"We don't have a star system in Canada for the arts so all of us have to go further afield to find success. That's disappointing but having said that, I'm grateful for the way it's turned out for me."
– Stewart Francis
Guy MacPherson: Stewart Francis! This is Guy MacPherson in Vancouver.
Stewart Francis: Hi Guy MacPherson in Vancouver. How are you?
GM: I’m well. How are you?
SF: Good, thank you.
GM: What city are you in?
SF: Just outside of Edinburgh.
GM: Are you touring there or do you live there?
SF: We’ve got a little place up here. We live in London but we just come up here to see some family members and go to a rugby game on Saturday.
GM: Are you a big rugby fan?
SF: Uh, yes. It’s a good excuse to hang out with my uncle. And the local team’s doing good, too.
GM: I’m glad you’re coming back here. It’s been a few years. Are you performing elsewhere or just in Vancouver?
SF: Just in Vancouver. First club date in seven years in Canada.
GM: When did I write about you?
SF: It’d probably be 2006. That’s when I did my cross-country tour.
GM: You know when it was? It was the festival and it was 2008.
SF: 2008? Oh really. That was the festival. I wasn’t actually booked into a club for a weekend. This is the first in seven years because we left in 2006.
GM: Yeah, you had left already. You were playing Lafflines out in New West.
SF: Yeah. Anyway, this is the first time in ages. Let’s not fall out over this, Guy.
GM: The time in 2006 was when you, Garry [Yuill, the current franchise owner of Yuk Yuk’s Vancouver] and I went and had coffee together between shows.
SF: That’s right.
GM: And now look at him!
SF: He was so impressed by what he saw, he bought it.
GM: He’s like Viktor Kiam, the razor guy. But it’s funny how now he owns a Yuk Yuk’s.
SF: Yeah. He’s always been a funny fellow. I could see that in him when we played baseball together in Toronto. I didn’t know what he did for a living, quite honestly.
GM: Well, I’m excited you’re coming because you’re one of my favourites.
SF: Oh nice.
GM: You told me after I wrote that review on you last time that it was the first review in Canada you’d ever received.
SF: Yeah, if I said it, it was true. We’d get previews. That’d probably be the extent of it, that so-and-so is coming to town. If you’re lucky to get that because previews would kind of suggest that people had heard of the person. But that was the first genuine review.
GM: That is nuts. And you’d been a comic 20 years already. And was that the last review you got in Canada.
SF: In Canada, yeah. Over here it’s a different scene altogether.
GM: Oh, I know. That’s what I was getting at. You move to England and you’re written about all the time, you’re on TV all the time. It’s remarkable.
SF: Thank you. It’s kind of what I hoped would have happened in my home and native land but as you well know, we don’t have a star system in Canada for the arts so all of us have to go further afield to find success. That’s disappointing but having said that I’m grateful for the way it’s turned out for me.
GM: Canadians want that acceptance that some other group likes them first. Have you found that here or do they still ignore you?
SF: Not ignore me. The word I use is adorable, without sounding too arrogant. I recently went back to Toronto and I was in the lift, or elevator, and the guy I was on the elevator with turned to me and said, ‘You a comedian?’ I said yeah. And he said, ‘I’m a huge fan of yours.’ And I said, ‘Oh, thanks!’ And he said, ‘What’s your name again?’ And that just really sums it up. We know what we like in Canada, obviously. I said, ‘Thanks, I appreciate it.’ I wasn’t offended; I found it quite funny. But technically if you’re a huge fan of someone’s, you would know their name, I would have thought. But it just kind of summed Canada up for me in a way, if I needed any summation. We’re really good, we’re really a talented bunch, but to find that success, we have to travel.
GM: Glen Foster is ‘That Canadian Guy’ because people don’t know his name.
SF: I think Glen did that when he started coming over here to the UK. It doesn’t make that much sense when he’s back in Canada on a show with three or four other Canadians. But he probably had the t-shirts printed so he’s gotta go with ‘That Canadian Guy.’ But it made far more sense over here when you go to the comedy club and who did you like? ‘Oh, I liked that Canadian guy.’ As opposed to the Irish guy or the English woman. So it made sense.
GM: I know you often tour with Craig [Campbell] and Glenn [Wool]. They’re what I picture when I think of Canadian comics in England. You’re the outlier, the different one. They’re lumberjack-looking guys. But you’re the sophisticate.
