Comedian Kai Humphries called his Edinburgh Festival Fringe show, Stuff Protocol because it's about how he questions the rules and doesn’t always stick to them. Does that make him an anarchist, Martin Walker finds out.
I went to a gig and watched just circuit comics at the Hyena and I thought 'Is that a job? If I can learn how to do that, then that's a life hack. Then I can just have a laugh and make jobs and wage'.
You’ve done some Edinburgh Fringe previews in London, is that right?
“Yeah yeah I’ve got a bunch of previews in.”
You’ve performed at The Comedy Store?
“Oh, that place is the top of the trade, mate.”
But you’ve not been performing that long – from about 2008, is that right?
“Yeah, 2008, so just over five and a half years. But even though I’ve not been performing that long I’ve performed a lot of gigs, I feel like I’ve crammed in ten years work into five and half years. I was no stranger to getting in the car and driving three hours to appear for five minutes when I started so I’ve done quite a lot. I did my Edinburgh show after eighteen months so that meant I was doing an hour a day early in my career when I had no right to be.”
What on earth possessed you to get up on stage and start trying to make people laugh?
“Well, I wasn't aware that it was a job. I thought there was comedians in the world and that was Jack Dee, Jo Brand, Lee Evans, Peter Kay, you know, the guys you see on TV all the time, this was before the big influx, before McIntyre and Flanagan and John Bishop and the like, it was quite a small set of people who were household names and then I went to a gig and watched just circuit comics at the Hyena and I thought 'Is that a job? If I can learn how to do that, then that's a life hack. Then I can just have a laugh and make jobs and wage'. So then I did my research into the fact that there was a circuit and I started contacting open mic nights to see if I could try my hand. It was pretty much monkey see monkey do - I saw people on stage and thought, right, I'll try my hand at that.”
Wow. So it was at the Hyena in Newcastle?
“Yeah, I did my first ever gig at the Hyena. So I watched it there and then I did an open mic night there. Because I went to watch one of Gavin Webster's open mic nights and I took four or five of my mates and we made up half of the crowd. The Hyena's quite a big room, it's got space for 300, 400 people and there was about a dozen people there, I just had a word with Gav that if I could go up next time I'd bring a few extra people. I used the fact I'd bring a crowd as a bargaining tool for my first gig.”
So I speak to a lot of comedians about how they got started and a lot of the time even the very successful comedians say the first time they got on stage it was dreadful, but nevertheless they got the bug. Was that your experience or did it go quite well?
“No, nah, I had quite a good gig, it went well. The crowd was full of my mates so I was quite confident going into it. That would probably intimidate me more now, if it was full of my friends but at the time it just felt like I was showing off in front of my pals. It was quite easy. The tougher gigs came later on when I was miles away from home, like in Hull - there was hardly anyone there, no front row. The tough gigs came later on so I kind of got a false sense of security. Thinking 'this is quite easy' and then you get a gig that's tough and go 'Oh, okay, I've got a lot of work to do.”'
So Newcastle's home for you?
“Well, Newcastle will always be home. Currently I live in Edinburgh, but I'm from South East Northumberland, a satellite town out of Newcastle called Blyth but Newcastle my city, that's my football team, where I do my shopping and meet my mates out.”
So you wear the black and white?
“Yeah I'm a Magpie.”
You’ve risen through the stand-up ranks quite quickly.
“That came from just taking every gig, I think. There's a bunch of competitions, like Laughing Horse, So You Think You're Funny and there's gong shows at the Comedy Store in Manchester and all the other comedians that had been going a couple of years were saying you should really wait, because you can only enter the competitions once but I just wanted stage time so I applied when I'd only been going four or five months and it went really well and I got to the finals of all of them and I won all the gong shows. So when I started applying for open spots - and you've got hundreds of people applying for the same spots - because I could say that I'd got to competition finals and gong show wins then that kind of gave me a little extra leg up for getting more gigs.”
So what's your secret because a gong show's a really tough gig for most people very seasoned professionals can get booed off quite quickly.
“I think I just had that cockiness and youth - youth not as in age but youth in being new to comedy. I went in quite naive and I didn't realise how tough it could be. So I guess I had confidence through ignorance. I went with a smile on my face and did stuff I thought was great but looking back now it probably wasn't that impressive. I was probably just delivering it confidently.”
What's your Edinburgh Show about this year?
“Well I've called it Stuff Protocol because it's about my how I question the rules and I don't always stick to them and the repercussions of living like that, of questioning authority. The way it is, I wanted to call the show Fuck Protocol but due to protocol, I can't publish that title, so I had to stick to protocol and call it Stuff Protocol, which I think is quite funny.
“I just thought okay, I'll stick to the rules whilst talking about being an anarchist.”
Do you describe yourself as political then?
“Not really. I do have some views, but not fully formed. I'm quite easily influenced with my political views because I haven't got that great an education on them. So if I'm speaking to someone who knows more than me I generally take their word for it. I'm not very preachy, is what I'm trying to say.”
So it's more a stance of being anti-authority rather than particular issues?
“Yeah, totally, just a bit of a rule breaker, bit of a scallywag.”
Were you like that at school?
“Yeah, I was kind of a naughty kid, always getting in trouble. It's quite funny actually because I used to get kept back for detention quite a bit. The head of year all the way through middle school was Mrs Noble who at the time wasn't the famous Ross Noble's mam, but since I left school he's become astronomical so now I've got the story that at school I was always in detention with Ross Noble's mother. And she actually turned up at one of my gigs and started heckling. I didn't know who it was but she came up to me after the gig and I found out it was my old school teacher and she'd come to get revenge.”
