The greatest mentor I ever had was my friend James Ross, who tragically died at the very end of last year. He was not in the business, but supported me more than anyone else. He had been a mate of mine since we were kids. He was a bit older than me so we weren't very close when we were at school, but as teenagers we became really good mates. He was a fan of comedy, which was one reason we got on - we used to quote bits of Blackadder and Robin Williams and The Day Today to each other. He was a bit of a technical whizz, so he used to make me tapes of the best bits of The Day Today.
At the end of 1995 I had tried and, much to my surprise, failed to get into drama school. I was furious. We went out for dinner and he said, "You shouldn't go to drama school anyway, you should do stand-up, that's what you'd be good at." I don't know why, he just found me funny I think. We were fans of stand-up but I don't think either of us had ever been to a live stand-up club. We just watched it on video.
I said, "That sounds like a good idea."
A couple of days later he called and said, "You'd better write something, because I've booked your first gig." Kiss FM was running a competition to find new stand-ups in London. I wrote a 10-minute set, seven minutes of which were appalling. It made James laugh a lot it was so bad. But the last three minutes were really good, and I came second. We got a parking ticket while we were there, and James paid it because he had a job and I didn't. He supported me ever since.
He came to every gig I did for the first year of my career. He wasn't a comedy expert, he just liked what he liked. Every time I did something new - radio, TV, or anything - he was there. Then he would ring afterwards and say what he thought.
I would run stand-up material past him and then he'd tell me, "That's funny and that's not." He didn't know why but he was right. I've worked with some brilliant people in my career. Dave Tyler at Positive produced Giles Wemmbley-Hogg and was a huge inspiration and taught me loads about comedy. Andre Vincent, who's a stand-up, is brilliant. But there really hasn't been anyone professionally who supported me like James did.
Most recently, James set up and ran my website for me. The website is kaput for now, until I can find someone to take it on for me, but I'll never find anyone to fill his role.
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