Lee Mack

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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Mon Jan 26, 2009 11:22 am    Post subject: Lee Mack Reply with quote

Lee Mack: The comedian who is upping the pace of British sitcoms
As Jonathan Ross returns to the BBC after Manuelgate, sitcom writer and stand-up Lee Mack tells Rob Sharp the secrets of being funny on TV
26 January 2009

Lee Mack is concerned by writing, not trends. He is neither an "old-fashioned" comedian, nor does he vaunt the visual gimmicks of Russell Brand and The Mighty Boosh. His principle concern is simple enough: gags.

"Comedy is too trendy nowadays," he says. "Part of the role of comedy is to take the piss out of things that are too trendy. It's like when comedians are celebrities. It defeats the object. Comedians are supposed to be taking the piss out of people in power. That always used to be politicians and nowadays that's celebrities. If you are a comedian and celebrity ... it's like a politician being a stand-up comic."

He admits that avoiding the limelight while building a career is "easier said than done ... I mean I'm going to be in the paper here". But he expresses the view that Brand's stand-up career will only really come into its own when and if he ceases to be written about in the tabloids.

The third series of Mack's BBC One sitcom, Not Going Out, begins its run next Friday. It co-stars fellow comics Tim Vine and Sally Bretton, and already boasts a Royal Television Society award and a Golden Rose, a prestigious Swiss broadcasting gong.

Not Going Out operates using a simple enough format. The writing is markedly tight. The first episode of the new series sees jokes appear within its opening moments (the episode sees Mack attempting to get his flatmate pregnant by inseminating her bathwater). It eschews the realism of The Office in favour of traditional comedic values that owe more to the fast-paced timing of American over British comedy. He is clearly a fan of the former.

"Not Going Out's jokes were based on the American mentality in terms of how often the jokes appear," he continues in his mild Southport accent. "It all started because when we were doing the pilot there was a documentary on the night before called Sitcom is Dead, which said that because of The Royle Family and The Office there was no room for studio-based sitcom. But people loved Frasier, Cheers and Seinfeld. I don't know anyone who didn't like them. It seemed obvious to me. See what they are doing so well in America. It became clear to me that it was all about the writing." He says that in America 10 per cent of the production budget is spent on writing sitcoms, compared to half that figure in the UK. "In British sitcoms, you can get five minutes of nothing before the story starts."

The 40-year-old Mack is dressed semi-casually, and chooses to meet in a plush restaurant close to his home in Hampton Court, Surrey. He talks about his craft earnestly and intelligently, rather than seizing the temptation to continuously crack jokes.

This studied appreciation of television scriptwriting is a long way from his origins in Southport. Mack briefly worked as blue coat at Pontins but was fired for swearing on stage after seeing a performance by Ben Elton and wanting to imitate it. "I can't remember not wanting to be a comedian," he says. "From the age of 14, I remember thinking I wanted to be a comedian. But that was like saying I wanted to be an astronaut. It felt like a million miles away, something I could never do, but would be great to."

His heroes were the 1980s alternative comics headed up by Elton and the cast of Blackadder and The Young Ones. Mack says he honed his skills as a comedian doing hundreds of gigs, learning the hard way, "making a twat" of himself, getting to grips with what works and what doesn't. His first major success was with The Sketch Show (in which he appeared alongside Vine and Ronni Ancona), which ran between 2001 and 2003, before the first series of Not Going Out was screened in 2006.

Nowadays, he writes in the confines of a shed at the end of his garden. On a writing day, he starts off with a one-line idea for an episode and breaks it down into scenes and "mini-structures" of dramatic moments, a formula that he feels he has come close to mastering (actually coming up with the gag is the last thing he does). Mack is currently taking time off between projects, doing some do-it-yourself and preparing to re-pitch Not Going Out to the BBC for a fourth series. It is clear in his head who the final arbiters are of what is funny are.

"The Brand and Ross affair brought up a big debate about how the media is patronising towards the general public. If you overstep the taste boundary you don't need the media to tell the public that. The reason Jonathan Ross is back on television is that the general public likes him. We have all said things that are offensive when taken out of context. You don't need to tell the public to be repelled. They will tell you they are repelled. And they will take you off the air – they just won't watch you any more."


I'm not too keen on him in sitcoms, but I do like his standup.
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Joined: 25 Apr 2006

PostPosted: Sun Feb 01, 2009 3:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

My family values
Lee Mack, comedian
Michelle Hodgson
The Guardian,
31 January 2009

My parents were quite relaxed. Both were in am-dram and were known as joker types. My dad was a show-off. You look at every photograph of him and he's got a cigarette up his nose or larking around in some way. They split up when I was about 11. I have one older brother - he went to live with my dad. We get on fine, but we didn't really grow up together.

