Humourology Podcast

Part of the Humourology series

Season 3, Episode 62

Mike Fenton Stevens – Tragedy Tomorrow, Comedy Tonight

by | May 2, 2022

Actor, Podcaster, and founding member of the Hee Bee Gee Bees Mike Fenton Stevens joins The Humourology Podcast to discuss humour’s place in performance and perseverance. Mike shares a plethora of punchline-packed stories from his years in entertainment and his recent success in the world of podcasting. Hear how humour can help captivate audiences and get you through the tough times only on The Humourology Podcast.

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Mike Fenton Stevens PIC

Mike Fenton Stevens has built a career on creating comedy in movies, television, and music. He joins Paul Boross to discuss the value of a laugh and the way application of humour in providing a performance that perseveres. 

“This ability to be the entertainer, to be the person that people look to, when you needed something to liven a moment up. That person, that person in a room is always admired. They’re always and valued. They’re important people.”

Join Paul Boross and the Humourology Podcast as Mike Fenton Stevens shares his insights from a career of performing from Mr Bean to Only Fools and Horses to podcasting with stars galore. Hear how humour can connect people and make tough times a touch more bearable. 

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Sometimes we prefer to read rather than listen, so here is a full transcript of the podcast for you to enjoy.
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Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:00:00):

And the idea that being a grownup means that you lose a sense of humour or you stop being funny or stop being silly, you know, stop allowing silliness to happen in your life. Whereas in fact, I think all the great men I’ve ever met were incredibly keen on silliness. They did extraordinary things. They were amazing people, but they loved silly moments as well because you need them. They feed your soul I think.

Paul Boross  (00:00:30):

Welcome to the Humourology podcast with me, Paul Boross, and my glittering lineup of guests from the world’s business, sport and entertainment who are here to share their wisdom. And they use of humour with you. Humourology is the study of how humour can dramatically improve your business success and your life. Humourology puts the fun into business fundamentals increases the value of your laughing stock and puts a punchline back into your bottom line. Please remember to like subscribe and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts.

Paul Boross  (00:01:07):

My guest on this edition of the Humourology podcast is the legendary actor and comedian who was a founding member of the satirical pop group The Hee Bee Gee Bees . When he is not making number one, hit parody songs like The Chicken Song from Spitting Image. You can find him all over your television screen. He’s had regular roles in Benidorm.,The Legacy of Reginal Perrin and Trevor’s World of Sport, and can be found in a variety of appearances on the silver screen. Throughout his decades long career, you can catch him creating comedy gold on the airways in his many roles on BBC radio Four with shows like Nighty Night, Old Harry’s Game and The Hitchhiker Guide to the Galaxy. He is also the voracious voice behind Inspector Stein. He’s got a face that fits fabulous guest appearances with shows like Only Fools and Horses. Mr. Bean, Coronation Street, Outnumbered, and One Foot in the Grave. It would seem that no classic TV comedy is fully functional without his funny force being featured. Mike Fenton Stevens. Welcome to the Humourology podcast.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:02:54):

Thank you very much, Paul. It’s lovely to be here. He’s lovely to be on the guest list again.

Paul Boross  (00:03:00):

<laugh> so let’s go back to the start. You were born in Bermondsey, which I think is it within the sound of Bow Bells?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:03:07):

Well, maybe just about. It is south of the river, so my entire family are absolutely died in the wool. What you’d call cockneys I think in as much as they were Dockers, I come from a long line of people who worked in the docks and uh, yes. And in fact, the Stevens may well originally come from stevedore. So working on the docks rather than on the ships, that’s possibly the derivation of the name for us. It’s why we, we are Stevens’ and so all my uncles were Dockers. My father was rather good at writing. He had beautiful handwriting. So from a very young age, he was pushed in the direction of calligraphy, really of, of being a bookkeeper. He was not stupid. He was, you know, a reasonably clever boy. He left school at 14, but immediately got a job of not in the factory or not on the docks but actually in the office.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:04:05):

So he started off working in the office, which for somebody from my family was a real step up. And of course he then realised that actually he probably should have continued his education. And he went to night school, started studying a night school and then he joined the army. And then after the war, he went back to night school and continued to train and qualified as a solicitor. So we sort of did that social jump that people do. And my father was very, very keen because he was he was a bit of an actor, a bit of, of a performer himself. He liked acting, he liked singing and had his own, his own sort of old time musical group that he did right through his life. He loved it. he was very good. Actually. He was a very funny man, but he was a chameleon. He was able to, as a solicitor, he was a criminal solicitor. And some say that that may well be a perfect description of his work.

Paul Boross  (00:04:58):

<laugh> no ambiguity there.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:05:01):

No, but he was able to get along with the criminals just as well as he was able to get along with the top barristers. So I saw, I would watch him. I worked with him for a year before I went off to university and, uI watched him flip between people. So people would comely say, no, look, you know, behave yourself. Don’t cause any trouble. Right. Cause there’s a bloke in there. You know? I mean, just try to, for goodness sake don’t get riled. alight. Cause you start getting angry. You’re gonna be in big trouble. Right. And people go you’re right. H yeah. I’ve got it. I’ll be all right. Don’t worry. And he go good. And then he turn around and say, the man’s an absolute rascal. He’s extraordinary. And the barrister would say, no, that’s no trouble at all, Harry. Now, what was his name again? Well, people call him the Nipper, but uh, his real name’s Alf . Alf? really? That was, that was my dad’s life.

Paul Boross  (00:05:50):

That’s fabulous. So, I mean do you think humour in that sense is genetic that you got it from him or were you a natural, did you have that show off gene as a child?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:06:02):

I did. Absolutely. I had that show off gene, although was incredibly encouraged by my father. He loved me to do it. We used to go on holiday. He would always pick holidays where he could basically spend the entire week performing. So he loved holiday camps. We went to holiday camps. My father, I can’t remember ever going on holiday where my father wasn’t voted King of the Week, which is I think is you know, quite prestigious. So he was in everything. He would take a suitcase with one or two pieces of clothing in it and another suitcase with all his costume changes. So he had all the thing for the topsy-turvy competition for the fancy dress competition he had for when he had to be Tarzan at the swimming pool. He had a sort of a loin cloth that he used to wear. He was prepared for everything. And he went there and entered every single competition. And I think to the large extent people enjoyed him being there. He was very good fun. It was, it was great being with my dad on those holidays because everywhere we went, people go, all right Harry, all right, mate, every morning, morning, Harry, and you go morning, morning, and you’d think he’d worked there. He was, he was brilliant.

