Many people are suspicious of visiting psychics, but for TV host and stand-up Alan Carr, having his fortune told might have been a shrewd investment.
After all, it was a chance meeting with a soothsayer that set him on his career path from an early age.
“The psychic told me that my future lay in comedy. This was before anything. Everything she said was spot on.” That said, some of the medium’s predictions were a little too accurate for his liking. “I was going out with a guy at the time who was over from America. She told me I wouldn’t see him again after a month, and I was like, ‘No, we’re in love.’ But of course he bloody buggered off back to America.”
Carr’s first tentative steps onto the comedy stage took place during an elective subject he took while completing his drama degree at London’s Middlesex University. “As part of the unit, you’d go to a pub and perform a routine in front of a load of people, and your tutor would be at the back incognito marking you. It was absolutely terrifying. But it went down well, and I thought, ‘Alan, you are hysterical!’”
However, after a rough second gig in Camden where he got booed off stage, the comedian swore he’d never do stand-up again, and for the next four years comedy was the furthest thought from his mind. He took a “dead end job” at a call centre that made him “totally miserable”.
But before long, Carr’s stories about his mishaps and misadventures in the call centre were cracking up co-workers, and it was time to give stand-up another shot. “The local pub had a stand up show,” he explains. “I did some new material and got a big laugh and thought, ‘You know what? I’ll have a go at this’.”
Carr will be in Australia early next month, performing his show Yap, Yap, Yap! as part of the Just For Laughs Festival. Given the intensely personal nature of the show, one can’t help but wonder: is it difficult to share secrets with total strangers? “It’s definitely challenging. I talk a lot about my partner Paul and my mother and they’re not always keen on being included. But as I say, ‘Look mum, I bought you a new kitchen – that money has to come from somewhere. I need new material for my show, so put up or shut up.’”
However, this won’t be the comic’s first time in Sydney. “I was skint last time. I was one of those annoying pommies that come to Sydney with a backpack. I shared a room with two lesbians and four Irishmen in a Kings Cross hostel and worked as a ‘dishpig’ in a local cafe. This time it will be nice to have a room by myself and be able to go to a nice restaurant instead of pressing my nose up against the glass like Oliver Twist.”
The life of the touring comedian is a busy one, but surely Carr will have time to sightsee? Maybe even to indulge in some of Australia’s more extreme pastimes – perhaps some cage diving might be in order? “Well you can forget that,” Carr shrieks down the line. “I bloody hate sharks. I once asked Paul McKenna, the hypnotherapist, whether my fear of being eaten by a shark was irrational. He said, ‘Where do you live?’ I said, ‘Upper Holloway in Central London.’ He said, ‘That might be irrational.’”
The multi talented comic is currently on location in LA filming a spin off from his successful talk show, Chatty Man. Now in its sixteenth season and closing in on 200 episodes, to what does he attribute its success and longevity? “I think I’m honest, and I chat to the guests like people at home would,” he says. “I’m not condescending and I’m not a brown nose either. The show’s not too pluggy – I think the balance is right. It’s nice when guests want to come back, because it shows you’re doing your job well.”
Carr’s easygoing style is particularly disarming in an entertainment world where celebrities have been extensively trained to talk about their latest film/book/show/perfume, and interviews have increasingly become advertorial rather than entertaining. Carr doesn’t walk on eggshells around A-listers – he’d much rather pull the rug out from under them, and he’s a little more Austin Powers than Michael Parkinson.
When it comes to ‘relaxing’ his guests, one of the many tools Carr has in his arsenal is the infamous globe-shaped mini bar that sits at the end of the show’s couch. As each guest arrives, Carr offers them a calming beverage to kick off the proceedings, only for them to realise that he has filled the mini bar with an array of hideous alcopops. Where does he find such awful offerings?
“I tell my staff that if any of them goes on holiday around Europe, they have a budget of 5 Euros to spend on alcohol to bring back for the globe. We recently drank something from Greece that was rainbow coloured and tasted like metal iron filings. By the fourth drink, I just wanted a kebab and a fight!”
Before long though, Carr’s hyperactive mind begins to wander back to Australia’s formidable wildlife. “If I get bitten by a shark, I’m going to blame you,” he says playfully. “If you see me on stage with one leg, I’m going to sue you, OK?” But despite his concern, the auguries seem to predict Carr will be just fine.