Alan Carr steps smartly across London's Soho Square with his helmet in his hand. The royal blue item of bicycling equipment is not a prop for a risqué gag but rather a symbol of his intention to get fit by pedallling around the capital.
Like his hirsute television sidekick Justin Lee Collins, who is on a diet ("he's emaciated", says Carr), the camp comedian with the big specs and gappy teeth is on a health kick. But his "terrifying" venture into the cycle lanes of London is a matter of some concern for his agent, and for his primary employer which has contracted him on a two-year deal worth £3m.
No one, other than perhaps Jon Snow, can rival Carr as the face of Channel 4. The solo host of the new Saturday night talk show Chatty Man, he continues to make his game show Alan Carr's Celebrity Ding Dong and The Sunday Night Project, which he presents with Collins. His Tooth Fairy DVD was a best-seller and, at 33, he has written an autobiography Look Who It Is! He also presents a Saturday evening show on Radio 2, Going Out With Alan Carr, and writes a column for the celebrity magazine More!.
But tonight he is off to a pub, to work. "I'm doing a secret gig, I just turn up in pubs. It's to see if the jokes work," he explains. "I'm a stand up by trade and if ultimately TV is sick of me I will just go back on the road." he says, stand-up is a "wonderful life", because you get up mid-morning and earn your money for a 20-minute routine. He adds: "There's no one slagging you off in the paper, no mental fans trying to find out where you live." Not that there's any prospect of him disappearing from our television screens.
The one-time call centre worker is realising his dreams, his Chatty Man show allowing him to tap dance with Bruce Forsyth, play swing ball with Martina Navratilova and talk about tea towels with Samuel L Jackson. A comedian whose material gnaws away at the parameters of good taste, Carr is somehow succeeding at a time when mainstream media is supposedly in the grip of paralysis caused by its fear of breaching broadcast regulations.
It is something Carr is most aware of in his radio work, and he seems irked by the nanny state mentality to what he can say. "Because of the Jonathan Ross thing we have someone who monitors it all and sits in the other room," he says, though this doesn't keep him out of trouble. "There was this woman in a field who couldn't get a reception on her mobile and I said 'Well climb up a pylon love, you'll get better reception.' And then I had to say 'Please, if you are looking for reception, don't climb up a pylon.' It's like being at school when you've got the thick kid at the back who can't read as fast as everyone else and we all have to dumb down for the sake of the thick kid who doesn't get it. If someone wants to climb up a pylon and get frazzled ... serves them bloody right, do you know what I mean?"
There are even limits on the songs he can play. "We couldn't even play Steamy Windows by Tina Turner because it had dogging connotations! Well I thought 'Who's the pervert, me or you?' That was someone upstairs. I'm sure Tina would be really embarrassed, she's a classy lady."
Carr had been a guest on Russell Brand's Radio 2 show only days before Ross's fateful experience and can understand how the banter got out of hand. "Russell got me saying things I wouldn't normally say. I have real sympathy for Jonathan because with two people that quick in the same room bouncing off each other's energy something is going to happen. When I came out I was shattered, I felt like my brain had had a workout."
He is less restricted on Channel 4, with its remit to push broadasting boundaries, yet even here he has felt the pinch of a transition from the comedy circuit where he would joke of sexual liaisons with Robert Mugabe and renting a room from Rose West. "You spend your life saying stuff on stage and no one complains and then, when you get on the telly, even the smallest thing you say off the cuff gets picked up," says Carr, who made headlines for dedicating his British Comedy Award to "gay icon" Karen Matthews, who was convicted of kidnapping her daughter.
"TV is just a distraction in the corner of the room, it should be a small part of everyone's life," he says, insisting he is too "insecure" to read the reviews of TV critics who have taunted him with comments about "Carr crash" television.
Carr strives never to be outrageous just for the sake of it ("I would be selling myself short") and has a way about him which means he can get away with an awful lot. His website shows him blacked up as Barack Obama; his language is often fruity. "The Americans are shocked at the language, the Black Eyed Peas were in fits when I said 'motherfucker'," he says of his Chatty Man exchange with the rap group over a glass of Lambrini.
Despite his pivotal role at the youth-orientated Channel 4, he appeals to senior citizens as well as teenagers. "It's just a good fun chat show. I don't judge a good interview by how many tears are shed," he says. "No one is going to be crying, I'm not going to be talking about child abuse." Chatty Man crosses platforms by having a "Twitter Tattle" feature on the show, and Carr has more than 235,000 followers on the instant social networking site, though he is tiring of the experience.
"I'm getting a bit pissed off with it, to be honest. At the beginning, it was great to speak to your fans but now you are getting idiots just basically insulting you," he says, complaining that he was told to "get a life" by a twitterer using the name @angelinajolies. "You're the one pretending to be Angelina Jolie," he tweeted back, signing off, "Lots of love, Anne Boleyn."
He says Twitter is "like your humourless friend that doesn't get sarcasm". Another Carr tweet referred to his enjoyment of a recent party hosted by Sir Elton John. "Well, I get a barrage of Michael Jackson fans, saying 'fuck you Alan, how can you be out celebrating when the King of Pop is dead?' Some of them were being really vile and I thought 'the next time you listen to "Heal The World" maybe take a little listen to the lyrics'." But what if the Jacko police catch him cracking gags at the pub tonight? "I'll tell them to 'Beat It'," he instantly retorts, cackling hysterically. He has faced criticism for being overly camp and, conversely, for not talking enough about gay issues. "Sometimes with the gay community, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't," he explains.
Carr has an ambition to present a documentary but fears that his squawking voice means he is never taken seriously, so he must content himself with being funny on television, on stage, on radio, in print and online. "That's a lot of flukes for someone who allegedly just turned up at Channel 4 and said 'Hello sailor!'," he observes.Reuse content