Paul Boross  (00:07:09):

But did you not reach a stage in teenage years when it, it became a little bit too much because most teenagers find that clawing.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:07:18):

You would think so. Wouldn’t you? I was a strange teenager. No, I didn’t. I didn’t. In fact, I just wanted to join in, so I’d got the bug by then. So as a young boy, he would get me to, I remember the very first time he, he persuaded me to do it. I was about six. I think he said, I’ll do this song. Then I’ll do these jokes and then I’d do another song. And just as I’m about to start the second verse, come on and pull on my coat. Okay. And I said, right. He said, then you say, excuse me, have you seen what your son’s doing in the swimming pool? And I say, yep, don’t worry. All little boys do that in the swimming pool. And you say, <laugh> not from the top diving board. Okay. <laugh> And I said, okay, dad. And he said, just let’s practise it. We did a few times. He said, you got it. And it, and then I walked out, I walked up from the audience and pulled on. He go, what, what get on I’m singing go away. What do you want? And I said, eh, have you seen what your son’s doing this? And I, of course I did the joke, got an enormous round of applause. And you know, and I was, and that was it, I was, I was hooked. It was too lovely.

Paul Boross  (00:08:17):

<laugh> well, that’s interesting that whole thing about being hooked by, by the thing, because it is a hook, isn’t it. Once you get a laugh, yes. It it’s a drug, isn’t it? Getting a laugh from strangers in a darkened room is some kind of drug that should be available on the NHS.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:08:39):

It’s very true, but also the joy of it, I found cuz I’d seen it with my father, this ability to be the entertainer, to be the person that people looked to when you needed something to liven a moment up that person, that person in a room is always admired and valued. They’re important people. And, and so actually to get some sort of value into my life to make me feel worth something, entertaining people was a great thing for me. I mean, I recently went and had a drink with somebody who I went on holiday with when was 16. And I hadn’t seen her since then. She now is very big in advertising and her own’s her own production company. So I wish I’d known that years ago. <laugh> anyway, she was lovely. And she came along and I said, oh God, I was so embarrassing on that holiday wasn’t I?, Cause all I did was organise entertainment the whole time.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:09:32):

And got everybody do sing-a-longs. And, and she said, oh no, you were brilliant. I mean, we knew that every evening you’d stand up and get everything going. And I went really, cuz I don’t remember myself that way. I look back at it and think, oh you bumptious little so and so, but you know, it’s nice that she remembers me like that and sees it is being a valuable thing. I mean, in thinking of your podcast, that there is absolute value in the ability to make people laugh without a doubt.

Paul Boross  (00:10:05):

Yeah, and do you think that it actually changes because the whole Humourology project is based on how it can change people’s lives by understanding the value, not just of being funny, but of being good humoured yes. Of lightness, of touch of being somebody you want to be around. How important do you think that is?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:10:26):

I think it’s very important. I think if in those moments when you are, you see, I do it naturally because I’ve done it all my life. I do it absolutely naturally in the moments where I’m most angry or where I’m something really riles me the most usually politics, I’m always, I will see a funny line in it or I will see something comic in it and it dissipates it. So it’s, it’s good for my health without a doubt that I’m then able to chuckle to myself at… Wouldn’t it be funny if they’d said that or wouldn’t it be funny if this happened? So I’m always seeing the humour in the situation, the comedy of it, and sometimes, you know, very black, I have a very black sense of humour. I’m very dark, you know? So it, sometimes it’s things that I’m, I really can’t then say out loud cause people say, sorry, are you making a joke about this? And I go, when I in my head, I’m afraid. Yes I am.

Paul Boross  (00:11:20):

When it’s interesting, when you talk about dark humour, because we’ve had some guests on who really understand it from people who work in medicine like Dr. Phil Hammond, who is hilarious and very smart. But uh, I used to train doctors at Guys, Kings and St. Thomas’ many years ago and the surgeons were had the blackest humour, but we also had the John Sweeney, the legendary reporter from Panorama who’s currently, as we speak in Kyiv right in the middle of everything. And he said, one of the only ways to survive is to actually laugh at these things. Cuz if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:12:01):

Yes. Without a doubt, I’ve always felt that there really shouldn’t be anything that you can’t find humour in because I think it’s healing. It’s, there’s a healing sense to humour. I think it can get you through things, you know? I remember my mother once said to me, I said, I’m gonna, I’m not going to church today, mum. And she was a very strict Catholic and she said, what? I said, I’m not going to church. I’m going go. I’m going to Brighton. I’m going to the car rally with my friends. I’m I’m, you know, I’m 17. I can make these decisions myself and I don’t believe in it. I’m sorry. I’m I’m not going. And she went okay. All right. No, you’re an adult. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Make your own decisions, but I just say this, if you crash and you die, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life you see now. And she didn’t see the humour in that, but I, I laughed about it all day long and so that what could have been this, how dare she tell me what to do, became something for me, which is rather joyous moment, you know? So, um, I dunno, so

Paul Boross  (00:13:05):

Escape isn’t it

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:13:06):

It is an escape.

Paul Boross  (00:13:07):

Yeah. And, and, but then the best people in the world at becoming escape artists are also people who can allow other people to escape with them, aren’t they?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:13:20):

Yes, yes, yes. With that sense that, of pointing out to people, the absurdity of something. When, when, you know, I mean, I, I just feel that if you look at all the people who cause all the problems in the world, they’re people who have no sense of humour at all. I mean, Donald Trump clearly is a man, totally humourless. He has no sense of irony. Otherwise he would be laughing at himself all the time because he’s just full of irony. And Putin, you know, there’s a man who just… He’s completely lacking in self criticism and often that’s what humour is, is the ability to see how silly you are.

Paul Boross  (00:14:01):

Well, absolutely. And well, it’s, it’s funny because silliness is kind of a really rare talent, isn’t it,? To actually be able to do it. And actually for a moment you and I have silliness in our background because we’ve got a history with comedy songs <laugh> Yes, cause you and I were amongst the last people in… The last generation of acts that had major hit records with comedy songs. Why do you think that there’s no longer a market for that genre?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:14:38):

I don’t know. I think there is the comedy poetry. There’s quite a, sort of a market for that. There’s a number of stand up who are very successful, you know, Tim Key and people like that. Who are very funny. So the, the ability to be funny in rhyme as it were through is still there. But I think then actually, I don’t know. I mean, what are you parodying? That’s the problem. If you, if, if in fact music itself has become beyond parody sometimes, but I, you would’ve thought that anybody who watched any music in the 1970s would’ve would now be saying, you know, well, actually music is very staid because you’ve only have to look as a band like The Sweet and with their ridiculous hair and their enormous flares and great big platform boots, all singing about, you know, there must be a way to Blockbuster. What the hell is that as a lyric? It doesn’t make any sense to anybody.

Paul Boross  (00:15:31):

It’s, it’s a Ballroom Blitz.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:15:34):

It’s a ballroom what? Just glorious songs. I mean, brilliant songs without a doubt, if you wanna dance, put them on, but you know, mad, absolute, mad, absolutely mad. I don’t know. I mean, I think I do listen to, songs now, listen to music now and think I’d, I’d love to still be doing parody of pop groups. I’d love because actually they sort of there’s always been an element with pop music where they take themselves too seriously. So it’s easy to bring them down. I think it’s easy to point out that absurdity.

Paul Boross  (00:16:06):

Yeah, who do you think you would parody these days though? I mean it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because The Chicken Song was obviously a Black Lace.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:16:18):

True. Yes.

