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Ivo Graham's Rosie-looking marathon and not-all-rosy special

Image shows left to right: Ivo Graham, Rosie Jones

He's one of British stand-up's finest sentence-stringers - up there in the wordy-wit Champions League places, season in, season out - but Ivo Graham was arguably best known offstage for some seemingly niche sporty stuff, before his well-deserved post-Taskmaster popularity spike.

This stalwart supporter of League Two strugglers Swindon Town has built a sizeable extra-curricular fanbase via regular deep-dives into the remarkable crime novels of former Newcastle manager Steve Bruce, on the hugely popular (but ending soon) podcast Quickly Kevin, Will He Score?, and a nice gig as roving reporter for BT Sport's comedy magazine show The Football's On.

So he talks a good game, but is Ivo all mouth, no shorts? Far from it: he's about to take on the ultimate sporting test (for regular folks), the London Marathon, and will do it while pushing a megaphone-wielding Rosie Jones. That's in aid of their respective charities, the Multiple Sclerosis Society and Up: The Adult Cerebral Palsy Movement, which you can help support here

Graham has also just released a special, Live from the Bloomsbury Theatre, based on his 2022 show My Future, My Clutter. And it features several unlikely references to 90s footballers - a then-savvy nod to his pre-TM demographic? We catch up with Ivo, over Zoom, at the slightly bleary hour of 9.45am.

How's your morning going then, Ivo?

I'm good, thank you, although I've taken my daughter to school in non-regulation socks, and there's been what is now starting to be a very familiar wince from her very patient, very frustrated teacher, the wince of 'Once more, you have failed to complete a full regulation outfit.'

I suppose it starts with socks, but where does it end?

Exactly, 'What have you got planned next week?' But apart from that, it's good.

Ivo Graham

I wondered if you might have been out running already.

I did a big one on Sunday and, my goodness, it plays a big role in my self-esteem. Doing the marathon with Rosie, we did a half marathon together a few weeks ago and we're going to meet up next week to pimp up the chair, record some inevitable content and beat the drums for our various causes.

I mean, for me, as much as anything, it's just about getting to hang out with Rosie and absorb - or surf off - her energy, which is so lovely about this.

That's always the perfect social scenario, isn't it, your friend in front, facing the other way, with a megaphone?

[Splendidly distinctive Ivo laugh] I suppose so! But I have said to her, she can and should turn the megaphone on me as well. I don't wish to be either too pessimistic or too blase, but we did a 'half' together and one of the big secrets about this, I feel that people think that running while pushing a sports wheelchair is significantly harder than it is.

I find it to be actually, dynamism-wise, not a massive burden. But maybe that's just the complacency of having only done a half. The marathon itself, maybe I'm going to crash, and that's when Jones needs to make her own judgement as to what I need. And I very rarely know at the best of times, whether it's complimentary encouragement or something a bit more boarding school.

Ivo Graham

It's a good question. Are you a kick up the arse or an arm round the shoulder man?

I would think I'm capable of being equally ungrateful to both approaches. I don't envy the many people in my life trying to coax decisions or resolutions out of me. Because, you know, shake me and I'll disappear under my shell, but compliment me and I find it to be almost cloyingly uncomfortable.

You've essentially invented the marathon 'cox' here, like in the boat race. Most runners are coxless, whereas you're a sort of Coxed One.

I'd like to claim that talk of coxes returns me very happily to some bygone era of student rowing, but I was not strong enough to row and I wasn't cheeky enough to cox. So this will be probably the greatest joint bit of athletics I've ever done.

You'd have to speak to Rosie about what she feels about it all as a venture, she's been so positive, although a couple of people have already suggested 'oh what marathons will you do next?' Rosie is so impressively busy, she might spare a weekend for me and our prospective charities in London, and then there's me being, 'great, how about the Marathon de Sables? Let's pimp this wheelchair up for the desert!'

Live from the Bloomsbury Theatre. Ivo Graham

I enjoyed your new special last night, particularly the references to random old footballers. I remember older comics saying that football stuff was a no-no, but times have changed?

I think now, there are just so many avenues for 'gentle' fans of football, whether it's people who are very good at talking nostalgically about past eras, or people who dedicate a lot of time to cutting up football clips online, or just the depth of appetite for football-related podcasts.

That's probably made people feel confident that they'll find audiences for whatever angle you want to bring to it. So I use it in the special, it's very authentic; I dug out childhood exercise books. In the late '90s I was either drawing my favourite footballers, or scribbling short stories about my favourite footballers, often with myself fantastically included.

It's an absolute goldmine.

In some ways it's quite a cynical bit of copy/paste, to just dive into that. But I've been doing nostalgic comedy about my childhood for as long as I've been doing stand-up really, so that's just such a big part of it. I mean, there are references to people and matches that obviously you'd think would hit harder with people who can remember those, but I don't think it's alienating football content.

And I also feel I've done so much football related stuff with various podcasts, on Quickly Kevin, the Steve Bruce novels, the football show I did on BT Sport with Ian Stone. There's an extent to which lots of people who come to my shows might be coming because of those things.

This was filmed in 2022, pre-Taskmaster airing, so I wondered if those references were for people who discovered you via those Steve Bruce read-throughs. Which are very niche, but very popular.

But Taskmaster too is a sort of primetime cult - it's got cult energy. It's also got the largest audience of almost any comedy show. And doing those Steve Bruce books with some of my best friends, it was my first introduction to this: you can stress all you like about a panel show you're going to be on, but actually a lot more people will come up to you after a show and talk to you about the podcast that they're invested in.

