Why is SU2C so important to you?
I think as you get older, you just come into contact with cancer more. I lost my uncle two weeks ago to lung cancer. I think this year is going to have a bit more of a purpose for me. As you get older, more and more people seem to be battling it, and it becomes more and more relevant. You just feel something has to be done.
You’ve been to UCL Cancer Institute to see where some of the money goes. Can you talk about what use the money that is raised is put to?
Whenever I do Stand Up to Cancer, I always donate, and I like to get as much information as possible. So when I’m looking down the lens and I’m talking to people at home, I can look them in the eye knowing (a) I’ve done something about it, and (b) that my heart and soul is in the whole Stand Up to Cancer ethos. These people working towards a cure are amazing, and every single penny goes straight into research. The work they do is amazing,
In the past, you’ve played Deal or No Deal, and taken on the Child Geniuses. What are you going to be up to this year?
I always out myself up for something, but I’ve no idea what they’ve got in store for me this year. I know it’ll me humiliating. I’m still not over being beaten by a 13-year-old child genius. It still smarts.
Is it important to bring a bit of joy to people, after a rough 18 months?
Yeah. I think Stand Up to Cancer does get the balance right. Davina will tell you, we’ll have these jokes in the script, and then you watch one of the videos about someone battling cancer, or someone who’s lost their battle with cancer, and you’ll say “Just scroll through, I’m not doing this joke,” because you’ve got a lump in your throat and you want to get through the link before you burst into tears. But it has to be entertaining, we can’t have people switching off. Stand Up to cancer gets that balance really right, whether it’s Gogglebox or a silly sketch, or someone singing something beautiful. They get the balance right, and it has to be, because we want to people watch it right up to the last minute, and have an enjoyable evening, but knowing that every penny they’re donating is saving a life.
What have been your favourite moments from SU2C in the past?
I think when I did Deal or No Deal, that was quite fun! But in the past few years we’ve done it at Methodist Hall, what a location. Sometimes, to be up there, knowing the generosity of the British public has helped raise so much money, looking out over Westminster Abbey and the London Eye, it is magical on the top of that roof. When it doesn’t rain, obviously. This show just has a very unique feel about it, and that’s what I love. There’s a really mucking-in, Blitz-spirit kind of feel to it which we all love about it. I love the vibe of the show.
You’ve had some big names on the show in the past, including some Hollywood stars. Do you ever get star-struck?
When we had Bradley Cooper on I got a bit star struck. It doesn’t hurt that he’s easy on the eye as well! Yeah, of course I het star struck, but it’s just so sweet that people take time out of their busy schedules to come on. Those are the watercooler moments that get people talking. The more people talk about the show, and raise awareness, the better for everyone.
How do you control your emotions on the night?
Have you seen the show? I don’t control them! The clips with the children are just heart-breaking. It’s not just me crying, it’s the make-up people, it’s everyone behind the scenes. You get so sad, you get down, but I don’t know what it is, in those last minutes you understand where the title Stand Up to Cancer comes from, because something happens and you go “Right, come on then! Let’s do this. Let’s do it for that little girl.” So it does make you really sad, you’re choked up, but you use that, you think “This is why I’m doing this!”
Things can go wrong on the night. You’ve had the autocue go down in the middle of a routine. What was that like?
Well, you just look like you’ve shat yourself. But you just go into some weird auto-pilot where you’re just saying words, just filling the time. It might not even make sense. I did another telethon, with Fern Britton, and she said, “Let’s hope the autocue doesn’t go down,” and I said “What? It can go down?” And then the lights went up. If the autocue goes down, it’s a bit like being on a night bus. You just turn to the person next to you and start up a conversation. Let’s hope there are no gremlins in the technology this year. After lockdown, I really just want a smooth ride.
Presumably your experience in stand-up helps with that sort of situation, though?
Oh yeah. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve had an autocue go down. On Crufts, Children In Need, Comic Relief – and there is something that just kicks in, and you just say the most banal rubbish. You just fill the time with talking. Me and David Walliams were doing Comic relief when Russell Brand was 20 minutes late, and we had to fill for 20 minutes. I was basically just telling people what we were going to have for tea and asking David if he was going anywhere nice for his holidays. I mean, I can fill for a couple of minutes, but 20 minutes? I was telling people my pin by the end of it.
SU2C has become a hugely recognised brand and is now a TV staple. That must be hugely rewarding, to have played a role in that.
Yes, it’s great. And the last time we did the live show, the generosity of the British public was amazing, we raised so much money. I was absolutely buzzing. And then the next day, I got an email from my agent, and someone who was coming to see my stand-up show, a little boy who was a big fan, had died that night, of cancer. It was like a punch in the stomach. But I thought “Doesn’t that just say, ‘the fight’s going on’?” I’d been absolutely buzzing, I thought we got the balance really right, it was entertaining, it was heart-breaking, everything you want from a charity thing, and you think “That amazing money is going to make such a difference.” And that money was just a bit too late for him. And the fight goes on.
How will you prepare for the night?
In the Methodist Hall you’re not allowed to have alcohol in, and afterwards you go offstage and you’re gagging for a gin and tonic. It’s like a sick joke. No alcohol? What? After all I’ve been through. So I’ll tell you what I’m doing afterwards – making sure there’s a nice little bottle of red in my room. But I get on with everyone, I’ve worked with Davina and Adam and Maya before, so it’ll be a lot of fun. We really get on. You’ve got to look forward to it, you can’t get down about it, because you’ve got to put on a show at the end of the day.
I imagine winding down afterwards is quite difficult.
Yeah, you don’t really. You’re up till about 3am, (a) because of the adrenaline of doing live telly, and (b) because of the subject matter. People are on your mind, and some of the videos where we’ve shown people who have passed away, their families are there, so we meet them afterwards, and they’ve got a mixture of emotions as well. You feel like you need a bit of counselling afterwards. But touch wood, we always come off feeling we’ve done our best – even if the autocue breaks down. I still think we should be proud of the night.