JASPER Carrott had decided his Stand Up & Rock gig with Brummie schoolmate and ELO drummer Bev Bevan in Barnstaple would be his last show.
June 6 2022. Age 77. Joke cracker Carrott and sticks basher Bevan in Devon. Exit the Queen’s Theatre stage left, the finale for the Lifetime Achievement winner in the 2008 British Comedy Awards. The Funky Moped now defunct.
But what’s this? An Evening Shared With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan, heading to the Grand Opera House, York, on Sunday on their comedy and impressions double bill.
“I gave it up last year to see how I felt – and I missed it terribly,” says comedian, actor and television presenter Jasper, his nickname since the age of nine when growing up in Birmingham.
“I’m having a golden autumn. There’s an audience out there that’s not catered for and I cater for it. I get standing ovations, and these days I like to say it would be 100 per cent…if 100 per cent of the audience could still stand up!”
Carrott, 78, and Evesham-born McGowan, 58, who now lives in Ludlow, Shropshire, first shared a bill as a one-off at the 2017 Reading Festival. “They had a spare spot on the Sunday, and my agent asked if I’d like to do it, My first thought was, ‘Not on my own’,” recalls Jasper (real name Robert Norman Davis, by the way).
“I’d previously worked with Phil Cool for about three years [from 1992] on the Carrott & Cool tour shows, where the comedy nights felt different because of Phil’s impersonations. Anyway, my agent said Alistair would be interested in doing the festival with me, and it went really well.”
So much so, they went out on tour in 2018, playing York Barbican in their An Evening With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan format on November 19. “That was one of the first shows I did with him.”
How did they settle on who would open the show? “Alistair really wanted to go on first. I think he thought it would be more difficult if he had to build on my energy. We first did it that way at Reading, and it worked, so, each half, Alistair does 20-25 minutes, then I come on and do 30,” says Jasper.
In a long, long career, Jasper has spread his wings to star in the television series The Detectives from 1993 to 1997; play Koko, the executioner, for the D’Oyly Carte Opera in a 96-show run of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado at the Savoy Theatre, London, in 2002, and host 300 episodes of the ITV daytime game show Golden Balls from 2007 to 2011.
Yet raconteur Jasper has always returned to performing stand-up, cracking quickfire gags, spinning yarns and singing ditties to guitar accompaniment solo on stage: the most exposed and exposing form of self-expression on stage.
“Now then, I’m going to paraphrase Bill Shankly [the legendary Liverpool football manager of the 1960s and ’70s],” says Jasper. “When he signed Kevin Keegan, he walked him on to the Anfield pitch and said, ‘you can run anywhere on this pitch, but you can’t hide’, and that’s the same for me, doing my comedy.”
Ten years away from the stand-up microphone had passed when best friend Bev Bevan said, ‘Let’s do some shows together. That’s when I rediscovered the essence of it, going eyeball to eyeball with an audience. It stirred up all the adrenaline again, which is a very addictive drug.”
Preferring that eyeball-to-eyeball experience to playing 5,000-seaters “where everyone just watches the screens”, Carrott and Bevan did shows together for more than eight years. Now he is back on the road with Alistair McGowan.
“Times have changed in comedy. You can’t talk about anything [because of political correctness], but it’s like you have to have Tourette’s to go on stage to talk. That’s comedy today, long, hard and woke. For ages I’ve been watching a lot of comedians, and with all the young stand-up comics, I don’t really laugh,” he says.
“Storytelling is an art and not many comedians now tell stories, but I do sets with machine-gunfire gags and three or four stories with jokes in them that are hidden, and that’s what I’ve always done.
“That’s because I was a product of the American style of comedy: Tom Lehrer, George Carlin, Bob Newhart, Shelley Berman. I still don’t swear on stage, but I talk about topics that need discussing, however awkward.”
Looking ahead, Jasper says: “Lots of comedians have performed into their 80s: George Burns, the Marx Brothers, Ken Dodd, and I’ll know when it’s time to stop,” he says. “I have no ego about it. I really enjoy it, and one of things now is the nostalgia, where I go on stage and I’m part of the audience’s lives. I feel their warmth.”
A comedian to the last, he ponders his final curtain. “When I get asked, ‘what do you want on your gravestone?’, I always say, ‘I never died in Glasgow’!”
An Evening Shared With Jasper Carrott & Alistair McGowan, Grand Opera House, York, Sunday, 7.30pm. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
Jasper Carrott on playing Koko, the executioner, in Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado for D’Oyly Carte Opera
“That was an experience and a half! I was a bit shaky at first as I had to learn so much. Someone said, ‘you can know it, but you don’t own it’, and remember sitting down and thinking ‘how do I go about doing this?’.
“I was a pain in the a**e for everyone on the staff, from the actors to the director, really trying to glean the essence of the part, which I then really got hold of.
“Why pick me for Koko? I suppose they looked at it and thought, ‘who can we get to front this?’, when people like Eric Idle had done it before. I said I’d be very interested, and they sent the director out to Spain, where I was playing golf, to play the piano to see if I could sing.”
Surely D’Oyly Carte must have heard Jasper’s 1975 hit single, Funky Moped? “My musical passport!” he says, with laughter in his voice.
Once Jasper received the OK, rather than KO, for playing Koko, “the rest was a long, hard slog, getting to learn the part…and learning never to do it again! I never realised how much work went into performing opera.”
Jasper Carrott on hosting the ITV game show Golden Balls
“I thought, ‘I’m a raconteur, not a game show host’, but I did the pilot and they liked it. When my agent said how much I’d be paid, I said, ‘is that in lira?’, but no, it wasn’t! I ended up doing 300 episodes.
“I learned so much about human nature in that show, about just how deceitful people are!”
Jasper Carrott on fellow comedian Stewart Lee
“Stewart left a couple of books for me at a gig after he’d played there a couple of days earlier, saying I’d inspired him. He’s not always funny but he is very interesting, and he’s probably the link between what I do and the young comedians of today.”
Jasper Carrott on the essence of comedy
“Comedy is the only measurable artform. People laugh or they don’t. You can’t tell me how much you enjoy a Rembrandt painting, but if there aren’t any laughs at a comedy gig, you won’t be performing again.”