MICHAEL MCINTYRE: Night my toilet humour went down the pan at Baftas
Did you hear the one about the night my toilet humour went down the pan at the Baftas? Michael McIntyre reveals that despite being Britain’s most successful comic, sometimes the joke was on him
Now Britain’s top comic, Michael McIntyre told on Saturday of his accident-prone attempts to make it big.
Today, in the second part of our exclusive serialisation of his memoir, he reveals how his big break at the Baftas went horribly wrong after he ignored his wife’s advice, and how some of his blushes, at least, were saved by his agent’s quick thinking….
Ahead of my appearance at the Old Courthouse in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, I was thrilled to learn that I had sold out what I confidently assume was once a courthouse but is now a small entertainment venue with a temporary stage and about 80 seats.
‘Thirsk loves me!’ I exclaimed when I was told this news on the phone. With a smile on my face, I excitedly drove myself up the M1 for four hours only to be met with total disdain from the Thirsk audience. ‘Ladies and gentlemen please welcome, Michael McIntyre.’
I pranced onto the stage in my shocking-pink shirt accompanied by barely a smattering of applause. Criminals would have received a warmer welcome when the venue was still an actual courthouse. ‘Hellooooo!’ I said in my plummy camp London accent. That’s all I said — one word. But that was enough for an elderly, grizzled, flat-cap-wearing Yorkshireman in the front row.
‘Not for me,’ he said, as he stood up and walked straight out, soon followed by several others who appeared to have come along for something to do and regretted that decision one word in.
Fortunately, my days of relying on locals taking a punt in remote locations were coming to an end. That 2007 show in Thirsk came shortly after I’d been a guest on the panel shows 8 Out Of 10 Cats and Have I Got News For You and a few months before I first appeared on the BBC’s flagship stand-up series Live At The Apollo in front of 3,000 people.
Busy most nights of the week until the end of the year, I had shows in all corners of the country as well as corporate gigs.
Flush with cash in the bank and more on the way from confirmed work, I clicked, for the first time in my life, on ‘High to Low’ as the search criteria for the price of rentals on Rightmove. Forget flats, shared gardens and bathrooms, my wife, Kitty, and I were going all in.
We soon found a house in Crouch End, North London, that was so idyllic that Kitty burst into tears as soon as we walked in for a viewing, severely handicapping our negotiating position.
Busy most nights of the week until the end of the year, I had shows in all corners of the country as well as corporate gigs
Our whole life together, Kitty and I had only trod on communal stairs. The place was more than a step up; it was a whole staircase up.
As we drove back to our comparative hovel nearby, Kitty and I were deliriously excited, giggling as we took it in turns to do impressions of things we might say to each other if we lived there, things we had never been able to say to each other before like, ‘I’ll be up in a minute’, or ‘How many times have I told you to put the toilet seat down . . . in the downstairs loo?’
On moving day, I strapped our two-year-old son Lucas and his baby brother, Ossie, into the back of the car. Lucas, who had only been saying ‘When is Ossie going?’ since his brother’s birth, finally had something new to say.
‘Can we leave Ossie here?’ he asked, before I sped away to our upgraded life.
Only two years prior we had been in serious debt; now our lives had been transformed. We had two beautiful, healthy boys, a beautiful family home and I was touring the country doing what I love — making people laugh.
I had reached the summit of my ambitions, but my agent, showbusiness legend Addison Cresswell, was thinking big, busily plotting success way beyond my own modest dreams.
A few weeks after we’d moved in, he phoned with his latest bombshell: a deal to film a one-man show at the Hammersmith Apollo for release on DVD later that year.
‘The Hammersmith Apollo? Just me. On my own.’ I gulped.
‘It’s all about perception, my friend,’ Addison said. ‘Do you want a boring life? Do you want to play it safe?’ Of course, my answer to this was probably ‘yes’. But that wasn’t an option with Addison.
‘No!’ I said, feigning confidence. ‘Let’s go for it!’
With everything now geared towards September 19, less than four months away, every tour show was needed to build on and improve my jokes and keep finding new ones.
Sometimes new routines just appeared during the show, like the time I was chatting to a posh, young man on the front row of a gig in Oxford, who instead of saying he was drunk said he was ‘trolleyed’.
I commented that posh people could probably use any word in the English language to describe themselves as being intoxicated and it would still sound acceptable: ‘I’m lamp-shaded, I’m utterly gazeboed, I’m totally windscreen-wipered.’
The audience started chipping in and we were in hysterics.
I started repeating the idea every night until it became part of the show and made it into the final DVD, which we called Live & Laughing.
