It's nice to have a niche nowadays, and Ross Brierley is surely unique as a sort of modern-day centaur: half comedian, half horse-racing punter and pundit. Not that either the Sport of Kings or stand-up are up and running right now, but thankfully he has another potential winner up his sleeve. It's an impressive web-based version of a tried-and-tested chat show, every Friday.
"I've been wanting to make The Not So Late Show into an online proposition for years," he says. "We did a regular monthly show, and two Fringe shows, but our biggest success was the UK Garage Horse Racing video that went viral a few years ago. Building an audience online with silly sketches and ideas inside the chat show format was always the plan, but life got in the way."
After a hefty hiatus his NSLS co-host Joshua Sadler stepped back, and Brierley started thinking about a reboot. "I'd booked a show at Mach Fest and the plan was to get things up and running by the end of the summer. Being stuck in lockdown means I've got nothing else to do, so it seemed a good time to crack on with it: I've got years and years of ideas that I never managed to pull off onstage, or were too complex or specific to work in a live setting."
Does he reckon it would have happened, without the lockdown?
"Having something to focus on has been a godsend and it's meant that I've had the time and the inclination to sit down and power through the really tough bits. I feel a bit guilty for throwing myself wholly into a creative project whilst the whole world falls apart, but it's either that or play PS4 for eight hours and feel sorry for myself, so it's probably a good thing."
Now let's hark back to the good old days, of gigs.
It was February, 2012, at a Gong Show at the now defunct Mr Ben's Comedy Club in Leeds. Myself and an old school friend had been talking about doing comedy every Christmas for years, so I got cocky one day and signed us up.
It was the regular Monday show, compered by Sully O'Sullivan, and it was a bit of a weekly institution for a while in Leeds, with new comedians coming from all over the country to perform: I remember gigging with the likes of Fern Brady, Jonny Pelham and Adam Rowe as they were just starting out too.
I was, quite frankly, dying on my arse until a couple on a first date, who'd been talked to by Sully earlier in the night, red-carded me after what I thought was a good joke. Incredulous, I went off-script, sarcastically wishing them good luck with their fledgling relationship and saying if they were both a bit more patient they might have more success romantically.
This got ten times the laughs my painstakingly written jokes had garnered and I finished on a high. My friend won the gong (his jokes were much better) and I finished second. If I'd been gonged off, I might never have done another gig again. Life would have been much simpler!
Favourite show, ever?
The first time I ever did the Not So Late Show at the Hull Comedy Festival was a lightbulb moment. A full hour we'd created ourselves that opened my eyes to the possibilities of comedy outside of ten-minute spots in pubs and clubs. The same applies to our first Edinburgh at the Pleasance in 2017. It was a baptism of fire but I was so amazed to be there, surrounded by so many incredible comedians who I respected and admired.
Most of the bad ones have been festivals or well-paying gigs that you take for the cash but know full well will be horrible. The Ukrainian Beer Festival which ended with me sitting on a plastic children's chair I'd found backstage and shouting 'What do you want from me?' was up there, as was my first corporate event in a casino in Sheffield at midday on a Friday before Christmas with several of my old school friends inexplicably in attendance with their workmates.
The MC brought me on after a ten minute rendition of 12 Days of Christmas with the words changed to offensively take the piss out of very specific members of the crowd, and I did half an hour to a room of 300 people who could barely hear or see me and just wanted to eat their tiramisu and get drunk in peace.
However, cumulatively speaking, the worst was a cruise last year (I needed the money/wanted to go to the Caribbean/was amused that they'd made such a clear booking error).
All excellent reasons...
On the first night, after I'd travelled for 36 hours, I was thrown straight on stage at what my brain thought was 4am, with no MC or warm up, and asked to entertain 400 drunk, bored, working class Americans with my brand of silly, particularly-British comedy.
I have next to no recollection of what actually happened, but the sound tech told me afterwards that I needed more 'dick and fart jokes'. Normally, if you die horribly at a gig, you don't have to get up and see your audience at breakfast the next morning. For a whole week.
To be fair, the family shows were a joy, and who else can say they've got an entire audience of Puerto Rican children on to the stage to pretend they were inflatable tube men?
Every gig since then I've felt absolutely bulletproof.
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
My comedy partner in crime, Joshua Sadler. We both have very different skills and approaches to things, but exactly the same stupid sense of humour. Working with him taught me how to finish ideas, how to find enjoyment in incremental improvement and that, as the saying goes, you can do anything, but not everything.
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
The owner of a club in Hull where I was a booked to MC. It was a horrible gig with two big tables who were more interested in nachos than jokes, and I was made to feel more patronised and unwanted after a tough first section than everyone else in comedy up to that point combined. Apparently I'm not the first and unlikely to be the last. I've already burned that bridge and never wish to re-cross it, so it's fine!
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
I had a joke about God being terrible at hide and seek because he was omnipresent. "49, 50... found you, you're everywhere." I love it. Never got nothin'.
You're a pro gambler too - is there much crossover between that and the comedy world?
There's plenty of transferrable skills. The ability to switch off your emotions and not react to a bad day / gig is a skill that is helpful in both, though somewhat unhelpful in regular life, whilst being able to think on your feet and react to changing factors and situations is beneficial too.
Both comedy and horse racing / betting are populated by fairly strange people who have expressly chosen to sit outside of the normal, mundane nine-to-five lifestyle and they can both be quite lonely, isolated and all-consuming too. They're both creative, difficult and, when it all comes off, incredibly rewarding.
Are there particular reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions that stick in the mind?
On the aforementioned cruise, during the Puerto Rican Child Episode, I opened with a joke about being from England and a ten year-old kid on the front row heckled me with 'How many cups of tea do you drink in a day?', which was the kind of quite spectacular instant takedown that you can only get from a child.
I replied it was a minimum of three or my citizenship would be revoked, and asked him how many he drank. He replied 'ten THOUSAND!!' and laughed more than I've seen anyone laugh at anything ever.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
Well, it doesn't exist, so not great. I thought if comedy doesn't happen, I've always got horse racing journalism and betting to fall back on, and vice versa, but I wasn't anticipating the collapse of Western civilisation as a potential danger.
However, on the upside, it's made decisions for me. I'm feeling good about trying to build an audience of my own online and I hope that audience will come to live gigs when they restart, in 2023 or whatever.