King of the Jungle: Joe Pasquale

7th October 2011

Comedian, marathon runner, I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here!-winner and wannabe geo-scientist Joe Pasquale has just embarked on his autumn tour, which hits the Watford Colosseum next weekend and promises all the irreverent stand-up humour that audiences have come to associate with him.

Behind the irrepressible front, though, lies a thoughtful man, and a serious-minded student, as Optima’s Emma Carter found out. She asked the questions; Joe delivered the answers, in that oh-so-distinctive helium voice…

How have you worked out the new show?

There are plenty of new routines, like Cheese Corner, for example. I found a piece of music on iTunes called Where’s The Cheese Gone?, and built a routine around it, in which I put on a hat that looks like it’s made of cheese, play the drums to the song (bear with me…) and try and do as many jokes about cheese as I can. At the end of the first half, I’ll have a Cheese Box at the front of the stage and people can put their own cheese jokes in it and have them read out in the second half – and if you get your joke read out , you get a Dairylea triangle. But I won’t be giving them away lightly.

What about any of your ‘old favourites’?

Comics can be like bands, can’t they? When you go and see a band and they play all their new album and not stuff that you know and really like, you come away disappointed. It can be the same with comedy; people say ‘Aren’t you doing any magic this year?’, or ‘Aren’t you doing that routine?’ or ‘I loved it when you used to sing that song’, so this year there’ll be a bit of stuff that people are familiar with.
I’ll be doing a painting, as I always do on the shows on tour. It’s on the theme of madness, and the background music to it is Windmills Of Your Mind, the lyrics of which makes no sense at all, do they?

Have you found the audiences getting younger?

Well… [mischievous grin, here…] you do go to some places these days and see signs on roundabouts that say ‘Happy 30th birthday, Grandma’. But, seriously, I have found that people who came to see me when they were kids are now bringing their own children, which can be quite disconcerting.

Next year, I’m doing a play of Doctor In The House, which was a TV series in the 70s, and a film in the 50s with Dirk Bogarde and James Robertson Justice. The producer’s only 23 and I had a meeting with him and he said ‘I saw you at the Secombe Centre when I was about nine…’

They gave me the script and said I could play any part I liked; I thought the Simon Sparrow part was a bit namby-pamby, but there’s a character in the play called John who breaks the ‘fourth wall’ all the way through the show and talks to the audience, and at the beginning he comes out of the audience. Someone pretends to faint and an actor says ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’, and I come out. It’s a great part for me. And it’s great to revisit the Doctor series (all taken from Richard Gordon’s books) for a new generation. You certainly couldn’t revisit a TV series like On The Buses. Reg Varney was the best-looking bloke in it, which isn’t great, is it?

So, a play… That’s a bit different, because you’re a great fan of improvisation, aren’t you?

I think I quite like the scariness of impro; it’s like getting on a rollercoaster and you have no idea what’s going to happen, or if the audience will like it. But even with stuff that you’ve worked on, that’s always a risk… In the new show, I’ve got a routine about Nostradamus, and one imagining that John Merrick, The Elephant Man, used to have a ventriloquist act. You’ve got to push yourself – and I think the world needs a bit more stupid. It can be an awful place out there these days, with political and financial problems, so people want to come and see a comedy show and not listen to what I think of the government. People want a break from their problems.

I hear you’re now studying for an Open University degree. How are you finding the world of academia?

I’ve spent the past twenty years on the road and I’ve wasted my time in the car with Reynard, my sidekick, talking nonsense and playing computer games. But now we get in the car, fill up with petrol, and I spend anything from two to eight hours in the car studying. Then we’ll get there, set the gear up and I might spend another couple of hours with the books, and I get stuck on something difficult, like physics, and then realise I’ve only got fifteen minutes until I go on. I think I’ve learned more in the past two years than in the previous 47! I’ve even started to write a kid’s book about the formation of the moon.

It’s not really been going back to studying for me, though, as I left school at 16 and I’d been run over in a car accident at 13, so I missed out on a lot of schooling. If the others were doing anything difficult, I got sent along to the art room to draw some pictures. Despite that though, I’ve got along. You realise that the only thing holding you back is your own confidence, as with the right attitude, you can do anything, and nothing’s a mistake if you learn from it. You need to find out what you want to do and build on that.

Do people come to you for advice about showbiz?

A lot of youngsters do ask me, yes. I remember one young guy coming up to me when I was doing a pantomime in Southend; he must have been about fifteen and I sat down with him for a couple of hours. He said he wanted to get into the business, he could sing and act. I don’t remember what advice I gave him, but he turned up at one of my gigs a couple of years ago and said, ‘Do you remember me?’ – and I said ‘No, but I know who you are’. It was Lee Mead who won the Joseph talent show on BBC1 – so obviously something I said went in!

I’ve always had this internal voice telling me to keep going; I had so many jobs that I knew were wrong for me.

Talking of keeping going, are you going to run another London Marathon?

I did it in 5 hours, 22 minutes this year and my knees were killing me! Previously, I’d trained for 19 miles and when I did that, I thought it was a piece of cake, but after I’d done 19 miles in the marathon itself, it felt like I had hot needles in my knees. But I finished it and was happy to raise the money for Diabetes UK, and awareness as well, as there are a lot of people out there who don’t realise they have diabetes.

I did get offered some good tips from some top athletes I met, though, including to put corn plasters on your nipples to stop them chafing…

You’ve plenty of chat show experience, and you’ve stood in for Paul O’Grady on his chat show – does being a good chat show guest make you a good chat show host?

Yes, because you know what the producers want. If I could have my ideal line-up on a chat show, I’d have Brian Cox, and Brian Blessed because he’s such a great guest that you just wind him up and watch him go, and I really love him. I’d love to have Noel Fielding from The Mighty Boosh, as I think he’s brilliant, and Danny Baker, because he knows so much about everything.

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