CRACK ON with North East comedian Gavin Webster

The first comic I heard that brought on huge belly laughs was Richard Pryor when I watched the video of his 1979 live show from Long Beach, California. I mentioned this to Gavin when I met him in Newcastle’s Centurion bar.

I met his daughter after a show for multiple sclerosis, that’s what he died of. I asked her about his films and other work, and yes she was a nice woman. She does all the legacy stuff like Keith Thompson does for Bobby Thompson – there’s always one child who keeps it going with all the memorabilia.

Richard Pryor.

SCHOOLS OUT

When I was at school I was quite withdrawn, sometimes I’d open up but only to people I knew well. I wasn’t the class clown. My family are probably on the spectrum of autism, back in the day you were called eccentrics. My mother was involved in amateur dramatics and sang in choirs in Blaydon where I was brought up during the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Back in the ‘40s and ‘50s living on a council estate you went to these types of societies in working class areas. It was post war coming out of austerity and getting some hobbies to colour your life. People were too busy with their different clubs to have a popular uprising or revolution like in Russia. There was plenty sporting clubs, and things like the Welsh speaking society.

Here we are next to the Lit and Phil in Newcastle (Literary & Philosophical Society) and it’s not full of hoity toitys, our obsession to be part of clubs and getting together stops us from taking up arms.

GENERATIONS

Stand up is the loneliest job – you’re on stage with just a microphone, and when I started people were shouting ‘Tell us a joke’ but you don’t really get that now and nobody says ‘I can’t understand these comedians now, they don’t tell jokes anymore, it’s all stories’. That’s all changed, we’ve moved on.

We’re both old enough to know a generation of people before popular music. They weren’t appalled by rap or punk, they were shocked by rock n roll. But where’s the rebellious phase now ? The Sex Pistols are over 65 – the games up.

CRACK ON

When I stumbled into this in the early ‘90s it was called Alternative Comedy so I missed out the working men’s club circuit. A friend of mine, Les Stewart took me to The Cumberland Arms in Byker in 1992 on a night called The Crack club. Tyne Tees TV were filming a documentary there. Ross Noble was doing one of his first gigs, Tony Mendoza and a few others were on. At the end of the night Les said ‘Right we’re doing this next month as a double act’.

I wasn’t sure at all but he gave me all the straight man lines to his funnies. I thought it was terrible. We were called Scarborough and Thick, like Morecambe and Wise. We ended up doing it a few times, I wasn’t keen. But we ended up doing our own night at The Barley Mow in Gateshead and I had my own 5 minutes. There was a buzz for the whole scene.

A year later Les drifted out and I reverted back to my own name and done a few more shows. It was a lot of North East gigs but you’d meet other acts from Manchester, Glasgow or Cardiff who’d pass on numbers of promoters for different venues around the country. There’d be a few opportunities and they’d lead to ringing up clubs in London. Really it was much more innocent then cos there was only 40 comics in the whole country.

ACROSS THE BORDER

When I first went to London people called you Northern, but sometimes we can be arrogant thinking everybody should know where Geordies come from. But they see you as generically Northern. For a long time people thought Newcastle was in Scotland. It’s more of a distinction now with Ant and Dec on the telly.

In 1995 I done a talent show in The Guilded Balloon in Edinburgh called ‘So You Think You’re Funny’. The organiser wanted regional heats to make it more like a proper national competition. She got me in this heat by practically twisting my arm but I didn’t get through in the end, so I thought that’s it I ‘ve had a good couple of years I’m not going to be a comic now.

The winner of our heat was Johnny Vegas (Benidorm) and the overall winner was Lee Mac (Not Going Out, Would I Lie to You). I since heard that the little competition in 1995, had by 2012 over 45,000 applications. There was preliminary heats, regional heats and eventually whittled down to semi-finals in Edinburgh and the big final. So what’s happened in society for those numbers to change ? Is it just a nice career option ?

In the North East you sometimes need a few strings to your bow to work in entertainment but on TV I don’t want to see stand-up comics presenting cookery shows. I think surely that’s not what you got into this for ?

You can just have a great Edinburgh which can lead to a BBC TV show which can be down to good marketing and hype or having a bit of good luck – or bad. Some people have got the confidence, they can make it sound like they have invented something when they didn’t – history is written by the winners as they say.

It’s the ones who can capture the imagination of the British public, not necessarily the ones that are the most original. There are loads of examples in popular culture, music and art.

NEW YORK TERROR ATTACKS 2001

I think from what I remember I worked on the Wednesday (the next night) after 9/11. It was at Manchester Comedy Store and it was for a topical satire show ironically enough.

The whole show with about five of us on the bill wasn’t so much a humorous take on the week’s news like it was every week previous for the past two years, rather it was a fairly sombre night wondering whether the world as we knew it would be intact by next week.

It was more surreal than very sad but it did have a dark cloud hanging over it and was like no other gig I’ve done before or since.

SHOW MUST GO ON

I’ve got a show at the Tyne Theatre in November, I’ve done a few for them before in the venue. I’m working on it now, nothings finalised for it, could be great – or a disaster. I’m working on new stuff and you can’t not mention what’s happened over the last 15 months it would be absurd to not talk about what’s gone on.

I’ll just talk about how its been for me you can’t pretend to get angry or tell it how it is because I’m not that type of person – you’ve just got to do your take on it.

Tickets available from Tyne Theatre & Opera House NOW for 12th November 2021.

Interview by Gary Alikivi  June 2021