in a mac walking round, I thought I looked like Columbo. It was a bit weird as other kids were dressed as Spider-Man and Batman, and I was wearing this mac…

How did you look?

I’ve seen photos, and I look a bit like a tiny flasher rather than TV’s greatest detective.

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Did you solve crime?

Well, there was very little crime in the suburb of Leeds in which I lived. I think I tried to. I think someone misplaced a bike once and I went, “I’ll solve this,” and they found it, and I went, “Can I take credit?”

You’ve done so much stuff over the past few years across radio and TV, so what is it about going back to comedy now, at this point in your career?

I’ve missed it, I’ve really missed it. Every year.

It’s not like I’ve been sat there saying, “Comedy, no thanks.” I’ve sat there every summer especially looking at the Edinburgh listings, reading the reviews, feeling inadequacy and jealously and envy and going, “Why don’t you stop sitting on your sofa in your pants watching films? Get writing and do it. “

And it’s a thing of working in TV as well. I write everything I do, and you write on TV, especially as a presenter and you say, “There it is, a work of art, I’m very happy with that.” And someone goes, “Oh, that’s good, but you’ve got 30 seconds to do this monologue.” “Okay, I’ll cut it down.” “It’s still a bit long.” “Okay, I’ll cut it down further, miss a few jokes out.” “Well, why don’t you just say ‘Coming up after the break?'” “Well, it kind of cuts into the essence of what I wrote.” And they say, “Well, people do need to know what’s coming up after the break.” “Fine then. I’ll just do that.” And it was starting to feel a little bit like strangulation.

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And rightly so. There’s nothing worse than someone on TV performing a function of the show going, “No, no, no, stop the show and listen to what I’ve written.”

So, in many ways, it got to the point where, instead of trying to crowbar all these things in, I wrote it down and put it in a form that lets me waffle on.

And what’s your ambition for the show? Are you looking to just do it at Edinburgh, or are you looking to take it on tour?

That all depends on Edinbrugh. We’ll see how it goes. It’s not do Edinburgh and go back to sitting on my sofa. It’s do Edinburgh, and then carry on. It’s been great reacquainting myself with the circuit in London, getting out there and doing gigs again.

How have they been going? Was stand-up easy to slip back into?

Sort of, yeah. Not easy, because it requires a lot of work. But the most difficult thing? Well, you mentioned Burt Reynolds. I do talk about him in the show last night, and there was a front row of girls who were quite young.

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So, I was going, “Burt Reynolds: you won’t have seen Smokey And The Bandit. Striptease? Boogie Nights? You must have seen that? You’ve not seen Boogie Nights? Ah, I’m just going to crack on with the material.” Cue slightly astonished and inquisitive looks for about ten minutes. And I’m going, “That’ll work, though. I’m sure that’ll work.”

The same with Terry Nutkins. “Okay, who knows who Terry Nutkins is? You don’t know? Ah, well let me explain. A children’s TV presenter who’s missing some fingers.” “A children’s TV presenter missing fingers?” “Yeah, it was different back in the 80s. You could be missing fingers and still be a champion of the animal kingdom…”

Because presumably, your radio work plays to a younger audience, which will be the one you instantly attract to your shows?

That’s right. So, you’ve very astutely observed my first stumbling block! I might need an overhead projector!

The proper old one, with the crappy acetates?

Yeah! “Sorry, I couldn’t get a photo on it, so I’ve drawn what I think Terry Nutkins looks like from memory! There he is! Oh, I’ve drawn too many fingers…”

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Once you go back to it, it’s surely going to change something, and you’ve hinted yourself there will be ramifications once you do stand-up again. Where ideally would you like to take it after that? Is it comedy as more a part of your career?

Yeah, it is. In terms of TV and stand-up, they get on together in my head. TV doesn’t get jealous or anything. It’s all cruising along nicely.

But like I say, it’ll be after Edinburgh when I work out what this is all about.

And do you have filmmaking ambitions of your own, because you’ve been in a couple?

I have! I’ve been to Toronto twice in my life, both times to play a zombie in a different movie. So, I’ve got quite a weird relationship with that city. I worry that, if I ever go back there, someone will go, “Come on, then. Put the costume on.”

I was in Dawn Of The Dead as a fast zombie. I thought, “I can do this, third zombie from the front chasing Ving Rhames into a lift.” And then I went back to be a slow zombie in Land Of The Dead, and the best thing was that in Dawn Of The Dead I had a bald cap, totally doesn’t look like me. In Land Of The Dead, great make-up, but I keep my hair out! I’m the only member of the undead in that movie who’s rotting, but a really well kept head of hair. That zombie is rotting from the inside out!

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Alex Zane, thank you very much…!