In only the first week, it sold 40,000 copies. I rushed to the off-licence and asked for a bottle of their most expensive champagne; then I asked for their second most expensive, then the third, before buying the fourth.
Popping the cork in the kitchen, Kitty and I didn’t feel like this might be the start of something, we knew that it was.
Live & Laughing sold nearly 500,000 copies that Christmas. It was the second highest-selling comedy DVD of the year behind Lee Evans, and the twelfth highest-selling of all DVD releases.
After all the years in comedy clubs, all the years of driving around the country trying to make people laugh, I was finally an overnight success.
Soon afterwards, the BBC asked me to do Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow. And just like that, my own Saturday night TV show was commissioned.
Our whole life together, Kitty and I had only trod on communal stairs. The place was more than a step up; it was a whole staircase up
With our deposit growing exponentially, Kitty and I started to look at houses to buy in upmarket Hampstead, a part of North London where we’d always dreamed of living.
We allowed the estate agent to take us to one that was well over our budget — a substantial, homely, six-bedroom, Edwardian proper Hampstead house — and, of course, we instantly fell in love with it.
Borrowing millions of pounds is as big a risk as it sounds and I was terrified. Showbusiness is notoriously precarious, and everything could come crashing down in an instant.
As I was about to find out.
In April 2009, two months before Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow first aired, I was invited to present an award at that year’s Baftas, the biggest night on the television awards calendar.
Kitty and I always enjoyed the Baftas on TV every year, tucked up in bed watching the celebs swan down the red carpet. Now we would be joining them.
We went to Selfridges, where Kitty tried on designer dresses in a private dressing room between sips of champagne. While she was on cloud nine I was on internet banking, seeing if we could afford the dress or whether I’d have to take out another mortgage.
On the night, a chauffeur-driven car came to take us to the ceremony at the Royal Festival Hall. Kitty looked spectacular in her new dress, and our neighbours’ curtains twitched as we climbed into the big, black Mercedes feeling like celebrities.
We arrived at by far the most glamorous event we had ever attended. The stars were out: Helen Mirren, French and Saunders, Harry Hill, Ant and Dec, Alan Sugar, Stephen Fry . . .
I was nervous in such company. This was certainly a step-up from my appearances at corporate events such as the Kitchen and Bathroom or Customer Service Awards.
I was co-presenting with Tess Daly and the award was for Best Sitcom. I wrote a little dialogue for us, whereby she asked me questions and all my answers were the titles of well-known sitcoms.
‘Good evening, Michael.’
‘You’re looking well.’
‘Who are you here with?’
I thought it was funny. The Bafta producers said they thought it was funny, my agent Addison thought it was funny, Tess Daly thought it was funny and told me that her husband, Vernon Kay, thought it was funny.
Kitty thought it wasn’t funny. Kitty was worried and said I should think of something else. This was probably the first and last time I didn’t listen to my wife.
Once inside, I had a quick rehearsal with Tess on the stage, where I recognised one of the crew who had worked on my DVD.
‘Do you think that joke was funny?’ I asked him, as Tess and I were ushered offstage.
‘This audience is notoriously stuffy,’ he ominously said.
What did that mean? He didn’t answer my question. I wasn’t asking about the audience. There was nothing I could do about the joke now, it was in the autocue. I felt sick with worry as Kitty and I took our seats, surrounded by an array of glamorously dressed TV stars.
Although Graham Norton was hosting, the room was polite but flat, and I became more and more apprehensive.
Five minutes before I was due to present my award, I was fetched from my seat and taken backstage. I desperately needed to pee and rushed quickly to the loo, where I had an idea.
At the end of the first half of my tour show, I had done a little routine about how desperate the audience must be to pee. I assumed that some of the Bafta attendees must also be in that state, as the ceremony had gone on for hours already.
This was perfect, I thought. I’ll take this flat room and bring it to life, injecting some laughs into the proceedings.
Although Graham Norton was hosting, the room was polite but flat, and I became more and more apprehensive
‘I’m going to do this little joke first about peeing,’ I said to Tess.
‘Peeing? What? Peeing?’ Tess replied, puzzled.
We strode out with big smiles on our faces. I was clutching the extremely heavy Bafta. The autocue with our sitcom banter was visible in front of us but I ignored it. ‘Just by way of applause, who is desperate to pee?’ I asked jovially.
Hardly anyone responded. My view from the stage was a sea of famous or important people looking confused as I continued.
‘Who could pee?’ I asked. Again nobody responded.
‘Who does not need a pee?’ When nobody reacted to this either, I realised I was in serious trouble and the finale had to be good. But it required the audience for that, and they weren’t playing with me.
I carried on the joke regardless. I couldn’t just leave it there, like I was doing some kind of urination survey.
