My life: Liam Mullone
The 42-year-old stand-up comic talks to Peter Simpson about the language of humour and being funny in the head
L OST AND FOUND I was born in Leicester (central England), but spent my youth in Hong Kong. These days I live in Peckham, South London, with my wife and twin baby boys. My childhood was a gay melee of junk trips and underage drinking. I went to university in Scotland and returned to Hong Kong to work as a journalist. My first job was for Hong Kong Tatler, where I reviewed restaurants and bombed around scoffing canapés. I remember having lots of money and no responsibilities and being in a dreadful band that played at Carnegie's every Saturday that I thought was the best band ever. Life was so easy, but I had a mounting sense of self-disgust. I was brought up a Protestant and, deep in my soul, I hate things being easy. I moved back to London where things are excruciatingly, debilitatingly difficult. I became a stand-up comic after a friend and I went to a comedy club in Greenwich, where there were 10 acts and only five customers. Obviously we weren't knocked over by the glamour - we were gobsmacked at how hard and thankless it was. We both dared each other to do better. My friend welched. Having lived in Hong Kong is what makes me different to the other comics in Britain. At the moment I'm doing a show about how messed up Britain is. To be that snarky, you must have grown up somewhere else, with an unfounded sense of entitlement and the weird, utterly un-British expectation that everyone is going to do their job properly and things are going to work.
GOOD TIMING I don't write my material at any specific time of the day or night. These days, I just nurture every bad-tempered, uncharitable, grumpy thought I have ever had and try to wring some humour out of them. But I always turn it back on itself, so I'm the fool. There are hundreds of stand-ups and Britain is the most fertile ground for performing this kind of comedy. Some very different styles are emerging. Surprisingly few are "angry", or even political, these days. Most are ploughing the same fluffy, whimsical furrow. You don't need to be funny to do stand-up. You can do it with nothing but confidence and tenacity. Hopefully I'm funny because I don't have either of those things.
ON THE FRINGE At the Edinburgh Fringe, most comics tell you how much they love the job, what a great experience it is and how much they've learnt. But my comedy is all about honesty and addressing the elephants in the room. And the ever-growing Edinburgh Fringe elephant is a nightmare. It's a tortuous month of walking about with a handful of soggy fliers in the p***ing Scottish rain, fighting over a dwindling number of punters, reminding people over and over to go see acts who don't have their own TV series and getting fobbed off and lied to by the greedy corporate gorgon that is the Fringe Society. It's also about having to let pimply pubescent bloggers in for free because they've set up a reviews website in their bedroom and you've turned into such a publicity whore you'll take a kind word off anyone. I have two baby boys and I'd rather be at home making mud pies with them. I go to Edinburgh because it's a trade fair and I have to, but for me it's like going to war. Any comic who tells you they utterly, unconditionally love the Fringe is lying or is a sociopath. I've been there as a punter and it's just a brilliant drunken laugh, but if you consider how much fun Patpong (in Bangkok) is for the hookers, you'll get the idea.
IT COMES WITH THE TERRITORY The worst thing about being a stand-up comic is the travelling and the time spent away from home. But that's also the best thing, sometimes. I've done stand-up all over Europe, which has been brilliant. It was a bit depressing, though, to find that people in Ljubljana (in Slovenia) speak better English than anyone in London. The walls of my home are covered with maps. I'm intrigued by them because I always get lost. I once got lost in a hotel bathroom in Poland. Maps are our friends.
Hecklers aren't as common as people think. The problem is usually the oppo-site - getting a rise out of a crowd that's just very shy and sober. This is something I'm dealing with now as my current show's on at 3.30 in the afternoon. If I have a bad night, I moan to my wife and blame the audience for being stupid. A lot of comics say you should never blame the audience. I say blame away. I don't really get nerves anymore but, just as the compere is announcing me onstage, I do think about how much I love my wife and that, one day, one of us will have to bury the other. It is the least helpful thought you can possibly have at that juncture, and that's undoubtedly why my mind keeps cooking it up.
FUNNY BUSINESS I'm hoping to do comedy in my boyhood home very soon. Hong Kong does have a comedy scene. There's still the Punchline Comedy Club, where I used to go religiously for laughs and curry. It used to annoy me a bit, though, when comics just banged out everyday stuff about Manchester or British television, and not acknowledge that they were in the most astonishing city in the world. I try to remember that when I play somewhere that has a different culture. The TakeOut Comedy Club looks fascinating - I'd like to drop in there.
Linguists say comedy works best in English because of the grammar; the noun is revealed after the adjective and the syntax is mined with ambiguity. I'd love to understand how it works in the nine tones of Cantonese. At school in Hong Kong, the humour of the British kids really contrasted with that of everyone else. That thing set in stone by The Fast Show and Little Britain, the surreal catchphrases said over and over again, was alive and well in the South Island School playground. But then you get home, to the wellspring of all that humour, and you realise it comes from cynicism and frustration. Humour is a sort of post-imperial antacid for the British. It's a coping mechanism. If it wasn't for a nice sideline writing material for big-name comedians, I'd be bringing my kids up in abject poverty. There's not much cash in stand-up unless you can get on TV, so you often stare at their innocent little faces wondering if you're doing the right thing. But yes, the grinding pain of that is all - as they say - grist to the mill. I know comics who weren't funny at all until they popped a sprog out.
Liam Mullone is performing at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival until August 26.