Paul Boross  (00:16:19):

And probably of something like Agadoo but do you think…

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:16:24):

Well, I mean, if I were writing a song at the moment, I would be writing an Ed Sheeran song in his style, but basically using riffs from lots of, of other groups and saying, and saying, do you like the new thing I’ve written, this is something else that just came up with, you know, we’d always, we’d probably be sued, but, but you know, as a comic idea, the idea of him writing lots of things, basically, I mean, it’s a bit like writing. If you were gonna write an Oasis song, basically writing in lots lyrics from The Beatles would be a good way to parody them. You see? So yes, Just a, the suggestion is in, is in the act itself rather than necessarily being upfront.

Paul Boross  (00:17:04):

Well, that’s a good idea. We’ll get working on it. Shall we <laugh> Well, well, we, voice has been very important to you. We talked about you sing the Hee Bee Gee Bees, The Chicken Song. I have to say, and this is, I don’t normally suck up to guests, but you have the most mellifluous voice <laugh>. In fact, I was telling a female friend of mine that I was having a you on and she said, I go weak at the knees.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:17:34):

Oh, my word,

Paul Boross  (00:17:34):

When I hear Mike Fenton Steven’s voice <laugh> she listens to the time capsule, My Time Capsule podcast. Voice is very important for our listeners, for anybody who’s having to present themselves. Mm-hmm <affirmative> did you work consciously to improve that voice or any aspect of it with rhythm pace, depth…

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:17:56):

I did. Yes. Yeah, definitely. Only over time, I’ve spent a lot of time cutting out the ers and the you knows and thinking what I’m saying more and trying to be more fluid and more fluent in what I’m saying. And also without really intending to my voice has got deeper. I think that’s just age, but I don’t know. That’s probably abuse as well. I have done a lot of plays over the years where I’ve just shouted a lot and been, ridiculous. I’ve sung in different styles, which are not necessarily the best thing to do for your singingvoice. I’ve had to sing in the style of other people. And that can quite offer me that you are, you are twisting and slightly changing your own natural voice, which can to an extent damage it. And I think that maybe I’ve got deeper and slightly gruffer as a result of, uh, <laugh> of using my voice badly. So it wasn’t necessarily a good thing that I did, but it’s what it’s ended up as,

Paul Boross  (00:19:03):

But it’s interesting because the voice can be so important, for business people or people in positions of power. I think it was Michael Caine who said the basic rule of human nature is that powerful people speak slowly and subservient people quickly because if they don’t speak fast enough, nobody will listen. Isn’t that? Do you think that’s true and something that our listeners could take away?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:19:33):

Well, I think you’re talking about how to address people. Doing something at the right pace is absolutely important. If somebody speaks too slowly, when they’re explaining something to you, then you get slightly annoyed, don’t you? In the fact that you think, well, I know where you’re going with this, or in fact, if they’re too detailed in the explanation you feel as if you are ahead of them. So it’s very important to make sure that what you’re saying is to an extent succinct, but also interesting. And that again is where humour can come into it. I think without a doubt, almost certainly if you were starting almost any presentation, if you can, with a joke, then you are, you are onto a winner. If once people have laughed at something that they’re on your side, they feel relaxed. It relaxes you enormously without… Nearly everybody who goes into the idea of business presentation and having to stand up and present something. In a way they over rehearse.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:20:30):

I think you rehearse to the point where you’re saying it. So it sounds if you don’t mean it, do you know what I mean? That it becomes mechanical and the skill that you can learn from actors, I think, or from people who are good speakers naturally, is that they, they hold your attention and they can hold your attention with a pause. They can hold your attention by speeding up and with changes of tone and everything else. But you have to say the thing as if it’s coming into your head at that moment, not something, not something I have practised. And I would, they end, they are 72 of them. Nobody says of them. They say of them, or, you know, generally, you know, the is a word that is constantly used by people when they’re doing presenting the, and we don’t say the, nobody says the, you say the

Paul Boross  (00:21:23):

No, well with my psychological hat on… I get brought in to act actually help,CEOs and business people to, uh, how to speak and how to put it across. Now, obviously my I’ve got two prongs because I was a performer for many years. Yes but also the psychology of it and what you are thinking, and I’m interested from an actor’s point of view because I’m always telling people that you should be listening and actors are always… My son’s at drama school and it’s all about listening. Yes. and being properly engaged and from a psychological perspective, being properly engaged with your audience, whether that’s one person or, or a whole sort of auditorium for mm-hmm <affirmative> is the clue, is that what you think you are doing? Whether consciously or unconsciously?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:22:20):

It’s certainly what I’m doing. I think when I’m doing the podcast without a doubt. I think it’s very important to listen in those circumstances. I I’m the host and a number of people have said to me, after we finish recording, you’re such a good listener. And I think, well, do you expect me not to be listening while we’re doing this? Because this is, I’m trying to make a living here. I’m trying to make something that I think is worthwhile. So I want to hear what you’re saying, and it’s a lovely way to practise actually, instead of practising speaking, I think it is a good thing to practise listening, to letting people finish their sentence, let them get to the end. Don’t jump in on them. Let them say what they’re going to say. And in fact, if they then go on, let them go on.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:23:03):

But if you hear something that you want to comment on, put it in your head, just hold it in your head and save it. And then when they finish saying what they want to say, you can say, yes, yes, no. I agree with you. The thing you were saying about, and you can take people back again. You don’t have to do it at that moment. And the only reason people do it is cuz they’re frightened. They’re going to forget it. And in a way, if you do forget it, then it’s not as important as you thought it was.

Paul Boross  (00:23:28):

I completely agree. Think the masters of the craft, which I include you in, are doing the funny thing is I was listening to Nicky Campbell on BBC radio Five Live today. And a phone in is a strange thing, because you’ve got people who are not used to being on the radio. But what I really noticed is he gave them more than enough time. Yes. He didn’t worry about dead air.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:23:56):

No, he lets people think and quite often you need to, somebody does need that moment to sort out in their head. What they’re going to say. I think,

Paul Boross  (00:24:09):

Yeah,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:24:09):

He’s very good at it as you Nicky he’s and he’s very empathetic, empathetic, as I think as a person, he’s got a great sense of, of listening to people and even if he doesn’t agree with it, because that is one of the great quandaries of doing those sort of phone-ins is you will have people who you think, no, I completely disagree with you about this, but in a way you have to let them air their views unless it’s objectionable or absurd. And then you can say, no, that’s ridiculous. Sorry. Bye. You know, but but you know, generally, if it’s just something you would disagree with, you have to let them say it. You have to let them make their point. And you say, well, you know and as a DJ, it’s not about you particularly. I think a lot of DJs make that mistake that their programmes are about the music they play or the conversations they’re having with other people. So the people they’ve got on, it’s not about them at all. I love DJs.

