Comedy saved me says Ipswich Regent-bound Roy Chubby Brown
Labelled outdated, too blue; controversial comic Roy Chubby Brown talks to entertainments writer WAYNE SAVAGE about his uprbringing, how comedy turned his life around and the trouble with modern stand-ups.
CHUBBY’S life reads like a soap opera script. He left school with no qualifications, was homeless before he was 16, spent time in a detention centre, borstal and jail and drifted from job to job; then came comedy.
“It made me open me eyes,” he says. “I’ve come up the hard way.”
Born Royston Vasey – the town in The League of Gentlemen is named after him – his shows aren’t for the faint-hearted.
He argues he’s not as controversial as he was when first starting in the early 70s; being blamed, quite rightly he adds, for bringing building site humour to the stage.
“My philosophy was even though I was getting an extra £5 or £10 a night for using bad language, that’s the environment I come from. I come from a council estate, me dad liked a drink, me mother b*****ed off when I was eight-year-old with another bloke.
“Everything you see from Roy Chubby Brown is self-explanatory.”
Aged 14 his father moved his new girlfriend and her five children into their home. Chubby moved out.
“I just got me nose pushed out. I thought I’m not having this. They came to my house, were ripping my posters off the walls, playing with my toys, taking my ****ing pocket money. So I just packed up and left.”
He ended up sleeping in a fishing boat in Redcar.
“I was more or less living off scraps. Then I got arrested and taken to a detention centre and then I got borstal, then I went to jail just being a complete and utter ****hole really.”
Starting off as a drummer in working men’s clubs, a power cut during a gig in Stockton-on-Tees switched him on to comedy.
The emergency lighting behind the bar kicked in and Chubby stood up on the drums shouting “don’t panic, don’t panic” after having a few pints.
“Me cousin Derek was the bass player and said ‘we’re keeping that in’. I said no we’re not. He said ‘we’ve got to, that was so funny’. A couple of nights later we’re playing at a hotel and they deliberately stopped playing… I was sat there like a b****y idiot.
“Psychologists and people like that always put comedians down as wanting to be loved because they didn’t have it as children.
“But it’s like if you paint a room and somebody comes in and says ‘you’ve done a lovely job there’ you can’t wait to paint another room because you feel good about yourself.
“It’s the same with comedy. When I started doing comedy and got interested in music it was just fantastic to be paid, even though it was only a fiver or tenner. You’d achieved something, it spurs you on.”
How does he balance being seen as outdated while at the same time labelled as one of the most important comedians of that last 25 years?
“The other night I was at Gillingham Forum and it was sold out within a week. I did an hour and 20 minutes and at the end of it everybody stood up.
“That’s like cocaine for us [comedians]. Why sit back at home and go ‘well I’m old hat now’, I’ll call it a day’. You can’t when people still want to see you.”
He accepts everything changes – he says the American market is costing us our British-ness – and loves all comedians whether old or new. He doesn’t always love their material.
“When I see a modern-day comedian spend 20 minutes telling you about how he got a bus and sat there and who was on the bus, how he looked out the window and all that I’m sat there waiting for the punch line. I could have just told 40 one liners,” says Chubby, who writes all his own material.
“You have comics who stand on stage for three or four hours at a time. After an hour you’re not funny any more we’ve seen you.
“Pack your bags and **** off, you’ve done your job. After an hour a comedian’s given you his best stuff, you’ve laughed your head off, you just want to go back to the bar and discuss it.”
Known for trademark patchwork suit - which used to be made out of beer mats because stag night crowds used to throw pints of beer over him, he laughs – he considered changing his style during the rise of the alternative comic in the 80s, feeling he wasn’t fashionable any more.
“I just couldn’t stand there in a checked shirt with no character at all and try to be funny by saying ‘you know what it’s like ladies and gentleman when you go down the seaside and you hire a boat and you’re there and you think, them ducks are staring at me’… I admire them who do and get away with it.
“I always said all these alternative comics would end up telling jokes and I was right,” he adds.
While he may regard himself less controversial than he was; his routines are still heavy on sexual innuendo, sarcasm, race and gender.
He’s clearly doing something right, selling out venues up and down the UK despite rarely appearing on TV.
Chubby puts the latter down to not being trusted. It cost him a spot on the old talent show Opportunity Knocks.
“I was telling a story about a bloke who had too much food. He went to the doctors and the doctor said ‘what have you had to eat today’ and he said ‘oh I got up this morning, I had bacon, egg, mushrooms, beans, chips, fried bread, then I had a sausage roll and some chocolate and for dinner I had two bowls of soup, roast beef , Yorkshire pudding…
“The doctor said ‘drop your trousers, there’s your problem you’ve only one a**e. Everybody howled but the producers said ‘I think the reason they turned you down Chubby is because you said a**e. You can’t be trusted’.
“That shows you how much times have changed.”
Roy Chubby Brown is at the Ipswich Regent tomorrow.