My first gig was on the school roof. I did an impression of Bobby Ball - everyone said I sounded like him, and I remember playing on it. My dad actually looked a little bit like Bobby Ball. In the early 80s, he had a perm and a 'tache, and his mannerisms were similar. He once booked Cannon & Ball for a night in the pub he ran and, funnily enough, Bobby Ball plays my dad in my sitcom, Not Going Out.

My great-grandfather was a variety hall comedian called Billy Mack. I never met him but I've got a great postcard of a poster for his show, which says something like: "Coming here, Billy Mack. Hear his amusing songs about cabbages, beans and carrots." And I've got a photo of him dressed as a woman - I assume he was the Steve Coogan of his day.

My school reports all start with me being reasonably swotty. Then they get worse and worse. They go from "Lee is doing very well" in the early days, to the headmaster's comment on my last report: "Lee will soon realise that joking around in class will get him nowhere." In a way, he was right, as a lot of hard work goes into comedy.

My family were nothing but pleased when I told them I wanted to be a comedian. Comedy was an easy choice for me because I didn't have a career. I left school at 15 with two O-levels and drifted into various jobs, like working in a bingo hall and being a Bluecoat at Pontin's. I also went round Australia for a year and worked in the stables where Red Rum was trained. I drifted, really. When I was 24, I went back to the academic life and did a degree in film and television at Brunel University.

I'm married now with two boys, Arlo (four) and Louie (two). I haven't done stand-up for a while, so although kids are a rich vein of material, I haven't tapped into it yet. My character in the sitcom is like I was when I was 22 or 23. Now I'm 40, part of me would like to move the sitcom on, to have the character settle down and have children. But then, people say, you shouldn't change a winning formula.

Family is everything to me. I'm quite a homey person. I live near Hampton Court - being a northerner I think of everything within the M25 as London, but then I went to vote in the London mayoral election and found I wasn't allowed. The job is an escape from reality: you get treated phenomenally well and get paid well, and I can see why people who haven't got a grounded home life go a bit mental.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:35 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lee Mack at the Gulbenkian, Canterbury
Lee Mack performs on stage on the first night of a series of concerts and events in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust
Dominic Maxwell
14th December 2009

If you know Lee Mack only from his sitcom, you don’t know the half of him. Yes, his role as Lee in his BBC One show Not Going Out hints at what you get on stage. He has a way with gags that’s so fluent it makes facetiousness really fly, a love of playing with language that would have gone down a bomb in variety. Yet his mainstream leanings never feel shop-bought.

Daft though his eager persona is, Mack, 41, powers out the absurdities with such accuracy and pace that you’re never ahead of him. He will toss away good one-liners as if he’s got a box full of them. Or he’ll take his jokes on a journey, piling thoughts one on top of the other, pulling us this way, then that.

Early on, he tells a little miracle of a joke playing on the English word “banana” and the French word “ananas”. And in about ten seconds he tells us that a) he’s a fool, b) he’s no fool and c) listen close, tonight everything comes served with spin.

Crucially — and here’s the big change from the telly — it also comes served with menace. He’s Eric Morecambe with a flick knife, Tommy Cooper with a temper. He’s peeved by anything that stems his flow. If Mack picks on you and you cannot talk back to him, you’re toast. If you do talk back to him, you’re toast. And, like some end-of-the-pier Stewart Lee, he harnesses the tension he creates to keep his show present-tense, so that even some of the more feeble gags feel shared, not imposed.

Boy, does he work. Circling the stage in his grey suit, he must cover five miles a night. And while his shtick hasn’t changed from his previous tour, he’s taken it up a gear. He’s quicker, sharper, testier — and all the more likeable for it.

Mack opens with a big illusion, but his greatest trick is to make his silly jokes so personal. One moment he’s sincere, the next effusive, then spiky, then leering, then raging, then regretful. He adopts each attitude as if this were, finally, the real thing, then tosses it away a second later.

You don’t get to know the real man — or, at least, he doesn’t confess his real hopes and fears. And yet his love of playing with meaning is so sincere that his jokiness takes on a warming air of intimacy.

