“Who’s going to believe them if they sing about jumping a taxi without paying?”| Stevie Gray talks improv and energy in Arctic Monkeys’ Midlife Crisis

Tell us about your show, Arctic Monkeys’ Midlife Crisis.

The show fuses stories, jokes and songs, describing how my life growing up in Oldham and recently becoming a dad, relate to the lyrics of the Arctic Monkeys. It is an hour of high energy, feel good comedy which doesn’t take itself too seriously!

What made you want to write a show about the Arctic Monkeys?

I absolutely adore the first two Arctic Monkeys albums. I was a super fan of the band and used to travel around the world to watch them.

The lyrics of those early songs really connected with me, it felt like I had written them. They were singing about my experiences and it felt like they were chronicling my life in song.

As the band matured, so did their song writing. Suddenly, they were no longer singing about getting chucked out of nightclubs. On their last album, they were singing about putting a Mexican Restaurant on top of a hotel on the Moon.

I can’t relate to this, we don’t even have a Mexican restaurant in Oldham!! In the show, I offer a compromise, where I have written a song in the style of the early Arctic Monkeys but from the perspective of a middle aged man!

Do you think musicians have a different kind of midlife crisis to the rest of the world?

Possibly, it depends on the musician I suppose, and moreover, what success they’ve had in their career.

Kate Nash had a superb documentary on BBC about how she achieved incredible success with her first album and was thrust into the limelight so quickly. But the more she tried to gain control of her creative output, the harder she found it to be successful.

With the Arctic Monkeys, who have had prolonged success, now that they have made a shed load of money, how are the fans ever going to believe them if they sing about jumping a taxi without paying? They probably worry about no longer being relevant to the fans who brought them this success.

How did you get into musical comedy?

When I started comedy in 2008, I used to just tell jokes and very short stories. I was living in the South, so used to travel to London to appear on the open-mic comedy circuit. Competition was fierce. Getting a gig in the first place was hard work but even when I managed to get a gig, joke smiths and storytellers would only get 5 minutes of stagetime, and often I would be on stage after midnight.

I noticed that lots of these gigs would advertise for musical acts. Quite often, these spots would be on in the middle of the show and offer 10 minutes of stagetime. I borrowed a guitar (even though I couldn’t play it) and started applying for these gigs. I used to tell the same jokes and stories whilst strumming random strings. This evolved into writing jokes to fit in with the music and before long, I was learning chords and practicing singing!

What inspired you to get the audience so involved in your show?

Getting the audience involved helps to ensure that the show is always fresh and that no two shows will ever be the same. If you perform the same material night after night, you can reach a point where you are on auto pilot, and just phone in the performance.

If the success of a routine rests purely on a member of the audience playing along, it adds a slice of jeopardy into proceedings! I’ve had audience members join me on stage who have completely blown the roof off. I’ve also had a couple who have managed to derail the gig!

Either way, it is great for the audience to know that what they are watching is truly a one off performance!

You’ve just been performing this show at Edinburgh. How did your run at the fringe go?

The Fringe felt like a rollercoaster. The range of emotions you feel as a performer is incredible. One day you’ll be playing to a sold out room of people who love what you’re doing, and the next day, you’ll be playing to 5 people… 3 of whom don’t speak English (true story). My show was really well received and I am extremely proud to have done it. Despite now being six thousand pounds worse off!

Stevie flyering with his son Freddie at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe

What do you hope people take away from your show?

Even though I’ve been performing for 11 years now, I am more than well aware that I am still pretty much unknown in some parts of the UK. Therefore, I rely quite heavily on people reading the comedy festival programme and taking a punt on coming to watch my show.

The main thing I want people to take away from my show is a feeling of complete satisfaction that they have put their faith in coming to watch my show and have had a wonderful time. Ensuring the audience have enjoyed themselves is paramount to me.

Are there any other shows you’re looking forward to at the Hull Comedy Festival?

I started comedy at the same time as Romesh Ranganathan; and he was always lovely and hilarious back then, so it’s wonderful to see how successful he has become.

However, there are two other shows that I’m really excited about. Hull’s very own Jack Gleadow has his show, Mr Saturday Night at the Truck theatre. Jack is a wonderful act, whose comedy harks back to the days of music hall and variety shows. Despite using older comedy techniques, Jack’s amazing performance skills make this show feel fresh and ultra-modern.

The other show would be Scott Bennett’s Work In Progress (10th Nov, 8pm). I’ll let you in on an industry secret here. When comedians are sat in the green room before a gig, one of the most talked about subjects is, “How is Scott Bennett not a household name, playing arenas and having his own TV show?”

He seriously is that good. He is merely one tick of a TV executive’s pen away from being the next superstar of UK comedy. If any TV execs are reading this, please go and watch his show (and please watch mine whilst you’re at it)!

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to break into comedy?

I’ve always wanted to be asked this question! Genuinely, the best advice I could give anybody considering comedy would be, “ask yourself do I get jealous of other people?”

Because believe me, if you have a jealous personality, the comedy world is a cruel mistress. I’m a strong believer that comedy is a meritocracy and that the cream will rise to the top. However, along the way, you will see some fabulous comedians quit altogether whilst inexperienced comedians are catapulted into a vast array of high paid, glamorous work.

You need to remember that comedy is subjective and not everybody will appreciate what you do. It does seem to be a common theme though that the comedians that work the hardest, get the best results.

So keep writing and honing your material and I’m sure you will find that more people will begin to appreciate your work!

Stevie is performing Arctic Monkeys’ Midlife Crisis on Thursday 7th November.

Book your ticket here.

You can find out more about the Hull Comedy Festival here.

You can keep up with other stuff Stevie has going on by following him on Facebook and Twitter.

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