SF: Exactly. When we did Edinburgh two years ago, I grew a beard. That was my contribution to looking like a lumberjack. I wore a plaid shirt. I tried. But they’re definitely more the rough-and-tumble looking, beautifully disheveled. Whereas I come with my hair all perfectly in place. I’m the tidy lumberjack. That was a long time coming because we did The Lumberjacks about 17 years ago in Edinburgh. Craig and I split the bill because we were relatively new over here and had no profile whatsoever so we thought if we split an Edinburgh show doing a half-hour each that would be good. I don’t know if we knew if we had half an hour to do. And then a couple weeks into that, Glenn joined us. So it’s come full circle in that we did the tour last year.
GM: I know Phil Nichol is there, too. How many Canadians are on the scene there?
SF: I don’t know. They come and go. So I’m not quite hip to the scene, as it were. But yeah, Phil and Tom Staid and Sean Collins and Alyson Smith. I would say upwards of ten. Tony Law, although he never did standup in Canada. He started over here because he was living over here. I don’t know if he’s been back since. But yeah, there’s about ten of us that are kind of mainstay Canadians over here. I’m the king of that list.
GM: That goes without saying!
SF: (laughs) It’s worked out nicely.
GM: You mentioned 17 years ago playing Edinburgh. So you’ve been over there throughout your career but only moved there permanently seven years ago.
SF: Yeah, I moved over full-time seven years ago and about five years ago, through some successful TV appearances, I was kind of launched into the psyche of the British comedy fan.
GM: How did those appearances come about?
SF: An agent asked me if I wanted to do a couple of panel shows. They were kind of back to back. There was one called Eight out of Ten Cats, which was okay. Then I did Mock the Week, which really speaks to my style of comedy because it’s a panel show so you’re doing all sorts of topical stuff. There was also a segment where you’ll see a topic come up and four performers and each will have one topic. Then you do a group of jokes on that topic. And being a one-liner guy, that kinda really resonated with the viewing audience. Subsequent to that I’ve done 17 or 18 of those shows. So I’m suddenly entrenched into the people’s brains where they now know me by name. The power of television, I’m telling you.
GM: Do you still do it?
SF: I’ve handed in my resignation a couple of times. The producer called up and talked me into doing it. I did it a couple months ago but you don’t want to overstay your welcome. There are other things I’ve got, television-wise, that I want to pursue. And there’s a lot of other guys and gals over here that just do way too much television. I’ve never wanted to be that performer where it’s, ‘Oh, not him again.’ It’s funny how I’m coming from Canada, where you’re craving recognition. I’m grateful for it and I do need it over here, but I turn down more television work than I accept over here because I pride myself in, whenever you see me on TV, it’s gonna be good. I hope that’s always been the case and I work to that being the case in the future.
GM: You mention that the one-liners work well for that style. I’ve seen you in different venues and they always work well. They’re great. But England has more of a storytelling tradition.
SF: No, there’s a lot of one-liner guys. Back in the day in the gentlemen’s clubs, the clubs were rife with one-liner guys. I see storytelling being more – although there’s great storytellers from this part of the world – as far as standup goes, more of an American thing. But there’s both over here now and I’m sure there always has been. When we look at the comedy legends, a lot of them are one-liner guys: Les Dawson and Tony Cooper. They blazed the trail for the likes of me. There aren’t that many one-liner guys now. There’s more now because of the success of myself and a couple other guys like Milton Jones and Tim Vine and Jimmy Carr. But fortunately there’s not that many doing it very well. There’s nothing worse than a bad one-liner. It’s kinda painful to watch. But it’s a big part of the culture over here, the one-liner.
GM: Maybe I’m confusing it with the Fringe shows in Edinburgh where they come up with a new theme and hour per year.
SF: Yeah, definitely. You’re right there. The Fringe really speaks to what you’re talking about, the storytellers talking about their travels to Cambodia and doing the whole hour on that. It’s very challenging because a lot of the guys and gals that are doing that, some will come up here seven years on the trot and coming up with a new hour every year. It sounds great but it might not be great. I don’t go to a lot of the shows up here. Probably for that reason because there’s gotta be, at some point, where you don’t have a great year.
