Felixstowe: Famous, no thanks say Big Cheese headliner Carl Donnelly

Carl Donnelly, coming to Felixstowe

Carl Donnelly, coming to Felixstowe - Credit: Archant

You’ve probably seen Carl Donnelly, headlining this Friday’s Big Cheese Comedy night at the Felixstowe Trades and Labour Club, on shows like Mock the Week. Live is where it’s at for him though.

“I wouldn’t say I’m picky but I’m not a massive fan of appearing on television. At the minute it’s quite hard for stand-ups to do their own thing on television; you’ve got to play the game and go on 8 out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, these shows... I don’t think most stand-ups enjoy those shows because it’s not what you do.”

In a Radio Times interview last week - touching, among other things, on the recent ban on all-male panels on comedy shows - Mock the Week host Dara O’Briain says it’s gone through all the comics at some stage and most of them are delighted not to have to do it again... with people comparing it to jumping out of an aeroplane.

The need for loads of jokes, and thinking, plus seven voices trying to get in on the conversation makes it a tough environment.

“The beauty of stand-up is you’re in control. It [appearing on TV panel shows] is that horrible feeling where everyone, even if you’re not that sort of person, is vying for the attention and limelight, it almost turns comedy into a competition...,” says Donnelly, who admits he’s not the most ambitious person in terms of telly, loving gigging and trying new material more.


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“I’m not too keen on it all (TV panel shows) so I’m not in a rush to do much more. Radio is much nicer, less competitive, you can do a lot more, be a lot more open and say what you want.

“I’ve no wont to be famous or an arena-selling comedian. If you’re selling 10,000 tickets a night there’s a certain amount where you have to edit to the crowd rather than doing your own thing... it’s not a criticism of comics who do that, that’s what they thrive on, that’s what they do. Me, I much prefer to do it on my own terms.”

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Strangely, like a lot of comedians I talk to, stand-up wasn’t something he ever wanted to do. He enjoyed watching the likes of Dave Allen on telly, saw Eddie Murphy’s stand-up albums, but it was never a passion.

That changed after he quit his university film degree, realising he wasn’t that interested in working in the industry, and started getting everyday jobs wherever he could.

“Weirdly, I then went to watch live stand-up, I’d never seen it before, I remember going to a gig in Balham, South London, and it just blew my mind. I remember sitting there thinking ‘this is the best thing I’ve ever seen’.”

Catching the bug, he went along to more and more gigs, thinking it was something he’d like to try despite having no performance experience.

“[That first gig was] really terrifying but at the same time so exciting, the moment I walked on stage I felt totally comfortable even though I was really nervous. It was weird. That’s how you know it’s something you’re meant to do; when you go on stage and that the fear is matched with the excitement of doing it.”

Sounding refreshed after a four-and-a-half week adventure in India, the longest break from stand-up he’s ever had, and extolling the benefits of having turned vegan overnight after coming off dairy in January last year, he’s looking forward to the Felixstowe gig where he’ll be supported by Paul Pirie, Justin Panks and emcee Njambi McGrath. It’s a chance to revisit some favourites and road-test new material for his next tour.

“Last year’s show was about the fact I’d broke up with my wife. It’s not one of those dark sort of shows, it’s quite silly and uplifting but I talk about that, what’s been going since I’ve had this... I don’t want to say freedom, that makes it sound like I want to go out and have it off with women,” he laughs. “It’s about the time I [have] to go out and do things... I talk about going vegan...”

Turning 32 while in India, he and his best friend made a rule to slum it in the sense they had a backpack but no plan aside from where they were landing and where they were flying out from; the rest was going to be made up as they went along.

“The adventures we got into, it’s such a weird country, so alien, such a different way of life; it was good to experience something so different. I’ve come back with a load of ideas.

“It was nice to actually get away and do something normal for a change,” says Donnelly, who says it’s quite easy to get caught up in being a comic especially when all you’re ever doing is gigging and hanging out with other stand-ups.

“When you start out you’ve got so much to talk about because you’re a normal person with a normal job... you lose contact a bit with real life, you often hear comedians doing material about what happened at other gigs, it’s just like ‘oh God’,” he laughs. “You can make it funny but what does a room full of people who have actual lives care about what happened to you at a gig in Norwich or something?”

Future Big Cheese Comedy events include: March 6, Tony Law with support from Danny Nuckler and James Sherwood, emcee is Steven N Allen, Colchester United Club; April 4, Nathon Caton with Craig Murray, from the TV ad Plusnet, and Matt Price, emcee is Clyde West, Colchester United Club; April 5, Andre Vincent supported by Paddy Lennox and Ant Dewson, emcee is Stella Graham, Felixstowe Trades and Labour Club; May 1, Stephen Grant with Paul Pirie, Jimmy James Jones and emcee Paul Eyres, Colchester United Club; May 2, Ninia Benjamin supported by James Sherwood and Jimmy James Jones, emcee is Paul Eyres, Felixstowe Trades and Labour Club. Tickets are £8 in advance, £10 on the door. Visit www.bigcheesecomedy.com for more details.

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