Chris Addison: He's like a can of Red Bull made flesh
Stand-up, actor, director, and now stand-up again. Malcolm Tucker's whipping boy is having the time of his life, but where does he get the energy? Nick Duerden meets Chris Addison
Chris Addison is standing on stage at London's Southbank Centre midway through a gleefully rambling two-hour show he calls The Time is Now, Again. He has already talked about the "evil" Tory government, why Dundee might just be the worst place in the world, and the barefaced cheek of overpriced olive oil. He's done the bit on the Fleshlight (part vagina, part torch: what every heterosexual man secretly craves), and he is gearing up now to regale us with his un-ironic love of Prince Philip, our perpetual misunderstanding of science, and the poignant realities of being "mildly famous".
He has been talking rapidly all night, frequently stumbling over his words, diverging wildly, barely pausing for breath. But now, as he builds steadily towards the show's climax, his speech gets faster still. His voice is becoming hoarse. He looks terribly thin stood there, all but lost in a billowing pink shirt (Ted Baker, at a guess), and a pair of voluminous old Levi's that would be a skinny fit on anybody else, and he is starting to sweat profusely as he careens around, mincing at the slightest opportunity. (Addison, on stage, is camper than you'd think: with hands on his hips, lips in a permanent pout, he's Kenneth Williams reborn.)
When he reaches his best joke of the night – we shan't spoil it, but let's just say it concerns immigrants and the Wombles – he is so pleased by the reaction it gets from the crowd that he skips up into the air and clacks his heels together. Olé.
It is the job of the stand-up comedian, of course, to elicit laughter from their paying audience. That's why we are prepared to pay in the first place. Rarely, however, do you see a comedian quite so visibly happy at having achieved just that.
"Oh, I've really enjoyed it tonight, thank you so much for coming," he gushes, more than once, as he bows theatrically – camply – and milks as much applause as we are prepared to give him. We give him plenty, until he appears spent, practically postcoital. His voice is a husk, and, in row K, seat 17, I fear that our interview, arranged to take place immediately after the show, will be postponed, perhaps even cancelled. Addison may look like the eternal teenager, but the poor man is 41 years old. He must surely need a lie down.
And yet, and yet. All of 10 minutes later, I am sitting backstage opposite him, where he seems magically revived, a can of Red Bull made flesh. He has replaced the sweat-soaked Ted Baker for a faded yellow Ben Folds Five T-shirt, and is so fizzing with energy that the sofa can hardly contain him.
He sits with both feet planted firmly on the floor, then crosses one leg over the other, before rearranging it underneath its opposing thigh. He takes his glasses off (which he wasn't wearing onstage) and casts them aside, then puts them back on again. He drinks lustily from a bottle of water, and wolfs down a sandwich because, he says, he is "ravenous". Little wonder.
Comedy, he is telling me between bites, is a huge confidence trick. "It has to appear very simple, like it's just coming out of your head, like it's being channelled. But, actually, it is full of meticulous pre-preparation, organisation, and graft."
In other words, it's hard work. That said, he does concede that this kind of hard work has become easier of late, ever since Armando Iannucci cast him as the venal political adviser Ollie Reeder in The Thick of It, which swiftly brought him success, fame and a devoted audience. His name in lights then grew brighter still courtesy of appearances on the TV comedy bearpit that is Mock the Week, the Channel 4 teen drama Skins, and the big screen spin-off of The Thick of It, In the Loop.
"I've been lucky, really lucky. Things have fallen into place for me. But then I have been doing this stuff for 18 years now, and there have been lots of less-than-secure moments along the way. I've no idea how long I'm going to get to do what I'm doing now at this level, and that's why I'm making hay while the sun shines."
Addison started out on the comedy circuit in his native Manchester in the mid-1990s, and was doing respectable stand-up business until, in 2004, Iannucci suggested he try acting. He was terrific as Reeder, but as "an inveterate tinker", he quickly craved more creative involvement. Iannucci duly invited him to direct several episodes of the final series of The Thick of It, then took him Stateside to do similar on its US counterpart, Veep. HBO's Veep, whose first season screened here last year, was every bit The Thick of It's equal, featuring the ignominious travails of a fictional vice-president (played to exquisite perfection by Seinfeld's Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Addison thinks it inappropriate for him to discuss the merits of the forthcoming second series given his involvement in it, so all he will say is this: "Oh, it boasts, hands down, the best cast on television, people of unbelievable talent, at the top of their game. It's funny, so, so, so funny."
His current stand-up tour, meanwhile, will be his last for a while. His "making hay" means that he has a number of projects on the go, which he seems to be handling with the deft finesse of a juggler. In April, he can be seen alongside Steve Coogan in Michael Winterbottom's The Look of Love, a biopic of Soho porn legend Paul Raymond, and shortly after comes a sitcom for Sky Living which he is creating with The Thick of It writer Simon Blackwell called Trying Again, about a married couple attempting to rebuild their relationship three months after the wife has had an affair.
"They are at that very particular point in a marriage, many years in, and they are having to consider whether to carry on, or go off and try to find something better," he says. "I can't wait to make it, because I can't wait to find out what happens."
He looks radiant as he says this, and I tell him so. "Oh, I am, I am. For the first time in my professional life, I know what I'm doing for the next 12 months. For a jobbing comic, that's extraordinary." But it invariably comes at a cost. While he spreads himself across multiple projects, there is, at home in south-east London, a wife and two children, a boy aged six, a girl aged four. They bring demands of their own.
"Just before Christmas, I was in Baltimore for Veep with Arm [Iannucci] and Chris Morris, who is also directing, and I realised that it was possible to love your job more than you could ever have imagined, and be horrifically homesick at the same time. Because, you see, ultimately I'm a real homebody." And so he tries to stay home as much as possible. "Actually, I manage it quite well. I work in chunks, I take months off, and so I probably get to spend more time with my kids than people who have more traditional jobs."
He leans back on the sofa, and for about a second, possibly two, seems happy with this sentiment; it has a nice concluding ring to it. But then his face puckers, he leans forward, and, laughing hesitantly, reconsiders. "I don't think I'm just trying to convince myself of that. It's genuinely true." Pause. "I think it is genuinely true. I just need some kind of algorithm to figure it out, that's all."
Chris Addison's show, 'The Time is Now, Again', continues nationwide
1971 Born on 5 November in Cardiff, but at the age of four moves with his family to settle in Manchester.
1995 Becomes a familiar face on Manchester's comedy circuit.
1997 Appears at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival as part of The Comedy Zone, and returns a year later with his debut solo show, which is nominated for a Perrier Best Newcomer Award.
2004 Meets comedy writer and director Armando Iannucci on Radio 4's The News Quiz. Iannucci offers him a part on The Thick of It.
2005 Appears as political adviser Ollie Reeder in The Thick of It, widely acclaimed as a great British political comedy. It runs for four series, and produces a spin-off film, In The Loop.
2010 Regular guest on BBC2's Mock the Week and BBC1's Have I Got News for You, alongside acting stints on Skins. Also appears in the film In the Loop.
2013 Tours his The Time Is Now, Again stand-up show; direct episodes of Veep; and co-creates the sitcom Trying Again with The Thick of It writer Simon Blackwell, due later in the year.
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