Stephen Bailey is on track to become one of British comedy's next stand-up stars. However, as you'll read below, he has had moments he has thought of giving up.
He's currently on tour with his latest show, Nation's Sweetheart. Stephen explains: "The show is about the art of conversation. I don't think we talk to each other anymore, it's all aubergine emojis over WhatsApp, and I've lots to say on the matter. Plus there's some rude stuff and celeb stuff. I've avoided politics for the time-being, it's all too depressing."
Time for the questions...
My first gig was in London at The Roundtable in Leicester Square in 2011. Honestly, it feels like about six lifetimes ago - comedy has well and truly aged me. It was a showcase after completing one of those comedy courses. Don't judge me.
I took my housemate Marie with me for moral support and she brought along a new beau. The thing is, Marie had had a few new beaus that month and my first routine was comparing her vagina to a Sunday Roast. She's still mad at me and we don't live together anymore, although I don't think that is the reason why.
Favourite gig, ever?
I had the honour of supporting Katherine Ryan on her UK tour last year and my God, it was bloody brilliant. Doing my little dick jokes... I mean, my working class humour, to rooms of 1000-2000 people was incredible.
To be honest, before supporting her I was getting ready to give up, all the travelling alone to these strange little gigs in places like Shrewsbury for £80 was making me want to jump under a train. Girls Aloud don't warn you about that stuff, do they?
Performing to that amount of people who really liked me, they made me feel like I could legitimately do this. I have a lot to thank/blame Katherine and her crowds for, to be honest. They gave me the wind back in my sails.
Oh god. The worst gig I ever did. Well, hold on, there are loads. Some are my fault. Some are just terribly organised. One time, I was at the Comedy Café (RIP - you're missed my friend) and it was like my fifth gig or something and I was befriending Kate Lucas at the bar. I got absolutely hammered. I walked on stage, fell over, knocked over the microphone and literally had nothing to say to them and then on the way home I was sick on my suede shoes.
I also did the Up The Creek gong new act thing once. That was just awful. It was one of my first ten gigs (who are these people that smash their first ten gigs?) and it was the first one that wasn't in a pub corner. I had never performed in my life before this (except sexually - and once at the age of 8 when I auditioned for the role of Annie) and so had never stepped on to a proper stage, with proper lights. Those fucking lights panicked me. I thought I'd died and was going up to Hell. I got bloody stage fright didn't I, and I did die, but in a different way. UTC still haven't forgiven me.
The weirdest gig?
I did a gig in a Sportsmen's bar once and we were on in the football breaks or half time. In fact, I can't be sure it was football. It was definitely some sport. It was in Milton Keynes (I know - enough said) and it was a row of bald heads and one ginger woman. If it wasn't for that ginger woman, I would have thought they were there to see me being burned at the stake.
It was so strange, I had nothing to say about sports - or gruel (which I personally think they ate) - so I found out the woman was single and auctioned her off, and donated the money to whatever charity the venue supported. It was weird, and not me being my best feminist. But that woman helped a sister out. I just hope she didn't go home with all of those bald heads. It would have been like Human Buckaroo - winner stays on!
Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
I tried something recently for my new show about how, when you go home to visit your parents and they tell you to help yourself to anything in the fridge, they then go on to list the contents of the fridge - "there's eggs, there's a tin of salmon [not fresh - why's it in the fridge?], there's some paste, there's some jam left from last year if you fancy that now, since you've been living in London?" I thought it was funny but, in fact, it was just a list of the contents of the fridge.
What's your best insider travel tip, for touring comics?
DON'T DO IT. Try and become a presenter or an actor or something. Save yourself. The other week, I had to ring Pete Otway, who is not only the nicest man in comedy but also so so talented (I'm trying to woo him, can you tell?). I had already driven for 18 hours in three days and we had this gig together in.... ok, I don't remember. Let's go with 'near Newcastle' and I was at my parents' in Manchester and I couldn't bear the thought of another four hour round trip.
The night before I was so depressed and knackered from driving, I'd got half way home before I realised I hadn't turned me lights on. All the other drivers on the road were flashing me but I thought they just recognised me from Channel 5's When Live TV Goes Wrong (LOLz). So I rang Pete and was like 'please can we drive together and put the world to rights?'. And we did. We had a great gig and great chat and I woke up feeling so alive.
I'm actually very lucky as I've never fallen into a comedy clique (no one wants me!). My best friends in the world are people I've known since I was 14/15 and really support me - so every time I think I'm not meant for this, they spur me on. Some are still based up north and some are here in London with me and I literally have one of them for company at every show, so I rarely travel alone now.
They did not sign up for this stupid lifestyle and so I appreciate them more than they know. I am so lucky to have the best pals in the world. My Emily came to Southend with me last week, my friend Sara is coming all the way from Manchester to be with me in Brighton on Friday.
So I guess my tip is keep your real friends around and treat them well. Oh, and get a Nandos.
The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction to your stuff?
All my reviews refer to me being gay, camp or flamboyant. It pisses me right off. Lazy reviewing. This is the way my voice sounds. I walk like a goose because I've got a belly and a bum and I talk about "gay relationships" or, as I prefer to call them, RELATIONSHIPS. Everyone mentions it, even though they tell me not to. RUDE.
I've got a surprising amount of depth (and you don't always need lube - ok, I asked for the gay label there!). I'm a black belt in Tae Kwon-Do, fluent in French and like the Transformers films. HELLO, DEPTH!
Although, my favourite post-gig reaction was, "I am so sorry, I don't normally like gay people but I thought you were absolutely brilliant". I honestly feel like I changed the world.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
Oh god. My feelings on this change all day every day... and my best friend Sam reminded me of this just today. I worked at Sainsbury's for six years (and I did love every minute) but I always said as long as I earn the same as I'd earn working full time at Sainsbury's every month then I'd be happy. So, I guess, I'm happy.
It's easy to look around and wonder why certain people are getting booked for certain things and you aren't being seen. Or why certain gigs won't book you because they saw you die once three years ago - but you just have to focus on your end goal.
I'm not a greedy man. I don't NEED to be famous but one day I would really love to have a mortgage. I'm not a typical middle class comic with a leg up or financial support. I HAVE to make this work and I think if I can keep my head down, work hard (and people buy tickets to my tour), I will.
And where I am lucky and feel hugely successful is, even though I might not have a chat show or be a panel show regular or in with the cool gangs, I am so lucky that audiences really connect with me. None of my shows are exactly the same. We, as a room full of strangers, go somewhere together. So as long as I can keep the laughter going, and keep those connections where people message me afterwards like I'm their therapist and ask for advice or a laugh, I think I'm dead lucky.