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Johnny Vegas

December 2009

He is more famous these days for those PG Tips adverts, for Shooting Stars and Benidorm but before all that Johnny Vegas was the comedy circuit’s most original stand-up.
If you’d have asked any jobbing comic passing through the city who their favourite stand-up was, nine times out of ten they’d say his name without hesitation.
And he was a regular favourite at Nottingham’s Just The Tonic Comedy Club.
So when the club’s promoter wanted a headliner for his first Christmas Special at the Royal Concert Hall in 2006, Vegas was the obvious choice.
But his set was a near disaster.
He was battered.
“I know,” sighs Vegas.
He was the same a year later.
“I know.”
This time round things will be different, he promises.
“If you are not gigging regularly with a set it’s a long time to fill. And when you know you haven’t got the material, getting battered is not the best approach,” he laughs.
So why he is he doing it this time round?
“He can get me to do anything,” says Vegas of the Just The Tonic boss Darrell Martin.
“If he gets me on the phone direct that is. So now I try and only speak to him through my agent. It’s like speaking to the dead through a medium.”
There was a point where he wondered if doing stand-up was behind him.
“I didn’t think I’d end up doing it again. Because I’ve had enough on. I’ve got a TV production company now (called Woolyback) and everything takes forever to do. There are meetings and more meetings and ideas can stretch on for a few years and never actually make it in to a produced show.”
The Just The Tonic Christmas Special is a way for him to ease back in to stand-up. It helps that he’ll be the compere rather than the main event.
“Compering is a comfort zone for me because the audiences are always up for it, especially in Nottingham. And with Christmas shows you’ve got a bit more freedom to play around. It’s a way of getting back in to stand-up again without the pressure of say doing a huge one-man UK tour.”
That’s something he’s never been keen on anyway.
“I like playing small intimate gigs. I like to see the whole audience. When I started out playing to 300-400 people that was perfect for me.
“But then I became more of a TV name and I was struggling to deal with the new audience I was attracting. I didn’t particularly want to play the bigger venues. It’s a different beast to play a big room. It’s no good chatting to somebody in the third row when there’s another 500 rows back and they can’t hear what’s going on.
“So I took a step back.”
But these days he’s considering the challenge of doing a tour of theatres.
“It’s another string to the bow for a comedian to be able to achieve that. But it’s finding the time to do it.”
Along with the production company, Vegas has been busy with various projects from TV and radio to stage.
He recently co-produced and performed in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists for Radio 4. He also co-wrote and performed in the critically acclaimed play Interiors for The Manchester International Festival.
There will be more Benidorm next year and another series of Ideal.
Vegas, 38, who starred alongside Paul Whitehouse in Happiness, has a few serious roles beneath his tightened belt: BBC dramas Bleak House and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
On the big screen he’s appeared in Sex Lives Of The Potato Men.
This month he can be seen reading classic children’s story The Boy Who Cried Wolf on Nick Jr’s A Bedtime Story With Arnie And Barnie - a couple of worms.
“It’s like having two Mariah Careys for the price of one,” he quips.
“Diva doesn’t even come close to it. Their dressing-room demands are just incredible – I thought I was needy.”
He adds: “Reading on camera was an eye-opener because I realised I’ve got that Sean Connery range of one voice, just at different sound levels. So I think the next one I’ll do is The Hunt For Red October, a Lancashire version.”
Vegas is also developing a kids TV show for the BBC called The Dead Puppets Society.
“We’ve got to deliver by 2011, so we’re just knocking the stories together now and going to town with the villains. I’ve got a six-year-old who’ll be seven by then. He’ll be watching it and I know he doesn’t pull his punches, so it’d better be good.”
His son is Michael, named after, well, himself as it happens. Vegas was born Michael Pennington.
“My mum calls me Michael and my partner calls me Michael in front of my mum and then Johnny when she’s not there.”
Vegas was supposed to be just an alter-ego for his stand-up shows but the brash boozer began taking over.
He split from his wife soon after Michael was born.
Of late he’s cleaned up -- he still drinks but not so much -- and lost around six stones in the process. Which has made him less attractive to women, he reckons.
“I look less vulnerable. I used to attract a lot of feeders. I’d be quite happy to be locked in someone’s flat and fed liquidised burgers.”
In reality, Vegas has a girlfriend Miai, who he regularly visits in Dublin when he’s not having his son for the weekend.
In a recent interview with The Times one journalist wrote of the new look Johnny Vegas: ‘His arms and hands are as slender and pale as those of a Jane Austen heroine.’
“I didn’t realise he had those feelings for me,” laughs Vegas.
“I obviously wasn’t picking up on the signals. I think those are the words that often come to mind when people think of me aren’t they?”
He’s getting used to odd descriptions.
“I was doing Radio 2 the other day and an autograph hunter immediately identified me as a manic depressive. All based on the fact that he’s one.
“And he wouldn’t accept I was a Virgo. So I’m a manic depressive in denial of my birthdate.”

Just The Tonic Christmas Special featuring Johnny Vegas, Jim Jefferies, Phil Nichol, Will Smith and Charlie Baker, Royal Concert Hall, Monday December 21, 7.30pm, £20, 0115 989 5555

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