On 30th March, Alan Carr will walk onstage and tell a few jokes. Nothing new there, you might think. Except the stage will be the O2 Arena, the audience will number over 10,000, and Carr will be opening the show at what may be the best line up in British comedy history. No pressure, then...
The event is Channel 4's Comedy Gala in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital. Here, Carr looks forward to the big day, and reveals why, in venue terms, size matters, how he nearly chose an actor's life, and why he's not the man to get round to put up your shelves.
On March 30th, you're opening what will be one of the biggest comedy shows in history, at the O2 Arena, in aid of Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital. What's going to be happening on the evening?
Well, I can only speak for myself, really. Looking at the line-up, it's like an A to Z of the greatest comedians around at the moment - Lee Evans, Michael McIntyre, Bill Bailey, David Mitchell, Jack Dee, Jonathan Ross, Sean Lock - so you're gonna have a laugh, that's all I can say at the minute. I think there will be a few surprises in there as well. But I can guarantee anyone watching it will have a smile on their face.
You've said before that you can get very nervous, doing stand-up. Is that still the case?
Yes, I still get nervous. And the idea of performing at the O2? Oh my God, I'm going to be like a rabbit in the headlights. But I did some stand-up at the Birmingham NEC before Christmas, and you can see why rock stars do what they do. I was just walking on air when I came off there. When you come on, by the time people have stopped applauding five minutes have gone. And you could hear the laughs reverberating around the room for ages. You'd be looking at your watch thinking 'Should I do my next joke now?' It was an amazing feeling, and as I say, I can see why rock stars get off on it.
So can we expect you to go off and join a death metal band now?
Yeah! I might stage dive when I'm playing the O2, I'm just warning you. But then, saying all of this, I might go out there and die on my arse. There might be boos reverberating round the whole place.
Do you like playing those enormous venues, or do you prefer the more intimate ones?
It's swings and roundabouts, really. I remember on my last tour, I was sort of up against it, because The Friday Night Project was still on, so I could only do so much. And just as I got to that stage where I could have gone to an arena, I had to go back to my TV show. When I see Michael McIntyre and Lee Evans and all these amazing people performing, I think about how amazing it is to perform in those huge places. But then again, this sounds really wanky, but when I was in Bradford on my tour, I performed in the same place that Laurel and Hardy had performed, and Harry Houdini. It was St George's Hall. Charles Dickens had read A Christmas Carol there, that's where it premiered, so you're looking up in this old hall, and it just seems full of history. In the big arenas, you don't get that buzz of history. I was vomiting into a bucket at the Birmingham NEC. Behind the curtains, just hearing all the voices... So doing the O2 will be amazing.
You studied Drama and Theatre Studies. Do you think that type of thing helps you prepare for the live performances that you do now?
Yeah. I did a stand-up module on my course. So when I started off doing it, I wasn't a complete novice. I wasn't coming out and looking the wrong way and performing with my back to the audience. I had stage craft, so I was halfway there. I just didn't know if the jokes were going to be funny. Thankfully, people laughed.
Did you do any serious roles while you were studying?
Oh yeah, I did all sorts at Middlesex Uni. We did absurd theatre, invisible theatre, musical theatre - before I became this camp person we all know and love, I used to have some sort of ability.
What is invisible theatre?
That's where a group of actors perform on the street, and you don't tell people it's a performance, and you try and get members of the public involved. We got on a tube carriage, and someone got on with a really loud ghetto-blaster, and was pumping out this hardcore techno, and I was a businessman, and I said 'Can you turn that off, please? It's really annoying'. And then we'd try and get other members of the public involved, and our tutor was in the corner of the carriage, marking us on our acting ability. What a waste of taxpayers money that was!
Did you ever want to make acting your main career?
Oh, I dreamed of being an actor. I'd love to have done it. But, to be honest, I don't think I have much range.
You don't see yourself as an action hero, then?
Funnily enough, no. I've got a few friends who are actors now, and I know how hard it is to get work. So I feel a bit bad when I come along and get a part. I took the stand-up route, and I probably wouldn't have even got this far if I had just become a jobbing actor. I'd probably get less acting work than I do now. It's funny how things work out.
When you're performing a gig like the one at the O2, with loads of different acts, will you have time to enjoy the other performances?