‘Who during this question has had their peeing status elevated from ‘does not need a pee’ to ‘could pee’?’
Nobody responded. I saw Rob Brydon grimacing near the front, empathising with my plight. Dawn French was just looking down at the floor. ‘Who has now peed themselves?’ I asked.
At this point in my show there is normally much laughter and then we have an interval, but now just a deathly silence, not even a tumble-weed. What was I doing? I was standing onstage at the Baftas, the classiest most dignified event of the year, talking about peeing.
Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, Tess Daly, who I had forgotten was standing next to me, started reading the appalling script I had written from the autocue.
‘Allo ‘Allo,’ I had to say, with again no response whatsoever. The whole entertainment industry was seeing me be the least entertaining person in the room. I saw Michael Grade and Melvyn Bragg slowly shaking their heads as I continued.
‘You’re looking well,’ Tess grinned.
‘Cheers,’ I said, my mouth drying out from the tension.
I cut short the ‘joke’ and Tess announced the winner. I had blown it big time.
It was such a bad performance that I was worried Graham Norton would reference it, and what had been very bad became horrific as I left the stage and heard him say, ‘One Foot in the Grave’, which received a massive laugh at my expense.
Secrets of my man drawer
My wife, Kitty, and son, Lucas, were the source of a lot of my new material and Kitty had helpfully just given birth to more potential material, too. My best new routine, however, was inspired by our old flat. Just outside the ‘galley’ kitchen was a built-in dresser with two drawers.
The bottom one was used for storing tablecloths and napkins. The top drawer belonged to me and became known as my ‘man drawer’.
My ownership of the drawer was never discussed, I just laid claim to it over time, using it to store a combination of manly things and things I couldn’t bring myself to throw away, like: batteries of indeterminate life; takeaway menus, despite the fact we always ordered the same thing anyway; light bulbs; foreign currency that was no longer in circulation; old mobile phones; radiator bleeding keys; keys from homes we no longer lived in; a tape measure; electronic cables whose function I didn’t understand; instructions and guarantees for appliances — you get the idea.
I began describing the contents of my ‘man drawer’ onstage and it immediately resonated more than my other new material.
I genuinely never know which ideas and thoughts are going to ignite an audience but, from the first time I started riffing about my drawer, they were with me.
Laughter is a message of encouragement, it’s a green light to keep mining an idea. So night after night the jokes about my drawer grew. I would ask the audience what was in their drawers and added them to the routine.
I soon began concocting a scenario whereby I would suddenly need all the hoarded contents of my drawer, pretending to receive an anonymous phone call in the middle of the night instructing me to carry out various tasks.
‘You must go to your old home via the side gate . . . do you still have the key? There will be an elderly man awaiting you, you must pay him . . . in Drachma . . .he will have with him an Argos toaster circa 1998, do you have any idea how it operates? . . . you must also bring with you nine triple A batteries . . . that don’t work . . . and then order a Chinese takeaway . . . on a Nokia 3210.’
To die on stage is one thing, but to be expertly and publicly ridiculed by Graham Norton on national TV was the nail in the coffin.
Nobody was more aware of this than Addison. As soon as Graham delivered his damning line, he leapt out of his seat and sprang into action, shuffling along his row — ‘Excuse me, excuse me, sorry’ — before leaving the auditorium to try to call the producers to see if anything could be quickly cut out before it was broadcast.
The show wasn’t quite ‘live’, there was a delay of about an hour and Addison managed to work his magic.
Graham’s remark was edited out but I was battered and bruised by the experience and, in the car on the way home, Kitty and I had a serious discussion about whether I should carry on in TV.
I had a live following now, why not just keep touring and stay out of this cut-throat world? I cited examples of Billy Connolly and Lee Evans, who are pure stand-ups and avoid too much telly.
It had been a tough night, but Addison told me I had to let it go.
‘We’ve got to make your Comedy Roadshow now and I need you on the form of your life. Wouldn’t it be nice if next year you stuck it to them all and won a Bafta,’ he said, like a corner man geeing up a losing fighter.
Let’s face it, everybody in TV dreams of winning a Bafta, but my experience that night began an obsession.
Everyone at the Baftas laughed at me, certainly not with me. If I hadn’t had Addison I’d have spent the day in bed feeling sorry for myself, contemplating retirement and some kind of self-imposed witness protection programme with a new identity.
But I did have Addison so, instead, I felt like the Terminator.
I’ll be back.
A Funny Life by Michael McIntyre is published by Macmillan, £20. © Michael McIntyre 2021.
To order a copy for £15 go to mailshop.co.uk/books or call 0203 176 2937. Free UK delivery on orders over £20. Offer price valid until October 25, 2021.
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