Taskmaster. Ivo Graham

I also had that experience with getting hauled over the coals for my dessert choices on Off Menu, which obviously is so colossal. And actually, even though the podcast I do with my friend Alex [Kealy] about going to music gigs [Gig Pigs, is far from a commercial behemoth, it's led to us having some really fantastic conversations with people about it, and people coming to [our] gigs off the back of it.

I don't feel like I'm quite at the 'when this was all fields' stage in my career, but it's funny, I don't know if you feel the same, to look back at the pre-podcast age? And sort of go, 'how did it work before we had this bespoke, direct form of communication for every avenue of human interest?'

It's interesting also for fans of your live stuff, who mainly know about your private life via previous shows - you make a sudden revelation in this one that's quite a gut punch.

People have come up after shows and said, 'well, it's certainly the most efficient life update you can get'. There's something about the almost implied self-importance of that, that I'm quite wary of, 'let me bring you up to speed', but it is also undeniably quite efficient.

It makes sense when the person involved was a big part of previous shows - we start to wonder why they're not being mentioned otherwise.

That's interesting. Well, the show is meant to start light, and then just slowly peel back; it's still not meant to be a full peel. And I'm still contemplating the extent to which I want to do that in general going forward. It's a great privilege to have any interest in your life and in your work, and when you do autobiographical stand-up the two do overlap.

And obviously we're also living in that age where you're almost encouraged to document as much of your life as possible in podcasts and social media. I would have felt that my principles, originally, would have been towards putting up boundaries, barriers, keeping some stuff off limits, but my personal life has gone through quite a lot of changes in the last few years. And it is inevitably what you're thinking about, so it does become what you're writing about.

I wouldn't say that doing these shows has provided total catharsis, but I have found them to be good spaces in which to exist with the reality of the situation, and the feelings around it, if that makes sense?

British As Folk. Ivo Graham. Copyright: STV Productions

There are some fantastic jokes too of course - do you punch the air when you come up with one, like you've just scored, go running round the garden with your shirt over your head?

No, I wouldn't say I've been overburdened with quotable one-linery jokes in the course of my career. In 2019 I had one about an advent calendar which was in the Dave Joke of the Fringe list. Having always thought that was the sort of World Cup of punslingers I'd admire it from afar, but it wasn't really my realm, as I waffled on with my tortured narratives.

Then you have a line that makes you go, 'this is great actually, being in the quotable section, I've got to chase this a bit more.' And when a line like that comes to you, you slightly curse yourself that you don't have more of them.

It gets a bit addictive?

You do start to look forward to them, in tour shows, and particularly this one - I don't think it's a horrific spoiler to say that I talk about doing a Wordle in a nightclub, and end up saying 'Wordle on the dancefloor,' and just relishing the mix [of responses] you get.

There are people who are laughing at that because, 'thank goodness, we're a few minutes in now and there's been something which is measurably a joke'. But then some people are sort of groaning going, 'you've been nattering in a way we actually find very engaging, and now you've just waved a flag saying "this is a constructed piece of comedy".'

Also, I must stress, this was all recorded before the Saltburn/Ellis-Bextor Murder on the Dancefloor boom. I will refute any claims that this is an opportunistic one-liner on my part, because I was pulling Sophie out of the shadows long before [Saltburn director] Emerald Fennell was.

Ivo Graham

You're doing a more serious show at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, Carousel, which we'll probably return to nearer the time - is there a regular stand-up hour too?

Yes, a show called Grand Designs, which I'm doing work-in-progresses for at the moment, seeing which things are most interesting to talk about. Having the theatre show as an outlet to explore things without the pressure to be funny is a very interesting opportunity, both for that show, and for what it arguably relieves on the main show.

Last year I was doing a sort of early work in progress of a theatre show, and thought I'd like the main show therefore to be as irreverent as possible, very audience-led. A show I really enjoyed doing and relished the chaos of a few years ago was one where I was trying to learn all the MPs of the UK and keep all of those balls in the air.

I remember that feat was much talked-about, that year.

But it was a bit too chaotic, and actually the truth is that I've always enjoyed doing stand-up when there's a little bit of that hard personal edge as well. I mean, you've been very nice about it, and it's the kind of comedy I enjoy watching, undeniably, as much fun as it is to watch someone just be completely irreverent as well.

So even though I am doing this show Carousel as well, I think the main show is going to have a fair bit of parenthood and responsibility in it. And also it's called Grand Designs because I have taken on quite a lot of things, I'm trying to navigate quite a complicated personal life and also do more professionally than I've ever done before.

You've got a lot on, marathon included.

I've really enjoyed stretching myself a bit over the last year or two, we've been putting on these club nights at the Fringe as well, we're doing a big one of those in London in June, loving doing more fundraising for the MS Society, lots of things.

But with that comes the risk that any one of those individual things could sort of collapse, and if you're nostalgic, as I am, it does also inform quite a constant yearning for the simpler times. It's both exciting to have a full plate and completely overwhelming. And that's what the show is about.

Or maybe you'll just go full Milton Jones; set-up, gag, set-up, gag, for an hour.

If I can stumble upon a few more solid puns, some good one-liners, I will not be too proud to include them.


Ivo Graham: Live from the Bloomsbury Theatre is out now via 800poundgorillamedia.com

Donate to Ivo and Rosie's marathon fundraising via giveasyoulive.com

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