Paul Boross  (00:25:04):

What makes you laugh Mike?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:25:07):

Mm <laugh> you see now I get hysterical at children. Children are the thing that makes me laugh the most.I’ve, I’ve done a lot of pantomimes in my time. And I do it in a way against the advice of my wife, who, every time I do it, she says to me, why are you doing it? You know, you come back every night and go, I’m exhausted. I’m so tight. It’s such hard work. I can’t believe it. Three shows we’ve done today. I’ve gotta go straight to bed. I’m back there at 10 o’clock in the morning, my voice is going I’m oh God. And I do. I moan like mad when I’m doing it. But the moment I get on stage and you see children laughing hysterically at things, really simple things. And the enjoyment, they get outta things. I get such a lift from it.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:25:54):

And I love being with children. I love children getting jokes, learning comedy, watching them learn comedy. I’ve got four grandchildren and there are different stages. And one of my grandchildren is autistic. So he finds comedy very difficult because he takes everything literally. So comedy is about in a way twisting things and, and deceiving people. And you lead them down one path and then you change direction and he doesn’t get that at all. He doesn’t understand what you’re doing. So if you are her a long time would then explain the joke to him. He goes, I, yes, no. I see. Yes. Yes. It’s still not funny to him. He just, he doesn’t think it’s funny. Whereas my granddaughter, his sister absolutely gets comedy and always has. She’d made the most fantastic joke the other week. I mean if I’d written it, I would be delighted. She was dressing her dolls. And we were dressing Elsa from Frozen. And and she said, she said, well, put a coat on Grande. That’s it just to that. And do her dress up there. We are. She looks lovely as said, no shoes. She said, oh, she hasn’t got any shoes, but you know, cold never bothered her anyway.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:27:10):

And I knew was, I knew it was a joke. She meant it as a joke. And it’s just, she was so flippant with it. She just flipped it off. Cold never bothered her. Anyway.

Paul Boross  (00:27:20):

Bet was the delivery as well. Isn’t

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:27:21):

It? God was great. I was,

Paul Boross  (00:27:23):

Did she have a little glint in her eye?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:27:25):

She did. She gave, after she said it, she said it looking away from there. She just looked back at me and I said, see what? I did

Paul Boross  (00:27:31):

Timing. There’s there’s timing. There’s a gene in there, isn’t there?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:27:35):

I hope so. I hope it’s from, I maybe from me. Maybe that I’ve just forced comedy on them, their entire lives. I ever see them without just constantly doing ridiculous jokes.

Paul Boross  (00:27:46):

Well, I’m not sure that you can force comedy on children because isn’t that, that whole social science thing about children laugh between 300 and 400 times a day. Whereas adults only laugh 17.5 times a day.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:28:02):

Yes. Isn’t it strange?

Paul Boross  (00:28:04):

Well, but isn’t, it really that we could learn a lot more. And, when my son was born, it was like giving my mother the best gift she could ever imagine. Yes. I mean, literally it was the joy that it brought. I mean, she wanted to keep him five years old forever. That’s the only problem.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:28:30):

Yeah, it’s true though. But there, there aren’t many things I think you can learn from children. One of them without a doubt is that thing of laughing is the thing of finding things funny and just letting it be funny and just enjoying the fact that things are funny. And you, if you do that in life, you will walk around the place with a great big smile on your face. I make a point of doing it because, you know, see like everybody, every now and again, I find myself in a, sullen mood and I only need to remind myself how much more enjoyable the world is when I snap out of that and start seeing the world as the funny and absurd and amazing thing it is, you know, children do. And the other thing is that sense of amazement, that sense of the world being extraordinary and extraordinary things happening and children, well, we all know that a small child, if you say to them, so we have to go to the shops now, why, well, we need to do some shopping, why, well, we need to get some food for later, why they will say why to everything?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:29:26):

And that’s fine. We stop saying why. And to a large extent, it’s our own fault then if we end up with the leaders we have, and with the world run the way it is, because we ought to say, why, why are you doing that? Why, why isn’t there the money for that when there was the money for this? Why? And we don’t, we just accept these things over and over again. COVID is over apparently. Why?

Paul Boross  (00:29:53):

<laugh>, because it’s not on the news Mike.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:29:56):

Because we don’t talk about it anymore. And all those things, and that’s a, it’s a flippant thing to say, but, but it seems that in so many senses that there are many phrases that, that particularly politicians develop in order to just divert things. We, we, we, haven’t got a money tree, you know, so, well, you have, you have actually it’s us, you know, we are the money tree. So ask, you know, if you really think that if we, you know, ask us, if we think it’s worth spending more money on the NHS and we might well say yes, take it from us in tax, we might do. Absolutely. But don’t, don’t assume that we don’t want to spend it.

Paul Boross  (00:30:35):

Well, there is a line in Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, which is one of my favourite lines, which is assumption is the mother of all fuckups!

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:30:46):

<laugh>. Yep.

Paul Boross  (00:30:50):

Very good. That’s but I was really interested in you saying, cause really what it boils down to your, uh, is your attitude mm-hmm <affirmative> and the Americans have a saying, which your attitude dictates your altitude, how high you will go. And really that attitude of, uh, of a childlike response in the sense that everything is interesting or, you know, or, and asking why is an attitude that, that can change your whole demeanour and bring you joy? Can’t it?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:31:25):

Yes, I think so. And I think, you know, particularly if you’re talking about in a work situation, I think the people who, who question things are, are so useful, you know, so many things are assumed all the time. We do things the same way and we often we all have done. And you know, I can only really talk from the point of view of being an actor, but sometimes you will go into a rehearsal process, which is the situation as an actor, when you are supposed to say why or what if, or how about this, you’re supposed to be coming up with all sorts of ideas, many of which, most of which you will reject, but it’s not a problem to come up with ideas. It shouldn’t be. And quite often you might be working with a director who sort of says, well, I’ve already had all the ideas, I think so I know where we’re going.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:32:16):

So I don’t really want your ideas and that’s not a healthy situation, or you’ll find some young actor comes into it who the whole time, just stops things all the time and says, should we does this work? Are we, are we doing it the right way here? Shouldn’t I be doing this? Or what about this? And that again can become annoying if you think, you know what you’re doing, but at the same time when that’s happened to me, because you, in a way have to show respect in acting, unlike most other professions, you have to show respect on all levels. So you have to listen to somebody who’s only playing a couple of, only got a couple of lines in this scene and the person who’s got loads of lines in a way has to defer to them almost as much as they have to defer to them. You know? So it’s, it’s a very strange hierarchy. And so it’s, it’s rude in a way to not let somebody ask questions. Even if you think well I know all the answers to these, I know all the things you’re going, you know, cause I’ve been there and I’ve done it all. You will always, I think in those situations, particularly if you’re going with that attitude, discover that you don’t know it all and that you didn’t know the answer to that and that you will discover something new,

Paul Boross  (00:33:28):

Which is going back to your point about asking why, why is it like that? Because obviously the older we get, perhaps the more intransigent we get always done it this way. Yes. You know, it’s, it’s like the parents who says, because I said, so

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:33:46):

<laugh>, not as bad as don’t do what I do. Do what I say. That’s the one I always hated. That’s so unfair. That is so unfair. Just cause I’m small. Oh no,

Paul Boross  (00:34:01):

No, It’s true. But the other part of what we’re talking about is, is does the humour actually aid the resilience to get through those tough situations and be more creative and, and allow us into, into that, that world easier because people are always talking today about wellness and stress and, uh, it’s suddenly the watchword. Whereas I think a humorous attitude to life is what releases and that stress and aids that resilience.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:34:38):

Yes. And in fact, those sort of, um, those sort of attitudes, the attitudes of wellness and relaxation and letting things go and all those sort of things can seem rather over serious. I always think, you know, you can, you quite often sort of go, there’s no room for any comedy in this is there? They’re really, you know, if we are lying here doing our yoga and thinking and going back into ourselves and letting ourselves be aware of our body and letting ourselves know the inner self and look at oneself and break everything away and just let it all as somebody farts <laugh> they all ignore it. They will just, you can’t no, no farting at this moment, please. It’s just serious. Whereas I would be crying with laughter.