"To reveal myself or to pontificate, it's just too self-indulgent. I'm being self-indulgent enough going on stage and holding court. I don't want to push my luck. I am interesting and I do have interesting views, as we all do, but I wouldn't dare take up your time with that."
– Stewart Francis
GM: In America, the personal style of comedy is really in fashion. Everybody has to reveal everything about themselves while you reveal absolutely nothing about yourself.
SF: Yeah. Long may that be the case. There’ll be bit that comes out but my contract with you, the audience member, is just to make you laugh for as long as I’m on stage, which is probably why I’m a one-liner guy – just get up there and tell as many jokes as I possibly can and get back off stage. To reveal myself or to pontificate, it’s just too self-indulgent. I’m being self-indulgent enough going on stage and holding court. I don’t want to push my luck. I am interesting and I do have interesting views, as we all do, but I wouldn’t dare take up your time with that.
GM: So that’s the reason. You’re not trying to hide from people.
SF: No! In an interview like this, I’ll probably say way more. Like, I’ll hang up the phone and ‘What the fuck did I say that for?’ So there’s no dark, deep mystery. But that’s one-on-one. Hopefully if I’m talking to somebody, I will want to open myself up. On stage, I don’t need that audience to know anything about me other than, hopefully, I’m hilarious. If they take that away from the evening, we’re both winners.
GM: Is it a conscious thing, too, where one joke you’re married, the next you’re single, the next you’re gay, or whatever it is?
SF: Yeah, exactly. I’m one of those three things! But you, as the audience member, don’t need to know that. It’s unlimited now. If I’m married in that joke, and gay in this joke, then I can go all over the show because there’s no rules when it comes to one-liner guys. Or storytellers, because they could be telling a complete made-up story. But the one-liner stuff is my favourite style of comedy. You get more bang for your buck. If you don’t like that one, there’s one right after it. I think if I delve deep, it probably came from my early days on stage. There’s nothing worse than no laughter from the audience. So if I’m talking, in the form of me telling a million one-liners, at least there’s noise in the room. And the better I am, the more that noise is filled with laughter. There should be two noises: either me talking or you laughing. I gave that thought recently. I thought that could be part of it. That’s not the main reason; it’s just I love that kind of comedy. Like watching The Naked Gun andPolice Squad. We’ll watch that till the day we die and loving it because there’s gag after gag after gag. It’s just silly.
GM: After the first contradiction you give, audiences may sit up and go, ‘Oh, he made a mistake. He forgot his character.’ But when you do it more than once…
SF: Oh yeah. That’s ridiculous.
SF: Take each joke at face value as opposed to, ‘Wait a minute!’
GM: So that was a conscious decision from the beginning or was it a mistake and you went ‘What the hell, these are all one-liners’?
SF: Steve Martin, before he started making the crap films, he was, as you well know, a brilliant standup comedian. And he was all over the show. There were no rules. It doesn’t have to make sense. That surreal aspect to comedy obviously registered deeply with me. I love it. I’m also a cartoonist. In cartoons there are no rules. It doesn’t need to make sense. The only thing it needs to be is funny. And hopefully more times than not they are.
GM: The Road Runner goes over the cliff and the next scene he’s fine.
SF: Exactly. As a kid, maybe you’re, ‘What? That doesn’t make sense.’ But it doesn’t need to make sense.
GM: I know you’re a cartoonist, but what does that mean?
SF: It means most recently that my cartoons came to life in the form of my book I just had released in November. It’s a collection of my jokes, and over 30 of my cartoons. It was Plan A.
GM: Was it?
SF: Oh, absolutely.
GM: Is it available here?
SF: It’s available on Amazon so you can order it. My DVD is also available there however they’re not formatted for North American consumption which is disappointing. But the book you can actually buy and it’s called Pun Direction. We had to call it something. But yeah, I’m cashing in on my second favourite band.
GM: Your first being?
GM: Of course. I spoke to Brent Butt yesterday and he was also a cartoonist.
SF: Oh my goodness. I’m such a huge fan of his. And Glenn, when we were on tour were talking about it and I said I’ve never met him. He couldn’t believe that.
GM: Get out of here.
SF: No, I’ve never met him.
GM: I was in a coffee shop with him yesterday.
SF: Well, lucky you. All of us should be able to have that privilege. He’s absolutely one of my favourite comedians.
