Justin Moorhouse was a 29 year old salesman when he contacted The Frog and Bucket comedy club in Manchester to perform his first ever comedy spot back in 2000. Within a mere 18 months he had already performed well over 300 gigs and won a competition held at the infamous Comedy Store in Manchester.
He has appeared at the Edinburgh Festival with his one man show on four occasions and also works as a Radio DJ. In the 2011-12 series of Celebrity Mastermind, he was one of the winners with his chosen specialist subject, Les Dawson.
Right now, he is about to embark on a 34 date tour of the UK with his new solo show the “Justin Time Tour” so we thought this was a good time as any to catch up with him.
Billy: Hello folks, my name is Billy Watson, I’m working on behalf of Comedy Chords website and I’m here today with Justin Moorhouse who is a comedian and radio DJ. So how are you doing today Justin?
Justin: I’m alright mate. Two things before we go any further. I like the way you say Moorhouse, it’s a very Scottish way of saying Moorhouse and I like how you call me a comedian and a DJ but it makes me feel weird that. I never think of myself as a DJ, I’ve done loads of radio shows but I just like to think of myself as a comedian. If I didn’t do anything else and just tell jokes every day, I’d be happy with that.
I used to do the radio show every day, now I just do it once a week on a Sunday. I just have a laugh. It’s a commercial radio station that plays a certain type of music and has a certain demographic. There are certain things you gotta do but within that, I try to have as much fun as I can. I just be myself.
Billy: Yeah, I think that’s what we all want to do really. When I first started comedy, like many other comedians I wanted to be Bill Hicks, but it’s very difficult thing trying to get the laughs and also say something a bit more substantial to leave people with something extra to think about.
Justin: Yeah, I think I’m the last comedian who could say they were like Bill Hicks but I’m trying, I’ve been a comedian for 12 years and I’m not the comedian I want to be yet.
My job fundamentally is to try and make people laugh and give them a little bit of escapasim in the moment, make them feel better about themselves if I can and if I’ve got opinions about things then I’m happy to say them, as long as they are funny. I used to do a line on stage where I used to say “I’m not one of those comedians who says, if I don’t laugh, I’ll make you think” For me, if you think about laughing, that’s the starting point. I understand what you mean when you say that, some of my favourite comedians are brilliant, they make me laugh and also make you think about things but I don’t know many comedians that have changed many people’s opinions.
George Carlin for example, who was brilliant, he just articulated what most of his audience thought anyway. I think it would be interesting to see a mainstream alternative comedian coming from a Right Wing standpoint. It wouldn’t be my cup of tea but it would be interesting.
Billy: Yeah, I just like a comedian for who they are, like Doug Stanhope can tell a lot of rude stories but then at the same time say something about the election facade. As you say, it’s not going to change the world but it’s good to hear someone say those things I think, just so you don’t think you are by yourself, you know.
Justin: Definitely, I saw Doug Stanhope when he first came to Britain at the Edinburgh Festival and he was downstairs in The Tron and I’ve never seen stand up as good as that, before, after or since. Brilliant. He had this kind of, not humility, but he was taken aback by how much people liked him. It was so different to what anyone else was doing at that time and it was just brilliant. You look back at some of the stuff he was talking about and it was disgusting but it was hilarious. That’s the best I have ever seen in a comedian.
You know, it’s that whole thing about being true to thine own self and all that isn’t it. As long as you are saying what you want to say, fine, but if you are saying things just because you think the audience want to hear them or you think people want to be shocked …..and there are comedians like that, (I’m not talking about famous ones, I’m talking about people from the rank and file and people from a bit below) they don’t realise that shocking in itself isn’t funny or just saying ‘The Tories are a bunch of bastards’ I mean that’s easy isn’t it? Why do you think that? Politics is very personal and I think as long as you say what you want to say then that’s the main thing.
Billy: So what made you, when you were working as a Salesman, get up in front of an audience for the first time?
Justin: Yeah, well I’d loved comedy all my life. I’d rather watch the Two Ronnies than watch a film. That’s always been my thing. I choose comedy over everything and I used to go out in Manchester and watch comedy a lot at the Frog and Bucket, every couple of weeks. I wouldn’t say I was a comedy fan, I just liked it. I was 29, so it was quite late to start doing stand up. I just thought ‘Oh I’ll give this a go” so I rang them up and said “How do you be a comedian?” And they said ‘Oh we do this thing on Monday nights, come down and have a go’, so I did.