Paul Boross  (00:35:23):

Well, it’s funny. We had, uh, recently on the podcast John Lloyd, your old producer at Spitting Image. Yes. Who was talking and he said he never wanted to do yoga, but as he describes it, yoga saved his family’s life. But the yoga class, he goes to, he said is the funniest yoga class because everybody’s making jokes all the time. Brilliant. So somebody does fart. Everybody falls around.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:35:52):

Yes.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:35:55):

So if yoga get to a certain age, if you’re going to do yoga, if you don’t do yoga and at the same go time, go, oh Jesus <laugh>. Oh that, oh, I haven’t stretched that for a bit. You know, you’ve got to haven’t you otherwise, in a way you feel, you feel like an outsider. There’s always gotta be… That’s the way I think that you’re going to get more people into it. The great problem with all those things is that every, everybody, you, when you first start them, everybody around you looks like an expert and you think, I don’t fit. I can’t fit in. I’ll never fit. Whereas in fact, they, they want you to fit. You want to be able to fit. And the way to make people feel at home, I think is to go it’s alright. We all go, oh, when we bend down on that one, you know?

Paul Boross  (00:36:36):

Well, that, that, that’s very interesting because do you think it’s useful to be able to laugh at yourself in those situations, not take yourself so seriously. Is that part of… Cause when you said, you know, you need to start with yourself and go, I’m ridiculous. <laugh> so welcome to the world.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:36:59):

Yes, absolutely. Then, and then in a way, very few people are gonna be annoying to you in life. I think if you’ve always got them in comparison to you, and if you are able to look at yourself and constantly notice because we all do it and if we don’t notice it in ourself, then we’re not really being aware of ourselves. I think because we all do the most of certain things. I find myself, chuckling of myself. It’s a very healthy thing to do. I find myself just doing so, and then I, I chuckle cuz I could, in a way, can see myself from outside and I look and go and then things have happened to me in my life that I I’ve think, oh God, I wish somebody had filmed. That that was so ridiculous. I was so absurd. I once stood on the station at Tunbridge Wells where I live and I was going for an interview for a, a job and I was wearing a very smart suit. And I also had a contract that I realised I had to post and I’d been told, you’ve got to get this in the post. It it’s gonna be late and you’ve gotta get it in before you start the job next week. So it’s all very important things. And I stood there and I thought thirsty, I bought myself a glass of milk. I like milk. I bought a glass of milk in a little styrofoam cup. And the man said over the tannoy, the train from Tonbridge Wells to Charing Cross is delayed by 10 minutes due to leaves. And I went, oh God. And I looked at my watch, which meant I poured the milk all down the front of my suit. And then I went, ah, I flapped the contract in the letter in my hand, which then flew outta my hand and went onto the rail. And, and I went, ah, oh my God. And then I stopped. And I looked around thinking, God, I hope somebody saw that. That’ll make their day.

Paul Boross  (00:38:48):

Yeah. Oh,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:38:49):

You know, if you’d seen that happen. And of course everybody was behind newspapers and nobody was, I can go see anybody shaking. And I thought, oh no, what a shame. Cause it was just such a joyously absurd moment and one that you could never recreate. So the, the inadvertent absurdity of life, I think is a thing to be indulged and enjoyed.

Paul Boross  (00:39:10):

And don’t you think that that actually helps that inadvertent absurdity as you so prosaically put it <laugh> is one of the things that makes us like people more because I, if you think about people who you don’t really like, they’re generally talking themselves up all the time. Mm-hmm <affirmative> I did this great thing and then I won this thing. We don’t want to be around those people, do we? No. We want to be around the people who tell us the story of looking at their watch and spilling milk on themselves.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:39:44):

I know but the point is you can’t help, but notice the wonderful things about people. I think you will notice the things that are strong in people. You will notice the things where people are skillful at something you can’t help it. And, and we all admire that in people. So you will see those. So it’s important. I think that those people show the flip side of the coin.

Paul Boross  (00:40:05):

Well, I completely agree. Do you think that potentially everyone is funny or is it a gift given to the few?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:40:17):

I think it’s forced out of a lot of people. I think you can lose a sense of comedy. You can lose a sense of when you are being funny or how to be funny. You lose the, the confidence to do it for a start, you know, because you cuz you don’t do it. So the fact that you don’t do it. People say I can’t tell jokes. So I, I don’t know. I don’t know. I’m never funny. I’m not funny me. Uh, you know, and that that’s something that’s I think is what been said to them for many years. Maybe when they were very young, also a lot of people are told when they’re young, you know, stop that now, you know, you’ve got to grow up. And the idea that being a grownup means that you lose a sense of humour or you stop being funny or stop being silly, you know, stop allowing silliness to happen in your life. Whereas in fact, I think all the great men I’ve ever met were incredibly keen on silliness. They did extraordinary things. They were amazing people, but they loved silly moments as well because you need them they feed your soul, I think.

Paul Boross  (00:41:21):

But isn’t that? What makes you love people more? Is that, that inherent silliness that’s not taking themselves too seriously.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:41:29):

No. Maybe why they got where they got to. In fact, I make sense, you know, it may be why they’ve achieved what they’ve achieved, because they were able to differentiate between absurd ideas or silly ideas or things that no, that’s just ridiculous. And then every now and again would go, you know what? That is important. That is the important thing. Hmm I must do that more often, you know? Yeah. So all those visits without, without, without fail, all the great people I’ve ever met. When I met them, they told me their name. And these are people who everybody knew their name. It’s a lesson in life. I think that we should always the assumption that people know who you are. And then the great actor Anthony Quayle, who was sort of a father figure to me when I was a very young a very young man and an actor.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:42:22):

I was very, very fortunate to fall into his company and to become so close to him. He <laugh>, I was standing in the wings at the Old Vic first time I’ve been on stage in London and I was very nervous. And we always gathered at the beginners, even though we didn’t come on stage for about 10 minutes and we would stand in the wings in the corner, just chatting and talking about… How are the family Mike? Oh, great, great. How the kids, you know, good. How how’s your wife? What had been doing? What did you do last night and, and got anybody in? We just chat about things. We’d tell each other jokes and have a laugh and then we’d go, okay. Right. We’re on. And we’d go on. And this particular night I was thinking, right it’s the Old Vic; there’s critics out there, it’s very important. I was standing and pacing and thinking about my lines, which I knew inside out of course. And he came up to me and said, all right. And

Speaker 3 (00:43:12):

I went, yeah, yeah, fine. Good. He went good

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:43:15):

Bit nervy are you? And I went, no, no, I’m I’m alright. Right. I’m fine Tony, just, you know, just concentrating.