GM: He lives here, you know?
SF: Yeah. And he’s over the moon with his Roughriders winning the Grey Cup, I can only imagine.
GM: His movie’s coming out in March.
SF: Oh, wow, I didn’t know he did a movie. I’m a huge fan of his. If you do see him again, tell him I’m a huge fan of his as is my lovely Scottish wife.
GM: I’ll tell him to go to your show.
SF: Yes! (laughs) Never meet your heroes.
GM: In the book we don’t get to know you either, right?
SF: No, of course not. No.
GM: Good Lord, why would we want to?
SF: No! Again, I’m not Johnny Carson weird; I’m private. It’s not that kind of book. And it would never be. I would never write an autobiography. It’s just too self-indulgent.
GM: I’ll write an unauthorized biography of you, how’s that?
SF: Yes, now you’re talking! That I would read.
GM: You made a real seamless transition over there, obviously. I know your parents were British and you spent a lot of time there, so that’s probably why. I heard one joke of yours that you adapted. You changed ‘trunk’ to ‘boot’.
GM: And I went, ‘He’s sold out!’
SF: You have to. There are certain words, obviously, you don’t change. And the more successful I’ve become, the less I do do that. But back in the day I had to make it a ‘boot’ so they fully understood what I was talking aboot. Now I understand the world’s gotten smaller through social media and television and films; everybody kind of knows elevator’s a lift and that kind of stuff. I’ve adapted the other way around: Here I refer to it as ice hockey. They got me. I just can’t win.
GM: British comics come over here and don’t change a single word or phrase. We just have to figure it out through the context, but they don’t adapt.
SF: As you’re saying that, one of my favourite stories came to mind. Bobby Keele, Jr. was coming over here back in the day and was trying to make some inroads into the UK. He was asking someone backstage at the Comedy Store or somewhere if they have Freedom 55 commercials. And they don’t. His big parting piece was a Freedom 55 commercial parody or something of that ilk. And he did it anyway even though ‘we don’t know what Freedom 55 means’. He was dismissive, saying, ‘They’ve got retirement plans. They’ll know what I’m talking about.’ And he went out there and they didn’t know what he was talking about. So you’ve got to make some adjustments. I probably did ‘trunk’ in the early days when I did that joke and maybe it wasn’t getting the response it deserved. So someone might have said, ‘You might want to change that to boot.’ It’s funny. Canadians saying ‘boot’? We can’t say it enough.
GM: I’ll let that go then.
SF: (laughs) Listen to you! Not that I’m trying to get back in your good books, but it doesn’t happen very often. ‘Boot’ and ‘lift’ are the only two things that come immediately to mind but the rest stays. No one changes me!
GM: You’re not coming here just for the shows, are you? Are you vacationing?
SF: Originally it was going to be I was going to pop down to L.A. and do the Conan O’Brien show, but I opted out of doing that. I’ve got an open invitation, as I understand it – look at me! But I was coming over to you guys because I was going to do Conan, I was going to do a whole bunch of Leaf games. But I thought I’ll just do the club for Garry because he’s asked me a couple times and there’s not a lot of pressure involved in that and the Leaf games are just joyous. Hopefully. I didn’t want to put pressure on myself for the trip. I wanted it to be more or less nothing but pleasure. So I will do Conan or another late night show down the road.
GM: Have you been on Conan before?
SF: Nope. No, I have not. I would have loved to have done The Tonight Showbecause that was the first late night show that I fell in love with, with Johnny Carson. So that would have been rather wonderful. Maybe after my next tour I might do something and just really just do – as I would anyway – a killer set of more or less three tours’ best of material in a 5-minute set and just blow the doors off the place and just see what happens. I don’t look to conquer America. It’s no longer on my list of things to do, which just takes all the pressure off me to go over there and just do an incredible job. Although I already did that with the Craig Ferguson show so I don’t know why I’m doing it again. You talked me out of it.
GM: Just remember to change ‘boot’ back to ‘trunk’ again.
SF: I will do.
GM: Is this for real?: You’re doing standup on Mt. Everest?
SF: Yes. To the best of my knowledge. I’ve met with some people and they put it on the internet so it must be true. Like everything, I’ll believe it when I see it. But there will be medicals and some prep work leading up to it but it’s full steam ahead as far as I’m concerned.
