SHANE RICHIE: We met at the Middlesex Country Club Over-35s Married and Singles Lonely Hearts Dinner ... no, it was around about 1988, when Sky first launched and I was a co-host with Derek Jameson. We decided we wanted to use some of the comics from the London circuit, and at the time there was all the Murdoch thing going on, the dispute at Wapping and so on. A lot of the so-called right-on comics were refusing to come on Sky, because of it. We were paying about pounds 70 a night, and Bob, principled Bob, decided he'd come on. The strange thing was, about a year later, when the Murdoch crisis was still going on, the money went up to pounds 150- pounds 200 - then we started getting these other comics. Everyone's got a price - it had fuck-all to do with their politics.
I think that was the first time Bob was seen on television, but he proved to be really popular on the show. They kept saying to me, "Who do you want to get back on?", and I'd say, "Oh, get Millsy back on." We got on well because he had the same ambition as me, the same ideals, and I liked the fact he didn't take himself that seriously. I've always believed I'm first and foremost an entertainer, and whatever politics I've got, I keep pretty much to myself. There's a time and place to air your views, and I never thought on stage was the place. If people pay money to be entertained, entertain them; I've always had, erm, a problem with comics who get up and put their politics first and foremost, with the comedy coming second. A few comics like Bob Mills were just going on and being funny, and they stood out. All the Comedy Store movement in the Eighties was, "Oh no, no, no, you've got to have something to say which is politically correct", but Bob feels the same way about that as I do - it's absolute bollocks. Think about being funny first.
My manager will probably say I'm quite generous, but I really think if people have talent enough, they deserve a break, so I set up a meeting between my management and Bob, and he joined the stable that I was with at the time. Then the TV company decided to do another series of Win, Lose or Draw, and I knew I didn't want to host it any more, and I just said, "Give Bob Mills a chance" - at the time he was doing some regional TV, he wasn't getting seen by the whole country. He took over from me for one series. He was never as good as me on it ... but he'll probably tell you that anyway.
We don't see as much of each other now as we'd like, because we're both busy. But even if I don't see him for like two years, we'll pick up the conversation where we left off. It's like mates, you know. When we get together, we're always talking about the business, about how TV has changed in the last 10 years, how it's being run by people who haven't got a fucking clue 'cos they've spent all their time reading biology at Oxford, and all of a sudden they're making decisions for a TV company. We're both always going, "Awww, it's bollocks, I can't believe these people are running TV companies." The people who know are the performers, 'cos we're the ones that go out in front of an audience, and we hear what they're saying.
We've got a lot in common - the fact that we're both married and we've got kids - and our comedy stems, I suppose, from reality. But to this day, I don't know where Bob's from. He has this accent which derives from somewhere between Birmingham, Coventry and London. He's probably had a bit more of a middle-class upbringing than I did. But he pretends that he's a bit working class, you know.
There's no airs and graces about him, what you see is really what you get. I think that's why we feel so relaxed together. I'm always having a go at him, saying, "If you want to be a star, you've got to act more like a star"; it's a gag we've got going between us. Bob's getting used to being recognised in the street, and he loves it, regardless of what he says. When I first bought a Jag, years ago, I remember him seeing me and he goes, "How the fuck are you able to afford a Jag?", and I said, "Bob, you need to start broadening your horizons and start looking at the bigger picture." And now he does that, he's got the big house now, and the car, and the lifestyle. There was a time when he was frightened of what his mates on the London comedy circuit might think, but now he has my approach. If he knows I've got the big house then he wants the big house. If I've got the big car, he wants the big car. I'm in a musical, now Bob wants to be in a musical. He fancies himself now in a musical, I'm sure he does. I feel like I'm his little guru. I'm his Svengali. Ha! he'll love that!
He needs to look at his dress style, though, I need to talk to him about that. He's slightly lost the plot. He couldn't understand why I wasn't wearing socks today so he wanted to try and pop over to Sock Shop to buy me some. On TV I watch him one minute and I think, "Aw, that's nice, Bob's losing a bit of weight there, cos he looks great when he loses a bit of weight", and I see him again, and he's put on another stone. So if people get confused in the photo which one Bob is, he's the fat bloke.
BOB MILLS: I can't remember the very first time I set eyes on him. I know I compered him at the Comedy Store, I remember that. Shane used to be the couch-warmer on Derek Jameson's show on Sky. When Sky first started out, there was a lot of anger. I knew it was tied up with Wapping, but all I knew was a TV programme wanted me to do comedy, so I did it. Maybe that's a bit ignoble, but that's how I thought at the time, and probably still do.
I was working on the alternative comedy circuit, and there the values were very black and white. There were political opinions that you held sacrosanct, and political opinions that you held to be odious. No middle ground, in those days. So I knew that I wasn't supposed to like Shane, because he represented the mainstream, middle-of-the-road, gag-comic. Because I was very much in the thrall of people on the circuit, I felt a kind of guilt about the fact that I liked Shane, liked his company, and admired what he did. It was weird, because I knew immediately that he was going to be a mate and that I'd like him personally.
People on the circuit would sit down and say, "Well, okay, what effect do you think this material is going to have? Let's look at this very carefully. You mentioned a woman in this, now put yourself in a woman's situation ... " Shane was the first person I'd met who said, "Stop being a wanker, this joke that you've got, how funny is it? Is it openly inciting people to be racist or sexist? No? Well, tell it, don't disappear up your own arse." It was Shane who stopped me disappearing up my own arse.
He's one of the funniest people I know. He makes me laugh not just by telling jokes, but by a kind of warmth he's got; and he's got an amazing ability to take the piss out of any situation he's in, which I think is the hallmark of a funny person. He's ferociously funny. If he let himself go and trusted himself completely he could wipe the floor with any of the alternative comics. He wants to do movies and he'd be superb; he can take a mediocre script and really set it alight. The other great thing about him is he's a thousand times cleverer than people think. If he was an idiot I wouldn't like him, because I don't like idiots.
He knows that people I know don't like him. I've got friends who I love and they hate Shane. What they really mean is they don't like the act that he does on stage. It doesn't matter to him, so why should it matter to me? But I still find myself saying, "No, you don't know him, if you spent the day in his com-pany you wouldn't hate him."
What irritates me most about him is that he sometimes hides his emotions because he's embarassed by them. You could know that he's going through some kind of turmoil and he'll just do that stupid laugh and make a joke of it. I worry about people who do that. That, and he doesn't wear socks. What can you do with a human being that earns the money he earns and won't wear socks?
There is no professional jealousy at all between us. It does not stick in my craw at all that Danny Baker did Win, Lose or Draw, Shane took over and then took over the Daz advert from him and I took over Win, Lose or Draw from Shane but as yet haven't had a sniff of the Daz advert. That doesn't rankle at all. I see him earning that money and don't for one second think if he had an ounce of decency he'd pass that over to me. In fact, I would say, "No, keep giving Shane the money", because I'm sure with the mortgage he's got on his pounds 5m house, his needs are greater than mine.
Friendships aren't like love affairs. Love affairs need to be reinforced all the time, but the only thing that can stop a friendship is if something negative happens and you think, "Oh, I misjudged this person." Shane couldn't do anything that would make me feel I didn't want to be his friend. He could certainly do things I didn't approve of, but he couldn't do anything to make me think, "I don't like you any more." Well, he could steal my wife or something, I suppose.
'Boogie Nights' starts a national tour in Edinburgh tomorrow; Bob Mills starts a national stand-up tour in Southampton on Thursday.Reuse content