Speaker 3 (00:43:20):

He went, okay. This old bloke gets on a bus

Speaker 3 (00:43:25):

And I thought, oh, Shut up. Well, you shut up. I’m gonna go on stage with the Old Vic shut up. And he said, old bloke gets on a bus. I went, yeah. He went and he’s a bit drunk. So the bus conductor says to him, excuse me, sir, are you drunk? He says, I, I beg your pardon. And he said, are you drunk? Aren’t you? He said have had one or two liberations. Yes. She said, butYou, I, I’m sorry you, you can’t come on here in that condition. And he turns around, he says, I, I beg your pardon? Do you know who I am? And she says, no, I don’t. He said, then how do you know it’s me

Speaker 4 (00:44:04):

<laugh>

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:44:06):

And I laughed as you have. And he went, we’re on. And we walked on and I went on that stage, completely relaxed. And we were supposed to enter laughing. And so he’d led me up to that moment and took, took all the nerves outta my body. It was one of the most generous things that has ever happened to me in acting. And it was a very simple thing. And that’s a sign. I always think of great people. Is that in the moment when him, as the lead actor, he was his company, he was about to go on stage at the Old Vic where he played many times and people would be ready to knock him down if he didn’t do it. Well, he was thinking about me

Paul Boross  (00:44:43):

That’s beautiful. And also, I think that’s from a psychological standpoint that led in the more you try and hold something and concentrate on it, the further away it goes. Yes. So he was also so, you know,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:45:01):

He knew, he knew that, you know, at this moment you need to be relaxed. That’s what you need to be. Not, not, not pacing up and down and worried about your first line.

Paul Boross  (00:45:09):

It’s state management in the <affirmative> in my terms, that’s what we call state management is managing the state. As soon as you go… I’m sure you’ve been in the situation I’ve been in situation, you know, the Comedy Store and you go, what’s the next line. <laugh>,

Speaker 5 (00:45:27):

It’s terrible.

Paul Boross  (00:45:28):

And, I was probably playing the what’s the next chord as well. And you go white knuckled. And at that moment, you know, you have to release it and just put your attention on your partner or on the on the audience. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, but you cannot go inside your own head because from the, just a little side, but the conscious mind can only hold between five and nine pieces of information,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:46:00):

Right.

Paul Boross  (00:46:01):

Unconscious can hold millions of pieces of information.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:46:05):

And you see that happen to people on things like Dragons Den. You see, you know, as an actor, you watch it go, oh, can’t oh, no, I can see where they’re going. They’re going down on that path. They they’re talking, but they’re thinking about the thing that’s coming up. And so they’re not concentrating on what they’re saying. And so they’re not saying it well, and it doesn’t look real because it sounds as if they’re just saying something while that clearly their eyes are somewhere else, their mind is somewhere else. So they’re not holding the attention of these people. These people don’t believe what they’re saying. And then they can’t remember what it is I say after this thing so they start to panic and it all falls apart. And you, you recognise it as an actor. You think, cuz we’ve all made that mistake.

Paul Boross  (00:46:43):

Oh, of course. And by the way, it’s, you know that people listening to this, this something tangible, you can take away, you’ve got to the first chapter in my first book was called It’s All About Them. And part of that is because you, you have to be connected to them. Yes. Not inside your own head because the funny enough that’s the way hypnosis works is if you fill up the conscious mind,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:47:09):

Yes.

Paul Boross  (00:47:09):

People just fall out. And so, I mean, when you have done your best acting, you weren’t really consciously there, were you?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:47:21):

No, I wasn’t making decisions about it as I did it. No, absolutely not. I wasn’t thinking right next. I’ll do this. Uh, oh, when I come to that bit, I’m gonna do this. No, I was absolutely… what I was doing is exactly what you were saying in a moment, a moment ago is I was listening to the other actor. I was looking at the other actor and I was thinking about what they were saying and what they were doing. And then when it came to my line, it came out as if I just thought of it, which is a, it’s an extraordinary thing. When you, if you ever stop and start to analyse it, as you’re doing it, it, you again can fall apart because you go, this doesn’t make any sense, cuz I know those lines and yet I’m not thinking about them. I’m not thinking what you know. I know I’m gonna say that. And yet I don’t know. I’m gonna say that.

Paul Boross  (00:48:05):

It’s kind of, I was going say, you can cage the songbird, but you can’t make it sing. <laugh> you know, but the tighter you hold something, the less control you have over it. Yes. It’s a lightness of touch to be able to do it. I mean, I speak for a living and you know, do keynotes and, and trainings. I turn up, I’ll tell you a quick story, a friend friend of mine, John Farren, who was at the BBC, we were down in can, um, for the television festival. And we were out at two o’clock in the morning and I was doing the opening address in the morning. And he half staggered up to me in that drunken joshing way and went, what’s your first line tomorrow? <Laugh> and I went, I have no idea. And he went, bollocks. Every good speaker, always knows their first line. And I went, no really good speakers, turn up, engage, and then let it happen. Mm. And that’s I think now in acting, you do need to know your first line, but the, the theory behind it is the same.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:49:15):

Yes. It’s why. And I think the Comedy Store Players use it as a technique with a lot of business. They go out and talk to people about the, the ability to improvise (Neil Mullarkey) and Neil does it all the time, but being being, being free. So you’ve got a sense of what’s going on, but you are, you are free, you are open to ideas and being open to ideas is the, is the key. I think if you’ve already made your mind up, there’s no point in having the meeting.

Paul Boross  (00:49:44):

If I asked you to make a business case for humour, what would you include in it? Mike,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:49:52):

A joke <laugh>

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:49:56):

You’d have to, but I would, I would cite all the people that I think I’ve spoken about and I would cite the people. You see, I would also cite the people who have got to where they want to be and use humour to deflect things, to get away with things. Sadly humour can be used not only as a productive thing, but also as a way of blocking things. Also a way of disguising things. So, you know, I would suggest that for example, Boris Johnson for much of his career has used humour as a way of just getting around the fact that people are saying, I’m sorry, is that true? And then he’ll make a joke. And the thing passes and, and then passes and then another one passes and it just goes on and on and on. And he’s just laughing all the time having a whale of a time. You know, it’s a very strange thing, isn’t it? But all the people that I know who, who I really admire, who I really enjoyed working with, they’ve all made me laugh and, and all the jobs that I remember the most and the ones that I had the most, well, I most enjoyed clearly are the ones that I had the most fun on

Paul Boross  (00:51:08):

Mike we’ve reached the part of the show, which we like to call Quick Fire Questions,

Speaker 6 (00:51:13):

Quick Fire Questions.