Well, I'm over the moon, because I'm on first, I'm opening the thing. So I am going to finish that, then sit and have a big bottle of red wine and just enjoy everyone else. I really enjoy other comedians. You get some who aren't interested in watching anyone else. Though looking at the line up, I don't think there will be anyone like that there. It's a great bunch of people - and they're all giving up their time for free, for Great Ormond Street, so you'd have to be a bit of an arsehole not to want everyone else to do well. So yeah, I'm on first, after which I can just enjoy it like everyone else.
Is there anyone in particular you're looking forward to seeing?
I love Lee Evans, he'll be great. Ruth Jones is doing something, Rob Brydon. It's just a Who's Who of comedy. It'll be so much fun.
Who are your all-time favourite comedians? Who has inspired you over the years?
Well, I didn't really want to be a comedian, so I've never exactly been inspired by stand-ups. I do like comedy actors like Peter Sellers and Mel Brooks. I'm more drawn to comedy films and things like that - a bit of Mike Leigh, Abigail's Party, Secrets & Lies and stuff. That's more my thing, rather than actual stand-up. I tend to be drawn towards the more surreal and the silly, rather than the political or all of that 'My wife...' stuff. That's really not my cup of tea.
Why do you think you've been asked to open the show?
I think I'm quite an energetic act. I don't know really, it's such a compliment.
How long is your slot?
I don't know. There are so many people performing, it'll probably go on until about 5am.
Is there a skill to opening a show like that, or do you treat it as just any other gig?
I'm just going to treat it as any other show. I'm going to trick my head into believing it's just any old gig. That's what I'll keep telling myself. But it's going to be terrifying.
How do you come up with new material? Where do you get your ideas from?
I take my little notebook around with me and just write little bits down. And if I say something that makes people laugh I write it down, and then I have one day a week where I just sit and collate it all and make it into a routine. You just write about things in your life. I've recently got a dog, and I'm moving house, and there's lots of DIY to do. The more situations you have like that in your life, the more material flows.
What's your DIY like?
Oh, absolutely awful. But I just thought I'd give it a go. You end up sitting there looking at a shelf hanging off the wall. But it provokes ideas in me, that's what I do, I try and put myself in situations I normally wouldn't do, to see what comes of it.
Some nights doing stand-up, you can go on and absolutely knock them dead, and on other nights the same material can fall a bit flat. Why do you think that is?
It's really weird. I won't mention the play, but I remember a friend of mine went to see a musical and absolutely loved it, so they went back and saw it, and a different star had taken over the lead role, and it just wasn't funny any more. But it's the same joke and the same script and the same lyrics. You start getting into all that metaphysical shit, you know what I mean? An audience brings something to the occasion. So sometimes you'll go on first and they'll really take some warming up, and sometimes they're absolutely chomping at the bit, the audience, and it's the ones at the end who are getting the slow handclaps and the tomatoes being thrown. It's weird.
There's certain days that seem to be better than others. I always found Friday nights quite hard, because people have just finished work and they're coming in straight from the working day and saying 'Right, come on, make me laugh'. Whereas on a Saturday they've done a day's shopping, maybe had a cheeky Vimto, and then they turn up and they're putty in your hand. And then sometimes you can just be shit! But if that's the case, I just blame the audience anyway!
How much money are you hoping to raise?
I've no idea, hopefully loads, because I'm getting a cut of the takings. No, I'm not really. I hope we raise a lot, because it's such a great cause. I'm actually going to visit Great Ormond Street beforehand, to have a look and see where the money's going. I was worried that it might break my heart going there, but apparently it's very uplifting, and all about fun and keeping the kids upbeat and everything. It'll be very inspiring, and really motivating, I think. I just hope they don't film it all in black and white and play Westlife's You Raise Me Up as I'm going round the wards.
You've got your own chat show, and countless awards, and you're opening this massive show. Do you ever look at your life and think 'How the hell did I get here'?
Oh yeah, you have to pinch yourself half the time. I mean, I was bogling with Rihanna last night. Sometimes there are amazing things that happen, and you think 'Oh my God, how did I get here?' Then, at other times, Mickey Rourke's got you in a head lock and is shouting, and you think 'Oh my God, how did I get here?' And it's a rather different feeling. But none of it lasts forever, does it?
What are the best and worst things about being famous?
The best and worst things are the same, really - the general public. I get so much lovely praise and people are really kind - I get lovely tweets and lovely letters and stuff. But then on the other side you get the ones who are nasty. It's different sides of the same coin. The thing is, none of those people really know me. That's the thing with telly, you get projected on screen and edited down. That's why I do love stand-up, because you get a more rounded picture, and there are no jokes edited out. You just get the real deal.
By Benjie Goodhart