Paul Ricketts: Ironic Infinity
After receiving a lot of bad comedy advice, Paul Ricketts is doing what he wants to do: just being funny
You're one of a number of comedians at the 2012 Fringe who've said they want to do a show that's pure standup. What's the motivation behind this, for you personally?
Over the last 5 years there has been a slew of semi-autobiographical, issue based or Dave Gorman type 'challenge' shows which rely on PowerPoint presentations. I've got nothing against these types of shows as I've done them myself, but what I love about pure stand-up is its simplicity. In essence you don't need any equipment – just an audience. Also with all these types of shows you're tied to one subject and with pure stand-up you can talk about anything as long as it's funny. My original title for my new show was 'No Big Issue' but I thought that might be confusing when handing out flyers on the Royal Mile.
A lot of the show seems to be a reaction to bad advice received in the past. Is the standup scene, in your experience, difficult to navigate for an up-and-comer these days?
Yes and no. It's easier in that there are many comedy courses to prepare would-be comics and there's a mapped out career path for new comics to follow – open mic circuit, paid gigs, Edinburgh show, Radio 4 and/or panel show, Macintyre Roadshow and world domination. So more people than ever before are wanting to be stand-ups – which is good. On the other hand there are more comics competing for attention and work than ever before. Plus those gatekeepers to success are not as idiosyncratic in their choices as they were in the 1980s alternative comedy boom – now it's more important to be young (or appear young), good-looking, non-confrontational as well as this country's traditional biases towards those from elitist institutions.
What's the worst piece of advice you've received?
To be more like Jack Whitehall. I've got nothing against Jack but in all ways I'm obviously nothing like him.
Tell us about some good advice you've received.
18 months after I started I finally listened to my girlfriend and stopped trying to be a 'dead pan' or a 'cool' comic and show more of my 'madness' onstage.
I know a lot of your material deals with race. Is race much of an issue in terms of doing standup in present-day Britain?
A lot of my material USED to deal with race and I will always do some 'black material' or what I prefer to call observations about my life. Race certainly is still an issue – I notice even today that the BNP are planning a march in Glasgow. This year when I performed my last Edinburgh show Kiss The Badge, Fly The Flag! at Leicester Square Theatre – which focuses on race, football and identity – I had to rewrite over a third of it to include the Suarez, John Terry and other incidents that happened at Euro 2012. With my new show there's a strong focus on other political and cultural subjects but I'll never listen to certain promoters who've told me to never to talk about race. Especially as on one occasion it was after I followed a black US comic onstage. When I pointed out that he was allowed to mention race the white promoter replied "Well he's American – he's really black!"
One piece of advice you received was to act like a 'country nigger'. Maybe I'm innocent, but I genuinely have no idea what that is. Can you explain it?
Ok, well 'country nigger' was said to me by a black promoter and he was using an American expression which referred to black people from the southern states. In this context he was referring to the fact that I'm not from London – over 60% of the black population of African Caribbean descent live in the capital. I grew up in a small town (Bedford) and he wanted me to play up that fact, in a country bumpkin type way. He wasn't being intentionally insulting but you know what these Londoners are like...
What's the most bizarre racist slur you've ever heard?
One of the most bizarre racist slurs came from my local Conservative MP, the late Sir Trevor Skeet, at a political meeting. I was barely a teenager and I corrected him on factual inaccuracies he made when talking about Cambodia. "Young man," he said "you might be right as you obviously appear to have left that country fairly recently."
What advice would you pass on to a new standup?
Gig, write, gig, write and repeat patiently for an undetermined number of years.
And finally, who else are you planning to see while you're in Edinburgh?
Lewis Schaffer, Reginald D Hunter and David Trent.