GM: How high up are you going?
SF: Base camp. Which is five-and-a-half thousand… What would it be? I don’t know if it’s feet or metric. I don’t know what it is. [note: it’s metres] It’s base camp. It’s an auction for 50 people. They’re trying to raise money for Save the Children. It’s huge to be involved with such a noble charity. People will bid against each other to get the 50 allocated seats. It should be incredible.
GM: You’re going to hike up there? And there’ll be a stage?
SF: Yeah. A stage and we’ll have sherpas. Yeah, it should be incredible.
GM: I hope the mics don’t cause an avalanche.
SF: That would be something, yeah.
GM: Are you much of a hiker or outdoorsman?
SF: I did Machu Picchu about six years ago with my wife. We did the 4-day Andes Trek to see Machu Picchu. I do a lot of walking. Still working out in the gym and playing ice hock— Ice hockey! I play hockey whenever I get the chance. But this could be the highest I’ve ever gone. It’s gotta be. I think it’s higher than Machu Picchu.
GM: And it’ll be filmed, right? For a documentary?
SF: I think there’s a documentary involved. It’s a charity organizer I’ve been working with for a number of years over here and he approached me two years ago. ‘Yeah, yeah, sure, sounds good.’ And it did sound good but you hear a lot of things and you don’t want to put too great an importance on it happening because it might not happen so why set yourself up for disappointment. But it seems we’re closing in on it.
GM: What’s this nonsense I hear about your retiring?
SF: I say that from time to time. That was taken out of context. I didn’t know I was going to do a second tour. During the first tour in interviews I said this will probably be it. I truly thought that. More to the fact it was 18 years of accumulated material. I thought I’d have to wait another 18 years to do another tour. But I put pen to paper and 18 months later I came up with my second tour. So after that I thought, well, that was a really good one. It was well received. You don’t want to push your luck. And I started putting pen to paper again so I think I’ll do another tour. So each time I say it, I’m not saying it in a dramatic way. But at one point I will mean it.
GM: So it will be true eventually.
SF: It will be true. Unless I’m happy with the tour, and how the writing’s come along, that will be it and I’ve absolutely no qualms about that whatsoever. But there will be another tour in 2015 and then that probably will be it! But that’s how I put these things out there. Without being dramatic but it’s always taken as ‘oh he’s going to quit after that.’ I don’t remember saying it quite as dramatically as that. But it is what it is.
GM: Maybe the tour will be over here.
SF: I don’t know about that. That would be disappointing. Just because my profile is non-existent in comparison to over here. I’m a semi-celebrity hanging out with rock stars and royalty. To go back to Canada would be a disheartening step back just doing clubs.
GM: No, I meant a theatre tour here.
SF: I can’t put bums in seats in the comedy clubs based on my profile, and largely based on promotion of me by said clubs. They gotta go hand in hand and give me something to work with. But I just don’t see Canada as being a country that can support that kind of… You know, Brent can do it and Derek Edwards can do it. They’ve stayed there, obviously. Me leaving seven years ago won’t help my profile much.
GM: Danny Bhoy comes here every single year. And Tommy Tiernan comes here frequently, too. I always wonder if there are enough people here who even know who they are, but they keep coming back.
SF: Ah, well maybe I will. I can’t get back to Canada quick enough. It’s just weird that I go back there on holiday. But I’m very connected to Canada because through technology I get to watch my Leafs. I’ve watched every game of theirs the last two years. Yeah, feel my pain.
GM: I watch every Raptor game. Does that count?
SF: I’m starting to. I’m getting excited about them. They’ve had a nice run. And now Toronto FC are gonna make some waves.
GM: Is the downsize of the coverage comedy gets in Britain that you say one thing and then there are a bunch of articles about you retiring?
SF: That’s disappointing to hear that you’ve seen articles. I will retire. It’s just inaccurate. Hopefully it won’t do any damage.
GM: You say you’re hanging out with rock stars and royalty.
GM: Is that an exaggeration or true?
SF: Famous people know me. That’s kinda weird.
SF: Uh… I can’t name names.
GM: Come on. Throw me a bone.
SF: Um… You almost got his name. One of them. Bone. Rock star. Bone?
GM: I don’t know.
