As Henry Paker heads out on his debut solo national tour, the man behind many of your favourite TV shows, is finally getting himself out there in front of audiences nationwide. You will have seen Henry's name whizz by as a writer on the credits of a huge variety of comedy shows, from Michael McIntyre's Big Show, 8 Out Of 10 Cats, and Mock The Week all the way to Comic Relief and Top Gear. Henry is one of comedy's most sought after writers but, in terms of his own stand-up, he has been the industry's best keep secret.... until now.
Henry has been doing stand-up for years, but this is his first show to go national. In Man Alive he is finally able to bring two of his true passions together in one show. Anyone who has caught his previous stand-up will note that Henry (who you may have seen previously on such TV shows as Josh, Russell Howard's Good News, and Seann Walsh World) is not only a talented comedian, he is also rather gifted in the arena of visual art. In Man Alive, you will see him doing a spot of live cartooning alongside the stand-up.
Henry said: "I love animation: The Simpsons, Rick & Morty, Pixar, The Lego Movie and all that stuff. I've done a couple of cartoon books and I love the visual side to comedy, but I've always thought of them as separate from my stand-up. So what I've enjoyed about this show is putting them together. There's something about getting the cartoons onto the stage which is really enjoyable for me, and the audience."
As evidenced from the sell-out shows he performed of Man Alive at the Edinburgh Fringe, audiences are certainly lapping it up. Henry is still working out the full logistics for his tour shows, but chances are that as the crowd enters the room, he'll be sat at a laptop with his live cartoons appearing on a big screen. It would be cruel to give away the jokes, suffice to say that there are excellent one-off visual gags as well as a running story about love and loneliness.
"There's always this threshold moment when you come onto the stage passing from one world into another and it's always a bit tense running up to that moment," says Henry. "So with this show, as people come in, I'm sitting there drawing on the computer and it comes up on the screen. Partly I wanted to do that to relax and blur that stark line between on and off so I'm there before they arrive to slightly take out the drama of that for myself. Being in the room does already take the pressure off a bit, and you can look at the odd person as they come in and give them a smile. Not in a creepy way."
Alongside the live cartooning in Man Alive, Henry delivers stand-up which tackles issues such as encountering other British people on holiday, discussing friends who have suddenly become marathon runners, and why a night out at the theatre is generally a bad thing. Perhaps most risky of all are his observations on his own marriage, and whether he should really be taking such delight in having plenty of time at home alone.
"It's quite awkward talking about your marriage when your wife is in the audience" Henry says "But the fact is she directed the show, and she also helped devise it. Partly the show is about how in stand-up you have to have very black and white opinions on things. But that's not really the truth about how we really feel about stuff."
For anyone who has been at a Henry Paker (pronounced 'Packer', by the way) show, chances are you'll have noticed how different they all are. He's given us a noir-ish mystery in Guilty, unlocked a private memory box and decluttered his soul for Unpacked, and went halfway up Kilimanjaro with Cabin Fever. Meanwhile, he's dabbled in sketch comedy on stage with Superclump and The Golden Lizard, as well as on radio with Small Scenes, while his Radio 4 sitcom ReincarNathan has been a hit with audiences and critics alike. All this variety is not a coincidence.
"I think it's partly to keep myself interested; I do like to try new things each time and I also think I'm on some sort of quest to find the authentic show. It's like a constant exploration of the show that I really want to do. Having said that, this show, for me, is the one that feels like it's the most me, in a way. For the next one I do, I'll probably use this as the template."
For now though, Henry is enjoying the prospect of heading out on tour and meeting new audiences across the land. Some critics and fellow comics have suggested that he should probably be a bit more famous than he is right now. He reckons Man Alive might be the turning point.
"That is something people do say about me sometimes, so it's partly what this tour is about. It's about getting myself out there as me. I also do a lot of writing on other comedy TV shows, so I'm often the man at the back, in the shadows. So now I want to emerge into the light, like a beautiful middle-aged butterfly."