Sam Bennett

stephen bailey_0137b_photo by steve ullathorne (3)A couple of hours prior to going onstage in Covent Garden, Stephen Bailey thinks back to when he first started out in stand-up. He would do jokes of the same ilk as other comics, he tells me, because that’s what he thought people wanted. If he performed by that rule today, he explains, he’d be talking about Brexit and Trump. One time at a comedy competition, a fellow comedian and friend told him: “You’re funnier when you’re not telling a joke. You should tell the story about that guy you fancy at work.”

Bailey didn’t think anyone would find this story funny, but he did tell it, “and I ended up getting to the final of that competition”. He found his stand-up style: a conversational, bitchy but harmless kind that draws on his personal life. Now I wouldn’t bet on his set including Brexit or Trump, as he says, “I don’t bother with any of that nonsense.”

What’s the difference between the onstage and offstage Stephen Baily? He’s just as camp in “real life” as he is when he’s gigging, he states, saying that he has as little choice over that as he does his sexuality. The bitchiness, on the other hand, he reigns in when not performing – “I have a filter.” He provides an example of when he’s been able to opine something onstage that he doesn’t off: “One of my friends is always attracted to the worst men – like actual demons. I feel bad telling her in real life but I put it in my set, so she definitely knows that’s what I think of her boyfriends.”

© Steve Ullathorne

© Steve Ullathorne

The 2015 Amused Moose Comedy Award-nominee’s campness and sexuality has led him into very little bother with audience members. He used to worry that, if he was playing to a room mostly made up of straight men, they would dislike his demeanour. “But now I know I’m a good comedian so I’ll be able to make them laugh.” Audiences actually don’t have a problem with the way he is, he says, admitting that he probably should give the world more credit. That said, very little bother does not mean no bother at all. One gig at a comedy club in Scotland saw him take to the stage and say, “Where are my gays?” To which a voice from the back of the room said, “Dead, like they should be.”

No one at the venue stood up for Bailey, which angered him a bit. Heckles are meant to be fun, he says, but that one was homophobic and “just very bizarre”. He’s played the same club since, though, and not had any more issues.

The 30-year-old has also faced animosity from members of the LGBT community. He refers to a joke he did last year as part of an Aol. video that went viral. He told some straight audience members that he found their lifestyle disgusting and unnatural – and that god hates them. It was “a flip of what people have said about gay men over the years – just a flip, a joke, I’m a comedian.” There were online reactions of love and support from those who “really understood what I was doing”, he resumes, and then there were others who didn’t respond so warmly; gay men who posted that they didn’t want someone with a voice like his talking for them. “One: I’m not talking for you, I’m talking for me,” Bailey counters. “Two: those of us in the LGBT community are fighting to be accepted for the way we are, yet we will not accept someone for the way their voice sounds – that baffles me.” It’s hypocritical of LGBT people to ask the rest of the world to accept them, he points out, when they themselves reject others from the LGBT community.

Such is the nature of the industry he’s in, that there have been times when he’s looked at his diary in January and there’s been nothing booked in; three weeks later he’ll have four television appearances and a tour support to get ready for. Currently he has a new tour called Can’t Think Straight; an upcoming Edinburgh Fringe show, Our Kid; plus a show he’s doing for Comedy Central. That’s enough to be getting on with, I say. “For now,” he says, “but I’m one of those crazy people who can’t just enjoy the moment.” A worrier, he’s always thinking about what’s next for him. “It still doesn’t feel safe to me,” he says of his comedy career; a former supermarket worker, he always thinks he could at any time be back on the checkout.

His approach to life is uplifting though. He speaks of a rule he and a friend of his live by, that is: if every year they’ve done one thing, such as writing a comedy show, that’s progress. “That’s positive,” he says. He says we look too much at what we haven’t got – whether that’s a partner or a house we technically own – and not enough on what we have. “You’ve got people who are writers, and they’re writing every week, but they’ve not got a book out yet. They’re like, ‘Oh, god, I’m a failure.’ No you’re not, you’ve still got writing coming out every week. Your book will come – it’s just not there yet. When the first series of Sex and the City aired, those characters were 33 and a mess, and they were still a mess towards the end when they were 38. So it’s fine – as long as you’ve done what you wanted to do by the time you’re dead, that’s what matters.”

 

Stephen Bailey tours ‘Can’t Think Straight’ until May 2018, including London’s Soho Theatre from 3rd – 5th May. See stephenbaileycomedy.co.uk for details.

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