You can't blame her, can you mate?
“Yeah, it's just really interesting cause she'll come to a lot of my shows, she'll either come to my fringe show or come to a preview. She sends me a card saying good luck. I've never actually met Ross Noble but just by being a naughty school kid I've become good friends with his mum.”
That's a lesson to all school children. So you've not met Ross, but surely you're bound to as you continue to climb the ladder of success?
“I mean it would be nice to meet him and have a chat.”
How do you question authority as an adult?
“Oh, it's just little things you know like how in the Sea Life Centre they say don't touch the turtles but it's like saying 'don't press that button' so you'll be reaching into the tank and touching the turtles. Where there's a rule up, I go nah, I'm not having it.”
So to this day you've got that, if someone tells you not to do something you want to do that?
“Well, I'll ask why, I'll question it. It's not always about breaking the rules, it'd be anarchy if it was, but sometimes you're foolish if you don't ask why.”
So you don't run red lights then?
“No, I'm actually a lot less anarchistic than I'm making out. The show culminates where I have to stick to my training, the protocol of things I learnt, to save a guy's life, which happened when I worked at a leisure centre so it ends up where by sticking to the rules it kind of works for us.”
Was that what you were doing when you started stand up?
“Yeah I was working as a lifeguard, so blowing the whistle and sticking the rules on other people. But I was an awful authority figure. 'No bombing!' 'Why?' 'I don't even know!' It didn't say in my training manual.”
As a lifeguard did you get a lot of attention from girls?
“It's not quite what you think, working in a leisure centre. It isn't quite as appealing as working on Bondai Beach. But it was a pretty cool job because I didn't just do life guarding, I did football coaching, I taught swimming, I ran a league there. It was a fun job, I enjoyed it.”
So do you still consider yourself quite sporty, quite fit?
“I do rock climbing now and again, I play football now and again, but I'm not as fit as I used to be, I used to do 10k road races and get really good times but I’d have no chance now.”
The stand-up circuit's quite boozy, isn't it?
“Oh, so boozy and I can't say no. I'll just be backstage thinking I'll have a quiet night and a couple of comedians who I'm friends with will come in and there's beer tokens and the next thing you know its four o'clock in the morning.
“Apologies, I’m being interrupted Martin…
“Oh, that's nice, Carl Donnelly's going to make my lunch. I'm staying at his house at the moment. Do you know Carl?”
Yes, I didn't know the two of you were married though.
“Neither did I! Nah, I'm just at his because I'm in London, so he's putting me up on his couch. But we had a fantastic month, we went to Melbourne and did a show called the Best of the Edinburgh Fest and it was me, Carl Donnelly and Tom Stade. Just us three doing twenty minutes every night and then getting absolutely wasted. We're all party animals, me and Carl ended up getting matching tattoos. I feel my hangover still, I've got naught boys on my shoulder.”
Is he doing Edinburgh too?
“Yeah, he's doing That's What I Call Donnelly Vol 6.”
I'll have to speak to him then, get some stories about you
“Actually I just did a podcast yesterday, you should listen to that…”
If Michael McIntyre retires and the BBC say to you we're going to have a revamp, it's going to be the Kai Humphries road show, who are your guests going to be?
“Easy. I'd have Carl and Tom on immediately. And Jimmy McGee, that'd be my first line up. Then I would have Milo McCabe, the Noise Next Door and Andrew Stanley. Milo's fantastic, we're actually all going on holiday, me, Milo, Daniel Sloss, Tom Horton, Andrew Stanley we're all going to Benidorm for a pre-fringe blowout - one last party before we have to get professional.”
That's in July is it?
“Yeah, cause last year we had a holiday and we went to the bull run in Pamplona. You know what I mean? Such a good festival but I nearly killed myself. I've got such great photos, I ran a section of the run called Dead Man's Curve which is notoriously dangerous because you have to cut in front of the bulls to cut the corner off. And while I was doing that I tripped over and fell and curled up into a ball, that was it, I'm going to die and the bulls just passed right by me. I've got a bunch of photos of me being trampled by bulls.
“That was pretty cool because it ended up being a big feature in the Edinburgh show last year, it happened in July, so it was real quick writing to get that event turned round into decent material in the space of three weeks before the show started.”
You have to come up with the name of your show in March, right?
“Yeah, before you've really written anything. You have to guess what you want to write about and pick a title that sort of fits and isn't so strict that you have to write about just that but it gives the show a little bit of a backbone. Like, last year I called the show Shameless, because of my lack of shame but also because of the TV show and working class culture coming up again. I kind of escaped the ghetto a bit, so I used shameless as a bit of a double entendre.”
You mentioned your working class background there. Obviously that informs who you are and what you do on stage. Do you see yourself changing as you've become successful?
“Sometimes I feel like I've changed, there's moments, but I don't think I've changed much. I'm hanging round guys who are working sixty hours a day just to make ends meet and if they don't laugh they'll cry. So making morale is a big thing in working class environments where people are trying to have fun to have a laugh so it's gallows humour almost, trying to have a laugh to deal with a tough life. So I wouldn't want to change at all as far as my outlook on life goes but I think I'm going to have to change the restaurants where I eat.”
So when you replace Michael McIntyre…?
“Oh, I'll change completely, probably get rid of the Geordie accent.”
Last question: In a few words, for someone who hasn't seen you, how would you describe your comedy?
“High energy, very positive, optimistic, cheeky and charming, and rude without being offensive.”
Broadway Baby Listing and Edinburgh Fringe Box Office: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/kai-humphries-stuff-protocol/699596