SF: The other one was Roger Daltry. I did a gig for him at the Royal Albert, as you do. He’s the patron for a charity. I think it’s Children in Need. So backstage there’s other performers there and I went over and introduced myself to him and he said, ‘I know who you are.’ He was frustrated by the fact that I would dare to… But you can never assume. And one of the princes is a fan of mine. Not Prince, but a prince, came over to me after a night where I was supporting Ricky Gervais. He was a fan of mine and he was recounting some of my jokes and I introduced him to my wife and he said, ‘Oh, you are Scottish!’ That was one of our favourite moments in show business. I’ve met Ben Guyat in Canada.
GM: Who’s that?
SF: He’s the host of Comedy at Club 54.
GM: Oh, that’s right!
SF: So I’ve met him. That’s my equivalent [in Canada]. And I met Al Waxman the day Bruno Gerussi died.
GM: So you’re connected to Canadian royalty, too.
SF: I think so. It was weird to meet one television legend the day the other one died.
GM: Maybe you’ll meet Brent Butt the day Al Waxman dies.
SF: Oh, wow.
GM: Or has he already died?
SF: Oh, see what you’ve done? I don’t know. I don’t want any part of this.
GM: You opened for Ricky Gervais when?
SF: That was 2010 for 60 shows.
GM: That’s brave of him to put on a far superior comic in front of him.
SF: I reminded him of that multiple times. But that’s just how confident the man is. Yeah, it was great.
GM: He’s not really a standup, is he? He became one.
SF: Well, he is. It’s all there. Set-up, punch. He is a standup in that sense. He’s not in the truest sense of the word. He kind of ventured into it after he established himself as a television star.
GM: Is he good?
SF: Yes. Yeah. I only saw the tour that I did. I think that was like his fourth tour. It’s all there. It was difficult for me to be a support act because no one wants to see a support act. So I’d have fun with that and I was cheeky and all that kind of stuff. But we determined, did Ricky and I, the reason it wasn’t quite as magical as I’d hoped it would be because I was establishing myself over here. And we reckon it wasn’t anything to do with the fact it was me but that people were coming out to see Ricky and they weren’t really comedy fans; they were fans of Ricky Gervais, this global superstar. There would be evenings where my act would suffer as a result. And his too, to a certain extent, because he’d come on and blow the roof off the place but if the auditorium’s not packed with comedy fans, it’s not going to be much fun for them.
GM: But the plus side is you’re playing to these huge crowds and to people who may not otherwise go see comedy and because you bang out the jokes, it would really increase your profile.
SF: He was grateful for that. He told me many times. He’s had a bunch of support acts and this was the best and for that reason. It set up the room. I did close to 20 minutes every night and it got them warmed up. The unfortunate thing is that there was an interval of 20 minutes to a half-hour. That kind of takes some of the momentum out of the room. But it was a great night for them and they got to see the legend that is Ricky Gervais. And hanging out with the man, that was a very unique experience to have that kind of five-star lifestyle and to see the man. He’s a genuinely nice fellow and very accommodating to his fans. He’s just a regular nice guy because, I think, success found him later in life. He was I think in his thirties when The Office became the hit that it became.
GM: And he’s a generous laugher, too.
SF: (chuckles) Yes, but it’s one of those kind of laughs that you just know he’s in the room so I don’t know how much of it is a natural laugh or how much of it was attention seeking. But yeah, you were definitely aware that he’s around.
GM: I think I got enough here, Stewart.
GM: It’s great talking to you. I look forward to seeing you at the show.
SF: Do you know what night you’re coming out?
SF: No. Listen to you!
GM: I may come all nights, I’m such a fan.
SF: It’s been a while since I’ve performed on stage. I’m just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. And I’ve got to change words back to the Canadian version.
GM: Otherwise you’ll just get blank stares.
SF: Exactly. Well, that’s kind of what I’m used to, in Vancouver in particular. It’s renowned for its laid-back audiences. That’s going to be an adjustment.
GM: Comedy’s gotten a lot more popular here in the last few years. The rooms are full and the crowds are hot.
SF: So they’re getting good audiences?
GM: Yeah. I hate to jinx that for you.
SF: No, that’s great. I’m looking forward to it. We feed off of that. It makes for a better evening.
SF: Okay-dokey, chum. I look forward to seeing you. And thanks for helping spread the word.
GM: Thanks very much.
SF: Okay, chum. Have a great day.