Billy: You took 50 of your mates along, that’s pressure mate.
Justin: I didn’t take my mates along. I just told people and next thing you know about 50 people turned up. There was a bit of pressure there but it also made it easy cause they were all willing me to do well. So I got away with it the first time and I went back the second week and bombed, died on my arse and then the next went kind of alright, a mixture of both. But I thought you had to have new material every time so that’s the first mistake I made and then I done it three times and then I thought ‘well I’m going to carry on doing this’ cause how do you say ‘I used to be a stand up comedian?’ To me that would have been the saddest thing ever.
Billy: Yeah, if you get one good night where you make people laugh, there is something about that that is more addictive than Heroin – you need to get back up there.
Justin: I personally think that most comedians have got issues with needing to be liked, or they need attention. You don’t necessarily like Doug Stanhope, using him as an example is quite unfair as I don’t know what his motivation is, but he needs to be liked or he needs people to listen to him. They say all comedians are sad but they’re not all sad, I’m not a sad person but I hate being ignored.
Billy: So you started to perform more regularly and ended up winning a comedy store competition?
Justin: Yeah, I don’t think it’s running anymore. It was the North West comedian of the year and I just entered it and lots of famous people had won it like you know, Steve Coogan, John Thompson and Caroline Blair and I just entered it and done really well. I was quite good quite quickly and it was at the Comedy Store and they took me on and started giving me weekends after 18 months which was unbelievable.
In my first year I’d done like 250 gigs. I would do any gig, anywhere for any money, any time. That’s the way I threw myself into it and you get good by working hard you know. That’s the only way you get good. There is nobody who’s made it off the circuit who a) isn’t good at what they do and b) hasn’t worked hard. They’ve all worked really hard.
Billy: So what’s your process for writing your Edinburgh Show?
Justin: I do as many previews as I do Edinburgh Shows. I probably do 25 previews. I start off by not trying to do an hour but by trying to do half an hour. The last two times I’ve done it, what I’ve done is, I record every single gig and listen to it on the way home and then I listen to it on the way to the next gig, then I never listen to it again. Then I record again and do the same thing and that’s the only way that I’ve been able to do it. I’ve never been able to sit down with a pen and write Edinburgh Shows. I write on the stage. The best things come from ad-libs and things you think of in the moment and if you listen to it twice and do it again, it ends up sticking. I write half an hour’s worth of stories or jokes or situations and within 25 performances that will be an hour.
Billy: Well that’s quite interesting because writing for the page is one thing, you write what you think is funny for the page but I’m doing a gig tomorrow and I don’t know what I’m going to say and then I force myself to come up with something. When you sit down and write it it’s almost contrived and it doesn’t have that spark that would come out if you said it live to someone, you know?
Justin: Yeah, I’ve got out of the habit really but I think I should tape every gig I do and listen to it because, you know, why wouldn’t you? Footballers analyse their performances even if they win. If you write on stage like I do, then you either need someone in the audience writing it all down for you or you need to listen back to it yourself. Although, I hate the sound of my own voice and you hear all the imperfections and when you start writing an Edinburgh Show you go straight back to being a fucking open spot and apologising if material doesn’t work and start a joke by going ‘this might not be funny’ you know, all them stupid things.
So if I was doing a brand new Edinburgh show this year, I would think, what would it generally be about and I would probably think of four or five stories that I wanted to tell. What I’d do would be go onstage and do a bit of self comparing, do a bit of schtick, do a bit of stuff that I do and maybe chat to someone in the audience and then I’d just improvise around the ideas.
Billy: So is it the same show every night in Edinburgh?
Justin: After the three previews in Edinburgh then yes it is going to be the same, though not word for word but the running order will be the same. I say jokes word for word that I’ve been doing for two or three years. So I mix it up a bit, surprise yourself, that’s what keeps me going. If it’s not funny, it’s time to stop doing it or doing it a different way.
Billy: So the first time you went to Edinburgh were you an established act or did you go and book a room yourself. How many times have you done Edinburgh and what was your experience of that?
Justin: I’ve done 6 Edinburghs, two gong shows and then 4 solo shows in a row. And I’ve always gone with producers, I’ve always gone and done it the expensive way, in the big venues. I’ve lost money every time. Last time I did it I got a bit of sponsorship, you know promotion money, but I’ve never made money. I’ve never been a ‘hit’ in Edinburgh. It’s been a bit of a struggle really. I mean, you can do really well on the circuit and really well on tour but the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is it’s own economy, it’s own kind of thing.