Paul Boross  (00:51:17):

You’ve obviously worked with a lot of comedians over the years, but is there anybody, who’s the funniest business person that you’ve met?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:51:25):

Oh, well that would be David Jason. Yeah. I mean, I know he’s famous for his business, but without a doubt and it goes right back to my early days as a student, I went to see him The Norman Conquests, which is those marvellous three plays by Alan Ayckbourne and he played Norman in it. And the business he did, I mean just amazing, but at that’s that’s that sort of business that, and I, when you say business, I always think of the business that you do in comedy, but who is the funniest man that I’ve ever worked with, who actually was a businessman?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:52:01):

Do you see? I don’t, well, I, I think that would be bill Kenwright strangely enough, which goes right back to the thing. He’s got a lovely sense of humour. He’s got a great sense of enjoyment in life. And I think really that’s the thing that’s led him to be such a good producer and such a successful producer is the fact that he is able to enjoy what he does. He laughs at failure as much as he loves at success. You know, he will, a show will fail, will die away. And you know, the audience won’t come for some reason, but he’s loved putting it on. He’s loved working with the people he’s done, done the show with and you know, he’s lost some money. Well, there you are. I’ll have another go. And I think it’s a great attitude.

Paul Boross  (00:52:44):

If you create joy, joy comes to you as well. What book makes you laugh?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:52:49):

I love Terry Pratchett. I have to say I’m, I’ve always been a big fan of Terry Pratchett. I discovered him a long, long time ago and then I was fortunate enough to work with him and do some work for him. He was a fan of Radio Active, the show that I did. And then when he did With Great Pleasure for the BBC, he asked, I would be one of the readers for it. And by that stage, I was a massive fan of his books. I had every book he’d ever written and knew them inside out. So I went, my agent said, what you to do for Terry Pratchett? And I went, what? Oh God. Oh, wow. And he turned out to be the most delightful man. He did ring me up once he said, Michael, and I said, hello, Terry, how are you?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:53:35):

He said, I’m well, thank you. Um, now preferably Michael, you would be a woman. And I said, what are you talking about Terry? He said, well, I’ve been told that. Apparently women have the most relaxing voices. And so you preferably should be a woman, but I find your voice very relaxing, Michael. So I’m looking for somebody to be the voice of my burglar alarm. Uh, do you think you could do that? And I said, yes. He said, see, I’ve, I’ve got at a burglar alarm at the moment, but doesn’t really work. If in the barn, if there’s an owl flapping around, he said the alarm goes off because he thinks someone’s there an intruder. But, um, I need something and I’ve been in touch with these people. I need something that will differentiate between an owl flapping around in a barn and somebody trying to break into the barn. So, um, he said one of the great advantages of being an incredibly successful writer Michael and having sold millions and millions of books, he said, I have the funds to make something like that happen. <laugh> and I said, I’m brilliant. He said, yes. So they’re working on it at the moment. And when it gets done, could you be the voice? And I said, I’d be delighted. So, oh, I am. I was the voice of his burglar alarm.

Paul Boross  (00:54:51):

What film makes you laugh?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:54:52):

Well, it’s highly controversial, I think probably nowadays, but the film that I remember making me laugh the most in my life and has made me laugh every time I’ve watched it since is Blazing Saddles yes. Which is a very silly film, full of very silly things, but also an incredibly brave film. It has, um, it has a scene in it which uses the N word over and over again. And it may be maybe that’s why we don’t see it, but it’s a shame because it’s a brilliant use of that thing written, you know, I don’t wanna get into the politics of it. Yeah. But I think it shows that in a way if you do comedy, right, you can almost do any subject it’s, it’s just, it’s got, it’s got the most extraordinary jokes in it all the way through

Paul Boross  (00:55:42):

It is genius, but it takes me onto my next question, which is what is not funny?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:55:50):

You see now that that’s, it’s a question I’ve asked myself many times because I am a man who will make jokes about, you know, in the right company with people I know who know that I don’t necessarily mean it. I will make the sort of joke that you really shouldn’t make or people to tell us you shouldn’t make. You know? So, I don’t know if I can even quote any really, but I, I was the other day somebody was talking about a terrible, terrible appalling situation in Ukraine. And I saying, I know, I know, I know. And, it’s so difficult to, to, you know, when they come over, you know, to, to make sure that you do get all the 17 year old girls, you know, and I’m running outta room, but you know, <laugh>

Paul Boross  (00:56:39):

Well,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:56:40):

And in a way I’m making a political point. I’m saying that I think we will be faced with this. You know, we were looking at these in about 10 years time. When we look back on this situation, we will go, oh my God, what a… That wasn’t only the only humanitarian disaster. I think we will be looking at the most appalling situation with all these terrible, sad, poor refugees being sent all over Europe. And I think that we are absolutely open for terrible, terrible things to happen.

Paul Boross  (00:57:07):

Yeah. I, and I think it is a coping mechanism. I mean, I’m, I’m the son of a Hungarian refugee. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, you know, 1956. And it really desperately upsets me the whole thing, but your joke doesn’t upset me because it’s done with the right spirit.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:57:30):

Yes. You know, it’s absurd. And you know that I’m not, this is not real. This is just in a way, this is in a way it’s a, it’s a humorous comment on something that is not terribly humorous in itself. Barry Cryer, Barry Cryer’s joke. He <laugh> it’s a terrible, terrible joke. He said, oh God. So you remember lovely Roy Castle, brilliant Roy Castle. And, he said when he went to the doctors and they said to him Roy, I’m really sorry, but you’ve got lung cancer. You’ve you’ve, you’ve got six months to, to live. And Roy Castle said, I can do it in three

Paul Boross  (00:58:08):

<laugh>. Of course,

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:58:14):

Of course. I would hope that even Roy Castle’s family would laugh that joke. I think they would. I think they would. It’s about, it’s a tribute to him in a way it’s an, it’s a tribute to him. It’s a tribute that, how are we remember him as this? You know? So

Paul Boross  (00:58:27):

Record Breakers. Yeah. Yeah.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:58:29):

I hope I hope. And if it offends people that I apologise. Cause I, I don’t ever mean to offend people. It’s just some things catch people one way or another way, you know? I mean, I don’t know, but there you are

Paul Boross  (00:58:39):

But somebody’s always going to be offended by something at some stage.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:58:44):

How dare you? How dare. I’ve never been so insulted in my life.

Paul Boross  (00:58:50):

Well, you should get out more. <laugh>

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:58:54):

Obviously don’t meet enough people.

Speaker 7 (00:58:55):

<laugh>

Paul Boross  (00:58:58):

What word makes you laugh? Like

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:59:02):

<laugh> I know exactly what it is. It’s a word that I like to use, which is kerfuffle. <laugh> I dunno. Why what a kerfuffle. It just makes me laugh. Sorry. There you are. That’s it.

