Lee Mack interview: stand-up comedy, Not Going Out, Everybody Loves Raymond and more

His stand-up tour won acclaim far and wide earlier this year. And as it arrives on DVD, Lee Mack spares some time to talk about comedy, and the return of Not Going Out…

Lee Mack: Going Out

This might be pulling back the curtain a little, but rarely have we conducted an interview with quite so many technical problems as this one. We only mention this, because throughout the assorted troubles we had with dodgy phones and recording equipment, Lee Mack was a gent. It’s thus, thanks primarily to his patience, that we were able to have the chat that we did. And here’s how it panned out…

It’s probably best to start with the obvious question: how did you go about shaping the show for the DVD release?

Well, we obviously had to do lots of editing. But we toured it, and when it came to the edit, we did have to cut it a bit.

I only ask, because you cut my favourite joke of the tour out! [a joke about R White’s lemonade, of all things] I figured that got the cut because, when I saw it on tour, only around half the audience seemed to get it!

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And that didn’t stay in the DVD? I didn’t even know that! If only half the audience got it, I definitely would have kept it in! Do you know what, I probably just forgot to say it on the night we recorded it!

When I came and saw your live gig in Birmingham, you managed to lock a claustrophobic in a box…

Oh, you were there? Fucking hell! The one where the woman kept the lid open?

Yeah!

I had two in the same week. She wouldn’t even let the lid close. It was fucking mental that…!

It struck me, especially when watching the DVD back, that you top and tailed the gig with unpredictable elements…

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I have to say, that I don’t top it. Usually they get in the box! The tail, without doubt, is very much a Q&A, peppered with a bit of chat. It’s the bit that I like probably the most. I have to say that it doesn’t always work, but that’s the nature of the night.

You say on the DVD, when you talk to some people behind the scenes on the tour that you’ve heard Simon Evans’ jokes 90, 91 times [Simon Evans is Lee’s support act]. The Q&A must be your release from doing the same material each night?

Yeah, but I’m always very conscious that you don’t want to outstay your welcome. I’m not a comedian who wants to spend far too long on stage. There are a lot of people going, this is all well and good, but I’ve got a babysitter. So, you can get a bit carried away.

You decided to embark on this tour when Not Going Out was originally cancelled, before that decision was reversed. I read in an interview once that you said every series of Not Going Out takes about a year to produce, and you have to clear the diary to do it…

Yeah, it’s probably nine or ten months. But yeah. I spend a massive proportion of the year doing it. It got better, and each series we’ve managed to get it down to less time.

In hindsight, would you say that the tour eventually came at the wrong time for you? Because looking at the behind the scenes documentary you put on your new DVD, you seem to be leading the opposite life to most stand-ups there. The old cliché of doing the gig, not getting up until after lunch the following day…

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Oh yeah. I’ll be honest with you, there’s never a right time for it all. The tour takes a long time. Doing the sitcom – Not Going Out – takes a long time. So to do both at the same time is very hard.

There’s never going to be a good time to do both. I feel that I’m a stand-up comedian more than anything else, that’s my job. But I find the sitcom more of a challenge. That’s the thing I’ve spent most of the last five years doing. So I’m very protective over it.

It’s much harder to have a BBC One sitcom than to have a tour of stand-up. Not harder, but I can do a stand-up tour anytime I want over the next few years. But the sitcom is determined by the BBC and whether they want it.

So to have it on air still, I feel is a real pleasure. I’m very grateful, to do a studio-based sitcom particularly, which is a bit more unfashionable.  It doesn’t come around very often, so if you’ve got it, cling on to it!

It’s a team show, as well, so there’s more than me in it. I feel like I’m part of a group, and we genuinely have a great laugh doing it. So the fact that the tour was booked in, I had to carry on writing the sitcom, there’s no choice.