The objective in hindsight was all about getting noticed and you know good stuff comes out of it, like building contacts and ‘networking’ if you want to use that dirty, horrible phrase. And if you are doing 30 gigs and all the late night ones you come away from Edinburgh a better comedian and plus you have a right laugh, you hang around with your mates for a month and you’re staying in someone else’s flat and going on the piss. When you are Forty and got two kids, you can’t do that anywhere else in August apart from Edinburgh.
The problem is that it is so expensive that it is very difficult to do but having said that the free fringe is making a difference and that is good to see. It is a great example of thinking about things differently. No-one has ever answered this question though…. if the performers don’t make money in the big venues and the venues don’t make money and the producers are not making money, where is all the money going? Somebody must be making some money somewhere.
Billy: Well, the printers are making money, there are posters everywhere. Surely the big venues are making money?
Justin: Well, they say they don’t. They say they just break even. You might be right, it may be just a cabal of printers who have got together. Maybe this is run by, it’s Murdoch, isn’t it? There is nothing sadder than going to Edinburgh Festival, just before it starts and you go and get your flyers in the lock up and before you put them in there you’ve got to throw out 10 boxes that never got handed out last year away. Why were these not given out?
The only worse thing I have seen than that, was one day I had done a show and it had been alright and I went to the toilet which was next to the entrance to my venue and I was having a pee and I looked down and I was literally peeing on my own face.
Billy: Hahahaha. Yeah, that’s funny. So, you’ve got a tour coming up now, yeah. Is this different from your Edinburgh show because you finished Edinburgh at the end of August. Have you written a completely new show for this?
Justin: Yeah, it starts on the first of February all over the country. Some venues are selling very well, some not so well. But you know, I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be good. I’ve not been to Edinburgh for the past couple of years so this is a brand new show. It’s a brand new hour and a bit of material and a bit of improvising and a bit of crowd work and a bit of local stuff so yeah, all brand new jokes. It’s stuff I’ve been doing in the clubs for the last three months. I tell stories really. I’ve been doing the stories in Christmas clubs and they were still working so you know they are ready, do you know what I mean?
Billy: That’s good, and what size are the venues you are going to be playing and how do you promote each one?
Justin: I’m doing a lot of comedy clubs. In Scotland I’m doing The Stand in Glasgow and Edinburgh and in the North West I’ll do a bit bigger as I sell more tickets here so I’m doing 500 seat theatres. Nowhere smaller than a 100 but nowhere bigger than 500.
I try and do a lot of radio, newspaper competitions, a lot of places I’m doing I’ve gigged there before so you’re on their mailing list and I push it out on Facebook and put little YouTube clips up, just reminding people what you’ve done. And the tickets are not expensive. It’s cheap, between £10 and £15 pounds. Comedians in theatres now it’s like £30 to go and see them. It’s not far off the price of a cinema ticket and it’s less than going to see football.
Billy: So you are a big football fan. You support Man Utd. What’s the reason you go to the football? Is it just purely for the football or do you have friends you go with and it’s a social thing?
Justin: I go with my son who has just turned 16 and that’s something we’ve always done together. I like that chat and a couple of pints but I’m lucky enough. I’m a Man Utd fan and so we’re relatively successful aren’t we and we play exciting football. I’m not one of those who supports Doncaster through thick and thin. Until I was about 20 we won the odd cup but the last 20 years have been amazing for us. It’s been quite nice. I did take a year out though and that helped to refresh my palette for it. I would recommend that to anyone.
Billy: So what’s your plans after the tour, are you going to be doing Edinburgh this year?
Justin: Well, I don’t think so but that at the moment is up in the air but we wrote a radio four sitcom so there’s a couple of series of that on and we have been asked to write, we’ve been paid, commissioned is the word, to write TV, so that’s what we are doing at the moment and hopefully we’ll finish and produce a good TV show. That is the absolute aim.
Billy: Ok, well best of Luck Justin, it was nice talking to you and good luck with the tour.
Justin: Thanks, are you going to Edinburgh this year?
Billy: I’m thinking about booking it up now yeah. I just don’t know how I can afford the plane fare but where there is a will there is a way.
Justin: Hitchhike Billy, hitchhike!
Billy: Ha. Yeah, I may just do that. Thanks.