Paul Boross  (00:59:14):

No, it’s good. it’s a, it’s a funny word. And it’s got a K in it as well. Yes. <laugh> which is Neil. Neil. Simon would be very, very happy with that.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:59:25):

Yes. I like those rules of comedy and they generally work, you know, they really do. It was that somebody said never, never deliver a comedy line when you’re standing behind a sofa and you sort of go, oh, oh no. That makes sense. You’re funnier. People can see your legs.

Paul Boross  (00:59:43):

Yes.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:59:44):

I dunno. Seems absurd but it is true.

Paul Boross  (00:59:48):

Yes.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (00:59:48):

Particularly on stage, if you’re on stage, move clear of the furniture before you deliver the punchline.

Paul Boross  (00:59:53):

Well, everybody write that down. Yeah, It’s brilliant. I to be honest, I’d never heard that, but I like it already and I see why it is true. I mean, I think I know the answer to this. Would you rather be considered clever or funny?

Speaker 8 (01:00:09):

<laugh>

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:00:12):

I often think that humour that is too clever is not so funny. So I think, uh, you go, oh, that’s good. Oh, that’s very good. I see what you’ve done. They’re very clever. Very, very clever. It might bring a smile out, but actually just really funny stuff. You, you don’t comment on it. You don’t have time. You’ve just burst into laughter. It makes you guffaw and anything that can make you do that, involuntary ha it’s an amazing thing when that happens.

Paul Boross  (01:00:43):

Yeah. That’s a, well, they think about involuntary, isn’t it? And that mm-hmm <affirmative> you are, it is a superpower because yeah. You are creating an involuntary act mm-hmm <affirmative> in somebody else. And that is extraordinary power, isn’t it?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:01:01):

Yes. Yes. I mean, I’ve, I’ve experienced it both ways. I’ve experienced being on stage and doing something that I got used to the fact that every single night as I did it, I would always from somewhere in the auditorium here <sob, which was somebody just doing an involuntary sob and, and that it’s a strange power to have to know. You’ve got that power to know that at this moment, you know, I mean, I know this is, you know, that thing of saying you should be in the moment, but I would quite often be caught up just before it, about five minutes before thinking, well that thing’s coming up in a minute, I’ve gotta stop thinking about it, but I’d have to stop thinking about it. Otherwise it would work at all, you know, but there was a, just, it was a very sad moment. It was a shockingly sad moment. And, uh, and almost every night from somewhere in the auditorium, quite often from several places, you would hear uh that’s people. So, you know, so it’s, it’s, that is it disturbing thing, but it’s just same sort of thing. It’s the same. It is the same power that you have, that, that thing of people becoming losing control of themselves really mm-hmm <affirmative>

Paul Boross  (01:02:15):

So I’m going to just pick up on that because, do you because that’s about invoking, you know, sad things in, in an audience, uh, do you think the difference between a, a, a good actor and a great actor is the ability to do comedy? I mean, is it, you know, tragedy is easy and comedy is hard or, or <laugh> do you subscribe to that theory?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:02:39):

Um, it would seem to, to bear fruit. I think sometimes there are a lot of very good, serious actors who would say that they can’t do comedy. And I think it’s, cuz they’ve not practised it. I think it’s cuz they’ve not, I don’t think you can’t do comedy. I think that actually they just they come across so that they go, oh, now that’s a funny line, isn’t it? Hmm. You see, I don’t normally say those. And, and so they lose confidence in themselves. Yes. The great actor, Tim Piggot-Smith. I did a tour with him. He played Salieri in Amadeus. Extraordinary performance. I mean, absolute marvellous. There were one or two moments in the play where Salieri has jokes. I mean, he actually says things that are supposed to written deliberately to get the audience to laugh, you know, to break the spell as it were. Often self mocking, you know, the, the character says things, you know, to, to break his own seeming importance.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:03:40):

And he would say night after night, I just can’t. I can’t get a laugh on that. I dunno why I know it’s supposed to get enough. I just can’t get laugh. And he often said to me, cuz he knew I’d done a lot of comedy. He said, well, what am I doing wrong, Mike? And I didn’t really wanna say, because it seemed rude. But in the end I’d said, well, you’re trying too hard. And he said, what do you mean? I said, well, you you’re trying to be funny. And therefore people see it coming. You’ve you’ve gotta say it exactly the same as you say all the other lines, there’s no difference. You know, it’s funny and you should be aware that it’s funny and therefore you should time it. But you know, you have that timing naturally. We all, we all do.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:04:19):

And in fact, sometimes the timing of comedy of line is not what you would think. It’s not Dabe bomb. It’s not that it’s, it can be, you can take people by surprise, but you can do it fast. You can come in much earlier than people expect there are many ways to play it, to say a funny line that, that are very few rules that work when it comes to comedy. I think, you know, the rule of three tends to work, that things are funnier in threes. Yeah. And that’s been showed to be the case over and over and over again. But he, you know, eventually I said to him, well, stop. Just don’t… Forget it. You know, it’s not that funny at line anyway. I mean, I don’t think they’re gonna, you’re gonna get a round of applause on it. It’s quite a funny, you know, its a reason to be funny, you said, yeah, forget it. And of course he went out that night, said the line had got a big laugh.

Paul Boross  (01:05:07):

<laugh>

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:05:09):

Almost threw him. I think, came off, went, what was that? What, what did I do? You did nothing, that’s the point you did nothing. But uh, but you know what a great man to be with the work that he’d done and the things that he had behind him to have that, um, that lack of lack of pomposity to sort of go, I, you know, I don’t know what I’m doing here to recognise that in himself. I thought it was great,

Paul Boross  (01:05:35):

Fabulous story. And finally, Mike Desert Island Gags <laugh> you can only take one gag to a desert island. What is it?

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:05:46):

Well, it has to be, oh God, I, you know, when you’ve asked me this, I thought long and hard, cuz I do have several in the end, in the end, I’m absolutely gonna pick the Bob Monkhouse joke, which I think is written by Bob Monkhouse. And I think probably one of the most succinct and beautiful jokes ever written, which is, when I die, I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my father; not screaming in terror like his passengers

Paul Boross  (01:06:14):

<laugh> it is it’s perfection.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:06:17):

Isn’t

Paul Boross  (01:06:17):

It’s perfection. It is perfection and it’s, it’s so precise.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:06:21):

It’s just, there’s not a word out of place. It’s unbelievable.

Paul Boross  (01:06:25):

No. And, and you haven’t put a word out of place either. Mike <laugh> thank you so much for A proving that you don’t stop laughing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop laughing and B thank you for being a fabulous guest on the Humourology podcast.

Mike Fenton Stevens Speaker 1 (01:06:44):

It’s been a joy to be on this podcast. Thank you.

Paul Boross  (01:06:49):

The Humourology podcast was hosted by Paul Boross and produced by Simon Banks. Music by Steve Haworth, creative direction, by Les Hughes and additional research by Helen Sykes. Please remember to subscribe like and leave a review wherever you get your podcasts. This has been a Big Sky production.