No wonder such a cheer comes from the crowd when he mentions that Not Going Out is coming back to the BBC after all, after initially being cancelled. This is stand-up comedy at its most propulsive and persuasive.
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 12, 2010 4:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Lee Mack interview
One of the UK's most beloved stand-ups, Lee Mack talks to Time Out about bonding with the audience and why he's so prone to weird heckles.
Tim Arthur
Mar 8 2010

After a blistering hour of razor-sharp, whirlwind comedy, Lee Mack, sweating and panting, takes time out from his rapid-fire joke assault on the audience. He sips some water in a vain attempt at momentary rehydration and surveys the audience. 'Right, come on, then. That's the show over, has anyone got any questions?' His cheeky invite to take on allcomers in a virtuoso display of comedic pugilism is met with silence. He smiles. 'What? Nothing?'

Suddenly there's an explosion of questions from five or six audience members all at the same time - an undecipherable barrage of whats, whens and hows. 'Whoa, there! All right, calm down. One at a time. You there, madam, in the second row. What was that you said?'
'Who's your hero?'

'Fuck knows. Who's yours?'

'Anita Dobson,' comes the reply, without a moment's pause. The audience roar with laughter as one, with Mack their chief cheerleader.

'Anita Dobson? Anita Dobson? Of all the people you could have chosen. It wasn't Gandhi or Florence Nightingale, no you plumped for Anita fucking Dobson.' He's genuinely tickled by this: 'Why Anita Dobson?'

'Because of her hair, of course,' the lady shouts out, as if shocked that he even had to ask. 'I love her hair.'

'Brilliant! Of course, what was I thinking?' He's reduced to tears. His laughter infects the crowd again.

'Thank you, Tunbridge Wells, you've been amazing. Odd…' - he gives the Dobson fan a quick glance - '… but amazing.' He leaves the stage to a rapturous standing ovation.

As I push myself through the throng of happily bubbling punters on my way backstage to interview Mack I overhear a couple discussing the show. 'I couldn't believe that last woman: Anita Dobson, that was precious!' The man is still chuckling. 'Having said that, she was very good as the Wicked Queen in that panto,' his wife counters. 'Yeah, but, a hero?'
'No, I mean really good!' By the time I get to the 'Not Going Out' star's dressing room he is remarkably chilled out - totally unlike the fizzing ball of energy he was on stage.

As the actress said to the bishop, how was that for you?
'It was fine. It's very hard to judge, though, if you're doing it every night. But you whittle your set down to all the good bits that work, to the point that at this stage you sort of expect it all to work, so you're only looking at the negative. Tonight was pretty solid, I thought.'

You seemed to really enjoy the Q&A section at the end…
'For that bit I always try and think about what it was like to make your mates laugh in the pub - you don't feel nervous about it, you just talk. You're just having a chat with that one bloke in the balcony. It's a bit more intense than that. Half way through the chat I can't just say, ěI'm going to the bogî, and then think of something funny while I'm in there. I would also say that I'm helped slightly by the fact that my mean average of slightly weird heckles is higher than most. I think that's because people on stage generally play the high-status comic or the buffoon - I'm the latter, so the punters don't feel threatened: they know I won't rip the shit out of them.'

You could have called the show 'Relentless': it's non-stop gag after gag
'I do write a lot of stuff for my tours. I think I just want to give people their money's worth. They've paid to come and see jokes so I try to give them as many as I can.'

Do you write more jokes than you actually need for the show?
'While I'm working on the show I will probably sit at a computer for two or three hours, and churn over about 30 things. And out of that 30, two thirds will never see the light of day. The ones that make it through will be tried out at a new- material night to see if they work. The process
is a bit like a football manager picking his squad, some of the gags are Premiership standard, others will be Vauxhall Conference and not make it in the long run.'

Was it making your mates laugh that made you think of becoming a comic in the first place?
'Not really. At about the age of 15 I got into ěThe Young Onesî and ěFriday Night Liveî, and I remember thinking I'd like to try and be a comedian. I didn't do stand-up until I was
about 25, 26, so that was a good ten or 11 years between saying I'd be interested in doing it to actually doing it. I remember being captivated by Steve Coogan and Eddie Izzard and wanting to do what they did. That generation of comedians was my main influence.

A lot of people think that because of my style I must have had an obsessive upbringing on Morecambe & Wise or Tommy Cooper but those people really passed me by. I also got called a ěmainstreamî comedian because of my northern accent. Your voice determines people's perception probably more than your style or your jokes.

Don't get me wrong, I'm under no illusions, I've got a very old-school, mainstream leaning to the way I present my comedy because I actually like jokes and don't just do observational stuff. Interestingly, each year that goes by I find it a little bit easier to do my stuff, because when I started it wasn't fashionable to actually tell jokes. But, luckily for me, there seems to have been a joke revival.'

Lee Mack is at the Hammersmith Apollo Mar 12-13 and May 10-12.
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