I’m a big fan of the show

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Thanks, I appreciate that. As I say, it’s very unfashionable. It’s easier to say you don’t like than you like it. If you say you don’t like a studio-based sitcom, it’s a much safer bet. Saying you like dark, edgy, shaky-camera stuff.

It was Victoria Wood who came out a few years ago and said that, after Dinnerladies, there would never be another successful sitcom, and The Royle Family and The Office also redefined television comedy…

Well, it’s funny you should say that. Not only do I remember her saying that, that was on – and it was called The Sitcom Is Dead – the night before we recorded the pilot of Not Going Out. And I remember watching it, thinking this is great news, thank you. David Liddlemount, the head of ITV, was the host.

The last line in the show was Armando Ianucci saying, “we’re saying all this, but who knows, tomorrow, somebody could write a sitcom about a clown, and it could be a big success”!

And we’d put a clown in the pilot!

You’ve spoken in the past about your admiration for something as long-running as Everybody Loves Raymond in the US…

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Yeah.

Again, that’s a sitcom that attracted snobbish criticism for some time.

Yeah, of course. Lots of it.

Is that the longevity you’re aiming for with Not Going Out?

I’m on my own when I say this. But I’m one of the few people that think that Everybody Loves Raymond is better than Seinfeld. For me, they’re both brilliant, but if I had to choose one, I would say that SeinfeldEverybody Loves Raymond, it’s very hard to be extremely on-the-face-of-it broad and mainstream. But actually, getting some quite edgy stuff in. The relationship between Raymond and his dad, and his dad and everyone else in it, was very dark. He’s a very dark character is Frank in Everybody Loves Raymond. And to get that across to a big audience is quite hard.

For me, I’ll rephrase it. Not that it’s better, but if someone said to me that you had to write an episode of Seinfeld, or an episode of Raymond, I would find Seinfeld easier to write. It’s more of a challenge to write Everybody Loves Raymond.

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I hear Miranda Hart has dropped out of the next series of Not Going Out?

That’s correct, yeah.

You’ve faced this problem before, of course. Have you sorted a replacement for her?

Of course! I get through quite a lot of women in my show! Catherine Tate was in the pilot!

We’re not bringing new characters in. It’s me, Tim Vine, Katy and Sally. We’ve had quite a lot of guest characters this year. And Bobby Ball crops up as my dad again.

I’m quite pleased. I’m happy we’ve got our team of four together, that will be in it now, fingers crossed, for years to come if we’re recommissioned.

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I hope you are.

I hope so too. It’s the thing that I’m most passionate about.

The obvious question, then, is that you left quite a lot of space between the last tour that you did and this one…

Correct.

A lot of comedians now work on the two year cycle, that you have a year off, trial the new show, then go on tour the year after and put the DVD out.

Yeah. That sounds about right to me.

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Are you looking to do that?

I think the nature of sitcom is that the sitcom dictates everything. If the sitcom is recommissioned I will probably concentrate on that for a year, and if not, I will probably go back to the stand-up. I tend to not really make too many plans now.

My only plan right now, quite literally, is that I’m going to have January and February off. And I genuinely don’t think ahead of that. Obviously at some point I’ll do another tour, probably in the next two years maybe. That would be my guess.

Are you continuing with Would I Lie To You as well?

Yeah, we’re doing that in March.

Finally, going back to Not Going Out, you’ve got the fourth series in the can for January?

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Correct.

Have you had any hint of a fifth series?

It’s one of the hardest things about a sitcom, unfortunately, that they’re commissioned from series to series, and are very hard to plan. It gets difficult to do that if you have to do that every year, so I’m hoping that we might have some more concrete commitment. But we’ll have to wait and see.

Do you have any more shows outside of Not Going Out that you’re looking to develop?

I’m talking to Channel Four at the moment about some stuff, and hopefully we’ll get something going. But we’ll have to see what happens!

Lee Mack, thank you very much.

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Lee Mack: Going Out is available on DVD now.

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