“It’s a funny thing,” muses Julian Clary. “I’m passionate about gay marriage; it’s such a significant thing for the way gay people are perceived, but I’m not bothered for myself. I do have a boyfriend, but we’re too comfortable the way we are. If we do get married no-one will know about it ‘til after the event.”
Clary’s new show, Position Vacant: Enquire Within, which he’s bringing to Sydney on his eighth tour of Australia, does involve him getting married, in a “beautiful ceremony”: a rigmarole involving a bishop, bridesmaids, confetti, and a groom chosen from about ten men out of the audience who’ve been rounded up by a cattle prod and herded into a sheep pen. Go get ‘em.
Of all his shows, Clary says this one is the most anarchic. “Anything might happen. Indeed it does. I love it. I never get bored; it’s completely different every night.” How much of this new show is scripted? “It’s got a kind of structure,” Clary says. “The first half is more scripted but with that many people involved you can’t script it all. I prefer that; I never liked being tied to a script.”
Clary has tried his hand at various activities besides stand-up in his 30-year career. He’s been on reality TV, done a lot of radio and authored three books. There’s a new book coming soon, a children’s book. However, stand-up, he says, for him is the “purest form of self-expression. The other things one does are to generate audiences. I’m passionate about the books I write but the most job satisfaction I have is from touring.”
The biggest challenge with this type of show, Clary says, is the risk factor. “It’s one thing sitting down and having a laugh at an idea, working out what you hope people will do. The scariest thing is the danger; the most difficult thing is taking that risk, with that number of people on stage.” He remains pretty unfazed by the hairy situations that arise. “You get people who are drunk, mad or on drugs. Occasionally people escape the sheep pen. It doesn’t really matter. There are plenty more people to play with. I’m very good at handling all situations.”
How much of the Julian Clary we see on stage is persona? “If I think about today,” he answers thoughtfully, “I’m here in my house in the country; I’ve been feeding the chickens and the ducks, walking the dogs and haven’t shared much with anyone. It’s a rustic existence a million miles away from the stage. My comedy persona is a thing that takes over me when I’m required to perform, it seems to happen when it’s required of me. I’m sort of a split personality. I’m not very extraverted; I don’t long to be the centre of attention.”
One must assume, then, that performance anxiety – on stage, we mean – occasionally rears its ugly head. “Yes. Always. I’m fairly anxious before a show. I’ve never lost the fear of failure, even after 30 years. I’m not a fan of self-confidence; I don’t think it’s conducive to comedy.”
Looking past his appearance at Sydney Comedy Fest, Clary’s got something a little different in mind. “Someone has written a play for me,” he says. “It’s not a comedy. I’m absolutely terrified of doing it. With comedy I know what I’m doing. I know where I stand. In a play no one laughs, so how do you know? You don’t find out til the end of the play. I am going to do it; the play’s complete, we’ve got to find a place and a space. Not London with its evil critics.” What about Sydney? “It’s not a bad idea. It appeals to me. Australia is a dear and slightly inebriated friend.”