PLEBS and Friday Night Dinner sitcom star Tom Rosenthal is bringing his first-ever stand-up tour to Pocklington Arts Centre on March 14.
Manhood is truly comedy with a cutting edge, wherein Rosenthal will be “avenging the theft of his foreskin”, as he discusses how he has suffered psychological distress ever since he realised he had been circumcised as a child.
Tom, the Hammersmith-born son of TV sports presenter Jim Rosenthal, applies the use of graphs, statistics, playful jokes and rigid research to tell his story, having spoken to experts on the subject matter.
He may have a Jewish background, but he was not brought up to be Jewish and that was not the reason for the circumcision. He duly felt anger towards his parents, the aforementioned Jim and his mother Chrissy Smith, a former Newsnight producer, when he was younger.
“Maybe I’m stuck in adolescence. I don’t know,” says Tom. “As soon as I found out what happened to me, I was just constantly searching for a reason that made sense of it and I’ve still not found one. That’s sort of the driving force of the show: going through all the justifications for it being allowed.”
He is not anti-circumcision, however. “If you want to choose to do it when you’re old enough, go right ahead. It’s like any other kind of body modification, like a tattoo or a piercing,” he says.
“But to do it to a child against their will when they cannot take the decision to take that back, it feels as if it’s against our human rights. I want prospective parents to watch my show. Have a nice night out. Laugh with the boy from the sitcoms with the big nose, but also go away thinking ‘maybe that’s not cool actually’.”
Best known for playing Roman Empire nerd Marcus in ITV2’s Plebs and the perpetually adolescent prankster son, Jonny, in Channel 4’s Friday Night Dinner, Tom has long wanted to do a stand-up tour. “The nicest thing about it is getting to meet the people who actually watch the TV programmes I’m in,” he says.
“I’m also really proud of Manhood. It’s a show that I always wanted to make. It has a dual purpose for me. Obviously, I wanted to put on the funniest show that I can, but I also want fans to go away thinking about stuff which most people don’t really think about.
“It’s something that I think is slightly askew with our culture. I should add that this is not your typical comedy show. Most comedy shows will not be an hour about genital-cutting practices.”
After premiering Manhood at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe and playing dates last autumn, Tom is touring from February 8 to April 9. “I’m really a molly- coddled actor,” he says. “It has surprised me how tiring live comedy is. Some of my friends seem to be able to walk on stage and just be themselves, whereas I’m always nervous. I have the utmost respect for all comedians. I guess, by comparison, an actor’s life is quite easy.”
The tour marks a new phase in Rosenthal’s career. Although he started out as a stand-up, becoming joint winner of the Leicester Mercury Comedian of the Year Award in 2011 after graduating from London University with a Philosophy degree, acting has taken up most of his time since then.
“I was reluctant to call myself a comedian despite the fact that I did stand-up. I felt like until you’ve done a tour, you can’t call yourself a comedian. So, one semi-benefit of doing Manhood is that now I’m a little bit more comfortable saying I’m a comedian as I’ve gone to towns, people have paid money to see me and I definitely heard some of them laugh.”
Although the subject matter of Manhood may be personal, Rosenthal believes the feelings of alienation he discusses are universal. “I’ve had quite a lot of teenagers coming and I think the story of someone who is at odds with their body is something they can relate to,” he says. “What makes it interesting though also makes it quite odd. The fact that you are watching a guy talking about his penis quite a lot.”
His Pocklington audience next week will discover more about Tom in his Manhood show, but for those familiar with his television characters, does he consider himself to be closer to Marcus or Jonny?
“I probably feel I’m more Marcus,” he decides. “He’s a neurotic schemer who thinks that he’s smarter than he is, whereas Jonny is a sort of teenage boy prankster. Ultimately though, if you combine the two, that’s my whole terrible personality.”
Tom Rosenthal: Manhood, Pocklington Arts Centre, March 14, 8pm. Box office: 01759 301547 or at pocklingtonartscentre.co.uk.