Funnier on his feet
On television he's snide and sulky. Live, he's all smiles. So says James Rampton. Will the real Mark Lamarr please stand up?
Sunday 09 November 1997
Well, actually, there is rather more to Lamarr than that. He's not just a shallow combination of scowls and sulks. Beyond the miserablist, "bad- attitude" TV persona, he's one of the country's most profilic and - would you believe it? - likeable stand-ups. Through his quickfire wit and dazzling banter, he builds up an unmistakably friendly rapport with an audience. "Lamarr smiles" may not be quite on a par with "Garbo speaks" as a revelation, but it's up there.
Peter Fincham, the executive producer of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, had just such a Damascene conversion when he first saw Lamarr live. "On the face of it, Mark seems quite an edgy guy," he admits. "But live, he has this underlying warmth that surprises you. He is very sharp, but he's also warm. On things like The Word, he had a lot of attitude, but now you feel there is something else going on - which is endearing. People might have thought he was someone you couldn't take home for tea with your mum, but in fact your mum might like him. He won't thank me for saying that," Fincham adds with a laugh.
Lamarr is a similarly amiable interview: alert, intelligent and, yes, outright smiley from time to time. A Diet Coke in one hand and a Silk Cut in the other, he sits upstairs in a dingy north London comedy club - where else? - and ponders his image. Quite rightly, he gets slightly fed up with people who place him in a box marked "misery-guts." "People come up to me and say, 'You're so miserable, you must hate Vic and Bob.' Give me strength. I have to say to them, 'I'm acting, and it's a comedy show.' For them to miss one of the two jokes on offer in the whole programme is sad."
He is hopeful that people will get a more rounded picture of him with the forthcoming release of his first stand-up video, Mark Lamarr - Uncensored and Live. For a start, it demonstrates that he is as quick on his feet as Linford Christie. Early on, he spots an audience member in a brace and asks him what he's done. The man replies that he's broken his back and is not allowed to laugh. "Of course, you're not allowed to laugh - you've come to the right show, then," Lamarr retorts. "That's already the worst review I've ever had. You thought, 'I could have sat in tonight watching videos of Les Dennis, but I'm not allowed to laugh too much, so I thought I'd come and watch you instead and sit in the front row'."
Lamarr feeds off his audience, and likes to go on with as little as possible pre-scripted. "Every night there'll be something different happening," he says. "I hate watching those 'fourth-wall' comedians who do a monologue and then leave. That's treating the audience with contempt. I can do two-hour shows with no ad libs, but I don't go up there to say, 'here's some stuff I prepared earlier'."
The other previously unseen aspect of Lamarr showcased on the video is his breathtaking blueness. One routine about the poses the Queen should strike on banknotes would even make Roy "Chubby" Brown blush. Later, Lamarr espies a beetle crawling towards the edge of the stage, and instantly imagines it to be passing judgement on the gags he is telling about women's periods. "I feel he's really bored with the show," the comedian surmises. "It's like he's saying, 'I'm not into all this menstrual stuff'."
Apart from the insect variety, however, Lamarr is not afraid of critics. "If you're worried about people complaining, then become a Trappist monk," he snorts dismissively. "Though people complain about them, too."
Turned out in a brown leather jacket over a Yankees baseball shirt, Lamarr is full of such forthright opinions, particularly when asked to comment on other stand-ups. "I despise the have-you-ever-noticed? type of humour," he sighs. "Audiences might as well sit at home and watch The Sound of Music. It's the lowest form of comedy. Stand-up should be about making people think of things they've never thought of before ... I'm not a love-me, love-me comedian," he continues. "I think we should have moved on from being court jesters and wearing silly hats. If you're just there as a buffoon, then you've given up all self-respect. Who was the philosopher who said 85 per cent of everything is dreck? That's a golden rule."
Lamarr can seem arrogant - he's certainly opinionated - but what he never is is dull. And, he says, it is stand-up that keeps him on his toes. "There's nothing like it," he affirms. "Every comedian says it and it always sounds shit, but it's that drug. It's not the fame or the money or the adulation. It's that personal thrill of when you're caught out and think, 'where do I go now?', and then suddenly come up with something. People say that in your everyday life, you only use a third of your brain. When I'm on stage, I use bits I never knew I had. "
"Nick Hancock asked me recently why I still went around the country doing gigs. It's what I do. I love it. I even loved it when I hitchhiked, and got 10 quid for dying on my arse. All television is fun, and it earns me a fortune. But I'm not a TV presenter; I'd top myself immediately if I ever thought I'd become one."
'Mark Lamarr - Uncensored and Live' (18) is out on 17 Nov.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Learn from Quebec's mistakes and beware of promises. Vote Yes.
- 3 'Necrophilia-obsessed' girl among double murder accused in three-way sex case
- 4 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 5 Revealed after 75 years of secrecy: 'Fifi' the glamorous WW2 special agent who tested British spies' resolve
Laurie Lee's Rosie: What is it like to inspire a writer's work and be immortalised forever on the page?
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
Pharrell Williams says 'Blurred Lines' criticism is out of context
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'